Friday, August 29, 2003

Not sad, not yet

Heavy-lidded and feeling a touch displaced I stumble through my last day at work.

Had a fabulous farewell function last night, for me and two others who leave next week. There were nearly 30 of us: the guys presently working at my level in the different teams, and some who’d recently left us.

I hadn’t realised there were going to be speeches, and got a little apprehensive about who might have been tapped on the shoulder to make mine.

It suddenly struck me that most of those co-workers I got to feel close to when I first moved to Melbourne and was in hard-core friend-making mode, moved on from the office some time ago. (Most people only do this job a year or 18 months because there’s really no career path, so there’s constant turnover – but less angsty than at a firm because you know going in it’s a one-year gig.)

Anyway, I realised that at work I have, on the whole, probably been friendly – but maybe a little aloof. My Melbourne has been one of a broad range of acquaintances and a few good friends. This suits me, but left no one at work who really knew me. I wondered who on earth would be asked to speak about me.

So, when Mr Z rose to his feet, I was quite relieved. He used to work at the Adelaide office and we got to know each other first through some weeknight drinking. He was also present when I, metaphorically, “hit the wall” rather suddenly at a party some months ago. I was burbling along fine for ages, then kinda got rather flat and sick-feeling around 2.30am, and went to sit, unspeaking and pretty non compos mentis for some time in the garden.

I blamed this mostly on drinking a series of tequila shots with a man possibly twice my weight (I’m a slender guy, if tall-ish, weighing in at a mere 55 kilos immediately after eating).

Mr Z lead with the words: “Doug is a man who punches above his weight …”

The speech was hysterical, short and very kind.

Eventually they kicked us out of the restaurant and a hard core went on to finish a bottle of red at Soft Belly before getting our trams home.

So, this is my final day in the office. There is literally nothing left for me to do here, except fill out the “leaver’s clearance” document that will trigger my final pay and pay-out my accumulated leave, and delete about 2,000 personal e-mails that have accumulated over several months. I no longer even have a desk, my replacement is now well settled in and I’m using spare computers where I find them.

Sad? Not yet. I think I will be soon though.

Meantime I just have to work out what “returned all attractive items?” on my clearance form means …

Thursday, August 28, 2003

I know, I know

Naylor Day has been delayed. Forgot to bring in the edits I have been making on paper and transfer them to screen. So tomorrow. Or Saturday at the latest. No threatening e-mails before the weekend please. (Jason - this means you.)

You think this is bad, wait 'till I'm trotting round Europe. (I will maintain Courting Disaster as my travel and Cambridge diary, as well as the usual posts, but until I settle down to study again, Naylor may be tricky for a fortnight in late September.)

Anyway, read on and berate my politics instead.
“I can’t believe it’s not a bollicking”

At the risk of permanently losing my latte-sipping leftist credentials, I find myself about to come out in limited, half-hearted support of a staunch right-wing death beast: Tony Abbott, federal minister for workplace relations.

And not just because he has an eerie resemblance to my former landlord, the gentleman academic.

I watched the 7.30 Report interview last night about whether he had lied about setting up a “slush fund” to attack Pauline Hanson’s One Nation “party”. (I say “party” because “Pauline Hanson’s One Nation” was always a corporation controlled by three voting members, unwilling to open itself to democratic governance by its members (who were in fact mere financial supporters). It’s registration as a party was a fraud on the Electoral Act and Hanson received some $500,000 of public funds for campaign expenses as a result.)

I started off jeering at Abbott, and thinking he was being evasive and obfuscatory. Which he was. But eventually, I got rather sick of Kerry O’Brien’s interview – pleasant as it is to see a bully being bullied.

As Deborah Snow pointed out, there are two separate issues:

“The first is a pledge he made to a disillusioned former One Nation candidate, Terry Sharples, in July 1998 to defray legal costs in a case Sharples was bringing against One Nation.

The second is a trust that Abbott set up the next month to pursue One Nation through other legal channels.”

It has been said that Abbott lied to an ABC interviewer in 1998 when he answered “absolutely not” to the question “So there was never any question of any party funds or other funds from any other source being offered to Terry Sharples?”

Let’s unpack this. In all fairness, the point Abbott tried to get across last night was Sharples was never going to be paid to take on Hanson in the Courts. Abbott organised free legal counsel and said he would make sure – if Sharples lost – that any costs order made against him by a Court and payable to One Nation would not come out of Sharples’ own pocket.

Now whether giving someone a financial guarantee that there will be no cost to them, is at the end of the day, different from “offering” money is an open question. It is certainly not “paying” someone to launch a court case, but that was not the question he was asked to answer.

However, Sharples’ case was never brought. The fund in question (to quote The Age):

“was used to challenge the registration of One Nation in Queensland by preparing a proposed case to be brought by Pauline Hanson's former assistant, Barbara Hazelton. The case did not go ahead and Mr Abbott said the money remaining was returned to the donors.”

So, what we have is (a) a guy guaranteed that if he lost and had costs orders made against him that order would be paid; and (b) funds spent preparing a case that never proceeded. “Slush fund” for a witch-hunt? Hmmm.

Much as I say this through gritted teeth, and with a vein bulging so prominently upon my brow it threatens to burst the skin and inflict whiplash injuries on nearby innocents, Abbott deserves praise.

He backed people to do the right thing and expose a corrupt organisation that was perpetrating a fraud on the public purse and the public’s trust. He may have done it by shady means and for dubious motives, but he did not attempt to use public or party funds to do it. He also did it at a time when his Prime Minister refused to come out in the open and call a spade a dirty great mud-dripping shovel.

It’s a dubious, lop-sided kind of integrity at best – but at least this bullying blusterer of a politician was prepared to take action and not wring his hands in the face of a rising tide of simplistic, fear-driven politics.

As I have said in comments on others’ posts on this issue: (a) Hanson never wanted members with rights in the context of a properly run political party under electoral law - her "party" was a corporation run by three people that did not tolerate internal dissent; and (b) this false structure allowed her to misappropriate (ie steal) $500,000 of public money.

If this was a tax rort committed by a barrister, no-one would be crying over a jail sentence of say, 6 – 12 months. Stealing what the average worker earns in 10 years *is* a big deal. Nor would anyone say ignorance was an excuse.

3 years without parole? Harsh, certainly.

Abbott, using political power and influence to hound a new party out of existence, or showing more determination than most in his party to stand up to a truly outrageous fraud? Much as I may dislike the man, I think the latter.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Final days and counting

Ah, a quiet farewell lunch. Given that much of the organisation is off at conferences this week I am spared speech-making at a farewell afternoon tea. Normally, I quite like making speeches – unlike many I try and keep them pithy and sit down before people start drooling from boredom or in their sleep – but the last guy to leave presented his humorous farewell speech in surprisingly good rhyming couplets.

I hate following a tough act.

Anyway, after a terribly pleasant lunch of fish, white wine and an Italian waiter whose recitation of the specials would have done a town crier proud, I am full of love towards humanity in general – as well as being full of fish and white wine.

The removalists did indeed show up yesterday, and conforming to stereotype, consisted of the older more experienced mover (who did more of the papers and talking and less of the lifting) and the younger mover (who seemed less attached to the job and more figuring out what comes next).

I was, however, sufficiently stressed that I woke up early and by 6.30am was dismantling my bed and trying to wrap my mattress in plastic. My boss then kindly gave me the whole afternoon off so I’d have plenty of time to get everything done before the removalists were expected. I was still sufficiently uptight and sleep deprived that I managed to get on the wrong train home and had to get off in Footscray and find a taxi.


Still, every box I packed is inventoried, numbered and has my father’s contact details and a map of how to get to the appropriate rural property outside Canberra taped to its lid.

Yes, I am a control freak.

Anyway, I am now feeling more relaxed. The rest of the week though is a social blitz: farewell lunch today, farewell dinner with the other young lawyers at my level on Thursday and then the obligatory farewell drinks on Friday. I may or may not scrape myself out for brunch on Saturday before flying out in the afternoon.

Sometime last week I gave up on eating at home, too much chance of the groceries just going to waste. It’s a tough job, eating out all the time in Melbourne, but dammit, when I live virtually on Lygon street, I’m willing to give it a go.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Let the madness begin

My last week at work and my last week in Melbourne. Between farewell events and nerves, this is going to be one weirded-out, sleep deprived kind of week. (Especially once my bed leaves tomorrow.)

Also, my replacement starts today, so training him up – and having someone at my elbow all week – could seriously cramp my blogging.

Mental notes:

(1) when a mite stressed and sleep deprived, do not drink to excess at farewell functions – this may end badly;

(2) remember to gift wrap presents for the boss and the PA early this week, you forgot them both at Christmas, they at least deserve a thank-you now;

(3) if anything will ever allow me to achieve Zen-like contempt for material possessions, it’s moving: packing all my crap again and compiling an inventory for when my parents take possession from the removalists is leading my to see said crap as – well – crap;

(4) though I did an excellent thing returning almost all my library books to the Northcote branch on Sunday, I still have “To the Lighthouse”; now that I am without a car I will need to post it back;

(5) remind Canberra friends I am back as of this weekend for two weeks;

(6) make the big Gautex vs goose-down jacket decision before the Katmandu sale starts on Friday (I think Gautex will win, despite my mother’s lobbying for down – maybe the answer is a triple layer Gautex jacket and a down vest … );

(7) call removalists – why have they not faxed through a job confirmation? They’re due tomorrow, dammit; and

(8) despite (1), gin may well be my friend this week …

What are your tips for things to do in a last week at work?

Friday, August 22, 2003

Blowing them away at the polls

The Californian recall debacle just gets weirder. For those not across the basics, California has a generous system of that old sawhorse of Australian politics, citizen-initiated-referenda. This apparently extends to “recalling” a Governor and forcing a special election. It’ll be a two stage ballot requiring a majority to oust the Governor and, if that succeeds, votes can be counted as cast in a special election.

The media coverage has not really been about Governor Gray Davis’ budgetary and energy policy woes, of course, but about the farcical number of candidates, and the candidature of Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man who can’t pronounce “forgeddabowdit” as three separate words.

Schwarzenegger faces two serious opponents, the Democrats lieutenant governor Cruz Bustamante, who is set to capitalise on the important Hispanic vote and his antagonistic relationship with Gov. Davis. Indeed, Bustamante is ahead of the actor in present polling.

Schwarzenegger’s other opponent is the right wing of the Republican party which is aghast at the Terminator’s tolerant views on abortion and homosexuality (though he is against illegal immigrant workers).

At least Schwarzenegger is following the time honoured Republican tradition of being a candidate who, while being about as sharp as box of hammers, is happy to welcome aboard the full steak-knife set of smart advisers *and* also pay for some of his own advertising.

What is it about Republicans wanting morally (and intellectually) simple people at the helm? (I guess Nixon did give brains a bad name.)

Anyway, the new weirdness is that now Jesse Ventura, former pro wrestler and governor of Minessota has advice for Gubernatorial contender Arnie:

Mr. Ventura [said] that if Californians "are stupid enough to vote for this recall," then people cannot blame his friend and former co-star Arnold Schwarzenegger for capitalizing on it.

"First of all, I'd tell Arnold, be yourself," said Mr. Ventura, a man who made his name and fortune dressing in leotards and boas and playing the heavyweight foil to Hulk Hogan. "Don't be spun doctored and stay away from the Republican Party, who will try to make you something you're not."

At least, even if he makes Governor, as someone not born in the US, Schwarzenegger is constitutionally barred from following Reagan’s lead and running for President. Although, on social policy he’d be an advance on Bush and no more incoherent a speech-maker.

But following Beth’s post about minor-celebrity weapons-inspector Richard Butler becoming Governor of Tasmania, which Australian celebrities would you push for state governor? I kinda like the idea of David Wenham as State Governor: I can see him rocking up to the opening of new government building in denim jacket and burnt-copper three-day growth saying “Yeah, it’s largely a ceremonial gig, but the pay isn't too bad.”

Thursday, August 21, 2003

That old-time drive-in experience
(Car sale part I, reviews of “American Pie 3”, “Charlies Angels 2” and “Feardotcom”)

So Saturday I sold my car and went to a drive-in double-bill.

I know that sounds odd, but (a) dream-buyer Steve didn’t take possession until Monday, and (b) I went in someone else’s vehicle.

I mean, if you went to the drive in and everyone took their own car it’d just be silly.

My phone had not run hot following my three-day ad in The Age. Dream-buyer Steve was actually my only caller on the Thursday. Over the weekend I had a few other private inquiries – but most were from dealers or auction-houses. I listened politely, took their numbers and asked what they could offer (no more than $8,500).

I also phoned a dealership’s second-hand buyer who was genuinely helpful about who I should be speaking to and what price I should expect.

Saturday did not run to plan. The only car-detailers I could get on short notice arrived late and didn’t finish with the car until after 2 pm. Steve cancelled his morning inspection. My sale was floundering.

I did the only sane thing. I went to brunch with a friend I’d not seen since the penguin escapade.

The detailers did a spanky job though, the car looked dewy-fresh and was heady with that dry-cleaner fresh smell.

Steve showed up in the afternoon; he was friendly, clearly knew a bit about cars and didn’t muck me about. He offered $9,600 and settlement on Monday. It was a good price and a quick sale – so we shook hands and he left a cash deposit.

Celebration was a drive-in all-sequel double-bill of American Pie 3 (“American Wedding”) and Charlie’s Angels 2. Sometimes, cinema is so bad, you can’t help but enjoy it.

Pie 3 is dominated by Sean William Scott. It could be titled: “Stiffler screws up, grosses out, then saves the day.” It was amusing, but I needed to be much drunker.

Stiffler’s half-assed “rehabilitation” turns on him realising that “really gay” does mean “stylish and sophisticated”, and that you could do things both for your friends and to have sex with a bridesmaid.

The earlier films were only redeemed by Eugene Levy as the Dad. Taking your son to emergency when he’s super-glued his hand to his genitals in a masturbatory accident is pretty much the kind of practical, non-judgemental assistance fatherly love is about. His role, along with Alyson Hannigan’s, was diminished for Stiffler’s sake and the slender merits of the series suffered accordingly.

What disturbed me was the hordes of 8 year olds people had brought to the Coburg drive-in. Hello? Sex references? Nudity? The film features strippers, clearly present for the male age demographic of 12 to dead, who were at least they were kind of funny. But appropriate for 8 year olds?

I’ve watched “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” before. See it drunk and it’s forgivable. Sober, it’s tolerable – except the final fifteen minutes.

That ending is even worse a second time round: long, ludicrous, painful. It’s like the writing team, confronted with the sheer existential horror of their wasted lives, gave up and the mail-boy had to complete the script by stapling on ten discarded pages from “Spider Man”. Seriously, people start shooting webs, flying, and swinging between buildings on cables.

The opening sequence is priceless, though, and the fight against the “O’Grady clan” isn’t too bad. The car wash scene in the closing credits is simply gratuitous.

I spent a lot of time glancing over to the ridiculously stylised “Feardotcom” on another screen. I think I got most of the plot: women are kidnapped and tortured on demand for a sicko webcam site.

It also features poltergeist weirdness involving a little girl with white hair, in a white dress, playing with a white ball. Spooky.

Everything is shot on an angle, through a blue filter. Most of the cyber-cops die. I presumed good triumphed over evil - despite rooms that seeped blood, cockroaches or “eerie” video montage.

Conclusion: scary films aren’t very scary without sound.

Overall, I had a fantastically tacky night. Only an extra six-pack could have improved it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Hardbitten, hardboiled, but certainly not hung-over

One does not use the h-word on a weekday morning (“hung-over”), not even in combination with an adjective such as “mildly”.

One speaks of “feeling a trifle dehydrated”, “a drink too many”, “soup for lunch”, and perhaps “sleeping under a heavy quilt was a mistake”.

Nothing aspirin and black coffee for breakfast can’t fix.

So yes, having stopped at Young & Jackson’s Chloe’s bar for dinner again (fantastic food actually, but very rich), I was rather late to my final blogger Melbourne meetup, and perhaps a little loud and boisterous on arrival.

I may have dominated conversation to the exclusion of others in my Bob-Hope-entertaining-the-troops mode. Ooops.

Anyway, this week’s Naylor is up:
“ … it didn’t look good – grown men don’t just deliberately walk out in front of cars. Hard thing to explain to a jury.”

My thoughts flickered back to the night, headlights slewing across the dark tarmac, the body sprawled like a broken bird. Me, walking over in desperate misplaced hope, to ask if he was all right. Running back to scrabble under the car seats to find where my mobile had ricocheted to rest. Then beginning the first stretch of waiting until the blue and red lights and white cars arrived.

I’m off in search of more coffee.
Long and bitter, the path to reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan

The bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq overnight was, without doubt, a tragic, senseless and brutal act. It is all the more awful given that the people of Iraq should have no real or perceived grievance with the UN, playing as it is a limited relief and advisory role, other than perhaps its having “recognised” US forces as the occupying authority of Iraq and having welcomed the interim and US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.* The UN force in Iraq, though, had called for a speedy transition to Iraqi self-government and had been involved in relief efforts including UNICEF. The death of UN workers in Iraq is, as Kofi Annan put it, a blow to the Iraqi people themselves.

Indeed, the very vulnerability of the UN facility may have resulted from its desire to distance itself from US troops or a heavy security presence.

We can only hope that this development does not undermine the international will to assist in the reconstruction of Iraq and that the good of the majority of its citizens is not jeopardised as a result of this criminal act.

However bad the situation in Iraq, though, it seems terribly regrettable that the news cycle appears to have forgotten Afghanistan. NATO is now to provide a continuing and stable command structure for the security operation in Kabul, but is unlikely to expand the military presence beyond the capital before the June elections. Quite apart from NATO capacity, expanding the operations of UN forces beyond Kabul will require a new Security Council resolution.

The consequence of this seems relatively clear: the warlords who still rule much of the country stand to gain a share of the country’s governance and the odds of free and fair elections do not seem especially promising.

Aid agencies report a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. Popular discontent, ethnic tensions and rivalry between warlords combined risk:
creating conditions "dangerously close" to those prevailing at the time of the Taleban's emergence.

The Red Cross still seems upbeat about its efforts to restore essential water and sanitation services, but it is hard to escape the vision of a situation slowly collapsing while the world looks elsewhere.

If this the model for reconstruction following military occupation as part of the War on Terror, it is hardly inspiring. There is already a clear sense that Iraq is sliding from US control, and a radical re-think of strategy is now needed. A new multilateral approach may be the onlything stopping Iraq becoming the new Vietnam, if UN will has not already been dealt a critcal blow. (The fact that most UN, if not World Bank or IMF, workers have elected to remain in place is simply inspiring.) The path ahead is clearly going to be long and difficult and will require a great deal of political and economic will from the international community.

(*Okay, when I wrote this yesterday I should also have thought about the crippling UN sanctions regime as a potential source of local tension and grievances also.)

Monday, August 18, 2003

Losing one by one my keys, and other people’s voices

A weird thought struck me yesterday, as nice-guy and dream-buyer Steve handed over a bank cheque for my car, and that is that – as I wind down my life in Melbourne – my key ring is getting smaller.

(Well, it has fewer keys.)

True, I took the spare keys to my parents’ place in Canberra off it months ago and set them aside, trying to trim it down from something that looked like a shuriken or mace down to a practical implement. So on Sunday, I still had four keys: house, car, office door, luggage. Now I’ve three. By the time I leave Melbourne I will no longer need any of those, provided I get around to replacing my flimsy luggage padlocks.

In some cultures, apparently, keys are a symbol of status as they represent property. Maybe I am finally succeeding in divesting myself of possessions. It certainly feels as if I am relinquishing this city by degrees.

A different loss-phenomenon is, I reflected yesterday, meeting a fellow-blogger for the first time, especially after reading their blog for an extended period.

What I lose on such a meeting (or, in one case, a phone call) is the way I imagined the blogger’s voice sounding. Reading a blog is not just about content. As a very personal, conversational medium, it is an exercise in imagining the author – one gleans things, snippets about a person, assembles them in a certain way and assigns a blog a tone, a voice. Naturally, the person one meets is different.

Sometimes conversation flows readily, sometimes it takes a little more work, but for me there is often the sense of losing the imagined person, the imagined voice.

This is not a saddening loss, like the loss of my keys it is in some ways more of an unburdening – real people are inevitably more interesting. Besides, re-assimilating the gleaned pieces of a writer-as-character in the light of meeting them as writer-in-person also an imaginative exercise. (And probably as creatively flawed as the first imagining.)

Just once or twice, though, there’s been a period when I can still here both voices, the one I assigned someone’s blog, and the “physical” voice I heard on meeting them. Intriguing.

Woo hoo!

Okay, the car is sold. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to blog about it at present. Hmmm … reminder list of topics to blog about:
(1) selling the car

(2) seeing a drive-in all-sequel double-bill of American Pie 3 and Charlie’s Angels 2

(3) watching “Better than Chocolate”

(4) getting used to brunch at Comfortable Chair, Brunswick

(5) reading: “To the Lighthouse” and “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”

(6) attempting to work with no remaining brain-power or emotional focus

(7) my new life as a pedestrian

(8) attending a great international law forum on Thrusday and reflecting on the big questions: is it “law” if it can't be enforced? (And issues of direct vs municipal enforcement.)

Less than two weeks in Melbourne to go, and I still need to book a removalist and re-pack all my packing boxes …

(Exeunt pursued by bear)

Thursday, August 14, 2003

"Identity" and Naylor Day

Urgh, a bit insomniac at the moment, and engaged in a great e-mail discussion about "Identity" which I saw last night. (Short summary: cool, intriguing, not just a horror/slasher flick - give it a burl.) I would give more detail about the film and the present discussion, but everything that's cool to discuss about it would be a spoiler.

Intriguing, this spate of films with a "who are you, anyway?" theme in them somewhere, first "the Matrix", now "Identity" and soon "Cypher".

So anyway, this week's Naylor is up:

Last year. The story of why I wasn’t a solicitor. How I came to be stamped: “refused admission to practice.” There was a lot to cover, and some of it I knew I would have to skip that first time with Danielle, but at least with her finding a beginning was easy.

If you're new to the site, this is my side-project: publishing a 1000 words a week of a crime-novel-in-progress set in Canberra. It begins over here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

In Sydney: take a moment to reflect
(and other sappy calendar slogans)

Every time I’m back in Sydney for work (and this trip makes three), seems to be a moment to consider what I left behind exiting stage left from the life of a corporate lawyer and moving to Melbourne, and how happy I was to do it.

Many, many, of my Canberra friends live here now and it’s a shame more of them weren’t about while I was still in Sydney.

Still, looking back over “Sydney trip/Sydney sucks” entries numbers one, two, three and four – I have become progressively less bitter about my time here. Though the thought of returning to a firm still fills me with visceral horror.

Walking down to the legal precinct this morning the full two-block length of Hyde Park was beautiful. It was drizzling a little, and terribly humid (when is Sydney not?), but the central axis of the park with its canopy of trees is delightful.

The Hyde Park war memorial is about level with the apartment I’m splitting for the week here with two colleagues, and it’s art-deco era plinth-like outline is quite dramatic lit up at night. All the good buildings here are native sandstone, unfortunately most have been pulled down by successive waves of development, leaving the town with much less architectural history (for my taste) than Melbourne.

I also had a little nostalgia attack, smelling the leaf-mould in the park this morning, its scent fusing with the salty, heavy, humid air off the harbour. I'm growing very fond of the Archibald fountain in Hyde park, too. (Donated by the founder of the Archibald Prize for National Portraiture at the NSW Art Gallery?)

The best thing about this trip, so far though, has been the people – easily. It has been great seeing everyone again, there’s been a real celebratory air to it, in fact.

Monday I saw some of the old Balmain gang, all lawyers – and had a fabulous night of drinking a little too much, joking, reminiscing, gossiping, talking a little too loudly about law-type social issues, and having dinner at the Angus restaurant at the Sheraton on the Park. It’s lovely to catch up with people who you only met on moving to a city, who are genuinely happy to see you again, and genuinely excited for you about what’s going on in your life.

Tuesday I had dinner with Rob, Lyn, Davo and Lara (all of whom have commented on these pages from time to time), Patrick and Petra. Those of us who could get away early went to two for one cocktails at Martin Place Bar (so often my downfall) and we then had dinner at Chinta Ria Temple of Love, which looks something like a Malaysian temple and perches atop the Cockle Bay complex of restaurants. We had great seats outdoors until it started raining, but they scooted us inside pretty quick.

Old Canberra and Coogee friends, some of whom I’ve not seen in months, it was a great night. Hlaf of them had been in Canberra on the weekend – maybe I shouldn’t have just hidden out at the folks’ place.

Also, hanging out with and speaking with my lawyer friends up here has confirmed one thing: I know very few twenty-somethings who are still with a big law firm and genuinely enjoying their job. Those who've gone in-house, on secondment, to smaller firms, or switched career-path look happier and healthier than I've ever seen them. Tends to confirm my own choices, really.

Still, all this drinking and socialising ain’t helping my persistent cold.

PS Went to “Shaolin Soccer” at the Film Festival on Friday and it was spectacular: a really brilliantly funny martial-arts comedy sports romp.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Pushed, kicking and screaming, into the free market

I did it. Even after moaning and griping, and saying it would be too much hassle.

It’s amazing the eminently practical decisions it takes a conversation with your mother to push you into.

So, on Saturday, I bit the bullet. I placed an ad for this weekend’s paper to sell my car.

I finally woke up to the fact that:
(a) driving it round to two or three second-hand dealers was going to take as long as spending a day at home waiting for people to come look at it; and

(b) selling it to a dealer would lose me at least $1,000 – not just a few hundred.

However, as a salesman, I am a born failure. I hate selling things. It embarrasses me. I’m not even a very good Red Cross doorknocker. Sell an idea? Certainly. Speak in public? Not a problem. Push myself as the successor to sliced bread in an interview? Nothing easier.

Sell chocolate door to door? Not in a million years.

I have a pathological dislike of situations that involve any kind of hard-nosed bargaining over money. So I find the idea of a private sale pretty stressful. I’m really an incredibly uncommercial person, which probably explains my aversion to resuming the practice of corporate law.

Anyway, if you’re contemplating this horror yourself, I recommend the red book and drive to help you work out what a fair market price for your car is. (Red book for a small fee will give a very specific estimate and is meant to be the industry price guide.)

Calling a few used-car dealerships is probably still not a bad idea – it will take some of the pressure off the sale if I know I have a viable plan B for selling it. (The “what is your best independent alternative outside this deal?” question in negotiation theory.)

Remaining issues:
(1) managing to get it cleaned and detailed in the little slice of time between returning to town Friday (I’m in Sydney this week) and commencing inspections on Saturday;

(2) if you let people take it for a test drive, what security do you ask for – their car keys? How do you know they have a car? Get them to park it out front first?;

(3) if I get a decent offer – clearly I’ll want a bank cheque, but what’s a reasonable cash deposit? Is $500 on a car for which I’m asking $9,900 reasonable?

Meantime, if you want to look at a good-condition late ‘99 Toyota Echo sedan with 110,000 kms on the clock (that’s why I’m only asking $9,900), e-mail me.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

The perils of RSS feeds

I have been picked up, temporarily at least, by the Fidel Castro watch page at Havana Journal.

The reference that their search has picked up is here.

I for one find this all somewhat amusing.

Friday, August 8, 2003

The Toblerone cocktail recipe, by demand

I rave about these all the time, and I get enough Google hits for the topic, so I thought I should post the recipe.

30 ml Frangelico

30 ml Kahlua

30 ml Bailey's Irish cream

60 ml Cream, fresh

1 tblsp Honey

Place the ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker, shake, and strain into glasses, preferably those flat ‘20s-style champagne glasses or martini glasses.

The Frangelico, Baliey’s and Kahlua should only set you back about $100 Australian, at which price I am happy to keep drinking these in bars.

Do not serve with stupid little umbrellas.

For this and other recipes see: the webtender.

(The martini poster is available at All Posters.)

Thursday, August 7, 2003


Your life has become, perhaps, objectively sad when you can sit chuckling in the freezing dark on concrete steps at a beach going – “man, this is so bloggable”.

Nonetheless, that’s what I did Sunday night with some of the Melbourne-based Canberra diaspora. We’d gone penguin watching at Phillip Island. (We’d also had a wine tasting and “refreshment platters” pit stop along the way.) Phillip Island has a colony of “little penguins”, the world’s smallest penguins – most no bigger than my shoe, or a little bigger than my hands.

Can I just say, you have not seen funny until you’ve seen a rumble in the penguin colony. A penguin-on-penguin mugging three feet from your face. There’s no solidarity under those little tuxedos, just the ruthless drive to be alpha-penguin by next breeding season. I’ll come back to that, though.

There’s a big visitors’ centre at the “penguin parade”, and then some rather lovely boardwalks carrying you above the nesting grounds out to the beachside concrete steps. You watch the penguins arrive from the sea for an hour, then wander back over the boardwalk through the colony.

I say “steps”, but it’s more like amphitheatre seating, except facing the dark sea. The penguins arrive at sunset to a beach full of tourists and blazing lights.

“If they only come in at sunset,” I said, “don’t the lights confuse them?”

“People have been penguin watching here for years,” said Beth, “they’ve had time to get used to it.”

Someone assumed a penguin voice:

“Man, I’ve been floating out here for days, I don’t care about the lights – I’m going in!”

They’re nervous getting out of the water, as on the beach they’re vulnerable to sea eagle attacks. We speculated at to whether the writhing, wailing mass of child-dom assembled on steps would be scarred for life if a sea eagle descend on the penguins.

The penguins come ashore in “rafts”, very seldom alone. At the high water mark, they seem easily bowled off their little feet by the waves. Also, like the RSPCA wombat, they never cross the beach in one go. There’s a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, with little forays back into the ocean.

Penguin voices: “Sod this, it was warmer in the water!”


“Wait a minute … where’s Beryl?”

They seem to hop more than waddle on their little, little legs, bobbing over the little rocks in their path. Off the beach they split up to follow penguin tracks back to their burrows – or in one case, the tracks of a 4-wheel motorbike back to the fence-line at visitors’ centre.

If not for their white bellies, they would have been quite hard to see once scattered into the undergrowth.

We saw one standing in a little penguin-sized clearing, then another hurdling tiny bushes towards him. A third came out from behind him, waddling along the penguin-track. Suddenly they were hooting and chest-butting and flipper-slapping: penguin fight!

Our night was then complete, though not without its sinister moments. On the way out I noticed penguins gathered by the visitors’ centre fence, undeterred by humans, watching, motionless.

“It’s like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds … but with teeny things in formal wear.”

In the car park a sign read:


“… Oh, for penguins!” said one friend. “You can tell I’m from Northern Ireland.”

I decided not to share my vision of bomb-sniffing penguins.

The 90-minute drive home proved that I can indeed assemble the ultimate road-trip cassette.

Naylor day

Today's Naylor is up, and it's an eventful instalment.

More later. Maybe even about penguins.

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Yesterday: a day with a hard-boiled master

I got up sluggishly from my bed, let a cough rattle in my throat, and went into the bathroom.

The complexion in the bathroom mirror was grey, brown eyes misty and dull.

Men have been worse, I thought, but better men have called in sick.

I made the call, said I would not be coming in and was told that was sensible. I was alone in the house, except for the two cats.

Felines, not jazz musicians.

I don’t always get on with cats.

I went back to my bed, picked up a novel with a grey and red dust jacket: Dashiell Hammet, “The Glass Key”.

I shrugged without curiosity, rolled on my back and stared at the ceiling, remembered Cate Blanchett’s kid is named after this Dashiell guy. Built a big name in the ‘30s.

I cracked the novel open.

“Huh,” I said an hour later, “I’d heard this guy could put words on a page.”

I turned pages, ignored the cats, my eyes regaining something of their keen glitter.

Outside, clouds spread from the east like an ink stain on a blotter. I couldn’t tell you if I noticed when the rain first started smearing the dusty windows.

Later, I closed the book and put it down.

I looked at the cats without enmity.

“Not a bad way to spend a day,” I said.

(Picture: Alan Ladd & Veronica Lake in "The Glass Key")

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

"Once upon a time in the midlands"

I've had better ideas than going out after drinks, on an empty stomach, when feeling a mite peaky to see a free film. Still, free film-festival action is free film-festival action, and the ticket to the Victorian premiere came with my British Council pre-departure briefing. I only hope that "Shaolin Soccer" on Friday, for which I have paid, is a trifle more rewarding.

"The Midlands" is an eminently predictable film. Amusing and charming, perhaps, but in a straight to small screen way.

Men, it seems, come in two types:

(1) simmering, broody Scottish criminal sex-pots (ie Robert Carlyle), who walk out on you and their new daughter ten years earlier, and are basically losers; and

(2) gormless, tall, Welsh, well-intentioned providers who make a mockery of themselves proposing to you on television, and who are, basically, losers with good hearts.

The woman in question gets to vacillate between the type (1) from her past, and the type (2) in her present, causing needless suffering all round.

No character has any emotional depth except the 12 year old daughter, though the only thing approaching character development occurs with bloke (2) learning to stand up for himself a bit.

Yes, there's some touching stuff about what it means to be a real father, but it was better explored in "After the Deluge" which did not resort to those limp, tired stereotypes.

The scholarship breifing itself was good. The Kitten Club was a decent venue. Nice to meet lots of other people on various British programs (all clutching their newly issued briefing kits like little transparent briefcases). Good to know the others have all had the same (or much worse) encounters with university bureaucracies and feel they have endless pre-departure to do lists. One had only just heard back from Cambridge as her file had - literally - got lost down the back of an armchair for some weeks. One who was off to Oxford was rejected by four colleges before getting one in the final round lottery.

Still, what I am doing among them bemuses me: not having worked overseas, for a UN agency, for a community legal centre, not writing my first textbook and not wanting to study anything really useful like environmental science and land management. There were definite moments when neither my CV nor aspirations really seemed to stack up.

I kick myself more, though, for missing the chance to meet David Wenham at the UK Alumni meeting before the film and to ask him about his rumoured starring role in the production of a Murray Whelan TV series ...

PS today's entry is late and brief as I seem to have come down with a sore throat following sitting on a cold beach to watch penguins on the weekend. More of that adventure later.

Friday, August 1, 2003

Gay marriage

The Vatican has declared:
"No ideology can erase from the human spirit the certainty that marriage exists solely between a man and a woman who . . . co-operate with God in the procreation and upbringing of new human lives"

and called on Catholic politicians everywhere to block or wind back recognition of same-sex unions. The document issued by the Inquisition contains a slightly limp-wristed recognition that Christians should not condone "unjust discrimination against homosexual persons".

Meantime, President Bush has said America should be “welcoming” to gays, but marriage should be legally codified as something only between a man and a woman. This has puzzled some lawyers as:
“… there already is a law, known as the Defense of Marriage Act, that appears to address the two principal concerns of gay marriage opponents. The law, signed by President Clinton in 1996, prohibits any federal recognition of gay marriage, meaning that benefits like those given under Social Security or to veterans may be claimed only by a surviving spouse of the opposite sex. In addition, the law relieves states of any obligation to recognize gay marriages performed in other states where they might be legal.”

It seems that pesky philanderer Clinton has already beaten him to a gay-marriage crackdown. Maybe someone should tell the president?

But none of this goes far enough, especially not this “we won’t actively persecute gay people and that’s pretty damn friendly” spineless pusillanimity. Clearly, the function of marriage is the raising of children in relationships where private sexual acts may lead to reproduction. All heterosexual couples who fail to reproduce within, say, three years of marriage, should have their marriage licenses and legal recognition of their relationship cancelled too.

No baby made between the two of you the old-fashioned way that God or Darwin intended, then no property rights in common, no inheritance benefits, no social security payouts, no access to divorce courts if you split up. This would create a consistent, simple law of marriage and we’d all know where we stood.

Gays, family planners, and willfully non-reproducing couples (as well as those disfavoured by the Almighty or their DNA with infertility) all threaten the family unit. We need to take a firm stand against these people to save our social institutions, and we need to take it now before there’s some outbreak of compassion, tolerance or equality.

Other coverage from puling lefties: Beth, Gianna.