Friday, 29 February 2008


In days of yore, in a land far far away (let's call it "England", for the sake of the story), February 29th had no legal status. Thus it was a day for Radical Behaviour and Breaks with Custom: the king would pay taxes to the peasantry, beagles would bring their people breakfast in bed, rather than the traditional reverse, and channel 10 would screen well-edited programs with compelling and informative content, in lieu of the usual seventeen consecutive hours of So You Think You Can Be America's Biggest Weight-Losingest All-Dancing Idol With a Freaky Medical Problem on a Tropical Island. Most importantly of all, on February 29th, the day that dawned only once every 1461 days, the spinster would be encouraged to select for lifelong companionship whichsoever eligible spatula she happened to fancy; she was to do this by leaping up to the spatula and reciting the words, "Oi be choozin thee, for thou art a foin figger of a kitchen utensil". This, of course, a radical departure from traditional practice, wherein spatulas normally beat paths to spinsters' doors, bending down on one prong to propose the mutual and codependent flipping of pancakes.

Thursday, 28 February 2008


Still no word from the Pootling Society.

Slime, gnome, my mother

Two very nice emails from my Ma last week:

1) Notifying my sisters and me of a slime mould oscillating its way across the wood chips at Harlot Heights. (This was a very pleasing e-pistle indeedeeoh, and I have boasted to everyone I've met over the last week that my parents are growing a slime mould. Such disclosures seem to clear space on public transport.)

2) Notifying me (only) that she had repainted the garden gnome I gave her for Christmas in 1990.

This garden gnome was orginally advertised in the Target catalogue for $9.95, an exorbitant proportion of my personal GDP for the 1990/91 financial year. I was so enraptured, though, with the thought of giving a garden gnome to my mother (who had never before shown the slightest interest in ceramic men in dungarees), that I overrode the advice from Treasury and made a special expedition with my sister to Chatswood Target. Here - in horror - I watched the checkout kiddy swipe his bar code and request $12.95. And here my valiant sister stood up to her full height and demanded a price-check on my behalf. (This, as far as I was concerned, deserved some sort of national award for bravery, which I think I never got round to conferring.) Even at $9.95, our garden gnome broke the bank, and I was reduced to giving the Pa a set of ten hand-knitted toe warmers, in a fetching aqua acrylic yarn I happened to have at home. Meanwhile, the 'rents embrace my mother's new garden gnome like a prodigal son, and here he is today, replete with rouge and a brand new pair of scarlet Birkenstocks. The paint for which (though the Ma didn't tell me and I haven't asked) would have left $9.95 for dead.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Letter to the Administrator of the Pootling Society Website

Dear Administrator of the Pootling Society Website,

I recently happened upon the website of the Pootling Society, and I found it sadly devoid of information on, or, indeed, aids to, pootling. I'd be interested to hear what your plans for the site are, and respectfully suggest that it might feature illustrations of G. K. Chesterton, whom one of my internetian colleagues nominates as the western world's foremost pootler. He is certainly a more obvious pootler than the young lass with the yellow hair and the telephone. Do you have any reliable information about the etymology of the word "pootle"? Or a list of notable pootlers? Or handy hints for pootling novices? Or firm ideas on the comparative qualities of pootlers vis à vis flâneurs? Also, did you know that "pookie" is Northumbrian dialect for "snail"?

Yours sincerely,


Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Dipping a languid toe into the swimming pool of your mind

I want to explain that all the characters of a play have been deaded. Do I say:

1. "The entire dramatis personæ is murdered", or

2. "All the dramatis personæ are murdered"?

The Poxford English Dictionary is no assistance on this one.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

The Pootling Society

Here is the alleged website for the alleged Pootling Society. There is no point going to this website. It is a dormant website. It is a website in the depths of a profound slumber. Worse, this slumber has befallen it even before it has fully gestated. It's no more than a dozen cells in the great internetian womb, and, like the kangaroo (whom I've heard can arrest the gestation of a fertilised ovum until the rain comes and there's enough kangaroo-food to go round, thus ensuring that her youngker won't be born to starvation), the great internetian womb has sent a hormonally coded message to the website of the Pootling Society and told it to stay barely-more-than-gamete-sized until the pootlers' equivalent of rain. Now is the time of rain, Pootling Society! Develop your website into something worthy of my wasted time! I want to pootle, early and often.

I hereby officially break my silence

... to say that I was just asked by a student handing out leaflets for the Socialist Alliance, "Have you ever heard of Marxism at all?"

Friday, 15 February 2008

I have been too permissive by half

I have spent the morning slaving over a hot computer, doing my best to ignore the two flies who've taken up residence around my desk, but just now they had the temerity to mate, on my monitor, right in front of me, in broad daylight, without so much as an adults-only warning, or an excuse me, or a would-you-mind-averting-your-eyes-madam, or a sorry-for-vomiting-earlier-inside-your-teacup. Having been coitally interrupted by a wave of my hand, one of them is now sitting on my mouse pad looking at me and sticking out his or her proboscis in what I can only assume is an expression of disdain. Last week I caught a pair of small grey moths end-to-end on my curtain. I don't want to know where they're planning to lay all their eggs, but I am keeping everything tasty inside sealed containers.

Here, by the way, is a giant fly I met on the weekend, a far more decorous fly than either of the two who've been promenading on my 'puter today.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Speaking of eugenics and beagles

There's so very much wrong with humans sticking their stickybeaks into the reproductive lives of dogs, but they do, and one of the incidental effects of regulating whom a pup-about-town shacks up with is that the floppy-eared are inheriting the earth. I only hope that when the beauty pageant ends, Mr Universe gets to take off his collar and catch flies with his bare teeth.

Emergency Blog Post

I missed Charlie Darwin's birthday on Tuesday. His TWO-HUNDREDTH birthday. CHARLES DARWIN. My first love. Author of The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms.

Sorry, Chas. If it's any consolation at all, you can be my Valentine. You, and this person I met on the internets:

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


I was tear-sodden from the minute Bananas in Pyjamas ended. What really did it, though, was when Rudd turned his applause away from the parliament towards the people in the visitors' gallery. My sentimental blokality aside, all this talk of a "new chapter" (as if to say that the hurts of the old chapter are now, by decree, good and healed?) was ambiguous enough to make me anxious. It's not for me to declare what it would take to lessen those hurts, but my instinct is that though "sorry" helps, it only helps if it comes from a position of yearning to make amends. It only helps if we yearn in earnest, and try to make amends in practice. I think this is what Rudd meant - I hope so - and I hope that those who people this new chapter are conscious of and responsive to what has gone before.

Meanwhile, Dr Nelson distinguished himself with this fine specimen of moral logic: "There is no compensation fund, nor should there be. How can any sum of money replace a life deprived of knowing your family?" Too right, Horatio. And this is why I suggest we abolish the practise of awarding monetary compensation altogether: because how can any sum of money compensate for reduced life expectancy, or a lost limb, or a foreshortened stint in Hollywood. Gah. That spare $34 billion Rudd offered in tax cuts can't replace a life deprived of knowing one's family, but if it found its way into a compensation fund it would certainly be a sign of our sincerity. An in principle promise to see every Aboriginal four-year-old in preschool isn't enough; substantive equality for Aboriginal and migrant Australians is a minimum good, and the good we have to find to say sorry is more than the minimum.

On a semi-unrelated note, I was surprised to hear Nelson casting Australia's ecology as some kind of misanthropic wasteland: "Blah blah blah", he said, "combined to deliver a harshness exceeded only by the land over which each sought to prevail." And earlier: "In brutally harsh conditions, from the small number of early British settlers our non indigenous ancestors have given us a nation the envy of any in the world." That he was co-opting Sorry Day to eulogise British colonisation is in aggressively bad taste, yes, but what's with the land's "harshness"? Sydney's climate? Harsh? Try a London Winter, working-class 1780s-style. Time to move on, Dr N. This land is inhospitable(ish) to some exotic crops (and unfortunately not to others, viz. prickly pear and co.), but it's never been inhospitable to those who want to live with it, rather than prevail over it.

"To take arms against a sea of troubles"

That'll learn me to unmix my metaphors.


Lest we forget.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Read on, read on, MacDuff!

Just wondering: anyone out there ever thought Macbeth might be satirising tragedy?

Monday, 11 February 2008

Wherein the author vacillates between acquisitiveness and smashing the state with foregone chocolate bars

The anniversary of my migration to the Deep South has just passed. I marked the occasion with a minute's silent remembrance of Oop North, friends, relations, and cockroaches, and then I got on with Day 2 of Harlot's Parentally-Supervised Tour de Victoria.

The Runcible Spoons picked me up from Hôtel Harlot at first light on Saturday and pootled me off into the wild blue yonder, where I learnt many things about Victoria, her heirs and successors.

For instance, I learnt that if you pop into the Shell service station in Daylesford at a quarter past ten in the dark of the night to buy half a litre of cowmilk, the salesworker will personally advise you of the three-for-the-price of-two chocolate bar special. Note that in normal circumstances, I am the reason three-for-the-price-of-two chocolate bar specials exist. At a quarter past ten in the dark of last Saturday night, however, the three-for-the-price-of-two-chocolate bar special caught me in the immediate aftermath of a parentally-sponsored three course dinner. I rejected the three-for-the-price-of-two chocolate bar special, vehemently. And then, worried that the salesworker might find me in contempt of her advice as to the compatibility of three chocolate bars with half a litre of cowmilk, I added, "But gosh I'm so impressed that you'd bother to point out the chocolate bar special. That's really conscientious." Patronising much? It turns out not that our trusty salesworker was being conscientious, but that Shell plants plain-clothes scrutineers in its outlets by dark of night, and these scrutineers - so the legend goes - will pay $50 on the spot to any salesworker who personally advises them of the three-for-the-price-of-two chocolate bar special. Whether this rumour is true or not, the salesworker has clearly been told it's so, and this I call teasing and manipulation of the highest ordure. I am reminded of pigeons tricked into pecking at empty grain dispensers. Not that I'm suggesting that the lass in the Daylesford Shell service station was particularly pigeonesque. Pigeons cannot get their beaks around the words "chocolate bar special", for one thing.

Thus the perversities of capitalism. And only that very morning I had been contemplating my 'rents investment advice: never to buy the most valuable house in the street.

Not that I'm in much of a position to buy any house in any street, but if I were - this is before the Daylesford Shell service station fandango reminded me of the perversities of capitalism and I foreswore all property for evermore - this is the house I would buy. It is not, investment advisers will be pleased to hear, the most valuable house in its street.

Just take another gander at that front verandah, and you'll fully appreciate the turn my real-estatorial tastes had taken:

Thank you, Trentham. You do a fine morality tale for callow young builders.

Meanwhile (this is still before the episode at Shell, while I was still contemplating investing the kitty in lop-sided verandahs), I found the perfect automobile to go with the perfect delapihabitation.

What, I ask you, is a cubic foot of rust between Morris 1000s? This is the horseless carriage for me, and I've got just the hill to start her on.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Sexmensual, or Lexicon Harlot puts the Lexicon back into Lexicon Harlot

If something happens once every six months, or has six months' duration - and lots of things do, like solstices, or half-yearly detox programs, or dental appointments, as recommended by dentists - then it deserves a word, and if that word isn't going to be a ye olde "six-monthly", if it's going to get all Latinate on our glottises, then it should comprise sex (Latin for six), menses (Latin for months), and whatever suffix mutation you fancy to indicate that the word is functioning as an adjective. By my reckoning, that gives us "sexmensual". Instead, what do we get? We get "semesterly", which is a coy, anodyne, weak, corrupt, inferior and altogether bogus substitute, with no x. X, I might as well point out here, is the letter of Our Lord, and also of an esteemed Brisvegan brewery, and deserves better than to be elided into non-existence. Henceforth, I will refuse to speak of "semesters". I will speak of "sexmenses". And I will refuse to say "semesterly". I will say "sexmensual". Or "sexmestrial", if I'm feeling jaunty.


Mwah ha ha woof.

This beagle was left behind at home in Tennessee while his people went off to buy tacos. Where I come from, he would merely have spent the day gnawing the front door.* Americanian beagles, however, are invigorated in tooth and claw by the principles of life, liberty and the Americanian way, and they will not be content with gnawing down a single door. Nothing less than complete and utter domestic destruction will satisfy their desire for justice: you eat taco without me? I eat house without you.

*This is true. Wilbur Harlot has attacked two separate doors in two separate houses. When they were trying to sell their house in Sydvillea, my parents had to send off by mail for a spray-on gnaw-repellant called "Bitter Yuck".

Photo courtesy Josh Anderson/Reuters, via the New York Times.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Why hello there, February

Midway through last week the swollen gland in my neck turned into the Mystery Virus of Doom. I slept in between bouts of symptom-googling (I had glandular fever, tonsillitis, sleeping sickness, rheumatic fever, quinsy, dropsy, pansy and possibly consumption), and then I slept a bit more. Bernhilde swept down from the north like an avenging health fairy, wheeled my bed out into the sun, and fed me medicinal doses of fried cheese. And lo! I wake up today feeling as spry as a new-mown puppy. I'm writing up my testimonial for St Bernhilde's Mobile Sanatorium as we speak.