Tuesday, December 30, 2008

FSM bless Us, Every One!

At this time of year I always indulge in a viewing of A Muppet Christmas Carol, at least once, and often any other version of the delightful workings of Mr Dickens' original story. This year saw my discovery of a recent British version, featuring the thuggish Ross Kemp as a loan shark on a London housing estate. I watched it three times, forcing different family members to sit with me each time.

This may seem a bit strange to those of you who have to deal with my usual "Bah! Humbug" attitude to Christmas with all of its modern trappings, but I will defend myself (of course). It is not the notion of a Christian Christmas that Dickens and I want to espouse, but the spirit of the season--the idea that every human being has intrinsic value; that every person has something to give, from the little drummer boy to the most exalted saint. This is the basic philosophy of humanism:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
which is the opening sentence of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (my emphasis).

Here in Australia, the government's response to the current global economic crisis included a one-time cash payment of $1000 per child to every family earning less than a certain income threshold.* The government encouraged families to spend this money on goods and services in the lead-up to Christmas, with the idea of boosting the economy.

I have found the Scrooge-like reactions appalling. One relative, who will remain nameless, complained that her family did not qualify for the payment because their household income was too high: "It sends the wrong message," she said, "to single mothers with five children by six different fathers, who think they can just go out and have more children and the government will give them more money." (That's a loose approximation, not a direct quote, but you get the gist.) "While hardworking people like us get nothing to help with our two mortgages and cable television subscriptions and air-conditioning repairs," she continued in the same vein. In my mind, I could hear Scrooge: "My taxes pay for the poorhouses and prisons, let them go there!"

There have been numerous news stories about families hit by the economic crisis. Last night, a family of four on the television news were shown sitting in front of their widescreen television and wondering how they were going to afford holidays next year when their mortgage payments go up. The other day a couple in the newspaper complained because it was becoming too expensive for her to drive their 4WD from the inner city to the outer suburbs four times a week to visit an elderly parent, while he claimed he had tried taking public transport to the movies instead of driving, "but it is so annoying because sometimes I have to wait for a train". I just want to grab these people by the shoulders and shake them, while shouting, "You are not poor! These are not sacrifices!"

I think it's partly the media's fault for encouraging the whingeing. It doesn't sell newspapers if you have headlines saying, "Poor people still unaffected by mortgage rate rises" or "Tax breaks no help for chronically unemployed" or "Pensioner spends government handout on food and clothing".

As the old year passes and a new one begins, I will be making a resolution to "honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year." I will be thankful for what I have, seek opportunities to share it with those less fortunate, and look for the unique gifts that every person in society can offer. I hope you will too.

* Disclaimer: we didn't qualify for the payment because we earn too much, a fact which makes me both proud and humble.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Missing child

You know how you always get those emails about missing kids but it turns out that they're not missing at all or the information is several decades old...

Well, I know this one is real. In fact, the father of the missing four-year-old is one of His Honour's colleagues. Our local news media has recently run the story and I have a copy of the court order allowing the publication of the information.

Please look at this website and, wherever you are in the world, look for the mother and child. It is thought they may be in Europe, as they were last seen in Germany.

Note that you are asked not to approach them if you see them, but to contact the Australian Federal Police.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Imperial America

So, I'm reading Death from the Skies, and I come to this footnote (page 142):

* Just to be clear, mass and weight are different. Mass is a property of matter; you can think of it as how much matter there is, and we measure it in grams or kilograms. Weight is the force of gravity on that mass, and we measure it in pounds. A cannonball has the same mass whether it's on the Earth or the Moon, but on the Moon it weighs one-sixth as much because gravity is one-sixth as strong; on the Earth 1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, but on the Moon it weighs about 0.36 pound.
I wish to argue this point with my American friends (and that means you, Farmer Pete). The distinction between mass and weight is valid, but you noodles must remember that you guys are just about the only ones in the world who measure weight in weird, old-fashioned units, such as pounds and slugs.

The way Phil has put it is confusing to those of us in the real (read: rest of the) world, where mass is measured in kilograms and weight is commonly measured in kilograms. For instance, in Australia, 1 kilogram of mass equals 1 kilogram of weight. Except perhaps at the top of Mount Kosciuszko, where it might weigh just a little more, or at Lake Eyre, where it would weigh a smidgeon less, but probably not enough to tip even the finest calibration of kitchen scales.

Furthermore, to be really technical, weight is a measure of the force of gravity on the mass of an object (weight = mass x acceleration, for those of you who can't recall high school physics) and it is actually measured in newtons, the SI unit of force. 1 newton is, appropriately, approximately the weight of a small apple at the Earth's surface -- 102g -- and therefore the weight of 1 kilogram at the surface of the Earth is 9.8 newtons, and on the moon, 1.63 newtons.

I raise this point--not as a criticism of Dr Plait's book or his reasoning, which is otherwise entertaining and excellent--but only because that small footnote cost me a couple of hours of brain strain and kept His Honour, AFSM, awake for at least half an hour while I bent his ear about it in bed. The text above is a distilled version of my research and reasoning that I hope will save you the same brain strain when you read the book. Which you should, because it's a great read.

I also wouldn't mind if it alerted some of our US friends that they are about two centuries behind the rest of the world when it comes to a sensible system of weights and measures, and they shouldn't just assume that "we measure it in pounds" when they are writing for an international audience.

On another astronomical note, the Hair Dude and I went to see "Time Warp", a show about space, time and magic with Dr Fred Watson from the Anglo-Australian Observatory and Matt Hollywood, magician. It was entertaining and informative, and the Hair Dude got his copy of Why is Uranus Upside Down? autographed by the star himself. I'll bet Dr Watson doesn't fool around with pounds and slugs in that book, but I'll let you know when we've read it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Last night this gorgeous sunset greeted me when I trudged up the hill with my camera. I was so annoyed! Why?

Because it was blocking my view of a celestial phenomenon that won't happen again for 18 years! I hung around for a while in the hope that the wind might blow the clouds away, but unfortunately it only seemed to be blowing them in. The following (digitally enhanced) shot is the best I was able to get through a thin patch of cloud. At least the three players (the moon, Venus at the top of the frame and Jupiter, faintly on the right) are visible, if not clear.

The one good thing about the night was that I discovered an amazing viewing spot for future use, with 180-degree views to the western horizon. And no, I'm not telling you where it is.

Maison Martin Margiella

I want to shop at this store. When am I going to Paris?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Grumpy old lady rant

Last night I went to the Sydney Opera House to see Sting and Edin Karamazov perform the beautiful Elizabethan lute music from the album Songs from the Labyrinth. I bought the album when it came out last year and loved the arrangements of John Dowland's music, so I was pleased that I managed to snaffle one of the last seats in the Concert Hall for this one-night concert. When I rang the box office to book, they made a point of asking if I was aware that this was not Sting doing his own music, I suppose to avoid disappointed fans.
Nevertheless, the audience on the night was fairly obviously not made up of regular Opera House patrons, judging by the number who had difficulty figuring out where their seats were and exhibiting the following annoying behaviours:
1. Flash photography in the Concert Hall. As if it's not bad enough that they ignore the signs on the foyer walls and the instructions on the back of the tickets, there was an announcement before the start of the concert asking patrons to turn off their mobile phones and refrain from photography -- and the key words are "for the enjoyment of other patrons". Despite all this, in a very dark concert hall with only low spotlights on Sting and Edin, bright camera flashes went off intermittently all night, even during the songs! Apart from the strain it was putting on my retinae, what kind of photos did they think they were going to get anyway? Dim, blurry pictures of two blokes on a dark stage -- the flash doesn't even reach that far. And what is it about Generation Y that they have to have photographs of themselves at every possible occasion? Are they afraid they'll forget where they've been?
2. Mobile phones. Not only did someone's alarm go off during the concert, but in the dark auditorium it was easy to see the subtle blue glow every time someone checked their phone for messages. Again, what is it about Generation Y that they can't even go for an hour and a half without being in touch with their absent friends -- during a concert, for god's sake?
3. People who, despite the box office warning, only came to hear Sting sing his own music. When they had worked through the Songs from the Labyrinth/John Dowland material, the performers left the stage. I expected an encore, because they had not played the lute version of "Fields of Gold" from the album, for example. But some people chose to leave at this point, as is their right. When Sting and Edin returned to the stage, they played some beautiful Elgar, some folky Vaughan Williams, then "Fields of Gold" and a haunting version of "SOS". The latter two songs gained more applause than any other songs in the whole concert. One guy in front of me commented to his friend, "Those people who left before he played his own stuff will be pissed off if they find out." I wanted to smack him in the back of the head and say, "Maybe they actually came to hear the Elizabethan lute music that was the main reason for the show, dumbarse." And here's another Generation Y complaint: did they really pay $140 each to come to an Elizabethan lute concert on the off chance that Sting might play a couple of modern tunes? They do have more money than sense!
Phew, now that I have that off my chest, I'm off to listen to Songs from the Labyrinth again, now with memories of an exquisite live performance to enrich the experience. Sting was absolutely charming, Edin was a lute genius, Stile Antico were brilliant (when they came on stage, Sting said, "These aren't my children, although they're the same age" -- so perhaps there is some hope for Gen Y after all). Slava Grigoryan, David Berlin and Allan Zavod were the support act, playing evocative impressionist-style compositions arranged for guitar, cello and piano. All-in-all, it was a memorable and marvellous concert.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

What I saw on my walk

I hope you can read the sign on this shopfront, it says, "Guidance from Above New Age Gift Shop Also Shoe Repairs". Good for your sole...

And below, homemade street signs:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Last month

I've been missing for almost a month, thanks to the wedding of the Number 2 Stepdaughter (henceforward to be known as the two cheeses: Cam and Bri) and a trip to New Zealand to recover. As well as spending time with the Dude, Ms ND and His Honour in Auckland, I also went to Wellington to catch up with World Citizen 3000, pictured reconnecting "BODY" to "SOUL" in the Botanic Gardens.WC3000 and I had such a good time in the windy city, because our ways of being in a city meld really well. We would start the day with a vague agenda, but if one or the other of us suggested a detour or alternative, we would just go along. We managed to tick off everything on our lists, and more, without feeling like we were rushing or missing out on anything.
It probably says a lot if I mention that most of our detours involved food or bookstores. I discovered where to get the best coffee (Pravda) and the worst (Mojo) in Wellington*. We visited the Te Papa museum, an exhibition of political cartoons, Katherine Mansfield's birthplace, the best Mediterranean supermarket in New Zealand, the Griffin Theatre (where we saw a great production of Cold Comfort Farm). WC3000 had just walked the Milford Track, a feat of which I am supremely jealous, and he was buzzing with joy all weekend. Fun!

* Esquires in Auckland was also a great find, especially the Dark Roast. I didn't get to try the coffee in Rotorua, as all the caf├ęs except Starbucks closed at 4pm (on a weekday)!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

End of the world

Just received my copy of the Bad Astronomer's new book, Death from the Skies. I haven't read beyond the first few pages yet, but I recommend it unreservedly, knowing Phil's output from his first book, Bad Astronomy, and his blog.
In the light of my recent T.S. Eliot blogging, I appreciate the reference on the cover, to "The Hollow Men":
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Judging from the contents list, most of the means by which the world could end are bangs--asteroids, comets, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts; however, as Phil asserts, despite all of the ways the universe is trying to kill us "you always have to keep in mind that we're still here." At least long enough for me to read this book, I hope.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I recently tried to sign up for internet access to my internet account details (so I can read and pay bills online) with a major Australian ISP. When I was asked for an email address, they would not accept either of the email addresses (one for work, one for private email) that they provide me with. I queried this and received the following reply (copied and pasted so don't blame me for the bad spelling and grammar):

When accessing MyAccount we need a secondary email address other then email address ending in @xxxxxxxnet.com.au this is due to if xxxxxxx.com.au is not working we can still send you notification and important information to another email address. There are many free email services in the market you can signed up for (example www.hotmail.com and www.gmail.com) or you can even use a family members email address if you authorized them to be able to see some emails we may send you.

I replied politely, but what I wanted to say was:

If xxxxxxxnet.com.au is not working, I won't be able to access ANY email accounts, because I won't have internet access, you idiots! Why do you need to send me an email to tell me that my internet service is not working? Don't you think I will have noticed when I CAN'T ACCESS THE INTERNET? Duh!

If it's that urgent, call me. Oh, that's right, you're my telephone service provider as well.

So much for rewarding customer loyalty...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Last night Ms Nominative Determinism and I went to see My Fair Lady, starring Richard E Grant as Henry Higgins. He was, as I expected, absolutely perfect for the role, and his lack of singing experience didn't really show.
The whole production was colourful and vibrant and the casting was, over all, very good. My main complaint was the insipid Freddie who, though he had a lovely voice, had the strangest collection of facial expressions. Instead of looking like a lovelorn swain, he looked more like he was practicing his orgasm face in a mirror. I commented on this to Ms ND during the interval, so when he returned for his reprise we dissolved in giggles at the first excruciating grimace.
Did you know that someone is planning to make a new movie version of My Fair Lady, with Keira Knightley as Eliza? I do applaud the choice, as I think she would make a suitably pouty and sulky guttersnipe; however, I was distressed by Ms ND's assertion that Brad Pitt and George Clooney were both coveting the role of Professor Higgins. Urk! The producers should just get Richard E Grant to do it (he really is the perfect Henry, despite his claims to be insulted by such an assertion).
Ms ND and I then spent the bus trip home wracking our brains to come up with a suitable alternative candidate, with little success. It wasn't until the wee small hours that an idea came to me: Ciaran Hinds!
So here's my suggested cast list for the new My Fair Lady:
Eliza Kiera Knightley
Henry Higgins Ciaran Hinds
Colonel Pickering Alun Armstrong
Freddie Rupert Penry-Jones (nice and insipid)
Mrs Higgins Gillian Anderson
Alf Doolittle Paul Hogan (although I don't know if he can sing, he's a very convincing garbologist).
Please feel free to supply your own cast options in the comments.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Well, it's exciting to me...

Fellow gardeners will understand my excitement today. These wild irises (Dietes iridoides) have been growing under the peppermint gum in my backyard for around seven or eight years. They flowered the first summer after I transplanted them (I guess they were a couple of years old when I bought them from the nursery). I planted half a dozen plants which have grown and spread naturally and provide a profusion of pretty flowers every spring.
About five years ago I found a few tiny seedlings growing in a drain, so I rescued them and planted them in a pot near the front door. For the past five summers I've been waiting for them to flower, but they just kept growing bushier and multiplying.
Now, at last, my patience will be rewarded: this morning I found three flower spikes in the pot (the tip of the third is just in the lower left foreground of the last photo). In a week or so, I'll have flowers! I am so proud!

Monday, October 06, 2008

What on EARTH!

One of my major editing projects this year was featured in today's SMH. I'm pretty proud of my small part in this huge book, so check it out. Of course, at $5,000.00 a copy for the limited edition, I don't expect you all to buy one. (There is a smaller edition available in bookstores.)
See the pretty pictures!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Nerds in love

Oh, man, Colin Firth as John Stuart Mill. I'd like to see that!

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Check out my photograph of the Anchor Bar:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Leaving LeWitt

Self-portrait with LeWitt at MOMA, New York, 2008.

A LeWitt mural is being painted out at MOMA, San Francisco, and many are up in arms at the loss of a seven-million-dollar artwork. It's difficult to comprehend that the artwork, in this case, is not the painting itself--which was not even done by Sol--but the instructions for creating it, which are written on a certificate.
It reminds me of another work I love in MOMA, NY, which is a framed drawing accompanied by a certificate from the artist stating that the object represented in the drawing is not a work of art, and nor is the drawing of the object. Yet the object itself, the drawing of it and the certificate are all hanging in an art gallery!
During the recent Biennale of Sydney, one of the artworks involved painting the walls of the Art Gallery black, then painting them white again. I heard lots of people complaining about this not being art, some even misunderstanding and suggesting that the art gallery should have done its renovations when there was not a major exhibition on.
I love the way these kinds of artworks (and I believe they are artworks) make me think, and reassess my view of life. They are transient, oxymoronic, futile, incomprehensible, and thought-provoking. I'm sad to think that San Franciscans are losing their LeWitt, but surely that sadness at its impermanence is part of the artist's intention in the first place? (Oh no, Mr Foucault, I didn't mean to talk about the artist's intention, sir, please don't haunt me!) If just one person stops to think about that, Sol LeWitt can rest easy in his grave.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Two more birthdays today!

Happy 120th birthday, T.S. Eliot, and 110th, George Gershwin.
One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing,
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky.
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Livin' at large

I'm planning to emigrate... to 9491 Thooft. This little world is named for the particle physicist and Nobel prize-winner Gerard 't Hooft, who has taken the trouble to write a Constitution for future inhabitants of his asteroid. Much better than the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights, especially Article 13, which bans all weapons.

Of course, I should adapt this constitution for my own star and its worlds, but I'm much more likely to be able to reach 9491 Thooft in my lifetime (it orbits between Mars and Jupiter) than something that's 300 light years away.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Coffee lover

A coffee-lover's blog. I'm glad I discovered this before heading over to NZ later this year: it should keep me busy checking out the java joints in Auckland.

I have only one question. Addicted to Starbucks: WTF? There isn't enough caffeine in one of their cups to addict a gnat. When I was in the US and Starbucks was the best available (much better than DD, urk!) I had to order double-shots just to taste that it was made with coffee and not dishwater.

At least East Aurora (NY) has Taste.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nerd jewellery

When the Master (AFSM) was in Melbourne last week he popped into Scally and Trombone, my favourite quirky little store in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, to buy me a pressie. (It's about halfway along the street, just past the Provincial Hotel--if it's dinner time--or Marios--if it's breakfast time.)
When Ms N.D. saw the bracelet made of typewriter keys, like the one at right, she rolled her eyes and exclaimed, "Oh great, nerd jewellery!"
What can I say?
I want one of these, and these, and these...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tip o' the hat

Happy birthday, Tezz.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dr Johnson's birthday party

"The return of my birthday, if I remember it, fills me with thoughts which it seems to be the general care of humanity to escape."
Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), The Columbia World of Quotations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996. www.bartleby.com/66/. 18/09/2008.

Denial. Gotta love it. Let's just forget about birthdays and aging and get on with living the good life. We should all just go to the pub:
"There is no private house in which people can enjoy themselves so well as at a capital tavern.... No, Sir; there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn."
Who's with me? I'll buy the first round.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Meet the Gabu*.
He is an example of amigurumi (Japanese for "knitted toys"). He's about 5cm (2in) in diameter, and he has a lot of friends...

* Free pattern from Roxycraft.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Are we still here?

Well, the Large Hadron Collider turned on just now, despite efforts to the contrary. In fact, the Bad Astronomer assures us that, because the protons are all travelling in the same direction at the moment, there won't be any collisions until they switch them on in the other direction next year, and even then, we can be assured that they won't create black holes that will suck the entire earth into an alternate universe.

But just in case you are still worried, you can watch for the results right from your own desktop: http://hasthelargehadroncolliderdestroyedtheworldyet.com/. Just check that website every day to see if we're all still here.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Here's to Ears!

Yesterday we went out to celebrate a) Father's Day; b) the Swans' win; and c) the first sunny day of spring. We gorged ourselves with yum cha then wandered around Chinatown and Darling Harbour, where they were holding a Chalk Art Festival.
For those who have been following my graffiti obsession, you will be almost as excited as I was to discover the artist behind the Sad Dudes!

Not only did I get to watch him work, but his creations were available to purchase by donation. So, for the princely sum of $5.00, I now have my own original artwork, which I call "Sad Ranga Dude". I even asked him to tag it, on the back.

I'm not sure how pleased the Master is with this new addition to our walls...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

UFOs, WIPs and WISPs

This UFO (left) will one day be a cushion.

Sharon B, of In a Minute Ago, asked for ideas on how to get over the stitching hump that seems to hit about three-quarters of the way through a craft project. It's always nice to hear that other stitchers suffer from the same procrastinatory problems as I do, and I thought I'd take up Sharon's challenge and try to come up with some strategies to turn my UFOs into FOs.

It is with awareness of hubris that I take on this challenge. I am a very poor follower of my own tenets in the matter of UFOs, although I do have strict principles: first and foremost, that I can't bear to make an item without a specific purpose in mind, so having this purpose should, in theory, make it easier to stay the course and finish the piece even when the three-quarters-finished state of ennui hits.

I also find that being disciplined about finishing one piece before starting another gives me great incentive, because there is always a more exciting project waiting to be started. Unfortunately, this occasionally means that I don't start the new project at all, but the upside of that is that it is one less UFO in the pile! I could give you a list of projects I have planned (and occasionally bought materials for) and never started: but it would only make me cry to think of all that wasted creativity.

I should also confess that, being an acolyte in several fields of craft, I don't apply these rules across boundaries. Therefore, if I have a cross-stitch project, knitting, a crazy patchwork piece and all sorts of other things in progress all at once, I consider them all WISPs rather than UFOs, even if it has been some months (or years!) since I touched one or the other of them.

At the moment, I am stalled on the quilting of queen-size quilt, which is about three-quarters finished. I need to summon the energy to finish this soon, simply because it takes up so much space! Once it's finished and on the bed, there will be a whole lot more space in my tiny terrace house. Then there's just the box of yarn I inherited from my late aunt, waiting to be knitted into beanies and charity blankets; the cross-stitch I promised to my friend World Citizen 3000 when he moved into his new house several years ago (he has just sold the house, so it will have to be for his next home); the felt pods I already have the fibre set aside for; and the white-on-white crazy patchwork panel I haven't touched since Can-Bra in 2004.

Telephone to glory

Yesterday's reading from the Harvard Classics Project was a chapter of Origin of Species, and the Delicious Pundit's take on it tickled my funnybone:
It isn't literally contradictory -- you can still believe that we are just like the other animals on this tiny wet dot floating through a vast universe and that you can get God on the phone -- but you start to see that God might be a little distracted when he takes your call.
Of course, if you do give the big guy a call, you might just get his voice mail.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


This is my new Sputnik charm: it's a strange little jewellery item that takes its name from its likeness to the Soviet spacecraft -- first launched in 1957, crashed in 1958 -- without the antennae. Fifty years later, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to wear my own piece of mid-century modern space junk, even though its aesthetic appeal is a little dubious.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The drum on kettles

I decided that I wanted to clear some kitchen bench space by getting rid of my rather ancient and grubby electric jug, so I set out to buy a kettle for my gas stovetop*. This turned out to be a much more difficult search than anticipated.
Firstly, most of our local homewares stores only sell electric jugs. Then, I found a gorgeous kettle on ebay, but when I checked the manufacturer's website, the starting price on ebay was already above the recommended retail price. So, I wrote down the nearest stockists listed on the website but the first three I went to were a) boarded up, b) a hole in the ground, and c) claiming never to have heard of the brand.
Lastly, when we did find a store with a kettle, the offerings were either ugly but practical or beautiful but impractical. I think the most frustrating moment in my search was when I found a lovely, stainless steel, satin-finish kettle with a curvaceous shape and a stylish stainless steel handle. However, the sales assistant couldn't guarantee that the handle would not heat up when the kettle was boiled. She suggested I buy it and try it out. "If the handle does get hot," I asked, "can I bring the kettle back for a refund?" "You can't bring it back if you have used it," she replied. I did not buy it.
By this stage I was feeling very much like poor Alice at the Mad Hatter's tea party:

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone: “so I ca’n’t take more.”
“You mean you ca’n’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”

I did eventually find a kettle, with a sweet little whistle that sounds just like Gran's used to. It ain't Alessi, but it was a tenth of the price. And it works. I put it on the stove and made a cup of tea, and now I feel much better.

* I thought it might also be more energy efficient, although it appears that the savings in greenhouse emissions from using gas are largely erased by the fact that it takes twice as long as an electric jug to heat the water. (A gas stovetop kettle is twice as efficient as an electric stovetop kettle, however.)

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I snapped these images with my mobile phone camera today and yesterday. The erosion of advertising materials in both cases--in the glossy flyers wilting in the rain where they protrude from the letterboxes, and the torn edges of the multiple layers of the street posters--appealed to me in an aesthetic way as well as philosophically. I only wish I'd had a real camera with me.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Success isn't everything

This piece is my last felting foray (for now) and probably my least successful, but it shows that there is beauty even in failure.
I used the nuno technique that produced the purple scarf (below), but this time I felted the entire piece of fabric, in order to produce the lovely ruching that you can see in the foreground of the picture. Unfortunately, I chose polyester fabric (it's actually an op shop find, a sheer scarf with brown roses printed on it). It was hard work to get the wool fibres to "grab" the polyester threads, and therefore the ruching is a little uneven, with large bubbles of scarf fabric popping up all over the surface, as you can see in the background of the picture. It's not unsalvageable, but I still need to decide what to do with it. Ideas are welcome.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Herbal remedy

My first piece of felt was a simple square, which we made as a sample to show how much the wool fibres shrink as you felt them. (A lot.) I made the piece reversible, with a soft green on one side and a cream on the other side. Although my felting instructor assured me that my work was passable, she did warn that the felting police might not wholly approve of the fabric, which was not properly fulled. This means that the fibres are not completely felted together and the fabric may not keep its integrity with wear and tear.
I wanted to come up with a use for it, anyway, so I made a little four-petal template and cut flowers and a few leaves from the square. I fulled them a little more after I had cut the shapes, just to soften the edges up a bit. Then I stitched them onto a headband using a variegated silk thread that became a feature as the flower centres. (Or I should say, since they are supposed to be hydrangea flowers, that the template had four sepals and the silk thread represents the flowers. Just being pedantic.)
The result is not bad for a beginner, I think.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pebble discrete

The felting adventure continues, this time with some felted pebbles. The coarse, variegated grey Corriedale wool was the perfect texture for these little treasures. You'll never guess what's underneath the felt, either: pebbles!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Silk and wool (what I felt II)

In my second felting class I was pleasantly surprised to learn a felting technique called "Nuno". This technique of felting onto open-weave fabrics is an Australian invention, an answer to the problem of our lovely climate, which doesn't provide many cold days on which you can comfortably wear fully felted garments. Nuno felting is lightweight and easy, and it creates some lovely crinkled effects on the fabric as well. As the wool fibres felt up and shrink down, they pull the fabric and any other fibres (such as the mauve mohair fibre I used as an accent) into lovely, squiggly organic shapes. This scarf elicits comments each time I wear it. I wore it last night when we went to see David Sedaris at the Opera House.

Monday, August 18, 2008

What I felt...

Yesterday I completed my third felting workshop. I have been slack about uploading pictures of my creations, some of which are more successful than others. But I'm quite pleased with these felt pods, which I modelled on some sea cucumbers in the Sydney Aquarium. I need to find something to place in the openings to represent the feathery feelery bits (which, I believe, are actually the sea cucumber's internal organs that they push out through their mouths to 'digest' food as it swims by).
As it turns out, I'm not the only one making reef creatures out of felt or other fabrics. See the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef designed by Aussie sisters Christine and Margaret Wertheim (I've read Margaret's great book on women in science called Pythagoras' Trousers, which I can recommend). And there's also Stitchin' Fish, a blog I'll be adding to my favourites list.
The lattice the pods are resting on is one of my first attempts at felting, as well, although I consider it a failure, so I won't be showing it separately. In the next couple of days I'll try to post additional images of the more successful examples of my felting, though, and I hope you like them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Beanie feast

A few months ago, I blogged about an article on homeless kids in Sydney and at the end of it I wondered what I could do to help them out. I referred to a non-denominational charity that I had heard good things about, Just Enough Faith.
Checking their website, I found that they needed donations of beanies, scarves and blankets for the winter, so I started knitting. Just as I was finishing the first beanie, the local newspapers ran a series of articles in which they showed photographs and evidence that the CEO of Just Enough Faith had been caught putting the charity's money through the poker machines at a local club. Oops!
As it turned out, that first beanie I made was stolen when our house was broken into (along with lots of other irreplaceable stuff, but that beanie really hurt--I mean, I would've given it to them if they'd asked me!) Despite these setbacks, I kept knitting beanies, and putting them aside until I figured out which charity to give them to.
I also knitted a few for other people, including Ms N.D., my nephew the Moose and my little second-cousin (or first-cousin-once-removed, or whatever the heck the relationship is), whom you can see here sporting my fluffy creation.
Now, with a bunch of beanies in hand and the end of winter approaching fast, I have finally found a charity to give them to. Knit One, Give One was started by a Victorian woman for much the same reason as I started my beanie-knitting, so I'm happy to hand my hard work over to her for distribution. And it's not too late: I've seen people in Melbourne wearing beanies in summer!

P.S. I got my beanie pattern from crumpart, although KOGO have one on their website as well.

P.P.S. If you find a newspaper article about the founder of KOGO being caught gambling, don't show it to me! I couldn't bear it...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Identity crisis

According to Mike on Ads and his little googlebot, I have a 51% likelihood of being male and a 49% likelihood of being female, based on my browsing history. (I'm glad they clarified the sums: I wonder if the Dude would get a 20% likelihood of being chimpanzee, if he clicked on the button?)
Why do the internets think I'm more likely to be male? It could explain why I keep getting those emails from blonde Russian women who want to marry me...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Reading at length and in depth

I happened to read two blog posts today that talked about different approaches to reading over the space of a year. Keri Smith talks about the idea of reading just one book for an entire year. She cites the example of a guy who carried a copy of Finnegan's Wake around with him for a year, reading and rereading it until he understood it. Which makes me think the story is apocryphal: I mean, who can understand Finnegan's Wake at all? However, I do understand Keri's desire to get back to basics in this way, although I'm not ready to take up the challenge myself (too much to read, too little time).
The other blog that I discovered today is the Harvard Classics Project, in which Chris Marcil writes a daily post about the books on his grandfather's Harvard Classics reading list. His take on how the classics are relevant (or not) to the modern world is funny and inspires a desire to investigate a broader range of literature in bite-sized chunks.
So which will it be? In-depth study or wide-ranging browsing? Or a bit of both?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Art and craft

This is a little bib I made for my new second cousin, Quinlan. I made my own pattern, copying the basic design from Saidos da Concha, a source of inspiration for me at the moment. I like the idea of the "Handmade Pledge" that Etsy is promoting: to make or buy handmade gifts rather than simply adding to corporate profits. Of course, it remains to be seen how much I can stick to the plan, as people's birthdays seem to sneak up on me, resulting in last-minute dashes to the shops for pressies.
On another note, the beach art that the Dude and I did on our recent holiday is now on the V&A World Beach Project website.

Friday, August 01, 2008

So NOT square

This morning I listened to the latest Skepticality [sic] podcast, Rationalist Rap. Swoopy interviewed Greydon Square, who is a hiphop artist, former gang member, former US soldier in Iraq and currently a physics student. I'm not a big hiphop fan, but I liked the mellow sound of his music and the poetry of his lyrics (in much the same way as I like the Hilltop Hoods, homegrown hiphop from the Adelaide Hills). Sometimes wisdom appears in unexpected shapes and forms.

Hear Greydon Square's music on his myspace page. I like 2008 A.D. and The CPT Theorem. Just a warning: as in most hiphop, some language may offend.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dream house

Via Poppytalk.

Catch the sun in a jar

Available from dstore.com.au. I'm adding it to my Christmas wish list.

Love this idea!

Idea vending machine

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sad kids and other dudes

An exhibition at a local art gallery (you can preview it online) may be the work of my favourite, but heretofore anonymous, graffiti artist. Last year I took photographs of some examples of his/her work and blogged about them in February, March and April.
So is Stormie Mills the culprit? The exhibited works are similar but not exactly the same, and the artist apparently lives in Perth. My examples are somewhat simpler in style, as well, although something that you have to paint on a fence while looking over your shoulder to check that the police aren't coming to arrest you may be necessarily less polished than something you paint to sell in a gallery. Perhaps my Sydney graffitist is a disciple of Stormie Mills', rather than the artist himself.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

People in glass houses...

I had a good laugh at the item in my local newspaper, which reported that a Popefest Pilgrim had asked a Sydneysider whether the moon they could see here was the same one they saw at home in the USA.
"How dumb are those Septics?" I guffawed, as I pointed out the article to friends and family.
Should have kept my stones to myself, I realised, when I saw this display in the Nelson Bay newsagency:

I'll bet Edwin Hubble's grave is registering on seismographs over this gaffe.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Guerilla art, part three

While Queequeg and I were sailing the ocean blue and other nautical things last week, we had a chance to put some more Aussie beaches on the map at the World Beach Project.
I made this handprint at Zenith Beach, Shoal Bay, almost exactly 18 years after the Master (AFSM) and I had our first kiss on that spot (awwwww). As you can imagine, Queequeg was pretty grossed out by the whole idea of a romance, especially one involving his parents.
He made a picture of a whale at Diamond Beach, where Tezznbev also got into the act, as did my sister's Little Princess.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A la recherche du temps perdu

Browsing through the books in a secondhand dealer (because Lord knows I need more books: my reading pile got down below a metre while I was on holiday last week) I came across this little retro gem.
This book--well, not this actual book but one of its sisters-- was on my high school Textiles & Design book list. I fondly recall its advice on caring for worsted fabrics, how to tell the difference between cotton and rayon, and what constitutes a jacquard weave. After all, I did top the class in Year 11, so I must have learned something. It certainly wasn't my slapdash sewing skills that won me the honour!
Dear old Rosalie wrote this book in 1962 (reprinted in 1964). Its sister was first put into my hands at the Canobolas High School some 20 years later, and now this copy completes the circle 20-odd years after that.
Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.

Light on the Hill

101 uses for a Kevin Rudd. Following in the footsteps of "the definitive John Howard biography", one of my favourite pre-election sites. Make sure you click the switch.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New South Whales

Call me Ishmael. This pair of humpback whales were making their way up the coast to get laid at the Great Barrier Reef as Queequeg (aka the Dude) and I cruised aboard the Pequod (aka Moonshadow IV) outside Nelson Bay. We followed them around for a while and they put on quite a show, with some tail slapping and waving of fins. Just like big, scary dolphins, really.

Herman Melville's Ishmael describes the humpback whale thus:
He has a great pack on him like a peddler; or you might call him the Elephant and Castle whale. He is the most gamesome and light-hearted of all the whales, making more gay foam and white water generally than any other of them.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The devil's wisdom

Say, hast thou naught descried that met thy wishes?
Thou didst o'erlook a boundless territory,
'The kingdoms of the world and all their glory,'
But all insatiate thou art,
Lusted for naught at all thine heart?

Mephistopheles, in Faust Part II Act IV, by Goethe.

Very Machiavellian.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008


And we sit there, by [the river's] margin, while the moon, who loves it too, stoops down to kiss it with a sister's kiss, and throws her silver arms around it clingingly; and we watch it as it flows, ever singing, ever whispering, out to meet its king, the sea--till our voices dies away in silence, and the pipes go out--till we, commonplace, everyday young men enough, feel strangely full of thoughts, half sad, half sweet, and do not care or want to speak... we fall asleep beneath the great, still stars, and dream that the world is young again.

Jerome K Jerome, Three Men in a Boat, Chapter 2

Music: Nocturnes: Sirenes by Claude Debussy
Image: Sunset on the Seine by Claude Monet

Monday, July 07, 2008

One week until P-day

Yesterday I stopped in at Cardinal Pell's Moneychanging Emporium Inc (prudently located across the road from the temple rather than inside it). Unfortunately they were all out of Pope-on-a-rope, and I hesitated to ask for the T-shirt I really want ("John-Paul, George [Pell] and Ratzingo: Australian tour 2008") just in case I was spotted by an oversensitive SES volunteer and incarcerated in a tin shed in Kellyville for the duration.
For those who haven't seen the monstrosity yet, you'll be pleased to know that the Merchandise Marquee only covers about half of Hyde Park, right under the benevolent gaze of Apollo atop the Archibald Fountain. Let's hope the pilgrims spill a few drops of holy water on the trampled earth so that the grass grows back quickly after they've gone.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

More guerilla art at Bare Island

The Dude and I went down to Bare Island to make some art for the V&A Museum's World Beach Project. The rock stacks in the picture were our first attempts, but then we found some pieces of flat, grey sandstone that the Dude assembled into the shape of a reef shark. We've submitted it to the Project, and it should appear on the website in a day or two, so please check it out. Updated 7/7.
I challenge everyone who is near a beach to have a go at this form of guerilla art. It's free, fun and easy, and Australian beaches are sadly underrepresented in the project!

Tell me in the comments below when you've done it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Guerilla art

The new camera has arrived!

Let's all make some guerilla art. Post links to yours in the comments below.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Shameless self-promotion

Yesterday's mail brought a copy of a book I edited before Christmas and I have really looked forward to seeing in print: Wild Tea Cosies. You can guess what I'll be knitting this winter...
I've also just received copies of two books I produced for Inspirations Books, Stitch it: Home and Stitch it: Quilts. These are co-published in the USA by Leisure Arts and available from amazon.com, too.
I'm really proud of these books, but another reason I'm telling you about them is to prove the Master (VoR, FP, HD, MBT, and *now* AFSM) a liar--he keeps telling people that I sit at home all day watching Dr Phil on cable TV. (Actually, I sit at the computer all day writing blog entries and reading other people's blogs...)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Stripe me pink!

A new shop opened up recently, just a few doors down the road from my house. The Remnant Warehouse buys the ends of bolts of fabric from designers and clothing manufacturers and sells them, if there is a large enough quantity, by the metre, or by the bolt end for smaller quantities. (They also have general sewing supplies, from thread and needles to embroidery accessories and braid, thus promising to save me many trips to Spotlight.)
The beauty of this is that these fabrics are not necessarily readily available elsewhere and they are cheap. This lush, stripy cotton print has a hint of metallic gold that really makes it zing, and it cost me just $10 for 2.5m! I also bought a 3m end of a bolt of sheer polycotton fabric with woven navy and white stripes for $6.00 -- cheap or what?
Now, what am I going to make? I've got a few ideas already, but suggestions are welcome...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Dancing with scissors

Ms N.D. and I went to the Opera House to see Edward Scissorhands, the ballet. I confess that I've never watched the movie, but I couldn't resist the concept of the story told in dance. Without the words, the emotions expressed in the narrative seem so poignant. I'm not sure if I want to see the movie now: it might spoil the ballet for me!
My only criticism of the production was that it was performed to a recorded soundtrack--the original soundtrack from the movie--and I missed the light and shade of sound that would have been added by the use of a live orchestra.

The audience was rather younger than average, not surprisingly. On my left during interval, two schoolgirls discussed their plans for post-HSC travel: "I want to live in Germany," one said, "but I want to learn French. So I'm going to learn French and live in Germany." Subsequent eavesdropping revealed that she only knew the name of one town in Germany, Hamburg, and she wasn't really clear on which part of Germany it was in, or what attractions it hosts. One suspects that she would do better to live in France, where at least she might be able to communicate, or perhaps in studying German culture and language before she launches herself on a country of which she knows next to nothing!

I love listening to teenagers talk in public, they have that perfect combination of thinking they are very smart while at the same time revealing that they are quite ignorant.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chelonious postmodernism

"...it is unlikely that tortoises brood under the shelter of their shells on the condition of being a tortoise. Tortoises are in this sense remarkably similar to postmodernists..."

Terry Eagleton, The Meaning of Life

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, May 23, 2008

Accordions for peace

(c) FreeFoto.com

This speaks for itself, really.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


I love books. (I know, you are all thinking, "Tell us something we don't know!") Only fellow book lovers can understand, though, that sometimes it's more than the words in the pages, or even the pictures on the cover. Sometimes it's the texture of the paper, the way the edges of the pages are cut, or the weight of the cover as much as the thoughts printed thereon. Some of my favourite recollections of books include their physical presence; for instance, the paperback edition of Our Uncle Charlie by Elizabeth Lane, with the glossy coating peeling off the bent corners and the crease down the centre where I'd rolled it up to carry around in my bag, evokes almost as many happy thoughts as the stories of the Murphy Boys and the fire in the shed and the barefoot kids crawling all over the gig as the family drove to church on Sunday. Or the inscription on the yellowed pages inside our blue buckram-covered copy of Three Little Maids by Ethel Turner that reminded me that my mother had once been a little girl excitedly reading the tale of Phyllida and Weenie. Or there is the tattered paperback edition of The Adventures of Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley with illustrations that had been carefully hand-coloured by my artistic older cousins, using one of those little tins with the square cakes of watercolour paint. More recently, the Dude has discovered a series of teen boy adventure books that come with stiff cloth covers, an elastic band to hold them closed, and several gatefold inserts with maps and pictures and other clues to the mystery on them.
I know I am not alone in this love of books and reading, as evidenced by the existence of the booklover's magazine, Slightly Foxed. A free issue is available online for your perusal. Check out the article "Nuffin Like a Puffin" for a beautiful insight into the development of reading habits in childhood. I want to subscribe, but I'm afraid I'd spend too long reading the magazine about reading and not enough time reading the books!
Anyway, now I'm off to tackle Ulysses again, and it's a brick of a book with pages that feel like newsprint, reminiscent of the paper that wraps the soap in Leopold Bloom's pocket.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Beautiful beche-la-mers

Go see 'em at National Geographic dot com. Gorgeous!

David Doubilet/National Geographic

Friday, May 09, 2008

Too much author

During the American Civil War, a female sergeant disguised her sex until, to the horror of her commander, she "was delivered of a baby... in violation of all military law and of the army regulations."

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, in Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History.

Okay, the poor guy was probably a bit shocked that one of his 'men' delivered a baby, but are you really telling me that it was written into the mid-nineteenth century army regulations that 'Thou shalt not give birth to a baby'? Why would they have bothered, if they weren't expecting to have women in the army at all? I feel that Ms Ulrich has used that ellipsis for nefarious purposes, to make the poor man look (more) stupid.

On another tack, the whole premise of this book is built on the fact that the eponymous line from the author's PhD thesis has been quoted–and misquoted–on coffee mugs, bumper stickers and T-shirts ad infinitum, often with spurious links to the original sentiment. To make sure that it doesn't happen again, Ulrich has very kindly italicised certain sentences in her text to let the reader know what she considers suitable for reproduction.

This is quite annoying, because it takes away that delightful feeling of discovery that comes when one finds such a quotable gem. And, contrariwise, it makes you not want to quote that sentence at all, and quote other bits of lesser wisdom and more spurious provenance.

Disclaimer: I own a "Well-behaved women" T-shirt, and am otherwise enjoying the book very much.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

What's happening?

Trampled underfoot, saturated and scuffed, this piece of formerly glossy paper drifted under my front gate this morning. I just love the texture of the abraded surface and the way it has made the colours bleed into each other. It reminds me of the oil painting of my grandmother's stepfather that hung, crumbling and cracking, in the hallway of her home for most of my life.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On the selvedge

New discovery of the week is a glossy UK magazine celebrating the rich culture of textiles: Selvedge.

"If France was to get back on her feet [after the Germans retreated from Paris in 1944], she would have to find the money to buy herself some shoes."

Kate Constable, writing in Selvedge about La Theatre de la Mode, a postwar exhibition of mannequins dressed by couturiers such as Balenciaga, Nina Ricci and Pierre Balmain.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sad dude II

This image is from a story on homeless youth in Sydney in today's Sydney Morning Herald. The wall of the squat features artwork similar to the sad graffiti people I have been collecting images of around the city.
The story that accompanied the image was pretty sad, too. Most of the homeless teens interviewed were caught in a cycle of drug use: they can't get accommodation unless they stop using drugs and they can't stop using drugs until they get accommodation. Some of the reasons they gave for using drugs were to stay warm and to stay awake so they wouldn't be bashed or robbed while they slept.
No wonder that old dude and all his grandchildren are so sad.

P.S. Do you have just enough faith to help the homeless?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Vale Swadlings

We were woken by sirens this morning, which turned out to be an eighth alarm fire at the hardware store two blocks down the road. Flames 15 metres high were shooting through the roof, fuelled by timber, paint, LPG cylinders and all that hardware stuff...

This afternoon the Dude and I wandered down on the pretext of buying the makings of dinner at the smoke-logged grocery store, to survey the damage. We just loved the irony of the smouldering remains, walls tilted at a precarious angle, behind the footpath sign proudly proclaiming "Now Open". It sure is.

Another great achievement for the fireys: the Swadlings Memorial Carpark.