26 November, 2008

Bertie, Lord of Chaos

Having a dog is a strange experience for me. Having spent all my life striving for order, dignity and tranquility in my domestic arrangements, my Airedale puppy, Bertie, arrived in my life like a hand-grenade.

The name, Bertie, by the way, is short for 'No, Bertie! Stop that!' He's a handsome fellow, no doubt about it. And cute! God, that nose! I often feel my life has become the emotional equivalent of rolling in syrup. He's funny too. The Charlie Chaplin of the dog world. You should see him trying to hump his big, red cushion, or with a bath towel wrapped 'round his head because he can't quite work out how to subdue it.

Yet, most of all, he's a wild, untrainable, disobedient, wilful, thuggish, stupid, farting, food-obsessed monster. And he has a serious attitude problem. Dogs are supposed to be fawning lickspittles, right? They're suppose to love it when you fuss them and hate it when you're cross. Well, not Bertie. He sees Wifie and me as a kind of interactive furniture - something to be climbed over, or chewed, pounced at, or hassled, as the mood takes him. Sure, we give him food and treats now and then - but so does the bin, and with far less fuss.

Of course, he's a handy dog to have around the place on our rural property. He attacks, bites and claws at all our guests and visiting tradespeople. He digs holes in the lawn to get at the crickets. He bites the heads off all the flowers as they come up. And he likes to chase after people's cars when they leave. He's also good with the native flora and fauna, having trampled several delicate local wild plants into the mud and grabbed up a red-bellied black snake among other creatures. (The snake is highly poisonous and might have been Bertie's last free meal had not Wifie attacked the pair of them with a stick and sent them both packing - she being by far the most dangerous of the local life-forms.)

I have to cut him some slack, I suppose. It seems a trifle annoying to me the way he bites everything in sight - including my arms, legs and face - and uses his great, bony head as a combination battering ram, cudgel and slime dispenser. Yet it must be odd only to be able to use one's head to explore things and to pick them up and move them. Where I'm used to getting things done with my hands, Bertie's equivalent is his enormous great jaw. Where I manipulate, Bertie mandibulates. I think this is where many of our little cultural differences originate.

I also have to remember - despite his size, weight, and flatulence problems - he is still just a toddler in 'dog years'. They say he'll still be puppyish for maybe another year. (Of course, one of us may have killed the other by then.) As much as I'll regret the passing of his frolicsome ways, his exuberance, and the wild, leaping dance he does around me when I bring him his food bowl, I must confess, I won't miss fighting with him to get his harness on for the car, or to get it off again, or having to stop him mauling our visitors, or to stop him waking me by bounding onto the bed, clawing my flesh to ribbons and sticking his dribbling nose in my mouth (or eye, or ear).

'Maturity' isn't a concept that seems even remotely associated with Bertie, yet I'm sure it will come, one day. Oh God, please let it come! Please, please...

05 November, 2008

One Small Step...

For eight years now, you've been a rogue state. You've held and tortured people without trial. You've invaded and occupied a country with no good cause. You've undermined the authority and effectiveness of the United Nations. You've refused to ratify important, global climate change agreements and have bullied and suppressed scientists who tried to speak out on climate change issues, delaying effective action that is urgently needed. You've allowed religious fundamentalists to dominate your domestic policies on science and education, setting medical research and other fields back many years. You have tied foreign aid to fundamentalist religious agendas concerning contraception and sex education which are known to be ineffective and which have damaged countries you should have been helping. You have created a legal and regulatory environment that has supported and encouraged radical, free market ideologies that have not only helped widen the gap between rich and poor, at home and around the world, but have directly led to the financial crisis that has plunged the world into recession. You have bullied and alienated your friends overseas, and given your enemies many more reasons to hate you.

With the election of Barak Obama, I hope this will stop, and that the USA can be welcomed back into the fold of civilized nations. This election is the first good news I've heard from America since before Bush was elected. Please, please, support the man now that he's got the job. This was just the first, small step. There is a long, long journey of reform ahead.

03 November, 2008

'English Correspondence' by Janet Davey

The mechanics of getting a book from the brain of a woman living in London to a small mobile library in a tiny village in rural Australia are daunting. In many ways a metaphor for our whole global economy. The improbability, the number of unlikely choices made across a ten-thousand-mile chain of unrelated people, that put me and that particular book in that converted coach on the same day, in the same place, is disturbing to contemplate.

Yet there we were: me and 'English Correspondence' by Janet Davey.

I've been reading a lot of low-quality nonsense lately, working on understanding how such books are constructed and how their authors use language, how to please publishers of speculative fiction, trying to learn lessons that will help me get my own writing published. But there is only so much of this I can take and I needed a proper book, one that was beautifully written, one that explored character and motivation, one that treated people as more than two-dimensional, stylised, comic-book sketches, one that used words for what they are meant for - to tell, not to show. I might have picked up a book by one of the really good sci-fi writers - J.G. Ballard, or Ray Bradbury, say - but there were none available on the library bus. In fact, there was little that promised anything but shoot-'em-up adventure or hose-'em-down romance, until I found 'English Correspondence'.

Janet Davey's book - her first novel - is one in which almost nothing happens. Time passes, the heroine moves from place to place, there are conversations, but there was no 'plot' to speak of, no three-act structure culminating in an exciting shoot-out, the hero did not get the girl. Instead there were the thoughts of a woman struggling to think her way free of a life painfully unsuited to her, a woman who had made a wrong turning many years ago and who could no longer bear the consequences, whose last prop - the correspondence she maintained with her father in England - is pulled away when he dies.

The heroine is an intelligent, sensitive person who, like most people, does not have the depth of reflection, ever to understand herself and where the roots of her unhappiness lie. Instead, her thoughts skitter about on the surface of her life, trying to make sense of patterns which are mostly epiphenomena, hoping that she will reach a safe harbour by intuition or good luck. I cringed for her, as she teetered, half-blind, on the edge of yet more horrible mistakes. I hope she makes it.

The writing is intelligent, carefully crafted, occasionally witty, and just a little odd. As I read, I was wondering how to describe Davey's terse, almost staccato style when I turned a page to find she had already done it for me. She wrote of, '... her own demarcated phrases, like tidy hedging.'

'English Correspondence' was an oasis. I have been sheltering there and refreshing myself. As soon as I've written this, I will go on across the desert of my chosen genre, looking for a path to follow. It was a lovely spot and I am grateful that I stumbled across it.

01 November, 2008

Barak Obama is not a muslim!

I've seen news items in the past few days wherein Americans were interviewed about their support for McCain and (shudder) Palin. Several people told the interviewer that they can't vote for Obama because he's a Muslim. They said it with a straight face, and I honestly don't think they were kidding. They reall, truly, honestly were that stupid.

Leaving aside the moral issue of allowing people with such tiny brains to vote and potentially decide the fate of the world economy, I just wanted to make one, final, pre-election statement.


It might help, I think, if everyone in America whose IQ is in double digits or higher, would write those words in large letters on a wall somewhere for the benefit of your cognitively challenged neighbours.

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