Sunday, 3 November 2013

calamity of such long layoff

Its been far too long since I blogged about books, and as a result, I stand no chance of doing any justice to those I've read this year. In brief, then:

  • A Farewell To Arms (Ernest Hemingway): It occurs to me that this might be my favourite of the Hemingway books I've thus far read, but that's a woefully inadequate description. This is still a really good book, but whether its because of the autobiographical elements (I think they're autobiographical) or just the less striking setting, this one lacks the sharpness or depth of For Whom The Bell Tolls, which I think is my favourite Hemingway.
  • All That I Am (Anna Funder): This won the Miles Franklin last year, and is a pretty solid entry in a genre I wouldn't ordinarily pick up (nazis, for one thing). Book club selection with Nic and company.
  • They Call Me Coach (John Wooden): There's just something about this book. The writing is often bland and repetitive, but the love that Wooden had (and still had at writing) for his players just shows through continuously, and I don't mind admitting I felt a bit choked up at times because of it. 
  • Oscar and Lucinda (Peter Carey): This book carries such a big reputation with so many people I know, that perhaps I expected more. Its a diverting enough story, I guess, but it never really got to me.
  • The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway): For so long I've named Steinbeck as my all-time favourite author, but Hemingway is giving him a good run these days. This is one of those perfectly formed novellas that you read in one sitting then put down and immediately think about nostalgically. I think I still prefer the depth of Tolls, but this one thoroughly deserves its great reputation.
  • Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein): Having been such a fan of the movie, and having enjoyed Stranger in a Strange Land, I was looking forward to this one (another book club book). I have to say that, although I quite enjoyed it, it really wasn't what I expected. Very little "sci" for a scifi book!
  • Steppenwolf (Hermann Hesse): Very good tale, and quite unlike what I normally read, with the distinctive and eloquent writing style (albeit translated) of an older author, but the transgressive material of the latter 20th century (though it was first published in 1927). Very good.
  • Bleak House (Charles Dickens): I'm still yet to be let down by Dickens, and this book offers many memorable characterisations, none less so than that of the legal profession through the wonderful scenario of Jarndyce and Jarndyce! The characters, especially the women, are a little thin at times, but the story and vividly painted setting make it all OK.
  • Carrion Comfort (Dan Simmons): Really good stuff! JMJ and Jacques recommended this to me for years before I actually bought it, and although I don't think its on the level of Hyperion, its a good tale about a really good premise.
  • Washington Square (Henry James): I don't think I'd read any Henry James before this novella, but his reputation as a wordsmith is well earned. This story and its characters are a little odd, but his writing is just so lovely that I didn't mind.
  • The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History (Free Darko): I bought and started this years ago, but saved it mercilessly for years, like a child hoarding halloween candy in denial that the holiday is actually over. FD may have been the peak of sportswriting for me - whether the writing has gone downhill, or whether a wider remit makes their American homerism more conspicuous, The Classical just isn't the same.
  • The Man Who Loved Children (Christina Stead): This was mentioned on an ABC show about the great Australian novels, so I picked up a copy at the tip shop for a couple of dollars. I have to say, though, I don't think it belongs in that list. Its diverting enough, with some good characters and a strong sense of their relationships, but for me it lacked a sense of place, and never really grabbed me from a story point of view.
  • Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card): This one grabbed me. Rollicking good page-turner scifi classic, with easy action and just enough psychology and sociology to keep the mind involved. The movie will probably be mindless action, but the book deserves its status in the SF canon.
So there you have it. At times I haven't been reading much this year, and like any year there are some books which read very quickly and easily (Hemingway, James, Ender's Game) and others which take months (Carrion Comfort, though it was no indicator of quality, The Man Who Loved Children). I always hope that the end of the year will see me reading more, but only time will tell. Summers get busier every year, it seems.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Father and Son at GOMA for Melbourne Uni alumni event

I'm not sure what we're talking about here, but it clearly necessitated some very specific hand gestures!

Melbourne Uni alumni event at GOMA

Its art. Very serious stuff!

Sunday, 18 August 2013


This has been a difficult week. I've been below my best as a teacher, and as a researcher. I was reminded that I can make a big difference to my students with very small gestures, but those won't get save my job next year, and its frustrating that I'm not doing the big things better.

More importantly, though, I've been struggling to find things outside of work to make good on my great French lesson of travailler pour vivre et non vivre pour travailler (perhaps the greatest lesson I learnt during my time in Rennes1). It is hard to recall when my work-life balance was less life-focussed than now.

Tonight, though, I made a really good lamb stew. I had some diced lamb that needed using, a bag of capsicums on special at the local fruit'n'veg, and a bottle of big Australian Shiraz that I'd been saving for illogical reasons. The smell was tantalising, and in the end all ingredients were better for each other's company.

Small pleasures, but it helps.

1 Well, either that or "Il manque un peu de beurre".

Wednesday, 20 March 2013


One of the cakes we had for Em's birthday brunch on Sunday up at Mt Tamborine was a gluten-free orange and almond number. It was very nice, and Em mentioned that she had previously made one, and that it wasn't especially difficult.

As it happened, the following day I was asked if I could bring something for our group morning tea today (Wednesday). I found myself a recipe, grabbed myself some oranges, and had a go last night.
First attempt at Orange and Almond Cake
I'm fairly happy with it by eye and by nose, but we shall see how it goes in the mouth. I'm a little worried it might not quite be cooked through, but time will tell.

For a long time, I used to always try while eating out to order something that I couldn't or wouldn't cook myself. I've moderated that now; I often find that I can glean a lot of tips in what a waiter or waitress brings me that I can use in my own cooking (such as it is).

ED. Verdict = winner.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Sunday out and about

External forces, in the form of family and friends, drove me out of my little hermit hole on Sunday and out into the big wide world.

The primary force acting on me was Emily's Birthday. The plan was for the four of us (with Mum and Dad) to head down to Mt Tamborine and do some walking. So at around 8ish, we rolled out of town and up into the hills.
The ford at Cedar Creek Falls

Our first port of call was at Cedar Creek Falls. The road was signposted as closed, and although some other cars seemed to be ignoring the signs, we parked at the top of the hill and walked down to the crossing. There was probably about 6 inches of water across the road, so we doffed shoes and waded across. The water was cool, clear and very pleasant - it was almost a shame to put our boots back on. We wandered down the short track to the titular Cedar Creek Falls, which was a very little waterfall with a rockpool at the bottom flanked by sheer rocky cliffs. There were some swimmers being a bit silly clambering on rocks, but I was feeling very zen, and was happy to leave them to their own follies. The creek itself was in very fine form, flowing quickly and happily through the dry rainforest.
Cedar Creek Falls

After another pleasant wade back through the ford, we reclimbed the hill and drove on into North Tamborine for some coffee and cakes. It was nice to find decent coffee and good cake on our first attempt, and with a nice view out from the ridge.

After our break, we drove on up to the well-named Knoll section, and took another quick walk out to Cameron Falls, descending through sections of rainforest and palms. Cameron Falls was quite a lot bigger, and offered a great view out north across the plain to the Brisbane city Skyline.

Looking upstream from the top of Cameron Falls
Cameron Falls
Looking north from Cameron Falls towards Brisbane

We then walked back up the hill to the Knoll, with an accompanying conversation about the distinction between lichen and fungi. Seeking lunch options, we did a bit of a reconnoitre along the ridge, driving out as far as the Mount Tamborine Golf Club, which offered great views out east across the Gold Coast (views of the Gold Coast have the added pleasure of reassuring you that you're not on the Gold Coast). We finally settled on a pie from the baker back at North Tamborine, judging people based on the cars they were driving past (the Corvette driver came in for the harshest speculation, and the flatback Morris the highest praise).

After lunch, we went seeking one more quick walk, and after being foiled by the closed MacDonald track, we took a brief walk downhill to Curtis Falls, the smallest of the falls we'd seen, but with a pleasant-looking waterhole at the bottom and, like the others, in fine form with plenty of water flowing.
Curtis Falls
I have a sneaking suspicion I've been to Mt Tamborine at some point before, although I can't recall why, when, or with whom. Based on what I've heard, and reinforced by what we saw at times, its a very popular weekend getaway from either Brisbane or the Gold Coast. Still, the tracks we walked, while well-frequented, were not unpleasantly crowded, and seemed to be bearing up well to the traffic (notwithstanding a number of others being closed, whether because of traffic, floods, or regular maintenance). The tracks are short, and probably not sufficient if you're looking for some serious bushwalking, but as a half-day out, its pretty nice, and as it turned out yesterday, 6 or 7 degrees cooler than the valley below.

However, my day wasn't quite done at this point. After a brief drive back to Brisbane, we flicked on my air-conditioning and had a cup of tea, then I wandered over to Bardon, in response to a suggestion from Miri of fish and chips in the park. Being an uncharacteristically hot day, the plan had evolved somewhat to slip-n-slide in the Brown's backyard, but it was still very pleasant to see the Brown and Thomson girls playing, and to meet the newest tiny addition to the Brown clan. We stuck to the fish'n'chips plan, and I got a big hug from Ess before I headed home.

Perhaps its because I have some shut-in tendencies on other weekends, but I really enjoy the occasional weekend out, and I was very grateful for the provocations on this occasion.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Geographical distribution of Australian sporting teams

Next weekend, the Bendigo Spirit will host the Townsville Fire in the final of the WNBL. I think having two "small market" teams in the final is terrific, and hopefully its a sign of things to come.

I have, on a few occasions, had discussions with people about Australia's cities. In particular, a few years ago there was a lot of talk about the projections for Australia's population over the next 40-100 years, with many sources (including the ABS) projecting that we could be at 40-50 million people by 2050.

I am firmly of the opinion, that expanding to this kind of number but maintaining our current pattern of huge proportions of our population being centralised in 5 cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth), is less than ideal. It might be doable, but it will put huge strains on infrastructure, and more importantly, its pretty boring. I would like to think that if we're increasing our urban population (which seems unavoidable - rural vs urban is a different debate), then the way to do it is by growing the number of significant centres, not by growing those that are already big.

How to do this escapes me; I'm not an urban planner, and discussions I've had about how to shift industry/government sectors out of the capitals have left me convinced of that. However, one place I think is ripe for decentralisation is sport.

Taking a quick glance at the teams which compete in some of Australia's biggest sporting leagues (AFL, NRL, Super Rugby, domestic cricket (using BBL), A-League, W-League, NBL, WNBL, Netball and ABL), an overwhelming number of the teams are based in the five major cities. Of the 90 Australian teams competing in these leagues (the NRL, Super Rugby, A-League, NBL and Netball leagues include teams from New Zealand and/or South Africa), 70 come from one of the big five metros:

  • 22 in Sydney: Swans, Giants (AFL), Eels, Panthers, Roosters, Tigers, Dragons, Bulldogs, Sharks, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles (NRL), Sixers, Thunder (BBL), Sydney United, Wanderers (both A-League and W-League), Waratahs (Super Rugby), Kings (NBL), Flames (WNBL), Blue Sox (ABL), Swifts (Netball)
  • 21 in Melbourne: Magpies, Blues, Bombers, Tigers, Kangaroos, Saints, Hawks, Bulldogs, Demons (AFL), Storm (NRL), Renegades, Stars (BBL), Victory (A-League and W-League), Heart (A-League), Rebels (Super Rugby), Tigers (NBL), Boomers, Rangers (WNBL), Aces (ABL), Phoenix (Netball)
  • 10 in Perth: Eagles, Dockers (AFL), Scorchers (BBL), Glory (A-League and W-League), Force (Super Rugby), Wildcats (NBL), Waves (WNBL), Heat (ABL), Fever (Netball)
  • 9 in Adelaide: Crows, Power (AFL), Strikers (BBL), Adelaide United (A-League and W-League), 36ers (NBL), Lightning (WNBL), Thunderbirds (Netball), Bite (ABL)
  • 8 in Brisbane: Lions (AFL), Broncos (NRL), Heat (BBL), Roar (A-League and W-League), Reds (Super Rugby), Bandits (ABL), Firebirds (Netball)

The others are split across smaller centres:

  • 5 in Canberra: Raiders (NRL), Brumbies (Super Rugby), Capitals (WNBL), Cavalry (ABL)
  • 3 in Newcastle: Knights (NRL), Jets (A-League and W-League)
  • 3 in Townsville: Cowboys (NRL), Crocodiles (NBL), Fire (WNBL)
  • 2 in Gold Coast: Suns (AFL), Titans (NRL)
  • Geelong Cats (AFL), although some of their games are played in Melbourne
  • Central Coast Mariners (A-League), based in Gosford
  • Wollongong Hawks (NBL)
  • Cairns Taipans (NBL)
  • Bendigo Spirit (WNBL)
  • Logan Thunder (WNBL)
  • Hobart Hurricanes (BBL)
A strong case can be made that a few of those cities could easily support more teams - Hobart, Gold Coast, Geelong, and Wollongong and Townsville have all had other teams in the past. The list of second-tier (by population) cities without teams is huge. The Sunshine Coast, Darwin, Toowoomba, Launceston, Albury and Ballarat are all bigger than Bendigo, and there are other large population centres without teams in central Queensland (Mackay, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Gladstone and Hervey Bay) Mandurah in WA, Coffs Harbour and Wagga Wagga in NSW, to name a few.

The recent trend has been to put new teams into Western Sydney, but if I were looking to expand or realign one of the smaller leagues, I'd be looking at these smaller centres where a team has a chance to be the only (or one of the only) games in town. Even the AFL and NRL would be wise to look that way, rather than to continue with half of their league in the one city.

It may be that the league most poised to go in this direction is the A-League, which has made some noise about moving to a promotion/relegation system. I would have thought this would necessitate adding quite a few new teams, and it could be that the success (from what I've seen) of their Central Coast franchise leads them to look at some of these new areas.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013


A few years ago, while driving up from Brisbane to Toowoomba for Christmas, Lee and I stopped in at the Big Orange to buy fruit. This is a fairly common occurrence, but on this occasion we were charged with buying mum a fig tree which they had on special. At least, I think it was a fig tree; I have a dim memory of buying what was requested and also something that wasn't, but I can't recall what those might have been. Anyway, we bought a fig tree, and gave it to mum for Christmas.

The fig tree had a bit of a rough time of it at times in the garden. In one storm in particular it was knocked over, and it was touch and go as to whether or not it would recover. However, these days it is in rude health, and this weekend past, Mum brought down a crop of 10 fresh figs for me. As an investment, that tree has well and truly paid itself off now in fruit, not to mention what it adds to the garden as a tree.

I neglected to take a photo of the whole box, but after two meals, these four were left. Of course, today, they aren't - I was under strict instructions to make sure I got through them quickly, and I was not about to disobey.

Shocking form to post pictures of food, but at least they're not instagrammed, I suppose.

I also enjoyed reading up a little about figs online. I suspect that the variety I've just been eating is the brown turkey fig. The other interesting thing I found was that many species of fig have a symbiotic relationship with a certain type of wasp, whereby the wasps can only reproduce by injecting their eggs into the fig, and the fig tree can only reproduce by the wasp carrying pollen between male and female trees (although I believe the figs here don't play this game).

Monday, 4 February 2013


Work at present is all about grant writing (tis the season) and paper writing, so my intention this weekend was to spend a little time catching up on some of that, specifically on a paper due this coming Friday. However, as it turns out - and this is hardly surprising given my form - I didn't do any writing, but instead spent most of the weekend reading. Of course, a weekend spent reading can never, ever, be considered to have been completely wasted.

Before I get to this weekend, though, I owe the usual clearinghouse of books I've read but haven't yet mentioned here (note to self: everything since Cry, The Beloved Country). Actually, this corresponds pretty closely to my holiday reading.

My holiday reading began with Tess of the D'Urbervilles. In the end, this book cut through my holiday, as I frequently put it aside, often angrily, and went away to read something else. 2 of those something elses where finished by the time I finally put Tess to bed.

As I've done at times in the past, my holiday reading was fuelled early by a trip to my library, and as usual, the ideas I walked in with bore no resemblance to the books I walked out with. The first of these was The Sense Of An Ending by Julian Barnes. I read one of Barnes' books, A History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters, a few years ago, and although I wasn't overly excited by its at-times-too-clever religious analyses, it has grown on me with time. Its odd sometimes the books that you remember. Unfortunately, I can't see Sense of An Ending being one of them. Its a fairly short book told by an unreliable narrator looking back at his past relationships and friendships, and who becomes less likeable as the book goes on. Oddly enough, one of the things I liked about 10 1/2 chapters was the feeling that I didn't quite understand what was going on, but what I didn't like about Ending was the feeling that I did.

After my first library book, and as my second escape from morbid 19th century rural English moralism, I picked up something close to hand. One of my family discoveries a few years ago was that, against all the odds, we had a world champion as a distant relative. To be fair, pretty distant, though. As it turns out, I have a third cousin (or something equally vague) named Chrissie Wellington, the now-retired four-time world champion in the ironman. Although none of my close family have met her, we picked up a copy of her autobiography last year, and have all been working our way through it. Its actually a pretty good read - certainly interesting in terms of what she has done in her life, but not just in simplistic "I won this, I won this" boasting or "you can be your dreams" motivational ways. The characters - principally Chrissy herself and her coach Brett Sutton - are conflicted characters with flaws and virtues in different measure. In some ways it feels premature as an autobiography - she is only a few months older than me, and one would hope that she has a lot left to achieve in her life (the autobiography was actually written before she retired, although one wonders if it was on her mind). Hopefully our distant connection, principally through her uncle & aunt, will allow us to remain up to date with what happens beyond the last page of the book.

Having whisked through a couple of sidetracks, I finally gritted my teeth and finished off Tess. Reading shouldn't be as hard as this, but this isn't the first time I've found it hard reading from this era. At times I've whinged to people about the female "protagonists" being so passive and the social norms so backwards (as regards women, mainly). I know its not that simple, and I've never been satisfied with the words I use to complain about it, but somehow I don't enjoy reading it, even though I have enjoyed other social commentary literature from back then (Dickens, mainly). Anyway, Tess was morbid, joyless and frustrating to me, and what enjoyment I gained from the descriptions of the landscape did little to counterbalance her.

As a palate cleanser, the morning I finished Tess, I skipped through The Little Prince. Nice book, I suppose, in an early-19th-century-fantastical-childrens-book-with-transparent-social-motivational-analogies kind of way. Mostly I liked the pictures.

That brings me to this weekend (anyone new to this blog and expecting my clearinghouse to be brief would do well to free themselves of these delusions - my sporadic longwindedness is part of this blog's charm, I maintain). After Tess, I decided to go back to my wheelhouse. One of my five favourite books (back when I made the mistake of compiling such a list) is Dan Simmons' Hyperion, which was a marvellous series mixing scifi, fantasy, and literary references. His follow-up series, Ilium/Olympos, wasn't quite in the same class, but was also fascinating in the way it mixed the fantastical and the classical. So, when my browse through the library took me past Simmons' Drood, I picked it up. After a protracted reading over what has been an eventful January, I finally finished it on Saturday morning.

I had always had in my mind an impression of Simmons as two authors, one who wrote scifi/fantasy (neither of those terms fits, in fact), and another who wrote horror. I suspect now that this clear distinction between his outputs only really works until you've read sufficient of his work to realise that the the reality is much more blurred. Drood is essentially historical fiction, with supernatural/psychological elements mixed in. The story is told from the perspective of Wilkie Collins, as an unreliable narrator who is addicted to laudanum and later other opiates, and deals with the last 5 years of Charles Dickens' life following the Staplehurst rail crash. The book is a little uneven, with compelling sections, such as the pair's descent into the Undertown tunnels, but also with a tendency to drag at times. The unreliable narrator element is perhaps the best part of the book - one can never be sure what role Collins' drug use is having on the story that we are told, either in terms of the characterisations or of the events themselves.

The final book in this lengthy spiel was the one I most enjoyed. Discovering Hemingway a couple of years ago, via a chance purchase on a street near Basel (best 2CHF I've ever spent), has been one of my great pleasures of recent years, so A Farewell To Arms was another library encounter which met with no hesitation. The story is of an American working as an ambulance driver in northern Italy during the first world war. He falls in love with a Scottish nurse, then deserts the army during a retreat in which the military structures start to break down, and flees with the nurse to Switzerland. To be honest, the characters are thinly drawn, especially Catherine, who is a ghost of a woman with no discernable traits beyond lovely hair and being submissive. Henry, the protagonist, would be in AA if he existed in today's world - the quantities of vermouth, whiskey, cognac and white wine he gets through are extraordinary. However, there is something about the story that just worked for me. I don't know if its Hemingway's simple writing style, or his beautiful pacing, but I picked the book up on Saturday afternoon, and put it down Sunday evening, and really felt good about it.

My next book will be All That I Am, by Anna Funder, which won the Miles Franklin last year. The lovely Nicole is hosting a book club next week, and for all the talking I've done about books over the years, I've never done so in a more organised setting where people come actually expecting to talk about the book I've just finished reading. So I'm looking forward to it tremendously.

Having loosened my authorial gland through the above braindump, I shall now return to avoiding the writing I really should be doing.