Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Reasons why I love my job immoderately

Things I have learnt or remembered today, in the honest plying of my trade:

1. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Ottery St. Mary in Devonshire. Ottery, I tell you. How he managed to spend the rest of his life in bouts of intermittent misery I can't begin to fathom.

2. Wikipedia (bless its vaguely disreputable but otherwise excellent socks) has a page on the etymology of countries' names, and it turns out that the Isle of Man* is named for Manannán mac Lir, the Brythonic and Gaelic equivalent to the god Poseidon. Way to intimidate the opposition in the America's Cup, no? Or the 100m fly at the Olympic Games?

3. English doesn't just have the word "zoomorphism" (ascription of animal characteristics to a non-animal); it's also got "theriomorphism", ascription of the characteristics of a wild beast to a non-wild-beast. I guess this is the difference between calling your colleague a pussy-cat and a tiger. Not that you should do either. There's no call for metaphor in the modern workplace.

* Isle of Man: (a) not actually a country, (b) birthplace of one of my numerous great grandparents, or something (I don't always pay attention), and (c) associated by reputation with those cats without the tails, who are no relation to my great grandparent, despite what you might infer from this Beatrice impostor.

Friday, 13 August 2010


I recently came into possession of Pauline Hanson's Untamed & Unashamed: The Autobiography.* Lest Hanson's subsequent flamenco routines on Dancing with the Stars and Who Wants to Migrate to the Motherland? have blurred your memory of what she was, in 1997, to an Australia that still talked about multiculturalism like it might be a bit of all right, allow me to quote from the preface she wrote (or "wrote") to her autobiography (or "autobiography") in August 2006:

Another reason why I wrote this book was the frustration of being castigated as a racist by the media and major political parties after my inaugural speech. Yet the very same policies I advocated back then are now almost populist policy, being advocated today by the federal government. For instance, proposing that immigrants should be able to speak and understand English before being allowed into Australia, taking action to stop the illegal refugee situation that was rife at my time in parliament, and a call for immigrants to be sent home if they will not live by our laws, is to name only a few of the beliefs that I made in my inaugural speech. Back then they were 'racist' statements; today the government is advocating the same.

- Pauline Hanson, Untamed & Unashamed: The Autobiography (Docklands, Vic: JoJo Publishing, 2007)

This is where I would have gone if, in some weird parallel universe, I had found myself in Mark Latham's position yesterday, asking Tony "Stop the Boats" Abbott what his role was in gaoling Pauline. I might have suggested that Abbott and the Liberal Party he rode in on wanted Hanson out of the way because they didn't want her attracting the Liberal Party's voters with the Liberal Party's Hansonian policies, that the Liberal Party of the past thirteen years had distinguished itself with its indistinguishability from far-right human-rights-denyin' idiocy. And so forth.

* It was the [ahem] lucky door prize at Poetic Justice on Tuesday night. Far be it from me to look a raffle horse in the mouth, but really. Pauline Hanson's autobiography? Fancy a gold-plated replica of Robert Menzies' toenail while you're at it? Actually, I could have chosen the money box instead. It was pink, cross between a small plastic lady and a skittle. Or Michael Phelps' biography, about Michael Phelps's life, swimming etc. I chose the Hanson. For the same reasons I would have reached for Mein Kampf, morbid curiosity and such.

Nerd alert

There's a brand-spanking-new, baby-powder-blue edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, hitting the shelves (and the webs) by the end of this month. My inner citationologist is a-quiver from footnote to header. Word on the street is that the CMS is encrusted with jewels no less coruscating than this, for the quoters-of-blogs: "There is no need to add pseud. after an apparently fictitious name of a commenter; if known, the identity can be given in the text or in the citation (in square brackets)."

MLA and Harvard, eat my shorts.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Two Cauliflowers

There are two types of cauliflower in Coles: organic cauliflowers, which come wrapped in plastic, and cauliflowers that do not come wrapped in plastic and are inorganic.

What would Jesus do?

The Stately Pleasure Dome that is my working life

There's nothing like writing a lecture on English literature in the wake of the French Revolution to put a person in mind of:

a) literature in English in the wake of 9/11
b) croissants

Can't say I am extremely 'xpert in literature in English in the wake of 9/11 (though while we're here, Simon Armitage's poem, Out of the Blue, is one of those change-your-life sorts of poems, and Rufus Sewell used to be my boyfriend, so you should probably bunker down somewhere with a hanky and a cat and click on that link), though here's a theory, for which I'm not going to advance any evidence, because I am lazy and otherwise engaged and possibly because there isn't any. The theory is this: (1) the post 9/11 West (or if "West" is too homogenised for your tastes, the Axis of We're Not Evil Like Them) has perceived itself to be a sort of frontier, last bastion, yadda yadda, threatened by barbarians* from abroad who are disconcertingly indistinguishable from some of the West's home-grown citizenry; (2) the post 9/11 West, if it thinks about these things at all, thinks that perhaps it is in something like the position of the Ancien Régime just before, during, and after the 1789 foofaraw; (3) this has produced an inordinate interest in 1780s and 90s France and a sympathy for aristocratic layabouts; (4) and textual incarnations of the inordinate interest and sympathy, as in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette and Peter Carey's Parrot and Olivier in America, the latter springing to mind because I read it a month ago and it is still on my desk.

That was unconvincing, wasn't it? Let us discourse instead on the subject of croissants. In 1987, I was enlisted by my grade 3 teacher to join my colleagues, Jackie B and Katherine H, in preparing a class presentation on France. Other members of the class were likewise preparing presentations on Spain, Japan, Wales, etc. We were designated class time to repair in our small group of three and think up information about France (as far as I can recall, "research" for this project entailed pooling our collective 9-year-old foreign affairs knowledge). One day - how many days did we spend fecklessly discussing berets and the Eiffel Tower? - Jackie B brought in a croissant, with the intention of exhibiting it in our presentation. I ate it, naked and cold.

The croissant was naked and cold, that is, not me. I was wearing my school uniform. I am ashamed to confess that I have never been a very sophisticated croissantophile. Until about the age of 15 I preferred my croissants with tomato sauce. Indeed, I preferred most things with tomato sauce. One of the sad side effects of becoming a vegetarian at that age was being deprived of the approved opportunities for eating tomato sauce (i.e., with the hind quarters of cows). With tomato sauce, croissants are sweet, salty and tangy; without tomato sauce, you can't fail to notice that what you are eating is 97% butter.

A couple of months ago, my lady's companion and I went on a three-day, ninety-kilometre tromp from Wangaratta to Bright, mostly for the purpose of wearing tweed and carrying sticks and addressing impromptu doggerel to farm animals. The first leg of the third morning was from the pub, where we'd slept (when you're on a tromp, rather than a hike, you stay in pubs), to the bakery, where we had breakfast. My companion asked for a croissant, and then he asked for jam with his croissant, and then he asked for his croissant with jam to be toasted.

Which act of toasting caused the croissant to be shmooshed into a sandwich toaster, whence it emerged as a kind of pancake-oid agglomeration of butter, flour and jam. If the shmooshed croissant had been available to Europe's intelligentsia in the 1790s, I'm sure they could have spilt a lot less ink trying to represent the condition of France.

* N.B. Barbarianism is a projection from the mind of the person/society that feels itself beleaguered onto those whom it believes itself to be beleaguered by. Noone is actually a barbarian.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Wherein your author gets to the point

I was seventeen when Kaz Cooke first told me that a breast could look like a ferret's nose and be nonetheless a perfectly sensible breast. Given that ferrets' noses are exactly what my breasts looked like - whiskers and everything - I figured at this point that Kaz Cooke was my own personal oracle. I read Real Gorgeous front to back, pausing only to plait my armpit hair, and when she scored her column in Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald, I took to writing out her name with TimTam crumbs on our kitchen table.

But over time, as the pong of a person who refuses to use deodorant on the grounds that its aluminium content might cause Alzheimer's doth dissipate in a field of violets, so too did my devotion. Thing was, those columns in the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald weren't even dogs' breakfasts. Dogs' breakfasts, in my experience, consist of only one or two ingredients, or where there are several ingredients, they're reconstituted in roughly equisized and monochromatic pellets. Kaz's articles were more like my breakfasts - fifteen different constituents before you even boil the kettle. There she'd begin, with an amusing anecdote about abseiling in cheerleader gear, and before you knew it she'd be ending on a recipe for Baked Alaska. Or she'd kick off with something punchy about workplace harassment, then meander her way to the pressing matter of basset hound grooming. It was like being invited to the beach, only to find yourself eating dim sims in the bus shelter.

But that's life, really, isn't it? Your day doesn't tend to unfold according to neatly taxonomised thematic principles. You don't generally remember only things starting with the letter Q, and few of us arise from writing 800 words about the criminal justice system in Bolivia without having squandered a thought or two on the itchy spot just west of our left nostril. Well might you reply that the difference between what's going on in your mind as you're writing 800 words about the criminal justice system in Bolivia and what ends up on the page is a good solid edit, either of the as-you-go school or the retrospective, and to that I would say: yes. Indeed. Too right. Strewth. But I might also say, that just for a change, in the privacy of our own homes, maybe just on Sundays, a bit of an unstructured pootle down the avenues of thought can be a pleasantish thing. I said that my devotion to Kaz waned, but I didn't stop reading her column. She said funny things. In no apparent order, true, but still - funny, and sometimes wise.

Here is a picture of a spooky cactus: