Thursday, August 31, 2006

You Off Then? Bye.

Premiership football is pretty hard to follow in Australia, thanks to the punishing time difference between here and the UK. So it was with great joy that I watched the A-League kick off last weekend, giving me the chance to see live games at a civilised hour.

For 'Strayans, football (or soccer, as it is unacceptably called here) has long been the poor relation of rugby league and AFL (that's Aussie Rules for them up in the Northern Hemisphere).
One of the sport's most vocal Australian campaigners even wrote a history of the game Down Under and felt compelled to name it after a sneering phrase that had been used to describe the game: one that was only played by 'Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters'.

Australia's performance in the World Cup went a long way towards turning public opinion around. The A-League has had a similar effect.

That said, there still aren't too many of what are referred to as 'marquee players' in the A-League. The biggest star in the entire competition is former Manchester Utd hero Dwight Yorke, whose midfield presence at Sydney FC helped them to become the inaugural A-League champions last year. He even set up the goal that won the Grand Final for the side.

Well, now he's off, it seems. After assuring his Sydney fan base he'd definitely be back to play in the competition's second year, he's away (although technically he did keep his promise - he played in the first game of the season last Sunday). The reason for this sudden shift? Old Man U mate and now manager of Sunderland, Roy Keane, has asked him to hop back to the UK and help save his struggling outfit.

Dwight will, of course, be missed - but not, I'm hoping, too much. His performance in last Sunday's match was so muted it was tempting to think he'd been subbed off without anyone telling us. Perhaps he'd already made his mind up by that stage.

Or perhaps he was worrying about what Roy Keane would do to his kneecaps if he turned him down ...

Standing Up In The Falling Down

Connoisseurs of fine irony will appreciate the fact that every time I stepped outside the house today it bucketed down with rain. This on the very same day we were informed that we're finishing up the driest winter on record.

Oh, my sides.

As I've mentioned before, rain is A Good Thing here in Western Australia, helping to bail out farmers facing devastating crop failures across the state. It is, however, A Bad Thing if you're behind the wheel at all because, for some unfathomable reason, rain makes Perth people forget how to drive.

A simple ten-minute trip stretched out to a tooth-grinding half an hour for me this morning. It's lucky my son had nodded off in the back seat, as my language did (on occasion) lapse into gutter parlance. Alright then, if there was such a thing as a celestial censor, tasked with bleeping out my invective, it would have sounded like a fleet of trucks backing up.

This would, of course, only have made matters worse, with my lobotomised fellow drivers grinding to a halt to look for the reversing vehicles.

The worst thing about it was that I was late to pick up my daughter from kindergarten. It goes without saying that any parent thinking of their child sitting alone and friendless long after their friends have scampered off to Vegemite sandwiches and The Wiggles on telly would be distressed. Garnish that with a look from her teacher that informed me in no uncertain terms that 'I was stuck in traffic' is only one step up from 'The dog ate my homework' and it's little wonder my mood was blacker than the sky.

Thankfully my daughter is a fabulous antidote to grimness. Taking one look at the weather, she informed me that I shouldn't worry that 'the clouds are crying', because - tilting her head back - she was going to catch all the water in her mouth.

Tomorrow we're touring rural WA, helping farmers irrigate their fields ...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

117 Sleeps ...

It's easy to forget that when you're small it's the big things that mark the passage of time rather than the little ones.

My daughter's understanding of the movements of the clock is slippery at the best of ... well, times. She understands the days of the week but not the length of time that constitutes, say, an hour. So when it comes to looking forward, it makes sense that she'd stick with what she knows.

My little girl's birthday was two weeks ago. This morning I found her, head thrust into the DVD cabinet, scrabbling around for buried treasures like a pig after truffles. When she eventually emerged, all grins and excitement, it was with a selection of discs that included Robbie The Reindeer, A Muppet Christmas Carol and It's a Hi-5 Christmas.

Several hours of unseasonal festive frolics later and it's not just the halls that are in danger of being decked.

Still, something like that subtly changes your perspective. You catch yourself looking back to January when you were wandering though the supermarket, goggling in disbelief that the Easter Eggs were already on display, and suddenly it all makes sense. The people responsible for what goes on the shelves and when are actually very, very clever.

Or they've all got the mentality of five-year-olds. You pick.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Definite Articles

While I've been gone, things have moved on with my article for Perth's Sunday Times Magazine. Despite the many hitches that resulted in my missing the deadline, the story made the grade with the editorial bods and I've been handed another assignment to work on over the next couple of weeks.

This second story should be a rather more straightforward proposition now that a) I'm back online and b) we've finally found a daycare spot for my son, after striking out completely with nannies. Not only will this provide the poor little sod with some much needed social time with kids of his own age, it'll buy me a clear day and half of kid-free time each week, more than enough to cover any interviews I may need to conduct. Well, so long as I sit up half the night doing the actual writing bit ...

This first story, meanwhile - a look at the explosion in popularity of the Internet social site MySpace - made it into the mag yesterday, and has been reasonably well received. I'm particularly chuffed that
Tama Leaver, the expert from UWA who so kindly gave up his time to be interviewed on the subject, considered it to be 'pretty balanced'. The STM and MySpace are both owned by News Corp, and there was always the danger of the story sinking into self-promotion. Respect is due to my editor for allowing me to point out some of the site's more pressing problems.

In other work news, last week I heard back from Simon Guerrier - editor of the upcoming Old Friends collection for Big Finish - that the edit of the first draft of my story will be finished soon. Quite keen to see how it's turned out, not least because I've thought of several ways to tighten it up since submitting it.

I'm a compulsive fiddler when it comes to my writing: if not for deadlines I'd never get anything done, instead spending an eternity hunched over the keyboard 'tweaking'. As it is I'm champing at the bit to work the changes in - all assuming they've not been picked up already by the ever-vigilant Mr G ...

Gap in the Net

And we're back.

A day after the last post I had a stand-up, shout-down-the-line argument with my Internet Service Provider, a slanging match that ended in my telling them exactly where they could poke their 'service'.

It felt good at the time, storming off to the competition, all righteous anger and defiance, but the ten-day offline period I've had to endure while the new service gets connected up has been trying to say the least.

It's not only the blog that's suffered from the online black-out: having to drag the kids along to an Internet cafe everytime I need to do something has turned even the simplest task into an uphill battle. My work relies on a steady back-and-forth with email, I do most of my banking online and God alone knows how my Fantasy Football team's doing, since I've been unable to check anything more specific than scores in the English Premier League.

But normal service has now been resumed - thanks to everyone who's checked in to the site for updates, long after most people would have lost patience and given up. Lots to fill you in on ... after I check my email again.

'Cos I can.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

'Next to God, There is No Better Protector Than I'

The picture upload seems to be working again, so here's the news report I promised:


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Back of the Net

Frantic dash to the line with this magazine story today. With all the hitches over the last few days (nanny aggro, interviewees going missing for a week) it's two days past deadline and the ed was starting to get concerned. Not what you need on your first job for a new employer, especially since I've not missed a deadline for anything since university. Nothing says 'unprofessional' like that. Still, the story's away now, and I'm hoping the fact that the absentee interviewee was recommended to me by someone at the mag might count for something ...

In other news - Australia qualified for the Asian Cup this evening with a 2-0 win against Kuwait. Am pretty pleased that at one point in the game seven of the eleven Socceroos on the field were from my adopted 'Strayan team, Sydney FC. Watching the Premier League over here's pretty difficult, given the time difference, so I've got into the A-League, with almost every match shown live on cable each week. It's a little irritating that Sydney are no longer my local team, and it'll be weird turning up to Perth games to cheer the away side. Unlike the UK, though, there's little fear of any crowd trouble, so I'll still be getting along. Season starts in a week or so.

Meanwhile, I had a great picture to post here about BA cancelling flights (thanks, Roo. No, can't get used to that - thanks, Rach) but there's some problem uploading pics at the minute.

Maybe later when it's hopelessly out of date and no longer topical.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Doing a Bunk and Getting Stitched Up

August kicks off Silly Season in my family, birthday-wise. First there's my father-in-law, then my daughter, then my grandfather. Then my wife and, hot on her heels, in early September, my son.

For my daughter's birthday, everyone's clubbed together to buy her bunk beds, something she's had her heart set on for quite some time. So, choosing to ignore the 'I'm Working Up to an Imaginary Friend'-style warning signs, we shot out to IKEA to pick up half a forest and more screws than a decent-sized penal system.

When it comes to matters of assembly, furniture and I just don't click. The only time my wife's actually feared for her life while in my presence was during an attempt to construct a flat-packed computer desk, so she wisely popped out to watch the football for a few hours (Go the Eagles!), leaving me and my tool kit to take care of business.

I'm proud to say that I got through the entire job without losing my temper once. Better yet was my daughter's decision to pop in every half hour, eye up the part-built beds and say 'You're doing a great job, Dad'. Bless.

She's still not having a new wardrobe though.

Yesterday had us off to Cottesloe for a joint birthday party for Lauren and my father-in-law. Everything went reasonably well until my son crawled under a table then stood up, catching his head on a metal underbar. It was obvious that the cut needed stitches, so it was away across town to the hospital.

Where they kept us waiting fifteen minutes before informing us that this was an adult hospital and they didn't do kids, packing us off to the children's hospital instead.

Now I'm not what I'd call up to speed on medical advances, but a surely a stitch is a stitch is a stitch. Lucky Sean wasn't bleeding to death - he wouldn't have been able to have a transfusion, not when the hospital only had grown-up blood.


Something else took me by surprise when we did get to the children's hospital. Sean had quietened down considerably in the (unnecessarily long) time since the accident, but the moment we were shown into the treatment area and he saw the hospital bed, he went crazy.

As a premature baby, he'd spent a lot of time in hospital during his first year, enduring everything up to and including spinal taps. Now the sight of that bed drove him into screams of utter terror.

Who says they don't remember things from when they were babies?

Anyway, all back to normal today for my daughter's birthday proper. She bundled off to school loudly proclaiming the identity of the birthday girl to anyone who'd listen (and several more who wouldn't), and I got to spend the morning transcribing various bits and pieces while Sean played happily by himself, just as if nothing had happened last night.

Then, come the afternoon, the inevitable avalanche of cake and ice-cream.

That's number 46 on the 'Benefits of Having Young Children' list, for anyone keeping count.

Friday, August 11, 2006

'Vy Don't You Use Da Reglah Ahmee?'

Finally got some work done today, although only because my wife's at home sick and was kind enough to set aside getting well to watch the kids for an hour instead (thanks, babe!). Her sacrifice gave me the chance to knock out some questions for the Head of Programming at Channel Ten and to zip out for an interview with an expert on all things Internet from UWA.

One highlight of this chat was his description of the Deleting Online Predators Act (
DOPA), a piece of legislation that was pushed through in the US recently.

There's no easy answer to tackling sexual predators, but there's some question as to whether DOPA's on the right track. Broadly speaking, the Act forbids government-funded schools, libraries and the like from providing minors with access to any Internet site that involves use of a personal profile. So that's sites like MySpace, Facebook and even blogging sites like this one. This measure, it is believed, will stop paedophiles from targeting children simply because the children have no access to the sites where these predators stalk.

My interviewee's opinion was a little different:

'DOPA says, "Fire is dangerous, therefore we're going to lock you in a cupboard so you can't see fire until you're 18. Then we're going to kick you out of the house where things are burning all over the place then just hope that somehow, in that period of time, you'll learn not to stick your hand in a fire".'

It's a good point - warning children of what to be aware of while online, just as you'd have the 'Strangers Talk' with them out in the real world, has to be of greater protection to them than simply cutting them off from the problem and hoping they'll never encounter it.

Perhaps in this instance a little education's better than a lot of litigation.

As far as other work progress is concerned, my attempts to immerse myself in horror lit have ground to a halt, largely because I started out by reading an example of 'How It Shouldn't Be Done'.

There's a quote on the front of the book in question proclaiming that the author is 'An expert in the art of keeping the reader turning the pages'. What this opinion fails to specify is that the page-turning involves flicking through ten to fifteen at a time, in the vain hope that something's going to happen.

Still, lesson learned, then: don't write tedious dross that substitutes gore for plot.

Seems a bit obvious, really.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Nanny Gets My Goat

Our nanny quit at short notice last week, leaving after four months to take a better-paid job (and presumably one where she'd be exposed to fewer tantrums. Then again, she's going to be a secretary ...). Her departure put a serious kink in my plans to finish the feature I'm working on by the appointed deadline. It is undeniably tough to interview respected academics with a pair of attention-seeking littlies in tow.

Good babysitters are hard to find (you could always end up with someone like
this cretin, facing court today). Nonetheless, I appeared to get lucky on the first go: a replacement child minder had been interviewed on Monday, offered the job and given her start date for this morning, meaning I'd only lose two working days in all the disruption. I'd easily make that up.

And so I would have done, had the new girl not made one small, but basic error.

She didn't turn up.

Waited an hour (it's her first day, she might have misjudged how long it'd take to get here on the train), then called her. Voicemail. No response after two hours and I was resigned to a day spent supervising the kids at the local park and making hidey-holes out of furniture and blankets. For me, not them.

The experience was topped off when I returned from the park to find the wing mirror on our car redistributed across the road in hundreds of glittery pieces from where a bin van had hit it. Not, of course, the fault of our absentee care-giver, but that didn't stop the illogical, unreasonable side of my personality blaming her for it.

Still, the day wasn't a complete loss - I did manage to make progress with a rep for Perth band
End of Fashion and an A&R man from a major record label, both of whom have agreed to answer my doubtless incisive questions for the feature.

Meanwhile, there's still no word from the missing teen. One thing is stopping me from taking the proverbial hatchet to her on the site for the internet agency where we found her. There is, of course, the possibility that she always intended to turn up, but something happened to leave her hospitalised or worse.
I mean, I'd feel awful if she'd been on her way here and she'd been knocked down by something.

An irate previous employer, perhaps.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Pass the Fava Beans

It's Census Night Down Under. Every householder in Australia should have had someone drop off a fetching orange booklet filled with questions about the people staying in their home tonight and what they all generally get up to.

Spent a while struggling with the box entitled 'In the main job last week, what was the person's occupation?'. Tried to fit in 'Consuming alcohol in vain, lightweight attempt to empathise with Pete Doherty while watching documentary about same. Concluded not enough alcohol in house'. Got as far as 'Consuming alcohol', then ran out of space.

Well, at least the important bit made it in.

Also managed positive responses to: 'Last week, did the person have a full-time or part-time job of any kind?'; 'Did the person actively look for work at any time in the last four weeks?'; 'In the last week did the person spend time doing unpaid domestic work for the household?' and 'In the last two weeks did the person spend time looking after a child without pay'?

Thought I was going to get full marks, but dropped points on the question about whether or not I did any voluntary work for charity.

Monday, August 07, 2006

High Winds and Hot Air

Got up at around 1.30 last night to jam a big cardboard box against the back door, which the unusually high wind was causing to thump non-stop in its frame.

Grumbled a lot because it was the first time in days I'd even got to 1.30am without one of the family waking me. Realised no other bugger was awake to hear me and went back to bed.

At the same time, about 100 miles south, the main part of the storm that was rattling my windows was ripping apart houses in Australind. By the time it was done, the tornado had reached more than 150 mph and done about $10m worth of damage. (That's about four million quid to you northerners).

Australia gets some pretty extreme weather. Bananas still cost a fortune after Tropical Cyclone Larry flattened 90 per cent of Queensland's plantations earlier this year. The worst I've sat through was a hailstorm back in 1999, in which fist-sized hailstones did about $150 billion of damage. I'd managed to get my wife away from watching at the windows about ten seconds before the whole lot got blasted in ...

On a day-to-day basis, the climate here can be just plain confusing. I've lived in Australia for a smidge over nine years and even now I'll find myself wearing too many clothes in 36 degree heat because when I left the house it was tipping it down and blowing a gale. Similarly, if I step out in T-shirt and shorts and there's a distinct possibility I'll be drenched or frozen by lunchtime.

Naturally, none of the rain falls in the dam catchment areas, however, which is why there's all that talk about sewage recycling ...

The upshot of today's wacky weather was that I spent most of the time indoors, hiring a new nanny, talking to the features editor of the Sunday paper about my latest assignment and chatting to my old friend James in Adelaide, who's working on some very exciting new movies and doing a far better job of escaping Sydney life than I am. Welcome to the blog, mate.

Did find time to pop out on an errand for my wife, though, buying a talking Dalek bottle opener as a present for one of her colleagues. I already own one, and my son loves it - the sole reason I have so many open beer bottles in my recycling.

No, really.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Sith Happens

Been scooting around online today researching a story I'm working on and found this.

Very, very silly, but I know more than a couple of you who'll find it as funny as I did.

You know who you are ...

Friday, August 04, 2006

It's Not Easy Being Green

I don't get sick very often.

Months of living in Sydney in a freezing cold, furniture-free house where I'd wake up literally able to see my own breath? No problem.

Regular travel on public transport, where you're never further than a few feet from the mucoid hacking of a flu-ridden commuter? Not so much as a sniffle, thanks.

Then my daughter goes back to school and within a couple of days I'm giving Neil a run for his money ...

Next week I'm starting work on my thesis to prove conclusively that the Black Death wasn't spread by rats but by kids coming home from daycare centres.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Plumbing: The Depths of Frustration

For the three-and-a-half months in which I was living in Sydney and the rest of the family was here in Perth, I was lucky enough to retain the family washing machine. That meant regular trips to the local laundrette for my wife, so she was (understandably) extremely pleased when our beloved front-loader finally made the trip across the country.

Unfortunately the house we're renting is a little on the old side, and when the water hoses were connected to the machine, the taps leaked in a steady stream all over the floor.

I'm not the handiest person alive, but I've picked up a thing or two about simple plumbing fixes, and this one was one of the simplest - turn off the water, take the taps apart, wrap the screw threads with threadseal tape and reassemble. Bob's your uncle.

So, step one. Four turns around the outside of the house and there was absolutely no sign of the stopcock. That's same stopcock that's supposed to be easily visible and accessible to water board employees wanting to read the meter, incidentally.

A call to our real estate agent got me nowhere ('It's in the garden') so it was the turn of the local water authority. The nice lady on the other end of the phone was able to tell me that the stopcock was indeed in the garden, on the left hand side, just behind the fence.

Out to the garden and the appointed spot, then.

No stopcock.

Were it not for my curious and faintly amused neighbour, I'd still be looking. He was kind enough to point out that shortly before the house was put up for rent, the owners mulched the garden ...

Half an hour of digging revealed the stopcock, buried under six inches of soil.

Visible and accessible, my arse.

Step Two: disassemble the taps. Doddle.

Unless, that is, the entire cold water fitting has accumulated enough limescale to concrete it into place.

Half an hour of grunting, swearing and spraying WD40 around like air freshener and I was no nearer a result. It was time to resort to the Great British Repair Method, time-honoured and tested by generations innumerable of would-be handymen:

Yup, if all else fails, smack it with a hammer. It may not always work, but it'll definitely, definitely make you feel better.
In this case it did work. And I did feel better. Plus my wife can do now washing, and is looking appreciatively at me, with 'Truly, you are the alpha male' eyes.

Although that last bit might be thanks to the clinging aroma of WD40 ...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hi-5: Alive?

My daughter was watching kiddie band Hi-5 on TV this morning, enraptured at a sequence in which the group sang amidst billowing dry ice.

I made the mistake of commenting on the magical, dreamlike nature of the clouds, only for her to look at me with serious eyes and inform me that the clouds weren't at all magical or dreamlike, but were, in fact, 'car smoke'.

This brought to mind a documentary I watched a few months ago about rock band The Flaming Lips, in which one of the band members recalled having a motorbike on stage during a live performance and revving it loudly to the music. The resulting exhaust fumes filled the enclosed space and nearly gassed everyone.

I'd like to think it was remembering this (and the instant mental comparison between Hi-5 and The Flaming Lips) that made me choke on my coffee in amusement, rather than the idea of children's entertainers meeting their doom from carbon monoxide poisoning. After all, the latter would be wrong and absolutely Not Funny.

Now, if it had been Barney ...