Monday, 21 June 2010

Going to town

When I talk about the Marburg hills, this is what I mean. This is the route of one of the original roads over the hills, the one that washed out in a cyclone in the 1880s and has since been a dead end road. It's in good condition at the moment having been newly graded. This photo gives you an almost vertiginous sense of what going to town means. To my delight this photo was taken by Blithe Girl with her birthday camera.

Can you imagine tackling it with a wagon and horses or in rain so heavy that you couldn't see more than a short distance around you with water swirling so heavily around the horses' legs that they stumbled? You'd be blinded by the rain being driven into your face by the horizontal wind and sliding as much as you advanced. Even good weather would mean slippery dry dust and rolling gravel.

On the other hand, the valley opens up in front of you like a book revealing every line and fold of the terrain. The hills hover darkly and the grass shivers in the wind. Beauty and practicality -- ancient foes.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Learning stuff

I panic on a regular basis. I try to do it when I am in the shower or lying in bed so that I don't scare those with whom I share the house. My panic is of the fifty-things-to-do-so-what-should-I tackle-first school. I often lie in bed in the pre-daylight hours mentally arranging my day. I then get out of bed and the day proceeds to go in whatever direction it so chooses, bearing me along spinning and twisting.

Showering tonight (it's way too cold to shower in the mornings right now) I realised that one reason that I have been so tired these last few months is that I have been in overdrive learning new things. I've learnt or am in the process of learning a couple of new computer programs, including InDesign which so far has not been a walk in the park. I've researched accounting software, legal requirements for businesses, commercial insurance and best design and programs for websites. I've bought and set up a new computer and home office. I've ditched Microsoft Word for OpenOffice and attempted to bend Gimp to my needs. I have a website in development and my new accounting software very accurately shows me how deeply into the negative side of the ledger I have so far forged. On the plus side, I am insured for all sorts of calamities that make my knees tremble simply to read about.

I've learnt that while sans serif fonts are great for signage, most book designers prefer to use serif for book contents because it is easier to read for long periods. I've learnt that bold fonts are a sign of amateurism in books. I've learnt about bleeds and slugs (which are nothing to do with kids or gardening). I've put a new computer chair on the top of my "to purchase" list to ease my aching backside.

And on the subject of learning stuff, would you make a decision about working with someone based on the fact that you knew they were a sole trader? That is, do I refer on my website to myself, first person singular, or to we, which seems to imply that there is more than simply me in the enterprise? I personally have no problems working with an independent business, but do you think it would discourage enquirers and business?

Friday, 11 June 2010

The perils of history

On a good day the children are delightful, the world is beautiful and full of marvellous curiosities, people are charming and I am content with myself and others.

On a bad day, say one when the children don't want to get going in the morning, you have a million things to do including a couple of important meetings at which you have to appear ironed, alert and vaguely intelligent…on days like that discontent rages unchecked.

Particularly, just say, that one of your previously delightful, curious and intelligent children says to you:

"Look Mum, I found this bit of old iron outside, do you know what it is? Oh and I thought the holes were finger holes and I can't get my fingers back out of them." The last was said with some nervousness at the potential parental response.

Given that I was in the car with the engine running and had only stopped my mad rush at the gate to pick up said child who likes to run down the driveway and wait on the gate singing to the birds and listening to the wind, the nervousness was entirely warranted. There was one finger of each hand inserted in the holes, producing the effect of finger cuffs. The fact that it was the middle finger of each hand was not lost on me.

We pulled gently -- no success. Start flashing options -- ambulance (no, probably not life threatening enough); RACQ and their "jaws of life" (probably too big and would take the hand too); just dropping the child at school (possibly some sort of violation of law, if not parental etiquette); okay, spit and wriggle. Success!

Any thoughts on what this is? American readers, please ignore the inch-like markings below the centimetres. It's my favourite ruler, one that I stash in my secret stationery supply drawer, and the markings are old Chinese inches. You have to turn it over to get imperial measurements. It's about 5 inches in length and feels like cast iron.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Life before SMS

A lot of people in Marburg have post office boxes. The mail delivery is somewhat sketchy, particularly if you don't have town delivery and are dependent on a rural mail service. Sometimes I think people also have post boxes so that they can catch up with the latest news and gossip and see who's doing what in town. If you don't frequent the pub, it's one of the only other options for socialising now that there isn't the thriving town centre of yesteryear.

Australia Post now offers a new service that notifies you via SMS, for a price, that you have mail waiting in your mailbox. Marburg doesn't offer this service. People aren't keen on spending the extra money. Besides which, if there's anything urgent, the postmistress can tell her sister, who can tell me when we both pick up our kids from school and I can stop in town on the way through.

If you're not home when a courier delivery comes, they'll drop it at the post office and our pre-SMS system will spring into action. Result, efficiently delivered packages.

It works just fine, it doesn't go down in a thunderstorm and the only price is privacy. Use heavy brown paper if you plan to send me anything interesting. Of course, that might start rumours of another sort entirely. It's best not to have anything to hide.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Travelling blind

It's funny how topics align sometimes. A friend in New York City blogged about trying to decide how she wants to support herself, how she can make work work for her. On the other side of the world I'm wading through similar questions. Her situation is totally different from mine but the question is the same (I think): how do I want to live my life?

I have a few more people to consider than does she. Any decision I make has to work with and around my children and partner. I'm not saying that I base all my decisions on them, but anything that I decide to do must work for all of us as a family unit as well as for the individuals that make up that unit.

I've been at loose ends with two contracts ending and no new ones in sight. It's the perennial problem of dependence on grant income for work. No successful grants means no work. There are always projects on the boil, but nothing currently boiling, cooking my dinner so to speak.

I was really disappointed with myself a few weeks ago. I missed a deadline for a writing opportunity and I felt that I had failed completely. The fact that it was a simple misreading of dates, that every day had been frantically busy and that everyone had things they needed me to do for them right that minute, didn't lessen my sense of disappointment.

As I was sitting around flaying myself, Mr Blithe suggested that I (in my words, not his more tactful version) stop whinging and do something more positive. His starting point was that I should use the time that I have now, the money I had set aside to start a business, buy myself a new computer and get to work. His suggestion made sense and I was awfully tired of being disappointed with myself.

So in the last fortnight I have been setting up my new computer and printer, registering myself as a business and all the associated paperwork and trying to get myself organised.

No fanfare yet. I have some paperwork still to pull together and the need to establish myself as a presence, but there is a communications and desktop publishing/digital prepress business getting itself together. My plan is to start this as a side dish to my contract research work and see where it takes me. I think of it as kind of a plan without a concrete plan, the path-free map, or more romantically, unchartered territory. Others may call it something more akin to folly.

Doing grocery shopping this morning, somewhere between the toilet paper and the cereal aisles, Beach Boys blaring on the shop sound system; toddlers squalling and brawling; Blithe Boy reclining in the trolley chewing inelegantly on an apple, my phone rang and I was offered an interview for a really interesting short-term historical research job.

Truly at the moment, my path is not only less travelled but entirely mapless.