Thursday, 25 March 2010

Terry Pratchett on story

Or: Why I Still Read Fantasy When I Should Be Sweeping the Floor and Being a Better Person.

Nine-tenths of the universe, in fact, is the paperwork.

And if you want the story, then remember that a story does not unwind, it weaves. Events that start in different places and different times all bear down on that one tiny point in space-time, which is the perfect moment.

Supposing an emperor was persuaded to wear a new suit of clothes whose material was so fine that, to the common eye, the clothes weren't there. And suppose a little boy pointed out this fact in a loud, clear voice...

Then you have The Story of the Emperor Who Had No Clothes.

But if you knew a bit more, it would be The Story of the Boy Who Got a Well-Deserved Thrashing from His Dad for Being Rude to Royalty and Was Locked Up.

Or The Story of the Whole Crowd Who Were Rounded Up by the Guards and Told 'This Didn't Happen. Okay? Does Anyone Want to Argue?'
Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time, London: Doubleday, 2001.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Apologies and thanks

A quick administrative note: I do apologise to anyone who comments and doesn't get a response. I appreciate each and every one of my readers and love getting comments. However, I don't always get to respond. If you saw my house and the teetering piles of paper that daily threaten to take over (and the associated dust bunnies) you might forgive me. Or simply condemn my disorganisation! I am just learning to live with the shame and trying to be more efficient.

What do you do?

I realised last night that I have possibly grown up.

I was ironing clothes for today. I managed not to iron clothes regularly between the ages of about 18 and 37. Now I have to iron clothes because I participate in activities where one's professionalism might be judged on the crumple level of one's attire. My fresh face and sometimes frivolous attitude combined with crumpled clothes do tend to work against me so I have to work hard to come across as serious. Having a business card helps. I initially resisted the notion of a card, but it does help to push it across the table and for people to see that at least on paper, I am supposed to know what I am talking about.

Pushing a fat report across the table also helps as do cool presentations. Have you heard of Prezi? It's one of my latest useful technical acquisitions and results in really fun presentations (which of course contain serious and useful information!)

The worst thing to my mind is that last night was a Friday night and I was ironing clothes for Saturday activities. What have I become?

We are in the process of going to school open days trying to work out where Blithe Girl will go in 2012. Marburg doesn't have a high school so we have to go see the options. Hence the ironing of clothes on a Friday night and discussions of whether I can wear shorts and still come across as a serious prospective parent of a student. Two schools down and a few more to go before we have to actually make a decision. 2012 seems very close when some of the schools expect students to apply 18-24 months out.

The hardest thing for me though is to fill out the forms saying what it is that I do. Do I write down what I am paid to do or what I do for love or what I would like to be eventually? What about the fact that I have several (very small) income streams and a few more projects in the works?

Sometimes I wish I just had a nice label that I could apply as appropriate. I just can't decide -- "dilettante", "multi-tasker", "undecided?" Maybe I'm not grown up after all.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Driving forces

If you live in Marburg and you have a job of any kind or children or an interest in something outside horses you tend to be on the road a lot. You can't do a serious grocery shop in town. There is a corner store for emergencies and newspapers, an antique store, the post office, a pub and a hairdresser. That's a few necessities covered but for the rest you have to drive. Some of the drives are just a small round trip of twenty kilometres or so into Rosewood or Lowood, but most would involve at least 40 kilometres on the highway (to Ipswich) or the 100 kilometre roundtrip to Brisbane or Toowoomba.

I often wonder whether anyone would be able to live in rural areas when our fossil fuels run out. Electric cars aren't a great solution given limited range. I can't imagine rural areas having enough population to sustain hydrogen fueling stations. Maybe there will be some kind of special rural exemption in the future and only people living in the country will be able to buy fossil fuels. I can easily imagine some kind of post-fossil fuel hierarchy of need and regulation. Or the rural areas will simply empty out and the edges of Australia will become even more weighted with people.

Here's a marvellous photo I found on Picture Ipswich last week of the Warrego Highway: our lifeline and curse. This was taken in 1920 outside the pub at Haigslea which is the homestretch to Marburg. It has certainly stopped me complaining.

Copyright Rosewood Scrub Historical Society

And in my continuing series on how reading can change your life -- a link to New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg's article on how to adjust the side mirrors of your car to eliminate the blind spot. Here's the link to the pictorial version of what to do.

Try it. I did and it has made my life immeasurably easier. I hope it does the same for you.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The past in trees

Sometimes the past is right with us and sometimes the past is a distant place. I look at this picture of Two Tree Hill taken in 1900 and it seems from a distant place and time. Yet I look out my kitchen window every morning at this same hill. Today it is swathed in mist. Through the mist you can glimpse every shade of green from the brightness of summer grass to the dark black-green of crow's ash and the subdued olives of acacia and scrub. It's not heavily forested but the trees are there and many people are doing their best to plant more. A few years ago one of my neighbours helped another plant a hillside paddock with trees. This same neighbour is busy reforesting his gullies. We've done a small bit and hope to do more.

One of my jobs at the moment tracking down historical photographs of Ipswich for a presentation someone is doing in a few weeks. I'm actually getting paid to browse archives. It's pretty fabulous. Some of the archived photos are of Marburg and I am continually astonished at how bare the land used to be. Land became yours when you cleared it within a certain time period. It's a powerful incentive.

It's a stark reminder of the influence government policies can have on everyday life. Today the salinity, flooding and other issues in Black Snake Creek can be traced directly back to government policies -- land clearing, provision of reticulated water but not sewage to the township, development policies...the list goes on. And it is a reminder to me that I have a responsibility to this land as well.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The power of literature

I ran out of oats this morning and tossed some buckwheat into the porridge mix. It was not a success. At best it was tasteless, at worst stodgy and this is coming from someone who likes porridge of all kinds. I don't know if I cooked it badly, if it was a bad batch, buckwheat just doesn't taste like much or a combination of all of these.

My family were all very polite though clearly not eating with enthusiasm. To me Blithe Girl said, "I really prefer just normal porridge Mum."

To her father she said quietly later, "I was thinking while I was eating that Hornblower would eat this because he had to eat many worse things so I can manage this."

This is why I encourage my children to read.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The battle of the fruit

Did you know that mango sap contains the same chemical irritant (urushiol) and has the same end result as poison ivy? Three weeks ago I didn't know this and now I do. It is the kind of knowledge born out of pain and itching.

As a friend of mine says "No good deed goes unpunished." On a visit to the lovely historic Ormiston House, my mother-in-law saw the huge old mango trees laden with mangos. Having a yen to make green mango chutney and a tall daughter-in-law along, she convinced me to brave the swarms of mosquitoes under the trees to pick the mangos. I was amazed at the clear sap that spurted out of the mangos as I picked them.

Having a history of skin reactions and allergies I immediately washed the sap off my arms. I didn't realise the extent of the shower of sap though. It was a hot day and I was wearing a sleeveless top, shorts and sandals. My arms were sprayed and sap ran down my wrist at one point.

Almost immediately wherever the sap touched started to flake. No itching though. You could see where the sap had run down my arm. Almost three weeks later though, my arms erupted in blisters: itchy-red-claw-your-arms-off-type-blisters. Day five now and I can almost tolerate my own arms again. Prognosis is for up to five weeks before it will clear entirely although no-one really knows. Meanwhile I am avoiding short-sleeved shirts lest I excessively frighten the natives. I was going to include a photo but I decided that you didn't read this blog to be disgusted by such things.

And this is the interesting fruity fact. Cortisone creams and antihistamines aside, the one thing that really helps the itching is pawpaw ointment: Queensland's very own natural remedy. I like to imagine some sort of fruit salad battle going on under my dermis. And the thing is, I love to eat both these fruits though my current loyalty has to be to the pawpaw (carica papaya).

Who knew the true dangers of sub-tropical living? Shall I give the Jaeckels some kind of dermitological introduction to these?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Autumnal things

It is officially the second day of autumn today. It is so neat and tidy when the seasons roll over on the calendar. The fact that this bears no relation to reality is irrelevant to its tidiness. Today though is about 15C cooler than several days last week so perhaps the relationship does exist to some extent. Most of the coolness though comes from the tropical low bringing rain that is moving slowly across the state. We've had a day and a half so far of steady rain.

Everything is sodden. Branches are leaning down from trees to the ground, streams run down both sides of our road. Black Snake Creek is a wide sheet of water moving through town. It hasn't gone over the road yet although it did last week when we had a sudden deluge. The kids love to see the streams and waterfalls. I tend to get a bit more nervous and being the driver notice all the little slips of tyre and occasional fishtailing on the mud. The dams are full, our tanks are overflowing. It can stop raining now.

Last night I absolutely did not want to go out. I had a long day at work, it was raining , Mr Blithe had cooked dinner and the kids were planning an evening of board games. I just wanted to stay inside and enjoy the sound of rain on the roof. Instead I went to the historical society meeting and was glad that I went. I had forgotten that we had a guest -- the museum development officer for this area and she had many of the answers to the questions that had plagued me at work.

It's lovely when your work and other lives collide and it's partly why I do what I do. My current contract wraps soon and like everyone I know, I have been writing grants trying to get funding for new projects. What I was going to be working on for the next six months has evaporated but there are a couple of fun new projects in the works if we can come up with the money. The first hurdle is always the grant application. Every agency has different requirements. I'm convinced there are people who spend their time dreaming up ways to cull the huge numbers of applicants. "I know, let's see if they can stand on their heads and sing while reciting the periodic table, then we'll allow them the privilege of filling in the application."

Anyway...some of the hurdles are looking a bit more surmountable so I am glad that I am involved with the historical society and that I dragged myself out on a wet night in the service of history. May it lead to interesting things.