Friday, 27 February 2009

More irking

Actually, I've changed my mind. This is what irks: journalists who think it is appropriate to hold children to account for their own statutory rape. I don't particularly recommend clicking on that link. It'll take you to a typically loathsome Sydney Morning Herald article about - ha ha ha - child prostitution. The shock-horror angle is not that a fifteen year old is the victim of who knows how many counts of statutory rape, but that her rapists paid her! She made pots of money! From a shortlived career as a weekend prostitute! It's a laugh a minute!

The pots of money (£8000, as it turns out) have been "forfeited to the authorities". I'm guessing this is meant to deter other fifteen year olds from getting ideas above their station. I call it theft, and humbly submit that there would be no need to deter fifteen year olds from taking up sex work if we deterred adults from thinking that throwing a credit card around entitles them to have sex with children.

In other news, The Australian is appalled, appalled, that four foster children are still in the care of a prostitute, even though "child protection authorities were warned last May". Because it's quite clear that anyone trying to support her foster children through sex work has no interest in their wellbeing.

Slash and Swinburne

You know what really irks? It's when you're writing an essay on Algernon Charles Swinburne, and in your wanderings round the world-wide-webble, you learn that Oscar Wilde allegedly described Algernon Charles Swinburne as “a braggart in matters of vice, who had done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestializer,” and this would be the most excellent alleged allegation in the world for the purposes of your essay, except that though the www has over three hundred instances of this purported Wildeanism, not one of them tells you where or when Wilde allegedly said what he allegedly did say, and so you could cite the alleged Wilde quotation in your essay, but you would have to accompany it with a whopping big disclaimer, and a glaring gap where the comments about to whom or why or when Wilde said what he allegedly said should be. Meanwhile, you have spent the last two hours checking every darn database in town. To No Avail.

Happily, however, I just checked the letterbox, and it turns out that after two years of diligently swiping my FlyBuys card, I am now entitled to a $20 voucher.


I grumbled to one of the karate parents last night about the Dire Impending Imminence of Semester 1. Semester 1, for those of you still using the Gregorian calendar, begins on Monday.

"Sorry?" quoth Karate Parent. "Next week? March 2nd? Do you mean to say you've been on holidays for four months?"

"Oh, no, no, no. Not holidays. Certainly not. I have been Writing and Researching and Attending Conferences ... [cough] ... a conference ... and Preparing Lectures ... thinking about preparing lectures ..."

I could see the thought forming in Karate Parent's mind. It looked something like this: "You privileged lazy bugger." But gentle-hearted karate parent that she is, she said: "Yes, I can see how that would be hard work."

"And I feel like I've only just gotten started. With the writing, you know. And I love teaching, I really do, but I'm going to be doing the writing in stolen time now, and March has come so quickly."

Karate Parent, who wrangles a family and packs away thirty-five hours a week of geriatric nursing in her spare time, looked at me pityingly.

Meanwhile, down at the farm, it's been O-week a-go-go, which - many thanks to Howard-Government-Mandated Compulsory Voluntary Student Unionism - no longer involves students trying to solicit students to join debating societies, women's collectives, beer appreciation clubs, thaumaturge impersonators' cabals. Instead, O-Week manifests with employees (i.e., students trying to fund their education habit) trying to sell to students the wares of international telecommunications conglomerates, newspaper manufactories, Portuguese fried chicken byproduct vendors, and bubbly caffeine delivery devices. In the midst of all which - "Get your Red Bull here! Free Mobile Phone with Every $1500 purchase!" - a few valiant student clubs huddle around their card tables.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

First day of Lent

Only thirty-nine more days without lentils to go.

Also, it rained! And immediately the electricity failed! And the roads looked buttered, they had so much oil easing to their surface!

Friday, 20 February 2009


"Peduncle" is my new favourite word. Gratuitous discussion of plant morphology coming soon to a conversation near you.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


I started reading Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones on Saturday - and, of course, though I'd promised myself that I'd only read a couple of chapters, a brief detour from my schedule of proper (work-related) reading, I'd promised myself with my fingers in a twist behind my back. These are the first sentences: "My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973." It was clear, from this point at least, that I wasn't going to get back to my essay until the book was over.

I loathe the way I'm attracted to narratives about trauma. I sat last week poring over the bushfire news footage, knowing before I clicked my way to the papers that I would be crying within minutes. I empathise for as long as I'm reading, or watching, and when the story's over I empathise a bit more, and then I get back to my life, it's 6 o'clock and all's well. Sometimes the empathy prompts me to do something, something helpful, or something that I hope will be helpful, but sometimes there's nothing to do, there's no remedy or gesture towards remedy within my reach, or, though I feel deeply for a moment, the moment passes. I go to these stories, not because encountering them will enable me to help, but for the pleasure of emoting. It's a kind of pornography, the trauma narrative, a depiction of suffering intended to excite a visceral, pleasurable response. (Or perhaps more accurate to say that in having this response, I pornographise such stories.) Last week I was anguished - as we all still are - to think of the people who have died, and whose family have died, and of the dogs trapped in sheds, and the cows burnt to death in their paddocks, and of losing homes, and of forests incinerated (even writing these words, I'm lathering up my own horror). One thing to be deeply saddened and to do what you can to help, but I kept going back again and again to those stories, needing to read more of them, as if my ongoing reading did anyone any good. I went back to them and I kept on crying, for a suffering that isn't mine, indulging and exalting in my tremendous capacity for fellow-feeling. If anyone can come up with a more ennobling explanation for my fascination, please send it this way.

Sebold's novel is about how Susie lives in heaven with the memory of her rape and murder, and with her ongoing surveillance of her old, changed world and of the man who killed her. It's an exhilarating story. Its exploration of what it would be like to be dead, to watch the living, to long for revenge, memorialisation, life, is a way of making literal the idea that certain experiences change a person so fundamentally, deprive them of so much that they valued, it is as if their life is over.

At lunchtime on Monday I went to the library and borrowed Sebold's memoir, Lucky, a tale, so the blurb tells me, of "what it's like to go through a particular kind of nightmare" and "what it's like - slowly, bumpily, triumphantly - to heal." A man raped and beat Sebold in a park when she was eighteen; she prosecuted, successfully. It's hard to tell where the triumph fits into all this, or the healing. Perhaps the fact that there is a memoir at all is meant to be proof that Sebold is now triumphantly healed: there certainly isn't a lot of triumph within its pages, where the central act of violence is compounded by what comes after, a father who asks Sebold how she could have been raped if the attacker didn't have a knife, etc, etc. Etc. It's not as crafted a book as The Lovely Bones, but I've been wondering if some memoirists cultivate a deliberately anti-literary quality, because literariness, associated with fiction, might be construed (questionably) as the opposite of truthfulness. So it's not apparently as crafted a book, but - maybe because I read it so quickly after her other - it has crawled into me. I am full of the horror of violence. I am sad, sad, sad at the thought that a person can deliberately do so much hurt.

Not that sad does any good. I'm suspicious of what draws me to the stories that I know are going to bring me here. I can imagine the need to tell or have one's story of suffering told. I can imagine wanting it to be read, and wanting the reader to feel angry, sad, indignant, maybe even vengeful, on my behalf. But my reading isn't to oblige this want in the writer. It's for my pleasure, masochistic though that pleasure seems to be.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Happy 200, Mr Darwin

"The way he brought us up is shown by the story of Leo on the sofa which my father was fond of telling; it being forbidden to jump on the sofa for the sake of the springs, my father came in & found Leo dancing about & said 'Oh Lenny Lenny [it's] against all rules' to which Leo 'Then I think you'd better go out of the room.'"

- Francis Darwin

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Land of the long white shroud

Okay, I promise, no more posts about New Zealand after this. Maybe one. Or two. But no more than that. Thing is, I'm completely smitten, with

New Zealand sunsets

New Zealand weather (note: February)

New Zealand rockpools

strange New Zealand seaside geological formations

indigenous New Zealand grasses

bumblebees the size of baby mice on New Zealand thistles.

What's rising unemployment, a conservative prime minister and the constant threat of earthquake when you've got all that?

Tuesday, 10 February 2009


This is not a slow news week, so the SMH's decision to run a 1200-worder on apostrophes surely proclaims yon apostrophe's supposed status as the orthographic glue that sticks it to the cro-magnon man. Anyone who's spent a pleasant afternoon with Lynne Truss (or wondered what exactly it is to which the avocado's down the shops lay claim) will know this story well: mangled apostrophification today, cannibalism and tax-evasion tomorrow.

I take as much joy as the next chap in being an over-educated know-it-all punctuation pedant (show me your Strunk and White, and I'll raise you an Eric Partridge), but some of our apostrophic regulations are retained purely to sort the initiates from the folks who've got other things to worry about, not because they elucidate.

William Langley, exasperated with thems that just can't get it, opines, "The apostrophe only has two real functions. In contracted verbs and pronouns it indicates something left out. As in aren't or he'll. It also forms singular and plural possessives - eg king's or kings'." In fact, once upon a time, the apostrophe had only one real function, to signal contraction. This held true for contracted verbs and pronouns ("can it" became "can't"), as it held true in the case of possessives ("the dogges breakfast" became "the dog's breakfast").

It's been some years now since English speakers formed the possessive by adding es, and though I mourn the loss of the antes pants, the cattes whiskers, and the fishes bicycle, I think it's high time we stopped pretending that there was any sort of contraction going on for the possessive-formulators of ye modern Englishe. The possessive apostrophe is now as useful as the male nipple. Like the male nipple, it is decorative (just ask my Ladies' College), but can you express from it? No. Not much.*

* Comments elaborating on the phenomenon of male lactation will be deleted. This post regards apostrophes, not nipples. N.B. I have nothing against anyone's nipples. Wilbur has eight of them.

Now is the time

If you have any spare money.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Speaking of seals, that reminds me of ... erm ... me

My Sydvillean relations recently informed me that one of the seals at Taronga Zoo is called Lexie. It's hard to think of a higher tribute to a name than to have it conferred upon a seal. That it happens to be my name too fills me with an inordinate pleasure. I may not be much chop when it comes to balancing things on my nose, but nodoubtaboutit, Lexie the Seal and I share a deep spiritual bond.

I also share a deep spiritual bond with the butter substitute known as Nuttelex. Nuttelex, like me, comes in Original, Olive, Lite, Kosher, and Cholesterol Lowering varieties. It is my butter substitute of preference, and I would be adding dishonesty to narcissism if I denied that half the appeal is in the final syllable.

So it was with considerable pleasure that I stumbled upon Dunedin's Alexis Motor Lodge. Had I not already paid up for a completely satisfactory berth at the backpackers', and had the Alexis Motor Lodge had any vacancies, I would have been hard pressed not to barge in immediately and demand a room with complementary monogrammed towels.

Then I see my surname in Christchurch. This building isn't a seal. In fact, I have no idea what this building is. It might be the headquarters of the South Pacific Meatpackers' Union, for all I know, but is that going to stop me from posing in front of it? Are the bemused looks of Christchurchians who wonder why some backpack-sporting nerd is standing on their tramtrack? Is the fact that someone else has to be persuaded to wield the camera? Um, no.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Could all pessengers on flight DJ61 please report to the chicken counter

I scored a fantastically cheap flight back from Christchurch: $51, plus your usual chocolate box of taxes. If someone had told my great-great-grandmothers that their descendant would be ferried over alps and glaciers and Tasman Seas, and deposited safely back in the loving bosom of Her Majesty's Colony of Victoria, all for the price of two dozen kippers, they would have et their great-great-grandmaternal bonnets. $51, even affianced to twice that amount in taxes, is v. bloody cheap indeed.

The only catch was that I had to board a plane at 6:45am, which meant getting to the airport around 5am, which meant prising apart my gummy eyelids &c., far earlier than I care to recall, especially if you factor in the New Zealandian time advance (which time advance I'm factoring in with a vengeance, if only to impress upon you the Incredible Feat entailed in my waking up at 2am, since when I have not slept, a fact which I blame on Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake,* which I recommend to you all, unless you ought to be sleeping, in which case eschew Peter Carey's My Life as a Fake as if it were a yardglass of macchiato).

I got home to find that the 'Bourne had been slugged with 46.4ºC of thermopreposterousness yesterday, and that fires were (are) ravaging whole towns, and dozens and dozens of people have died, and who knows how many dogs and possums and wallabies. There are no words for how horrible this is.

Dunedin is lovely. Little, and hilly, full of gallant old Victorian buildings that noone seems to think deserve special attention (like having their broken windowpanes replaced).

And the coast is defended by these chaps, who I mistakenly thought might want to have their photos taken.

Apparently not. This one demonstrated his teeth, and his bark, and his breath (fishy), and emitted a watery poo of such proportions that I can only conclude I was being told to rack off. Mess ye not with the fur seal, for he doth a convincing line in cranky.

Stay tuned for further instalments in Why New Zealand is the Ixcillintist Country in Town, just as soon as I've gone got myself a wee kip. Bon soir.

* Exhilarating book. It takes The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Frankenstein and the Ern Malley affair, chops 'em up, puts 'em together again, and leaves me so admiring that I'm wondering if I, the reader, have been had on, Angry-Penguinsesquely.

Monday, 2 February 2009


Dear Unternit,

I forgot to mention that I was slupping off to New Zealand. Well, I was. And now I'm here, slupped off. The internet costs $37.50 per minute, plus my firstborn, so I'll withhold details, except to say that I'm in Dunedin, it's cold (HURRAY!), and yesterday I bumped into some seals scratching their whiskers on the beach. Photos will ensue, but prolly not til next weekend, when I'll be back in the land of the world wide webble.