Monday, 28 December 2009

Flattery schmattery

"You have lots of nice soft moles, Lexi."

- niece, aged 3.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

What I am about to type will disgust you

So if you don't want to be disgusted, admire these wholesome family portraits and then flee from this site, preferably sprinkling yourself with holy water and applying one of those plague doctor masks with the giant crows' beaks as you go.

But first, pre-disgustment wholesome family portraits:

Wholesome Beatrice, getting down low with the Dustmaster 2000.

Wholesome Harriet of the unsmutched belly.

Now, vamoose, especially if you (a) work with me, (b) are likely to see me in the next week, or (c) are in the habit of excommunicating people on grounds of poor - nay, criminally negligent - hygiene. If, on the other hand, you want to wallow in fresh depths of disgustation, then huddle round and make sure you've got your bleach handy, because [da da da dum] I have worms. Thread worms. In my digestive tract. And it's a good thing, too, because if I didn't have worms - according to last night's google research - I'd have haemorrhoids, and apparently the only thing you can do for haemorrhoids is shove anaesthetic cream up your bottom, give up sitting, and betake yourself to the barber surgeon for a quick haemorrhoidectomy. All you need to dispose of worms, on the other hand, is a single dose of over-the-counter vermicide and then a brisk incineration of your house to get rid of the eggs.

I only realised that I have worms this morning, and I have since showered three times, invested in a six-pack of the aforementioned over-the-counter vermicidal tablets, a new nailbrush, and a bottle of strawberry flavoured Belgian beer (for inner cleansing, etc). I have also undergone six psychosomatic parasitosis-induced hysterical episodes, for which the beer would be useful, but I'm keen to keep my wits about me. Last night, as I lay in bed failing to get to sleep because my fundament was itching and I was pondering the fate of my benighted nethers, my mind turned - as minds do in these circumstances - to the public history of my bottom. I had a sudden terrible vision of the time my mother waited for the entire family - sisters, brother, sisters' boyfriends - to gather round before attacking the splinter that had lodged in my left buttock no-thanks-to-the-cats-tongue-wooden-floorboards-at-ballet-class. And another sudden terrible vision of the time I came home from a birthday party with a yellow paper dog mask, took off my party dress and sandals and socks and underpants, found my yellow - that is to say, horseradish, that is to say, supposedly dog-coloured - skivvy, donned it and the mask and beetled off down the street on all four feet with my naked bottom wagging. Neither of these terrible visions was as terrible as the terrible vision my mind was concocting of the gloved doctor preparing herself for my haemorrhoidectomy, and so I was glad when I woke up this morning and realised with dawning clarity that I have worms.

What troubles me, of course, besides the fact that there are small creatures roosting in my hindquarters, is that there is something seriously wrong with my hygiene routine. I mean, I wash my hands after going to the loo, with soap!, and I don't make a habit of sniffing other folks' bums or handling raw sewerage, but in the last year I've had my first wart, two cats' worth of ringworm, and now this. Noone has ever, ever, ever told me that they have worms. Ever. So I have no way of judging what a reasonable rate of infestation might be, but this - this doesn't seem reasonable.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The unverbable gerundive

Which smartysocks decided that "unrelenting" gets to be a word but "unrelent" doesn't, eh? She's messed up my scrabble game, whoever she is.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

I think I'm in love

Just received some spam from one "Romeo Hankel".

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

This also is cool

If you're, say, a misguided eighteenth-century natural philosopher dude, and you believe that within each sperm is a perfectly formed miniature man, then that perfectly formed mini-man must himself have little miniature sperm, inside which sperm are even teenier perfectly formed little men, in whose insy-winsy sperm are even smidgier men, in whose itty-bitty sperm are weeny-meany little squidgy perfectly formed men, replete with minimissimus sperm, containing very small humans indeed, and - so - forth.

You'd get to thinking you were quite important.

Viva ovoviviparous sharks!

Harlot folklore has it that it was good old me who suggested we call Aristotle Aristotle. I was five at the time, and he was a wriggly round puppy with a leg at each corner. In my memory, I spent days lobbying for Daisy. Someone had told me that chihuahua puppies were small enough to snuggle inside matchboxes, and I was wishing my socks off that at the last minute the beagle elect would be replaced by a chihuahua.

The beagle won, thank Dog, and Aristotle trumped Daisy. I don't remember giving up on Daisy, but the collective account is emphatic. I chose Aristotle. I do remember, afterwards, being inordinately proud of having fished out such an illustrious name for the wonderdog.

Until I realised what a total doofus Aristotle's namesake was. Exempli gratia:

But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?
There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.
That's just charming, that is. Much worse than his theory that babies happen when an Athenian plants his homunculus in the nearest vessel's menstrual blood.

But this is kinda cool. In De generatione animalium, Aristotle classifies animals into five groups: mammals; ovoviviparous sharks; birds and reptiles; fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans; and insects. And might I just add how impressed I am by those sharks, who keep their eggs in their bodies until they're ready to hatch. Way to avoid the omelet factor.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Ambassador for Preston, reporting for duty

Last you heard from your feckless narrator, she was inspecting formaldehyded fœtuses east of Weimar. You could be forgiven - considering the silence round these parts - for assuming that she had since perished from a surfeit of sauerkraut and extrawurst, but in fact I've been moseying my way back to the internet, via a series of airports, northern hemispeherean cities, an overdue essay, and the two weeks' effluvium that spewed from my pigeonhole at Good Old Work.

Speaking of northern hemispeherean cities, my sister & co. took me on a speed tour of Tokyo, the main effect of which tour (besides how hugely nice it was to see my sister & co.) was to make me ashamed of Australian dunnies. Seriously, Japan's got it all over Australia in the plumbing department.

Above, for instance, is a Japanese toilet console, which plays prerecorded gurgling noises, sprays your nethers with gently warmed toilet nectars, and adjusts seat temperature to taste. Where I come from, you're lucky if you have a hole in the ground and a sheet of newsprint. What, a hole? When I were a lad, had t'defecate into thin air, I did.

Speaking of such savoury matters, here is a giant Japanese poo:

Or possibly a sweet potato. I couldn't tell, but sister & co. were pretty certain it's a giant poo.

And what would be the point of all this attention to gross domestic product, were there not also things to eat?

Delicacies, like SPAM, with sticky rice and seaweed.

Or manic blue-eyed self-saucing hotdawgs.

Or this actually quite potable green-tea-ccino.

As my father's fond of saying whenever the opportunity arises, "I see travel's broadened you."

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Fill in the blanks

There once was a ... hippopotamus
Who ... ... ... ... ... on top of us.
... ... ... ... ...
... ... ... ... ...
... ... ... ... ... ... ... [rhymes with potamus].

P.S. the Jermin for hippo is Flußpferd. Learnt that today while looking at a hippo's skull. Unsmiley face.

Three Disturbing Things

1. There were six pickled fœtuses at the Phyletisches Museum today. Human fœtuses: one aborted at four weeks, one at eight weeks, one at twelve weeks, one at sixteen weeks, one at twenty-four weeks, one at thirty-three weeks. Some of them were curled against a preserved slice of uterus, cut away so that you could see the tiny limbs tucked into the tiny body. They're suspended in formaldehyde, and arranged so that you imagine it's the same fœtus aging. I found myself talking to the biggest ones, as if they were babies, and alive, and needed comforting. Whose were those uteruses?

2. In the same room, there is a chart – a recent chart, inspired by the Out-of-Africa hypothesis – that illustrates the degree of relationship and distance between the human races. Races, so called. There's no human race that can't be undone with a single act of sexual reproduction. Not that you'd think so, to look at this chart.

3. One of the stranger papers at the conference last week was titled "What Women Want - Men Want Something Different". I'm of the "one is not born a woman" school, so I'm unreceptive from the get-go to evolutionary accounts of why "women" and "men" behave the way they supposedly behave. Even if I weren't, though, even if I thought I was nothing but my biology, and that my biology was something static and predetermined and identical with that of 51.2% of my species, this paper would have gotten my goat, by her beard. It went like this: women want men who will enable their babies to prosper, high status men with lots of money; men want women who are healthy and fertile, and monogamous, so that they can be sure that they're investing their paternal energy into their own offspring; there is no upper limit on women's desire for their mate's status and wealth; and so men are driven to relentless capitalism; cue – smoke-stacks, landfill, disposable ermine earmuffs; conclusion – the environmental apocalypse has been caused by women's desire.

And from the blog with its finger on the pulse of the arterial system of the body of today ...

A Düsseldorfian antiques dealer has located Adolf Hitler's Mercedes. Chancellor Merkel attributes her staying power to peppermint tea. McDonalds in Germany is going to re-colour its logo green, to show its respect for the environment.

Well may you snort (I do), but these are all facts. I heard them over breakfast in the Hotel Thüringer Hof, and as everyone knows, in cheeso veritas.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Eating Noodles in the Former Soviet Bloc

Very early on Wednesday morning, I landed in Munich. My coccyx was numb. Barely had the blood oozed back into my nethers than I was flying to Hannover, en route (i) noting that Munich's nuclear reactor resembles Springfield's, (ii) successfully negotiating, in German, the flight attendant's enquiry as to my tea/coffee preferences, and (iii) receiving a free newspaper, Bild, from Lufthansa, whereon were published Hot! Previously unseen! Photos! of Jackie Onassis! Nude! Thus initiated in the ways of the northern hemisphere, I caught the intercity speedzug to Göttingen, where I parked myself for four days.

You want to know how I survived? Ritter Sport chocolate is how I survived. As the advertisements will tell you (and who am I to disagree?), "Quadratisch, practisch, gut." Also, Ritter Sport chocolate comes with a variety of nuts.

So, here is Göttingen.

If you're keen on eighteenth-century observatories, canals, bakeries, statues of early Enlightenment scientists, or dauntingly multilingual German people, Göttingen is the town for you. It's also excellent if you like bicycles. There are many bicycles.

Here is a small selection of the bicycles to be seen cavorting outside Göttingen railway station.

And what was a nice chap like me doing in a place like that, you ask. Well, as it happens, I was getting all conferential on my ass. Best darn conference I've ever been to, in fact. On Mr Charles Darwin, M.A., and what the peops down in the humanities are doing with him. I could, of course, tell you more about that, but instead I will talk about cheese.

On account of how Germania seems to be the most carnivorous country in the world

Exhibit A: Extrawurst sausage shop sign, proves that Germany is the most carnivorous country in the world

and the breakfast buffet is a sea of fleisch, in which are scattered islands of cheese, and the conference lunch is trays and trays of breadrolls slathered with dead pig, dead cow, dead chook, dead salmon, plus one tray of breadrolls slathered with dead cheese, und so weiter, I have eaten So Much Cheese, I am now SICK of cheese. I've had predictable ethical reservations about cheese for a while now, but as of the sixth consecutive cheese-based meal in a row (with cheese), I have aesthetic reservations to boot. To stinky old comes-from-an-udder boot. (N.B. these reservations do not apply to haloumi.)

Which brings me to today's lunch, Nüdeln mit Gemüse. Today I forsook Göttingen for a joint called Jena, which joint, unlike Göttingen, sits in the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik. You can tell that you're entering the former DDR, because, whereas two minutes ago, your train was easing its way through little dorfs with higgedly-piggedly wattle-and-daub houses - I'd call them Tudor, only it's the wrong country - now there are quadratisch, practisch, multi-storeyed grey erections squatting in geometric clusters. They're the same regulation apartment blocks you used to see in documentaries about Chernobyl or Ceauşescu. I'm more of a higgedly-piggedly oak-beamed ramshackle-o-phile, myself, but there's something sort of sublime about these apartment blocks. They subordinate the individual to the hive. You can feel your sense of self dissolving before something bigger, something unflinching in the face of individual difference or preference.

Here in this joint called Jena is another joint called Wok-Gourmet. Both those words sound pretty appealing to an overcheesed cheesephobe such as myself. Woks and I have enjoyed a long and rich relationship. Even typing this, I recall with affection the tofu green curry of May 2004.


Turns out there are only two vegetarian things in Jena Wok-Gourmet. The Coca-Cola and the Nüdeln mit Gemüse. Everything else looks like chicken schnitzel fried in a wok. The Gemüse, for those of you as interested in my lunch as I, turn out to be a handful of bean sprouts and some julienned carrot. Not exactly tofu green curry, but 100% cheese-free.

So what's a chap like me doing in a place like Jena? I'm here for Ernst Haeckel, evolutionary theorist, eugenicist, scientific fraud, and erstwhile Jenanite. Jena is Haeckel city. Someone at some stage has loved Ernst Haeckel so much they've named a street after him.

It's called Ernst Haeckel Straße.

And a place. There is also a place named after him. Ernst Haeckel Place.

And behind the sign pointing to Ernst Haeckel Platz there is an apartment block festooned with gen-u-ine pre-Soviet caryatids.

A gen-u-ine pre-Soviet caryatid.

Jena is home to Ernst Haeckel's former house, known today as Ernst Haeckel Haus, but in his day as the Villa Medusa. It's also home to Ernst Haeckel's phyletic museum, an institution he founded as propaganda for his theory (that ontogeny, the development of the embryo from fertilisation to maturity, recapitulates phylogeny, the evolution of the species). A huge ceramic oak is built into the museum's façade. This oak is Haeckel's tree of life, a sturdy symmetrical thing with humans at its apex. Darwin's tree of life is more like a tangle of seaweed. Humans are no more at its apex than ants.

I hadn't thought about this until today, but to have streets & stuff named after him, Haeckel must have been canonised by the DDR. There's a chocolate frog on the table for the first person to explain how this eugenicist (a member of Germany's - the world's - first Society for Race Hygiene), committed to biological hierarchy, gets himself turned into a socialist hero.

Meanwhile, back in Preston, Comrad Timsky is valiantly bestowing pats and Iams Kitten Growth Formula on Harriet and Beatrice. Thank you, Comrade Timsky. You're the bestest best besty ever.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Who wants a chocolate frog?

You can have one if you tell me (truthily) what proper certified biologists do when they want to talk about the plural of "genus". It's "generes" in Latin. I thought that sounded a bit fancy for your garden variety sentence, so I tried typing "genuses", but Mr Microsoft Autopedant told me I was a pustulent hillock upon the dorsal skin of good usage.

Here, by the way, is the context: "Darwin’s sketches of the branching relations between [plural of genus], species, and varieties are, as he knows, foundational to his articulation of how biological difference comes to be in all its plenitude."

N.B. chocolate frog may turn out to be a metaphor for extreme kudos.

N.B.B. Apologies for "comes to be in all its plenitude". Euphony schmeuphony.

UPDATE: I am a Latin fraud. It's actually "genera", not "generes". Good night, then.

UPDATE THE SECOND: Am, like, totally embarrassed by this post, but I'm leaving it up to dispel myths of my omniscience. Ahem.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Lobal warming

This really isn't acceptable. 10pm. 30ºC. Early November. Grumph.

Friday, 30 October 2009

The imminent travels of Lexicon H.

I'm off to Germy-land in exactly eighteen sleeps, and in between marking essays, and brewing my conference paper, and deciding what colour to do my powerpoint slides in (Lady of Shallot green and Robert Browning beige or Stick With What You Know black and Keep Sticking With What You Know white?), and keeping an anxious eye on the town well, and losing sleep – several sleeps – over people I enormously respect who think that comparing the way we treat non-human animals with humans' experiences of racism trivialises humans' experience of racism (which it certainly does, if you are of the opinion that the fact the world is knee-deep in barn-raised chicken carcasses is absolutely inconsequential, or even just not very consequential, or indeed requiring anything less than urgent revolution) – and in between not blogging, I have been brushing up on my Tscherman.

I've been doing this with the aid of two texts: (1) The Penguin Book of German Verse, and (2) Ecce Homo: Wie man wird, was man ist, the autobiographthingy of Friedrich Nietzsche. And so now, in addition to the useful phrases I learnt in highschool, viz., "Wo ist die Jugendherberge?" (Where is the youth hostel?), "Entschuldigung, haben Sie drei Wellensittiche?" (Excuse me, do you have three budgerigars?) and "Ich möchte die Schokoladenkuchen - jetzt!" (All purpose phrase), I can now say, in the words of August Stramm, "Die Steine feinden/Fenster grinst Verrat" (The stones are hostile/window grins treachery), and, after Rilke, "Feigenbaum, seit wie lange schon ists mir bedeutend,/wie du die Blüte beinah ganz überschlägst" (Fig-tree, for a long time I have found meaning in the way you overleap the stage of blossom). This will be mighty handy if I find myself detained by customs: "My good man, my name is Lexicon Harlot. For a long time I have found meaning in the way you overleap the time of blossom. I have three budgerigars. Do you have three budgerigars?"

But why am I telling you all this? Warum? Warum? Because Ecce Homo is - surprisingly - hilarious. Or - the popular theory - the work of a nutter on the verge of deliquescing irretrievably into public lunacy. But I prefer to think of it as hilarious, and I cite in defence of my amusement the following chapter titles: "Why I Am So Wise", "Why I Am So Clever", and "Why I Write Such Good Books". Take that, autobiographthingies the world over. They don't call him a genius just because his moustaches look like a couple of oversized mice protruding from from his nostrils.

F. Nietzsche with Moustaches, portrait pilfered from here.

And that's the end of my story. If you have any good German words to share (bearing in mind that I already know Regenschirm, Dudelsack, and Schildkröte), let me know.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

And now on account of how I ain't been bloggin' nothin'

Why write when you can quote?

"I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened."
- Mark Twain

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Xtreme Weather Blogging

From the blog that brought you such seismogeometeorosensations as Hey, was that an earthquake? and Hot diggety dang that was another earthquake comes Hail in Preston, the acclaimed miniseries starring all new hot talent, including

the carpark, next door's backyard, and the fence that kept them apart

the apartment stairway that wouldn't say die (unless you forgot to wear your extra-traction boots, but then it tended to say die as in "Die!", not die as in "Oh noes, I die!")

the corrugated iron roof with the heart of asbestos

and of course, Harriet and Beatrice, who, despite their keen interest in freaks of precipitation, elected to spend the entire hailstorm pluckily guarding the underside of the armchair

Restores my faltering faith in the Bureau of Meteorology, this does. The BoM predicted a hail storm for today, and lo, there was a hailstorm, which makes a pleasing change from the arrant untruths it has been issuing for the past week. Arrant untruths, I tell you.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Well would you look at that? If it isn't the old internet requiring my urgent perusal

“Usually writers will do anything to avoid writing. For instance, the previous sentence was written at one o’clock this afternoon. It is now a quarter to four. I have spent the past two hours and forty-five minutes sorting my neckties by width, looking up the word paisley in three dictionaries, attempting to find the town of that name on The New York Times Atlas of the World map of Scotland, sorting my reference books by width, trying to get the bookcase to stop wobbling by stuffing a matchbook cover under its corner, dialing the telephone number on the matchbook cover to see if I should take computer courses at night, looking at the computer ads in the newspaper and deciding to buy a computer because writing seems to be so difficult on my old Remington, reading an interesting article on sorghum farming in Uruguay that was in the newspaper next to the computer ads, cutting that and other interesting articles out of the newspaper, sorting – by width – all the interesting articles I’ve cut out of the newspapers recently, fastening them neatly together with paper clips and making a very attractive paper-clip necklace and bracelet set, which I will present to my girlfriend as soon as she comes home from the three-hour low-impact aerobic workout that I made her go to so I could have some time alone to write.”

– P. J. O’Rourke, “Book Tour”, Smart magazine, 1989.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Wherein I have my computer STOLEN and replenished tenfold and still I can't bring myself to unadulterated gratitude*

The other day I perpetrated the employment sector equivalent of "I'm not a racist; my garbageman's an Esquimaux, and my, he does a marvellous job, the pet".

"So I was at this poetry slam last night," I'm telling my sisters. "And there's this fantastic woman up on the stage. Big hair, black cape, and she's going at her poem like she's a steam train. And her partner's there in the audience, and in the break her partner turns to me and asks me if he knows me from work. And - get this! - it turns out he's one of the I.T. people. One of the I.T. people - at a poetry slam - which just goes to show that computer people are people too."

My sisters can program Excel and they'll translate any integer you name into binary code quicker than you can say "this sentence constitutes an ontological challenge to the logonormativity of the academy", so they weren't very impressed by my limping belatedly into the fair pastures of I.T. person tolerance. But to them - and to all you other I.T. person tolerators out there - I say this: my prejudices were not entirely without foundation.

This morning I burst into my office, zinging with superluminary insights gleaned over the course of my six minute tram trip. I'm all ready to boot up my trusty old mac and enunciate the Solution to Literature. Only where is my trusty old mac, I ask? My desk is a barren plain, punctuated only by the drifts of dust and sandwich crumbs that waft around the perimeter of the five thousand unmarked essays I meant to savage and return to their authors a week ago. The trusty old mac is nowhere to be seen, and I start recalling all the flights of oratory and administrivia I committed to yon trusty old mac without bothering to Back Them Up. In perfervid panic, I stagger up the corridor to ask my admin comrade if she knows where the trusty old mac is. This is the first she's heard of its abduction, but she rings the I.T. people (rather than the police, which shows somewhat more presence of mind than I myself have mustered), and after several denials (which turn out to be the I.T. person's notion of humour) it transpires that they have my trusty old mac. Yes, they are two flights of stairs away, waiting to transfer the contents of trusty old mac onto obscenely fancy new mac, with 24-inch LED cinema display, camera, and vending machine. Did it occur to Mr I.T. person that he should inform me I would arrive at work today and find myself stripped of mine puter? Why no, quoth Mr I.T. person to my admin comrade. No.

So this is farewell to the mac of yore, why, hello sailor to the mac of non-yore, and a warning to the young: keep your valuables superglued to your desk. Those I.T. people are no respectors of personal property.*

* even though it's not technically my computer (cough).

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Would you give a job to this woman?

There's an inmate at the Preston Cemetery named Imperatrice. Now there's a suitable revenge on your demanding foetus. Beats Regina or Queanie hands down.

Imperatrice usurps my previous favourite tombstone eponym, Susannah Womble, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Wet nose and velveteen ears

We used to lure Aristotle outside with a biscuit shaped like a small brown bone. We'd break it in half (two half biscuits are better than one biscuit), and toss the first half out into the courtyard. Aristotle would lunge after it, and then we'd throw out the second half, so that mid-lunge, he'd lurch off after that and leave old firsty lying on the ground. This was good in a way, because it made the biscuit last longer, but then, making food last was never one of Aristotle's great aims. Eating the compost was one of his great aims. Breaking into my sister's bedroom so he could snaffle the abandoned school apples from her bag was one of his great aims. Figuring out how to open the fridge, sneaking carrots from the vegetable box, licking someone's plate while they weren't watching: all these were Aristotle's principal concerns. If Aristotle had paid more attention in geometry, and consequently realised that the quickest way to unite half a biscuit with his gastric system was to keep on lunging after the first half and only then to head off after the second, that's exactly what he would have done.

Aristotle was my brother. He died in my first year at uni and I remember walking through the quad after Greek with my face scrunched up and my eyes all salty. A woman with grey hair stopped and asked me if I was all right dear, and I told her my brother had died. Which was sort of misleading, but more the truth. I think my other brother, the human one, would agree.

He taught me most - or lots - of what I know. I was going to write here about how I lurch from book to book the way Aristotle lurched from one half of the biscuit to the other (I have about seven different books on the go at the moment). But there were more important lessons. Don't drop your steamed silver beet under the table and expect someone else to clean it up for you. If you discover that the creature you've been tracking for the past half hour turns out to be an echidna, give up and go home. Don't chase kangaroos unless you have warmed up your crucient ligament first. It's entirely possible to eat half a queen-sized chocolate mudcake and for noone else to notice for a good four hours. Love thine everyone, indiscriminately, with a slight preference for thy mother.

Monday, 14 September 2009

With this ringworm I thee wed

Far be it from me to ponder the impossible cuteness of Beatrice and Harriet when I could be dissecting the usurpation of organised religion by psychotherapy, complaining about the season finale of The Farmer Wants a Wife (to say nothing of the semi-finale, the demi-semi finale, the hemi-demi-semi finale, and all the lesser episodes that preceded the protracted denouement of this brave tribute to the embattled white Australian heterosexual), and/or marking the seventy-thousand-and-three essays that repose before me – but right now, where Beatrice and Harriet are at, is, in fact, Newsville Central.* Not because they have perfected the transverse slumber manoeuvre (difficulty level: 7.5).

Nor because Beatrice has been apprentriced to the Ladderers Guild.

Nor because it is only a matter of time before I wake up choked to death.

No. Harriet and Beatrice trump all else in newsworthiness because after three months of quarantine, daily butterings with SolveEasy Tinea and close encounters with the fungicide of doom, they are almost ringworm free! And when that happy day arrives, we'll be posting out the invitations to their Cat Mitzvah.

* This is, in fact, a proper sentence.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Broccoli, potato and almond soup au vin with a touch of blender

Take potato, broccoli, vegetable stock, and almonds. Cook. Add a touch of blender. Voila! (Vin in separate glass.)

The lexicographer's lexicographer

I'm taking my ease with Dr Johnson's dictionary, which contains such useful lexemes as (and here I'm showing my considerable maturity):

To BEPI'SS, v.a. [from piss.] To wet with urine.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Introducing Schmarvard Harlot, my as yet unconceived progeny

Sigh. I am a blogger in name alone. If you've stopped by here lately, you will have heard nothing but the squeak-squeak of tumble weeds scratching their bellies on the rough bare blogular earth as they tumbled on down to the next port of all-out vacuity. And here's the bad news: it's not going to change any time soon. I am up to mine oxters in projects of a putting-the-wordsies-together nature, plus I am surrounded by so many A-grade industrial-strength procrastinatogens, that blogstering-as-recreation pales distinctly.

But here's a plan: I'm thinking of having a son. I want to call him Schmarvard. Schmarvard Harlot. If you can see any flaws in this scheme, point them out quickly.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Thrift and gluttony win the day

You know what I think? Swine flu, schmine flu. Earlier this week I invited forty-two students with varying but undocumented levels of personal hygiene to sniff a small container of dark chocolate, and a small container of coffee, and a small container of vegemite, another holding a spoonful of cumin, and another with the last drops of the Pert 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner I brought with me from Sydney in February 2007. Sniffing the containers was meant to get the class thinking about the relationship between bodies and subjectivity (this is what they're teaching the kids these days? aren't logarithms good enough anymore?), but what was exercising me as the containers hovered beneath each scholarly nose was whether a sensible person of average to slightly above average risk-aversion would consume tea, coffee, cumin, shampoo, vegemite, and, in particular, chocolate, after it had enjoyed such proximate relations to so many respiring young nostrils.

Who could tell, but in the interests of science, I decided to eat the chocolate. If I made it to the end of the week, I would know: there is no swine flu epidemic. Either that, or I am a person of superb robustity, and/or my experimental method needs some tweaking. But ruling out these last two possibilities, I am delighted to report that there is indeed no swine flu epidemic. Whether or not there has always been no swine flu epidemic I am not qualified to say. Having said that, many people are not qualified to say things, and yet say them nonetheless, and so I recommend the abolition of the states, a compulsory history-of-science subject for all science students, free public transport for all, showers only every second day, pepper instead of salt, community compost bins on every street corner, dogs in hospitals, and more novel reading. Also, something to do with swine flu. Can't remember what.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Mixed metaphor of the week

"As the Australian economy begins to recover, now is the time to nip a potential housing bubble in the bud", now with tip-top advice on why you should sell your house immediately and move in with a posse of bubble-blowing horticulturalists.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

There's not mushroom left*

I was stocking up on chocolate-coated goji berries at the supermarketarium this afternoon, when mine fungophile eye fell upon a box of button mushrooms. Four kilos of button mushrooms. For $11. Though personally I'm all for the re- or ongoing- or heretofore-unknown- socialisation of the banks, and the telephones, and the schools, and the medicines, and the scientific researches, and the forests, and the rivers, and the law-making, and the universities, and the redistributions of the wealths, I am descended from a long line of practising capitalists, so I know a good deal when I see one. My forebears didn't trade in mushrooms, specifically, but what holds good for the exchange of air valve patents and dry cleaning services applies also to boxes of fungus.

Trouble was, four kilos of mushrooms exceed even my fine figger of a belly, especially when I am also beholden to a packet of chocolate-coated goji berries. I was humming and hawing in the vegetable aisle, mentally distributing a lifetime's supply of 'shrooms into pots of mushroom soup, basins of mushroom tart, bowls of fricaseed mushroom lightly drizzled with mushroom and served with a sizeable pile of mushrooms. I was wondering whether Beatrice and Harriet could be induced to eat mushroom, about the palatibility of frozen Tofu avec Mushroom Stroganoff, and whether the gal next door would respond favourably to an offering of mushrooms sporting cocktail umbrellas - when, suddenly!, the lass beside me in the veg aisle asked if I'd like to go halfsies on a box.

"Good Dog!" I said. "You're brilliant! Where did you come up with an idea like that?" Whereupon it occurred to me that this is what I should have been doing for years. How have I reached the advanced age of ---, I asked myself, without joining a mushroom procuration co-operative?

So that's my plan. Agaricus bisporus for all, not just the rich.

* Caveat plagiaratoris: my sister's pardner, Cecil, intones "there's not mushroom left" every time we're within four kilometres of a fungus. Bless him.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Tripe and Slime

Sometimes I remember Paul Keating fondly.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Why boxes shouldn't trust cats

I was born into an illustrious family, and am a direct descendant of such noble boxes as the Great Zigguratical Box of Ur, the world's first cabaret dancing box, La Boxy de Voom-Voom, and the Snuff Box Stolen By the Bloke Who Got Done In By the Constabulary for Stealing It. Although my own aspirations were humble, I was ready to acquit my boxly duty with dignity and continence.

So naturally, I expected that once the $30 r.r.p. radiant heater had been eased out of my innards, I'd be stuffed with old newspapers and borne gratefully out to the recycling bin. No one mentioned the feline teeth of doom.

Or the feline acts of sequestration and pouncing.

Or the feline sitting inside one for the easier dismantling of one's person.

Or the feline nibbling of the corners.

Or that within five days one would have ceased to be a box at all.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Oh, Darwin

"From the facts alluded to in the first chapter, I think there can be little doubt that use in our domestic animals strengthens and enlarges certain parts, and disuse diminishes them; and that such modifications are inherited. Under free nature, we can have no standard of comparison, by which to judge of the effects of long-continued use or disuse, for we know not the parent-forms; but many animals have structures which can be explained by the effects of disuse. … I believe that the wingless condition of several birds, which now inhabit or have lately inhabited several oceanic islands, tenanted by no beast of prey, has been caused by disuse."
- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859)

Friday, 31 July 2009

How I amuse myself on the weekends

Whenever anyone appends "ass" to an adjective (e.g., "She's a real short-ass", or "You're totally bad-ass"), I mentally translate "ass" into "bottom" (e.g., "You're totally bad-bottom").

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

The intranet is having kittens

The rhetoric of the grumble gets far too much space on these here intertubes - yea, it is the bread and butter, the tofu and potatoes, the long johns and the flannel spencer of your amateur internetian. There's a reason for this. Waxing vitriolic is far more fun than waxing your legs. Clinical research demonstrates that grumbling releases endorphins, which taste like chocolate. And so loathe as I am to pollute the shades of Pemberley with symptoms of my displeasure, for the good of my health, here goeth ...

1. The silly old vet - let's call him the Archfiend – forgot to unpick one of Harriet's stitches last night. And this, after she'd suffered proximity to Maltese terrier puppies, the clammy thermometer-wielding hands of the Archfiend, and being gassed for the preservation of his, the Archfiend's, dermal integrity. She clambered onto my lap this evening, and snip-snip said my nail scissors, ping-ping said the forgotten stitch, and "Good grief, I should have done all of your stitches myself and saved you the unutterable horror of going to the vet I'm so sorry you poor gel", said I.

2. They just don't make felafel rolls down here like they do oop north. Where I come from, a felafel roll is hommus and tabouli and onion and chilli sauce and felafels wrapped in flat bread and toasted. Where I come from, a felafel roll makes you want to buy a carpet and wear a fez and summon up whichever other Orientalist cliches swim your way, to yodel in Yiddish from the Golan Heights, to sail to Byzantium, to farm chickpeas, to bathe in tahini and rosewater. Down in the 'Bourne they appear not to have heard of the unleavened loaf, and the felafel roll is less roll than festival of yeast, soft fluffy mounds of bread, tiny felafels embedded in doughy embonpoint. Melbourne and Sydney may only be 800 kilometres apart, but they are separated by a great culinary gulf. Melburnian felafel roll? Schmelafel roll. If I were the litigious type, I'd souvlaki.

3. The special-intranet-thingo at my place of employ has chosen first week of semester to go splendidly bung. Poor students (can't access their readings for next week), poor me (pleading with tech support persons, apologising to students), poor tech support persons (sending out emails telling me that my problem has been resolved, i.e., they have identified a systemic problem, it is not just my problem, and they are working ten thousand hours in a row to try to fix it).

Thursday, 16 July 2009


My heater's gone bung. If I don't do something fast, Harriet and Beatrice will move next door.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

This spay tonight

Beatrice and Harriet and I have spent today at home, recovering from yesterday's non-consensual ovarohysterectomies and trying not to gnaw on our stitches. Harriet was so non-consenting, by the way, she bit my hand, drew blood, and then sank four envenomed fangs into the vet's hand. The vet shoved her back into her box and told me that I had a naughty cat who would get her sedative later in another form (ominous) and I should show it who's boss because if it were a German Shepherd then I'd be in real trouble. (Too right. And if she were a sabre-toothed diprotodon ...) I should practice disciplining Harriet, apparently, by devising and enforcing rules (like "No scratching the furniture", which sounds completely fascist to me; what is furniture for if not scratching?). I sympathise with the vet's aversion to having his hand bitten (gosh, I do), but I was secretly cheering Harriet on. If someone tried poking a cold thermometer up my bottom without asking, I'd like to think that I'd draw blood too. And as Harriet is a civil and delightful person at all other times, I say "naughty" my aunt's bottom.

For those of you who've been wondering why the world's overrun with delinquent children, the answer's clear: it's femo-anarchist parenting and a permissive approach to sofas.

Today was meant to be quiet day - a day of heaters, laps, computers, and not chewing on our stitches - but instead there's been a deluge of tele-interuptions. They go something like this:

Poor telemarketing blighter: "Good afternoon, Mrs Harlot. I'm ringing from Blah-Blah Sunshine Blah Corporation to tell you that you have been specially selected for seven nights holiday at any major Australian city for only blah blah hundred dollars blah."

Me: "Thanks, I'm not interested."

Poor telemarketing blighter: "You do not like to take holiday?"

Me: "No, thanks. Bye."

Poor telemarketing blighter [indignant, incredulous]: "May I please ask why you are not interested in taking holiday?"

Me: "No."


Poor teleresearching blighter: "Good afternoon my name is Blah and I'm ringing from blah blah Scientific blah Research blah to ask you some questions about hair-thinning and balding do you or does anyone in your household experience hair-thinning or balding."

Me: "No."

Poor teleresearching blighter: "Are any of your friends or family members experiencing hair-thinning or balding."

Me [overcompensating for the fact that I'm about to not mention the majority of my close male relatives]: "Well, I'm quite young, and most of my friends are quite young, so we're all too young to be experiencing hair-thinning or balding, so no, none of my friends are experiencing hair-thinning or balding. Byeeeeeee."

Poor teleresearching blighter: "Could I please speak to your mother or father?"

Me: "Byeeeeeeeee."


Blighter: "Good evening ma'am, and how are you this evening?"

Me: "Very well, thank you. How are you?"

Blighter: "I'm wonderful. Thank you for your concern. I'm ringing about the Motorola blah blah from Optus blah with free blah. It's an excellent deal."

Me: "Thank you, but I'm not interested."

Blighter [shocked]: "Don't you use a mobile phone?"

Me: "Have a lovely evening."

I wish I could pull off my father's trick, which - regardless of the day or time - consists in muttering, in wounded, righteous tones, "Making telephone calls on the Sabbath! Not in my day. On the Sabbath. Well, I, never."

Thursday, 9 July 2009


... clichéd dubiously-appetising pre-fab microwave meal. E.g., shrink-wrapped chicken Kiev and rice. Free packet of frozen baby carrots for the best suggestion.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Painted ladies

For about a year I've been conscientiously ignoring the raw timber window frames I had installed - about a year ago. I've been trying not to think about their gradual disintegration, the westerly sunshine, the westerly frosts, the westerly winds bearing the westerly rains, or the fact that I installed them to replace window frames so rotten they'd sprouted fungus. My timber window frames stand six metres above the ground in their stockinged feet, and as I lead a ladder-free existence, I knew that the only way I could do the right thing by 'em was to recruit the services of a professional painter with a ladder. Thus the year long delay. Professional painters with ladders do not grow on trees.

Happening upon a painting consortium run by teh ladeez last month, I figured that this was the painting consortium for me. Their "98.5% testosterone free" slogan sounded a bit second-wavey for my tastes, but as I discussed self-priming acrylics with a deep-voiced lass called Jay on the telephone, I decided that maybe they weren't as biologically determinist as all that.

Jay turned up this morning at 7.15am and it was clear that on all salient criteria, Jay was not a lass. I have nothing against gentleman tradespersons - indeed, a wiser person than myself would befriend as many as possible - but Jay's undoubted mandom kinda undermined my attempts at affirmatively-actionizing the world of outdoor painting.

As it happens, Jay did a super job, and as he was leaving, his eye fell upon the half a page it had taken me six hours to write. We discussed what kind of work it is I do, and the fact that I'm from Sydvillea, and then Jay apologised for the Bourne. It used to be beautiful, he said, and safe, but that was before all these multinationals came. They’re the ones causing all the trouble. The Indians have been fighting the Mormons for thousands of years, and then they bring their fights over here. He doesn’t mind the ones that work hard, but these ones who come over and think they can just be like anybody else, they've really stuffed things up for Melbourne.

These remarks caused some consternation in feline quarters.

Beatrice closed her eyes and gathered her thoughts. "It's wrong for the Indians to fight the Mormons," she said. "They should just learn to get along. But don't you see, Jay? You are succumbing to the same impulses as those Indian-hating Mormons. You are making generalisations about the moral status of an entire people, and your empirical claims are slightly dubious."

Harriet was a tight knot of disapproval. "Jay," she said. "Jay, you should try to cultivate empathy. Race is discursively constructed, and if you reframe your discursive practices, your analysis of modern-day Melbourne will be quite different. Take it from me, Jay. Beatrice and I are living proof of these principles."

Monday, 6 July 2009

What I Did Last Summer

You might have noticed a certain silence around these parts, a silence punctuated only by my deep disgust at certain northern hemispehereans who think that 32 degrees on the ol' Celsiometer deserves a spot on the front page of the national newspapers. (As some wise philosopher has opined, this is perhaps no more disgustworthy than the channel 7 weatherboy who puts on a ski-suit and tells us to dust down the snowplough and affix the medicinal liquors to the necks of the St Bernards for an overnight low of 11 degrees. To such opinations, I say, "Pass me my vegan eggnog, Smithers," and, "They just don't make St Bernards the way they used to".)

So what have I been doing with myself?, well may you ask. Firstly, I went to this ripper of a symposium where people talked about mimetic representations of the temporal affect of memory (Bart: Is that a real thing? Lisa: Yes.), and ate muffins. And this person was there, and this person, and this person, and amazingly, despite the presence of some of my all-time antipodean academic superheroes, I managed not to gush. And then I marked a buncha essays that reached up to my armpit. And while I was doing that I read Annabel Crabb's Quarterly Essay on Malcolm Turnbull, and consequently was glistening with freshly applied Turnbulliana just in time for his recent acts of political autocannibalism. Meanwhile my Pa had that hip replacement surgery, which went swimmingly, as far as the hip was concerned, but plunged his kidneys and his heart into conniptions of such conniptedness that he is still in hospital eating jelly almost two weeks later. This was pretty scary for a day or seven, particularly as these parental brushes with mortality remind a person that her parents rate extremely highly on the most beloved people in the universe scale. Then there was this three-day quasi-compulsory-but-actually-not workshop on How To Be A Better Lecturer. The answer - you never would have guessed this - is to think about how students learn best. Personally, I've always thought that shifting into a Cornish pirate voice every seven minutes should suffice. Dad, at this point, is still alive and bantering at full pelt with anyone who's up to it. I pick up the essay I haven't touched since February, the one that's due at the end of the month, on cyborgs and slavery, and start googling "automaton"+"spartacus", which turns out to be a disappointingly fruitless research tactic. It rains a bit; Melbourne's water storage is up to 26.3% of capacity. I see Disgrace, which thank-heavens uses John Malkovich rather than Ralph Fiennes as David Lurie, but nearly vomit when a chuckle runs through the audience as Lurie's putting the moves on Melanie. (The capacity to elicit that chuckle - the "this is a romantic comedy, isn't it? and that reluctant girl will actually fall for him?" chuckle - was one of the best things about this film, which of course is not a romantic comedy, but grim and harrowing, as the chucklers must have found out to their horror.) And here I am, disgorged by the past fortnight, with a Beatrice on my lap and a Harriet near my feet, and great pools of unplumbed internet for me to continue to ignore as I get on with this next bit, of life.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Celebrating my inordinate belief in the power of the fact

Captain Robert Hunt was the fourth commandant of the convict settlement of Norfolk Island between November 1828 and February 1829. That's not very long.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

On spending the weekend in parentville

They have some amazing widgets, my parents, like the widget that enables their computer to photograph a surly beagle untimely plucked from 'neath his quilt.

It's 10.30. It's a Sunday morning. The valley is a low sea of fog and the hills have their heads in the clouds and everything outside is drippy and wet, and it's the shortest day of the year, and the black cockatoos are screeching like mad spirits, and why would any self-respecting dog be out of bed? I blame myself and my parents' amazing widgets.

My Aged Pa - he of death-defying quadruple-bypass fame - is having a state-of-the-art all-synthetic hip joint installed on Wednesday. It's been on my list of ambitions for a while now, setting up a seniors' nightclub called Hip Joint (this is after I move to Tasmania and change my name to Charlotte), but now that the Aged P. is staring down the prospect of six months swiveling around on crutches, hip replacements aren't looking quite so festive.

Because I was examining a wee thesis yesterday, the Aged P. and I got to discussing the thesis he submitted in 1970 on economic determinants of urban form. I've stolidly resisted reading it for thirty years, but I started on it yesterday evening, and it's excellent, with lines like "the hinterland of today's cities is the whole world".

Monday, 15 June 2009

The immiseration of the rentenproletariat will hasten the revolution

There are two things you should know about me:

1. I have no intention of altering my domestic arrangements in the foreseeable future.
2. I have been perusing the real estate pages over dinner.

Please don't press me for explanations. It's a disgusting habit and I'm thoroughly ashamed of it. It's only a matter of time before I'm checking the uranium prices first thing after breakfast, jabbing off messages to my broker, and saying savage things to the cats when my derivatives go toxic. (I don't do that, rest assured - it's still the garden variety vice of real estate voyeurism for me.)

So my secret's out: I have been perusing the real estate pages over dinner, and lo!, I see that the erstwhile Hôtel Harlot is once more on the rental market - for $230 a week. Those of you who inhabit the cockroachial climes of inner Sydney will of course scoff at my $230 a week. It's barely more than the price of a crushed berry frappe overlooking the jelly blubbers of East Circular Quay. But $230 is some 43.75% more than the $160 per week that I paid for Hôtel Harlot when I first moved Melbournewards 28 months ago. By my calculations (bear in mind that I single-handedly solved Fermat's last theorem before you try to challenge me on this), that's an inflation rate of over 19% per annum.

We can partly attribute this to the fact that folks have only very recently realised that Thornbury is an infallible source of wholemeal spelt pasta. But it's more than that: the world is not a whole 43.75% more aware of the charms of wholemeal spelt pasta. In fact, wholemeal spelt pasta is not particularly charming. You can gussy it up with lots of garlic and olives and jolly sprigs of parsley, but it remains, regardless, righteous, wholesome and cardboardy. My alternative explanation for the 43.75% rent increase is this (bear in mind that I wrote Das Kapital AND The Wealth of Nations before you challenge me here): the filthy capitalist landlord class is putting one over the rentenproletariat. Given the parlous economic times in which we live, and the very amenable interest rates the filthy capitalist landlord class currently enjoys (not me, I signed up for a mortgage at the preposterous fixed rate of 8.75% p.a. [for five years (yes, I know)]), I have to say that the filthy capitalist landlord class is not very nice. Unless it uses its vast obscene wealth to set up shelters for penurious spelt addicts.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Hello blog

Just dropping by from Planet Essay-marking to inform you that I seem to have inadvertantly converted three hundred and twenty-one students to Team Harold Bloom. Who woulda thunk that the youtubification of America's canoniser-in-chief would have the good scholars of tomorrer decrying the political correctitude that has robbed them, robbed them, of the opportunity to read Shakespeare? Nobody reads Shakespeare anymore, it turns out, because the canon-busting femmo-Marxo-anarcho-aesthetic-relativists put all the Riverside editions in a big pile labeled School of Resentment, tossed in a match, and proceeded to toast their organic tofu on little sticks.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


A very big eggplant or a very small fifty cent piece? The epistemic conundra of modern life, courtesy of the Psarakos Veg Emporium.

N.B. My sister took this photo, but it was my local eggplant market.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Architects have all the best words

Wainscot, flange, lintel, cornice, cantilever, weephole, balustrade, sill ... oh my ... quoins.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Amazing rolly rolls and a boxy box.

Leonard was waiting for me this evening at the letterbox. She kept her feet tucked under her middle, and stretched her neck out towards me. "Do something about that itch there below my chin, would you?" she said. "A little to the left. Lower. Lower. No, higher. Purr."

As I had so satisfactorily attended to her chin, Leonard escorted me up the stairs to the lobby door, where I was to perform my useful door-opening function. But just as we reached that Fatal Portal, she remembered. My cats. I'm the one who imported the cats into her spare apartment. Those small ones, with the whiskers. Me. Them.

Leonard looked me in the eyes and hissed like hot iron. Then she scarpered back down the stairs with her hackles on.

While she has elected to spend the first night of Winter outside (outside, Leonard, where there are more cats than your wildest nightmares could possibly concoct, all roaring their terrible meows and lashing their terrible fluffy tails, and this when you could be lounging around my place contracting ringworm and snaffling stray Iams Kitten Growth Formula pellets), back in front of the heater, Harriet and Beatrice are in ecstasies of cardboard, many thanks to their inaugural correspondant, Genevieve the Tucker, who sent not only the superior toilet rolls which you see below

but also this multifunction cardboard box,

excellent for the sitting in, the chewing of, and the enabling of

acts of synchronised felinicity calculated to temporarily distract a human from the violations of corporeal sovereignty entailed in the application of fungicidal ointment to a person's ears.

The beasts of Harlot Heights say Thank you, Genevieve. You're tops.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Der Ringworm des Nibelungen

I took Harriet and Beatrice to the vet on Friday night, and she confirmed what my fine eye for a fungal infection had suspected: the ringworm, they haz it. Actually, I prefer to think of it less as ringworm, and more as Athlete's Foot of the ear. I am up to my armpits in antifungalistics, very keen to smash this protozoa in its infancy and not to have to feed the wee beasts the terrible fungicide tablets of doom and liver-destruction.

Top ten impediments to my protozoa-smashing:

1. That Beatrice passionately longs to lick the poisonous ointment off Harriet's ear.

2. That Harriet very reasonably responds to the smearing of poisonous ointment onto her chin by raking her toenails through whatever flesh is nearest (i.e., mine).

3. My aversion to bleach. My floorboard sealant's aversion to bleach. My respiratory tract's aversion to bleach.

4. The size of my borrowed cauldron vis a vis the size of the soft furnishings I need to boil.

5. Paucity of sunny drying spaces for the soft furnishings I have attempted to boil in the too-small borrowed cauldron.

6. That the novelty of combating Athlete's Foot of the ear wears off after about two hours.

7. Delusions of parasitosis, mine.

8. A. S. Byatt's The Children's Book, first 147 pages thereof. More fun.

9. Theological angst. Cf. William Blake's "The Tyger", only substitute "Ryngworm" for "Tyger". See especially the line, "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?", where "thee" = "Ryngworm". I had similar difficulties back in my flea hostessing days, and overcame the apparent problem of evil by recognising the sheer majestic beauty of the flea and its various contributions to the ecosystem.

10. Spores.

On the plus side, Harlot Heights is only 50 square metres when it sticks its tummy out. Fortunately I don't have the misfortune of living in a beautiful four bedroom Victorian weatherboard in Northcote with pressed metal ceilings and antique fireplaces and cedar fittings. Phew.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Dry-as-dust ivory-towerite comments on raunchophile film review

Steve Jacobs is making a film based on J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. A risky business, where the ironic gap between the book's narrator and author is so carefully concealed. How do you do that kind of irony in film? I'm looking forward to finding out, or being gleefully disappointed that one of the best elements of the novel hasn't survived adaptation. Meanwhile, yes, yes, yes, I understand that a film borrowing a name and some plot points from a novel can't be expected to reproduce in facsimile the original text, and a good thing, and blah and so on, yes, I understand that, but still, Disgrace says some important things in a complicated way, and it'll be a shame and not very surprising if the film ends up saying the opposite of those important things for sheer want of subtlety.

What's twitching my digits right now is this, from Brian McFarlane's review of Disgrace and Philip-Roth-spawn
Elegy (which I have seen, and which is a very good film if you don't mind having to participate in its lascivious appraisal of Penelope Cruz's legs and its apparently unironic [?] theme song, "When you make love to a woman you get revenge for all the things that defeated you in life," which is the kind of sentiment that makes me want to sign up for a life stint in the local nunnery) – and now returning to my sentence – I am perflexed by this, from Brian McFarlane's review: "An ageing academic myself, I must say in passing how gratifying it is to see these raunchy protagonists as distinct from the dry-as-dust, ivory-tower image more often associated with the profession."

What? What, what, what, what, what? It's gratifying to see oneself represented by David Lurie – despite whose self-justifying narration seems to me to rape his student, Melanie – or David Kepesh, who by his own admission uses women's bodies, his students' bodies, as receptacles for his vengeance? And there's something pleasing, and "raunchy" (good lord!), and pleasingly, raunchily subversive about depicting academics as sexual predators? I've had a few too many friends propositioned by their course coordinators or dumped,
après shenanigans, by their supervisors, and seen too many of the consequences, to feel gratified by the Lurie/Kepesh depictions.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Oh, girls just want to have fungi

No thyme to blog because of mad panicked dash towards essay-writing finish-line, except to say:

1. I read today that in the late nineteenth century, a majority of surveyed folks reported dreaming in colour. In the mid-twentieth century, a majority reported dreaming in black-and-white. I happen to think this is a very impressive statistic.

2. I think Harriet and Beatrice might have ringworm. Excellent. Also, whenever anyone says the words "headlice" or "fleas" or, you know, "fungal infection savaging its way across your kittens' ears", I get incredibly itchy. All over.

Feel free to decline my invitation to afternoon tea. I'll understand.

Friday, 22 May 2009


It is a little known fact that today I turn fifty-six, if you round my age up to the nearest fifty-six. Certainly I am nearer to fifty-six than zero, which is not something I could have truthfully claimed four years ago. Just goes to show, if you keep working hard enough at something, you'll get there eventually.

I have been celebrating my birthday by Working At Home, which is still working, even if I do most of it in bed and pyjamas. Before lunch, for instance, I wrote a paragraph towards the 7000 word essay that is due on the 30th May. It's a very exciting essay (oh yes), about the rhetorical exchanges between Decadent poets and late nineteenth-century psych-iatrists/ologists in codifying those conditions now known as synaesthesia, and I wrote the conference paper version of it in January. Now I have to turn it into something that will withstand the buffets and blows of peer scrutiny, with no prospect of distracting said peers from my logical slipshoddery by the usual (my charmingly Australian accent, the light winkling off my spectacles, the blob of dried hummus on my lapel). So back to my day: I wrote this paragraph before lunch, and after lunch I deleted most of it, and then I decided to let the essay moulder at the back of my cranium for another day while I addressed the pressing matter of Monday morning's three hour seminar on Janet Frame. The thing is, and I know I'll sound like Geeky McGeek in saying this, but I can't imagine a nicer way to spend a birthday. Especially if you throw in a couple of cats spilling off my lap, and some interesting things from my sisters in the letterbox, and the knowledge that tomorrow morning the Beagle Express is going to be hurtling down the Hume Highway bearing Wilbur and my parents, who have kindly scheduled a date with a suitcase repairperson so as to excuse the seven hours of driving that will enable them to have a birthday dinner with me.

So what have I learned in my fifty-six years? This: that American exchange students often have names like Brandi and Hunt; that you should always carry a safety pin; that however you cook it, tempeh tastes like it has been prised from the forest floor with a sharp gumboot; that "facetious" contains every vowel in alphabetical order, as does "facetiously".

Monday, 18 May 2009

Because I don't want the ad for Dr Circumcision to remain at the top of my bloglet

Would Madam care for some chalk and cheese? Chef uses Gruyere, with lightly crumbled limestone. Highly recommended, but a slightly dusty aftertaste, so I suggest a good red. Trotsky, perhaps.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Buy one, get one free

It's hard to say what's best about this. The quotation marks around "all ages, all reasons"? That it appeared in my letterbox with a take-away pizza menu? That Dr Mohammed Jabbar has proudly made circumcision his life's work?

Home maintenance for the domestic short-haired feline

Everybody knows that cats are remarkably clean animals. It's a knowledge, in my case, gleaned through empirical observation of mesdames Harriet and Beatrice, who make a habit of licking each others' anuses with their antiseptic tongues and burying their poos with such sanitary rigour, such hygienic applications of the poo-burying muscles, that fæcal matter and clumps of kitty litter can be found in every corner of my bathroom - if indeed the first person possessive pronoun pertains in the case of a bathroom overrun by kitten excrement.

So here Harriet and Beatrice (last seen up on the kitchen bench eating the sourdough I left out for my lunch) share with you some of their thoughts about domestic hygiene.

"Clean the sink so it don't stink". Thus runs the old housewifely adage, and sepia-toned Beatrice contemplates a bathroom sink well licked. Note especially her careful removal of the plastic drain pipe cover, which was restored to its rightful place on my pillow.

"Who doth not prance upon the clothes airing rack catcheth no invisible moths" (Mrs. Beeton). What is a clean shirt without a smudgy paw print, I ask you?

"The price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance." As Harriet reminds us here, the fact that you are licking your sister's forehead is no excuse for not keeping an ear out for the neighbour's chickens. Amateur forehead-lickers, take note.

Also remember that the toilet isn't just for sitting on, it's for falling into. If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing right.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

No boxed gifts please

I've received some pretty fancy wedding invitations in my time, but yesterday's wedding invitation takes the three-tiered cake. First there's the silver envelope, addressed to Ms Harlot. Inside is a silver gauze bag tied with silver silk ribbon. Inside is a map, a reply paid envelope containing a pre-printed RSVP card, and a plastic pocket, wrapped in another silver ribbon on which are printed the names of the happy prenuptial couple. Inside the plastic pocket are twelve jigsaw pieces, on each one of which is a dissevered portion of the happy prenuptial couple's faces and glimpses of what looks like normal wedding-invitationese. I assemble the jigsaw, and find in the bottom right hand corner the exhortation: "No boxed gifts please".

Someone is going to have to remove the toothpaste stain from my party dress.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


My siblings, Cistern and Malkovski Harlot*, turned forty on the weekend. Cistern**, struck down with sudden maturity, decided to swim one hundred metres for every year of her life. That's 4 kilometres, my fellow sedentarians – 2.48 miles in the old money – a long way by anyone's standards, except Cistern's, who about five years ago decided to become an all-singing, all-dancing athlete-progenitrix-PhD-student. She cast aside her dissipated yoof, tossing off half-Marathons before breakfast, penning award-winning thesis chapters by lunchtime, traipsing the world and co-parenting a truly stellar specimen of nieceliness.

When a person manages to circumnavigate Pacific islands wearing nothing but a pair of goggles*** and when such a person invites her sister to join her in her birthday swim, and when her sister hasn't seen her other sister and assorted other stellar specimens of niecephewliness for yonkers, due to the fact that the sister who is I has run away to make her fortune in the Deep (dank) South, that same sister of course enters into a contractual arrangement with Mr Aeroplane Company and betakes herself to Sydvillea, City of Swimming Pools. And despite the fact that she (I) hasn't swum more than a hundred metres in the last year, she (I) manages to polish off a hundred metres for every year of her (my) life too, blessing her cotton socks for making her 9 years younger than the hero of this story. Rest assured, I have been retrospectively carbo-loading ever since, which is one of the best things about unwonted three kilometre swims.

"But what about the kittens?" you ask. "Where were they while you swanned up to Sydney to loll around in swimming pools?" Well, seeing you ask, they were at home, where internetian superhero and cat-tolerator, Timothy T, was simultaneously entertaining his mother and educating my quadrupeds in the finer points of G. K. Chesteron. At which point it behoves me to disclose that Timothy T is not only as excellent as you ever thought he was, but excellenter. He left Harlot Heights on Sunday night, not only the richer for his cat-wrangling, his G. K. Chesterton appreciation, and a carton of full-cream milk, but also stuffed to the ceiling with what I suspect is his brother's entire tomato crop. Let she who craves ratatouille have it in abundance.

Harriet and Beatrice, if this is possible, were even more lovely by Sunday night than they had been the previous Friday. They are growing in stature and catliness, and have learnt all sorts of magnificent feline skills. To wit: gnawing on the leaves of the potted bamboo; dismembering toilet paper rolls; nibbling on phone bills, and (less pleasingly) library books; mountaineering their way onto the kitchen bench and licking scraps from plates, and then mountaineering their way back onto the kitchen bench as soon as they are removed from the kitchen bench, and then mountaineering their way back onto the kitchen bench, etc; pouncing on things that move suspiciously under bedclothes; gazing wistfully into the loo.

Meanwhile, there remains the matter of my brother turning forty too. If anyone has any good present ideas for a person who likes beagles, sudoku and marzipan, speak now.

* Not their real names.
** Still not her real name.
*** And swimmers. And a cap. And contact lenses.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Or virtue rewarded

If, like me, you are planning to mention Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740) in your lecture at 4pm today, do not try plugging "Pamela" into Google Image search. It will lower the tone of your powerpoint presentation.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

The Dark Lady's Wardrobe

There's been not much doing round here, on account of it being high marking season. Thrills all round, really. Take this scenario, fur egg sample:

1. Student writes on Mr W. Shakespeare's Sonnet, the Number Twenty, reproduced below for your all-round edification.

A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all hues in his controlling,
Much steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

2. Student explains that Shakespeare considers men morally superior to women because Renaissance men are "not acquainted with shifting change".

3. Student explains that Renaissance women were notorious for shifting change because menstruation and the insufficiency of Elizabethan undergarments necessitated regular changes of clothes, whereas Renaissance men could sport the same pair of pantaloons for months on end.

4. Smitten with this elegantly historicised account of how Early Modern tamponlessness shaped Shakespeare's sexual preferences, your trusty servant retires to her chamber, where she tells her rosary for five hours before she can resume her examinatorial pen with renewed faith in the something something something.

Meanwhile, the ENORMOUS cats (3.8 kg between them, as of their last vetting) had their inaugural experience of the heater last night.

Pleasure with a capital P.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Most Australian Sentence Ever

Overheard on the bus this evening: "I kid you not, Brucie, the band's fucken grouse."

Thursday, 16 April 2009

When laps fail, try laptops

Some of us are trying to get some work done round here.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Good Lord.

The Barbara Jefferis Award is offered annually for “the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society”.

The Australian Society of Authors announces Helen Garner as the winner of the Barbara Jefferis Award 2009, for The Spare Room.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

In praise of Wilbur

Someone told me that for their first twenty weeks, kittens are pliable, unprejudiced beasts, that if one intends for them one day to cohabit with salamanders, beagles, small humans, etc, one should introduce them in their malleable youth to salamanders, beagles, small humans, etc. Likewise, if one doesn't want one's cat to demand a lifetime's supply of foie gras and smoked trout, one should acclimatise the gustatorially unworldly kitten to the delights of Iams Growth Formula, a nutritious blend of vitamins, slaughterhouse byproduct, and volcanic rubble. Which reminds me: oh domesticated obligate carnivores, how you confuse my animal rightsbianism!

As I am very, very, very fond of dogs, and occasionally fantasise about a future wherein I work from home on a souped-up steampunk laptop while puppies frolic about my ankles (in this future I have a sprawling garden, and some clever vegan has invented a delicious, nutritious dogfood made entirely from chickpeas and sorrel), I thought it would be a good thing to introduce my pliable young kittens to a sensible specimen of dogliness. And as I was Eastering in Bright, where dwells Wilbur the Wonderdog, the dearest dog who is, I thought it would be a good thing to begin Harriet's and Beatrice's dog appreciation lessons.

I was optimistic about Harriet's and Beatrice's dog appreciation lessons. So optimistic that I expected to be showing you photos of H and B curled up beneath Wilbur's velveteen ears. Optimistic, despite the ill omen of the V-Line website, which prohibits the carriage of non-human animals on all V-Line trains and omnibuses, except where the animal is enslaved as a human prosthesis.

While it turns out - one Budget rental car later - that Harriet and Beatrice are excellent motorists (not only did they not wee on, claw, or otherwise defile the Budget rental car, they slept through the better part of two three-hour journeys, occasionally looking out the window and casting their collective feline eye over bucolic prospects and pastures brown), that is the extent of their pliability. As for curling up under the ear of the world's loveliest dog, pliable is exactly what they were not.

On Thursday night, my kittens learnt how to hiss, and growl, and spit, and do menacing things. Wilbur understood, and politely reversed to a distance of three metres, then sat down, facing away from the kittens, none-too-easy. We put the kittens into a comfy room of their own for the night, in which room they planned Operation Intimidate Wilbur, a series of coordinated manoeuvres including hissing, long-range stalking, sniggering behind their paws, and speaking cat. Wilbur, I am proud to say, bore with all this like the paragon of doghood he is, standing back to let kittens pass, leaving the room on request, sleeping with one eye open for four days. His only consolation was in the unguarded dishes of Iams Growth Formula someone had left on the bathroom floor.

Wilbur, in less molested times.

By yesterday, Harriet was slinking up to Wilbur and sniffing his paws. Wilbur was diplomatically not noticing. He walked me down the driveway to the hire-car yesterday afternoon, making very sure that all my luggage was packed. Baleful ain't the half of it.