Stuck in the mud

On the Easter weekend, we went rural. Well, a little more rural than usual. We first headed to Mapleton, where we stayed with some friends, and took a little walk to visit the spot in the bush where they got married. I detoured from the path and got stuck in some mud. My walking shoes will never look the same. The husband peered at me as I flailed around with one foot lodged in the ground, and said “What are you doing?” in a disapproving tone, like it was a new and eccentric hobby I was experimenting with. First the ukulele, now getting stuck in mud. Will it never end?

I got to have a little browse in the local secondhand bookstore (if we’re visiting somewere and there’s an open secondhand bookstore, there’s always time for a browse – one of the lessor known laws of physics), and found an old copy of a collection of James Tiptree Jr short stories (a generally out of print sci fi author). I took it back and the baby (currently nicknamed The Rodent) decided to have a nibble. Mmm, tasty science fiction.

While driving:
“Do you think motorbike riders like each other?”
“No. They shoot each other.”
“No, I don’t mean gangs. I mean, when they’re out on their bike and they see another bike rider – do you think it gives them a warm comforting feeling?”
“Like they’ve peed themselves?”

We drove further north, to hang out with Andrew, Esther and family, including their new baby. He vomited on me several times during the weekend, which I think was either a sign of favour, or his way of saying, “Could you stop whirring me around in the air like a toy, madam?” I am fond of the astounded, gleeful expression babies get when you fly them round like little fat wingless birds. I could do without the curdled milk landing on me afterwards though. And the horrified howling when you try and wipe said curdled milk from the baby’s face. Oh, the torture of having one’s face wiped.

We spent an afternoon together on the lawn drinking wine, sketching and playing music. Unfortunately my talents at sketching and music are not improved by the consumption of wine. I have brought home a terrible pencil sketch of the garden, and a much more impressive drawing of a rocket done by the toddler. We played and sang our way through my unwieldy songbook folder that I drag everywhere. Esther has one of those gorgeous bluesy voices that I envy terribly, knowing that I will never sound like that. But I am content to harmonise (or attempt to do so). “Not everyone has to have a lead singer’s voice,” says the husband philisophically. “Think of John Lennon.”

We’re going to do some recording before they leave the state again – Wade in the Water, and Why Worry, a mellow Dire Straits song that we’re plotting to turn into a power ballad. I have harmonies in mind.

Off the grid

We spent some time off the grid this weekend – staying at a friend’s place, where they live without mains power, hot water, phone lines, or much plumbing (say hello to the long drop dunny). It was nice and relaxing as a guest – after all, I wasn’t the one who had to boil hot water to wash with. I was spending my time playing with the baby. This is the sort of practical and helpful thing that guests ought to do, I think. I also did some lens-swapping – it’s always nice to spend time with another Nikon owner.

“I have discovered that if I whistle and pretend to waltz with the baby, I can hold her attention for at least 4 minutes. Finally, an audience that appreciates my entertaining skills.”

The property is perched on top of a mountain, looking down into a deep valley on three sides. In the mornings, we basked in the sunshine and the almost constant breeze, watching the magpies and goannas enjoying the summer heat and the clouds and mist filling the valley around us.

We also watched the baby, who has almost mastered crawling – she would push herself into Downward Dog position, squeaking with effort, tongue out, and wobble there while we all shouted helpfully, “Move your arms, baby! Your arms!” It hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

Christmas time

The plane bounced sharply a few times on our descent into Cairns, causing high pitched shrieks from the passengers. It was that sort of jolting that makes you gaze out the window (while clutching onto the seat in front of you) and contemplate the interesting fact that you’re hurtling through the air in a pointy metal tube, through the pouring rain.

We arranged our motley collection of bags and instruments around Dad’s two door car and gazed at it contemplatively. It resembled a logic puzzle that we might not be able to solve. However, the car demonstrated its Tardis-like qualities and we crammed it full of luggage, wedged ourselves into the back seat (which was tremendously uncomfortable), and gradually made our way to Daintree, stopping for fish and chips, a litre of Bacardi, a bag of lychees and some pineapples, two cartons of beer, and a kilo of bacon. It was pouring with rain the entire way, the sea steely grey and choppy, with a dark blue layer of clouds lying ominously along the horizon.

I woke up on Christmas morning to find a blister on my hip and realised that I hadn’t managed to avoid catching chickenpox from my husband after all. I felt rather headachey and dizzy, and spent a lot of time on Christmas sitting and chatting while everyone else cooked. My sister in law kept making cocktails and handing them to me – mojitos and pina coladas – in between making me drink horrific shots of herbs which were supposed to reduce the chickenpox symptoms. I was given chocolates and a hemp bag and books, including a book of ukulele music from my brother which was responsible for me attempting to learn to play Black Sabbath’s Paranoid on the ukulele (an interesting sound) and the recording we made of Bad Moon Rising on ukulele and guitar.

My brother lent me his mask and snorkel and I swam in the pool – formerly a chlorinated pool which my mother has transformed into a pond, complete with fish and plants. The walls of the pool are covered in ridged curves of sponge-like algae (or possible a freshwater sponge, there is some debate on the matter). Little bubbles of air cling to it, and when brushed by a hand, or waves of water, they pop up bubbling to the surface. I lay on my back for a while under the falling water of the sprinkler that aerates the pond, feeling soothed and cool on my skin – I had a day or two of feeling quite itchy as my skin bloomed with attractive blistery spots.

The husband and I played a few games of chess while listening to Bach – I said it was the sort of sophisticated music that one should listen to while playing chess, but spoiled by new veneer of sophistication by dancing my pieces into their new positions to the beat of the music. I have never won a game of chess against the husband, as I’m not very good at thinking ahead or anticipating any of the other player’s moves. It’s the sort of thinking I would like to get better at, but I’m not sure how to do so apart from playing more terrible games of chess.

We have returned home now, much to the cats’ delight; they woke us up early this morning patting our faces to check we were still there, and got shoved off onto the floor for their pains. My chickpox spots are gradually drying up, and I will probably be entirely recovered in time to return to work next week, which is rather unfortunate timing really. And it’s now time to turn my mind to the new year; my resolutions generally last me for a few months at least, so I feel it’s still worth the time to make them.

Camping

The weather was a little damp for camping this weekend, but we still had a lot of fun.

I found a bees’ nest. And jammed on the ukulele. And read Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword.

And when we got home, we found the biggest group of king parrots we’ve seen feeding on some seed we had left out on the verandah. One female and four males, being occasionally harassed by a couple of lorikeets. They’re such pretty birds, I love seeing them around the house.

AussieCon 4 – round up

Last weekend I was in Melbourne, staying in my aunt’s apartment in the city, and catching the tram every day to go out to the 68th World Science Fiction Convention (or, because it’s the fourth one held in Australia, AussieCon 4).

Highlights:

  • seeing Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire on a panel “in conversation” – they’re both so funny, and it was great to see them chat in person.
  • Ellen Kushner’s performance/reading of Thomas the Rhymer, with several British folk songs.
  • Watching panels with Cory Doctorow, China Mieville, Robert Silverberg & Charles Stross.
  • Seeing Seanan McGuire win the Campbell award at the Hugos and squeak incoherently into the mic when she first got up on stage.
  • Seeing Gail Carriger around the place each day in a different fabulous outfit, and hearing her read from Blameless.
  • Catching the end of the Boxcutters panel on Dr Who, and getting to see Josh Kinal and John Richards (podcast superstars!).
  • Seeing Galactic Suburbia, three fabulous women, recording their live podcast episode.
  • The Hugo Awards in its entirety, with Garth Nix doing a fantastic job as host. And Peter Watts accepting his award in his “Welcome Squid Overlords” t-shirt.
  • Following and contributing to the aus4 hashtag on Twitter.
  • Being around people who felt like my tribe – or one of my tribes, at least. People talking books and sci-fi and generally getting their geek on.
  • Seeing my gorgeous cousins and their son, and have breakfast at The European.
  • Books bought:

  • Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • Death Most Definite by Trent Jamieson
  • Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
  • Sprawl anthology from Twelfth Planet Press
  • Changeless by Gail Carriger
  • Shadow Bound by Deborah Kalin
  • Bleed by Peter M Ball
  • The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner
  • On an island

    A few weeks ago, we went boating for my sister in law’s birthday – putting down the Pumicestone Passage and anchoring (ie. beaching the boats, and hurling the anchors onto the sand – does that count as anchoring?) on a little beach on Bribie Island.

    There was fishing:

    And a grand total catch of one flathead, which was promptly barbecued and eaten. I also made a birthday cake – a Chai Cake with Honey & Ginger Cream. A three layer cake, as ever since making the wedding cake I can’t seem to move away from triple layer cakes for celebrations. It was a nice cake, but it didn’t blow my mind – I thought the honey flavour in the icing was a little strong, and the cake itself was the teensiest bit dry. The chai spices are gorgeous though, and it held up well, despite being transported on a boat and cut on a beach.

    The excitement of boating and birthday cake was topped off by the discovery of a horse skeleton.

    Isn’t that the most picturesque horse skeleton you ever saw? I presume that there are some wild horses roaming over Bribie Island. It seems more likely than someone galloping romantically down to the shore, having their horse expire under them, and shrugging to themselves, “Oh well – guess I’ll have to walk home.” But I suppose anything’s possible.

    Down by the sea

    We just spent a few days staying by the sea at Bargara, which is a small town near Bundaberg, about four or five hours drive away. We stayed in an apartment looking out onto the ocean, slept with the windows open to the sound of the waves, and spent a lot of time walking along the shore. I also played a lot of ukulele, which is really the perfect instrument to play on a balcony looking out to sea. It’s the right setting. Possibly not while playing Hotel California though.

    We went and checked out some wetlands in Bundaberg, which didn’t have a huge diversity of birdlife to my amateur eyes, but did have lots of ducks, a family of swans, and a darter drying its wings in the early morning sunshine.

    I am finally getting used to my new glasses, which have thicker arms than the ones I’ve had for the last 15 years or so, and initially made me feel as if I had blinkers on. I love them – I quite disliked my old glasses when I was in high school, and didn’t get any fonder of them as time passed. So it’s nice to finally have a change, after putting it off for so long.

    Apart from occasionally throwing admiring glances at my spectacled reflection, I spent the rest of the holiday trying to perfect those pesky jazz chords, reading Gail Carriger’s Soulless and Robin McKinley’s Chalice, watching the first season of Six Feet Under and re-watching Sharpe episodes. The Sharpe series is where Sean Bean is charging around in the Napoleonic wars being northern, despising most of his fellow officers and having it off with just about every woman who happens upon the British army. Most entertaining.

    We also set up a new recording studio area in the granny flat, so that my poor little laptop will no longer have its processing powers pushed to freezing limits. The flat has been dubbed the Rat Room, due to its current residents. They have had several lovely snacks out of my live trap without triggering it so far, the little bastards. They must think I’ve decided to provide them with a regular nightly buffet, which just happens to be plated up in a cage. I’m going to adjust the sensitivity of the door and try it again. One day, my ratty friends. One day.

    The key of C – the people’s key

    The conclusion I reached after spending three days at the Cairns Ukulele Festival was this: ukulele players are lovely people. I reached a number of other conclusions, including “I need to learn how to play Don’t Worry Be Happy”, “I love conga lines” and “I need to buy a banjolele”. But the one about uke players was the main one. The entire Festival had a fantastic atmosphere, with people chatting away happily to anyone else carrying a ukulele case. James Hill, the headline performer (with his partner, Anne Davison, on cello) was truly fantastic. I love that moment when someone finishes a song and everyone around you quietly says, “Oh, wow…” before applauding like mad things. Check this outOh Susannah done as a tragically slow song on ukulele lap steel.

    Right, banjolele. I went and visited Music City which, since I lived up north, has developed a speciality in ukuleles (which makes Cairns a perfect place for a ukulele festival, I suppose). I drooled for a while over the entire wall of ukuleles, and was particularly taken by the banjolele, which is pretty much what it sounds like – a banjo the size of a ukulele, with four strings, tuned like a ukulele, sounding like a (little) banjo. Wouldn’t Duelling Banjos played on ukulele and banjolele be a marvellous thing? Although I’m sure if I search for it on YouTube, someone will have already recorded it.

    I also did a workshop with James Hill, and as a result have been working away at a new chord shape, which will give me such exotic chords as Fm7 and G#m7. Which are very jazzy chords. Jazz is, I am told by James Hill and therefore believe, the perfect sort of music for ukulele. I am trying to learn the song we touched on in that workshop, a jazz standard called Avalon, but I think that’s going to take me a while. Not only does it consist of all new chords, but a new strumming and kind of rhythmic muting. I need more callouses on my fingertips. When I get it right though, and learn to slide back into each chord shape without having to laboriously place my fingers in the correct spot on each string every time, it’s going to sound brilliant.

    Cooinda, NT

    Excerpt from my travel diary – 29 June 2009, Kakadu

    We boarded the boat in the morning dimness, surrounded by hoardes of mozzies, and headed out onto the water to watch the sun rising in a blaze of colour across the horizon, lighting the still water. Wild horses grazed near the water’s edge, covered in cattle egrets, and mated in front of our boat to the awkward commentary and eventual silence of our guide

    There were so many crocodiles, swimming along the surface near the boat and drifting along the edges of the water among the egrets and spoonbills picking among the reeds.

    We saw rainbow bee-eaters, whistling kites, sea eagles, nankeen night herons, jacanas, jabirus on the nest, azure kingfishers, egrets, spoonbills, many cormorants and ducks, and brolgas stalking among the reeds in the distance.

    The water was so still and clear, mirror-like, with bird calls echoing through the stillness.

    Trip to Stanthorpe

    We drove to Stanthorpe for the Queen’s Birthday long weekend recently, staying in a tiny cabin in a camping ground, with a river running along the back of the property.

    Why can I never get horizons straight? Apparently I stand on angles when taking landscape shots.

    We climbed up a big rock (the Pyramid walk in Girraween National Park – which is gorgeous, and I want to go back there when the wildflowers are blooming in spring)…

    And admired the view. We were all wearing shorts & jumpers, and the wind was freezing. I am not terribly fond of heights, and particularly not when I’m surrounded by them while scrambling up a slippery granite slope.

    We played some music while the sun went down, drank some wine and ate cheese.

    Stanthorpe is overrun by wineries, but only features one dairy – an astonishing oversight. I bought lots of cheese that the husband doesn’t particularly like, and now need someone to feed cheese to. Mature cheddar, anyone?