Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Know Where You Live #11

Last November Jon posted the tenth instalment of I Know Where You Live. Having proven our critics wrong (some guy two years ago: "They'll never make it to ten!") we then proceeded to sit on our thumbs and twiddle our buttocks, or something along those lines, for the next five months. During that time loyal Sterne readers have voiced concern that we no longer know where you, or indeed anybody, lives, and expressed disappointment that this should be the case, especially given the sheer volume of living that goes on in this country, often with our knowledge. Fear not, however, for IKWYL is back, and this time we're crossing the border into NSW to have a look at that bustling burg, Gundagai. Ladies, take a Bex; menfolk, do try to contain your tumescence.

I owe the discovery of Gundagai to the conjunction of a broken car and a surly mechanic. The car belonged to my parents (note the past tense: it has since been shot). The mechanic belonged to Gundagai, and probably still does unless he's managed to purchase his freedom. Car and mechanic were brought together when the car - in which I was travelling, along with my partner, youngest child and parents, to our international drug cartel's AGM in Wollongong - broke down on the highway twenty k south of Gundagai. We called the RACV, the RACV called the NRMA, the NRMA called the ACCC, the ACCC told the NRMA they had the wrong number, the NRMA hung up and called the RACV, the RACV called us to pass on the number for the NRMA. Finally a mechanic was despatched from Gundagai to collect us and our ailing vehicle. Upon arrival in town, the mechanic used an intricate system of grunts and flinches to convey to us that our car was fucked and that we'd have to wait five hours for a hire car to be driven over from Wagga, the sole hire car in Gundagai being a Ford Festiva and therefore suitable only for transporting families consisting entirely of small children or hobbits.

As you might expect, we were rapt at the opportunity to spend a few hours wandering the streets of this quaint country town in the 35+ degree heat. Gundagai is truly the jewel in the crown of whatever the name is of the region it’s in. John Curtin practically said as much in 1942 when he stopped en route to Canberra for a bite to eat and a swallow to drink at the Niagra CafĂ© (note: not actually proximate to or in any way associated with Niagra Falls). The crockery used by the wartime PM is now displayed in the Niagra’s window. Legend has it that if you stare at Curtin’s unwashed coffee cup and repeat his name five times the PM’s ghost will appear and grant you one wish. You will of course immediately find yourself somewhere other than Gundagai.

Long before Curtin rode into town Gundagai was a favourite haunt of many bushrangers including Captain Moonlite, Captain Starlite Express, and the notorious Lieutenant-Colonel Daylite Savings, who fled to Gundagai after an extended campaign of curtain fading and tomato over-ripening in the Goulburn Valley. “The road to Gundagai” is of course famous for the “dog on the tuckerbox”, a forty kilo rottweiler who, upon learning that Gundagai was his master’s destination, sat on his tuckerbox and refused to budge. The dog’s calcified remains continue to momentarily distract thousands of motorists each year while inexplicably inspiring only the worst poets and songwriters.

Gundagai is clearly a tourist mecca, and indeed a bill is currently before the NSW parliament that would require all tourists to face Gundagai and pray five times a day. There is so much to see and do – from the historic bridges to the abandoned asbestos mine – that a mere afternoon is barely enough. Luckily we had to stop on our way home to collect the car, only to find it wasn’t yet repaired and we had to spend another few hours in good ol’ Gunners. What blessed luck!

Unfortunately, we were too busy eating pastry goods and bickering to enjoy the town’s most revered attraction, Rusconi’s Marble Masterpiece. Local monumental mason (read: enormously fat bricklayer) Frank Rusconi spent twenty-eight years carving a miniature Baroque Italian palace from 20, 948 pieces of local marble. The result is now on display in the Gundagai Tourist Information Centre, itself carved by Frank Rusconi out of 20, 948 pieces of local cow. The stench is truly awe-inspiring, and will leave you gasping for air long after you bid Gundagai farewell. Which, of course, is what we ultimately had to do. As we left, I raised my hand to salute the mechanic whose lack of dedication, aversion to hard work, and can-not-do spirit had resulted in our having been delayed not once but twice on our trip. Seeing my gesture, the mechanic muttered something quaint and country, raised his own hand, and threw a spanner at my face. But we were already hooning out of town, leaving Gundagai hacking its lungs out in a cloud of its own dust.

Gundagai: 2.5 droplets of John Curtin’s spit out of 5.

The Complete "I Know Where You Live"

The Complete "I Know Where You Live"

Frank, fair, often fallacious impressions of every town and suburb in Australia*.

#1 Frankston
#2 Olinda
#3 South Morang
#4 Bacchus Marsh
#5 Camberwell
#6 Nunawading
#7 Caroline Springs
#8 Ouyen
#9 South Yarra
#10 Daylesford
# 11 Gundagai

*Excepting the several thousand we didn't get around to.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Remember when this blog had actual content? No, me either. Neither.

This isn't happening. It would have been interesting, maybe even good, but I don't have time to put the thing together. Basically it came down to a choice between one full-time project that would consume all of my writing/thinking resources (ie. the lit journal) or a bunch of smaller projects that I can work on concurrently. The latter better suits my circumstances and temperament. That said, thanks to everybody who emailed me about getting involved.

I've got some short book reviews appearing in The Big Issue over the next couple of months and there are some longish blog posts I'm attempting to get up to scratch. Illness continues to slow me down with whatever caused this now causing inflammation of the lining of my right lung. Again, nothing life-threatening, just painful and annoying.

I have however managed to make a tentative start on writing one book (fiction) and a slightly more confident start on another (non-fiction, albeit extremely subjective). The fiction idea has been percolating for about six months; the non-fiction idea came about thanks to a confluence of thoughts and experiences towards the end of last week. I expect to have both books finished c. 2025, so keep an eye out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sittin' on the dock of the 'Bay

Ten years ago during the half hour I was interested in Something For Kate I bought a copy of their Intermission EP. It cost me $5.

Today I sold that EP on eBay. After a minor bidding war it went for $40.

Capitalism rocks.

Author as Adjective #1


The feeling that one has already read the book one is considering buying, then buying it anyway just in case one hasn't read it, only to discover five copies of the book in question on one's shelves. For example: "I felt really wodehouse in the bookshop today because I thought I'd already read Summer Moonshine, which is the one about the romantic imbroglios and the aunts, but then I wondered if I was getting confused with Summer Lightning, which is the one about the romantic imbroglios and the aunts, so I bought them both just in case."

Originally posted as comment at Laura's. I'm really low on blogging inspiration right now.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Broken Hearts Are For Assholes

Monday, 2 a.m., I woke suddenly, covered in sweat and clutching at my chest, within which two enormous, invisible hands were apparently squeezing the life from my heart. Belinda was with Charlotte in Sydney visiting family, so with nobody to turn to for comfort I spent the next twenty minutes or so pacing the house, oscillating between two thoughts: 1) I am not having a heart attack. After all, I’m only twenty-eight; and 2) I’m having a heart attack! And I’m only twenty-eight! As my discomfort increased and the pain radiated up to my shoulder then down my left arm, the latter thought gained ascendency and the former started to feel like wishful thinking.

I decided to call Nurses on Call. The nurse-on-call was friendly and calm – until I described my symptoms. “We need to get you to a hospital immediately,” she said in a voice that I can only describe as grave, the connotation being that if I didn’t get to hospital immediately a grave is exactly where I’d end up. “Stay on the line,” she continued, “I’m going to call you an ambulance.”

When the ambulance arrived I was bundled into the back, given some kind of emergency heart attack medication as a precaution, then hooked up to a heart monitor. The paramedic and I watched the spastic rise and fall of my heart-rate on the read-out.

“You seem a little anxious,” he said.

“Just a little.” Gritting my teeth against sarcasm now in addition to pain.

“Well, there’s certainly something going on.” We watched the numbers dance. 97. 135. 62. 124. “We’d better get you to hospital and have it checked out.”

Want to see a doctor fast? Turn up in an ambulance complaining of chest pains. Within minutes of arriving I was transferred to a bed and given more medication. I was put on a heart monitor and had blood tests and a chest x-ray. I was given oxygen for my blood and a breathtaking shot of morphine for the pain. One nurse kept touching my shoulder and calling me “darl”. Another gave me funny little smiles of support every time she walked past. My parents sat on either side of the bed stifling yawns. The man next to me – a drunk, evidently, sleeping off a binge – moaned and sang and snored. His curtain remained closed but for some reason I imagined him looking like Unhygienix, the fishmonger from the Asterix comics. I hadn’t had a lot of sleep.

By six-thirty it was becoming clear that I hadn’t had a heart attack. But, quoth the doctor, “something is going on”. At about seven I was admitted to hospital for the first time in my life and placed in the Coronary Care Unit for observation.

I’ll keep the account of my time in CCU brief. It was boring enough at the time even with the threat of heart disease or whatever to ponder. Doctors and nurses came and went, running tests and performing examinations. The word "infarct" was used with abandon. I studied at length a framed print depicting a nondescript rural dwelling, generously if inexplicably donated to the hospital by a Mr and Mrs Napper in 1997, and found it overwhelmingly dull. Meanwhile my heart-rate had levelled out to a resting average of 100, thirty more than is normal for an adult male. Any movement – peeing in a bottle, sitting up, giggling at the word "infarct" – caused it to shoot right up. There was no evidence of damage to my heart, but, as my nurse kept reminding me, “Even so, this is not nothing. This is something.”

Not something life-threatening, though, so in the early evening I was shifted to a ward. I was still being monitored, but now I had a remote unit to carry around so I was able to sit in a chair or visit the toilet. At this point I felt pretty relaxed. I had a book to read, a tv to watch, food to eat. Oh, and apparently I wasn’t going to die just yet. That always lowers the tension somewhat.

Lunch time the following day I was discharged. Final diagnosis? Pericarditus, an inflammation of the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart. It’s generally a benign condition, although I’m going to have to take it easy for the next week or so and watch out for a recurrence. Four days later I seem to be recovering nicely, although I’m still easily tired and there is some residual soreness.

Emotionally I feel strangely brittle, which I guess is understandable. Staggering out my front door to meet the paramedics I did wonder if I would ever return. Melodramatic? Perhaps. But fear of imminent harm, of death, is still profound even when, with the benefit of hindsight, there was no objective reason for it. I also feel as if I have seen the last of my (blessed, extended) youth. Apart from the occasional illness I have been healthy all my life and thus in a certain sense disembodied. Ultimately though the body laughs at such dualist fantasies. "When I go," it says, "I’m taking you with me." I’m not keen on getting too introspective here, but I have to say that I find that thought immensely troubling.

Still, I don't want to overstate the existential angst: I'm not dead and I'm not dying, at least not more than I was before. It's hard to be upset with that outcome.

Rubbing Will Only Make It Worse

Time was people being attacked by a shark were content with punching the beast on the nose. These days everybody's mind is in the gutter:
[A]ll she could think of was beating it off before it could savage her teenage son wading alongside or the three-year-old on her hip.
Sick. And in front of the kids, too!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"My heart is made of gravy"

As you can see I have made some changes to the sidebar including moving the - newly expanded - links to a separate page. I'm afraid that I might have inadvertently deleted or overlooked some blogs that I'd previously linked; if so, please leave a comment and I'll rectify it.

Listening: Wowee Zowee, Pavement

Reading: House Mother Normal, B.S. Johnson

Dreading: having to go to work in about half an hour

Merry Saturday to all.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Idea For A TV Show

Title: Simon & Simon

Premise: The two actors who played Simon Kelly on Hey Dad! meet and become gay lovers. Together they solve crimes.

Cast: Christopher Mayer as Paul Smith, Paul Smith as Christopher Mayer, with special guest Charles "Bud" Tingwell as "The Guy Who Played Nudge".

Blog With No Roll?

Every time I try to update the blogroll the java popup thingy Blogger makes you use crashes my browser. It's pretty annoying, but I wonder if it's of any consequence. Do people still use blogrolls? I can't remember the last time I clicked on a blogroll link, here or elsewhere. And if I'm not doing it then hardly anybody else is either, me being one of those trend-setting types you read about in the Sunday Age and all.

So: would dumping the blogroll be considered a breach of etiquette? Or, if maintaining a list of blogfriends is absolutely essential, even though the list serves no practical purpose, could I just shove it down the bottom of the page? You know, where nobody would see it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Exploits of Engelbrecht

Copies of Maurice Richardson's The Exploits of Engelbrecht are very scarce and very expensive. Right now you can pick up first editions for between fifty and $169 from Abebooks - not exactly First Folio prices but a fair fistful of dosh for a mid-20C hardback by an obscure author. There was a cheaper ($25) 1977 paperback available last week; it now sits on my desk, threatening to distract me from The Paucity of Scope or whatever the title is of the tedious Barack Obama book I'm meant to be reading.

Richardson was admired by Moorcock, Ballard and other New Worlds writers but he is little known today. The only substantial reference I could find online is this article about his meeting Aleistair Crowley. The article describes Richardson as "a sceptical humanist fascinated by freakish religions, and even more by the odd characters connected with them". The Exploits of Engelbrecht, comprising stories that had previously appeared in a magazine named Lilliput, was first published in 1950. There appears to have been no further editions until the paperback reprint in 1977, after which the book again went out of print. In 2000 the brilliant Savoy Books published a new hardback edition; it, of course, is now virtually impossible to find.

"Abstracted from the Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportsman's Club", The Exploits of Engelbrecht offers fifteen surrealist twists on the clubroom anecdote. The first story, "The Night of the Big Witch Shoot", is pretty much what it says on the tin.

The vicar with Bell, Book and Candle and holy water spray leads the choir through the cemetery and they beat about among the gravestones shouting: 'Hi cock! C'mon out of that, granny! Only another half hour till day-break.' Then you hear them yell: 'Witch over! Mark Warlock! Wizard on the left,' and what with the screeching of the witches and the whirring of the broomsticks there's row enough to put up the devil himself.

Engelbrecht himself plays a more active role in the second story, "Ten Rounds with Grandfather Clock". Engelbrecht is a dwarf and a "surrealist boxer", the "champion of all Time" - meaning of course that he's won a lot of fights against clocks. This story describes Engelbrecht's bout against a particularly heavyweight opponent.

Grandfather Clock is hoisted into his corner and he stands there during the preliminaries while they pull the gloves on his hands, wearing his dressing gown of cobwebs, looking a regular champion every minute of him. And when they hand him good-luck telegrams from Big Ben, the Greenwich Observatory chronometer and the BBC Time Pips, he strikes thirteen and breaks into the Whittington Chimes.

The next story is about a round of Surrealist Golf, which is much like regular golf except there's only one "devilish long" hole. "Par is reckoned at 818181, but anything under 1000000 is considered a hot score." Honestly, how can I resist? Barack might just have to keep his American dreaming to himself for a few hours..

Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Over the weekend...

...I read The Vesuvius Club by League of Gentlemen writer/performer Mark Gatiss. It's an amusing pastiche - think Flashman by way of James Bond with ambience by P.G. Wodehouse - but not quite the outrageous barrel of monkeys it was clearly intended to be. The first half is great fun: Lucifer Box, portraitist and superspy for the Edwardian equivalent of MI6, swans around London being caddish and witty while getting drawn into several plots that you just know are going to end up merging. By the time they do, Box has travelled to Naples and the book has essentially become the kind of thriller it was formerly extracting the piss from. There's even a ticking-time-bomb finale, fer chrissakes. Not a bad book though, and Box has a lot of potential.

I also finished reading Barrington Bayley's The Garments of Caean. Bayley is no stylist but his occasionally clunky prose doesn't detract from the entertainment offered by his ideas. The plot is pretty inventive too, hinging on a parasitic sentient suit that controls its wearer. There's one scene in which the suit, lacking a convenient human subject, fills itself with thousands of flesh-eating flies, kills the crew of a spaceship, then makes off with it using its fly-hands to manipulate the controls. You don't get that in Proust.


When I made my triumphant, much-lauded return to blogging last month, I made a mental resolution not to indulge my penchant for invective as frequently as I had in the past and to avoid applying the hatchet unless the book/film/whatever in question really deserved it. So far I've been good, but then I found out that my extremely cranky, eighteen-month-old post on Dead Europe is listed as a web resource for a lecture on the book at Victoria University! They must have been hard up for resources considering I didn't even finish reading the thing. But I guess the moral is you can never escape your archives. Unless you delete them, or alter them in a Ministry of Truth-esque falsification of the historical record. Which of course I would never do.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

April Reading Round-Up

Nova Swing, M. John Harrison. I didn't fully understand this book while I was reading it so discussing it at a month's remove is a tough ask. Harrison is one of those writers whose work is simultaneously thrilling and frustrating. It doesn't lend itself to easy comprehension, but you don't mind having to re-read because the writing is so good. Nova Swing isn't as good as Light (to which it is a sort-of-sequel) but it's still good stuff - so good that soon after finishing it I went out and bought all the M. John Harrison books I could find. I realise that's one of those classic pieces of reviewer hyperbole, but in this case it happens to be true.

Update (4/5): Nova Swing has been awarded the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Wizardry and Wild Romance, Michael Moorcock. I'd already read "Epic Pooh", an all-out assault on the Inklings and their legacy, and the most interesting essay in this collection. It's a fine polemic, well-informed and often dripping scorn: "Writers like Tolkien take you to the edge of the Abyss and point out the excellent tea-garden at the bottom, showing you the steps carved into the cliff and reminding you to be a bit careful because the hand-rails are a trifle shaky as you go down; they haven't got the approval yet to put a new one in." The rest of the book is a kind of potted history or survey of "epic fantasy", developed thematically - and with zero claim to objectivity - under such headings as "The Exotic Landscape" and "Wit and Humour". All very interesting, although a bit short. Apparently an updated edition was recently published that covers developments in the field such as Harry Potter, Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett.

Peace, Gene Wolfe. Like Harrison, Wolfe writes subtle, nuanced works of fantasy that you know you’re only half grasping even as you read them. Peace is a modernist patchwork of stories within stories that illuminate – and obfuscate – the life of a small-town industrialist. Sound boring? Well, the small-town industrialist is also a serial killer, but you have to pay attention to spot it. (Spoiler warning. Oh, too late.) The more I’ve thought about Peace in the weeks since I read it, the more impressed I have become. As a result, I have half a shelf of Gene Wolfe novels to read once I’m done with M. John Harrison. Special bonus Gene Wolfe trivia: Gene Wolfe was part of the engineering team that developed the machine that cooks Pringles chips. Astounding!

Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut. Sheer bloody genius.

Virtual Light, William Gibson. I have fond memories of the earlier "Sprawl" series of novels and stories, so I was surprised to discover in Virtual Light just how poor a writer Gibson actually is, or at any rate can be. There’s some really lazy writing in this book, and it’s conceptually weak too, an example of “fake sf”: drop the incidental technology and the story could be set in the present. Even the “virtual light” glasses that are plot’s prime mover are little more than a fancy bit of surveyor’s gear. Lame stuff.

Started, didn’t finish: Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. I’m not going to piss all over everybody’s favourite Booker runner-up but frankly it didn’t do it for me. I made it halfway through, so I guess I missed out on the bits where Mitchell knits it all together (he does knit it all together, right?). I found it all quite dull, a succession of empty pastiches that I didn’t care about. Sorry, Beth.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Full Life

Reading: The Garments of Caean, Barrington J. Bayley.

Listening: Golden Cleaners, The Cleaners From Venus.

Watching: My eBay watch-list.

Writing: Bugger all.

Caring: A lot - in the Faith No More sense.

Plotting: See below.

Thinking: As little as possible.

Eating: Vegemite on toast.

Dreading: Doing the grocery shopping this afternoon. Oh, and global warming, nuclear war, etc.

Failing: To do anything remotely productive with my life.

Succeeding: At wallowing in self-pity over perceived failure to do anything remotely productive with my life.

Laughing: At the increasing absurdity of Neighbours' storylines.

Wishing: I owned a more comfortable pillow.

Making: Annoying clicking sounds with my front teeth.

Disliking: The exhorbitant cost of buying books from the UK.

Going: Out for dinner to celebrate my mum's birthday.

Selling: My soul to the lowest bidder. So far there have been no takers.

Drawing: The short straw and a long bow.

Drinking: Instant coffee.

Stroking: My pussy.

Buying: Obscurities.

Wondering: Why a couple of emails I sent last week have been ignored.

Spooking: The horses.

Despising: Pretension, arrogance, spitefulness, apathy.

Exhibiting: Pretension, arrogance, spitefulness, apathy.

Wishing: For intergalactic peace.

Suffering: Mild headache, indigestion (the Vegemite on toast), gammy knee.

Collapsing: In a heap.

Ending: This post.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Contributors for a quarterly online journal or review or whatever you want to call it.

Here's what I'm after: long- and short-form reviews of new or old works; critical essays (on individual authors/artists, movements, trends, genres, etc); interviews; innovative fiction and poetry of a high standard. Literature will be the main focus, but I hope music, film and other cultural pursuits will feature prominently too. Within that ambit I'm interested in covering pretty much everything, from the highest art to the lowest brow, from the old and perhaps forgotten, to the new. Ideally, contributions will be smart, original and funny, the work of intelligent enthusiasts rather than dry academics - although intelligent, enthusiastic, non-dry academics are more than welcome!

If you're at all interested, leave a comment or send me an email (bel_mcdonnell AT optusnet DOT com DOT au). Please note that this project is not a blog (although it may end up being hosted by a blogging service) so I'm not necessarily seeking a long-term commitment.