Sunday, July 30, 2006

Taking the Piss

Just back from a couple of days at the beach in
Mandurah. As you can see, in contrast to the soaring temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere, our little trip to the seaside took place in freezing winds and, for all but a few hours, heavy rain.

And this is a good thing.

Australia is currently in the grip of a major drought. Dam levels in New South Wales are down to less than half, while here in WA they're hovering at closer to a quarter of capacity. Before I left Sydney there was talk of desalination plants being started up in the not-too-distant future, with a significant outcry aimed against the projects. The latest measures to combat the lack of water promise to go even further, though.

The Queensland city of Toowoomba voted in a referendum yesterday, coming down overwhelmingly against a proposal to start recycling water for drinking purposes. Recycled water is already used for non-drinking purposes in many areas but the 'gag factor' is just too great for people to knock back a glass of treated H20. The Federal Water spokesman, however, has suggested that the time is fast approaching when many inland areas will have no choice.

Guess the desalination plants are suddenly sounding more attractive ...

Friday, July 28, 2006

Western Australian Unemployment Falls

Well, by one, at least, and only for a week or so if I fail to prove myself. Starting Monday, however, I'll be roving and reporting for one of Perth's metro newspapers. Got a list of contacts and a brief for my first story, just got to do the legwork and find an angle.

Just in time too, because I've been going quietly mad having next to nothing to do all day. Ironically, the lack of work was starting to breed a lack of desire to work - the free time would have been ideal to pick up any number of projects I've put to one side over the last year, but I just couldn't get motivated for worrying about the lack of paying work coming in.

Fortunately Benny Overlord Simon Guerrier threw me a lifebelt last week with news of a short story collection I might be interested in pitching for. I'm used to having story ideas kicking around in the back of my mind while I do other things, but since the move the only thing rolling around back there's been the tumbleweed. Having plot possibilities to mull over prevented my brain from dribbling out of my ears entirely (which would have been bizarrely appropriate, as the short needs to be a horror story).

It's been a long time since I've read anything even vaguely resembling a horror book, though (the last being a collection of short stories by the unfeasibly talented Christopher Fowler) so I'll be delving into a few choice tomes this weekend to get into the mood. That said, since the first book I'm getting stuck into is by an author on the editor's 'This Is Not What I'm Looking For' list, it'll be less for inspiration and more to avoid unwittingly stuffing the pitch up before I even make it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Sleep Is For Tortoises

I don't sleep very much. There's no deep, psychological reason for this, it's simply a matter of there being too many external influences combining to keep me awake. There's my son, who wakes up three or four times a night; there's my daughter, who regularly climbs into bed with us and loudly grinds her teeth in her sleep (I get up and put her back in her own bed. A couple of hours later, there she is again. Grinding.); and there's my wife, who has been known to sleepwalk. Even the dog seeks me out personally if she needs letting out in the night, presumably because she can be reasonably sure I'll be awake.

So my night is usually broken up into several one or two-hour naps rather than a solid seven or eight-hour sleep. It's not very restful and on the mornings after bad nights I'm immensely grumpy and caffeine-dependant.

That's why I've not been all that impressed with the 1am phone calls.

Staggering to the phone a couple of nights ago (cordless, not where it should have been) I failed to get there before the caller rang off. All sorts of things run through your mind when the phone rings in the dead of night, especially when you have family in a different hemisphere. Your automatic reaction is that something's happened up there that warrants waking everyone up down here. And good news can usually wait.

But there was no message, and no attempt to call back, so my tired brain filed it under 'Couldn't have been that important' and I went back to bed.

Last night, at 1am again, on the dot, the phone rings. Again, I don't get there in time. No message, so back to bed.

2am, chirping phone. This time I knew where the receiver was from my previous attempt to locate it ...

'Hello. Can I speak to Carmen?'
'No Carmen here.'
'Is this Perth?'
'You do know it's two in the morning?'
'I'm from South Africa.'
'It's still two in the morning.'
'Is Carmen there?'
'No. You've got a wrong number.'
'[Gives number]'
'Yup, but there's no Carmen here.'
'Who am I speaking to?'
'Someone who doesn't want to be having a discussion at two in the morning about someone who's not here.'
'My mother lives in Australia.'
'Then she's probably asleep. Like I want to be.' (Hangs up)

This morning I banged on about the call to my wife. She looked at me blankly: 'Did someone call last night? I didn't hear anything.'

So apologies to anyone who's tried to get sense out of me today and been greeted by with a bleary-eyed, possibly snarling response. Even though no one else seemed to hear the call, I wasn't making it up when I said it was a South African's fault, and it definitely wasn't a dream.

I'd have had to have been asleep for that.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Mr Cymtzhal, I Presume?

I have distinct memories of standing at my mother's knee while she talked to any number of faceless types seated behind counters, and while the conversations themselves are all lost to me, one element of them remains vivid. At some point, my mum would always need to repeat the phrase 'Kay-ee-em-pee-ess-aitch-ay-double-el'.

In my mind, this used to happen a lot - I'm reasonably sure I could spell my name before I could pronounce it - and it's weird to say that three decades down the line I'm doing exactly the same thing.

Over and over and over.

This morning I went into the city to put deposits down on various presents for the upcoming double whammy of my children's birthdays (one in mid August, one early September). Obviously the shop assistant needed my details if she was going to hang onto the small pile of toys for me, so the time came when I needed to trot out the spelling phrase I learned by rote all those years ago.

After four attempts, she still couldn't get it, meaning I have to remember to be Mr B Campshirr when I go in to make the final payment.

I've seen just about every variation of spelling possible for my surname, from Kempshore to Cimpsill. A couple of months ago I nearly lost my reservation on a flight because I was using my driving licence as proof of identity for a name recorded as Mr P Kampshell. It's no wonder my wife was so reluctant to change her name from the far simpler 'Johnston' ('Is that with or without an "e"?').

Still, I've long since given up being exasperated about whether or not I've got one of those names that just invites misspelling. The point when I decided it's not my name, it's the people who hear it, was when I noticed an increase in the number of occasions on which I've given my first name as 'Pete' and received the same forehead-slapping response:

'How do you spell that?'

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Monkey See

School holidays are nearly over (pause for cheering to subside) so today was one of the last opportunities to catch some of the free kids' entertainment in the centre of Perth.

The big attraction over the last fortnight has been something called Barrel of Monkeys. Playing three times a day in a mysterious mini-big top outside a department store, the show consists of a troupe of acrobats done up as chimps, performing a comedy circus act.

Twice in the last week, Karlie, our long-suffering nanny, has queued for an hour with my increasingly fidgety children to see the show. Twice she's got to the front of the queue only for the 'House Full' sign to go up in her face.

Now it's not pretty, trying to keep under-fives happy while you stand in line for that long. Things only get uglier when you have to explain to them why they've endured the wait to see precisely bugger all. I wasn't there for the fall-out, but I've borne the brunt of similar kiddie catastrophes in the past, enough to form the opinion that these simian impersonators had better be bloody special to warrant all the aggravation. At the very least, they'd want to be solving world hunger while reenacting the Lord of the Rings movies.

In Spanish.

After spending all day yesterday unpacking boxes (my stuff's finally arrived from Sydney! Huzzah!) I was ready for a trip out. So this morning we tried to get into the show again, only this time we came with a plan. We'd get there even earlier and I'd stand in the queue while Karlie took the kids off for a juice, dodging the impatient-toddler bullet. Then, when the time came, they could zip in and claim their seats.

And it worked like a dream. Until we got inside.

Because the second we were through the tent flaps, my son looked at me and said, 'Want go home.'

We lasted twenty minutes of the forty-five minute show, twenty minutes in which I fought a fractious, struggling infant to a virtual standstill, drawing the concerned/irritated looks of the other lucky-just-to-be-there punters. Eventually I was forced into a tactical withdrawl, leaving Karlie to mind my hugely entertained daughter (from what little I did see of the show, it was worth the wait).

Five steps outside the tent, Sean tugs my hand and announces, 'Want to see monkeys!'

The police and child services were very understanding ...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Changed Perspective

It's been six months since Something Changed - a short story anthology in Big Finish's Bernice Summerfield line, for which I contributed a tale - was released. At last, a review of the book has turned up on the very fine Doctor Who website Outpost Gallifrey, and I'm chuffed to bits to say it's a good one.

Check it out

Business Reports

Finally, a glimmer of light at the end of the unemployment tunnel.

Had a very encouraging meeting today with a prospective employer that could feasibly have me up and running by the start of next week, approvals permitting. Should be pretty interesting stuff, too, with a greater range than what I've become used to. Fingers crossed, then.

Researching something else, meanwhile, I stumbled on this (and the kind of people who take issue with reading while on the toilet may want to look away now ...).

Yup, the iCarta is designed to allow you to listen to your iPod while you're making the day's most important pit stops. Quite how much time you'd need to be spending on those drop offs to warrant buying an iBog is reasonably disconcerting. Perhaps there's a chicken and egg element to it - you'd never normally spend so much time on the toilet, but once you've got music facilities you'll be sitting there for hours choosing the perfect soundtrack before letting go.

The Prodigy's Funky Shit, mayhap?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Families Eye Pod

What with all the minor disappointments I've had in the last couple of weeks concerning the move to Perth, it's good to be reminded of some of the positives, the little bonuses that make me realise that ultimately, regardless of absent chattels and lack of gainful employment, I've done the right thing.

Once the littlies had had time to recover from the exertions of the fun-fair, we tootled off to visit my in-laws, who live in an ocean-front house in Cottesloe. Part and parcel of thse visits is popping across the road to the beach, where the kids have got into the habit of messing about until they fall over. This time - to the delight of all - we also got to watch a pod of a dozen or so dolphins rounding up fish just a little way out to sea. It was all topped off with a spot of sandcastle construction, then a wander along the beach as the sun set, holding my son's hand as he collected shells in a bucket.

You don't get too much of that in Sydney's Northern Suburbs ...

All's Love and War at the Fair

Having kids grants you licence to do things you'd not normally be able to do, like spend several hours watching old episodes of Scooby-Doo (in the interests of bonding), and hang around Toys R Us playing with stuff without people giving you funny looks.

This morning my wife and I took the little ones to a monster fun-fair set up inside
one of Perth's undercover concert venues: pay up front for unlimited rides and more bouncy castles than you can shake a pump at. Not only did the excursion give us the opportunity to run the kids ragged, it also allowed us to indulge in a little regression therapy. Between us, my wife and I got to play on all the rides we'd normally be classed as being far too grown-up to have a go on, simply by claiming we needed to accompany our 'timid' offspring.

Plus I got to prove my fatherly credentials by winning prizes on the stalls for my son and daughter. The fact that the stalls were of the 'no-one leaves empty-handed, everyone's a winner' variety took the shine off it not a jot ... Yay, Daddy!

But while it's undeniably fun to indulge your inner munchkin and to revel in watching your children do things they've never done before (my daughter, on a ferris wheel, laughing herself almost to the point of vomiting), you're missing out if you don't take the time to watch the other parents too. Because sooner or later, they'll come up with something just as entertaining, if not more so.

My favourite today? The pair of mothers almost coming to blows over their respective daughters' behaviour on a bouncy castle. Connoisseurs of fine irony will appreciate the sight of a fuming parent spitting venom, the potential for violence fizzing from her as she berates another mother for not stopping her daughter playing rough.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

The (Not Quite So) Naked Truth

My wife's back from the other side of the country (hurrah!) and just took the time to have her first look at this blog.

'That picture of you looks like you're naked,' she opined, pointing to my profile shot.

I squinted at it, trying to see what she was getting at.

'That looks like chest hair,' she elaborated, indicating the clump just under my chin.

So in an effort to prove that I'm not a naked ape with its face shaved, here's that headshot in context:

That'll be my son, then, not a luxuriant fur jungle.

Anyone who's been suffering nightmares believing that the picture was a nude glamour shot (and God help you if you were ...) can now sleep easy.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Cab Rank

My wife's currently away, off impressing business types in Melbourne (I know, I know - months of living on separate seaboards, I finally head West and she flies East. Think I need to change my aftershave).

She wasn't long out of the airport when she was exposed to a minor traffic accident. Grabbing a taxi to her first meeting, it became clear that the cab driver had no idea where he was going. Finally admitting defeat, he swerved in to the side of the road to read his map book. The sudden manouvre forced the car behind him to change lanes to avoid running up his back. In doing so, this other car clipped a motorcycle, and the rider fell off.

Fortunately no one was hurt. At least not to start with.

The biker dusted himself off, and, discovering he had escaped injury, assessed his options. Of course, the correct thing for him to do would have been to call in the accident and swap insurance details prior to the arrival of the police.

Or there was Option B: stamp up to the car that had knocked him over, open the door, then proceed to knock seven shades of shit out of the driver.

Needless to say, my wife was shocked by all this, but was more distressed by what happened next. She asked the taxi driver to help out - at the very least he could radio the incident in and have his controller summon the police. The unfortunate driver of the car behind was, after all, taking a beating as a result of the cabbie's negligence.

The cabbie drove off.

It's hard to know what was the worse thing, the assault or the cabbie's callous refusal to assume any responsibility. At least my wife has been able to do something about the latter - the taxi driver's details are on their way to the relevant authorities.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Moving Sense of Loss

Somewhere out there, there's a study that places moving house right up there with stressful activities like taking your driving test, juggling chainsaws and watching the England national team take penalties. Mind you, somewhere out there, there's a study that'll tell you pretty much anything you want to hear about anything.

Still, no matter how carefully you pack, you'll always get to your new house and realise you're missing something you absolutely have to lay your hands on right now. All you know is that this particular Holy Grail is in one of the many, many boxes sitting in a room stacked with boxes waiting to be unpacked.

This situation attains an entirely new level of irritation when the houses you are moving between are separated by two time zones. Right now, all the possessions that sustained me through almost four months alone in Sydney are in limbo somewhere on the Nullabor Plain.
I was informed that my boxes would be loaded onto a container and sent across by train. I hadn't realised they'd meant a camel train.

So here's a (still growing) list of things I've now realised I should have taken in my hand luggage when I left Sydney.
  • The piece of paper that says my new mobile phone is only four weeks old and is eligible to be fixed under warranty now that it's obstinately refusing to function.
  • The remote control for my cable TV. It took ten days to get a guy to connect up the signal box, I'd hoped the widget to work it would have arrived by then.
  • Week 8 of DC Comics ongoing series 52. Got Week 9 now. Week 10's out soon. Would like to read them now, please.
  • Two DVDs I should have written up this week. No one's noticed they're not in my latest batch of reviews. Think I got away with it ...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Fear in the Big Blue House

Last night, my son had his first proper nightmare.

When you have kids you get used to a certain amount of crying in the night that you have to get up and deal with. This was on a new level for Sean, though: full-blast, terrified screaming that woke me up thinking the house was on fire. Fifteen minutes of comforting controlled his shaking and crying enough to get him back to sleep, but up until then the poor little sod was a wreck. This morning he took me to his bed to show me the spiders, and was a shade confused to find there were none there ...

By coincidence, my daughter had only asked me about nightmares earlier that day: she'd had one about a big, metal dog and wanted to know all about what causes bad dreams.

Er ...

There was no use blathering out some answer about it being your brain doing its filing while you're asleep (she's not quite five), so I simply told her that if you think of nice things before you go to sleep, chances are you'll have a nice dream. That seemed to work, and she wandered off happy.

The conversation did get me wondering about why bad dreams are called nightmares, though. Seems the traditional view was that bad dreams were the result of demons ('mara') sitting on your chest during the night.

So, night mara.

I wake up in the middle of the night with something sitting on my chest it's usually a child or a labrador ...

Monday, July 10, 2006

Go West, Young(ish) Man

Anyone who's mentioned the word 'blog' to me in the last few months will remember me saying I would never, ever start up one of my own.

And here I am, starting up one of my own.

So what's changed? The short answer is: 'geography'.

Oh, alright then, here's the long answer.

For the last nine years I've lived in Sydney, NSW. I worked there, got married there, had two kids there. Then, four months ago, my wife was made an offer she couldn't refuse: move to Perth, Western Australia, and take a job light years ahead of anything she was being offered in Sydney.

And so off she went, taking the kids with her, to start work on the other side of the continent, while I remained in Sydney to tie up loose ends. That kicked off fourteen weeks of rushing about - redecorate the house so we could sell it, work out my notice period for my day job and clear the decks with another, significant writing project I had on the go. All before my own departure date of July 1. I don't think I've ever been so busy.

Now I'm in Perth, with no job, no decorating (although I'll be happy never to see another paint brush again. Ever) and that other writing job off being edited.

I'm bored senseless.

So there are a couple of reasons for this blog. The first is to keep my writing muscles from atrophying while I look for more work. Now, the population of the entire state of Western Australia is less than half of the population of the city of Sydney, so the publishing industry is ... well, smaller. It could be a while before anything crops up. If I have this to mess around with, though, it'll help keep me in the discipline of writing.

The second reason is that I'm widely known for being rubbish at staying in touch with people. There's a raft of mates I left in the UK nearly a decade ago who are completely convinced I have been abducted,
Wolf Creek style, purely because I'm so bad at letting them know what's been going on. Now that there's also all the friends I've left behind in Sydney, I'm really going to have to try harder. It'll be so much easier if people can pop in here and see what's what - that way I may still have some friends in a couple of months time.

So I'll try to keep this regular, interesting and free of the blind venting that you see on a lot of other blogs. I'll even try to put some pictures up, once I've overcome my deeply entrenched Luddite tendencies and figured out all this computer code business.

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