Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Greetings

I wish you all a wonderful day and may the coming year bring joy to you and yours.

Happy Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Holidays?

I've been wondering why this annoys me so much. It's not that I don't think we should acknowledge all the other festivals around this time of year. I'm fine with that but 'Happy Holidays' grates - and I'm none too fond of 'Season's greetings' either and not only because it so often lacks the possessive apostrophe.

It took a bit of thinking but I've finally worked it out. It's because of two things. One is that both seem to be thoughtlessly generic and basically lazy. All the religious festivals at this time of year - and there are many whether it's the Hindu Festival of Lights Deepavali (sometimes called Diwali) at the beginning of November, the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, St Nicholas Day, the solstice celebrations of Druids, the Christian Christmas or any other of the multitude across the world - have their own significances and to me it seems disrespectful to lump them all together.

The other irritant - and I know this is petty but it bugs me - is that most of these are not 'real' holidays. While there may be time off for some associated with some of them - and many who celebrate them may only enjoy them as a break from work and a secular celebration without acknowledging their religious origins - they certainly don't all have associated holidays. To me - and I willingly admit that I'm probably being pedantic - makes 'Happy Holidays' a nonsense.

So, while I certainly won't be expecting everyone to agree with me or follow my example I will still be wishing people merry Christmas and a happy New Year along with happy Hanukkah, happy Diwali and so on. To me that's feels like being respectful.

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Sad Little Story

Yesterday morning I went into the kitchen to see the cat staring fixedly up at the skylight. When I looked I could see a small skink about 7 centimetres in length wandering around on the clear base of the skylight. As this skylight is a solar tube one with a reflective lining it would have cooked if it stayed there so I got the ladder and took out the base to get it out.

Of course, a shower of debris fell out at the same time - somewhat to my surprise as it hadn't looked dirty. Most of this landed on the top of the ladder and when I went to clean it up, while Pisces was taking our visitor outside, I was deeply saddened to find six tiny desiccated skink corpses. There was a dead spider, too, that had built a scraggy web up the side of the tube before it succumbed.

The thing is I hadn't even realised anything could get into the tube until I saw this little skink and I'm still not sure where or how they are getting in. The tubes are supposed to be sealed to stop dust getting in and there was hardly any dust in it but there has to be a opening somewhere - and to let in a skink of the size of this one, it isn't going to be minute. I looked up into the tube but couldn't see anything so I guess the next step is to get someone younger and fitter than Pisces and me to go up on the roof and check the seal.

In the meantime, I'll be checking for unexpected visitors regularly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I'm Ranting

but it's important and I am very angry.

On the weekend we had a family get together and it included a nearly four year old and a very well mannered dog. Miss Nearly Four has lived with a dog her whole life and she has always enjoyed playing with our dog when we had one and the visiting dog, which she knows very well - until now.

So why is there this sudden change? Because when she and her mother were on the footpath going to the local park with their elderly, arthritic and leashed Border Collie, three rottweilers came out of an unfenced property and attacked the dog. While her mother managed to rescue the dog before any real harm was done - she lifted him bodily over the nearest fence - and the dogs were driven off by her and a neighbour who heard the commotion and came out to help, she was left with a terrified little girl.

The owner had come out by then and called off her dogs but didn't get that she had any responsibility for their behaviour. According to her they were well behaved show dogs and they were entitled to be on her property - which quite obviously they weren't when they attacked. After a lengthy and heated discussion with the neighbour and mother lasting 40 minutes and involving a threat to call the Council ranger the owner agreed to put up fencing which she has done.

While this is all well and good it hasn't done anything to help a little girl who is now traumatised to the point that when our visiting dog gave a short play bark she panicked and insisted on being carried. While we spent a lot of time trying to get her accustomed to being with the dog, we shouldn't have to. This was a perfectly well adjusted little girl who loved dogs and loved playing with them and now, due to the irresponsibility of this woman, is terrified of even a gentle and friendly dog she has known since it was a puppy.

How dare this woman put this child - or any other for that matter - in a situation where she could have been injured as could her mother and their dog. I love dogs - I've lived with them all my life - and, since my old dog died earlier this year, I am looking for another. When I get one I will be making sure it is well mannered and socialised but I'll also have to ensure that this child is not traumatised again or triggered by normal play. Why should she have to go through this distress due to one person's selfish disregard of basic dog training.

So I may be ranting but I think I have good cause. Don't you?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Sorry, I know It's Been a While

but somehow things got away from me a bit. I'm not even sure how but I just seem to be in one of those cycles where you get up in the morning with a list of things to do and at the end of the day - when you've worked non-stop - most of it it is still to be done. I'm guessing you've gathered that writing a blog post was one of the things left to be done.

Since today is already half gone and I'm still behind this will have to be a short post but I did want to share these links.

 These exquisite images are made from paper and their delicacy is breathtaking. US artist Maude White uses a scalpel to cut out her designs.

Then there are these images of baby animals in the womb from National Geographic which came up on my Facebook newsfeed.

And just because - this delightful video of a toddler and his best mate getting excited because Daddy  is coming home.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Wood Staining Art

Time for something cheerful after the world wide horrors of the past few weeks. This came via my friend, Lyn, who shared it on Facebook. It's lovely, isn't - and I'm guessing there are some of my artist friends who might be inspired to do something similar. You know who I mean.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

I Think the World Has Gone Mad

It has to be that, don't you think, because the alternative is that we are responsible and that's a hard thing to accept. Just look at the world around us and see what you think.

In the Middle East and parts of Africa we have people killing other people just because they don't follow the same religion - and some are now taking their war into Europe and have plans to spread even further. That both sides worship the same God makes it even more bizarre. We have a tidal wave of refugees and asylum seekers forced to flee this war in unseaworthy boats, people - men women and children - who are being forced to sleep in forests, in parks and on the side of the road with the onset of the freezing European winter not far off.

We have asylum seekers being locked up in prison camps because they haven't waited in a mythical queue to be processed. When you look at the refugee camps which have existed in some parts of the world since not long after the end of WW2, camps where generations of people have lived out their lives there, you can see why people might just lose patience and decide to take their chances with the people smugglers who prey on the vulnerable.

We have school girls being kidnapped in Africa and forcibly 'married' to their kidnappers and girls in other places being denied an education just because they are girls. In some parts of the world we have so-called 'honour killings' when a girl makes her own choice of marriage partner or chooses not to marry their partner at all. We have rapes, disfigurement and murders as punishment in some places and female genital mutilation 'to keep girls pure' in others.

Science has proven climate change is happening - and if we just look around us we are already living it. Where I live the climate has changed dramatically in my lifetime with the amount of rain decreasing and temperatures rising. We know the lowest lying parts of the planet will be most affected by the inevitable rise in sea levels but we still have no consensus or genuine, serious discussion on how to deal with this. Heads are being buried in the sand of ignorance or may be that should be are being stuck under the rising water. Trouble is neither of those options allow you to continue to breathe and I suspect that, if we continue not to act or make some contingency plans, the numbers of the displaced will make the current tide of refugees in Europe look like a trickle.

I could go on - the disastrous burning of the rain forest in parts of Asia, the clearing of the Amazonian rain forest, the rise in sea temperature and the effects of it and over fishing and so much more - but it's simply too depressing.

We're supposed to be the clever primates, aren't we. So why can't we just set our minds to solving these problems, which are all of our making? I don't know the answers but I do know if we don't find solutions to all these issues we are heading for possible extinction - and a lot sooner than we might like to think.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Oh Poor Paris

and poor Beirut, too. Both cities have undergone terrorist attacks in the last few days and all I can think of is why. This follows the recent crash of the Russian passenger jet in Sinai that may have been caused by a bomb. So many lives lost and why? Simply to spread terror as far as I can see because there's no military or other objective to be gained. I can't help thinking that the world has gone mad. Some form of collective insanity seems the only answer because there's no rationality to it.

How we can deal with this I don't know and my heart bleeds for all those who have lost family and friends in these atrocities.

Friday, November 13, 2015

It's Nearly Summer

Officially summer starts here on December 1 so technically we're still in Spring but yesterday the temperature reached 33° C and the forecast for today is 36° C. I'm scared to even look any further. It's going to be a long and hot summer, I suspect.

We're lucky in one respect. Because this house is extremely well insulated it takes four or five days before the house itself starts to heat up and we have ceiling fans which help keep things cool. We did succumb to installing evaporative air conditioning a while back but we only have to use it when a heatwave goes longer than four or five days or is excessively hot - the year we hit 43° on the second day of a heatwave at the beginning of February was one of those occasions.

Weather like this takes a toll on the garden and I've just been out putting shade cloth covers over the more delicate plants like the lettuces. The summers here are definitely getting hotter and I foresee a time when the entire vegetable garden will have to be roofed with shade cloth from November to February. Not this year, though, although I may have to rethink that if things if the temperature keeps rising.

resee f

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remembrance Day 2015

It's over a hundred years since the Great War, also called the War to End War at the time, and now known as World War One, began with all its waste of life on all sides. Sadly it did not end war. We've kept on fighting each other multiple times since then. Sometimes they are big wars like World War Two, sometimes we've pretended they are not war like the 'police action' in Korea, sometimes we've rushed in without due thought and we and others have had to suffer the consequences and sometimes we have been dragged in by circumstance or have had no choice because we've been attacked. The end result is always the same. Blood is spilt and men, women and children - both military and civilian - die or are maimed, physically and psychologically.

Today at the eleventh hour of the eleventh month of the year we remember those who died in World War One because that is the time and date in 1918 that the Armistice was signed bringing that war to an end. But we also remember all the others whose lives have been lost in all the wars before and since.

Like every family mine has its lost ones. While my paternal grandfather, John, survived World War 1, my great uncle, Captain Horace Chamberlain, did not although his two brothers did and in World War 2, the four sons of that same John went to war but only two, one of them my father, survived.

At 11:00 AM today when the Last Post sounds I, along with many others across the world, will stop what I'm doing for one minute to remember these men and all the others whose lives were destroyed or irrevocably changed or damaged by war.

Lest  we forget.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Randomly From My Garden

 This kookaburra was doing a bit of hunting. I don't encourage them because they kill the young  blue tongues as well as the small skinks and frogs. The photo is a bit blurry because he was down near the back fence but he came up to the veranda later - when I didn't have my camera handy, of course.

 One of the motorbike frogs basking in the sun. Not the greatest photo but I didn't want to frighten them. There's another you might just be able to see in the patch of shade. I found them just as I was going to clean out the algae that you can see floating on the surface. They don't mind it but I do. The grate is to protect them from birds - and to make the pond safe so small people can't fall in.

This is one of my blueberry bushes in fruit. We have to grow them in pots because our soil is too alkaline. They were delicious, by the way.

And to finish off - a mystery. I'll give you a hint. It has been growing for nearly three years and I suspect I'll have about another three months or so before I can pick it but it will be worth the wait.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Race That Stops the Nation

We've just had running of the Melbourne Cup in Australia. It's known here as the race that stops the nation and, as you will gather from that, it's a big deal. The state of Victoria, where the race is run on the first Tuesday in November as part of the Spring Racing Carnival, has a public holiday on the day, there are celebratory lunches held across the country where people gather to listen or watch the Cup and workplaces run 'sweeps' where the horses' names are randomly drawn and participants put a small amount into a pool with whoever draws the winning horse taking the pool. Even people who never bet at other times are likely to put a small bet on. The race is only part of it. There is a huge emphasis on fashion with a fashion parade as well. And that's the good part, particularly when the winner is an outsider as happened this year - even more special this time because it was the first ever a woman jockey had ridden the winner.

So it's glamorous and exciting. Right? Well, yes, in some ways it is but I feel somewhat conflicted about it for a number of reasons. There are the human costs. Horse racing is a dangerous activity where jockeys can be and are injured, often severely. Michelle Payne, this year's winning jockey, had recently spent 15 months recovering from a brain injury and broken arms, legs and shoulder injuries are common. Another problem is the way many of those attending the race meeting drink far too much. The result is not pretty and sometimes dangerous. Then there's the issue of betting with much advertising of on-line betting firms who think that putting a very brief tag end exhortation to bet responsibly is enough to fulfil their responsibilities not to encourage those who are addicted to gambling.

And then there's something that's rarely talked about - the potential harm to the horses. Personally I don''t like to see horses being whipped - it's one of the reasons I don't go to the races - but there is another problem. In 2014 two horses died at the Melbourne Cup, one from a heart attack in his stall immediately after the race and another, spooked by a flag following the race, kicked a fence shattering a leg. This year Red Cadeaux, a ten year old and very popular, crowd pleasing gelding, finished the race with an injury to his fetlock.  This horse is one of the lucky ones because the injury can be treated - unlike a shattered leg bone which, given the weight of a racehorse (around half a tonne) and that they need to weight bear on all four legs to support themselves, is almost always a cause for euthanasia. Red Cadeaux is obviously much loved by his connections and is to be retired but it still begs the question as to whether we really have the handling of racehorses right.

I'm not an expert on horses but it seems to me that we have perhaps gone too far in breeding horses for racing by favouring animals with light leg bones which makes them at risk of shattering a leg. Racehorses are beautiful and very fast - but perhaps we need a rethink about their well being. To me it's a bit like the pedigree dogs bred for looks which cause health issues like protruding eyes which dry out or pushed in noses that make breathing difficult. They may be very appealing to our eyes but is it worth the animal's discomfort or, in the case of a racehorse, the risk of serious injury? I don't know the answer but I'd be pleased to hear what you think.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015


I'm pretty sure that isn't a word but you have probably got the gist which is that I've signed up for NaNoWriMo again. So far this has been something of a disaster. On the first morning I got up, made myself a coffee - as you do, well, I do - and sat down with my writing journal to put down an outline of my already planned novel - and discovered a plot hole of gigantic and apparently irreparable proportions.

Undaunted I did a rethink and by the end of the day I had a new outline. So it'd be fine, wouldn't it. I could make up the words easily over the next few days. Hey, I went to Clarion South. You'd be amazed at what I can do.

Then the next day there was a family gathering which was great. It's rare for us all to get together  and I enjoyed every minute of it. Of course, that meant no words on the page but that was all right. I was mapping it out in my head all day. It'd be fine.

Except I had a very bad - as in not much sleep for various reasons - night and got up exhausted - so exhausted I ended up back in bed for much of the day apart from a visit to the dentist. At least that wasn't too traumatic. But it'd be fine. I'd get down to it first thing in the morning. No problem.

And I did. Despite only having five hours sleep - yes, sleep can be a mysterious and rare beastie around here - I sat down at the computer this morning, went to open up my word processor  - and it wouldn't work. So I spent much of the day trying to resolve the problem because, although I back up meticulously, if the program won't work you can't access anything. It's - finally - working now and it's almost time for bed - lack of sleep is catching up on me - but there's always tomorrow.

It will be fine. Won't it?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Yes, I am a Feminist

and why wouldn't I be? Despite the false propaganda we often see this does not mean I'm not anti-men but I do believe in equality. Don't you?

This is why I'm a feminist:

I'm old enough to remember what it was like be paid substantially less than my male colleagues who were doing exactly the same work - and having it explained to me by a man that I didn't need the same income because I'd have a husband to support me. I wasn't married at the time or even thinking about it and it didn't occur to him that sometimes husbands die leaving widows and children.

I'm old enough to remember when as a teacher, had I married, I would have had to resign my permanent position and become temporary staff having to reapply for my position every year - and, unlike married men, not being paid during school holidays.

I'm old enough to remember that when I went to buy my first car I couldn't take out a loan without having a man to act as my guarantor in case I defaulted. I was a full time teacher, bonded - and therefore obliged - to work for the Education Department for three years. My guarantor only had to prove he was employed.

I'm old enough to remember that when a work colleague was divorced she was refused loans by all the major banks when she wanted to buy a small place for her and her daughter to live in. A small profession based credit union finally agreed but by then she had spent months trying to find them a permanent home. She was a permanent senior public servant.

I'm old enough to remember when women had to resign from their jobs when they became pregnant and there was no such thing as maternity leave.

I'm old enough to remember when a woman could study law and get her degree but, unless she was lucky enough to have a close contact - a father or uncle most likely - who was prepared to take her on to do her articles, she could never practise.

I'm old enough to remember being told that women didn't have the mind set to be doctors, lawyers or engineers so we should set our sights on work more suited to our capabilities - like typists, secretaries, teachers, librarians and nurses.

I'm old enough to remember seeing many of the girls my age leave school to start work at fourteen - the legal age to leave school at the time - and many more leave at the end of the following year because it was a waste of time educating girls.

I'm old enough to remember being asked why I wanted to go to university when I was only going to go and get married.

So, yes, I am a feminist as everyone - men and women - should be. In my lifetime there have been many gains but there is still a long way to go. Even in the developed world women are still often paid at a lower rate than men, they often lose career position when they have children - many have to leave work to care for their children due to inadequate child care availability - and there is hidden discrimination despite attempts to legislate to prevent it. In the Third World the position of women is much worse.

I want to see a world where every girl growing up today enjoys the same oportunities as her male counterparts and it truly frightens me to hear young women saying they are not feminists. Things have changed a great deal since I was a young women but those gains remain under threat and we all need to be vigilant so we don't go backwards.

This is why I am a feminist and I make no apologies for it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Another Froggy Tale

I've known there were three or four different kinds of frogs living in my back yard for a long time. The most obvious were the motorbike frogs that I posted about a few days ago - and they are the most plentiful, too. It's not uncommon to see four or five sunning themselves on the edge of the lily pond.

Another is the green slender tree frog. These are very pretty creatures as you can see from this link and we find them occasionally in the grapevines or among the bananas - we have a small grove of these in the vegie garden. There used to be more before our back fence neighbours cleared their block completely and built a house that takes up almost the whole space but once we get some planting established along the fence we're hoping they'll return in greater numbers.

Then there is the moaning frog - very aptly named as you can tell from the recording which calls mostly when the first of the winter rain begins - but one has been a mystery. It's very vocal and going out into the garden on a Spring or summer evening is all but deafening what with a noisy and very loud mass cicada chorus (sorry, I couldn't find a recording of our local cicadas but believe me they are loud) interspersed with the mystery frog calling equally loudly.

It turns out that this mystery caller may be a quacking frog. It's sometimes called a quacking froglet - and if, like me, you thought a froglet was that stage immediately after a tadpole loses its tail and is a small immature adult you will be surprised to find out that its actual meaning is a frog species which doesn't go through the tadpole stage at all although apparently this frog is not a genuine froglet because it does in fact produce tiny tadpoles. Confused? So am I. Quacking frog habitat covers much of the South West but is limited on the Swan Coastal plain to some scattered wetlands and I suspect, that attracted by our ponds, it - as far as I can tell there's only one male calling - has come here from the wetlands that we have within a few minutes walk. Here's information about the quacking frog including a recording which certainly sounds like what we hear but since I've never seen it, I can't be absolutely sure.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Motorbike Frogs

We have a number of these living in our garden, some in the lily pond and several others that have set up home among dense plants or in the saucers under pots. While they like to sun themselves on the edge of the pond during the day they come out mainly at night and when we had a dog she would go and investigate any that were wandering around. You've never heard anything like a motorbike frog screaming. Curdles your blood I can tell you.

Usually though they just make this characteristic sound which is supposedly somewhat like a revving motorbike. One of our males is desperately in search of a female and he calls not only in the evening but also whenever the sprinklers are on and randomly at any time during the day. We usually get some tadpoles in the pond so there must be at least one female around but despite the mesh covering the pond not many survive to froglet stage. Given how many frogs we have in the garden, though, there must be at least two or three who reach adulthood every year with the excess wandering off in search other homes.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

It's Getting Warmer

and the bobtails are out.

This handsome fellow is one of the family of bobtail goannas (actually skinks) who live in our garden and is a young adult about 30 cms in length. From this visitor to our back veranda who is used to coming across people who wish him no harm you would have no idea of the reason for their other common name of blue tongues. If he didn't know you and was startled, though, you'd be greeted by a wide open cerise mouth with a vivid blue tongue followed by hissing if the threat did not go. With its relatively large head this can be extremely disconcerting and only a few minutes ago we heard our neighbour rescuing one from her frantic dogs.

They are generally placid creatures - they may bite if threatened (and who could blame them) but they are not venomous - and do a lot of good by eating snails, crickets, beetles and other small creatures in the garden and - apart from some having a fondness for strawberry flowers and fruit as they are omnivores and do eat some vegetation - do no harm.

Like all reptiles they need warmth to raise their body temperature and now the days are getting hotter they are on the move from their winter shelters among the leaf litter, in logs or under rocks. They don't hibernate as such as they come out to bask on warm, sunny days even in mid winter.

They are live bearers and form lasting monogamous breeding pairs - they can live as long as twenty years - with the off-spring staying close to their parents for several months and even after this they stay in close proximity as part of a related group. Sadly the death rate among the young is high due to predation by dogs, cats and birds.

They have other common names apart from bobtails such as blue-tongues (for obvious reasons), sleepy lizards, shinglebacks (due to their rough scaled skins) and stumpy tailed lizards but their scientific name is Tiliqua rugosa.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Doing a Bit of Reading

I've just been doing a reread of some of my books and among them was The Dagger of Dresnia by my fellow Egoboo WA member, Satima Flavell. It really is a good read and the sequel will be coming out next year. If you get a chance do have a look. It's available as a paperback from various booksellers including and as well as an e-book.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

WAGS - or it's AFL finals season

Here in Australia it's the finals season for Australian Rules Football with the AFL Grand Final next weekend. This means, of course, that it's also time for the annual awards. For Aussie Rules the big national award is the Brownlow, which is awarded to the player who accumulates the most points given to the fairest and best players after each game over the season by the officiating umpires.

For a long time the Brownlow Medal presentation ceremony was a black tie, male only event but those days are well gone - and so they should be. The wives and girlfriends make considerable sacrifices to support their menfolk and to shut them out would be churlish.

That said the Brownlow Medal presentation ceremony has become more and more of a fashion event with players showing off their partners on the red carpet before they go inside for the real business of the evening, the counting of the votes. This is all good but with the red carpet comes competition with fashion designers vying for their chance to dress these women - and the majority of them do a great job providing flattering, glamorous gowns.

But - and you knew there was going to be a but, didn't you - there is a growing tendency for a certain percentage of the women to wear more and more outrageous dresses. They are certainly not gowns. With plunging necklines and backs and splits up to the thigh they seem to be chosen without any thought of whether they are flattering or not, only how much skin they can expose. Now don't get me wrong. I have no objection to a bit of boob or leg showing - or both - as long as they enhance the appearance of the wearer. The trouble is these don't. The number of sagging, droopy or flattened breasts that posed on the red carpet was ridiculous. As one twenty something said to me 'If you've got sagging boobs, why wouldn't you want to have a decent bra to improve things?' and she's the same age group as these women.

The thing is it isn't bare skin that makes a garment sexy. It's how a dress emphasises the wearer's best points and minimises the others. Sometimes less really is more.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Spring - lovely to look at but...

it's also one of the worst hay fever times. This means that for most of this week I've been struggling to to get a reasonable breath on top of whatever this bug is that I've picked up. Yes, there are always antihistamines but they make my eyes dry and uncomfortable, not to mention how after a week or so that they start to lose their effectiveness, so I try to avoid them as much as possible.

Because I've been feeling so wretched I've been spending much of my day in bed watching subscription television. This consists of an inordinate number of repeats of pretty much all programs but the good thing is that this doesn't matter when it's a cooking show. Whenever I'm sick I find that, once I'm starting to feel a little better, I get obsessed with cooking whether it's in books or on television. Don't know why because I don't feel even slightly like eating. As a result, though, I've been glued to shows featuring Nigella Lawson, Rachel Koh and Yotam Ottolenghi among others.

Whether this will translate into enthusiastic cooking once I'm better I'm not sure - but Pisces is very hopeful. Still, I now have a whole pile of recipes for snow peas, silverbeet and rainbow chard, all of which are in glut in my vegie garden at the moment. Now to find something other than tabbouleh - which is lovely but I really don't want it every day - for the parsley since that is also running riot.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Consent - and a Cup of Tea

Consent seems to be a hard thing for some people to grasp in sexual matters. I think it's simple. No means no, yes means yes and if someone is incapable of articulating either yes or no that means they can't give consent so there can't be any action. That seems perfectly clear to me but apparently it's not to everyone. That's why when I found a post on Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess' blog a few months back where she uses the analogy of tea to make the point that it is not complicated I was very impressed. It's clear enough that anyone should be able to grasp it. I was even more impressed when I found recently that she had put an animated version of it up on YouTube. You can see it here.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Biosecurity - It's Important

Here in Australia we take biosecurity very seriously. We enforce strict quarantine for animals coming into the country from places where there are diseases that we don't have here. As a result we are free of rabies and a number of other diseases which are endemic in other parts of the world.

So when actor Johnny Depp and his wife, Amber, brought their dogs, Pistol and Boo, into the country, without permission and avoiding quarantine, there were consequences. Depp and his wife were given 50 hours to have them removed from the country. This was actually quite generous as they could have been seized and put down immediately.

When the inevitable uproar around anything to do with a celebrity broke the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, had a few characteristically blunt words to say and I have to say I think in this case he was completely right. The dogs were sent out of the country and a summons was issued for Depp's wife to appear in the Southport Magistrate's Court last week. She did not appear and the case has now been adjourned until 2 November.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of ten year's jail and/or a fine of $102,000.

Now I wouldn't have bothered to blog about this - I'm not much interested in celebs - but for this interview with Johnny Depp that aired a few days ago. I'm not going to comment on it but see what you think after watching it.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Home by Warsan Shire

Warsan Shire is a Somali born poet now living in the UK and her poem, Home, about the experience of asylum seekers and why they leave their home, turned up in my Facebook newsfeed today. The written words are compelling enough but her reading of it is heart wrenching. With the current mass displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East and the way some are portraying them as economic migrants we need to be reminded that no-one leaves home unless they are driven to it. You can hear her reading Home here.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Animals - and how we relate to them

There was a documentary airing here a while back where British actor Martin Clunes was examining human beings' contradictory relationship with domesticated animals. Clunes has a small farm in Dorset where he raises cattle and sheep for the meat market and and is a happy carnivore but, at the same time, he is intrigued by the fact that he can bottle feed and hand raise an animal then happily ship it off to slaughter.

The documentary takes him to Nepal where the cow is a sacred animal but is still kept for vital dairy and waste products (and treated with great respect and care), to Japan where cormorants are used to catch fish, to Thailand where domesticated elephants are used to carry tourists and to Ko Yao Noi, also in Thailand, where trained monkeys are used to harvest coconuts. He's been taken by how most of the people treat their animal workers gently and with kindness. While I'm sure many - even most - do, I'm a little more sceptical because obviously these people know they are being filmed and have been carefully selected by the team putting the documentary together. That seems to me likely to put them on their best behaviour. But still it does give us some insight into how animals are used to work with people and the partnerships that can develop between them.

I'm happily vegetarian but it seems to me that if animals are treated as the Nepalese cattle are we are living in harmony with them and I have no problem that. The thing is people in general really can't or won't put themselves in the place of the animals they interconnect with and, as a result, often with the best of intentions, they make terrible mistakes. Take dogs for example. Most of us like or love dogs if the number of pet dogs is any indication but that doesn't equate to understanding them and that's where human/dog relationships often fail. This is no doubt why the people seen recently by Virgo walking their puppy thought a prong collar was a good idea. Puppy had no idea of how it should behave - hello, puppy, why would it - and was being jerked back whenever it strayed. That puppy is learning only one thing - that people hurt it and has no idea of what it is doing wrong or why it is being hurt. Just a little thought by its owners would tell them that but, although I'm sure they think they are doing the right thing, they haven't learned how puppies think and act. It's sad because they are all missing out.

I share my life with animals and I always have. When I lose one of my furry friends I mourn them deeply and while they live with me I try to make their life as pleasant as possible. I don't see them as belonging to me, more as a different kind of family member. This does not, I hasten to add, mean I think of them as substitute humans. They are themselves and of their own species but they are still part of our family unit. It seems to me that this is the way it should be. We share our world with animals and whether they are like the cows in Nepal or my house pets we need to treat them with respect.

Saturday, September 05, 2015


Today I came across a video of a performance by Beijing based Hanggai, a band comprising of ethnic Mongolians and Han Chinese who play a mix of Mongolian ethnic music mixed with metal and punk rock among other influences. It's hard to describe but it features traditional Mongolian overtone singing (otherwise known as throat singing) as well as more modern vocals and traditional instruments along with electric guitars, computer based music, banjo and bass. Definitely a unique sound and style.

You can see the video here and if you want to find out more about the band, their Wikipedia page is here.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

I Know the Feeling

This OK! Magazine Australia video of two Sulphur crested cockatoos with very different tastes in music came up on my Facebook newsfeed today via my friend Lyn. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Reading and Children

I was fortunate to grow up in a house where there were always books - some were given to us for birthdays or Christmas, others were borrowed from the local free lending library. We were very lucky to have that library close by because at the time there were only a handful of lending libraries and most of them charged a borrowing fee. As children we were only allowed to borrow two books a fortnight (adults got to borrow four, two fiction and two non fiction if I remember correctly.) which, as far as I was concerned, was not enough - but it was a good deal better than nothing. You were also stuck with the children's section until you were fourteen which, for a fast and prolific reader like me, was ridiculous. Bear in mind that I had taught myself to read long before I went to school and as a result I was reading above my age level. Fortunately for me my father, who could be very persuasive, managed to convince the librarian that I should be given access to the adult section from the age of twelve.

I suspect I was supposed to be supervised but if my parents were checking up, and, looking back and piecing together things I overheard, I have no doubt that they were, I wasn't aware of it at the time. This gave me a wonderful sense of freedom and discovery, something had been already fed by the household collection of reference books. There was Richards Topical Encyclopedia - an endless joy of history, geography and basic science, not to forget the wonder of Volume 14 which held Greek and Roman mythology (somewhat bowdlerized fortunately given what I learned about this later), as well as nursery rhymes and fairy stories, fables and folk tales and a smattering of other mythology from all over the world. Then there were all the other leisure activities ranging from games and jokes and riddles to magic tricks and much, much more. I was so sad when I found my parents had discarded it in a book cull at some time. I had a look on the net to make sure I had the name right and discovered I was by no means the only one for whom this volume was a treasure trove. There are even copies available on eBay and Amazon albeit at prices I can't afford.

Then we had a huge Websters Dictionary that was too heavy for me to pick up. When I ran out of other reading matter I would drag it from its home on the bottom shelf of the book case and lie on the floor with it just reading words and their meanings.  I'll let you in on a secret here. Dictionaries and thesauruses still delight me. Ask me to look up a word and you may not see me again for half an hour. Weird? Maybe but it certainly improves your vocabulary. As well we had several large atlases which were full of much more fascinating information than just maps.

So I was lucky, encouraged to indulge my love of learning new things and my joy in reading. And now I have ended up writing speculative fiction. I wonder sometimes if my interest in such things was primed by these books or whether I gravitated to them because of my natural inclination. I guess it's likely it was a combination of both and I'm grateful however it happened.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


While I was thinking about my post about the Karrinyup Writers Club I was reminded of just how vital having a support group who offer sensitive but thorough critiquing is for a writer. It can be hard to take sometimes when your precious work is being shredded before your eyes but it is invaluable in honing a story or poem.

Personally, if I ask for a crit of course I really want to hear if the reader likes it, but more importantly, I want to know if they get what I'm saying and if they would want to read it in print. I appreciate grammar corrections and so on but it's whether it works as a story that's most vital. I don't mind if the reader picks faults but I do mind if they don't give me reasons for what they say. Personal taste isn't really a useful reason for slamming something so if that's all a critiquer has to offer I'm not going to take any notice. But, if they tell me there's a fault in the structure or a character is unconvincing and why, I will certainly pay attention.

The thing is critiquing is always personal to a degree. We all have our likes and dislikes and obviously this will influence how we read a piece but we should be able to rise above this and use our analytical processes as well. The other things I always expect are politeness, honesty and a degree of kindness. This doesn't mean telling me this piece is wonderful - I'm not silly enough to believe everything I write is perfect - but you can point out what works and doesn't work without being offensive.

When I give writing workshops on how to critique I always tell my students that I've never yet read a piece which doesn't have at least one positive point even if the bulk is a total disaster. That positive aspect should be acknowledged and then the rest can be analysed sympathetically. If I start a crit by saying something like the idea is interesting or provocative (assuming it is, of course) then I can move on to what doesn't work for me and why. It's quite reasonable to say that I'm not the target market for it but that doesn't disqualify me from commenting on the way the story is put together, for instance.

The other thing for a writer to remember is that a critique is only one person's opinion and you don't have to agree with it. That said, I've never yet had a crit that I haven't learned something from. I have a kind of mantra when I send something out for a crit for when it comes back. It is that if one person makes a comment I should look at it carefully and decide whether I agree with it or not. If two people make similar comments alarm bells should start to ring and I need to put it away for a while then come back and reassess, but if more than two agree, no matter how much I love it, they are probably right. In that case I put it aside and work on something completely different and then come back and reread the comments before I do a complete rewrite.

I'm fairly unusual, I suspect, because I really like having my work critted. It certainly can shake your confidence and be painful but the gain is worth the pain.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

NASA Emissions Video

This stunningly beautiful video animation shows the movement of airborne aerosols, both natural and man made emissions, around the Earth from September 1, 2006 to April 10, 2007 and some of the effects. While it may be lovely, its accompanying message is frightening because it show how what humanity does anywhere in the world can have unintended impacts elsewhere even affecting climate. Have a look here and see what you think.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Karrinyup Writers Club

Yesterday I did a marathon. No, not a running marathon - I can barely walk at the moment let alone run - a writing marathon. I love these sessions for the inspiration they bring and my friend Lyn was organising it on behalf of the Karrinyup Writers Club where I have been a member for twenty one years. Wow! That's a long time, isn't it.

I owe so much to this group of writers who on one hand fearlessly critique and on the other offer encouragement. We rejoice in other's successes and console when the inevitable rejections land and dump on our precious literary babies. In my time as a member I've been part of running competitions for writers, celebrated when my fellows have won competitions or had their books published and had my own successes celebrated in turn. I can't emphasise enough how valuable a support group like this is to a writer. They lift you up when you are down - and, let's face it, writing involves a lot of downs - and their encouragement keeps you going. I'm so grateful that my first writing teacher, Pam Steenbergen, introduced me to this group. I've grown as a writer because of my time as a member.

Karrinyup Writers Club has just had its thirtieth anniversary, which is a quite incredible achievement in longevity for such an organisation and it has much to do with how it was set up. The constitution restricts full members to twenty who are expected to attend regularly - meetings are held once a week for three hours - while those who have been full members but are unable to keep up such a commitment can become associates, attending when they can. This is means members have to be committed - always a good thing. Full members come and go, of course, but it's an indication of the value of the Club that there are members of much longer standing than me.

Happy anniversary, Karrinyup Writers.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

So today

it was time to have my biennial mammogram. This is one of those I really wish I didn't have to do this but I'd be silly not to things - and unless you get some sort of perverse enjoyment in having a your sensitive part of your body wedged tightly between two boards I'm pretty sure it's something no woman look forward to. But like other preventive medical investigations I think it's worth enduring it.

Why? Well, in the last three years four women of my circle of family and friends have been diagnosed with breast cancer. If you widen it out to my acquaintances there are another five that I know of and there will be others who have yet to be diagnosed or don't even suspect they may have the disease. That's chilling, isn't it.

The good thing is that of those diagnosed all are surviving, largely due to early detection. It hasn't been plain sailing for them all, though. Some have complications caused by the treatment and none of them are yet past the five year cancer free mark when they are regarded as cured but at least they have a reasonable chance now.

Given these figures I think I'd be foolish not to have regular mammograms, especially as here in Australia all women fifty or over can have a free mammogram every two years at special facilities staffed by women radiographers. I won't deny it can hurt a bit - particularly if you are well-endowed. Still it's only for a few seconds and, compared to cancer and the treatment for involved, it's nothing so I'll be back again in two years time, grateful for the opportunity even if I'm gritting my teeth.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Bangkok Bombing

We woke this morning to the news that there had been a bomb set off in a Hindu temple in Bangkok. This sent shivers through us because we have family living there and we had no idea of how close they were or even if they had been caught up in it. We were fortunate. We had a message from them to say that they were fine. The temple is about 10 minutes from where they live and, although they walk by it nearly every day, they were safely at home. The explosion was like loud thunder, they said, and initially they thought it was the beginning of a storm.

This all brought back memories of when we had sat waiting for Virgo to contact us after the 2005 London bombings and we were very grateful that this time we were able to be contacted quickly. I've spent much of the morning relaying the message to other family members since several are technophobes and don't have the internet connected let alone Facebook.

We're the lucky ones, of course. Our family is safe but my heart goes out to all those who have lost family or been injured. What possible purpose can this sort of attack have other than to create fear? And how anyone can justify the murder and maiming of those who have no part in whatever struggle these people are involved in is beyond me. Yes, I do understand that sometimes - well, often - the innocent suffer in a war, but, no matter whether you agree with a war or not, there is a difference in attacking one another as part of an armed conflict and planting a bomb in a city where people are peacefully going about their daily business. That is disgusting and abhorrent and anyone who does such a thing, in my opinion, lacks basic humanity.

The whole thing so often comes down to intolerance. My belief is right and you have to believe what I do and if you don't, I'll make you suffer until you do. This is crazy, people. Why can't we all accept that, unless a belief causes actual - as opposed to perceived - harm to others, we can live and let live?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Gender Matters

or is this how to get your novel published? If this link is anything to go by the answer is to start by being a man.

We've all heard of women who opted to use a male or androgynous pseudonym or only the initials of their first name or names because they (or their agents or publishers) believed that they would be taken more seriously if they were not known to be women and sadly the link at the beginning of this post seems to confirm it. I find it depressing that a bias (which I'm sure is based in culture and certainly not intentional) still exists and I'm not suggesting this unconscious discrimination only happens in publishing, of course. It happens across the board. This is just the most recent example I've come across.

There's nothing particularly new about this in the book industry, of course. It's been well known for years that you just have to look at the lists of so-called important books put out for all genres other than romance to see that the gender imbalance is enormous. Look at these examples - this one which appeared in Business Insider Australia and doesn't include one woman or this one which has only three women authors listed out of fifty. I'm not suggesting any of these books aren't excellent - they clearly are - and as always such choices reflect the view of those who compile them but why would you not include at least one of C J Cherryh's award winning novels or Margaret Atwood's multi award winning The Handmaid's Tale or one of Nancy Kress's or Connie Willis's books to mention only a few?

The good thing is that slowly but surely in speculative fiction - my preferred genre - women are being acknowledged more and more in the major awards. Sadly, there are those who see this as an assault on the purity of what speculative fiction should be instead of celebrating the fact that we are reaching equality. I don't want to give the way certain groups attempted to manipulate the Hugo Awards this year any coverage here - I and many others have already wasted far too much time on it - but if you Google Sad Puppies you can find out for yourself what happened and see an example of what happens when things go too far.

Why is this important? Because I'd expect that most reasonable folk, in the developed world at least, would want today's young women and their daughters to be able to expect equality in all aspects of their lives.  Unfortunately, this is is still lacking in so many areas of the world and not only in places where extremists like the Taliban and ISIS refuse to allow women any independence or control over their lives. US Presidential hopeful Donald Trump has demonstrated that lack of respect only this week when he said this in response to questions about misogynistic remarks he had made previously.

That world I dreamed of as a young woman when we would all be respected and treated equally irrespective of gender still seems to be quite a way off.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

I'm Sorry

I didn't realise how long it had been since I blogged. It's been very hectic around here because I decided it was time to address a few things that needed doing and, as always happens, one thing leads to another. At least I've been productive even if it is not the sort of effort that has much to show for it - at least so far.

To make up for my neglect I give you some links.

A mention of this man came up on my Facebook Newsfeed today. These and these are the work of Johnny Clasper, a UK stonemason and sculptor. Among other techniques he uses dry stone walling and how he manages to make some of his structures without using any bonding agent amazes me.

Next someone put up some photos of miniature donkeys. Oh the cuteness. It led me to these and this. You can really use a team of them to pull a wagon?

Then, while I was researching wildcats - a long story - I found this YouTube video of a Pallas cat investigating a wildlife researcher's camera. The Pallas cat or manul is a small wild cat native to the steppes and mountains of Central China and Mongolia and this video gives more information about them.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Yes, I Know

I've been a bit slack on the blog posting, mostly because I've not been well and my brain decided thinking was too hard. Instead it required a diet of mindless television watching while tucked up in bed. But it's been indulged for long enough - and I am feeling a lot better even if I'm still totally lacking in energy.

So here are a few links that made me smile. I hope you enjoy them too.

First there's this rescue of a trapped baby elephant in Amboseli National Park in Kenya which I found particularly heart warming.

Then another baby elephant this time having fun in a mud pool. This video is from Save Elephant Foundation which is a non-profit organisation based in Thailand and dedicated to saving and protecting the Asian elephant (and also rescuing dogs) across much of South East Asia.

And in cuteness overload a kitten discovers her tail. A warning here that there are a few expletives so you might want to turn the sound down if that bothers you.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Catching Up

I'm sorry I haven't been posting lately but I've been busy with the kitchen renovations - nearly done now, thank goodness - and then ill. On the mend again now, though, and while I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed I came across a New Yorker article about Dutch artist Theo Jansen, the creator of the kinetic sculptures he calls Strandbeest (the name translates as beach animals or creatures).

Made from PVC pipe framework and incorporating wood, rope and fabric, the sculptures are simply breathtaking. Able to move on their own using wind and in some cases stored energy, they look like extraordinary animals wandering along the beach. I had seen some of these wonderful moving sculptures before but I had no idea of the history behind them or why the artist felt compelled to make them so the article was very illuminating. Originally fairly rudimentary, Strandbeests have been developed into complex and lovely creations and the prospect of the artist's dream of herds of them loosed on beaches is mind-blowing. He views them as being alive and looking at them you can understand why he might think that.

You can see a video featuring some of Jansen's work here and his website with links to other articles and a TED talk is here.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Okay, This is Getting Silly Now

The World War 2 ear worms keep coming and I have no idea why. Most of them weren't a part of time of my childhood - I'm not that old - but I must have heard them at some time. Anyway this is the latest that has settled in my head. It's one of those silly songs which were so popular in wartime England. It's Hey Little Hen and this version is David W. Solomon and is certainly not one of the originals.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Remembered: London Bombings 7 July 2005

This was just on ten years ago and Pisces and I were glued to the television as the full extent of the London bombings was revealed to the world on an endless loop. Horrific as news that was coming out was, we had our own worries because our daughter and two of her friends were, as far as we knew, in London and staying at a hostel in Tavistock Square where one of the bombs had been detonated on a double decker bus. We tried but could not contact them and so we waited, anxiously trying not to think the worst and hoping that they were safe. We finally heard from them the next day when they came back to London. They were fine having decided to spend a few days in Ireland the day before the bombs went off.

While our experience can't compare with those who lost family or friends or who suffered horrendous injuries, it did bring the reality of terrorism home to us. Anyone, however random, can be a victim and we certainly need to be aware that there are organisations promoting and using terror as a weapon and to take steps to defend our countries and ourselves from it. That said though we also need to not let the threat of terrorism define our lives. The people in London were going about their daily lives and there was nothing they could have done which would have stopped these attacks so there's no reason to assume that retreating to a fortress is going to protect us. In fact, with modern weapons the more we crowd together the more vulnerable we seem.

All we can do is take reasonable precautions and that means international cooperation and funding of programs to combat the scourge of these fanatics within our own communities. The ubiquity of the internet means we are often not aware - even within a family - of what is going on behind closed doors so we need to work actively at engaging with those who are at risk. With so many like those who perpetrated the London bombings being home grown, we need to be watchful and aware of potential threats but, while that is difficult, the answer is not to give in and give up our cherished way of life.

We certainly must be vigilant but we must also not let our reasonable fears turn into unreasonable ones and bring in laws that alter or take away long established rights in the belief it will protect us. As soon as we do this we are actually playing into the hands of these terrorist organisations. They win when they have affected the way we live our lives by letting our fear change us. Yes, we need to be aware that there is great danger and that these people are ruthless and vicious in their pursuit of their aims but we must not give in to their threats. As soon as we do that they've already won.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Run, Rabbit

Okay, I give in. I seem to have acquired another earworm song. I was listening to some music while I was decluttering the kitchen contents before putting stuff away- six cartons already filled and more to come - when this came on and now it won't go out of my head. It's Run, Rabbit, Run performed by Flanagan and Allen and was very popular during WW II. Catchy, isn't it.

It brought back memories of watching Dad's Army, the much loved BBC television sit-com about a Second World War Home Guard platoon - consisting in this case of willing if not always able volunteers - who are tasked with defending the town of Walmington-on-sea in the event of a German invasion. Dad's Army ran from 1968-1977 and left indelible memories of certain catch phrases - elderly Corporal Jones's "Don't panic! Don't panic!" as he rushed around in complete confusion being a favourite with my family to the present day.

Did that help dislodge Run, Rabbit, Run? Thought not. Sorry.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

What Bird Was That?

I was out at the clothesline when a sudden woosh of wings by my ear made me look - and there was a brownish buff coloured bird with two heads - one of which looked extremely shocked and the other which was a darker colour - zipping past at an incredible speed. A moment later after blinking and shaking my head, and as it disappeared behind the neighbour's roof, I realised it was in fact two birds, with the shocked lower bird a dove that had been plucked out of the air by a not all that much bigger raptor.

I went inside and got my trusty bird book - The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia by Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight - and discovered that the raptor was a peregrine falcon, Falco peregrinus.

It proved a little difficult to find a photo with the colouring of our local birds - their heads tend to be lighter coloured than many - so here's an illustration from Birds of Prey, Prang's Natural History Series for Children by Norman Allison Calkins, published in 1878, which is fairly close to it. A handsome fellow, don't you think?

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised because there is ample habitat for falcons in the bushland surrounding the suburb where I live. Within a few minutes walk there are two golf courses with bush areas - one even has a resident mob of kangaroos - and two large expanses of bushland reserve with wetlands that would provide excellent hunting for a smallish raptor. The thing is we don't often see them away from the bushland so I guess this one must have worked out that doves are in plentiful supply here.

This video gives you some idea of the incredible speed a peregrine falcon can reach

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Misguided Roses

Or, more correctly, here's a little bit of local evidence of how the climate is changing. When I went out this morning intending to prune my roses I found this happening.

This is only a sample of the new growth - some of it is looking a little sad because I have just removed a ravenous infestation of aphids - and given we are now a month into winter here and at the start of what is usually the coldest and wettest month of the year when the roses should have already have shed their leaves, this is ridiculous.

And so is this.

I actually picked enough roses for a vaseful and, as you can see from just this one plant, I could have picked many more.

This is not what we expect for this time of the year but I suspect it's going to be our new norm. So far this winter we've only had half our average rainfall for the period and, while we will no doubt get some more, we seem to be heading for a warm and relatively dry winter. I've already had to hand water my vegetable garden a couple of times and the fine drizzle which is currently happening seems unlikely to do much to help.

The truth is the climate here has changed quite dramatically here over the last ten to twenty years with less rain in the traditional winter months. This means the dams which we have relied on for drinking water have not been replenished and we are now heavily reliant on ground water - which is also under stress - and desalinisation.

Welcome to the world of climate change.