Wednesday, January 28, 2004

I take it all back … (so exciting, I had to blog it now)

I had a couple of firsts tonight. The second was more exciting, but first firsts first – so to speak.

I went to see my first Footlights’ Smoker at the ADC theatre – the proving ground of sketch and stand-up comedy here. The show starts at 11, tickets go on sale at 10.30. I joined the queue outside the theatre around 10.15 and felt chuffed for skipping half its length by diving in where I saw the people I was meeting.

About 10.30 someone came out to say the show had basically sold out on pre-purchase tickets. The could take the first 20. As Mr Fifty-Seven, I no longer felt so clever.

What do you do in these situations? You go to the theatre’s bar, latest opening in town. The stairs between us and beer were crushed with ticket holders, so we slinked up the wrought-iron spiral-staircase and rapped on the glass until someone let us in the fire door.

I was with some of the “Albert’s Bridge” cast again, and we were in the theatre where we’d done the play. So someone suggested we watch it on the little black and white TV in the club-room and listen to the sketches over the loudspeakers.

A frustrating (if free) way to see a show. There was some really good stuff, but it was quite the mixed bag ranging from the incomprehensible, to the guffaw worthy, to borderline comic genius. I’ll be doing it again.

Then, I stepped outside and there was my second first for the evening. I’d heard the warnings. I’d cast apprehensive glances at the grit and salt strewn on Mill Road and outside the University Library. I’d refused to believe. Thought if it happened, it would just be an inconvenience.

But it was snowing.

A soft haze of thick flakes, sluicing through the streetlights, settling on gutters, bicycles and pedestrians.

I was laughing as I cycled home through midnight streets, snow slowly forming a crispy white exo-skeleton on my goose-down jacket, accumulating in drifts on my cord trousers, caking my bike light to the point where I had to dust it off.

The gritted main road was fine, slick, black easy cycling just with cake-frosted pavements and shop fronts. My own street was, well, a fairly land. There were six friends with their after-pub hot chips staggering down the middle of the road, scraping snow of bonnets for the first snowballs of the season. They apologised for blocking the road and let me pass, slowly crunching snow under my tyres.

I take it back, Richard Curtis, England can be as pretty as Christmas Eve in your postcard-perfect films.

I had to brush myself down and stomp my feet on the doormat (drifts of snow on my shoes). The airvents of my bike helmet were clogged with it.

If it keeps up overnight, there will be photos, on so many photos.

Right, morning class, I should sleep.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

(Photo of Trinity Hall Jerwood Library, copyright A. Miller)

Freedom, student life and choices (Blogger Idol week 2)

Why are villains always more fun?

I mean, I like Richard in Richard III and Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost (and come to that Jamie Delano or Neil Gaiman’s take on Lucifer), and I suspect most people do. (Alright, one murdered half his relatives and the other destroyed earthly Paradise, but they did it with panache, didn't they?)

Villains in fiction act without constraint - as if ties of family, society, duty and, well, other people in general just don’t matter. They speak their mind. They are the perfect rationally self-calculating individual of economic theory. They make the choices we don’t dare to.

And that’s the rub of it.

Freedom implies free will and freedom of choice. The paradox being that the majority of us will never exercise most of the choices we have available. (Despite teeth-grating irritation, for example, few people ever murder that one really insufferable flatmate.)

One thing I noticed on my Singapore trip was that while most locals supported Singapore’s gradual political liberalisation quite a few told me they thought now was not the time to push too far too fast. Political and social cohesion were strongly associated with past economic success, and in a weak global economy most didn’t want to rock the boat. Regardless of what I might think of the argument that civil liberties run counter to economic development, it illustrates a basic truth: most people would willingly trade a certain amount of “surplus freedom” for material security.

But the opposite is true as well. Greater wealth and possessions can make you less free.

Being free of material possessions and societal commitments is a fairly tricky business, but has it's own rewards, as Kundera kinda sorta said. Having under 80 kilograms of possessions and no job or firm plans come June is a really different experience for me: the man who doesn’t pack light and always knows what’s round the corner. The freedom to float and think is wonderfully liberating, but rather stressful at times.

Still, in a professional life that’s mostly been about slowly moving away from corporate to public law it’s been nice to remember how comfortable life can be on a student income. The majority of the world survives on considerably less than this, and many are happy. But I'm lucky I was offered the choice of a more materially lucrative career than the public-law career path I'm now (hopefully) on.

I guess that’s the other appealing thing about villains, right? They spurn the safe options. I mean, fictional heroes sometimes do that too, but there’s always so much hand-wringing.

And their dialogue is never as crisp.

Monday, January 26, 2004

“Puttin’ a study group together? You want in?”

Damon waits in a common-room. He’s slightly nervous.

Enter Clooney, looking ineffably smug.

Clooney: “Hey. Hear you did your time at UQ. Did you know Jimmy ‘The Constitution’ up there?”

Damon: “We knocked over a couple of subjects. Came away with a coupla firsts.”

Clooney: “Not bad work.”

Damon: “He calls me ‘trade and commerce’ these days.”

Clooney: “Huh. Well, I’ve got something on in Cambridge. We could use a good statutory and constitutional interpretation man.


“You know, in case things get messy.”

Damon: “Cambridge, huh? Nice town. I hear double-medal Andy’s running something up there these days.”

Clooney: “Yeah, he went native. Got his own turf. Piece of the local action. We don’t want any of that. Ours is a strictly in-out Masters job.”

Damon: “A Masters play? Always wanted to try one of those. What’s the score?”

Clooney: “Strictly October to the first weeks of June. Bit under nine months. Low contact hours, four three-hour papers, then we walk.”

Damon: “Eight months and four papers? In Cambridge?”

Clooney: “Eight and a half. We spend some time getting the lay of the place, go over the past exams, take in a few lectures. We just need to be well-planned, well-researched, very precise.”

Damon: “You need to be nuts, too. And you’d need a crew as nuts as you are!


“Who d’ya got in mind?”

Clooney: “You on interpretation. Me on comparative approaches and state practice. Old “Sanctions” Mack on the UN system. All we need is a history and theory guy. I hear Red-Head Lila can handle that. It’s a four-man play. Think about it. You’ll walk away with at least a middle second. Maybe more. We can swing this.”

Damon: “Cambridge, huh?”

Clooney: “The academic’s playground.”

Cue Elvis Presley track.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

The way we work: “no flexibility thanks, we’re client focussed.”

An interesting piece from home in The Age about the battle for flexible working conditions:

[A] survey found that workers are trapped in "long hours" cultures trying to demonstrate company commitment to the detriment of their personal lives. Companies have created isolating, hostile and unsupportive environments for employees who have commitments outside the organisation, and poor attitudes and resistance from middle management and supervisors are quashing progress.

Unsurprisingly, corporate law firms come out of surveys looking fairly monolithic and unsupportive, with anyone (especially women) wanting to work part-time needing to check their career ambitions at the door.

(When an accounting firm can say 15% of people now have flexible options because “there are a lot of women choosing to have children”, the implicit family/career dichotomy speaks volumes.)

I think the common law firm experience is that those who go part-time wind up being paid less (obviously), but find themselves still doing very nearly the same amount of work in fewer working days. In fairness, being a client-driven industry makes it harder for the big firms to offer flexibility, but when that very lack of flexibility fuels a high turnover rate – well, that’s a business cost as well and you’d have to think some sensible balance could be struck.

A key issue appears to remain the widely-held idea that working from home is a “soft” option that inherently means less commitment and productivity. On the flipside, the first company to come up with a genuinely “flexible” employment model that can fairly measure and manage home-working employee productivity will have a big recruitment advantage, as employees value the flexibility often over higher pay.

Not sure I see it working in the legal industry though. My theory has always been there are enough driven high-fliers to fill the ranks of most large firms, negating the incentive to offer genuine work-life balance. (Remember this blog on the lawyer-life?)

If you find fulfilment in your work alone though, they’re certainly great places to be.

Me? Maybe I could work those hours if I felt I was having a genuine impact on public policy. Otherwise, I’d rather earn less and enjoy what I do more. Sounds like academia or government advisory work, really, doesn’t it?

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Naylor day

This week's instalment of the crime novel is over here. (Some literary metaphors and similies may incurr a parental advisory rating, but y'know, it is a crime novel after all.)

I've also been nominated in the category of "best overseas Australian blog" over here at the Australian Blog Awards thingee - which is a bit of a surprise. I guess it only takes one delusional friend to get you nominated. Mostly you should just take the time to surf a heap of other cool blogs, but if you find stuff you like, take the time to grab an e-mail ballot before Australia day why don't you?

Hats off to Vlado at Keks for running the awards, and my best (if belated) wishes for the new addition to his family.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Weather, weather all around

If this is January, I can understand why England is a “green and pleasant land”. Well, at least the green bit.

In this kind of light, continuous drizzle if I stood in one place long enough I doubt I’d actually get wet through to my skin, but I would almost certainly begin to grow moss.

Today’s weather is a big contrast to arriving at the end of the summer drought, when I really didn’t get the “green and pleasant” concept – flying immediately out of Heathrow to Rome for my en route holiday I was struck by how brown all the fields looked. It was pretty much like rural New South Wales, well, most of the time actually.

Today’s rain is mild and misty. Last Wednesday, it was snowing big wet gooey flakes that did not settle into anything on the ground. The correct term is probably sleet.

I know someone who was out rowing in that. Apparently, when the Cam floods, they have to wade out to a safe depth to launch the boats – and then row for an hour in wet shoes, socks and track-suit pants. It’s those rowing stories that make me glad to be doing another play.

Anyway, the near-permanent grey-filter sky does have some bonuses. One is the terrible paroxysm of gratitude that seizes everyone at the merest hint of blue sky; the other is that colours look different. I have clothes that in the harsh, vivid light of Sydney or Singapore look black, but which in the mellow greyish light of England look more, well, blue.

At least when it rains, it is usually much warmer. Indeed, the nights seldom seem that cold anymore.

Oh, yes, the “Singapore and Cambridge” photos include some shots from New Year’s Eve when (during the day) I went with two people from college to see the Carols at Kings. We assumed places in the line around 7 am (ie, before dawn) and got into the Chapel around 1.30 pm for a service beginning after 3 pm. We were on the good side of the organ screen (a wooden partition which means half the enormity of the chapel has no view of the choir).

It was mind-boggling: the ethereal voices of the boys choir, the sun slowly setting outside (changing the illumination behind the medieval painted glass), the fact that this was going out live to the world via BBC radio and being taped for later (possible) use on TV.

I had no hypothermia-induced epiphanies unfortunately, as there was an etiquette of queuing that allows people to rotate out to get coffee or pick up some sandwiches, but it got pretty windy at points, and was very damp underfoot.

The Chapel was still full, but apparently it was a slower-building queue than usual, some dettered by a perceived risk of terrorist attack. It hadn’t occurred to me, but given the arrest of 12 odd terror suspects in Cambridge since my arrival, it should have. Bomb-sniffer dogs apparently went through the Chapel before they let us in.

Anyway, it was certainly worth doing once, despite the wind, cold and light drizzle.

Roll on summer - and exams, dammit.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Glory of the 80s (part of Blogger Idol)

For me the 80s was the decade of primary school and early high school. A perilous decade straddling the time from when girls were grudging school-yard rivals, whose close proximity should be avoided for fear of “girl germs” to when they became … well, possibly not so bad after all (if vaguely terrifying).

I was a bookish kid, largely because of coordination problems that didn’t really get sorted out until 1987-8. If a ball was kicked in the air, I always knew whose head it was going to come down on. The library seemed the safer option. Not that I wasn’t social – any game requiring imagination, I was certainly there.

Although, my biggest failure of imagination in the school-yard was undoubtedly on insisting when we played “G-Force” to be allowed to be the robot back at base. Despite the warnings that he did nothing, I was mad about robots and would not be gainsaid. I soon learnt why the damn robot spent so much time griping about being left at home to man the phones while G-Force were out having exciting adventures.

“Part of the team”, yeah, my right oil filter I was “part of the team”.

Of course, Transformers were much better – then you got to play an entire bunch of robots with your friends. Though playing with the toys was generally better than pretending to be the cartoon characters. Transformers were nearly as good as Lego (the two genres often blurring: more than once Cybertron, additional Autobots or the odd doomsday device was built from Lego).

I gave up transformers before entering high school, they seemed little kid stuff. Of course, as my glories of the 80s, they’re still in a crate in the attic. Along with the Lego.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Back to Cambridge, back to the books

Ah, January in a grey and rainy country. The passage of Christmas, the end of the quiet, gently reflective under-graduate free interregnum that is Cambridge during holidays - the arrival of bustling sales shopping, the new term’s whirlwind social calendar, and the onset of those first stirring sensations of Masters-study DOOM.

I’ve not done yet done the new term’s “back to study blog” and there’s a reason. I have been pretty good with my New Year’s studying resolutions thus far, focussing on making headway with my 15,000 word dissertation on armed conflict at sea and intercepting weapons of mass destruction – the paper in lieu of my four exams. (Still awake? It gets better.)

But – I didn’t want to draw the universes attention to my study life. I was trying to study, as it were, below the radar of Murphy’s law. The pact I was making with the universe was: “I’ll go at it steadily, not brag about book-side hours, not jinx myself; just don’t pile on too much pressure yet, huh?”

So, there comes a point where the universe is either on board or decides to give you a nice constructive kick in the pants. (Dammit, I mean “trousers”. Over here “pants” means “undies”.)

I can’t fault the universe for its unexpected use, like Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition, of fear and surprise. Friday had been a good, quiet evening: a couple of pints at the Pickerel with two other guys from my mid-sized Canberra high school, a small and pleasant school reunion. I arrived home relaxed. Which is when, of course, I found the e-mail from my dissertation supervisor:

“Dear Douglas, hope you had a good break. What are the chances you have most of a draft to show me?”


Figuring “Nil” was not a good answer, and “isn’t this due in April?” would be little better - and that she’d probably cotton on if I resubmitted the 6,000 words I churned out before Christmas in a different font – I settled for: “Thanks for chasing me on this. December was not as productive as I had hoped, but things are gaining speed. I’d hope to have a substantial piece of new work to show you by Monday week at the latest.”

A week, ladies and gents, in which to produce another 6,000 words. Which will leave me (if I am still alive) in excellent shape for submitting in April and having plenty of study-time for my other exams.

So, of course, having brokered that deal – I spent none of the weekend studying. I went and did a legal negotiation competition Saturday and on Sunday auditioned for a play some college friends are directing – the “Golden Ass”, a farcical romp first written for the Globe (yes, that Globe) with many, many doubled parts.

We didn’t go through to the regionals in legal negotiation. The judges weren’t entirely impressed with our “creative” and “win/win” solutions in the more contentious round. Apparently we strayed beyond our instructions. (I tended to think the written instructions “renegotiate the contract amicably or come to a financial settlement” put everything up for grabs, but whatever.)

I do, however, have four or five smallish parts in a play rehearsing every Saturday from now until May week.

May week being, of course, in June.

So if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and get quietly panicky about the Cuban missile crisis and treatment of neutral shipping in the Iran-Iraq war.

Exit stage left, pursued by thesis.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Vile and villainous villainy
(or, "Where is my army of evil winged monkeys, dammit?")

I've thought long and hard about the career merits of being a Bond villain, or at least a consultant to Bond villains (all the perks, much lower chance of being killed by some pesky Brit in a dinner suit) - so where was this book at my high-school careers fair?

How to be a villain is full of practical advice for the cut-price, time-poor villain: "No time to awaken an army of the undead? ... Paint a large curtain with a tromp l'oeil scene depicting hundred of thousands of undead eager to do your bidding. Hang it behind you whenever you confront the townsfolk." (Or you can buy your own undead-army making "Zombification System" over here from the nice ... sorry, EVIL ... people at

Dammit, I want this book. Not only is it cool, New Line Cinema has apparently optioned the film rights.

My top-five wishlist in a world where I am an evil overlord?

(1) A secret underground lair. These never go out of style and are oh-so-cool. There would have to be some sort of mountain-top villa attached though, because lack of natural daylight makes me grumpy. Not that in a villain that would be such a problem.

(2) A transforming car. I was obsessed with these as a kid, to wit: the Danger Mouse car and Dr Claw's Clawmobile. I would then have to learn how to fly it, of course, but roof-top parking would be much easier. I could at least skip obtaining a pilot's license. (I'd be being evil, remember?)

(3) A chair with buttons. They needn't do anything, and I don't care how anti the point-and-click/touch-sensitive-surfaces age they may be, a villain ain't a villain without an arm-rest full of buttons. In fact, having them mostly non-functional would probably be a real asset. Give you somewhere to rest your arm for a start and - if one chose to own a villainous cat - would prevent it inadvertently unleashing Armageddon, or mutant cross-bred piranha-penguins.

(4) Teleportation equipment. I actually find commuting kind of fun, but business travel and jet-lag really suck. It would also vastly expand one's range of options in terms of popping out for a quick lunch and some duty-free shopping.

(5) A legion of winged monkeys. I mean, where's the fun without the monkeys? I'd even give 'em all type writers and they could do my blog content as well as enforcing my evil will.

Anyway, time for a quiz. Which Batman villain are you?

He's got plenty of time.
You are: R'AS AL GHUL!

Which Batman Villain Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

I love obscure references, and the quiz questions aren't too bad either.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Shuffle and deal

I firmly believe in geek-pride, since it’s the only kind of cool I’ll ever muster. Still geeky-cool will get you by in graduate study, indeed, you’ll find a greater depth of geeky per square metre in a graduate community than almost anywhere else on the planet.

That said, once you’ve found all the closet bloggers, thesps, graphic novel readers, yoga-freaks and literary obsessive it’s still nice to have an aspect of your personality that weirds people out.

“You read Tarot cards?”

It’s a hobby some find hard to reconcile with the image of a calm, rational lawyer. I’ve yet to meet anyone who equates it with devil-worship, but there’s still a predictable barrage of responses (do you believe in that stuff? does it work? do you let it run your life?), all of which miss the point from my perspective.

I’ve been interested in Tarot as long as I can remember. When we lived in Broken Hill (I must have been seven) I borrowed a big, illustrated book on Tarot from one of the school cleaners. (Mum was the school principal and all the staff knew me pretty well.) Later, for a primary-school fete, I made up my own deck of imaginary cards and ran a gypsy fortune-telling stall.

The interest then slept for a long time, until a slightly new-age uni girlfriend encouraged me to explore it again. I bought a modern deck at a sale and began reading up on it. She and I broke up over the summer I was clerking for the Sydney firm and during that period I bought my Rider-Waite deck and began making a more earnest effort to learn the symbolism, running through the cards in my head while waiting all sweat-tickled in my impractical winter-weight wool suits on the sunny Newtown city-bound train platform.

Anyway, the cards for me are not predictive, they are a diagnostic tool. That is, they don’t tell the future, they provide a perspective on the present. The cards are a set of open-textured symbols: you bring your own meaning to them - you have to be intuitive, creative, irrational. They’re a break from the left-brain (rational, logical) world of law.

The cards have no more power to predict the future than a Rorschach blot. They present a problem: how do I resolve these randomly chosen symbols into a story? If that story conflicts with your present view of your life, that’s valuable: there may be an insight, an unconsidered possibility, a fresh perspective.

Do I believe in them? They’re about story-telling. Do I “believe” in the films I see, the novels I read, the plays I go to? No, but I do suspend disbelief and agree to approach the medium on its own terms.

Have they ever been weirdly accurate? Maybe. I once read for a friend of a friend in a Canberra pub - a total stranger. Several cards strongly indicated travel, especially by air and over water (eight of wands, page of swords) and in the position of her immediate future she turned up, rather dramatically, the blank card (something that one is not meant to know now). I explained this to her a little apologetically (people usually expect more concrete answers).

“Right,” she said, “Interesting. The thing is, I get on a plane to London tomorrow and I have nothing at all lined up at the other end.”

Accurate or not, they’ve sometimes made a great party trick, or conversation-starter. And if the law thing doesn’t work out, at least I have one other marketable skill.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Naylor day returns

Yes, it's well overdue - but in the spirit of my new year's resolutions, the next installment of Naylor is finally up after a too-long hiatus. And it's safe to say the Elliot's life is just getting weirder.

For those who don't remember (it has been a while), or who are new to these parts "Naylor's Canberra"; is the tentative title of a crime-novel-in-progress. My objective is to publish 1,000 words a week until I have a finished draft. Some bits were worked over with the help of a writer's group last year and so are more polished than others.

The story so far? Elliot Naylor, a law graduate who has been refused admission to practice for reasons to do with a fatal car accident, is an under-employed part-time law librarian. A former girlfriend of his is missing, Marina - a highflying political staffer to Milton Dawes, Minister for Justice and Customs. Her father, David Carmichael, a prominent local barrister, hires Elliot to find her before he has to report it to the police: an attempt to keep it quiet and close to the family and avoid scandal.

It seems easy enough, until Elliot begins to dig into David's shady business dealings and close ties to the Minister. Further, Elliot is the first to discover that one of Marina's co-workers, Jenny, has been murdered and is (so far) the only person questioned by the police.

Understandably, he's nervous. Worse, he's no closer to finding Marina.

On top of that, he's decided to investigate the background of one Jeremy Ryder, who has business ties to David Carmichael as well as Canberra's legalised prostitution and pornography industries. Marina and Jenny were both involved in a Ministerial task force investigating sexual slavery - is Ryder somehow connectedisappearanceapearence of one and the murder of the other?

Elliot does not yet consider Ryder dangerous - which may be a mistake ...

Apologies if the new instalment is a bit rough round the edges. Suggestions and proof-reading are, as always, welcome.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

On the topic of spelling mistakes

… especially those not to make when writing a paper the law of naval warfare, in particular when writing on the use of a “blockade” to prevent the shipment by sea of potential war-supplies to an enemy state.

So, with this in mind, have you ever noticed how close “d” and “g” are on a qwerty keyboard?

It makes it really easy for “naval blockade” to become “naval blockage” – which certainly sounds uncomfortable for any naval officers involved, but is probably much less effective as a tool of economic warfare.

Spell check won’t catch it either, of course. Just another way Microsoft can wage a war of attrition on my sanity.

That’s right, a poor typist should always blame his tools.

By the way, on matters military, if you're looking for weapons grade plutonium for your plans for world domination (bwah hah hah!) go no further than ... (Thanks for the link Dan.)

PS Singapore: forgot to mention that I added Jolene's version n to my links last week - a native Singaporean and fellow Cambridge debater; coupled with a l's wuyuetian I seem to have a burgeoning affinity for Singapore blogs.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

A dedicated follower of fashion (Impressions of Singapore 2)
(Trip photos are still over here … )

Despite normally having the fiscal discipline of a first-term Tory Chancellor, I have poor-impulse control in high-bargain-density environments.

It’s like an inverse law. My iron-clad budgetary self-control (or my basically tight-wad nature) dissipates in a sales season. Add a sales season in Singapore and I get nearly as vicious as the grandmother you only let out for the Christmas shopping so as to hone her killer instinct.

Yup, that bad. And with my sister riding shot-gun to encourage me, well, things get messy.

Still, I went to Singapore with objectives. As a student whose cuffs and hands are now constantly smeared in bicycle grease (Singapore was the first time in ages my nails were grease-free) my top priorities were clear: another pair of jeans, and another pair of black cord trousers. Some new good black shoes, preferably boots (the kind you can wear to interviews or a black tie function) and a blue shirt would also be handy.

So, the attempted to go to the sales at Robinsons. On New Year’s Day.

In retrospect, going to Singapore’s oldest local department store on day one of the sales was not necessarily a good idea. It’s up there with inspecting ground zero at a nuclear test facility immediately after a detonation, and just in time for Godzilla. If the radiation doesn’t get you, the giant lizard will.

Anyway, the sales. Don’t get me wrong, no-one was pushy or baying for blood or fighting over the deals. It was Singapore - everyone was far too polite. But man, it was a tight squeeze around the sales tables. I might as well have worn a “clueless, clumsy westerner, please keep a safe distance” sign - I couldn’t seem to turn round without elbowing someone or swatting them with my bag.

Somehow I emerged unbloodied and unbowed with the blue shirt and black cords (English winter weight no less, in Singapore‘s climate). Tick, tick - items off the list. On track, on budget.

Somehow, somewhere between Orchard Road, Raffles City and Chinatown markets my sense of financial responsibility lost its oxygen supply, shrivelled up and died discreetly. I left Singapore with new jeans, funky blue shoes, a big green satchel bag, a heap of new t-shirts (including some cool Bathing Ape cartoon types), and some terribly comfy tan trousers from British India. In some weird colonial legacy the trousers have a button-in detachable lining, which can be taken out and washed separately to save wear and tear.

But sweetest gift of all - I miscalculated the exchange rate, and so got a 25% discount on currency value, rather than the 12.5% I was expecting. Yay. Now, as for the sales in Cambridge where I was spending pounds … well, I found the shoes I needed in M&S and a Gap jumper, both for under half price.

But I resisted the wonderful 20% off last sales-price brown boots I just don’t need. (But want, want so bad! Ahem.)

So, fiscal order has been restored to the financial force Chez Doug.

How was your sales season looting and pillaging?

Monday, January 12, 2004

New year’s blogging (or “happy birthday, blog!”)

Hum, a season of resolutions and stock taking. Quite apart from “Courting Disaster” being one year old today. (Hurrah!)

So, indulge me.

New Year’s Eve 2002 I was drinking sparkling wine by, well, the bucket really, with my sister, Beth and Beth’s sister in the Purple Emerald on Flinder’s Lane in Melbourne. I’d been living in the World’s Most Liveable City™ for about three months. I was flirting with the idea of starting a blog.

New Year’s Eve 2003 I was entirely too sober in Singapore, standing with a Cambridge debating contingent as we realised most of us were, lamentably, not in the finals series. Fortunately, I’d smuggled my sister into the party, who provided sympathy, a little “it’s only a game” perspective, and beer - as well as the obvious thematic continuity.

Between those two events, well, it’s been a roller coaster. Melbourne was magnificent to me. I’ve never enjoyed a city so much, I’ve never enjoyed a job (working for a judge) so much. I made some great friends - especially through blogging. I applied for, and somehow succeeded in getting, a funded place in a graduate international law program in a major UK university, which (although occasionally stressing me out), I am loving.

On the other hand, I had some friendships I thought were firm go belly-up unexpectedly, both in Australia and England. In May, my plans to leave Melbourne for Cambridge also lead to some painful personal decisions. December, too, had some pretty drab moments on the self-confidence/“am I out of my depth?” front.

Other blessings, though, have been legion. Realising that I can move city, set myself up and make new friends (and have done so three times now) has given me much more self-confidence and I’ve learned to be much more outgoing, much more myself.

I’ve established a blog with a modest, but consistent readership. I’ve travelled. I’ve realised that I have very seldom failed at anything I’ve really wanted to achieve, which makes me amazingly lucky.

So, my resolutions, such as they are:

(1) I will trust that I am an effective budgeter and worry about money less.

(2) I will make more use of college film groups.

(3) I will go away somewhere at least one weekend in the coming term, and will take a proper five-day or week-long holiday somewhere (hopefully Barcelona, maybe Morrocco) in the term break. I will not worry that I should be writing-up my research paper around then.

(4) I will treat my course as a 9-5 office job. Okay, a 10-6 office job with a little work on Saturday. Starting today, dammit.

(5) I will finish Naylor if it kills me, or a few innocent bystanders.

Friday, January 9, 2004

(Chinatown markets, Singapore)

Impressions of Singapore (Part 1)
(Photos are over here, towards the bottom of the page ... )

High humidity, warm balmy nights, cicadas singing - to an Australian who’d spent December in England, it finally felt like Christmas. Colonial architecture among commercial high-rises, the knotted arthritic limbs of tropical trees, frangipanni in bloom, a city turned towards the water all deepened the sense of familiarity. Some moments I could have been back in Sydney - well, Sydney minus the pollution, litter, grime and car-choked narrow streets.

Even the fact that walking fifteen un-airconditioned metres would leave me glistening with a Mr Sheen-level sheen of perspiration felt not unlike Sydney.

So, I was in Singapore for the World’s Debating competition. Despite our successes at the Oxford Intervarsity, my team didn’t reach the octo-finals, which was a bit disappointing. In some ways rather more disappointing was the virtual absence of alcohol from the tournament. While my drinking to get drunk undergrad days are behind me, alcohol is perhaps the only genuinely expensive thing in Singapore: S$7 or $8 beers, S$12 gin and tonics or S$60 for a bottle of fairly ordinary Australian wine.

Even for those who did want a punishing drinking schedule, Singaporean bar staff seemed utterly bewildered by Irish/Australian/debater levels of demand. One suspects those native and to the manor born seek to refill their glasses much less often.

The competition itself was run terribly well: I don’t envy convenors the logistical nightmare of coordinating 900 people over 9 rounds of 75 individual debates per round, a finals series and a social circuit.

Otherwise, I met some nice people, bumped into some ANU debating friends (which was scary, I seriously expected to be too old to be recognised at all) and hung out with the Oxbridge gang. Jet-lag at times dulled my enjoyment of the tournament, and my enthusiasm for sight-seeing, but catching up with the family (who I saw after the tournament) was fantastic.

Overall, though, the most intriguing part of the experience was gaining some awareness of the facets of Singapore as a country/city-state: the ethnic mix, the economic miracle, the consumer paradise, the incrementally liberalising democracy, the visibility of guest workers, the endemic civility and community-spiritedness. There was both much to admire, and a direct awareness of the pervasiveness of the nanny-state.

I also bought a lot of new clothes and collected my new laptop from my Dad (ordered and paid for in Australia by me and smuggled into Singapore by him. Yes, I know no-one bothers buying new electronic goods if they’re visiting Singapore … but anyway …), so I came back bout 15 kgs overweight.

(Luggage, not me. If I could gain 15 kilos I might actually hit standard weight-for-height ratios.)