Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Mitt, the Fox, the Bear and Cinderella

Mitts is on my lap, I'm flicking loosely through the weekend papers, suddenly there's Megan Fox in full page glossy. With several bemused witnesses, Mitts throws his arms out, hands shaped into claws, and says "ARRRRR!!"

I'll say no more.

He's chatting a bit now, getting close to articulating clear words. Actually he uses all sorts of words, I'm just not sure what language they're in. Anderss, Zizzess, Daadahh, DATZ... (well, I know the last one is "cats") ... The proto-words are strung into phrases now, making sense in their own way just like his quite rhythmic table drumming and xylophone pounding.

Close to walking (holding himself up and moving along things) and close to talking, his frustration is palpable.

Random speech-related segue to Bear. Yesterday evening she's opened up a book of Fairy Tales, arrived at Cinderella, and promptly started telling her own story based on the pictures. It went something like this:

So they put the cat up on it and and yeah the cat was on there and.... these ones went over here and then there's the cat. (turns page)

A fairy there is a fairy and she BOUGHT A PUMPKIN there is a pumpkin and the fairy went, yeah! (turns page)

So YEAH there was a wedding and there LOOK they went and there was a WEDDING and, and THERE they are.

A girl is determined to read, I'm as proud of this as her efforts at coming up with a story (she's not familiar with Cinderella yet).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Nobel Nothings- Could Obama become the next Kissinger?

While he made a bad situation worse by defending war during the Nobel ceremony, a nasty possibility is emerging from his decision to increase troop numbers in Afghanistan.

Among the allegations Christopher Hitchens levelled in his book 'The Trial of Henry Kissinger', which I admit I read several years ago, was a fairly convincing argument along the lines of 'Kissinger and Nixon took unilateral steps to flummox peace discussions late in the '60s and drew the war out, largely for political purposes'. Resulting in tens of thousands more people dying.

While it may not be clear for many years, what if Obama is essentially making his decision to continue in Afghanistan against a preponderance of the advice he has received, at least in relation to the likelihood of success there? What if, instead, this Nobel Prize winning Democratic President has made a decision to continue the war, increasing its intensity (and therefore the casualties that will inevitably follow on all sides), because he believes this is essential to his own domestic political survival?

Hugh White's recent article in The Monthly suggests, by implication, that this might be the case.

We might yawn at the idea of becoming upset at politicians acting cynically to get votes, but when it comes to waging war, this could open him up to allegations (as Hitchens tried to do to Kissinger) that he has committed a breach of the laws of war, maybe even a war crime.

Ironically, Bush and Blair may have had better justification for going in at the beginning (to shut down Taliban terrorist training camps, which we know existed and which were used to attack the US) than Obama has for 'surging' the troops at this point.

I hope this hypothesis is wrong, I still have reams of respect for the man, and I hope (against the odds it would seem) that he actually succeeds and brings peace there.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tuvalu is 'developing', China is a superpower

On Climate Change Tuvalu has a different view to China and India. That is because Tuvalu really care about climate change, for obvious reasons.

'Developing country' is a relative term, so that countries can claim such status if they have less wealth per person than the US or Western Europe. But in the case of China and India, countries that are part of the strategic environment affecting Australia, that choose to spent an astronomical amount of their wealth on military capability and that are nuclear armed, are effectively asking us to take a bigger hit on their behalf.

I think far more than $10 billion should be pledged by the 'wealthy countries' to support poor countries as part of this process, but allowing China to access that support, while racing to built its already ridiculously large military up to intimidate the neighbourhood, seems a bit foolish. The issue probably goes far beyond Copenhagen to a debate about where the world's developmental welfare should be directed.

In my view China does not care much about emissions. They simply aren't that sort of nation, they would see no major issue with replanting millions of people away from the coast. They are an old-style realist strategiser and they are basically looking at this process to advance their position relative to the other players, in particular the US.

Which seen entirely from their vantage point, is probably understandable. But if Australia ends up giving them handouts that would be a bit bizarre.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Sharman Stone was soft on Asylum Seekers

One of those moments where you wonder where some people will stop. Sharman Stone, apparently, was trying to steer a middle course between moderates and "the Right" on this issue.


If she was the voice of moderation, I owe her an apology for streams of vitriol already hurled at my TV set. There I was thinking this woman must eat babies for breakfast, and in fact she was a moderate, possibly even being forced to run a harder line than her own conscience preferred?

Well, apologies to Sharman, I'm sure it's not biologically possible that you are some of the things I called you anyway. But what exactly do The Right want? The Right who are now in the ascendency, apparently responsible for dumping Sharman from her post. What do they want to do to refugees that she wasn't already advocating?

Do they want to kill them? I'm being serious, there's not much left. Do they want us to finally, once and for all, dump the Convention itself and its core rule of non refoulement? Just send people back to war zones, overt oppression, torture, genocide, whatevs?

Go back to picking out the white ones?

Or just burn the boats and shoot them in the water? I mean, Sharman was basically banging on about how Rudd's policy, which still uses offshore detention, is too soft. If she was a pinko by the standards of something called "the Right" that's apparently even further to the right, what exactly do they want?

I can't wait to find out. Race and security politics, the high water mark of Australian civilisation.

Oh Don't Go There

I must admit I was a bit shirty on the phone to my mum last night, putting in the odd dig at my old man that probably could have been left on the shelf. Occasion for the call- to suggest she suggests he calls his old school mate, who he's also been in the process of brushing off and rejecting, because his old school mate is about to die from cancer.

Possibly it wouldn't hurt you to let him chat about what's on TV for ten minutes, Pa?

Anyway, I tell her happily about where Mitts is at: pulling himself up on things, standing (in fact yesterday he started 'stepping' along the edge of the couch while standing, an exciting milestone!), blabbing lots of semi-articulated words like "da da dgggst" and "anderzz" and "itstst", yanking at books, and bashing enthusiastically on the xylophone.

"Ooh dear" she says, unenthusiastically. Then, without directly relating it to her comment, she starts to babble on about how you can start to tell if kids are going to 'be musical' at this age.

Context- Mitts is 11 months old.

She continues. At this age apparently I was waving my arms around like a conductor to my favourite music, Gilbert and Sullivan (I'd like to point out my tastes did evolve, thankfully). Mitts has actually done the same to Mussorgsky but I leave this out, because this already ridiculous piece of historical fluffery takes an ill-advised turn.

"I knew you would be musical then", she slaps in for effect.

... (pause as my blood pressure goes up a few dozen kilopascals)

"Shame that was discouraged" I understate.

"OH but we BOUGHT YOU saxophones and lessons and things" she jumps back, the usual themes. I was bought something. What more could a kid ask for?

"Yes but you-know-who then actively discouraged me" I reply, still holding back about 5 cannons of rising anger.

"Well you've got to get over it sometime" she retorts, again a bit too quickly.

"No. I. DON'T".

She shifts topics and moves away, wisely. I fume long after we finish.

Yes I got some lessons when I was very young, and a guitar, and much later was able to convince them to switch from a small car to a sax for my 21st present. I don't deny this was financially fortunate. But it counted for sweet F.A. because when this became my overwhelming passion, something I was practising several hours of every day, something I was actually getting very good at, my father attacked this love of mine with a venom I still can't fully make sense of, as part of generally attacking everything about me that he didn't identify with.

In fact in a big worked-up rant about how music was a waste of time and I had no talent anyway, he said he would support me studying "anything EXCEPT music".

This in the context of whining on all his life about how his father didn't support him going to Uni, and how I was so lucky because I'd be given all the support I needed. As it happened there weren't any relevant courses available within 1000 miles of where I lived, and the only courses I was aware of charged fees, so just as when he was a boy, in this particular context, a complete lack of support did make a difference (I actually applied for the Army so I could afford to send myself to music school, a story for another day).

Coupled with constant put-downs about how if I had any talent it would be more obvious, I'd go nowhere, be a loser and so on, this kinda fell short of encouragement.

My mum didn't actively participate, but she didn't do much to contradict this message either, until I was in my mid 20s. I remember vividly the day she said something that sounded vaguely encouraging, remember being touched by it, while reflecting on how it was an offer of hay to the horse that had already bolted. I'd ground myself up with frustration and self doubt for about 4 years when music was all I wanted to do. The dreams had blurred, the time mostly passed.

So it wasn't her fault, but in her constant babble about how when I was a little bub I did this and that before I was the age dot, I don't need her to make some claim on me being a child prodigy, or that being something she spotted and encouraged. Leave it alone, for fcuk's sake.

And here's a message to people who have at some point colossally screwed up a relationship: moving on is possible, but don't ever, ever tell us to get over it. That's a way of saying you don't really think you did anything wrong. And that's just a way of inviting a whole pile of visceral anger to leap out of the place it's been buried and fly down your throat.

I'll finish on a lighter reflection, on the merits of the internet. At the time of the arguments above I was living in Darwin, and my knowledge of the courses available to me was limited by what was on offer, or in the library of, the local Uni-Tafe. I did not know, and had no immediate way of knowing, that there were courses at places like Box Hill College that taught exactly what I wanted to learn.

It is sometimes hard to imagine that just a few years ago that sort of functional information simply wasn't available. If you didn't know something was out there, or where to start looking, then that was that. All I knew about was the Conservatorium in Sydney, and a whole bunch of fantastic music schools in the US that I could attend if I saved about a year's salary....

Friday, November 27, 2009

Turnbull is no crusader for moderate liberals

Not this time. He had the potential. But even as he started tying the rope for himself on the ETS, he was still reffo bashing and playing to an even darker, more right wing audience than the ETS doubters.

So it actually makes no sense that he made a stand here. And while it may be tempting for we of the left to allow him the glory of his purported martyrdom, seen in context his conduct has little to commend it.

He chose to join the party that hogs the nomenclature of 'liberal' while taking, in most cases, conservative positions. He then fought hard, successfully, to lead it. True, he argues that he came to reform and modernise, but if anyone out there had the contacts, wealth, reputation and sheer bull headed confidence to start a new party it would have been him.

More importantly, when things started to sour, post Utegate, he did not hesitate to go into the muck with the very worst of the Right's dog whistling, race baiting, divisive, misleading use of the wretched asylum seeker as political pawn. Never mind the ETS, this was the real test of his 'liberal' character, ethics and bona fides. He failed spectacularly. He got into bed with Sophie Mirabella, she gave him fleas then unsurprisingly joined the deserters yesterday.

The 'fleas' will never leave him. No matter how high minded he feels about his present stand, it will always stain his record that he failed a handful of miserable people, fleeing a well documented war, well documented concentration camps in Sri Lanka, well documented bigotry and official discrimination, and in the process failed small L liberalism and any notion of modernising his party.

Which begs the question- why such a vehement stand on the ETS? I think it is an incredible case of pride and poor political judgement, rather than a noble stand for the future of humanity. I may be wrong, none of us can see inside Turnbull's head. But leaving the policy aside, and my personal preference for progressive action on emissions, his conduct in relation to his party and fellow parliamentarians was appalling, aggressive, and ultimately delusional. And surely if he had offered a conscience vote on the issue there would have been enough votes to get the ETS over the line, while allowing the god-and-sheep botherers their own version of integrity.

He's on his way down now. I don't mean to dig into him too hard, because on his failings I feel disappointment as much as anything. I resent, but understand, the unpleasant pressure and political compromise that led him to the path he took on refugees. I don't believe he believed in the gutter trawling policy position he allowed attack dogs like Mirabella to take.

He may yet spring up in politics somewhere, in a guise that more closely matches his more progressive liberal politics, perhaps even a party or organisation that would swear itself off race baiting, flag waving, god bothering and reffo bashing. You never know. And if he does, good luck to him...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blood as Bear bites tongue badly

It happened so fast I barely turned my head and it was done. She was wriggling forward on a fold-out chair, not minxing, just moving to the edge to get down, when it unbalanced- slammed - forward, her mouth hit the edge of the table, her head flew back and she fell underneath onto the paving.

She cried hard, in wave after wave, for a long time. Blood streamed out of her mouth, reminding me of the rivers of blood when I once bit through my own tongue, slamdancing to Lithium in the Sari Club back in the old days in Bali. My shirt was bright pink. I swapped her to the other side so she wouldn't see it, I held her for a long time, swaying, trying to say soothing stuff, failing.

I plopped her on the couch, she sobbed and sobbed there until, exhausted and shell-shocked, she fell asleep. We didn't have any kids' painkiller. Parents, simple lesson, always carry some baby Panadol or Nurofen when you travel. I walked with one of our nice hosts down to the nearest Chemist. It was closed. He drove me to another, where I nearly bought the older kids version before learning that Baby Panadol is more potent. Went for potent.

Beloved administered a generous dose to a rewoken Bear, who was sobbing again. Then we had to go to a wedding and leave Bear and Mitts with our trusted friends. I felt a bit sick.

The friends were wonderful, and soon after we left Bear calmed, perhaps helped by the drugs. She sat up past bedtime watching Monsters Inc, whatever that is, then announced when she was ready that she'd like to go to bed. I meanwhile spent the whole wedding telling people how I was the kind of dad who sits next to his daughter but fails to grab her in time as she falls off chairs and sustains bloody injuries.

There is still a big flap loose on her tongue. The nurse at Royal Children's said it's fine. But every time I think about it I feel a little queasy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Institutional Care - stuff we still do

Watching ABC2 this morning brought out historical experiences involving trauma, separated families and socially-endorsed institutionalisation. It was very moving. So were the stories from the people who experienced that in the past.

The earnest voices talked, with grave condemnation dripping from every word, of a time when children would be removed from home and placed in institutional or foster care, not because they were being raped or bashed by their parents, but because dysfunction or socioeconomic circumstances meant they weren't able to take care of their kids. We didn't have the same social welfare back then, they said.

I thought 'What, 5 years ago?' And did it really get better under the dying days of Howard as the pressure on the unemployed, single parents and the disabled was ramped up exponentially? Because I've encountered, for example, a situation where the only thing preventing a child from being with their family was the need for a particular support (for example drug and alcohol monitoring, or anger management counselling), but because of a waiting list or some other funding-related obstacle that support was not available, and so a child, a vulnerable, developing child, was removed or kept out of their family home.

We've all observed (or quietly looked the other way as it occurred, the natural consequence of hard nosed policies endorsed by the polity at the ballot box) the state going hell for leather to recover debts incurred accidentally by poor people who are supporting children- that is, to be clear, hauling those debt amounts out of the meagre budgets that would otherwise put food in kids' mouths.

The link between poverty, dysfuction and the state removing children is still alive and well. Choices, based on considerations ranging from budget priorities to voter-friendly headlines, are still made to the detriment of the individual family as a coherent entity. Or to the detriment of the 'best interests of the child'.

The story also included footage and discussion of these poor institutionalised kids being forced to march, decked out in military gear. Awful, said the tone of the announcers. Well, it seems it's horrific if decades ago they were doing that to orphans and wards of the state. It's not horrific if a kid today is sent to boarding school, or enrolled in cadets and taught to march and fire weapons, that's different because they have a choice. Their parents might make it for them, and they might do so under illusions created by fallacious notions and glossy brochures, but they are somehow part of a 'choice' that distinguishes them from other institutionalised kids.

We're so much better today, aren't we? I don't even need to get started on asylum kids, those queue-jumping ratbags aren't worthy of empathy until they have permanent residency.

Sure, things are better. Even between when I went to school and got the cane for being punched in the head, or for not making my bed in time, and the present, there has been notable improvement. But with such ritual distancing of the past as we are seeing today, we seem to be saying we're now civilised, that such things can't happen today.

Which is utter crap.

Update: Senator Fielding reveals his own abuse at the hands of a scoutmaster. There are not many times when I'm going to give him credit, but I think discussing this would be extremely painful and humiliating for him and he's brave for bringing it up.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lest We Forget - The Abject Horror of Total War

What do we remember? What are we trying not to forget?

It is never clear if we are remembering solely to honour the fallen, a worthwhile task in itself no doubt, or whether we are remembering the democidal horror of war, of total war in particular, and the extraordinary folly and evil that combines to unleash it on humanity.

Memory is selective. Reflecting on my past couple of posts, there a proposition out there that anyone who reaches for the 'Hitler/Nazi' analogy should automatically lose an argument. I have some sympathy with this, but there is also an argument that says we have not learned the lessons of the past, whether from Nazism, Vietnam, or the Great War, and that lively recollection and debate about their relevance does no harm.

History weighs on my mind in many of Australia's racial, ethnic and population fault lines. I don't think about it because I want to be specious, I think about it because I've always been interested in history and I feel a certain churn in my stomach when I see things I thought and hoped I wouldn't see in my country. The Right has long relied on an extraordinary link drawn between the brutal totalitarian dictatorships of the 20th Century and wet, soft, democratically accountable government interference in the economy or the like. If such a self-evidently long bow, no not even a bow, a bamboo suspension bridge drawn into a hoop, can be given credence by any sane person, what is it about the Cronulla riots, the targetting of anyone of vaguely mediterranean appearance for brutal violence, the overt racial nationalism, that doesn't bring to mind the horror of the late 1930s and the vicious, paranoid bigotry unleashed upon the Jews?

It is not that there are pogroms, or mass murder. It is however that one thing led to another.

Behind such particular, smaller scale, analogies and partisan arguments, played out in nations largely benefitting from a sustained pax, there is the big thing that happened in the two World Wars. There is total war. Slaughter of millions. Loss of entire generations. Loss of cultures, great historical buildings and artifacts, loss of humanity.

I don't think we remember that, not really, and I don't think it's an issue of left or right. My greatest fear is not World War II, the model of the rampant dictator who can't be placated, but of the Great War, the combination of belligerent (if not quite Hitler-esque) leaderships, appalling diplomatic blunders, and the suction created by a set of interwoven alliances that draws nations that have no real gripe with each other into an unending slaughter.

Over all the others, all the other sacrifice, all the blunders and all the worthy causes properly fought for, it is the Great War I remember.

It is the Great War that we are most at risk of repeating. We, being Australia, not America, not China, not Japan. Australia. Lest we forget.

More comment on what I've suggested here over at LP.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Learning to Love Ratios - border security edition




(all approximates)

Clues: Indonesia, boat arrivals, successful asylum seekers, overall migration, Australia.

Non-refoulement- just like Climate Change, only crunchy!

Barnaby Joyce is right, of course. The solution is we should send them home. They include terrorists, there are millions of hundreds of them, we can't fit them all, there's a queue after all, just inside the gate of the biggest Tamil internment camp, self determination is a lefty plot to overthrow the world and replace it with latte, imagine if we'd said yes to all those Jews back in the late '30s, after all?

Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, took place on this date in 1938. Jews weren't particularly popular with the moral majority back then...

Codified within the 1951 Geneva Convention and 1967 Protocol, the principle of non-refoulement arises out of an international collective memory of the failure of nations during World War II to provide safe haven to refugees fleeing certain genocide at the hands of the Nazi regime.

Memory indeed, lest we forget.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Stay at home dadding

I've take a few days off to cover Beloved's return to work, a day a week, up to the end of the year. I took the first last week. Though as longer term readers will know I was on a 4 day week for a while with Bear alone, this was the longest I've spent on sole care of the kids, now there are 2.

It was hard of course, but fun. I had learned a lesson from the early days with Bear that if you try to fit complex things into your day it can all go pear shaped. This is more flexible once you've been doing it for a while, know the routine inside out and can balance 2 poos in one hand while finishing off a Thomas the Tank Engine jigsaw with the other.

As a moment of relief from my gibbering, I present an old school friend, one of the recipients of the email that led to my reunion post, who is now a proper home dad and blogging about it: Aussie House Dad.

Beloved is sometimes pretty strained on those long days at home with 2 kids, especially when Bear decides to push the boundaries at crucial moments of stress. I did appreciate this, but lasted approximately 3 hours before my own best efforts started to deteriorate. Mitts was starting to holler for food (quite reasonably) and I was zooming around pulling lunch together in the kitchen. I'd agreed to make Bear some eggs (a fave, along with sushi -!?!) and the balancing act was getting delicate. Bear decided to start pulling everything out of the cupboard and the poor girl accidentally poured couscous everywhere. In a slightly raised, firm voice I said something like "If you do that again SWEETheart I will NOT have time to cook your eggs!"

She ran immediately out of the kitchen and I followed her, realising instantly I'd been a bit too harsh. She went straight to the naughty corner and stood there, looking mortified. I didn't have a mirror dear reader but I am sure I looked pretty mortified too! A few hugs later and we were back in business (with another hug for Mitts of course on the way through) and food did, eventually, get served.


Bonding. Through triumph over adversity (my incompetence being a specific case of force majeure in the children's lives that must be overcome) we will have us some bonding.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Boi-Boi's daddy phase

We spent a week on the road, long hours in the car up to the farm, onto Canberra, and back again through the rolling countryside of Yass and back down the Hume. Beloved drove while I pulled faces, poked, tickled, made oddball noises, passed food and toys and generally tried to stave off the worst-case scenario of 2 kidlets screaming with frustration in a splendid duet. I largely succeeded.

In Canberra there were Beloved's old friends to catch up with, there was my mother-in-law's wedding to prepare and attend, and for much of the time I was the one on primary kidlet duties. It wasn't easy but it brought us closer, and seems to have triggered a daddy phase in Mitta, Boi-Boi, Big Rocks or (if you ask Bear) variations on Lalilolilo.

We talked a lot- he said urgh, grunt, dadada, a-Dah, and I explained exactly why, what, how or where. I lolled around on the floor, playing absently. We trashed newspapers together. And while I did and have done all this with Bear as well, it was, for father and son, an unusual amount of bonding time. We bonded.

He is reaching for me as I walk past, leaning out and extending his arms. He watches me moving around the room, smiles when I speak to him. He does for me what he has done so consistently for Beloved. It's all goodness.

One morning about 4am, Beloved had gone to pat Bear and had fallen asleep in her room (as an aside, no, sleep wasn't part of the package on this trip!). Mitts cried, I picked him up. I was too tired to stand and rock so I collapsed back into the bed, my arm wrapped around him and his head on my shoulder. We both drifted off to sleep, pretty much where we'd landed. I listened to his breathing, felt the instinctive relief all parents must feel from the immediate proximity of a safe, content, healthy child.

He is Zen with the world, but he also gives Zen back.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

John Safran's race and pan tee* sn$ffing oddities

Hi, I'm John Safran. I'm latching onto the noble cause of tolerance and general inter-racial fraternisation. We're naturally attracted to other races.

No way, you say, because you're all so conservative compared to me. Well, I'll pass on some astonishing facts.

Did you know lots of white women are attracted to black guys?

... pick yourself up, there's more:

I, John Safran, am attracted to part Asians.

NO WAY, OMG! I know, I know, this completely tips on its head all cliches out there. Oh did I mention, part Asians go for me, look at my photos, here's 3 I've been dating... etc etc. OK, let me steal some panties and sniff the genitalia of women without their consent and we'll see what I can prove...

Is it just me or was this a string of sometimes offensive splats that failed to connect? I'm up for being shocked. Love any topic to do with the juice of attraction, don't mind getting into the way people of differeing races do it, etc. I read Houellebecq, I'm not particularly sensitive on this stuff. But I think interracial p00rn probably makes a more compelling case for love between colours than what was served up on ABC last night.

The sperm donor stuff was a bit foul, and proved nothing. Other than reminding us that so many people still could not give a rat's about the child's right to know anything. To me it was hard to separate conceptually from the 'purpose' behind the rapes carried out by Serbian and Croatian soldiers as part of the ethnic cleansing that went on there. Consent, effectively, was removed, so a different race could be promulgated. Witty stuff.

The p&nty sn1ffing escapades are a set up I'm sure, it would certainly be a criminal offence to do that, probably acts of gross indecency as well as theft, so he's either faked those bits or sought permission. If he didn't it's sexually invasive and abusive.

And why did he bring the Minister from Togo into it? I found that just, well, here's a white guy from a rich country granted an audience most likely because they're poor and desperate for any recognition, and he just wants to bang on about why black guys in Australia get an unfair advantage?

His obsession with part Asian girls does not bear out his theory. It just shows he has an obsession with part Asian girls. As a white male obsession it's about as novel as white women into by black guys. In a general sense, Asian girls look very young by Caucasian standards. Black men look particularly physically strong and imposing. Viewed that way, neither is a particularly novel source of attraction signifiers.

His theory, about genes and opposites, would be better demonstrated by people who go for people of all other racial backgrounds. Which, based on last night, he is not.

My limited knowledge of the whole genes and opposites thing is that there's truth there, but 'race' is just one way to find such 'opposites', and is a means to the priority ends from a genetic point of view which is strengthening immunities and eradicating weaknesses. So a Jewish girl who had complementary immunities to him should be just as attractive to him. And given he lives in a city full of people from all corners of the globe, if it was all about being attracted to the 'other' why did he keep bounding back to one particular obsession?

I don't know, it was all just a bit um really. I have liked a lot of Safran's stuff, but in this case I didn't think the ends connected at all to the means. It just seemed an indulgence of a privileged, powerful man having fun at others' expense and acting like an adolescent boy. Clearly I missed some witty connection between the dots so I'll wait to have it pointed out...

* I don't censor my headings very much, but was getting just a wee tad too many of the wrong type of searches...

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Silly Peace Prize

I have nothing to add to debates out there. I certainly think it is telling that the paranoid right in the US is able to use this against Obama. It isn't his fault.

In his statement where he offered to share the prize with the woman walking silently, taking a bullet, he got to the nub of what is wrong with many of the nominees and winners of this prize. Whether it is those idiots in Israel/Palestine being rewarded for merely acting like human beings for a change, or Obama being rewarded for not being the most hated man in the Western world, the prize often seems to simply fail to get to those who actually do the important work in seeking and maintaining peace.

Sure, the hawks are not going to like most deserving recipients. Being hawks, that is having a propensity to seek and support military solutions to international problems, their notion of 'peace' is unlikely to dovetail with any notion acceptable beyond the borders of their own nation.

But particularly political decisions just give them ammunition, damage the award's credibility and most importantly fail to identify and shine light on the work of those truly putting everything on the line for a better world.

Just. Silly.

Monday, October 05, 2009

School reunion: one of the strangest days of my life

This is the year of cleaning decks, facing demons, giving up on errant parents and generally moving on. A trigger point for this resolution has been the looming, now-actualised, 20 year reunion of my year 12 class from St Ignatius Riverview. The 2 years I spent there conincided with and partly triggered the darkest period of my life, a source of recurring anger as well as drive and determination. Facing them has drawn out bleeding wounds and gnashing demons from my soul, and together with the process of considering my own children's education this prospect has created a quiet but nagging feedback loop in my mind, shutting down the subsequent, largely happy and successful decades and triggered the white noise of awkward uncertainty, vulnerability, revenge fantasies, and more benign hopes of restitution and deliverance.

It didn't shape up as a picnic. The prospect gave painful focus to my pushups and bag work and wound its way into most deep-and-meaningfuls with my wife. I went alone. I flew in and out the same day. I psyched up pretty hard to remain on my best behaviour. And while I slipped about 3 times I otherwise, largely, made it through. There was some deliverance, and it was, on balance, a good thing to have done.

Perhaps tellingly, many of the people I liked the best weren't there. This is a slightly edited version of what I emailed to 4 of them, capturing the moment as a disjointed set of impressions...

It was surreal. I've been completely out of touch with nearly all those guys for 20 years, and of those I would have liked to catch up with most, few were there... despite a big turnout (maybe close to 100?) yourselves notably together with the likes of Bolivia, Bonney, Foreshaw, Mitch, Forrest, Evo and others I looked around for were either unrecognisable to me or absent.

Of course, I have to say I understand. I had to face certain demons otherwise I might have stayed home and cut my toenails or something. As it happens, it wasn't too bad. There were upsides...

'Goodo' was probably an upside.Though I'd psyched myself to stay completely away from him, as he'd built up in my head as a sort of arch nemesis, I saw him on the night looking quite laid back, not really fitting in there, a bit indie, so I changed my mind. He turned out to be one of the nice surprises, apologised profusely for ever being less than decent, and talked of having dropped out of chartered accountancy to pursue meaning in music, films and more recently trying to become a music lawyer. I realised he'd felt more of an outsider at the time than I knew, perhaps explaining some of the behaviours I resented. I walked away liking the guy as he is now and largely dropping my personal indignations towards his youthful self. An apology, even 20 years later, can work wonders if it seems genuine.

Though largely on best behaviour, I slipped here and there. I told my old maths teacher in what was meant to be a compliment that although he was a real prick sometimes, he'd also been one of the best teachers I ever had. He used this as the opener to his speech (!) and finished with a return backhander about "who'd have thought that fella would turn out so well"! Fair enough, I asked for that and indeed it became an ice breaker from then on!

I was also approached by a brick shithouse of a country bloke who'd been expelled in year 10. His one past encounter with me was to walk over once and shove me down an embankment. As he didn't look like he'd changed and I was getting a bit tired of nice small talk, when he asked how we knew each other I told him exactly. That kept us nice and short! I did try to smile.. and wished him a pleasant life!

[I'd meant no antipathy but you dear reader know I'm prone to speaking my mind and I think my superego just faltered for a moment's rest, allowing the id to poke through... I'm sure he's now a nice guy, or something... actually ran into another of the guys who were expelled before I started, and he, also a man mountain, was one of the nicest people I spoke to all day. Ran a martial arts school of all things. I digress...]

Speeches were interesting. One guy gave a slow, melancholy rant that was a bit sad, I didn't pick up much of it. Another did a big spiel about some "lezzos" that was as charming as it sounds. At least I wasn't the only one who didn't laugh.

Someone did an old hardcore warcry which was kinda fun, kinda surreal. I think at that point 2 clear thoughts crystalised for me at the same time:

1) these guys aren't as bad as I remembered, as individuals, most are pretty nice in a laddish sort of way; and

2) the collective judgements about class, privilege, and the limits of an exclusive education that I made at 16 were actually bang on the mark.

Andrew O'Keefe [aside from Tony Abbott, our most famous Old Boy] stepped up and was, of course, hilarious. There was something about his swagger that said 'I'm THE success story here, and you WILL stop shouting "DEAL OR NO FCUKING DEAL" and actually give me some deference!' But he WAS very, very entertaining! He was always so.

I got a lot of "gee you are so much taller", which I am, compared, and I suppose is a good result at a reunion! It may be because I was a scrawny runt who was too young for my year in school, but you've got to take compliments in all their forms.

People were nice, generally. Some definitely had wanker vibes going on but what did surprise me is that a lot of others seemed also to be a bit nervous, awkward. The number still palpably bursting with the pent up pressure of expectation and social place was notable for someone like myself who mixes with a lot of 'lefties, losers and artistic strays'. It made it easier to like them, while at the same time feeling there is little I could stake out in common with the majority.

Apart from the 'honest moments' above, I found myself congratulating a lot of people on their lives, and meaning it. I lost most of my antipathy towards the school experience in a matter of hours.

And at the same time I realised that some of my past judgement wasn't just derived from being depressed and awkward at 16. Those schools, environs, swirling pools of self-perpetuating privilege, all do something funny to people. It doesn't make them evil, but it does explain why 'that end of town' can at times be so heartless, callous, and detached from the rest of the world.

I walked out into the rain in the early evening, in a good mood. Some surprises, some things exactly where I expected. I missed my family and my life in Melbourne, and knew a massive wound had just been cauterised....

When I got home Bear and Mitts were asleep. I kissed their heads, told them how much I love them. I sank back into my little Melba townhouse and decided that this is a good year. The world is not such a bad place.

Clearing the decks at 37, TBC shortly...

Friday, October 02, 2009

Bad news gets harder to stomach

Maybe it's just me, I suspect not though: my ability to watch stories like those coming out of Samoa and Sumatra has deteriorated since having kids. In fact even since genuinely falling in love, something I now know I've only done once.

When you care about someone, or ones, so much that life itself becomes unimaginable without them, stories of death and loss seem different. I realise how relatively indifferent I was, and probably still am, to my own death.

A person comes on the screen now and talks about losing all of their children, or the love of their life, and my gut churns as I dwell, momentarily, on how that might feel. Not that I know how to properly empathise with such unimaginable horror.

There is nothing else to add. I hope the numbers prove too pessimistic, I hope many more of the missing turn out to be sheltering somewhere, protected by something, alive.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Why should Polanski get away with rape?

This simply beggars belief- various Eurotrash, from French politicians to privileged actors, venting outrage at the arrest of Roman Polanski for unlawful sexual intercourse.

And they barely contain the fact that it's because he's such a great artist that they believe he should be treated differently. How dare anyone arrest a director, at an artistic festival?! Merde!

His victim keeps getting wheeled out, but her understandable pleas for the case to be dropped have come from the fact that she wants to get on with her life. Not because on reflection she thinks he was a nice man being cuddly. If Polanski cared less about her getting on with life, he'd have faced the music long ago.

If you accept her story- and there seems little reason to think she's exaggerating given she wants the matter dropped- the underage sex charge he pleaded guilty to is only a third of the story. A plea agreed to in order to avoid dragging the victim back through a trial. In fact she has said he drugged her, and raped her against her will:

"I said … 'No, I don't want to do this' … So I was just scared, and after giving some resistance, I figured, well, I guess I'll get to come home after this."

Rape is what that sounds like. The rape of a 13 year old girl. And all he has to do is face the music for the far lesser offence he actually pleaded guilty to. The notion that he should be granted some sort of pardon merely because he's just too good a director to face the music, or because the French think raping a young girl is just part of being a libertine, or because, I don't know, what could possibly be going through the minds of the people affecting such absurd hysteria?

His statement that he will fight this just proves he still feels no remorse. It isn't the US Police's fault that the poor victim is seeing this splayed across the media in a protracted battle, it is Roman Polanski's.

Message to people wanting to randomly express outrage, find a real cause.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dangling Posticiples

I just love the phrase "dangling participle", having first encountered it in a comedy skit where someone erudite and witty (Fry comes to mind though my memory's vague) used it in a pun. Intersection of grammar and sauciness needs no elaboration.

This post merely updates a few things raised earlier, I just wanted a more interesting title than 'updates' or 'stuff I talked about earlier, redux'.

We got the finance, we are mortgagors, souls and all.

My parents have confirmed they won't be coming for Chrissie. In their usual frustrating way they've also given us a sizeable cheque to 'make the house a home', a very nice thought given they aren't very well off. Lime tree, ladder, rainwater tank, lawn mower, gardening starters kit and outdoor setting are all on the possible uses list.

My 'horn envy' posted a couple of weeks back has not abated. I made a random purchase on iTunes and it turns out I picked a classic: Sonny Rollins' 'Saxophone Collossus'. Got lost in his laconic improvisations on the train this morning. Got excited when I saw the clip for a dark, Seattle number involving members of the Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains, and a random, avante-garde tenor sax player (Mad Season 'Long Gone Day'). Felt a tinge of inspiration.

Found my latte flannie. Bought it. Hint of aqua emphasises my 'soft' credentials.

Mitts has pushed forward, officially 'crawling' in a technical sense, though the technique for sustaining this more than about 4 inches is still beyond him. Still, each time he lifts his head, grunts, and plants his face into the carpet I give him a big cheer.

And of course the Saints lost, though I'm happy with their efforts. We all watched the dying minutes, even Mitts. The result didn't need explaining to Bear, given she knows their colours and at the end there were numerous shots of lads in Saints colours bawling their eyes out. Understandably.

Life goes on. This can be their year for regrouping. It will be my year of slate-clearing. The work has already begun...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Saints Go Marching In

"Who's your footy team Bearsy?"

"Saint KILL-dah!"

So it goes. Some things are guardianship decisions, life matters that parents take it upon themselves to decide until the child rebels a few years down the track. Religion, or in our case lack-thereof, is another.

I'm not huge on any of the boofballs, neither is Beloved. I sort of see them as a proxy for a rather outdated form of group combat, the ball being a mere red herring in what is clearly designed to be an emulation of apes smacking each other with branches. Accordingly I prefer to strip away the veneer and go to the martial source, fascinated by all things hand-to-hand combat from the meditative qualities of Tai Chi, Bagua or Iado to the crunching realism of Arnis or Brasilian Ju Jitsu.

Beloved isn't convinced; she recently woke on the couch to find I'd 'accidentally' allowed cage fighting to appear on TV. "Revolting" she observed rather truthfully before going straight back to sleep.

Anyway, it's Melbourne, and the process of becoming Melbournians is inextricably wrapped up in our sense of ourselves as a couple. We moved here together shortly after hooking up in London, and here we've stayed, married, had children and now bought (touch wood!) a house.

The footy has woven its way into that narrative. We've started watching it together, picked a team (see above) together, rocked down to the 'G and sat in the stalls in the rain, huddled under plastic ponchos eating Four 'n Twenty meat pies, sipping (normally untouchable) Carlton Draught, whooping and cheering...

To the point where I'm tempted to find a local team to also follow, just for that experience- cars parked around the oval, honking horns with each goal, running onto the ground with the kids to kick a ball during half time.

I used to do the lefty thing and harp on about how soccer is the world game, domination imminent, and so on. It seemed sophisticated and inclusive. Nearly 3 years in the UK made me rethink that, and besides, why not take pride in a small vestige of local culture? There should be room for both...

So here it is. We've been here almost 7 years. The team we picked, St Kilda, were underdogs back then with some promising young talent. They've grown as we have. They've let themselves down more than once. And now, the first season in which Bear can actually tell you that what's on TV is "footy" and pick the colours of her team, we are in the final.

It's a rare experience, but I'm nervous and excited. I wouldn't bank the house on a win, Geelong (our family '2nd team'- a long story in itself!) appear virtually unstoppable. But it's still good to be in the final. A strange sense of bonding with long-suffering fans across the state, the nation.

GO Saints!!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Searching for Latte Flannie

I am looking for a shirt, I'll know it when I see it.

Flannies are back in, or at least variations on checks that do look suspiciously like flannies in some guises. As much has been recognised by the fashionati.

I've fetished such since seeing a couple on the back of the singer from TV on the Radio. It takes a lot to impress me in a band these days, but TOTR impress me. It's not surprising that something he was wearing a year or so ago is now popping up everywhere.

It's of course entirely sensible that I model my sartorial style on a large black male rock star, as I am all of these things and more.

The challenge, for a dedicated inner city latte type like myself, is flannie-lite; the shamelessly pretentious goal of achieving aspects of the whole drunken mountain man look in a shirt that's also got a few effete touches, like a nice Euro fit and material that's, um, not flannie.

I'm not alone, James Matheson, that hard rocking bourbon beast, was on TV in one the other day. Beloved liked it so much she went out and bought a carbon copy for Mitt-Mitts. To wear to a wedding!

(With post topics like this, I'm surprised I haven't cracked the 1000 visits a day mark!)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Not Crawling Rolling

Just a lighter note on Mr Man's progress. He's on the cusp of crawling, trying hard, getting frustrated. "ARRRK" he'll say, "Eeiirgg"- guys, I wants to movings! What's with this floor, these toes, my bum not staying in the air long enough?

Then he'll get there anyway, with a couple of quick flips and a wriggle backwards! Using only the abilities to roll and push himself backwards, he manages to cross the floor in no time at all and is constantly being retrieved from the mess next to the toybox, or from wedging the lower two thirds of his body under the couch, or from the slightly terrifying tangle of cords and crap at the bottom of the blinds.

Still, he may only be grunting and rolling, but my boy can *smile*. Last night when I got home he beamed ear-to-ear and lurched towards me in his mummy's arms, throwing his arms around my shoulders as I grabbed him. He cackled, we yackled, I blew some farts on his cheek and his chest and he cackled some more. All was good in the world.

And when I leave each morning, after the others have said goodbye and turned back to their distractions, he's always watching, twisting his head, until the door closes...

Monday, September 14, 2009

The fabric of other possibilities

It is true that I must simply learn to accept situations and move on. Allow people such as my father to bed down in their chosen roles, as limited and disappointing as they may be. I will, I am.

The undue focus on grandparents and expectations derives I think from my concept of this as a formative period for those relationships, where certain unknowns (the relationships of each grandparent, or other close relative, with my children and with us as a parental unit) are being shaped. There is a vague analogy with that early period in the lead up to our wedding, where I was determined to do my best to iron out any bugs and get things settled well before the big date. In that case it largely worked, the entire familial constellation came on board and things went well.

Now it's on a far larger scale; we, and the various grandrellos, are building this new set of relationships that will carry forward for decades.

My mother has given my father a bit of a bucketing, but ultimately it will be up to him to decide whether he digs himself into an isolated rut. When he sookily suggested she visit us on her own for Christmas, she responded that she might not come home, a threat that, which although a concerning prospect from our end, was a very reasonable response from a woman who has put up with a hell of a lot over the years.

We will survive and move on, putting time back into those who are willing to put time into us, and in particular the kids. It's just inevitably sad if some choose to be disengaged.

On our recent visit, there was a moment when his barriers were at their lowest, when my father and Bear played on the grass, he was blowing bubbles for her to try and catch, she ran around in circles, giggling and flailing about, they did this for several minutes, she loved the game, and the attention, he clearly enjoyed it too, and it was like the curtain at the back of the stage tore and behind was another scene, the alternate possibility, a grandfather opening up and having fun again they way he once did with me.

The man who taught me to catch a fish, to climb steep cliff walls in Kakadu, to bowl a leg spinner. Letting go and allowing the simple joy of playing with his grandkids to take over.

I know I can't force that but it's just sad. A tear opened in the fabric that day, I saw another possibility, then it closed again, and now he seems determined to sew it up again for the long haul.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My dad shelves our relationship # fathers # grandparents # adoption # rejection

A few days ago we told them about the house, and I extended an invite to my parents to join us for Christmas. We've never had Christmas together as a family though my mum's dropped plenty of hints. My dad, who has never travelled down to see either grandkid, running through an endless litany of excuses from weather to health to money to just the fact that he doesn't like Melbourne, immediately started backing up and scrambling for an excuse, muttering something panicked and incomprehensible about it being "too late I mean too early, the mother's recovering and, and..."

Last night, having thought through the various excuses he's made for years, he decides on our recent argument - well to be precise the fact that Beloved and I are too precious and take his comments (you remember, that the way we feed Mitts could technically be rape, and the one about me being a QC if only I was more eloquent?) the wrong way. Apparently it's too hard for him, he feels he's stepping on a minefield, so it's easiest if he doesn't come to visit. Period.

We are still welcome to go there, and he might visit if one of his old friends who lives in Melbourne passes away... both of which demonstrate a wee inconsistency with the excuse he'd just given.

Once again, as I have so often found in the last 20 years or so, I found myself being almost apologetic, doing the pleading: "We can work through things, it's ok, why don't we just agree to note politely at the time that the comment might cause offence and then you could simply clarify or withdraw it.. etc etc".

But he chose, in the same weary "I'm just a reasonable misunderstood old man" voice, to politely push those suggestions back at me, and insist it's for the best that we minimise our contact and stick to talking on the phone. It's just easier, was the message. I don't want difficult, I can't be bothered with difficult.

Sadly, when so many grandparents will endure far greater schisms to spend time with their grandkids, his barely rated a mention.

This is going to end up an excruciatingly long post but I have to give this context. I have long worked through oddities in my relationship with my father using certain mantras to ground me. The mantras sound like this:

"It's just his way"

"Of COURSE he loves me, he's my father"

"He's very generous with money"

"He's much better than HIS dad was"

"He didn't really mean it like that, it just came out wrong"

and underpinning them all:

"He didn't have to adopt me, so he MUST love me."

You may pick up that I am not the original source of apologia in my parental household, that is my mother, from whom all of these mantras have directly or slightly-indirectly come from.

There is some truth in all of them, and I have enough evidence that at some level, he loves me and cares about what I do. But you can only use mantras for so long, at some point a long history of actions starts to accumulate. You can take it that both being adopted and having spent over 3 years working in Child Protection and Juvenile Justice I have read reams on not only fathers, but also all of the variations on classic, simple biological relationships and the particular difficulties men often (far from always, but often) have with those relationships.

I don't need to spell out how some of these things start to play from my end. In particular when so little excitement or interest has been shown in my children.

Before you write my reaction off as simple, knee-jerk, or wanting of more time, understand some more context. In relation to the grandkids as I've noted there have been an endless list of excuses for not visiting or showing much interest. But in relation to the meta-narrative of our father-son relationship, the big milestones stitch together from about the early teens, when things started to really go awry. They include:

- telling me I'd been playing up and having too much fun at boarding school, when I'd been depressed, bullied and lonely, before taking back an offer of student exchanges I'd got all excited about;

- telling me I was a loser and a failure in as many words, several times over, after I didn't do well in year 12, then pretty much turning his back on me until I'd found a backdoor into Uni;

- in the heat of one of our most vicious 'arguments', which like most were a succession of putdowns that I reacted to, he suddently said with great clarity "I like seeing you like this, I like making you get upset like this";

- the one time he got physical with me, repeatedly pushing me hard until I warned him not to try it again, because I turned the TV off and demanded he talk to me, it was me who had to breach the gap and start talking again(and move out of home);

- when I was living in the UK and hadn't seen him for over 2 years, he pretty much stated he'd never visit me and when I started planning a 2 week visit he told me it was too long and I should spend some of the time in Bali (I stayed away and went to Greece, an excellent decision), something especially hurtful given our relationship then seemed to be very good;

- he's only popped down for the wedding and for a friend's funeral, the whole time (since end of 2002) we've been living in Melbourne; etcetera, etcetera...

I could write more but I think this post will get too long, I can follow up with a separate list for anyone who's read this far, and I do want you dear reader to read it because this in its own way is a significant turning point, like saying "I do" or Beloved screaming out with excitement from the bathroom when she did the tests, and it is all I can do as a writer to set it out here and say that I am very sad, but I have done everything I can and it is time, at 37, that I started accepting that there has always been a wedge there, for my dad, and it is something I could never have changed in all the legions of times I've gone to him to make up, to work at it, to try and cling on to the very idea of a father, my father.

I told Beloved that if I ever become like that with my kids she is to blow my brains out. I meant every word.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Lost child, lost minutes

Beloved had an incident. I wanted her to write about it in her own words, a guest post, but she's not showing any enthusiasm. I will relay things as best I understand them and let her add an account if she chooses.

They went for morning tea at Beloved's place of work, an event that included one of Bear's peeps, the daughter of Beloved's workmate, who is a few months older than Bear and accordingly gets lots of Bearmiration. They played well, apparently, while the adults yarned about their corporate stuff and traded gossip.

Time to go, and the girls ran ahead together as the group walked along the hall, apparently just a couple of metres in front. Beloved rounded a corner to see that the lift door was wide open and the girls had entered it in anticipation. The doors shut at that exact moment.

The girls screamed "Mummy mummy" and the lift moved off somewhere. The mums rightly felt a bit terrified and one set off for the ground floor while the other ran floor-to-floor checking each.

Meanwhile in the basement the janitor got a surprise when the lift he'd called arrived, the doors opened, and 2 toddlers stared at him in teary disbelief!

Things were quickly rectified.

It just goes to show that every time you start taking on board the idea that you can return to even partial sanity and stop being a complete safety freak, something will happen to scare the complete and undiluted crap out of you.

I was supportive and understanding. I know any lessons there have already been learned. If lifts had an overide-open button, if they didn't shut quite so quickly, if, if... it's yet another example of how so much of the environment around us is utterly child-unfriendly, and how as a parent you have to operate on zero trust for those around to have ever taken into account the assymetric risk that is constituted by a momentarily freed child.

As for Bear, she thought it was all an adventure, especially given she was with her idolised slightly-older pal. She was more than happy to brag to me when I got home...

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Big News! Calibung Big!

We had almost given up on the house generally, after more than 3 years in the market, on and off. Certainly the idea of getting our original dream, a Californian Bungalow with feel and character that didn't need to be rebuilt from the ground up, somewhere within cooee of the patch we've come to know and love so well, seemed beyond hope.

It got the brush off first time we saw it on the web. Needs a spruce here and there, maybe a bigger garden would be nice, and anyway it'll go for too much.

Yesterday, the day before auction day, we had a rethink. Maybe it would be worth popping in, watching, seeing what happened. We slept on the thought.

This morning we woke and Beloved claimed to be feeling lucky. I remained blase but got a sudden flutter in my stomach on the drive over. This was strange; I've bid in several auctions now and was only nervous in the first one.

The house felt like a home. I felt bad for the young student types living there, they were nice, and clearly treated the big old place with respect. We confirmed with the agent that we'd seek a long settlement, past the end of their tenancy, walked through a few times, picking up a few minor foibles but liking the feel, then found a shady spot outside.

The street was fairly low on traffic, the houses either side pretty, dated but well looked after. The area, around the borders of Thornbury and West Preston, is a nice, green pocket with a small bunch of shops - organic grocer, bakery, Latin-themed cafe and wine bar - a nice little primary school, lots of young families moving in.

I was slightly excited but still had few expectations. The area took off about 2 years ago and some phenomenal prices come out of the rare sales there. There was a small crowd, but not the worst I've seen. Hope started rising, slowly, tentatively.

Bidding kicked off miles below a realistic level, and with a couple of people kicking in there, well below the obvious reserve, I held back to watch. It went up quickly in tens of thousands, fcuk TENS of THOUSANDS it's stupid money, I can't get my head around any of this really.

I came in once it slowed. Did my deliberate contrarian thing: asking Bear what she thought, stopping to eat her sultanas while everyone waited a few seconds, going up small amounts, then jumping a few, then bringing it back to increments of a grand. Up it crept. Nemesis kicked in late, he was a dark horse, looked grumpy, looked stressed. I stayed calm, poked on up towards our maximum.

5,3,1 and we were on it, sitting on the very sum we'd agreed. Although I intended to lean in to Beloved and negotiate $5k more, the sense of being on the edge of a cliff made me giddy. And. As. He. Dragged. It. Out. For. An. Interminable. Time (a nice couple behind us, clearly with us, kept saying 'do it, end it!). Things. Wavered.

*Smack* and I swooned like I'd taken an unseen uppercut on the chin. I spun around, Beloved was kneeling keeping both kids consoled, she looked at me with disbelief and I leaned in and kissed her, kissed Mitts, then picked Bear up and threw here a couple of metres into the air:

"Bear- We bought a house... at laaast!"

The clapping followed, people congratulating, hand shaking, talking, signing and it's all really just a blur now. 

We bought a house. A big old family house with a soul. It will be a home, our home. And gawd, wait until the grandparents hear about the bungalow out the back!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Pasgetti dabollognaise and other Bearsicals

Today Thomas the Tank Engine attacked my daughter. Well, to be a little more accurate, she slipped and picked up a nasty shiner (I know, no REALLY, it really was Thomas!) while playing around a big blue Thomas. I heard on the phone, I made a note for hometime. I stopped by the corner shop. The previously grumpy lady in the corner shop goes into hysterics whenever she sees Bear, she became very serious when I told her Bear had been hurt. She sold me the iced cream but I felt like she wanted to lean across and thwack me with a ruler.

Bear did look pitiful, but she flew into excited giggles when she saw the massive breach-suspension-waiver of the rules in the form of a strawberry Heaven, gave me a big hug then demanded it be torn open. The rest was soon history and a smear of chocolate on a smiling face.

"Pasgetti Dabollognaise" she informed me she had for dinner, and I kept a serious face with some effort. I just love her funny quirks at the moment, she's a funny girl, sometimes deliberately, sometimes while being deadly serious and needing to be treated the same.

Take the haircutting game: she sits me down, deliberately picking a spot on the couch I don't habitually use. I have a clear sense control is being asserted! With a dead serious expression she informs me I'm getting a haircut. Given I have as much hair on my scalp as my chin (she calls both my "Beer") this is already amusing. Come to think of it the game started after I last got shaved, she asked a number of times what had happened! Anyway, a number of Play Doh buckets are lined up, along with a plastic pair of Doh cutting scissors. She shakes the buckets at my head, informing me that 'water' of some indiscernable type is being applied. She pokes my skull with the scissors, 'Snip-snip', then often wanders off to find a flannel to dab some imagined mess on my chest or back.

She doesn't smile once during this serious, business-like operation. Inside I am in hysterics but with some effort I hold a deadpan expression. It would be unacceptable to fail this test, clearly.

She's speaking well, but there are still some fantastic improvisations:


Leeloh, Lilloh, Leeloh....

Docka docka docka....

Pasgetti Dabollognaise...

And to cap it off the other day she wrote a song. I can't even remember the topic, I think it had some made up words, some stuff about her brother, humming bits, but it was definitely improvised on the spot.

I know, I know, I'm just a dad, loving every moment...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Starting School: the case for holding back a year

While we're on contentious issues of over-under parenting, and you dear readers are weighing in to the discussion, let me put another one to you.

Both Bear and Mitts are at the younger end of the age spectrum in which they can enter their designated years, to the point where their entry is considered optional. Presently they are on the conventional track, but we're certainly giving it some thought.

There is quite a bit of literature about suggesting there are advantages to starting school a wee bit later than the present 'standard', particularly (see for example Steve Biddulph in Raising Boys) for boys. I didn't need to read this to have my own view that it isn't great being at the younger end of the year. I was. Coupled with being a lateish developer and rather skinny anyway this left me feeling small, underdeveloped, overwhelmed, and unconfident.

The case for getting them in and through school in a hurry has never persuaded me either. But on the flipside I found school slow and intellectually boring until about year 11 (when my lack of study habits slammed up against a suddently ramped-up curriculum) and don't want to inflict even more boredom on my kids out of a desire to overcompensate for my own miseries.

As with the public school debate, this quandrary has an element of public good versus personal interest: if everyone holds their kids back, even when they are a fine age for normal school entry, then this just pushes some of the problems out a year for kids at the younger (or smaller, or less developed) end.

School planning is also listed as a reason to stick to 'the program', although given the state has planned so badly for our own kids and is only just starting to catch up on the baby boom(for example the kinder expansion now belatedly being built at a centre in Northcote) this argument doesn't persuade me.

Reflecting on what a good child care centre we have has softened some of the Kinder angst expressed in previous posts. This starting age question isn't a teeth-gnasher, it's simply a choice we are faced with and an interesting dilemma. And we simply can't tell whether such a choice might have a minor, or a profound, impact.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Public schools: what do we angst about?

Helen's done a two part post (Uno, Dos) on public schooling issues. She is discussing the campaign by some parents in the Seddon- Yarraville area, suburbs pretty similar demographically to my own, to get their 'own' public high school rather than having to send their kids to one in a neighbouring suburb. One that's a little different, shall we say less fortunate, demographically.

This had me thinking about my own attitudes and the extent to which there is cognitive dissonance between my ethical and political ideals on the one hand and my expectations in a school for Bear and Mitts on the other. I dumped some thoughts, brain in a whirl, and although they aren't the pinnacle of clarity and reason I wanted to capture the gist here to record and discuss some of this confusion on my own site. Extracts from the thread:

We’re all formed by the negatives we ourselves experienced. I’ve been to rough bogan schools where violence was rife and intellectual and artistic qualities were pretty much looked down on (in real life, not in the rosy view seen by most parents or in brochures), and an extreme snob school with vicious bullying based on wealth and status and very narrow aspirations based on high flying white collar careers (in mundane areas like law and banking!). I’ve been to a school with some palpable ‘reverse racism’ too, and it largely caused me to have a reactionary phase in my mid teens, something that eased off once most of the perps had been expelled.

I dislike all these extremes. I would like a safe environment with as little anti intellectual crap as possible and a focus on intellectual and creative development rather than ‘tooling up’ future employees. A reasonable if not ridiculous selection of subjects including good music and languages. A mix of kids and backgrounds. Bit of sport but not abject worshipping of all things ball related.

Public schools that appear to leap those hurdles are then top of the list, and that’s probably 60% in our overall region. I wouldn’t want my kids to go to Carey or Scotch even if they were offered full scholarships, I equate that with class ambition rather than education. But the poppets are on the list for a couple of mid level private schools that seem to be one back from the extreme of snobbery, but that have good languages and music and seem to be roughly in synch with our beliefs.

Public schools I’m struggling with include those that have particularly rotten school results, offer few academic and creative options, overly emphasise the tooling up side, make the news for all the wrong reasons, are heavily dominated (ie a step up from mere interesting diversity) by another cultural grouping such that I think my own kids will get excluded, or simply have an excess of aggressive little sh*ts in fauxhawks or gangsta gear. I’d be willing to take a look, but I’d need some convincing that first impressions lacked substance.

I found Helen's argument persuasive but would need to visit the school and know a lot more before feeling confident. An argument in defence of the Yarraville-Seddon clique is that they may have chosen to live in those suburbs because, along with Northcote-Thornbury, these are among the only places in Australia of their type: lefty to green, socially and sexually tolerant, and rife with artists and other outsiders from the general boganalian diaspora.

They come from a pretty marginal grouping themselves- it is, in my respectful view, overly simplifying the matter to equate their angst with the general ladder-climbing characteristics of the holus-bolus middle class. But that being said, there is clearly some overlap, and probably some latent class and race discomfort coming out for many of them as well.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Everyone needs protection from violent assault

While I can understand the angry reaction to the bashing of Sergeant Brett Ward, it seems odd that people are calling for mandatory higher sentences for assaults on police, per se. It seems the response to violent attacks in Victoria is constantly being tracked away from the main problem (people being violent, full stop) towards proposals that focus on certain exceptions: assaults on police or public officers, assaults in a group, assaults motivated by race, alcohol as a cause, late nights as a cause, and so on.

How about this: violently assaulting another person without an extremely good explanation (self defence, or a complete lack of sanity at the relevant time) should result in some of the heaviest sanctions in the legal system.

Where psychiatric problems are a cause, this should result in appropriate treatment rather than senseless punishment. However the community should be protected by some level of restriction and supervision until it can be certified that the risk of repeat offending is low.

Wrist slapping gave us this:

He had a criminal career laced with extreme violence and Justice Coghlan was asked to take into account his 60-plus prior convictions. Many included the use of weapons and a number of his assaults were against women.

So why, why, WHY was he walking around on the streets?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Darebin - no kinder places but a fantastic climate change policy

This could make me leave Labor, buy an F250 and permanently lose any faith in public education in one swift hit. *

Kids are not getting places in kindergarten in Darebin. Come again, you say, because we are a 1st world country and although not everyone is happy with their local schools surely the public system does guarantee everyone a place?

Apparently not.

We are calling around neighbouring suburbs and I'm yet to see whether there is some decent option somewhere out there. But surely this would be a bit of a funding priority for the council?

Apparently not:

Darebin Council’s Community Climate Change Action Plan commits $250,000 in this year’s budget to deliver more programs that will work closely with business and industry, low income households and culturally and linguistically diverse communities to support further greenhouse emission reductions.

Oh FFS. Low income families probably want their kids to go to school first, you might get a slap in the head if you rock up and tell them to eat more hummus while they sit there rotting at home, kids missing out on basic educational milestones. Climate change is serious but I thought 2 other levels of government were putting a large portion of their policy budget into this issue? It might be a nice idea, but try meeting your most basic deliverables first before whipping out creative and vague Action Plans.

Anyway, who cares when we know they're going to get a fcuking laptop in primary school. It'll all be better when they have laptops.

(*please forgive slight case of having the shits and sliding into exaggeration.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Horn Envy

While I'm talking music I will share that I am going through a bout of sax withdrawal. Your scribe once was a good heavy rock guitarist, the kind that could pick up a guitar at a keg party and stop the room with a few chops. Then I got into free jazz on the recommendation of Soundgarden's Kim Thayil and Living Colour's Vernon Reid, and from there explored the entire back catalogue of jazz while my bemused friends stuck to their metal/grunge (a neat schizm in my friends that has largely held to this day).

Sticking on Ornette Coleman between Slayer tracks raises eyebrows, I can tell you.

When I like something, I want to play it. The sensible thing would have been to delve deeper into jazz guitar, building on what I'd already learned to become a great guitarist. But the solo horns are the soul of jazz, and I ended up taking up tenor sax for a while. Coupled with me starting law, this crippled my development as a guitarist as I didn't have time to practise both.

Then I got into singers and songwriting and the sax languished. Again, I liked it, I wanted to play it. And I've vastly improved my vocal in the decade or so since. But vocals are an instrument where if you are born with a $50 Kmart job, you will never upgrade it to a Gibson or Selmer.

I still play the guitar, but after trading my tenor for a soprano sax, for ease of transport, I lost the latter along the way (it was stolen out of a car that I had shipped up to Darwin, to be precise). I have not picked up a sax for several years. I miss the blend of simplicity and infinite complexity that comes from improvising on a single note instrument, and I miss the warm, rich nuance I used to draw from my old Yamaha Tenor with its gold-plated Otto Link mouthpiece.

Perhaps, one day soon? I leave you with the very essence of noir...

A Beautiful Song

I found a song, I want to share it. An iTunes bonus found while scrounging around the works of Martha Wainwright. Set the Fire to the Third Bar is a slightly improbable duet between Ms Wainwright and Snow Patrol (yes, of Chasing Cars fame, the indie Hoobastank!). It is 100% duet, that is, they don't break away into solos, counterpoint or call-and-response and barely deviate from the same melody.

And it works. It is beautiful and understated.

After I have travelled so far

We'd set the fire to the third bar

We'd share each other like an island

Until exhausted, close our eyelids

And dreaming, pick up from

The last place we left off

Your soft skin is weeping

A joy you can't keep in

I'm miles from where you are,I

lay down on the cold ground

And I, I pray that something picks me up

and sets me down in your warm arms

More on the Wikipedia page. Enjoy, if you are into simple sentimental stuff.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A highly depressing thought

Last night I went through a brief but intense bout of depression. Almost jump off a bridge material. Not really, I would never. But in that vein.

I thought of how bad our relationships with our parents have become. I imagined a worst-case future where the naysayers were proven correct, you know the ones who say you'll be the same when you're that age.

I can tell you I would rather lose the use of all my limbs than end up in a relationship with my kids like the ones our parents have with us. Perhaps the strongest incentive I have for plugging away at the latter, trying to find a way through various impasses, is to flout the fates and build up some familial karma so that we in turn can build on that and have something better.

If you, dear reader, had a lousy relationship with your folks, but have managed to build something better with your kids, feel free to share.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bango? Bangobot!

Bango was the surprise hit from the holiday, a testament to childhood imagination and the potential that lies within ordinary household objects.

Bango was a white, plastic laundry basket. Bango may as well have been a lifesized replica of Thomas the Tank Engine filled with jigsaw puzzles and spouting strawberry iced cream out of its nose cone. We don't know how it got the name (though there are some obvious guesses) or why it became such a hit. But thusly it did both.

(Point of clarification- with Bear. Oddly enough Mitts had a preference for smaller objects that he could twist and chomp on, such as his sister's wrist or the sports pages.)

Bango would be taken out into the garden. Placed on top of head. Twirled. Put on its side and rolled. Hidden in (peeking through the slats, incognito!) while others were chased.

Quick to find my own inner child -a rather obvious and unreconstructed part of my own makeup- I kicked off the next game by sticking it on my own head, extending my arms out parallel with the ground, and chasing the Bear up and down my parents' garden while doing a voice that probably most resembles one of those throat microphones as seen on South Park:

.... Bangobot... Bangobot... Bangobot...

File under happy parentard.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A whirlwind of estrangement, deja vu and running on the sand

I have been offline for nearly 2 weeks, I apologise for neglecting my networkingz. In the blur that is my recency, much has happened.

One of the grandparent constellation had taken to writing letters. I wrote one back. It actually wasn't that bad. Optimistic, full of positive affirmation. The reaction was as if I called them a pedophilic closet neo-nazi. I, um, a bit stunned. I now wait to see whether we are estranged. 

We went to see my parents in Bundaberg. It was ok. My mum was hit by someone backing up with a trailer. More generally my impression was that lots of Queenslanders are familiar with trailers. I suspect most were conceived in them (with apologies to the likes of Quiggin and Bahnisch, who clearly don't have 'the gene'). The Bruce Highway, a single lane strip used for drag racing by pig-bothering types in large trucks, is testament to governmental retardation and ineptitude. 

My mum barely survived breast cancer and is struggling with several other significant impairments, but clearly she can be run over and expect no support at all from anyone relevant. Police dormant, insurers- well, that's where it gets fun, apparently in Queensland you have to chase people with lawyers to get your hospital bills paid. We'll see, it's early days, but don't these people know how to write a piece of legislation to bring their motor vehicle regime up past the 19th century?

The kids were cute with my folks and this clearly warmed their hearts a bit, even my dad, astonishingly (and to a limited level). The old 3 day rule kicked in on the 4th evening when he made a comment along the lines of 'if only we'd sent you to elocution lessons you might be a QC now'. Firstly, I don't think I brag that much here, but I'm pretty much an ace at public speaking. Secondly, he'd dishonestly given me the impression he accepted my interest in policy as genuine, when in fact he was still whistfully sitting around admiring men in wigs and wishing he could show off a picture of me in court, using my brilliant elocution to, I don't know, do what lawyers do.

Fuck over some old person who'd been run over, perhaps? Good onya dad, thanks for showing that we've made so little progress, you and me, over the last 20 years since you first commenced putting down everything I do.

And this after I wrote a letter and got their dispute with Centrelink wrapped up in less than 48 hours.

Oh and there was the comment that the way we feed Mitts would technically constitute rape in many jurisdictions. 

...ngngngng MOVING on... 

Noosa, is where we moved on to. Mitts got the sand, and the tips of the waves, between his tiny toes. Bear chuckled and laughed and splashed and kicked her feet as I carried her across the surface of the pool and through the waves and was a little bundle of blonde-bouffed joy. We shamelessly threw the rules out and sat by Hastings Street, all 3 members of the family who no longer eat boob, scoffing rich multi-flavoured iced creams and slurping vanilla milkshakes.

On we drove, and with friends in Brissie we relaxed again, meeting their beautiful new daughter and admiring the airy Queenslander (house, not local resident) with its lush, green backyard.

The welcome home was almost overwhelming and Mao is rubbing himself against me every few minutes. Here dad, here's my scent, don't going running off with any other cats!

Mitts was hitting the wall, badly, but he still erupted with joy when he lay down on his familiar sheepskin. Again when he spotted the smiling wooden clown hanging above his cot. What a homebody!

Sweet. Home.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Kyle and Australian Idol: burying a history of gleeful abuse

Kyle Sandilands, professional thug and serial ridiculer of children, well at least vulnerable teens, has lost his post at Australian Idol. Now. Finally.

Not back when he was on Idol, ridiculing teenagers or commenting leerily on their looks. Back when I thought the big scandal he was risking was a suicide. A poor, pathetic, low-esteem teenager humiliated on stage, told everything they loved was beyond them, going into the dressing room and picking up a belt...

The producers of Idol have long sat by while judges indulged in rudeness and worse. They left Kyle on the panel, despite his clear lack of anything approaching useful musical insight, lapping up the ratings, ignoring what must surely have been thousands of complaints.

I, a long time tragic viewer of this pulpy show, enjoying as many do the flashes of brilliance from the talented contestants themselves, found myself cursing and telling the living room what I'd do if that was my daughter and he spoke that way to her. I'm sure I wasn't alone. I don't think that much of any of the judges on Idol, but being annoyed because Dicko is a generational bigot who swoons at mediocre prog rock from the '70s while ridiculing anything vaguely interesting written after 1990 is different to feeling a bit sick as you watch a 17 year old being humiliated and ridiculed for fun, Kyle-style.

Why wasn't something done? Would those producers have feigned surprise if one of their charges had burst into tears and revealed some horror from their past during a vicious tirade at Kyle's hands? I'm not sad to see him go now but it's a bit rich to suddenly discover that he's a bogan pig when a long-term habit of indulging in ridicule and nastiness belatedly backfires on him.

While we're here, why is it the So You Think You Can Dance franchise can score big ratings while using judges who actually know their stuff, and while allowing for experimentation, individuality, and some cutting-edge artistry in their format? Could the next Idol judge possibly be vaguely musically literate?

Myf Warhurst?

Friday, July 31, 2009

My earliest memory of reading; Psyche, Port Moresby and Doggybook

Pav is compiling a book. First experiences of reading. In an aside, I like that I know a couple of real writers now, Pav is indeed claim-to-fame material and I do hope for this reason in particular that she gets the Booker one day for something.

So anyway I added my own recollection, as much an image, a frame of memory interspersed with characters and emotions as a story:

Port Moresby, 4-5 years old, behind is the garden dominated by a couple of huge rainforest trees, perhaps figs, sun filtering in, I'm looking at a blackboard, or maybe one of those word charts, the word I remember was dog, dog was important because of Psyche, my first and only dog, Psyche didn't mind when I was adopted into the family, she adopted me too, her crazy, bug-eyed blue heeler face smiling and happy in my first memories of the world, so I read dog and my father approved and everything lined up in my world.

Later I learned she would stand in front of my cot, becoming aggressive when anyone other than my parents approached.

30 years later I put down a brochure on Steiner schools because they talked of reading like it was a chore. I loved it then, I love it now.

So does Bear.

Mitts is too young of course, but his favourite toy is Doggybook.

Life is more of a continuum than is first apparent...

I do not know whether we will still read, in a way that you and I would now recognise, in a couple of decades. But I hope that the art of enjoying books, and sophisticated narrative, is not lost in the continuing spiral of blogs, tweets, iPhones and high volume information dispersal.

The visceral pleasure of handling the book has not yet been lost. One day, Mitta Man's love of mauling Doggybook may translate into a Phd thesis containing the secret to peace for all humankind.

If we get to the point where it is all downloaded instantly into our brains, I think something will be lost. Call me a luddite, a sentimentalist...

Loss of Yoof #466: Comfortable Clothing

I saw a sale at Kathmandu. I went there and tried on the clothes. I bought 3 long-sleeved tops. One is not even for active wear- a fitted navy merino wool top that will get worn in situations where sartorial effort is noted and expected.

Just 5 years ago this would have been unthinkable. The problem is a single top I bought about 4 years ago, in a sale, on a whim, as a 'backup'. And the problem, really, was that it was so, so comfortable. And resilient. And capable of going running with me, or sitting under a jacket quietly keeping me warm, or allowing my torso to breathe just the right amount as I huffed under a couple of dumbbells on a sweaty bench. And, despite having no pretence to fashionable status, it didn't look half bad either- good colour and cut can take an item of clothing, and its wearer, a long way.

Now I have 3 more. I am a dad, and 40 approaches. 5 years ago I was playing lead guitar in a dirty indie rock band called the Fat Controller. Now I read books about him.

I think I am at peace with this.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Out of the mouths of Bears...

The frankness of children.

Beloved had just passed through the checkout, with Bear sitting up in the trolley taking in all and sundry, and was still within earshot. Woman at the checkout, in addition to being rather grumpy, was notably well-padded.

Says a Bear:

That lady had a BIG TUMMY. I think she's got a BABY in it.

In other Bearisms of the moment I particularly like Hostabull, as in Daddy, dolly's got a sore head, SHE's got to go to da HOStabull.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Honesty Time: I am an irritable drunk

Calling all parents, take note. Time to fess up to your negligence, at home and at work.

From this week's Crikey squatter compilation in my inbox:

Nearly all individuals deprived of two- three hours of sleep per night over a week will show impaired brain function with a level of functioning equivalent to a blood alcohol concentration between 0.05-0.08%. Similarly, the majority of people when reduced to an average sleep duration of four hours per night or less will become irritable, subject to emotional outburst and will engage in stereotypical thinking and language.

From Professor Drew Dawson, sleep boffin.




Seeing as you ask, it was 3.5 hours last night, and the night before. A wonderful combination of my insomnia at one end and Mitt-Mitts love of dawn at the other...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Snow Bear, Snow Mitts

I didn't tell the tale of our first trip to the snow. Things have been busy. But it was an extraordinary trip.

We drove up to Lake Mountain through mostly bushfire-blackened country. Shells of former homes stood, roofless, with sad figures stumbling over the wreckage. FOR SALE signs waited for takers. The random horror was exacerbated by chunks of brilliant green missed by the fire, and immaculate houses, sometimes with the charred ground running to the doorstep. It was heartbreaking.

Marysville of course was decimated, but little businesses operated in makeshift premises centred around the bakehouse, the very same one where Beloved and I enjoyed a lazy breakfast years ago, before Bear and Mitts, when she brought me to the same place to experience cross country skiing for my birthday.

There had been snow a couple of days earlier, but the weather was set to warm slightly and rain was on the cards so we were nervous. The expectations a girl had been building up all autumn were about to be realised or pathetically dashed.

Look Bear, it's dark, why? Coz it's getting close to winter. And what happens in winter? We're going to the SNOWW!

The final drive to the snow line has always built this sense of excitement and trepidation- I'm instantly taken back to my childhood as we snake higher up the mountain and the drizzle commences. Staring at the ditches, into the undergrowth, trying to spot early lumps of snow.

Parks Victoria advertised the previous day that the facilities had been damaged in a fire (another one!). They stated on their website that no entry fee would apply. This was in marked conflict with the truth on the mountain (to put it diplomatically). While I could appreciate the need to support and fund their services on the mountain and so had no major objection to paying, it never ceases to amaze me how many of my fellow public servants believe they can breach both the code of conduct and laws against misleading and deceptive conduct without batting an eyelid.

I'm sure if they'd asked for donations on the day most people would still have paid. Anyway, moving along...

A short time later the clumps appeared, then bigger white patches, and I started to get a slight sense of euphoria. Happy, I felt happy. I wanted to clap. I repeated myself over and over while pointing out the window. The cover got deeper, deep enough to play.

We got to the parking area, were guided into a tight spot designed for single people to effortlessly step out in designer gear and run to the slopes. Not for parents who have to change 2 kids while propping the door open halfway. I propped, commenced, the wind blew the drizzle into the car and on the kids' faces and reality hit. Easy. The snow would not be easy.

1 mitten was missing, a great start with the temperature hovering around 0.5 degrees.

15 minutes later Bear and I stumbled through the car park towards the main slope while Beloved and Mitts headed for a quiet spot to feed. I found a quiet spot with other young families, plopped her on the snow, and the fun began. And, despite the missing mitten (we did a lot of tucking into the sleeve!) and some of the worst winter weather possible, she had cackling good fun!

Kids are so hardy when there's stuff to play on- I was reminded of one trip to the snow when I was about 14, we got to the resort in the evening, and I insisted on going up in the chairlift and skiing the last run despite being dressed in just a cheap tracksuit. Shivering is for wimps!

We staggered around for a while trying to find Beloved, and came across a quiet pocket of untrammelled powder. There was a snowman, we built another, using little woodchips as facial features. I got Bear to smash a couple of snowballs on my chest. Her nose and cheeks were bright pink and wet, that little hand was getting icy, but she laughed and smiled and I forgot how much work it was for a while and just enjoyed.

We found the others, and our friends from Melbourne, and put their girl and Bear on a toboggan together. My mate dragged them down the slope, narrowly avoiding various other nutters, while I gave Beloved a break and carried Mitts.

He snuggled up to my chest in the Baby Bjorn, under my ski jacket, and went to sleep. Bless him and his cotton socks.

Soon the kids (a euphemism for the adults) were a bit too cold and we headed down to our cottage, Holly Lane Mews. The girls shared a room and minxed until we had to separate them (with much laughter). We ate and drank and chatted like real people do. It was good, and the setting was beautiful.

Yet charred ground ran to the edge of this property as well, and we were to learn that the fire came close, so close. People died a couple of hundred metres away. I think they appreciated the visit, and would not be averse to more.

And the postscript is- when we got back to the car after the snow, all cold and wet, the missing mitten fell out onto the asphalt. Like a smoking gun, the jury shaking their heads, the charges of parental incapacity looking indefensible...