Tuesday, May 31, 2005


I've finished reading Mark Haddon's 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time', and I was very impressed. As I mentioned in a previous post, it's about an autistic boy investigating the killing of a neighbour's dog, and in him Haddon creates a believable hero who somehow generates reader sympathy while at the same time being one of the most excruciatingly irritating characters you'll ever meet.

Haddon is also clever enough to make us view the other characters in the novel through Christopher's eyes, making them appear as stark and aloof as Christopher himself until some little peripheral statement gives the game away. Christopher records dialogue between, say, himself and his father, making it sound like an ordinary conversation, but it's only after several exchanges that it becomes apparent that the older man is crying, or quivering with anger, or crushed under the weight of guilt. If Christopher notices at all, he doesn't see the relevance and ignores it, so we're kept in the dark. As such we swing unpredictably between The World According To Christopher and the real world, making the whole novel continually and intriguingly disorienting.

I found the book's main entry on Amazon, and was not entirely surprised to see its current cover. Gone is the naif artwork and font of the older edition, or any mention of Random House's original marketing to teenagers. The new cover is all ironic non-proportional sans-serif font in lower case, with a standard poodle silhouette upside down in the middle. It's the sort of cover you could hold up while reading it on the bus to tell the world, "I am reading a serious ModLitFic novel, and I shall be discussing it at my book club very soon, making pertinent comments while drinking a very nice chablis."

Or perhaps Random House took my point (beamed at them telepathically over the course of the novel) that maybe, just maybe, the kids@random program isn't the place for books that use the word "c*nt". And here I was thinking that modern youth-oriented publishing was as morally bankrupt as Paris Hilton with a pineapple and a spare evening. Silly me.

Monday, May 30, 2005


On Saturday night I watched 'Dr Who' with JC, then we went out for coffee. We went to C15 in Applecross, and as I was ordering I noticed a stack of cookies on the counter with 'Magic Cookies' written on the stand. I couldn't resist the urge to buy one. I'm only human.

So I ate it, then turned JC into a newt.


On Saturday morning I accompanied my mother to a couple of art galleries to view works prior to auction. The first gallery, Gregson's, had an Elizabeth Durack that she and my father liked, and on which they were thinking of bidding. They have developed an unnatural but very laudable appreciation for abstract art in later life, although their tastes and mine don't often intersect. The Durack was painted in black, sky blue and metallic gold, and featured her signature chubby little aboriginal kiddie faces. I didn't like it, but then I don't like Elizabeth Durack's oeuvre as a whole. Her portraits look to me like High Art renditions of old 2000AD comics characters. But to each their own.

There was an interesting watercolour, on the other hand, that did appeal to me, and I'm thinking of going back on Wednesday and making a bid if no one else wants it.

The second gallery was McKenzie's, and their collection was a little more pedestrian than Gregson's. There were a large number of serene landscapes, genteel nudes, and a $20,000 Guy Grey Smith still-life. I'm a Grey Smith fan, but $20,000 for an A3-sized picture of flowers in a vase demands something beyond fandom. 'Joining a cult' would seem to fit the bill.

There were also a few examples of those cityscapes that a certain low class of person buys, presumably so they can point to it when guests visit and say, "Look, that's here! That's where we live! Someone done a painting of it!" Why do they want such hideous things? They have the semiotic complexity of a telephone book and serve a decorative function that could be better achieved with a photograph or, in some cases, by LOOKING OUT OF THE FRICKIN' WINDOW!

I have a theory that it's a conspiracy to drive real artists, the ones who want to express their inner selves through their work, insane.

There were also a few sentimental portraits, best typified by a photo-realist oil of toddlers cavorting on a beach, which I entitled "Someone Else's Grandchildren".

But I was surprised to see a painting that I recognised. It was a self-portrait in oils, showing the artist with a 1940s haircut, wearing a white singlet, leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees and staring out of the canvas with a larrikin little smirk playing on his lips. I checked the catalogue and noticed that it had belonged to the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Either I recognised it from their permanent collection, or they'd licensed the image to appear on some local book cover or advertising.

It's a shame it's expected to sell for around $8000, because I really liked it, and I don't have $8000. It's a wonderful painting, friendly yet striking, and beautifully composed with a rich red background.

Friday, May 27, 2005


I've been reading 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time', a book against which I've been holding an unreasonable grudge*.

The fact is, a few years ago when the book had only just been published, and long before it had registered on any literary radar, I noticed it on the shelves in Kmart, of all places. I picked it up, admired the cover art and the intriguing title, read the blurb, thought, "This might be good,", but eventually thought "Meh," put it back and went off on my merry way.

If only I'd bought it then! There is no word in English, as far as I can tell, to properly express the smug joy of recognising something great and adopting it before everyone else has.

Sap: I'm reading 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'.

Me: Oh yes, I read that a year or two ago. It's great. You'll enjoy it.

Sap: You've read it already? My, but you are an astute literary connoisseur and a dashed clever fellow all round.

Me: Yes. Yes I am.

In the years since first encountering the book, I've put up with rave reviews from friends and the media alike. I was biding my time, waiting for the right moment, that time when the faddishness had passed and I could pass off my late-adoption as literary ennui.

Different Sap: Have you read 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'?

Me: No. I hear it's quite good. I'll get around to it some day (affects stifling a yawn) once the dust settles.

Not as satisfying, but it serves me right for being cheap all those years ago in Kmart.

So much for the grudge. It is, of course, a very good book. I don't know how well it captures the reality of autism, but the narrator is believable, and his world is so small, so self-contained, and rendered so unrecognisable by his condition, that reality is neither here nor there. It seems like the way an autistic boy would view the world, and within the confines of the novel, that's what matters.

*Of course all my grudges are unreasonable. I live in a lovely world of bunnies and sunshine and have no cause to hold grudges against anything. And yet I do. I am bad.

Thursday, May 26, 2005


My Two Second Review of the trailer for Mr & Mrs Smith:

Me: Wait a sec... wasn't this a 'Lucy' episode?

BM: Oh yeah... the one where Ricky tries to kill her with a semi-automatic assault rifle.

Me: And she puts a landmine under his car. Priceless!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Denied the opportunity to express itself in dry coughing thanks to Benadryl, my cold has suddenly and capriciously decided to switch to the medium of mucus.

Be prepared for some exciting and challenging new works including 'Quick, get a hankerchi... too late', the controversial 'Damn, that tastes nasty', the triptych 'Who do I have to kill to get some sleep around here Nos 1(am), 2(am) & 3(am)', and the ambitious centrepiece to the collection, 'Fever dream attempting to untangle the plot lines of Star Wars'.

Here's what the critics are saying:

A tour de force! - The Sydney Morning Herald

Like, ewww, gross, as if! - The New York Times

A searing indictment of John Howard's white picket fence imperialism. - The Monthly

Has anyone seen my car keys? - The Huffington Post


My Two Second Review of Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith:

Actually, I thought it was pretty good.

And no one is more suprised about that than me.


Perhaps it's because I have a cold, but my sleep has been unsatisfying lately. I wake up a lot and have unpleasant dreams.

The problem with the dreams your brain casts while ill is that you get that frustrating combination of severe weirdness and fever-induced obsessive compulsion. Last night I was in the world of System Shock II, and Shodan was lecturing me on how I needed to use the bag of tools I'd just found to kill a certain monster. When the monster appeared I had to stab him in the neck five or six times with a specific screwdriver to properly kill him. But when push came to shove, I couldn't remember if she'd said five or six or fifty or sixty, so to be on the safe side I had to stab him sixty times.

Actually sixty-six, since one should always allow a ten percent margin for error.

He stayed obligingly still while being punctured, and for some reason didn't bleed, so it was more of an annoying chore than a gore-fest. A small, sane part of my mind kept whispering, "This is stupid. Just shoot him with the fusion canon already", but by that time I was in the mid-forties, stab-wise, and it seemed easier to just stay the course.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Monday, May 23, 2005


I spent Sunday night sitting on my ottoman, surrounded by every kind of screwdriver known to man, fixing a new switch into the power cord of my Evil Monkeys.

I wish I could say that my Evil Monkeys were my simian robot army, programmed to do my bidding no matter how nefarious or twisted. "Bring me the head of Justin Timberlake, some jelly beans with all the black ones picked out, and a gallon of lemur urine!" I'd say. "And make haste, for it must be done before moonrise!"

Honestly, I really do wish that.

But they're not. The Evil Monkeys is a photograph of my assembled Chee-Chee Technipets, blown up to slightly larger than A2 size, and placed in a lightbox I bought from the second-hand office fittings dealer. They look nicely ominous, especially now that they're backlit and two feet tall instead of two inches, and they strike fear into the hearts of... well, people who are easily frightened by Happy Meal toys.

The lightbox didn't come with a switch on the power cord, so last night I sat there with my tools and my vast fund of advanced electrical skills to install one. And I did! Without electrocuting myself! Now I don't have to keep shifting a very large armchair to get to the power point every time I want to turn it on and off.

While I did this, I also watched just enough of the Eurovision Song Contest on TV to realise that the only way to really enjoy it is to match Terry Wogan drink for drink, and I don't have enough drink in the house despite the fact that my liquor supply occupies one third of my pantry.


On Saturday night I watched the premiere of the new series of Doctor Who. I plan to discuss it at length, with spoilers aplenty, so don't say I didn't warn you on either count.

I think it's too much to hope that a new series of Doctor Who will actually be good. Frankly, the best one can hope for is that it doesn't induce cringes strong enough to tear your muscles from your skeletal structure. So thumbs up there: it was the best episode in twenty years! However you only need to view the Doctor Whos of the last twenty years to see what faint praise that is.

As far as I'm concerned the episode had two main failings, and they are the same ones that have dogged the series over the last couple of decades.

The first is that the show seemed to be pitched at eight year olds. And we're talking nervous eight year olds who need night lights and think that babies are delivered by storks. When we're first introduced to Rose and her boyfriend Micky, their little pecking kisses were so passionless that I assumed he was the stock 'gay best friend' character. Poor Rose gets to hold hands a couple of times, but otherwise the Autons probably have better love lives than her.

Speaking of the Autons, they were always damn scary monsters in the past, disguised as dead-faced shop mannequins that came to life without warning and flipped their hands open to reveal deadly built-in pistols. They also had plastic daffodils that suffocated their victims and a plastic couch that ate people. Yet because this new series seems to be pitched at small children, they can go on the rampage all they want and apparently never injure anyone. Not only couldn't they hit the broad side of a barn, they couldn't hit the broad side of the Amish raising the barn, the broad side of Lancaster county, or indeed the broad side of the great state of Pennsylvania.

One wonders why the Doctor even felt the need to thwart them. Imagine a world where the Autons ran free...

Mrs Nesbitt: 'Ere, Madge, you've got some splinters in your hair.

Madge: Oh, have I? Dear me. You know I popped into Harrods this morning for a cup of tea and a sticky bun in the food hall. The Autons were shooting it up as usual. They must have grazed the back of my chair or something.

Mrs Nesbitt: You should go to Tesco's in the High Street, dear. They have metal chairs.

Madge: That's true, but they don't stock those nice chocolate biscuits my Arthur likes.

I worry a little about this latest incarnation of the Doctor, too. He seems to have a rather bitter relationship with humanity, very different to the avuncular condescension of Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee. Honestly, if you think we're just stupid, chip-eating apes, you loud-mouthed tosser, then I say you can bloody well piss off back to Galafrey and stay there!

His method of fighting the Nestene Consciousness also leaves something to be desired, probably because the producers once again didn't want to unnerve their tiniest viewers. The Doctor confronts it not like a protective, decisive Time Lord, but more like a Tardis-driving Hans Blix. London is being shot to pieces by shop dummies and the Doctor responds by quoting intergalactic treaties at the big vat of goop controlling them. Thank goodness our Billie still has a measure of old-fashioned British gumption (and some handy chain-swinging skills) to win the day.

The second failing (yep, I'm only just getting to it now) is that once again the entire production team seems to think that doing Doctor Who is beneath them. There are little lazy gaps in the plot, lapses in the internal logic of the story, that suggest the scriptwriters and editors were just throwing something together. The wardrobe department put Rose at her job in a reasonably up-scale department store wearing hipster jeans and a hoodie. The extras didn't react like normal people would when chaos erupted around them. The pacing in the opening ten minutes was marvellous, but the last ten minutes felt more drawn out than the judging of the Eurovision Song Contest. Nobody in the crew seemed particularly bothered with doing their job well.

The exception was in the acting, which ranged from adequate to rather good, but then there were only five characters. Time will tell if this was just luck. In the past the program has had an unfortunate habit of hiring luvvie guest actors who looked mortified that they're doing anything less than Shakespeare. Perhaps because she hasn't come from a stage background, Billie Piper makes a surprisingly good sidekick, feisty and appealing (unlike many previous sidekicks, who were just feisty and obnoxious). Christopher Eccelstone's Doctor is intriguing, as a new Doctor should be, but since he's announced that he's only doing one season for fear of being typecast (poor baby) it may be necessary to cast him into the luvvie basket and hope for better luck next time.

Look, I know I've spent over eight hundred words griping and whining, but it's only because I care. Back in its 1970s heyday, Doctor Who was great, both for little kids and for adults. The monsters were terrifying, the adventures were imaginative, and the Doctors had the personality and panache to hold it all together. I'd love to see the series regain that sort of storytelling quality. And maybe, if they can iron out the flaws, it will.

I'll finish on a positive note. I like the new Tardis. Partly it's because its interior gives the impression of both unimaginably high technology and unkempt, ancient construction. But mostly it's because it finally answers the question of what lies between the outside door and the inside. In the past, they never matched, leading to niggling continuity problems. But in this latest incarnation of the Tardis, it's decidedly the same door. The inner side has drab wooden panelling with little frosted glass windows, an elderly telephone, and the back side of dodgy 1950s wiring lighting up the Police Public Call Box sign. It's a small rectangle of normalcy surrounded by the alien strangeness of the Tardis control room. When all is said and done, I hope that this door is the sign for the future of the show.


AB came over a few nights ago to install a graphics card I'm going to buy from him. Far from requiring soldering irons, specialist screwdrivers or degrees in mechanical engineering, it was a simple matter of popping off the side panel, snapping the card into place, popping the side panel back on, restarting the computer and repeatedly hitting "Next" as the various installation programs roused themselves and poked the new card with a stick.

The card is costing me $70, but it already allows me to play three games I own that didn't run on my computer before. AB also believes that having a dedicated graphics card will free up system RAM, meaning that demanding programs should run faster.

One of the games is Star Trek: Elite Force, which has basic system requirements that even my last computer, an old Pentium 400, could easily handle, except for the fact that it needs serious dedicated graphics capabilities. Owning it was like being a curator at the London Science Museum circa 1900 and bringing Babbage's Analytical Engine out of storage only to discover that it won't work without a modem.

The game itself seems ridiculously easy, at least in the earliest stages. It's a First Person Shooter, and your initial First Person Shootees are the Borg. Given that the main threats of the Borg are their plodding tenacity and their predilection for injecting nanites into people, and given that you have a long range, highly effective Borg blaster that can take them out with two shots as they slowly plod towards you waving their nano-injectors from across a cavernous room, you're not in a lot of danger. Ironically, the most fun so far is seeing how quickly one can interrupt their droning intonations about one's doom.

"We are the Boaaarrgghhuuuuhhh"... thud

Indeed you are. How's that working out for you? Quite badly, I suspect.

"You will be asssimilaaauugghhh"... thud

No, not now, thank you. But let's do lunch sometime.

"Resistanzzbbt zzbt"... thud.

Sorry to cut you off there. I'm in a bit of a hurry.

No doubt my current hubris will come back to haunt me, bite me, assimilate me, and/or otherwise make my avatarial life difficult in due course.

Friday, May 20, 2005


Growing up on a farm, with a veterinarian for a father, I was perpetually surrounded by cats, dogs, cows, sheep, horses, chickens and the occasional bewildered kangaroo. I am thus a firm believer that a) animals are way cool, b) they have their rightful place in the world and c) they need to be kept in that place. Professional Grumpy Old Man and possum anti-advocate Frank Devine agrees.

POSSUMS belong in the wilderness. I don't. That is why I spend so little time sitting in trees in national parks eating gum leaves.

The three great things that Western Australia has over the eastern states is that we don't have poker machines, we don't have tollways, and we don't have possums in plague proportions defacing our trees, scuffling in our roof spaces and shrieking at each other across our lawns at 3am.

In fact, we only have about six possums in the entire state, at last count. They're called Mike, Steve, Carol, Sharon, and two Robs. I've only ever met Mike, and he was asleep at the time. They pretty much keep to themselves.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


As a result of my many wheelings and dealings, I received a free copy of the first edition of The Monthly in the mail last week. For those of you who haven't heard of it, The Monthly is a news magazine launched this month, which, according to its publisher, aims to be an Australian version of The New Yorker... only without the whole New York thing, presumably. I’ve read it with great interest.

Some items of note:

Sophie Lee, ex-Bugs Bunny presenter and writing student, is listed as a contributor, although her only contribution so far has been to appear on the cover under the title "The Best of Times…", wearing an expression somewhere between "You call this a macchiato?" and "Wait a minute... didn't we used to have three children?"

Don Watson apparently got a haircut by a rural hairdresser several months ago and has been bitching about it ever since. If you want to read someone sneering at honest people for not being sophisticated, and at sophisticated people for not being honest, Don's your boy. Just go easy on the hairstyle. He's a little sensitive.

John Birmingham does an admirable job of attempting an even-handed appraisal of our nation under the Howard government. At least he does for the first half of his essay. He begins to lose his grip just a little towards the end, when the subject of the Tampa comes up and he has to fight his brain auto-loading Furious Indignation v 2.1. It may also be the case that Don Watson was standing in the doorway goading him for being John Howard's butt monkey, and pummelling him with empty conditioner bottles. I guess we'll never know for sure.

Margaret Simons covers the plight of the poor, needy, financially starved souls at the ABC, where a climate of fear and passive-aggressive intimidation is being inflicted on left-leaning staff... instead of on right-leaning staff, as used to be case back in the good old days.

Helen Garner is an Australian literary legend, and a writer of rare deftness and beauty. This apparently means that the first rule of film reviewing – DON’T GIVE AWAY THE FRICKIN’ ENDING – doesn’t apply to her.

Kerryn Goldsworthy’s article on Andrew Denton was very good. Sorry, but it was. I can’t be snarky about everything, you know.

I think that if it survives, it may serve a useful function in the Australian media landscape, as a centre-left cousin to the centre-right Bulletin. Providing that it can keep Margo Kingston out of its pages, and doesn't require poor Don Watson to travel out of commuting range of Joh Bailey’s salon ever again, it certainly has what it takes to make a go of it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


As part of the Festival of Bad Cinema last night, BM and DM and I watched the first episode of "The Invaders", a short-lived late sixties sci-fi series. This episode opened with that old genre chestnut, the man getting lost while taking a short cut. Am I completely naive to think that the quickest route between two population centres is usually the paved, high-speed, multi-laned interstate, not the twisty, rutted, unpaved backroad that needs to be navigated at slightly less than jogging speed? I must be.

I'm probably also naive to wonder why this man, an architect named David Vincent, needs to travel by car, at 4am, for a business meeting. This is only architecture, people, not couriering human organs for transplant.

Anyway, he sees a flying saucer landing in an abandoned field, reports it to the authorities, they don't believe him, and he's forced to investigate matters himself after a couple of pretty lame attempts on his life. In the first of these attempts, he is mysteriously knocked out, then, when he comes to in hospital, a sinister and extremely unsexy nurse tries to inject him with something. Hilariously, the only drug container in the room is an enormous bottle labeled 'Alcohol'.

Me: It's nine o'clock, Mr V. Time for your tequila shot!

Vincent: No, wait, wait!

BM: Isn't this supposed to be the Betty Ford Clinic?

In the second attempt, a bizarre granny sets fire to his apartment, which goes from 'lit match' to 'explosive conflagration' in about 3.4 seconds... probably because everything in it, from the carpet to the sofa to the potted plant, is made from petrochemical products. Still, he manages to fight his way out with a wrought iron candelabra. Nothing gets pesky flames out of the way like decorative metalwork.

Following some clues that the aliens helpfully handed out, he travels to a little Californian town, which is apparently deserted except for a sexy lady hotelier, a belligerent cop, a deaf shopkeeper and a couple of go-go dancing teenagers. There he strives to discover what's going on, which brings him neatly into line with the viewers.

Sexy Lady Hotelier: You might find what you're looking for at the old abandoned hydro-electric plant.

BM: Why would anyone abandon a hydro-electric plant?

Me: It's 1967, remember. It probably wasn't burning enough oil.

The abandoned hydro-electric plant does indeed hold alien secrets, including a series of slow-moving transparent tubes that kill people, providing that the people in question can be convinced to walk under them and then stand still while they descend with all the speed of a particularly lazy glacier. Personally if I were an evil alien I'd just shoot any human who got in my way, but, as we've already established, I'm kind of naive when it comes to these things.

The episode ends with one of Vincent's architect buddies being killed by the tubes, and Vincent himself swearing to uncover the dastardly alien plot. Frankly, given that the dastardly alien plot seems to be involve buying up and repopulating hick towns in the middle of nowhere, I say good luck to them. One could argue that the odd dead architect is a small price to pay for a revitalised rural sector, especially if he's the sort of architect who designs buildings like this.

Oh, and Mike Brady. If they kill Mike Brady, I think we should give them Coonabarabran.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Here are two pieces of advice for people suffering from acute torticollis:

1) Don't drive your head forcefully into the door frame of your car while getting out, because it will hurt even more than normal and cause you doubt the wisdom of the Almighty in allowing you to be born.

2) Don't continue to play System Shock II on your computer, especially if you walk through a doorway into an ambush by the undead. The "Ugh!" of surprise almost instantly becomes the "AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!" of extreme pain as you instinctively jerk your head backwards, and your girlish scream will alarm people in neighbouring suburbs, if not neighbouring timezones.

Monday, May 16, 2005


I promised you a tale of woe, and a tale of woe you shall have, even though at the moment I feel so blunt-headed and relaxed that everything seems more or less hunky dory.

For about the last week I've had a niggling pain in the right side of my neck and my shoulder. It seemed to be getting slowly worse, until Friday, when it started to get worse with a haste normally reserved for Formula One racing drivers. Since I was sore and it was raining, I decided to take the Golf to work rather than the scooter.

As the day wore on the pain grew worse and worse. I eventually gave up being macho and left work early at around 2.15pm. As I drove down Mounts Bay Road I thought, "Hang in there, Blandy. At this time of day the commute should only be about twenty minutes. Endure it for that long and we can dumpster dive through our drug tin at home and find something to ease the pain."

But when I got to the freeway on-ramp, there was a policeman directing traffic away. Apparently a water main had burst somewhere under the Mill Street exit and the whole south-bound freeway was blocked. I had to turn into the city, along with all the other cars who had been planning to get on the freeway, and we ground to a virtual halt.

Eventually I could see that there was an extra holdup - a bus had broken down in one of the lanes, restricting the flow from three lanes to two. That was okay; we were barely crawling, but at least we were moving.


Had I not been in quite significant pain, I might have felt a bit of sympathy for her. She was only 17, driving a Nissan Pulsar that should have been consigned to the scrapheap years ago, and suffering from a complete meltdown of everything she knew about driving in emergencies. A couple of other drivers, who unlike me obviously didn't feel like something was stabbing at their neck with a rusty scalpel, helped to push her car to the side of the road. One of them also had to steer, as the girl's motor vehicle aptitude had shrivelled to that of panicked squirrel, and without assistance she kept trying to steer her dead car into the nearest tree.

Eventually we got going, my twenty minute commute having stretched out to an hour. When I got home and applied some completely impotent drugs, I phoned a friend whose wife sometimes gets similar pains, and he advised me in no uncertain terms to see a doctor or, failing that, an Emergency Department.

Breaking the habit of a lifetime, I actually decide to take steps before the pain got so bad that I ended up curled into a ball on the floor whimpering piteously. I called my friend JC and asked him to take me down to Fremantle Hospital Emergency Department.

Maybe it's just because the rest of the city was gridlocked by the closure of the freeway, but the Emergency Department was comparatively quiet. There was just me, a toddler suffering from a severe asthma attack, and a jittery woman who thought that everyone was out to get her. I progressed quite quickly through the ED's byzantine admissions system.

6.15pm : Interview with triage nurse. No drugs offered.

6.35pm: Interview with clerk. No drugs offered.

6.45pm: Shown into ED ward. No drugs offered.

6.55pm: Interview with Registered Nurse. No drugs offered.

7.10pm: Examination by ED Registrar, mostly involving the following dialogue:

Dr: Does it hurt when I press here?

Me: No.

Dr: Here?

Me: No.

Dr: What about here?

Me: Argh! Yes! Ow ow ow!

Dr: What? Here?

Me: OW!!! Yes, stop that!

Dr: What about here? (moves fingers approximately half a millimetre to the right)


Dr: And here?

Me: [unspellable noise of extreme agony]

Dr: It looks like a simple case of torticollis. I'll prescribe some drugs to help reduce the inflammation and settle the muscle.

And off he goes. Meanwhile, the three year old with the asthma attack is in the next treatment bay, reacting well to the ventalin treatment he's been given. At any given point in time there seems to be at least one nurse and one doctor in there with him. He is given icecream and a colouring book. Meanwhile I'm sitting on an inadequately supportive chair in the next bay, wracked with the sort of pain that threatens to black me out if I move wrong, staring at the same patch of linoleum for the last half an hour because any movement of my head invites the musculoskeletal equivalent of a personal visit from Torquemada. Where's my frikkin' icecream, I want to know? Where's my colouring book? I was a cute little toddler too, you know, albeit thirty years ago! I have photos to prove it! Either give me some amusement or shoot botox into my damn neck!

In due course the Registrar came back with sweet, sweet drugs, and after a rather piteous plea the nurse brought me a cup of coffee. After a twenty minute wait to see that the drugs were having an effect (they were, although very slowly), I was discharged and took JC to McDonald's for dinner to thank him for giving me a lift.

With each passing day the drugs seem to be working better, such that I feel almost normal. One of them is Naproxen, which is an anti-inflammatory, while the other is Diazepam, more commonly known as Valium. Besides fixing my neck, I'm sleeping better than I've slept in years, although I tend to sleep though my alarm, and when I do wake up I tend to shamble about like a recently exhumed Keith Richards.


A brief re-read of the last few entries reveals a certain amount of doom and gloom. The next entry is certainly going to be about pain and woe, so it's probably a good idea at this point to spread a little joy around.

I had phone calls over the last couple of days letting me know all the items in my insurance claim following the burglary have been approved. All I had to do was front up at a couple of stores and collect my stuff.

The good news is that iPods and digital cameras like mine are no longer in production, so I had to get the latest equivalents. So my Canon PowerShot A75 with 3.2 megapixels has been replaced with the Canon Powershot A85 with 4 megapixels. My 15G iPod has been replaced by a 20G iPod. And my old iTrip, which was almost always a little off-tune after it had been dropped a few times, has been replaced with a new one which reproduces sound as clear as crystal.

Ironically my original iPod's warranty expires today, so I basically get a whole second year of guarantee on it (and its infamously lacklustre battery).

Earlier this week I had an idea to go down to the pawn shops in this area and see if I could find my stolen possessions. Call me shallow, but that idea had now gone right out of the window. Mwhahahahahahaha!

Friday, May 13, 2005


Last night at the supermarket, once I had collected my choice of groceries from the shelves, I took my trolley up to the checkout and added myself to the end of the queue. While I was wondering if any of the magazines were worth flipping through, the trolley in front of me moved forward fractionally, and another trolley that had been lurking somewhere on the opposite side of the aisle lurched forward and inserted itself between me and the one in front of me.

I looked up and smiled. "Sorry, were you in this line?"

Man, they were loathsome. There were two of them, presumably husband and wife, 20-something, buffed, gelled, coordinated and pretty. I'd noticed them a few moments earlier, having one of those we're-young-and-in-love kissy moments next to a display stand of cornflakes. They were both wearing green; not matching shades of green, but matching tones of green.

No doubt they were lovely people, but, like I said, they were loathsome.

"Yes, we were," replied the husband, with a sunny white smile.

I couldn't help it. It happened so fast that I didn't even have time to lower my own smile. "Well, it would help if you were, you know, actually in the line."

"We were just leaving space for other people to get through the aisle," they both protested. I think one actually finished the other's sentence. How adorable.

At this point, I had two options. I could argue that if they had placed themselves where I was, they would have obviously been in the line and left space for people to get past... thus marking myself as the sort of loser who agonises over the proper spacing and placement of queues. Or I could just say "Yeah, whatever," and go off to find another queue, thus allowing them the victory of both the queue and the argument. I chose the latter.

Down at the opposite end of the checkouts I found another line and got in it, feeling grumpy. In front of me was a man in his mid-fifties. I gradually became aware that he was talking to the chubby teenaged checkout boy more than people usually do, and when I started paying attention, I became more and more stunned.

"Be careful with those," he said, as the boy put his bananas on the scales.

"Don't do that or you'll break them," he snapped as the boy tried to wave a bag of Flake bars past the scanner.

"Don't put the bread in that bag!" he scolded. "It'll get squashed!"

At first I thought he was the boy's bad-tempered supervisor, giving him a hard time in order to teach him the mysterious ways of the checkout, but it eventually dawned on me that he was just a petulant, peevish old man.

Then it hit me. Sweet merciful crap, I thought. That's me in twenty years' time.

Great. Fantastic. I felt like rolling my eyes heavenward and shouting, "Oh very subtle. You're all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present, and this is your idea of an object lesson in humility? I snap at one happy couple and I get the Ghost of Lifestyle Future? Why not just send down a host of angels with shopping trolleys and get them to ram me all the way out to the carpark? I mean come on!"

Or maybe just a Homeresque, "Why do you mock me O Lord!?" That would have been good and direct, and I could have struck a nice little Catholic martyr pose in the middle of Woolworth's.

Well, one can criticise the Almighty's style, but one can't question its effectiveness. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to run out, find the couple from the previous queue, and apologise for being petty. Mission accomplished, God.

But I didn't. They have each other, their kissy moments, their hair gel and their matching tones. I have a vision to scare me into being nicer to people. I think we can just call it even.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


I went down to the cinema last night to see The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. I was impressed. They stayed true to the spirit of the original even while adding new characters and subplots, and the set design was beautiful to look at, from the Heart of Gold to the animations in the Guide to the Terry-Gilliamesque world of the Vogons. I can see why it could be confusing to people who hadn't read the book recently, but I thought it was delightful.

But damn that "So Long And Thanks For All The Fish" broadway musical number. It's quite possibly the stickiest song ever to get stuck in a human head.

On the way out of the cinema, we needed to pass by Granny May's, home of useless crap and a complete lack of tiny propelling pencils, and I saw something in the window that I believe will demonstrate their corporate zeitgeist to skeptics who think I was exaggerating when I compared it unfavorably to Hell's giftshop.

It was a sculpture, about a foot tall, made from moulded plastic. It portrayed two equines, presumably mare and foal, riding a wave. They had single horns, making them unicorns, but also wings, making them pegasuses. So... unisuses? Pegacorns? Who knows? Mythological accuracy didn't seem to be the sculptor's strong suit.

In any case, they were probably going to drown in the wave, unless they were aquapegacorns or something.

But that's not all! It was also a lamp! Not a very effective lamp, probably, but at least it would help you avoid impaling yourself on a unihorn as you walked by it in the night.

But wait, there's still more! The mare's wings were made of real feathers!

And they were attached to little motors, so that when it was switched on, the wings would go up and down!

It was as if a small particle of stupid had lodged itself the Granny May's display window and slowly been coated in a steadily thickening nacre of stupid, most likely from all the thick stupid fumes given off by every other piece of merchandise in the store. If left in situ, this mutant-horse-shaped Pearl of Great Stupidity could develop terrible glitter, diamante and music box capabilities. It may even grow so big that it eventually crushes the entire shopping centre.

So, as you can see, it's not all bad news.

Monday, May 09, 2005


If one takes 'the weekend' as being Friday through Monday, then it's been an interesting old weekend. Be prepared for a very long post.

It started late Friday, when I got home from work to find that the house had been burgled. Again. Perth has the highest burglary rate in the country, and my house is on the periphery of the suburb with the highest burglary rate in Perth. In the three and a half years since I moved in, we've had two successful burglaries, one attempted burglary, and one mysterious disappearance of a bicycle from the garage that no one was ever able to properly explain.

In this instance, the thief came around through the construction site in the block behind mine, stepped through the hole in the fence where the neighbour's garage is being built, went to the window of my rear bedroom and, because its metal rollershutter was left up and it's one of the few windows in the house that doesn't lock, got in by smashing it then sliding it open.

He didn't trash the joint as much as the previous successful burglar. Most of the rooms just had a few open drawers and cupboard doors, and the occasional overturned objet d'art. He concentrated most on my bedroom and the study, where he emptied drawers from a wooden filing cabinet over the floor, upended my clothes hamper and a few interesting bags over the bed, strew items like old cameras and power tools across the floor and swept all the little odds and ends off my bedside tables in search of thievables.

He got away with my iPod, my iTrip, my digital camera, about $145 in cash, and most annoyingly, the spare key to my motor scooter. He gets points for thoroughness, knowing enough to crawl under my desk and unplug the USB cable for the iPod from my computer and the power socket, and also take the original boxes from the filing cabinet with peripheral cables, manuals and software discs. Fortunately he missed enough for me to be able to prove to my insurance company that I really did own an iPod, a digital camera and all the other things.

The scooter key is the really painful loss. I had the scooter with me at work, so he couldn't steal it at the time, and he probably doesn't even realise what the key is for. But I can't risk him having a key and not doing anything about it. In the short term, I went out on Saturday and bought a half-metre of steel chain and a heavy-duty padlock and threaded it through the front wheel. That'll at least slow him down. He'll come once, see that the scooter is secured, then have to go away and come back some other time with bolt cutters and finish the job. That means I have to get the scooter re-keyed, and because I hadn't got around to insuring it yet, I have to pay for it all myself. That's damn annoying. The scooter was supposed to save money, and I've had it less than two weeks and I'm already having to throw a couple of hundred dollars at it.

Oh well. As I reflected late on Friday evening after I had cleaned the place up, it could always be worse. I found a little ornamental box upturned on an end table, with my grandfather's gold cufflinks still inside. My other grandfather's antique wristwatch was lying next to an overturned jewellery box on a bedside table. My grandmother's mantle clock, and the antique china lions that have been passed down through the family for nearly three hundred years, were just as I'd left them. Digital cameras and iPods can be replaced (if my insurance company doesn't dick me around), but you can't replace fifty or a hundred or three hundred years of heritage.

A police forensics officer came on Saturday morning to take fingerprints and check for any CSI-type stuff, and spent a good hour and a half going over the house. I noted that the police hadn't sent a forensic officer around last time, and he replied that home burglaries are shifting up the police priority lists. He mentioned that it was one of the few crimes where the police seemed to care more about it than the general public. People have become fatalistic and accepting about break-ins, he said, and that's not an acceptable state of affairs for the police. If people stop being outraged when their homes are burgled, and matter-of-factly believe that there is no chance they will see their possessions again or witness the thieves brought to justice, then that is a silent, stinging rebuke to the police, and one they refuse to accept.

I'd already noticed this myself. People around here build up images in their minds that are perversely comforting. When they're burgled, they never fail to say, 'It was probably just some drug addict looking for money for a quick fix." It's their way of reassuring themselves that human nature is essentially good. In so doing, they imagine a poor, strung-out junkie, so gripped by their addiction, so desperate for their next fix, that against all their common decency and desire to do the right thing, they smash a window, grab some consumer technology and cash, and run straight for their dealer.

Apparently the police are pretty pissed off at this sort of community tolerance. It's not a matter of drugs. It's a matter of greed. They want something, you have something, and they don't care how much it may hurt you to take it. If drugs come into it at all, it's usually because burglars find themselves with a big wad of stolen money and decide to blow it on some celebratory narcotics.

In essence, this is what causes the pain of burglary for the householder; being thoroughly disrespected. It's not so much that little consumer toys are taken, but that someone thinks so little of you and what's important to you that they're prepared to trash your home for a few dollars. Drawers are yanked out of cupboards without any thought at all that they might break, or dent other pieces of furniture. Boxes of neatly ordered photographs and documents are strewn across the floor, by someone who regards them not as valued memories, but as obstructions to getting what he wants. My grandmother's clock could easily have been smashed by someone flipping it out of the way in case there was something valuable behind it, and my grandfather's wristwatch could just as easily been crushed underfoot if it had fallen on the floor instead of onto a table.

For what it's worth, I told the policeman, I'm angry about it. That seemed to make him happy.

Now that the house is set to rights, there remains only the sense of unease at every sudden noise in a distant part of the building, a sense of vulnerability when The Flatmate and I are both out, and a sense of resentment that I have to spend hundreds of dollars to protect myself from a lack of simple decency in others, when they get that decency free from me.

There is an odd little footnote to this story. This afternoon I decided to install some locks on the house's last three lock-less windows, in my study, the back bedroom and the spare room. To get at the window in the spare room I had to pull the bed away from the wall, and when I did so I noticed a little black pouch lying in the dust and debris under where the bed had been.

Inside the pouch was a Tungsten T3 PalmPilot.

It wasn't mine. It had been there so long that the battery had gone flat, so I couldn't switch it on to see if it might give me clues to the owner's identity. It seems bizarre that one of my guests appears to have lost a $600 PDA and never mentioned it to me, even to the extent of "Hey, I can't seem to find my Palm. If you see it, let me know, okay?"

I suspect it belongs to a houseguest who was here a couple of months ago. If so, presumably he'll want it back. But if not, well, BONUS! It may turn out that even the dark cloud of burglary can have a silver lining.

Friday, May 06, 2005


Ever since I lost my keys a few weeks ago, I've missed the little Swiss Army knife I kept on the keyring. There are a dozen times each day when having something small, sharp, hard and/or pointy comes in very handy, whether it be for snipping a tag off a new shirt or tightening a loose screw on a drawer handle. So yesterday evening I walked down to my local mega-mall to see if I could find a replacement. By the time I returned, I felt a deep need to a) write this and b) take a shower and scrub myself raw trying to get the dirt off.

Why I Hate Going to Carousel Shopping Centre

1. The people

Teenage girls with their fat blooming out over the tops of their hipster jeans. Sullen men being dragged around the shops by their savagely bleached blonde girlfriends. Skinny white boys playing at being gangstas. Zit-encrusted young love. Morbidly obese women buying junk food. Glaring Muslim men stalking through the department stores with their womenfolk trailing the correct number of footsteps behind them.

2. The layout

The malls are reasonably wide, but Centre Management has cluttered them up with innumerable juice bars, watch repair kiosks, sunglass stands and those stalls selling plastic crap to tart up your mobile phone (as if your accessories need accessories of their own). As a result, put one old lady with a walker into the crowd, and these bottlenecks will actually become gridlocks. Trying to get from one end of the complex to the other is like trying to drive a tanker truck through the centre of Rome during rush hour.

3. The merchanise

So. Much. Junk. They're products that exist solely to be bought, rather than to be used. There's shopfront after shopfront of novelties, fads, junk jewelry, disposable clothing and that most satanic of retail categories, "giftware". I wonder how much of the Earth's resources is being sacrificed to produce glittery, tawdry crap that will almost certainly be landfill within ten years.

4. The ethos

I went into Grannny May's to see if they had a replacement for the tiny, broken propelling pencil I keep in my wallet. For those of you not familiar with the franchise, Granny May's is what Hell's giftshop would look like if all their buying was done by a really shallow and obnoxious twelve year old girl. I figured that maybe since my pencil was cute and Japanese, there was an outside chance they might have something similar.

The man behind the counter beamed at me. "Good evening, sir."

I beamed back. "Good evening. I was wondering if you stock anything similar to this?" I held out my broken pencil for him to see.

But at about the word 'wondering', his smile had frozen. Why are you asking me a question?, he seemed to be silently demanding. You don't need to ask questions in order to buy something. You come in, you are distracted by one of the shiny things, and you buy it. Why are you here if not to make some impulse purchase? That's not in the script! How dare you not follow the script!

"No, we don't," he said, in a distinctly less-friendly tone.

"Any idea where I could find one?" I asked.

"Try Kmart," he said, with a subtle, unspoken undertone of 'Get the hell out of my shop, you deviant.'

And the whole of Carousel is like that. You go in, you're distracted by a shiny thing, and you buy it. If you don't, you are probably getting in the way of people who do and you should therefore be banished as soon as possible.

Certainly you shouldn't go in actually looking for something specific. You should just be drawn in by the bright lights and noise, like the Eloi being summoned by the Morlocks, and disencumber yourself of money.

Frankly I'm not just annoyed that I occasionally have to go there. I'm offended by the fact that the place exists at all. If I had a vast personal fortune, it'd be satisfying to build a rival shopping centre to my own specifications. If a potential vendor couldn't actually tell me what his shop would sell (like 'candles', 'furniture' or 'books') then he wouldn't be allowed to open in my centre. If he was foolish enough to tell me that his shop would sell 'gifts' or 'novelties', I would go so far as to have him killed, so that he couldn't take his wretched merchandise to another, less discerning centre. That's how much I care.

Oh, and I did get a replacement knife. The forces of retail evil are obviously not omnipotent.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Last night I joined BM and DM to watch the Mystery Science Theatre version of 'The Wild Wild World of Batwoman'. It was a 1966 effort by some people who had nothing to say but come hell or high water, they were going to say it.

The plot, if one could call it that, concerned Batwoman and her merry band of Batgirls. Batwoman was a mysterious figure in a reinforced black bathing suit, stockings, stilletto heels, a cape, a glittery mask and a headpiece that wouldn't have looked out of place on an African witch-doctor. She oversaw the deployment of her Batgirls, who were sort of like Charlie's Angels only without the competence, charisma, brains, resourcefulness or snappy one liners.

There were, however, more of them.

Batwoman didn't do all that much herself, having outsourced her actual duties (which apparently included completely failing to help people) to the Batgirls. Mostly she went to high-powered business meetings, where she was always taken very seriously despite looking like a hooker who'd got lost on her way to Carnivale.

Meanwhile her arch-nemesis Ratfink plotted to steal a mysterious new listening device, aided by a couple of vaudvillian goons, a mad scientist whose accent drifted between Vienna and Bombay and all points in between, and a Igor-like sidekick who must have financed the movie because the camera never failed to cross to his 'antics' whenever the action was going a little stale... which of course was most of the time.

The mad scientist had invented a drug that filled people with an irresistible desire to start go-go dancing, which came in very useful. Nothing helps you bypass half a dozen well-armed Batgirls like slipping them a go-go mickey: then all you have to do is squeeze around their crazy gyrations and steal the mysterious new listening device. Of course if they hadn't had the go-go drug, they could have just distracted the girls by some other means - surfer boys, light organ music, or small shiny objects - since they had the attention spans of brain-damaged Irish Setters.

If nothing else, the film featured many scenes of nubile 60s girls go-go dancing, so it wasn't all bad. Even so, by the end the robots were demanding in ever more strident terms that Mike kill them, or just screaming "END! END!" at the screen.

In conclusion, if that was Batwoman's wild wild world, I'd hate to see what her sedate sedate world was like. As Crow said, "This is like a Warhol film, only with less of a plot."


Apparently my decision to buy a VW Golf last year was inspired by my personal holiness and innate infallibility, not because the roof comes off when you press a button.


I've gone off listening to Heritage FM in the mornings. It was okay when they just had the Cavalcade of Completely Random Songs, played back to back without interruption except for the occasional ad. But now they've found themselves a breakfast DJ. He is, in and of himself, completely inoffensive, but he seems to have brought with him the absolute worst music of all time, which defiles my home like a dog turd tracked onto my carpet on the bottom of a shoe.

Yesterday morning was the final straw. I flicked the radio on and was horrified to hear the opening strains of Dr Hook's 'Sylvia's Mother'. Sylvia's freakin' Mother! I'm bewildered. With the vast array of music available in the Heritage library, why would anyone think we'd want to hear a bloody awful 70s dirge like 'Sylvia's Mother'?

When it comes to 70s music, I for one want either the kitschy, roller-disco froth of people like the Bee Gees and Donna Summer, or the genuinely meaningful ballads of people like the Rolling Stones or Stevie Wonder. I do NOT want the artless, earnest whining of 'Sylvia's Mother', and that goes double for 'Rhinestone Cowboy', 'Billy Don't Be a Hero', or anything by the soddin' Doobie Brothers!!!

I'll just pause for a moment for a cup of tea and a little lie-down.

Okay, I'm back. Fortunately on the weekend I stumbled across Base FM (104.9), which has only been on the air for about a month. It seems to be set up for indie kids half my age, but I liked the material they were playing. Then on the way to work yesterday they played Ash's 'Kung Fu', and I realised that I'd found a new love. Ash's 'Kung Fu' is my eternal mark of quality. Play that, and I will be your friend for life.

Unless you later play the soddin' Doobie Brothers. Then all bets are off.

Monday, May 02, 2005


Normal person playing System Shock II: Die, cyborg mutants, die! Blam Blam BLAM!

Me playing System Shock II: Hello? Excuse me? Yes, you, the stumbling moaning fellow. Hi there, I've just woken out of suspended animation and I'm at a bit of a loss to tell what's going on. Can you help? Uh huh. I see. You alien mutants have taken over this ship and either killed or absorbed the crew one by one.

Excuse me, I don't want to appear rude, but do you really think that's an acceptable thing to do? No, stop hitting me with that piece of steel pipe and listen. There is no moral framework in existence that regards murdering or grotesquely enslaving the crew of an entire starship as perfectly good and right.

Alright, maybe some diehard Libertarians, but when did they last win an election? In any case, I can't believe your personal ethical standard allows for the slaughter of innocent strangers. It goes against every precept of civilised life.

Now I don't want to appear judgmental. I'm a firm believer in live and let live. It seems to me that there's plenty of room on this spaceship for all of us - the psionic lab monkeys, the shambling zombies, even the enormous black alien spiders - and that tolerance can achieve things that generalised violence never can. Haven't you people ever heard of multiculturalism?

And you can quit waving that parasite at me. I've already told you I don't want to be part of The Many. I'm sure it's all very nice for you but I happen to value my individuality. No, coercion is not an option. Cut it out or I'll have to respond with this large, blood-splattered wrench.

Alright, have it your way. WHACK SMACK THUD GAAAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHhhhhhh...

What a senseless waste of human life. Well, human/alien hybrid life.

And who designed this spaceship, anyway? Why is there so much empty space and corridors that wriggle around like mazes? And why is there only one elevator on the entire ship? That can't possibly be practical. Have we already forgotten the lessons taught to us by Le Corbusier? I'm beginning to think that you people aren't taking this whole space travel thing entirely seriously. No wonder you got annihilated by the first aliens you came across. Sheesh!

Well, I suppose I'd better go off and find some way of setting this all to rights. I just wish we could do this without resorting to violence. Cathartic it may be, but it's no way to resolve conflict.


The next time someone dismisses owning a convertible on the grounds of practicality, I will ask them if they could transport a 2.4m x 1.2m sheet of plywood home from Bunnings in their car.

I thought not. Convertible Golf, 1. Boring "sensible" cars, 0.

True there is the small matter of complete unroadworthiness and illegality of driving around with two and a half metres of plywood rearing out of the car like the sail of a road-going windsurfer, but I say "Piffle!" to such concerns.


On Saturday night I hosted a Guess Who's Coming To Dinner dinner party. I know of a few churches that run them - a whole bunch of people put their names into a hat, then they're randomly allocated to someone's house for dinner. If you're a guest, you don't know where you're going until an hour before the aperitifs are served. If you're a host, you don't know who is coming until you open the front door and see, for example, Sidney Poitier (or in newer, less classy neighbourhoods, Ashton Kutcher).

In theory, these dinners are a marvellous opportunity to mix with people you'd never spend time with ordinarily. It's very easy to only socialise with people who are in the same stage of life as you; indeed, in churches it can become almost pathological. Getting married, having children or retiring is like being exiled to a foreign country, never to return on pain of death. It's refreshing to sit down to dinner with married couples, retirees, divorcees and teenagers to whom one is not related. It almost never happens in other avenues of life, and it provides you with all sorts of new perspectives on things.

In practice, I was a little disappointed when it transpired that all six of my guests were single people in their twenties and thirties, most of whom I knew reasonably well. Meh.

It was a bit of a struggle from the start, I must admit. As the guests were arriving I served some Sanbitter left over from the cocktail party. Many of the guests looked at them with suspicion, then when forced to accept one, scrutinised them further with eye, nose and whatever organ produces deep mistrust.

Guest: What does it taste like?

Me: It's sort of sweet and sort of bitter. It's hard to describe.

Guest: Hmmm... maybe I'll pass.

Me: Go on, just try it. It really grows on you.

Guest: But I do not recognise it, therefore it is POISON!

Okay, that last line was more of a subtext than an actual statement, but you get the vibe.

In true Australian tradition, the guests in a Guess Who's Coming To Dinner bring a course with them. A Malaysian girl brought tiny egg tarts with rum-infused custard, and I made two Thai curries (one beef, one tofu). However the other courses were a little underwhelming - apparently for a lot of my guests cooking is something that happens to other people. I was faintly annoyed that they hadn't gone to any effort, other than visiting a supermarket on the way to my house. Maybe my annoyance stemmed from the fact that I'd only, you know, rebuilt my dining table to accomodate them.

Allow me to explain. Taking a cue from a picture in one of my cookbooks, I'd bought a 2.4m x 1.2m sheet of 7mm plywood and laid it across my dining table, then screwed in some blocks of wood around the edge to lock it into place. Thus my six-seater table was expanded to seat, by my calculations, ten to twelve people.* To prevent it from looking too much like what it was (a big sheet of plywood lying on a dining table), I got a black paint marker and copied a couple of pages of text from a favourite novel around the edge. I figured that if conversation dried up, guests could just lift up their plate and get some inspiration from Peter Hoeg. Then I got every candlestick I own - brass, glass, wood, silver and iron, in all shapes and sizes - and put them in the middle, where they made a dramatic statement, seeming to rise up like a cluster of skyscrapers in the middle of a vast flat desert.

It looked pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. The only problem was that it made the food appear even more low-rent.

After dinner we adjourned to the living room, full of Thai and cheap icecream, to do what my sisters call "assuming the position"; that is, to lie on the couch and remonstrate with oneself for eating too much. I'd hoped that my guests would form conversations on their own. I telepathically projected "Don't make me get out the board games, people!" at them. But after one particularly horrific extended silence I realised I was going to have to do something, and it would have to be something that wouldn't tax our food-dulled wits.

So I went to the cupboard and dumped my entire collection of Zolo onto the living room rug. They stared at it, whispered queries to each other, and nudged a few pieces like chimpanzees warily investigating a documentary film crew that comes into their midst. Then within ten minutes they were conducting Zolo Smackdown tournaments with their creations. Another crisis averted by weird Californian designer toys.

So, was the dinner a failure or a success? Well, we all ate food, so by that reckoning, Mission Accomplished. My pretentious, artsy-fartsy social agendas were not fulfilled, so a bit of a let-down there. But at the end of the day, the most important role of the Saturday night dinner party was achieved:

Leftovers for lunch on Sunday. Insert Homer drool noise here.

*I'd originally been expecting nine people, but there were a couple of late cancellations due to illness.