Sep 30, 2013

The Book Meme

I got this one from The Plastic Mancunian and Princess Pandora who blogged it last month. Talk about my favourite books? Sure!

1. Favourite childhood book?

My first truly beloved book was a Little Golden Book called The Color Kittens. I lost my childhood copy so bought another when I was in my twenties and I still have it.
Then Enid Blyton EVERYTHING but especially the Faraway Tree books, the Naughtiest Girl in the School books and the Famous Five books, of which I read all but two.

2. What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading:
Remember When? Scientific American e-book on memory
11.22.63 by Stephen King

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

None. I go to the library but rarely borrow books these days. 

4. Bad book habit?

Buying more than I read.  I finally managed to stop buying paper books that stack up next to my bed, but am now doing the same with e-books. So many on my Kindle I still haven’t started, or started but haven’t got back to. Somehow it’s easy to get distracted from Kindle books and forget you have them.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?

Nothing. See the answer to question 3.

6. Do you have an e-reader?

I have a Kindle and love it; I can read on the Kindle, or on my Kindle app on my phone.  Brilliant. 

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

I always have 2 books on the go, though when I get into a really good book I can’t put it down and the second one gets left.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?

Yes, though I’m not sure if it’s blogging or Twitter that’s had the most impact. I read a lot online now, especially Slate, Rolling Stone and links via Twitter, plus blogs. Book reading has definitely gone down as a result. 

9. Least favourite book you read this year (so far?)

Hmm. Probably have to say I haven’t been able to get into Gone Girl, though I will give it another shot.

10. Favourite book you've read this year?

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

Not often – there’s little enough time to read as it is. I have no patience anymore to read things that don’t interest me.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

These days mostly non-fiction: pop science on stuff like economics, weather, probability, psychology, etc.  I also love to re-read favourite fiction. 

13. Can you read on the bus?

Yes, though it gives me motion sickness. Trains are better for reading.

14. Favourite place to read?

In bed.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

I’ll admit I don’t like doing it much, if it’s a favourite book. These days with most on the Kindle I can’t and that’s frustrating when you just want to shove a great book at someone and say “Read this!”

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?

Yes, and write notes in margins or underline good bits. 

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

Ah, I skipped ahead on the questions. Yes.

18. Not even with text books?

Did I stutter? YES. ESPECIALLY in text books.

19. What is your favourite language to read in?

Wow, what a question. Pretentious, moi?  I have in the past been fairly fluent in French and Spanish, but I didn't enjoy the few times I tried to read novels or poems in those languages. Reading is a whole other level of fluency. I seldom believe people who say they read novels in other languages.  I have read one short novel in Greek and it was dire, but no more difficult to read than a magazine.
So, yeah – definitely English!

20. What makes you love a book?

Good story or narrative, good pace, believable characters and a good way with language helps. But not too stylised or inventive – that can annoy me. Oh, and with a very small number of noble exceptions (Moby Dick, A Suitable Boy), it should NOT be a tome. A short book is a good book.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

I will steal The Plastic Mancunian’s answer for this one: I will recommend a book if I am disappointed that I have finished it.
Or, if it stays in my head and I continue to obsess over it after I’ve finished it.

22. Favourite genre?


23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)

There is no genre I don’t read "but wish I did". I rarely read romance or historical fiction.

24. Favourite biography?

Recollections of a Bleeding Heart by Don Watson, or Eleni by Nicholas Gage.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

Yes, a couple. Most of them just annoy me but a couple have had a big impact on me. Awakening Intuition by Mona Lisa Schwartz, although she’s probably a dangerous crackpot, impressed me at the time (some years ago). I’ve since realised I no longer believe some of it but still. More recently, Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman was transformative for me. 

26. Favourite cookbook?

My favourite cookbook is probably Tana Ramsay’s Family Kitchen. If you ignore the annoyingly perfect happy family pictures throughout, it’s got great recipes and is a nice read.

27. Most inspirational book you've read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?

Probably Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. Yeah introverts!

28. Favourite reading snack?
I don’t snack in bed!

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.

Same as The Plastic Mancunian: I succumbed to The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I thought it was average and I thought the answers to the codes were ridiculously silly and simple – I was expecting something smarter.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?

About half the time. Or in the case of Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography, 100% of the time.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

Bad reviews are part of what authors can expect for publishing a book. The only thing I don’t like is when reviewers are snobby or closed-minded about an author and don’t review their books fairly. For example, The Dead Zone by Stephen King and Shutter Island by Denis Lehane are very good books different from the author's usual genre, but probably not appreciated by most reviewers because of who wrote them.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?

Russian, just to be super impressive. No, Mandarin!

33. Most intimidating book you've ever read?

Not sure about that. Maybe Jane Eyre when I was in high school, because it seemed impenetrable to me at the start, though I really liked it by the time I had finished it.

34. Most intimidating book you're too nervous to begin?

It’s not that I’m nervous, but for some reason I keep not starting Shantaram. I don’t know why because I started it years ago and liked it but never got going on it. I keep wanting to try again but I just never do.

35. Favourite poet?

Easy: Dorothy Porter. 

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?

8-10 children’s books.

37. How often have you returned a book to the library unread?

About half the time.

38. Favourite fictional character?

If I was still a kid I’d probably say George from the Famous Five books, or Trixie Belden. I also liked Hermoine from the Harry Potter books. For grown-up characters, maybe Yossarian from Catch-22.

39. Favourite fictional villain?

I can’t think of a favourite. I Googled some ‘top 30 villains of literature’ kind of lists but am still stumped for a “favourite”. I always felt sympathy for Madame Bovary.  Or maybe Heathcliffe from Wuthering Heights?

40. Books you're most likely to bring on vacation?

I’ll load something new on the Kindle, and bring a couple of things I’ve been meaning to read but haven’t got to.

41. The longest you've gone without reading.

Maybe half a day??

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.

The last two Twilight books. Just awful. (You know, I actually thought the first one was not bad, and the second one was very good. They are for teens, of course they are angsty and over-dramatic).

43. What distracts you easily when you're reading?

Once again, I agree with The Plastic Mancunian here: Music. Music and reading do not go together.

44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel?

Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men was great on film. And I think The Talented Mr Ripley was better than the book.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

I reckon the second Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film with Johnny Depp was a weird waste of time.

46. The most money I've ever spent in the bookstore at one time?

Back when I was earning good money and was less responsible, probably $150.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

I always read the first page before I buy it, and occasionally might check out a few more pages, but it’s hard to do that without ruining the story.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?

Starting a better book.

49. Do you like to keep your books organised?

Not overly, but I organise them a bit by genre on my Kindle; the paper ones are mostly just stacked by similar size on the bookshelf.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you've read them?

I keep the ones I loved, I give away everything else.

51. Are there any books you've been avoiding?

I have a book I bought years ago called Orphans of the Empire, which is the story of orphan children sent to Australia from England in the first half of the twentieth century. I feel guilty I still haven’t read it – and I want to read it – but I just know it’s going to be so damn unbearable. 
And The Hunger Games. I bought it last year and want to read it, but am scared it will be traumatic!

52. Name a book that made you angry.

The First Stone, by Helen Garner. I was the same age as the young women she was complaining about, and although she is a beautiful writer, she just showed with this book that she had no understanding of either young feminists or sexual harassment.

53. A book you didn't expect to like but did?

One Good Turn, by Kate Atkinson. Just a crime paperback that was sitting in the lobby of the guesthouse we stayed in on holiday last year, but I really enjoyed it. 

54. A book that you expected to like but didn't?

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan. He’s a great writer but I just found this book awful and the plot unbelievable.

55. Favourite guilt-free, pleasure reading?

I loved all the Harry Potter books; any of the slimmer volumes by Stephen King; Bill Bryson.
My favourite book of all time is Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods. I read it whenever I want some comfort-reading, and it is often on my bedside table.

BONUS SECTION: My favourite books
Here in no particular order other than how they popped into my head, are my favourite books:

Children’s Books:
Eric Carle, The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Margaret Wise Brown, The Color Kittens
A.A. Milne, Now We Are Six
Enid Blyton, Five on Kirrin Island Again
Theo LeSieg, I Wish That I Had Duck Feet; Come Over to My House
T Ernesto Bethancourt, Doris Fein Super Spy; Doris Fein Quartz Boyar

R.K. Narayan, The Man-Eater of Malgudi
Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
Graham Greene, The Honorary Consul
Paul Theroux, The Mosquito Coast; Doctor Slaughter
E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News; Bad Dirt
Cormac McCarthy, All The Pretty Horses, The Crossing
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure
William Golding, Lord of the Flies
Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love In the Time of Cholera
Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Pierre Boulle, The Bridge on the River Kwai
Joseph Heller, Catch-22
Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All
Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express
Colm Toibin, Brooklyn
Ian McEwan, The Innocent
Kimberly Kafka, True North
Thea Astley, Reaching Tin River
Mary Stewart, Wildfire at Midnight; My Brother Michael
George Orwell, Animal Farm
Denis Lehane, Shutter Island
Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong; Charlotte Grey
John Le Carre, The Little Drummer Girl; The Tailor of Panama
Andre Dubois III, House of Sand and Fog
Meg Cabot, Size Doesn’t Matter
Stephen King, The Dead Zone
Anais Nin, A Spy in the House of Love
D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Patrick Suskind, Perfume
Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull  
Aesop’s Fables
The Arabian Nights Tales
Theucydides, The Pelopponesian War
Homer, The Odyssey
Dorothy Porter, Akhenaten

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
Joy Adamson, Born Free
James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small
Robert Drew, The Shark Net
Gillian Bouras, A Foreign Wife
Hunter S Thomson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes
Frank Abagnale, Catch Me If You Can

Nicholas Gage, Eleni; Greek Fire
Thomas Keneally, Schindler’s Ark
Alison Weir, The Life of Elizabeth I

Steven Levitt and Stephen J Dubner, Freakonomics
Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism
Jon Ronson, The Men Who Stare at Goats
Malcolm Gladwell, Blink
Stephen Pinker, The Language Instinct
Germaine Greer, The Whole Woman
Ian Wilson, Jesus: The Evidence
Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, & Henry Lincoln, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail
Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm
Stephen King, On Writing
Lynne Kelly, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal
Simone De Beauvoir, The Second Sex
Susan Sontag, Illness As Metaphor
R Lacey, The Year 1000

Sep 28, 2013

Words for Wednesday

'Words for Wednesday' is a writing prompt held by Delores at Under the Porch Light.
Use some or all of the week's words, write a poem or a story or a fragment, and visit Delores' current week's prompt to let her know you've joined in.

This week's words are:







Here is my story:

Between the beaches of Perissa and Kamari on Santorini lies the stark white rock called Mesa Vouno. 'Vouno' means mountain, but it's a hill. It can be climbed in an hour, if you're young and fit, which I was back then. I climbed it one day early in the summer season, when I had hours between shifts at the bar where I worked. I wore my hiking boots and carried a daypack whose contents I don't remember but were probably a book, a chocolate bar and a bottle of water. 

The sun was hard and bright, and the limestone scree made the climb tricky in places. There was a path but it was easy to lose. It was hard going, but despite the heat I felt good. I liked to be alone and I liked to walk. The trek over this strange, scrabbly white hill was exhilarating. 

At the top, I stopped to catch my breath and enjoy the view. I was alone on the summit and could see Perissa on one side, Kamari on the other, and behind me the island's only true mountain, Profitas Ilias. On the beaches there were people, but up here there was no one. I was gloriously, wonderfully alone.

I shuffled closer to the edge of a steep drop, and looked for the easiest route down. The climb up had been uneventful, but climbing up was easy. Climbing down was hard. I scuffed the loose rock with my foot and a sudden tumble of stones clattered straight down the drop. In a moment I lost my footing and flailed wildly. A spasm of terror. I twisted and landed on my stomach, sliding down; my hands grabbed rocks that moved with me. The crack and clatter of tumbling stones was loud - louder than my shallow breaths and my own blood pounding in my throat. I seemed to slide forever, but it was only a few feet. I lay still for a moment, too scared to move, then sat up shaking. My pants were dusty and torn at one knee. My palms and chin were grazed painfully. 

I stood shakily and looked around me. There was no one else. I was completely, utterly alone.

fitzgabbro/Flickr Creative Commons

(This is a climb I did do, many years ago, and I was all alone - but there was no mishap. I did have a moment though, climbing down the hill covered in loose rock, where I realised if I did fall, there was no one to help me.... This was in the days before mobile phones.
Oh, and Mesa Vouno is actually partially limestone - I wasn't sure but thought it might be. Confirmed in this geological map of Santorini).

Sep 25, 2013

Kids need other kids

I have realised since my kids were about four that kids crave and need the company of other children. At some point between the ages of 4 and 6, kids cease preferring the company of their parents to the company of other kids.

For my kids it was about age 5 when spending the day with Mum or Dad ceased to be better than a playdate, but even earlier than that you can see kids - even babies - light up in the company of a sibling or friend and they need that.

It's school holidays here and this time round I'm working through most of it, and the kids have been thoroughly prepped on expectations. There will be no Melbourne Show, certainly no 'holiday' away, and lots of time with Mum, Dad or Grandma at home. Booooorrrrrrinnnggg! On the flip side, for the second holidays in a row they won't need to spend any days at a holiday program, which I can categorically confirm they do NOT crave, and they are happy about that.

But we have organised a couple of playdates and there will be other impromptu ones, as the kids get bored and parents, especially non-working ones, need a break.

I happen to love hosting playdates. They force me to get the house clean and tidy (or an illusion thereof, with my bedroom door remaining suspiciously closed throughout and out of bounds for the kids as much as the forbidden room in Bluebeard's castle). I barely have to do anything, as the kids at this age will entertain themselves. The kids get to see that other kids like their house and their mum and it makes them appreciate those things a bit more. If I'm friends with the parents we get to catch up for coffee. But most of all, the kids are happy and they come out of themselves and their "home" personalities, in the company of their friends.

Change the environment - or the company - and change the child.

Neither of my kids is a big outdoor person. Both are a bit squeamish about the messier aspects of outdoor play: dirt, itchiness, prickles, insects. I'm determined they will walk to school at least some days from next year, and I try to impart some of the wonder and discovery of nature in walks and backyards that I loved as a child: blades of grass, the shapes of leaves, caterpillars and roly-poly beetles, snails, clover, the sky, seeds and tree litter on the ground.  I've bought my kids magnifying glasses and we've gone hunting for bugs together, and I've tried to suppress my revulsion for spiders and cockroaches. (Since the drought ended we get plenty of bees, butterflies and dragonflies, which is lovely because during that 14-year drought butterflies seemed to disappear and I thought my kids would miss out on that joy as they have missed playing in the sprinkler and being squirted with the hose).

Even 4 weeks in a Greek village playing outside all day didn't squash my kids' fear of creepy-crawlies. "Pedia tis polis (city kids)," I would say to bemused relatives, when my child would screech at a beetle near her feet.

So what did get my kids get into beetle appreciation? Just having a friend over yesterday who suggested looking for bugs in the garden.

What got them wanting to climb the tree in the backyard?  Just having a friend over last week who showed them how to do it.

What convinced my daughter M it was safe for her and A to go to the park up the end of our street without me? Just friends visiting last weekend who suggested they all go to the park. A. was overjoyed and even M. couldn't get out of the house fast enough. Watching four kids aged nearly-eight to eleven walk out the front yard and head up to the park 200m away, I was reminded of the great times I had with my cousins as a kid, walking to the shops or the park without grown-ups.

Of course, you can't overdo it. We all know it can turn into Lord of the Flies when kids are unsupervised, and kids running wild in the suburbs of the past encountered their share of horrors.

But it takes the company of other kids to foster growth and change and the shedding of old habits in a kid, as well as the kind of socialisation they just can't get from their parents.

Children playing under a tree, 1930s
State Library of Victoria

Sep 24, 2013

Swap Cards

Last week Cranky Old Man blogged about baseball cards kids traded in the 1950s, and that made me think of swap cards.

Swap cards were a hobby for kids in the 1970s, especially girls. 

You bought them singly in news agents for 5 or 10 cents each initially - if I recall correctly they did get more expensive (25 cents?) and some designs might have been dearer than others, but I'm hazy on that.

Every girl I knew had a deck of swap cards held together with a rubber band or stored in an album. We took them to each other's houses and to school and sometimes we did swap them, but mostly we just looked at them!

I loved my swap cards.

I have no idea what happened to them. (Mum?)

The most popular designs were Sarah Kay, Holly Hobby and her imitators: girls with patchwork dresses or flared jeans and floppy hats. There were lots of pictures of puppies and kittens, quite a few horses, and a few 'boy' designs like fishermen, boats and cars.

Now selling on eBay for $7!

They were often produced in pairs of complementary designs - for examples see here.

Some were like real playing cards with a number and suit on the back, but most were plain white on the back.

cards for sale on eBay

I've just had a lot of fun looking over swap cards on this flickr group and on eBay. I felt a sudden thrill when I came across pictures of the same cards I used to own, like the three above, and these ones (images all from eBay):

Looking at these images of once-loved cards it feels like no time at all since I held them in my hands.

I've thought of swap cards a few times since my girls have got into cards of one kind or another. 

They both love their fairy cards:

...which they use to play Snap or Memory, when we're not playing Go Fish with these:

And are now really into the Woolworths Aussie Animal cards, which I have to admit are a really good collectible:

This is not a sponsored post!

Did you collect cards as a kid?

Sep 23, 2013

RE vs Halloween

My kids attend "RE" (religious instruction) at school, although I'm an atheist. I do not send them because I think religion teaches them ethics or "how to be good". They go because of a mix of personal philosophy, circumstances and compromise which include:
  • most of the kids including their friends go
  • I'm happy for them to have "some religion" as it's part of our culture and history and this way they will understand it
  • their dad is mildly religious and wanted them to go
Last year when I found out one of my daughters wasn't enjoying RE I took her out, and she joined the small group of children doing drawing or writing practice in the spare room. She was happy doing that, and she has only recently gone back to RE because she wanted to (friends again).

I've had my squirmy moments when the kids came home and spoke earnestly or lovingly about Jesus and God, but there has been nothing too bad.  In their prep days we just went with it, and in grade 1 and 2 I've started to slowly put on the brakes. I let them know in various ways (less subtle as they get older)  that it's really not my bag.   I've told them that RE is not like the rest of school and it is optional and I don't mind if they don't go. When they ask me if such-and-such is true I say "Well, no one really knows", and if they ask me if I believe something I will say "I'm not sure", or "Not really", or I'll launch into "Well, some people think x and some people think y, and really we just don't know."  Very occasionally, I've flat out said "No, that's not true." The last occasion was not something an RE teacher said, but a classmate who told A. that her mum said people who don't believe in God go to hell. Charming!

I asked A. if she asked her RE teacher about her friend's mum's comment, and she said she did and the RE teacher said there was no such thing as hell. Whew.

HOWEVER. We have recently had our first ideological collision with the RE instructor, and it was not over the expected battlegrounds like hell, church attendance or non-Christian religions.

Last week during A's RE class the kids started talking about Halloween and whether they'd be doing Trick or Treat, and A's RE teacher said she would never let her children take part in Halloween because it celebrates evil, and evil creatures.

Curly's Halloween GIFs

Stuart Miles/

"Er, no - that's not right," I said firmly. "It's just a bit of fun; there's nothing evil about Halloween."

What's more, apparently, Jesus and God hate Halloween.

"That's definitely not true," I said even more firmly. "God doesn't care if people celebrate Halloween, and Jesus lived 2,000 years ago and no one celebrated Halloween back then, or at least not in Jerusalem, so that doesn't even make sense!" I would never disrespect my kids' teachers, especially not right to the kids' faces - EXCEPT if they say something really dumb and judgmental like this. Which the real teachers, of course, never do.

A. was not too worried and was happy to know she could still dress up and terrorize neighbors for sweets without making Jesus unhappy.

I've written before how I'm a big fan of Halloween. RE? Not so much. If one of them has to go, I know which one it will be!

You're one strike down, RE - watch yourself!

Sep 22, 2013

Sunday Selections #138

It's time for Sunday Selections!
This is a weekly meme started by Kim of FrogPondsRock as a way to showcase some of the many photos we all take, but don't get around to showing on our blogs. Sunday Selections is now hosted by River at Drifting Through Life.

The rules are very simple:-
1. post photos of your choice, old or new, under the Sunday Selections title
2. link back to River somewhere in your post
3. leave a comment on River's post and visit some of the others who have posted and commented

This week, I've got a few snaps taken during and after rain.  We've had good weather this spring in Melbourne, interspersed with lots of good rain.

This was a really magnificent rainbow last week, the thickest and brightest I've ever seen. You can't tell that from this shot, of course.  I was driving the kids to Greek school in Glen Waverley and there was a HUGE but short-lived downpour, after which a double rainbow (for a few seconds a triple one) lit up the afternoon sky:

This one was taken near my kids' school - a beautiful tree in someone's front yard, with stormy sky as backdrop:

This one was taken in the city during a sudden downpour (while stopped at a light):

And another magnificent rainbow - the second in less than two weeks. This one is from this last Thursday - I stood at the window by my old seat at work to get this.

Meanwhile, back home, there have been lots of these guys:

I was going to do a whole 'snails on sticks' thing, after I came back from walking the dog one morning  and noticed heaps of snails on sticks of all sorts all round the garden. But snails are deceptive. They seem slow but they move steadily, and by the time I came back with my phone a minute later, all but this guy had moved off their sticks.

Sep 17, 2013

Accidental Diplomacy: John Kerry, Syria, Russia and Iran

The US didn't want to attack Syria, and neither did most of their allies. No one has any appetite for war after Iraq and Afghanistan.

From my far-away Australian suburban perch, I was in favour of going into Afghanistan, but never, ever, ever supported the Iraq war. The US squandered the goodwill of the world on that awful campaign. In the decade post-9/11, I often thought how different the world would be had John Kerry won the 2004 election instead of George Bush.

It took a full decade after 9/11 - and I think also the assassination of Bin Laden - for it to finally feel like we have moved out of that immediate post-9/11 era. It's like we've just caught up now, to how the world might have been had George Bush not won the 2004 election.

Anyway, this week there has been a win, of sorts, for diplomacy. Yes, yes, I know there is still no improvement in Syria - none - and Assad is still the most evil dictator in the world right now and has to go.

But remember back in the old days, when we used to try sanctions and diplomacy before war?
Worth a shot, right?

When Assad stepped over Obama's 'red line' and gassed the Damascan suburb of Ghouta last month, the US was forced to step closer to war.

It's not right to say that no one was outraged over Syria before the chemical attack. People have short memories don't they? The world has been outraged, and has been watching, over human rights abuses and atrocities over the last 2 years (remember the massacre in Houla last year?). But even the US can't just step in and remove every vicious murderous dictator who commits an atrocity (though you can bet plans began to be made). Then last month, Syria stepped over the 'red line'.

That doesn't mean the other atrocities aren't as bad as chemical attacks. And it doesn't make the US hypocritical. The US does not go to war because it wants Middle Eastern oil, nor for humanitarian reasons.  The Iraq war was for a stupid, bad reason: the US was acting under a kind of reverse domino theory in that war - the belief they could set up a 'democracy' in the Middle East to encourage the rest of the region to follow suit (and handily get rid of arch-enemy Saddam Hussein as well). The Iraq invasion was wrong, and also completely crazy. (Although, with the Arab Spring, will George Bush's believers claim some vindication?)

But there are lines in the sand that must not be crossed, or else the world is in danger from crazed psychopathic dictators whose rampages not only cause horrible suffering inside their borders but also threaten countries outside them. It's also as much about sending messages to others (Iran) as stopping the immediate offenders.

No one can be allowed to use chemical or nuclear weapons. Period. 

Before Saturday, I thought an attack on Syria was grimly inevitable, because with Russia and China supporting them, there was not even the option of economic sanctions to use instead.

Then John Kerry was asked if there was any way an attack could be averted and he said, more or less sarcastically, well, if Syria can give up all its chemical weapons and prove it has within like, a week, then yeah, there's a chance.

And Russia, somewhat surprisingly, stepped in to broker the deal, and the deal was done.

Supposedly. We hope.

The new Cold War is temporarily on hold, and strikes on Syria (at least by people other than their president) have been averted, at least for now.

Apology/Note: I have absolutely no experience in foreign policy, war or suffering and am writing from my comfortable suburban house in a far, far away country. I have no idea what I am talking about, and I hope this does not cause anyone any offence. Just my opinion, on my personal blog!

Sep 15, 2013

Sunday Selections #137

It's time for Sunday Selections!
This is a weekly meme started by Kim of FrogPondsRock as a way to showcase some of the many photos we all take, but don't get around to showing on our blogs. Sunday Selections is now hosted by River at Drifting Through Life.

The rules are very simple:-
1. post photos of your choice, old or new, under the Sunday Selections title
2. link back to River somewhere in your post
3. leave a comment on River's post and visit some of the others who have posted and commented

This week, I've chosen photos of Jells Park.

These were taken in April this year.   I love this view in any weather, looking down the expanse of grass towards the lake.

And the kids love running all the way to the lake. Until one of them trips and falls, which happens most of the time.  We're not a running family. Or a big outdoorsy family. But we do love Jells Park.

I've always loved this sign by the lake that says not to feed the ducks.

Because they get fat and can't escape stray cats:

The shots below were taken in December 2011, when we went with friends to Carols by Candlelight. It was a lot of trouble with all the picnic-preparing, paraphernalia-carrying and the walking to and from the car park miles away, but it was a great afternoon and night and the kids all loved it. I have some beautiful shots of four kids having a great time, but none with obscured faces that I can post here. But here are some shots of the park and the sky.

We arrived early. Very early. They were still setting up. We picked our spot and settled in.

A few hours later, the show started, with introduction by Pete Smith:

In short time, the grounds were full and the show was in full swing:

The best thing about Jells Park is the huge sky. This was an accidental shot and is one of my favourite photos I've ever taken:

And lastly, pure sky:

Sep 12, 2013

Farewell to Cal Worthington, and his dog Spot

This week Cal Worthington died aged 92.

For non-US readers, Cal Worthington was the used car salesman who came to epitomise both used car salesmen and the type of funny/annoying, hard-sell, earworm-jingle TV ads that he did so well.

Cal Worthington image by Mntbloom / Wikimedia Commons

When I was nine my family moved to Los Angeles and I vividly remember Cal Worthington. He was all over the TV all the time. I am sure he was extremely annoying, but to kids (and probably my America-besotted dad) he was fantastic.  I still remember my dad calling us over to the TV when we had only just settled in LA and saying "You've got to see this guy, come and look at this!"

Australian TV ads in the 70s could be strident ("From K-Tel, record $3.99, cassette $4.99!"), but we had never seen anything like this before.

The ads started with a booming voice-over: "Here's Cal Worthington....and his dog Spot!", as Cal jogged through his car lot wearing a cowboy hat and suit and leading an exotic animal on a leash (or on roller skates, or in a sidecar). It was a different animal every time; once he even rode an elephant.

Quite rightly animal protection laws would not allow such ads these days.

The ads were also often LONG and would itemise tens of cars and deals, with Cal's sales patter throughout ("I will stand on my head till my ears turn red, to make a deal"). There was often a give-away such as steak dinners, or kids' toys, or random crap like "this umbrella hat you can wear on your head", on offer whether or not you bought a car (but I wonder how many people got away without buying a car?!)   At the time we were there (1979-1981), there were similar car dealer ads on TV, but Cal's were the best (or the worst!). I don't know whether others imitated him or if he was just part of a trend at the time, but whatever it was, he nailed it.

And the jingle.... I've had the jingle stuck in my head for the last two days:
If you want to buy a car go see Cal 
For the best deal by far go see Cal 
If you want your payments slow 
If you want to save some dough 
Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal

It was impossible not to like him. He seemed so happy and good-natured, and there's something admirable about those super salesmen who will happily and regularly make themselves ridiculous for success.

He had quite an interesting life, as I've learned this week. He was also a quintessential American success story, rising from childhood poverty to a huge business that owned multiple car lots and properties and even a studio which produced all his ads. (I was surprised to read in the New York Times article where I learned of his death, that he recently said, "I never much liked the car business. I just kind of got trapped in it after the war. I didn’t have the skills to do anything else.")

He was also part of my childhood. In 1979 Australia was a very different place - not worldly and not acculturated to the US the way it is now. So when we arrived in the US it was honestly like a different world. There was little that was familiar, so that was hard adjusting - but at the same time we all loved the outgoing, relaxed and ultra-friendly style of the culture there. It's hard to convey now how fresh and different it all seemed.

Cal Worthington was one of the defining icons of my childhood America. (He shares this honour with Peter Popoff, Phil Donahue, Geraldo Rivera and John Davidson). He personified America to us.  

Here is a tribute combination of a whole lot of his ads from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Rest in peace, Cal Worthington. My sister and I still love you!

Oh OK then, here are some more:

Sep 10, 2013

Words for Wednesday - 4 September

'Words for Wednesday' is a writing prompt held by Delores at Under the Porch Light.
I did this for the first time last week, and enjoyed it a lot.

Last Wednesday's words were:







Here is my contribution. 

In those dying days Alan took calls from a hundred desperate clients.  They rang at all hours, in a panic, some weeping. There were others he called, who were unable to make a decision, silent on the other end of the phone in their shock. Some were still strategizing, taking a hit here or there to crystallize a loss for a write-off, or scanning value stocks with a buyer’s eye even as everything went to hell. In the office things were frantic for a couple of weeks, and then quiet, as the money ran out and the phones stopped ringing. Some of the advisers took a holiday, or stayed home. But Alan was salaried and anyway had nowhere to go. So he stayed at his terminal, watching the lines of red numbers with morbid, daily obsession.

There were moments, even days, where things seemed to pick up, as a few stocks bounced up from rock-bottom and the market pounced. When these bounces lasted more than a day, the office became vibrant. Even though everyone knew it was nothing it was good to be busy; good to remember the excitement and the happiness from past times – the sweet fragrance of wealth.  It was easy to cling to that buzz and that hope, and everyone did.

Alan was young and had missed the bull market. “You’ll catch the next one,” they told him. They even said his timing was perfect because he was building up clients and knowledge right now, and when the market took off – as it would, finally – he’d be in on the ground floor.

But meantime the perks were all gone. The cars, the lunches, the drinks, the gym memberships, the couriers and the dry cleaning – not to mention the cash bonuses. All gone. They were never coming back, everyone said.  Of course, they probably would, eventually. Just not to this generation.

Companies struggled not to sink and withheld that truth from their staff. All over the city, companies sank or merged or were bought out, and people lost their jobs. Alan had no idea how his company was faring. No one did, either inside or outside the dealing room.   Internal communications insisted all was well.  Prospects were good, said the emails, and the company’s strengths and market share were keeping them in the black even as others sank around them. Things were tight, no question – and it was true that some serious cuts would need to be made. But if everyone stayed focused and kept doing what they were doing, then the company would continue to do well, buoyed by its greatest asset: its people.

The communications never mentioned the company’s balance sheet. They were light on detail and never included a specific dollar amount, target figure, future date or indeed any number of any kind. They were all words – words and no numbers. In an industry which was usually, proudly, all numbers and formulae, someone had changed the language. 

Outside the dealing room and away from the numbers, priorities had changed in an instant. Gone without mention were the old roadmaps, goal sheets and mission statements. The policies and procedures page kept moving on the intranet, and whole sections were gone. The only direction now was to survive. The blueprint was secret. 


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