Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fill in the box

Apologies, my warm and yeasty baker's dozen of dedicated readers, for the suspension of transmission. My mother is here, a watercoloured smudge of Australia, motherly love and faint resentment in her wake. Your regular programming will be back shortly. In the meantime, I wanted to share this t-shirt from snorgtees. It speaks to me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mabel, interrupted

It's been windy and squally, wound down into cold and the odd gust, the sun low and molten. Pluvialis points to a sun dog on the way. The fens that I have grown to love for their mud-pie and dishwater palette are absurd in saturated technicolour. Muddy track rambles like chocolate between hedgerows resplendent with blood-drop hips and haws, chicory flowers and foamy yarrow. A rainbow arcs over fields pinked with clover blossom. Mabel is tall and spined with excitement, all Oreos and marshmallow, a chip of pointed chocolate. A cocked firearm, sweetmeats and confectionery. Shadows long in the cocoa puddles.

We walk. Pluvialis just ahead, me a deferential four paces behind, wide to off-slip, the hunter's Japanese wife. Mabel parallaxing, eyes silver dollars on points to infinity. Pluvialis speaks to me with an open hand, a head turn, we are silent in the corduroy buzz of grass and I feel like a Marine.

A rabbit appears out of the grass like post-war animation, flecky golden brown a sheaf of wheat toasted, impossible flash of white, fuzzy broad soles of its great thumpers, perhaps I don't see that, bells ring invisibly as Mabel is slipped, flattened soft ears propelling downwind over the clover and stubble. No time has passed they are down the slope together and furred haunches contract and they fly in moments together and her tail opens and no time has passed.

She is in the grass. The rabbit is in the hedge.

We walk quietly in the mud. It spatters rain, beading on her scapulas.

I thought for sure she had it, says Pluvialis.

Me too.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


In 1924, my grandfather (not this one, the other one) went on a trip to England with his scout troop: the First Toorak, one of the first in Victoria. In those days, of course, one went to England on a steamship, so going meant being away from school for more than six months. However, his headmaster, the redoubtable Dr Littlejohn, opined that he would learn more in six months abroad than in two years at school, so off he went.

That is he in the foreground, on the deck of the ship.

I knew that he'd gone, of course -- the trip was part of the family storytelling -- but I didn't know about Dr Littlejohn. I heard that today from my uncle, the eldest of my grandfather's sons (with my own father occupying the noble Number Three spot) who has transcribed my grandfather's diary from the trip. He knew that my grandfather's stories of the journey were some of my favourites, so he emailed it to me. Top notch avuncularity if ever there was! The diary is so crammed with gems I barely know where to start. He recounts trips to chocolate factories, newspaper presses, light-bulb manufacturing lines, drapers, clothiers, castles, cathedrals, museums and all the other Evidence of Great Empire to which the wee Australian boys must needs be exposed, naturellement. Ditto tours to Oxford and Eton. And not a little bit of parading for the better element, I must say:

" ... then we all got into charabancs and were driven to the Palace. After waiting for some time in the Riding School Room, Sir Alfred Pickford gave us our instructions about what to do when the King came in. About ten minutes afterwards the King and 4 of his attendants inspected us. Then he gave us a speech. Then BP gave 3 cheers for HM. Then HM took us his abode at the entrance and we marched out with “Eyes Right”."

The King himself! My grandfather always said that his impression was that he looked "just as he did on a penny".

I think, though, that my baby grandpa's affections really lay with the Prince of Wales. Something about the postscript to this is exquisite in its adoration:

"This morning we all went over to the stadium and practised for the march past and got back in time for lunch. This afternoon, we march past HRH the Prince of Wales as Chief Scout of Wales. In the middle of it all down came the rain and we all got wet. After tea we had an enormous meeting round a rather small camp fire. The different contingents gave different songs and the night went off very well. We got back to our tent and turned in. P.S. The Prince attended the camp fire."

Did he, indeed.

How much more fun could a boy in 1924 be having? Wait until I tell you about my grandfather's wide-eyed reportage on the employees the Osram Electric Lamp Works!

"It is a tremendous place and only 500 out of 4-5,000 employees are men. "

Heavens alive!

There is so, so much more. Thank you, thank you uncle J.

Monday, September 17, 2007


First, a word about yarak. There are lots of lyrical and technical descriptions, but basically, for us hawking laypersons, we can think of it as your basic hawk game face. It is the posture and expression a hawk assumes when it is ON.

Today, Mabel was pretty darn yarakky. Crested head feathers. Penetrating, military gaze. Dropped ultra-ready wings. All I could think of was ...

Photoshop props to Pluvialis, who mercifully loves to make me laugh more than she is sensitive to outrageous mockery of her bird.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Head of a pin

I had a notably godless childhood. Or maybe a God-less one, because although there was barely a frankincense-scented whiff of religion, there were plenty of gods around. My mother's world -- and the top of her dresser -- was a metauniversal jamboree of bhagavats, emblems, archetypes, goddesses and totem animals. Candles and flowers and tiny resin-cast foxes at the feet of a little brass Shiva. A foot-long reclining Buddha loomed over a plastic figurine of the Evil Queen in Snow White. No, really.

And her guardian angel, of course. Bringer of parking spaces and protector against ills we know not of. She didn't live with the others, but all by herself on the bedside table. A tiny conical wooden shape for angel raiment, blue, daintily painted with flowers, with a teeny-tiny wooden head and teeny filagree brass wings and the teeniest-tiniest expression of beatitude ever managed by a 000 brush. Even to my five-year-old hands she was light as a feather and smelled like the drawer my grandfather's handkerchiefs lived in. She had been sitting on mum's bedside table, wherever she went, since long before I was born. I think she was from Mexico.

The angel in the picture, though, is mine. Mum made her for me out of Fimo and two little gold-effect fans and some foil moons and a tiny gold shell for her halo. Mum's thumbprint is on her left sleeve.

She stands next to my pencil-cup and my memo-block with the silver X paperweight on it and my Penguin of Death mug, which holds a Great Bustard feather and a crackly, fractured bit of honesty and a magpie feather and an otherworldly, snow-white puff of goshawk down.

Another little talisman clambake, on the other side of the world.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bank run

Ladies and gentlemen, my first real-live run on a bank! I took this shot this morning of the bankbook-clutching queue outside Northern Rock, which ... actually, never mind the boring details. Suffice to say that this is category-A hysterical mob behaviour. Very sedate, neatly dressed, well-behaved and typically nicely-combed-silvery-haired-and-pensioned hysterical mob behaviour, but still. Just outside the frame there is a pair of bemused-looking cops watching to make sure that no-one did anything ... well, mobbish.

Quick! Start stashing all your cash in the mattress! That'll improve the economy and show those American subprime defaulters what-for!

Northern Rock shareholders, come over for a drink. I feel for you.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Random bullets of surprise

(1) So, since the middle of the year when I had the Mane of Insanity™ cut into a more manageable shoulder-length 'do, I've been gingerly stepping toward my long-planned abandonment of Long Hair. Yesterday I got it cut and I was thinking about other things and then I spent the evening at a party in London, and this morning I got up and saw myself in the mirror and ... wa-hey! I have short hair! Flippy, shoulder-clearing short hair! Gads. The relief. I feel my codependency lapsing a little, but possibly only because I think my hair currently approves of me. If it could speak it would say "Yes, very nice. Edgy, yet age-appropriate. Also, your My Giant Mane of Hair is Me syndrome was getting on my nerves. And in conclusion, the Sebastian Evocatív Crafty styling paste is the bomb. No, don't tell me what it costs, I care only for funky broken-up lines and touchability."

(2) At aforementioned party, I injured my ear. Seriously. I slammed it accidentally into a high-mounted wrought-iron bannister in the Cheshire Cheese. This is currently runner-up in my hall of fame All Time Stupidest Injuries. The Stupid Injury is distinguished not only by the neuronally-challenged circumstances under which it was sustained, but also by how mind-bendingly regularly the injury reminds you of same. The record is currently held by the burn incident involving the keyboard-essential pad of my third left finger, my ceramic hair straighteners and the phone ringing at an inopportune moment. My pinnae are not used for typing, for which we are thankful, but they do perform crucial duties related to propping up hair when placed with stereotypical push-behind-the-ear movement deployed by one million Method actresses trying to convey nerves or concentration. New Flippy Do™ requires intensive repetition of same. Slight microexcruciate every time. But worse, mental YouTube ... 14th century stone steps. Lulu wedge heels. Careful negotiation of first step ... slam!


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tuesday haiku

Eels, a hill, bishop
signs. Road, new moon, look leash-tight
bating at the walls

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Question hour

All search terms lead to Rome. This week's Beautiful Insanity award to:

academic journal fabric softener

Are your offprints disappointingly stiff and scratchy? Does turning the pages of the latest issue of the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology or Kantstudien lack tactility and a delicate fragrance? Your problems solved with PeriodicalSoft, for the softest and most touchable journals ever! Now in camomile and lavendar fragrance for an even more peaceful night's sleep.

Friday, September 07, 2007


The edges of a field in Barton. Drilled dirt, crumbly like stale chocolate bourbons. Close up, oilseed rape seedlings barely broach the surface, green fleck in brown tweed. Don't tread on them. Pluvialis stalks the tractor-stencilled mud with a cigarette and the gos.

Two riders, gentle coconut percussion against the asphalt, helmets banded, wide stripes of safety fluorescent yellow as though they scalped a pair of roadworkers. They pass the break in the hedge, and the closer rider looks. He smiles. He has the same disciplined relaxation in his shoulders that Pluvialis has in hers. Perhaps he is as on edge as she is today, but he is walking a horse four feet from rush-hour articulated traffic, and she has a raptor leashed to her wrist with rabbits grazing quietly in the distance. Silenced eyebrows and slow glances, slow angles, like actors in period dress, hello Mr Darcy, split-seconds still to come.

I sit in the loose knit of grass at the verge. Grasshoppers and dragonflies, chick-scalps yellow and soft and dry like seed-heads, yesterday's tea for tiercels. Dead briony tangles and gossamer flickers peripheral. I wish for a cup of coffee, though I have already battled one down in the car with the hawk on my fist, leaning my shoulder muscles into the curves. Almost-stable footing, tendons grit and glass, doublegrip secret handshake, no sudden moves and we'll all walk out of here alive. The sun on the next rise, Stockholm syndrome.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


I saw some cows today. Thinking cattle thoughts and breathing thrips out of the air. Black and white flanks all piled together in the long grass tufted with chickweed and yarrow. Still and warm with suedey ears like crepes folded into a paper coronet and filled with black insulation fluff. Around clockwise, around anti-clockwise, back and forth, start again. Gyroscopic inky-tufted cones of cowhide. Shoo fly.

But the rest of the cowhide rested. Grassy exhalations wandering through beats and over entire bars, sostenuto out of suitcase lungs. The lights, so goes the culinary. A careful rear hoof itch-cocked. Crump, crump largo, grass champed into damp green pucks, oddly treble fabricky tearing mass miniature uprootings, anthill hair-root earth-movings.

A buttercup yellow dredger clipped the weeds growing in the riverbed. A-yoom-a, a-yoom-a, all the time in the world. Eclipse mallards in his wake. A single sculler, blades laid backs to the water, perdendo.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Tuesday haiku

plans and lukewarm milk
regret coagulant, not
yet but tomorrow

comma, The

My frame of mind at the moment doesn't really deserve the friendly, boxy appellation "frame". That would be something you could hang on the wall, maybe in the bathroom or the dark part of the hall, or in a pinch you could stack it in the attic next to the other crap in dubious taste. Because it's handy and oblongish and flat, you see. Which is not the current state of my mental. Another thing which is friendly and boxy is grammar and syntax. No wonder we understand one another. Sustained prose, however, is another matter altogether, so while I spool up something to say later, six observations:

(1) Many odd juxtapositions work brilliantly and make, like bringing something out of solution, a very particular kind of satisfaction unique to the combination of things that ought not to go together---an unexpected scent of bread in a library; Gill Sans with overwrought gothic drop-caps. However, my 1792 edition of Hume's History of England (13 vols.) sitting next to my collection of Ravilious' interwar period Persephone dinnerware is not one of these.

(2) Which is annoying me to an extent wildly disproportionate to its relative importance, which is surely microscopic bordering on negligible.

(3) My prose style is utterly fucked by trying to write my thesis. Are you hearing this stuff that is coming off my keys? What the hell was that last thing I said? Could I possibly sound any more pretentious, uncomfortable and over-sub-claused?

(4) The convention of alphabetically listing entries beginning "The" under the initial letter of the following word instead of under "T" has apparently died.

(5) I would be outraged.

(6) Except that I am a command-F whore who still has to sing the alphabet song under her breath in the library.