Thursday, February 27, 2003

The yoga craze and me

Yeah, posting from an internet terminal on my day off and my way to Canberra. That's commitment to daily blogging (well each week day at least ...)

Anyway, I think yoga is getting passe. Pilates is now the new yoga, rather like Thai restaurants for a long time now have been the new Chinese. Not having done pilates and having nothing to run on but prejudice, it seems to be yoga for gym junkies: people who really need equipment and weights to feel they’re exercising.

I’ve been going to yoga for two years now (all hatha not iyengar), and have been to three different venues, all based on convenience.

The mega-firm in Sydney has yoga for stressed lawyers twice a week - a 7.45 am class (which was too early even for me) and a 6.00 pm evening class. The evening class was often a bit earlier than I could leave work and would result in me padding back to my desk barefoot in t-shirt and shorts to put in a few more billable units. We had a lovely, encouraging, tiny English instructor who took classes in the big conference room with harbour views.

The best classes were in winter, when you could watch the inner city lights come out in the darkness.

When I did my government-law temping gig in Sydney I worked close to the Queen Victoria building and went to the City Yoga studio which is on the third floor of a building across from the QVB bus interchange. (The mix of businesses out the back of the oh-so-classy QVB always sort of amused me: restaurants, electronic wholesalers, Abbey’s Bookshop, accountants, a shop, and yoga.) It was more expensive than going to the subsidised firm class but you could get a discount rate if you bought ten class tickets in booklet that was only good for the next ten weeks. The use-it-or-lose-it system worked well. The instructors were good, incredibly relaxed women (surprise!) - but the floor space was occasionally at a bit of a premium - and some classes were a bit over-attended.

Still, it offered nine sessions a week, and I liked being able to go after work, or at lunch.

On moving to Melbourne I found a local gym with a yoga sign and decided to give it a go - casual drop-in classes were $10, but I figured if I liked it enough I might join.

I was a little skeptical of the class at first - my Sri Lankan instructor seemed a little too jokey, and a little over-the-top. It also took me a while to adapt to his slight accent. I soon realised that growing up with the discipline he had a far more relaxed and practical attitude towards it - including its meditative/spiritual side. He’s easily the best instructor I’ve had. (He also works as a chef at an inner city restaurant.)

I joined the gym on a membership special and have been going every Sunday morning at 10.30 as a minimum, and try and get along on Wednesday evenings too (when not off drinking with bloggers …) Once a week is enough to feel I’m treading water, twice a week and I feel I’m making progress.

Okay, observations about yoga:

Yes, it is a risky activity if you have back injuries. You should always tell your instructor and take it easy early on.

If you’re a guy, expect to be one of the girls. It’s a very female activity. This is not the social-life boon some might think, as in most classes you’re basically in your own private cocoon and are pretty spaced out afterwards. It’s not a chat-fest.

What do I get out of it? Going twice a week, I definitely feel fitter and stronger. It’s light exercise, but you do often have to support your own weight, and holding postures can be a real bitch. My balance has also improved a fair bit, and my flexibility is slightly better.

Also, as I said, there’s the meditative side. Call it New Age bunk, but it is a mental discipline as well - and I do enter quite a different headspace after class. Once or twice in wind-down meditations I have felt, well, something quite different. It works, and I often feel clearer about my feelings and priorities afterwards, as well as more relaxed.

Best of all, though, I think it really caters to those who (like me) are a trifle intimidated by the whole hard-bodied gym experience. (Remember the Sienfeld joke about getting fit so you could look fit enough just to go to the gym?) Yoga classes often have a real range of ability levels and body types and I love that sense of inclusiveness.

I think this exercise fad will do me, and the other potential benefits of my gym membership are just going to go untouched.

Though it would be cool to go indoor rock-climbing again …

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Reconstruction in Iraq

I promise this will be my last war blog for a while. If I can post tomorrow, given I have a day off and will be travelling to Canberra, I will post on my love affair with a current fad.

Okay, so I’ve argued we should not enter a war in Iraq, especially without Security Council backing, unless we have a plan for post-War humanitarian relief and national reconstruction. It has been pointed out to me that the Bush administration is working on a post-war plan, and mightn’t this imply my position have a problem?

First off, my main contention is that the “humanitarian justification” for the war is bankrupt without such a plan. I mean, if you wanted to alleviate suffering in Iraq you’d lift sanctions. Yes, I know that would give Hussein oil money to re-arm, I’m just saying there’s a calculus here, competing objectives to balance.

Here’s some food for thought:

It’s pretty hard to argue that going in without UN backing is anything but illegal at international law. Pre-emptive defensive strikes are, legally, bunk and unjustified on the facts. Hussein is presently contained.

Also, even East Timor’s José Ramos-Horta, who - unsurprisingly - supports wars of liberation against oppressors, favours giving diplomacy more time:

I agree that the Bush administration must give more time to the weapons inspectors to fulfill their mandate. The United States is an unchallenged world power and will survive its enemies. It can afford to be a little more patient. Kofi Annan, the secretary general of the United Nations, has proved himself to be a strong mediator and no friend of dictators. He and a group of world leaders should use this time to persuade Saddam Hussein to resign and go into exile. In turn, Saddam Hussein could be credited with preventing another war and sparing his people. But even this approach will not work without the continued threat of force.

Read his enormously sane article for the NY Times on unfolding events here.

I am also concerned that the US, going in alone may not have the will to stay if reconstruction gets difficult. After all, the US had to stay in Tokyo for seven years after Hiroshima. As the NY Times puts it:

If America acts virtually on its own, it is hard to imagine either the Bush administration or the American people having the staying power to make things right. Washington may be counting on Iraq's oil revenue to pay for rebuilding the country after the war, but the oil wells could be damaged in the fighting. It seems certain that an administration that will not give up tax cuts to pay for the war itself is not going to inflict economic pain at home to pay for the cleanup. And while Americans have always shown themselves willing to risk anything, even their own children, for a critical cause of high purpose, their support for this particular fight is thin as a wafer and based on misapprehension that Iraq is clearly linked to terrorism.

This must particularly be the case when the war has dubious support among the US people, and many town and city governments are passing resolutions against war.

I am also very concerned that anything other than a UN administered post-war Iraq would be easily painted as “Mc Iraq”, a US client state, which would undermine its ability to become a credible force for stability and democracy in the region. I think this would particularly be the case under a “governor” appointed by the US military. There is already a brewing PR disaster in this war, which will inevitably be seen as a western war on Islam. (If our taxi drivers think all Muslims are terrorists, I imagine subtle distinctions will be lost on the often extremely anti-American populace of much of the Islamic world as well.) At least the Australian government is trying to persuade the Bush administration to take a multi-lateral approach on this one.

The point is, we don’t just need any plan for reconstruction, we need one that will not compound the inevitable damage to world stability done by any attack and that will not heighten the risk of alienating moderate Islamic opinion. Horta is right: there are other options worth trying first.

Craven cowardice?

Excuse me if I see a risk that bombing civilians this year will create a decade of extremist suicide bombers.

Comments to the guestbook, unless backblog is up again.
If it's Thursday, it's Naylor Day

"It seemed I’d been in her room an age: glaciers had swollen, scoured the earth and melted while I crept about shame-faced, ransacking the life of someone I’d once slept with."

New Naylor here.

Argh. The Naylor's Canberra site has been causing me some grief. I have the table of contents links working properly now, and the "next" link at the foot of each instalment is now finally working. Thanks to those who are reading it!

(For those who just want the regular blog, there should be something up inside half an hour. Meantime, why not check out Naylor?)

And yes, comments are down. Remember the guestbook, though?

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

It’s, like, Alanis-ironical

Odalisk a few weeks ago had a debate running between her entries and some guestbook comments on whether “ironical” is a word. Despite being ugly, and redundant (sarcastical? minimalistic?) it is apparently a legitimate, archaic usage.

I think, though, the word could be subverted, redefined and redeployed in our post-90s world.

I suggest that “ironical” could now be used to describe moments of Alanis-irony - after that fabulous cultural moment in which everyone woke up to the fact that few, if any, of the inconveniences of life described in Ms Morissette’s song “Ironic” were, in fact, ironic.

The song could more aptly have been titled “Isn’t it a bugger?” or “Murphy’s law - it nails you every goddamn time.”

Moments of recent Alanis-irony in my life:

1. Moving to Melbourne in part because my best friend from high-school lived here, only to find he would move to Japan before I arrived.

2. Being a homebody who loves stability, and moving house twice a year, every year, minimum.

3.Organising a visit to Sydney on a long weekend and planning to see some old friends while there, then discovering they had out-of-town holiday plans. (Could only have been more “ironical” if they’d in fact been going to Melbourne.)

4. Going from complaining about being too tired from a work trip to socialise, to complaining about being too tired from socialising to work effectively.

5. Missing out on a cheap airfare by minutes because I thought it would be smart to shop around. (“No-one will want the last internet-deal seat to Canberra in the next five minutes, surely?”)

I think these rank with “it’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife” - although I still contend “it’s a free ride when you’ve already paid” could be an example of dramatic irony (where a character is unaware of circumstances of which the audience is forewarned, resulting in a mocking discrepancy between appearance and reality) - but maybe I’m trying to hard here.

Anyhoo, generate your own Alanis Morissette song lyrics here.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Please, let’s just be honest about this war for a moment

I really should stop boiling at The Australian’s beating of war drums, but its continued conflation of the protest movement with selfish-psuedo-humanitarianism, and its Saturday headline “As Aussie troops prepare to invade Iraq … Saddam rewards protests” is really too much for me. I thought I’d calm down and avoid this blog, but no.

Basically, the paper’s editorial line (see the second article on this page) is that anti-Bush puppets and street-theatre, “no blood for oil” banners, and the speeches of John Pilger and Senator Natasha Stott Despoja have demonstrated, as it predicted, that protest would be “hijacked by the far Left”. It then paints Opposition Leader Simon Crean’s “reasonable, pro-UN views” as “too mild” for protesters, as he was heckled in Brisbane. (Imagine, a politician heckled! At a rally!) Thus, it undercuts its own concession that the rallies represented “a very wide spectrum of opinion”.

So, The Australian - echoing our Prime Minister – is running the line that while protest is a democratic right, it is irresponsible to allow Hussien to see a divided west, because it will give him comfort (increasing his intransigence) and therefore protests are only “counter-productive to efforts to peacefully disarm Iraq” and likely to prolong the suffering of the Iraqi population.

Well, fuck me.

By opposing war I am increasing the chances of it.

By marching for my own “reasonable, pro-UN views”, I provide comfort to a loony Left which wants to keep Australians out of a foreign war - regardless of the suffering in Iraq.

The only responsible option, is, apparently, to back war whole-heartedly and without dissent.

Right, let’s be clear on something here - I have no doubt that Hussein is, at international law, a criminal. I have no doubt he has committed acts of genocide. I have no doubt that his draining of ancient Iraqi marshlands was a deliberate act of eco-vandalism to punish a people who rose up against him twelve years ago. I have no doubt that his regime runs a police-state top-heavy with enforcers, informers, torturers and disappearances that would make Pinochet weep. I have no doubt that many human rights agencies, that would never sanction any war, would privately welcome his being deposed.

But I have not been hearing this from the political leaders of the US, Britain or Australia. At least, not until recently. What I have heard is a shifting mass of justifications emanating from Bush and parroted by “the willing”. First, Hussein was linked to Osama Bin Laden, then he wasn’t - but he was prepared to sell weapons to terrorists. Then there was no proof he sold weapons to terrorists, but he was accumulating weapons of mass destruction. Now there’s not a lot of proof of that he has WMD (delivery systems aside) and the pro-War camp are now just beginning to say he’s a dictator who abuses human rights.

If this had been a moral argument from the outset, there might be some public support for this war. But at the moment, conflicting justifications just make a cynical public look for hidden motives.

The case for war has really been made as one for world stability - in the most general, nebulous sense. “He very probably has weapons of mass destruction, and being a very bad man may give them to other very bad men - who could use them against us.”

The case being argued is self-interest. And while thinking of self interest, please - let’s acknowledge what everyone knows - oil is a factor here. British foreign policy expressly includes as a goal “energy security”, which highlights the need to help create a “stable” Middle East. Now, true it is, Hussein would not have invaded Kuwait to begin with if it were not for oil, and allowing his regime to grab a significant slice of the world’s oil production would have been a bad idea.

But - at the cost of staggering civilian suffering, denounced by Medicin Sans Frontiers - he has now been successfully contained by a regime of sanctions and the (basically illegal) no-fly zones. This man is not Hitler. Hitler was never successfully contained within his own borders.

The Right’s belated adoption of the human-rights justification for war leaves only two explanations: a genuine concern for world stability, or economic self-interest. Bush cannot have it both ways on world stability: you cannot use existing UN Security Council resolutions as a justification for war, but deride the UN as “irrelevant” for withholding a further, clear authorisation of force.

I think there would be a case for war if it was genuinely being justified on humanitarian grounds. However, until I hear that case made by our leaders - and backed with a commitment to stay in Iraq and assist with national re-construction, I will remain sceptical and harbour suspicions about the real motives. Removing Hussein is worthless as a humanitarian result if: (a) nothing is done to ameliorate suffering on the ground once our troops withdraw; and (b) nothing is done to prevent a son, nephew or crony of Hussein’s taking the reins.

Until there is a real humanitarian commitment and a clear set of objectives for intervention in Iraq, you’ll have to forgive me for opposing war - even if I am bringing comfort to a dictator.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Life admin day

If I had my time over, I’d still do the eighteen months I spent in Sydney with my first two jobs again. I was glad to have had the experience - but all I miss about the town is a handful of good friends and the mornings I used to commute to work by the Balmain ferry, sipping my coffee from a Kathmandu thermos on the back deck and watching the water.

The rest I’ll live to the ambitious, the natives and ex-pats who love the weather.

I enjoy the slower, less commercial, more European pace of life in Melbourne - but let’s face it, any office job, no matter how good, makes you feel as though you never have enough time to tackle those little, irritating errands. (Check out the Dilbert view of the lunch time errand-run, too.)

I propose a nation-wide working standard of at least one fully-paid day off a month to deal with life maintenance and administration issues, if necessary with the full power of your office’s resources behind you. With such a Scandanvian-socialist-utopia measure behind me I might this year have managed to:

1. Replace the distance-vision glasses I lost new year’s eve. I know this seems ruinously slack, but I only need them for reading signs in the distance, the restaurant specials board, watching movies from a point behind the first five rows, and being able to read street-signs when driving at night. Also, it breaks down into the four component steps of: get new prescription, chose new frames (part with hideous amounts of cash), have prescription made up, make claim on my health insurance.

2. Consolidate my frikken superannuation plans - before management fees fritter it all away.

3. Claim what I can back on health insurance for the re-upholstering of my orthotics that was done last November.

4. Get a new internet banking password for the account I accidentally locked myself out of a while ago. I only use it to manage my travel fund and back-up credit card - and why would I want to know how much I owe/how poorly my saving program may be going?

5. Schlepp over to the Victorian Writers’ Centre and find a writers’ group. I loved the one I attended in Balmain and miss regularly reading other people’s draft novels.

6. Get a dental check-up. (It’ll be the same advice as always: “You’ve got good brush technique, but should floss more.“)

7. Get my grandfather’s fob-watch serviced so it runs for more than a few minutes, and have a new watch-chain attached to it.

So many irritating things I should have done by now. Who’s with me on this one?

PS. Visit Elliot on an easy day for lying

“I hit the street, a cheque bearing a five hundred dollar advance in one bewildered hand. David Carmichael gives away money with the promiscuity most people part with teeth and organs. He was seriously worried ... “

Get your freshly squeezed pulp noir here.

Friday, February 21, 2003

New weirdness

Sure, sure I've already posted a long rambling entry for the day.

But I'm (naive and novice enough to be) excited over my first google referral to my site - the combination of search terms "animated avatars funny" brings up my recent Sims entry. (I imagine they were a trifle dissapointed.)

Someone also seems to have been referred here by a legal publishing house. Damn scary.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Week in review: something old, new, borrowed, blue

I’ll tackle the week backwards, I think.

Friday morning: I like rain, I like waking up to it. I also like lying half awake for hours in the night listening to it – until I have to crawl out of bed half-slept and schlep into work on a late train full of wet people. Still, I was amused to be swaying to the train and listening to Oscar Peterson’s “Night Train”, I’m easily amused.

Thursday night: a Book Club member’s “quiet birthday drinks” and pizza. Lovely people, mostly professional writing students busy getting contract work or finishing novels. I had a lot of fun, but was suffering wage-slave fatigue by 11.

Wednesday: the great Blogger meet up! Damn I should have introduced myself to more people rather than just lurk in the “harem corner“ at the Gin Palace with the other early arrivals. Beth and I met for a quick drink and dinner before hand (dinner at the Dumpling restaurant on Tattersalls Lane – so good! So cheap!). On arrival I added a glass of Riesling straight into the mix, but the killer was drinking a Toblerone with missjenjen.

I sometimes get a little loud and take up a lot of conversational space after a drink. And a Toblerone is a drink: cream, Baileys, Kaluha, twist of honey, crushed ice - lethal. Goes down like lime cordial but sneaks back with a sledgehammer. Anyway, I was wearing my new jeans and casual-shirt-that-needs-cufflinks, so I was fine (see Saturday, below). Which compensated for being the guy who so often spoke immediately before a long, awkward silence. Fluke, surely.

So I met funky new people! Sqeeshee has a vibrant orange blog, and a story that shows not even illness was enough to escape last Friday’s protest march zeitgeist. Dee of viscerate has a funky head-to-head, coffee-stained two author blog. A fine addition to the Melbourne blog scene and the general Canberra diaspora down here. She also thought the night was full of witty conversation, and I hope I might just manage to crawl in under that banner. Daniel, blogger Methusula, one of the earliest and most written about was there – and a lovely guy to boot. Erin, the American expat (no not odalisk, another American expat Erin), who was a riot to chat with.

And of course everyone I met last time: missjenjen, Marcus (who’s technology all of those who understood it, wanted – and who better reviews the evening than me), Natalie(who took photos …), Andrew(a mainstay of the scene) and Michael( who I didn’t really say more than “hi” and “bye” to, sorry!). Heaps of people I didn’t really get to speak to, including Vlado.

Tuesday: relatively quiet, a couple of drinks after work with one of the guys visiting from the interestate offices this week at Troika, dropped him at his work dinner, home by 8.

Monday: I organised dinner for the inter-state visitors to the Melbourne office from Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney. Good turn out from my local workmates, too, so we had about nine for a good dinner. Drinks at the Mint, dinner at the Supper Inn, tea and coffee at Sarti near the Gin Palace. Karaoke was averted, to the relief of all.

Sunday: I went to yoga. I tried to be centred. I mostly succeeded. My instructor’s brother, though, is about to be deported ... and some days some of my classmates are distractingly pretty.

Otherwise, I wrote.

Saturday of rampant consumerism: In search of a decent wine shop (futile! doomed!) I went out to my nearest mega-mall Northlands shopping centre and wandered straight into the Myer menswear sale. One shirt was the cocktail hour in-betweener extravagance I wore to the meet-up. It’s allegedly a work-shirt, but has big blue and green candy-stripes on a white background, french cuffs and a collar too loose on me to really wear a tie. It needs cufflinks, but doesn’t support a tie. Too formal for casual, too casual for formal. Loved the colours, bought it anyway.

Two shirts and a woven tie later I was out in the mall. It’s been a while since I mall-surfed, dodging the packs of home-boy teenagers, and Brittany/Christina cast-off adolescent girls. Spooky.

Then I hit a jeans store and a run of good luck. Finally, I found new jeans that fit me without being ludicrously baggy or ludicrously tight. Big issue for a slim man, the answer: Levi 502s, boot-cut. Perfect. A smaller waist than usually fits me, but perfect. Sure, consumerism sucks – but sometimes, it’s just so fulfilling, and the rat race’s only payoff.

And I found a fun DIY carwash! (I've been good through water restrictions, only washing my car once in the last three months, so I kinda went crazy.)

Then Beth and her flatmate made me dinner, I got to drink wine and pay out “Grease“ on TV.

And be totally freaked out by the fact the Mrs. Bartlett of the “West Wing“, sexy-brained Stockard Channing herself, was Rizzo. Freaky.

God, no wonder I’m tired this morning. Maybe at 27 I'm just too prematurely middle-aged for a social life ...


Wednesday, February 19, 2003

And now for a cunning plan …

Last night was my second Bloggers meetup, held at that most splendid of venues, the Gin Palace. This time, we commandeered the “harem” area filled with cushions and there was nary a business-wear karma sutra performance in sight.

But more about the blog meet-up and cool, new (to me at least) Blogs tomorrow. This is my Blog – and today is a massive exercise in self-indulgence.

Okay, yesterday I mentioned a cunning plan to force me to finish writing one of my hobby projects.

This is it: Naylor’s Canberra.

Once or twice a week, and certainly every Thursday, I’ll post 1,000 words or so of the Canberra crime novel on-line on my alternate site.

I’ve tried to set it up to be easy to navigate with a table of contents links more than an archive. But we’ll just have to see if anyone reads it. If so, and I if keep to a once-or-twice weekly schedule, I may finish the damn thing.

Hope you read, hope you comment.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

A lawyer's unwritten novels

Most lawyers are frustrated writers, actors, comedians or performers of some bent or another. The number of “unwritten novels” per square foot of floor space I suspect is higher in law firms than any other place on the planet.

So, in the spirit of Neil Gaiman’s library of dreams (which holds all the novels you never wrote, but day-dreamed of writing on the bus), here are my four “concept novels”:

1. A crime novel set in Canberra. Obviously, being the seat of Australian government, there’s the potential for political intrigue. But let’s not forget that Canberra is our very own Scandinavia, where nothing is illegal, just taxable. Prostitution and pornography are both “light industrial” land uses, and possession of marijuana for personal use is the equivalent of a parking offence.

Canberra has Australia’s highest average per capita income and education levels (basically reflecting government jobs); but also the highest rate of heroin overdoses. There have been a number of prominent murder cases, including the shooting of an Assistant Police Commissioner in his driveway, and the decapitation of a diplomat. Then you have the weirdness that comes out of the universities, diplomatic corps, intelligence services and the defence force academy – as well as the fact that with just 350,000 people, it’s a large country town where everyone knows everyone else’s business.

A plot? I see a semi-employed legal librarian, Elliot Naylor, being asked by a barrister to find the barrister’s daughter Marina, Elliot’s ex-girlfriend. Marina’s a ministerial staffer who has failed to return from leave. No one wants the embarrassment of a police investigation. Before too long, Elliot is investigating the barrister’s shady business connections and is implicated in a murder investigation. There would also be a back-plot about why he was refused admission to legal practice and is scaping out a living in a library and not as a solicitor.

2. A late nineteenth century London historical novel. (I did my Arts honours in nineteenth century British social history, okay?) Sure it’s a hackneyed genre: all those “clever” novels with “guest appearances” by the literary and social luminaries of the day. But I still think there’s plenty that can be done with a society so riven with contradictions. My angle? I’d like to write something based around the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a group of occultists that contained several infamous or influential figures including Aleister Crowley, W.B. Yeats and Mrs. Constance (Lloyd) Wilde (yes, he had a wife). The Order was one of the more successful Freemason-offshoot secret societies of the 1890s. (Two members put together the modern design of the Tarot deck – like clan tartans, the present “ancient” design of the Tarot is a Victorian piece of instant tradition.) The Order also included respectable scientists, including a London coroner. The fact that this late in the emergence of modernity, the line between science and magic could be blurred under the rubric of “magnetism” or “invisible forces” fascinates me, as does the spiritualist craze of the time. Several members were also self-invented Scottish aristocracy and all-round frauds.

3. A fantasy novel set in contemporary Sydney that draws on Irish mythology. Whoa! Weird fusion of concepts? Not really - the Irish gods were basically people and they interbred with all and sundry. Practical upshot - I see no trouble with a large family of god-descended Irish folk, called the MacLir (literally, “the children of Lir” as in the fairy tale), having been transported as convicts to Sydney. The novel would revolve around the clan’s internecine conflicts, and hereditary succession to certain positions of influence associated with the various pagan festivals. There are easily enough to fill out a calendar, but instead of calling people Sahmain, Beltaine, etc, I think I’d short-hand them by naming them after months of the year. The pivotal character would be the “youngest of the elders” November MacLir – a girl who’d much rather finish uni than join the family business and spend her life scheming against mad relatives.

4. Along the lines of The Fraudsters, a light comedy of manners set among twenty-somethings in the legal industry. Sort of “Carry On, Jeeves!” meets “This Life” with the plot revolving around a Jeeves and Wooster pairing of brains with endearing haplessness. A bit thin? Well, that sort of novel always is. As P G Wodehouse put it, musical comedy without the music and singing.

At the moment I’m far more motivated about blogging than hobby-creative-writing, but I may have a cunning plan to get myself moving again.

Tomorrow, something different.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Virtual communities, or on-line suburbia?

Blogging, it seems to me, is a community activity. There’s the imagined community of blogger and readership, often made relatively responsive through the medium of comments. (Indeed, comments sections often take on a life of their own, fostering discussions only tangentially related to the post.) Further to that, there is the cross-pollination of bloggers linking to or commenting on other bloggers’ sites - as well as the phenomenon of the blogger meet-up (where geographically coterminous blog authors can perform the anachronistically embodied act of gathering together as flesh-and-blood avatars of online personas in a physically co-located “offline” space.

Usually to drink beer.)

In fact, I started blogging mere days before going to my first blog meet-up (under the kindly wing of blogger-of-standing Beth) - so I’ve always been able to put faces to certain blogs.

Anyway, if blogging has the capacity to invoke “communities” that may transcend boundaries (is there a time-zone where there’s not someone reading minderella?), what about creating your own virtual suburb?

That’s exactly what the on-line version of "The Sims" is apparently doing (as written up in last week’s "The Weekend Australian" magazine – no online text available). For a wallet-lashing US$50 for the initial game and a US$10 monthly subscription you can join a huge cyber-suburban landscape, your own bourgeois simulacrum. You design your “Sims” inventing personas, or modelling them on people you know, and unleash them into a cyber-social world where they will chose a house and furniture, make friends, go to work, go on dates and have to remember to relieve full bladders, get the kids on the school bus and set out the garbage.

The are, apparently, a gazillion shareware sites with extra clothes, physical appearances, tattoos, lamp-shades and gee-gaws you can select for your little creations. There are no rules and no objectives, unless you want to make the 100 Most Liked characters list. People apparently even set up on-line share houses to act out their little soap-operas and sit coms (DIY “Friends” episodes).

I have to say I find the idea eerily compelling. And am only restrained from hurtling headlong into this experience by (a) expense; (b) the lack of a computer of altogether my very own; and (c) the pressing need to reduce, not expand, the number of distractions in my life.

Perhaps the politics of it should worry me, the rampant consumerism of it, the emphasis on “popularity” and the risk of it becoming a substitute for “real” interaction with people. But frankly, none of it does.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Sim games - going back to the early, primitive black-and-white Mac edition of Sim City which I would play endless hours of, often at Jason’s house, as we’d advise each other on the finer aspects of urban planning, or mopping up after a nuclear power station meltdown.

Sometimes we’d leave a game running over dinner and return to find half the town razed by an earthquake and the ensuing unattended fires.


I can recall playing so long, I could fall asleep visualising the chunkily-animated B&W visuals behind my eyelids.

I have no idea if they occur, but I also find the idea of “Sim meetups” really funny. I can easily imagine people who have shared a Sim dwelling with a player from another country eventually winding flatmates.

“Damn, why can’t we just download some better wallpaper?”

The real risk, however, seems that a large number of players are just … well, kinda dull. From the Weekend Australian article and the little I’ve seen on-line, there’s lots of bikini babes and bench-press perfect animated guys churning out dialogue that would scarcely pass in a bad 80s teen movie. Like everything in our great trans-national electronic state-of-nature, it’d be a question of sifting through the (what is for you) dross to find (what you consider) a community worth participating in.

Still, it’s one more step towards the world where we truly telecommute to the office, even social occasions, by donning our VR helmet and goggles and entering a dedicated virtual space. I think office jobs would be much easier if it could all be done in one’s PJs sitting up in bed. The Sims may have to relieve full bladders, but I doubt they have to iron shirts.


On the theme of trans-national communities, a cheery “Hello!” to whoever is reading at Berkeley and McGill universities. I have no idea who you are, but I’m sure you’re cool.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

The compulsory rally report, and The Australian’s editorial

So, I went to rally for peace on Friday in Melbourne. As everyone whose followed the coverage will know, they were expecting 10 - 20,000 and got well over 100,000. The rally was to meet up at 5 pm in front of the State Library and then walk the length of Swanston Street down to the crazy cubist delight of Federation Square by the river. Well, at 5.30 the closest I could get to the State Library was about a hundred metres down Little Lonsdale Street on the wrong side of the road. (For non-Melbournians about a block away.) There was absolutely no hearing what was going on, which sort of robbed a participatory element from proceedings, but not really. Even if I was just another suited lawyer there “making up the numbers”, it was a great experience.

What really impressed me was the diversity in the crowd. Yes, it was predominantly under-35s - but there were Fransiscan sisters, aged hippies, families with strollers, school kids, badge-sellers, suits and the usual uni-campus fringe lefties with loudhailers. There were puppets, including big doves, white banners, and little kids with paper cranes on sticks.

Oh, and of course the inevitable, ignored vendor of Green Left Weekly desperately trying to raise consciousness of those desperate to avoid the Green Left street press.

But you get that.

It seriously looked as though marching to Federation Square was going to be impossible, the city’s central axis was already thoroughly clogged with people. Sure everyone could manage to squish up a bit - but march, let alone fit in the Square?

When the walking began, those I was with slipped down a laneway and came out at the next major intersection to see what was going on. Delightfully, there was movement. Even more delightfully, we slipped into the march for peace.

Well, strictly we were ambling for peace. It was an enormously relaxed affair: people were climbing public phones and lamp-posts (I suspect there are people who’d do this all the time if they could, but can only get away with it at a demo), laughter, bad improvised protest songs, and a lot of positive comments flowing to the women in traditional Muslim dress who were walking.

I ambled as far as the Square, which it seemed was going to hold a lot of people - as was the intersection of Flinders and Swanston and a good stretch of surrounding road. We could sort of hear what was going on, and found a view from the front of St Andrew’s cathedral of the big TV screen in the square so we could see what was happening - but after two hours on our feet, including Marching for Peace, it seemed time to Sip Beer for Peace, and then Go Out for Lebanese Food for Peace.

As Valentine’s Day could go - not bad.

Then I opened the weekend paper to check out The Australian’s coverage. I knew the paper had lurched to the right recently, but good god damn. Writing on the marches organised internationally this weekend the editorial said:

If Australia is any example, the protesters will be drawn from every part of the political spectrum. Unfortunately, if Australia really is an example, their humanitarian concerns are likely to be hijacked, as so often before, by the far Left. While there is mainstream opposition to war, people who seriously believe Saddam Hussein is no worse than George W. Bush have in effect lost contact with mainstream political opinion and therefore desperately rely on protests such as this to create the temporary illusion, for the world and themselves, that they are part of a broad-based social movement. They are not.

This woolly-thinking verbal sleight-of-hand really makes my blood boil.

While acknowledging the protest has support from “every part of the political spectrum”, its legitimacy is not-too-subtly impugned on the basis that this creates a “temporary illusion, for the world and themselves” that the far Left have a legitimate point to make, supported by the mainstream. Indeed, these dangerous lefties are likely to “hijack” legitimate protest. Subtext: this sort of protest provides false cover to dangerous elements, and gives them some sort of standing in the “world” media. In fact, the protest can be constructed as not represent a “broad-based social movement” (despite the huge turnout) because those articulating its aims are out of touch with the “mainstream”. While paying lip-service to what it dubs the “fine and honourable thing” of opposing war in a democracy, it basically implies that the protest movement is not in the hands of people with a responsible view of the facts.

It underlines this point with a pathologically brilliant piece of scare-mongering:

And for those who believe the US-lead initiatives are serving only to “radicalise” elements within Islam, this week’s message from Osama bin Laden should have been a wake-up call. It expressed the credo of a movement that is racist, misogynistic, bloodthirsty and already “radicalised” to the very heart of its being.

I think they mislaid the obvious concluding paragraph advocating the internment of all Muslim Australian citizens and residents for the duration of the War on Terror.

To judge Islam by bin Laden’s missives makes is as cretinous as judging Judeo-Christian Western society by the pronouncements of a Grand Imperial Cyclops of the Ku-Klux Klan. On a purely pragmatic level, where are Western nations going to get intelligence agents from if this is the line we take? Oh, sorry, terrorists are Evil - we don’t need anyone who might know something about their languages, cultures or real or perceived grievances.

Bombing the crap out of an innocent civilian population, by contrast, will not “radicalise” anyone. It is a responsible move that will not spawn future generations of terrorists and suicide bombers with real, immediate grievances against the US, Britain and Australia.

But the Prime Minister isn’t convinced that the rallies represent popular opinion, which he intuits is still undecided. So rest assured that the Australian’s editorial staff is a “mainstream” voice, keep a tight hold of your Terrorism hotline fridge-magnets and Prime-Ministerial pamphlet and remain “alert not alarmed” – democracy is presently experiencing turbulence and it may well be a bumpy landing.

Marcus covers the protest with some pictures. Beth also writes on being part of the movement in Melbourne. Canberra coverage by blogger Shauny here.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Just a free-rambling fool …

Once more, I'm stepping off into the unknown. The death knell has sounded, my landlord has confirmed the auction for 24 May and a sixty day settlement period thereafter to vacate the premises.

Even if I’m only in Melbourne until the end of my contract on 15 October, that still leaves me two and a half months without a place, looking for some share-household crazy or desperate enough to take me in on the understanding I may have to do a runner after ten weeks. Bugger.

Okay, I’m no John Birmingham, but in the period November 2000 to October 2002 I moved six times and had seven addresses. Let’s recap:

1. The First Flat of Brunch. Lovely little place in Curtin, Canberra I shared with Marissa of the ruminator for, what, two years? Best rental I’ve ever had. But what was great was the people who lived near by: we evolved a weekend brunch and frisbee group of friends and neighbours that set the tone for each weekend with a cook-up, coffee and banter – and exercise later in the day.

2. The temporary move home to my parents place for the Summer of Unemployment before moving to Sydney.

3. Coogee Beach I: The Hideous Flat of Doom. Certain combinations of people are just not meant to share close personal space, but when I first moved to Sydney, despite the corporate cash I was soon to be pulling down, I was flat broke. I needed a cheap place and sharing a modest flat with two cheerful women for $115 a week, two blocks from Coogee beach and a half hour from work seemed ideal.

It wasn’t.

I dined out for months on how awful one of my flatmates was. Her best effort? The night I came home to find her spilling drunk into a taxi with a few of her mates, my CD player broken and all my wine drunk cinched it. I tried to believe she was a nice person by her own standards, with whom I just I had communication issues.

I eventually had to face facts - she was a demon from an alternate universe designed for my personal torment. I slapped down three weeks notice and bolted to the first place available ...

4. Coogee Beach II: The Lads Pad. A friend was posted to Korea and I moved into his room on a temporary sub-lease. My new flatmate was Rob, who I’d met maybe three times. We had nothing in common: I drank, he didn’t (he’s since come back to the fold); I read fiction, he read business texts and Bertrand Russell; he loved the corporate life, it was eroding my sanity; he could cheerfully get up at 6 for a long jog every morning, I liked once-weekly yoga – we had nothing in common.

Except the most immature sense of humour imaginable.

It was silly: there were bad jokes, film clips were watched in boxer shorts, we debated the merits of ironing, we laughed ourselves stupid and wrote our worst witticisms up on a corkboard. (An example - Doug: “If I have any more coffee today, you’re going to come home to find me naked, licking the wallpaper.” We did not, of course, have wallpaper. We were living in our own surrealist sketch comedy.) Along with Marissa, one of the greatest friends and most easy-to-share-with flatmates I’ve ever found.

Unfortunately, Korea guy came back from Korea and wanted his room back.

5. House-sitting in Drummoyne: five weeks, no rent, a place to store my stuff while I looked around. Perfect, other than breaking down the middle of a major intersection on Oxford Street while moving there ... some tow truck drivers are just psychos.

6. This Life: Balmain. Living with three other lawyers is much less exciting than it might sound. We had a staggered start and finish to the day: people got up between 6 and 8.30 am, using the bathroom in pretty strict sequence. We got home between 7.30 and 11.30 pm at equally precise intervals. Then I became a public servant for a bit and started getting home at 6 – it was like living on the Marie Celeste some nights.

Fabulous, fabulous guys to share with – shame we never really saw each other. Still, if I had to go back to Sydney, I’d happily live in Balmain again. Catching the ferry across Sydney harbour to work is an unbeatable experience.

7. Digs in Thornbury/Northcote with the Gentleman Academic. The best thing, other than my peppercorn rent, was not having to look for a place in Melbourne - before I’d even started looking, a mutual friend e-mailed me to say the Gentleman had a room, was I interested? Damn right I was, and any day I haven’t locked myself out of the house has been a good one here.

It’ll be a shame to move again.

I’m not sure my massive century-old wardrobe can handle any more nicks and dints from “careful” removalists.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

What do you mean I’m a threat to national security?

I should start off with a bit of context for those who don’t know me.

I am not a threatening-looking guy.

(Those who know me can stop laughing any time now.)

I’m tall-ish without being really tall, and pretty thin. I have a narrow oval face and ears that stick out a bit. My eyebrows naturally flick up into slight devil’s peaks, but that’s the only thing about me that’s even remotely villainous, and even then I could at best manage a sort of young, close shaven Vincent Price, as opposed to say anything as menacing as a psychotic Edward Norton.

I do not resemble a celebrity, any celebrity at all. I’m not even square-jawed or homespun-bumbling enough to pass as a pre-war Jimmy Stewart. (Although there is a photo of me when I wore more hair a lot thicker which some think has a resemblance to Peter Carey. I can only wish.)

Anyway, my point being - I am not used to being hassled by security, bouncers or police. I am just self-evidently not a threat to anyone. Particularly when I’m in a pin-stripe, double-breasted work suit. Not even my vaguely cool grey suit; just my first-ever business suit, respectable but hardly gangster-sharp.

So, I was catching the plane home from Adelaide last night. Adelaide is apparently an international airport, but you still walk across the tarmac and up steps to get aboard a domestic flight, like something from a 1940s film, which might explain my Vincent Price/Jimmy Stewart ramblings. It is not a place where you expect security to be tight as those snug jeans you threw in the drier once too often.

Having made seven or eight round-trip domestic flights this year for work, and being accustomed to moving in and out of court buildings - I am entirely used to metal detectors. I’ve never had a problem with them.

I usually have all my metallic items into my hand luggage by the time I hit the x-ray machine so I don’t have to go through the whole frisking-yourself for spare change and keys routine: you know there’s always the one, hapless men in a suit clogging up the line while he empties his pockets and then slows things down again on the other side re-pocketing all his trinkets. Much better to drop the bag off glide through, pick it up on the other side and keep going.

My hand luggage was actually too stuffed with work documents last night to do that, so I used one of those little scuffed white-plastic trays. I stepped through the metal detector and it beeped at me.

Bugger, I thought, what have I forgotten?

“Sir,” says the security guy with the wand and the standard-issue facial expression, “do you have a watch?”

“Yep,” I said removing it, “and some sunglasses. They haven’t set it off before.”

He rattled another little plastic tray at my like a collection plate, I deposited my items and he ushered me through a second metal detector (the back-up unit?).

Alarms again.

“Let’s have a look at your belt buckle, sir.”

Now, did I mention I was travelling with my boss, a man who’s been a senior lawyer since at least the time of my birth? He’s an extremely patient man.

As I was removing my belt he was standing two meters away with both our bags, waiting for me at the end of the x-ray belt. This didn’t make me at all self-conscious. Not at all. Nope.

I glanced at my boss and decided to get this whole farce over with by removing all metal on me for a final run through the metal detectors. So I removed my cufflinks as well in the hope this would spare me a meeting with Rover the sniffer dog and a big man with gloves called Guido. My person was now metal-free.

I walk through the metal detector again - again the alarm goes off.

At this point I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t believe there was any metal left on me except one filling and the zipper in my pants.

I certainly wasn’t expecting the next request.

“Sir, I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to remove your shoes.”


“Your shoes. There’ll be a metal support bar in the sole.”

“You think my shoes have metal in them?”

“Seen it dozens of times. There’ll be a metal bar running across the sole. It’ll show up in green when we put it through the x-ray. Could you just sit down over there and take your shoes off?”

I sat on a US-penal-system-orange chair and took off my nice lace-up boots and put them in the plastic tray with my belt, cufflinks, sunglasses and watch.

I was walked back through the metal detector in my little socked feet (finally, no beeping) and then I dutifully padded up to the x-ray (one hand at my belt-less waistband) to confirm that yes, indeed, there was a little green stripe in the silhouette of my shoes.

Yup, right there. A green stripe.

I was returned to my boss like someone straight out of the drunk-tank at a local lockup: sock feet, shoes in one hand, my belt, watch, cufflinks and other possessions in a little plastic tray in the other.

I looked at my boss, grinned and said: “Bet you never thought you’d have a shoe-bomber working for you.”

Blogging by popular demand

Having fielded some flack for not having my usual 600 to 1,000 words up by 10 am, I offer some random observations about Adelaide and business travel.

1. Flying in it looks as flat as Melbourne and even more suburban the Canberra: lots of tidy suburban homes in grid-perfect suburbs crowding in around the city. The city centre is, however, much cooler than that. Lotsa old colonial buildings jumbled in together, and they fly the aboriginal and national flags in the centre of town. Goucher Street, the China Town/Central Markets area, is great for eating out too - really lively, yet still very big-country-town relaxed.

2. The water is not the colour people warn you about, but it does taste kinda chlorine-treated.

3. Next time I book myself in somewhere I'm going to phone ahead and check I have a window that opens. I hate waking up adozen times a night because it's so stuffy I can't breath and the air conditioning doesn't seem to help.

4. I'm only just beginning to have childhood memories of this region triggered. I used to visit occasionally while my family lived in Broken Hill. I stumbled across a tourist brochure for the "giant rocking horse", a huge painted metal construction over a wooden-toy factory in the Adelaide hills. We would stop there on the way into town to pacify me and my sister. The Australian obsession with novelty road-side attractions that are "big" things is astounding. The Big Merino (a giant concrete ram the size of a four storey building) in Goulburn outside Canberra being another example.

5. The guys in the Adelaide office are fantastic. Had a wonderful dinner at an Indian place with them in North Adelaide last night, then drinks at The Archer - where the beer glasses are of frightening size. I'm looking forward to repaying the hospitality. One of them is up in Mlebourne next week.

Time to pack up my stuff and dash for the plane.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Do you just play one character, or is it me?

Busy day in Adelaide, so here's a little something on "About Schmidt" Marissa e-mailed round last week. One for the Buffy fans.

"Don't you find it wierd sometimes when an actor's appearance in one film or show is disconcerting because of his previous performances. For instance, I saw 'About Schmidt' last night. It includes a small appearance by none other than Sunnydale's Mayor Richard Wilkins III.

And his character was pretty much just like the Mayor. Or at least, apart from the part about worshipping chaos and evil, intent on subjugating the world and turning all humans into playthings/food for his unholy desires. Not that they showed anyway.

I mean, this was a man who greeted somebody travelling in a land-based vehicle with the words 'Well ahoy there. Permission to come aboard Captain?' And that cheesy smile, head on one side, you know the one I mean.

So I was a little distracted, in a movie about a man in his mid-sixties confronting the empty and meaningless nature of his existence, waiting for this guy to turn into a giant snake and start eating people. I don't think I am spoiling the movie for you when I reveal that this did not, in fact, occur."

Check out Marissa's other reflections on her brand new blog here.

Monday, February 10, 2003

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing

I mentioned yesterday that I went out for jazz Thursday night with my landlord, just after I had the pleasure of chatting with Minderella. We went to see the Julie O’Hara quartet at Dizzy’s in Richmond, apparently one of their first Thursday night gigs.

I had a truly great time. It was billed as a night of Nat King Cole popular tunes, but ranged a little bit more broadly over the swing era - toe tappin’ fun numbers, but performed with a lot of flair and personality. It was exactly the sort of stuff I used to play during my year of community radio in Canberra, before I learned to listen to jazz after be-bop. Particularly infectious were “Hit that jive jack”, “Goody Goody” and “If it ain’t got that swing”. I got pretty tired, pretty early though (hot nights and sleeping has been an issue lately) and left around 10.15 when she was just launching into “As time goes by” towards the end of the second set.

Julie’s voice was simply lovely: strong, dusky without being too low, great range and an infectious sense of fun. She would also pinch her nose and cup her hand over the microphone while scatting occasionally, producing an uncannily convincing, and rather humorous, baffled trumpet imitation.

The most impressive thing was the way she and the ensemble could really swing. I wish I had noted the names of the other musicians, because they really were rather impressive. The Englishman on double-bass managed to produce a number of compelling solos which I could feel in my chair. The guy on old-style mellow electric guitar had some great moments, particularly on the blues numbers which I suspect may have been included for his benefit. The pianist I took a little longer to warm towards; at the risk of offering an opinion informed by neither musical training nor talent, I found his left hand a little muddy and slurred - but that was probably not his fault. It was discovered during set-up that the house piano had two broken strings (!) and he would be playing around them. I also think his mike wasn’t that well adjusted. His higher notes were certainly cut-glass lovely, just the way I like my jazz piano.

We arrived much earlier than needed for the eight-thirty show, at eight the limited tables were still only half-full. Number would have peaked in the forties around 9.30. Nothing like the packed venues I’ve struggled with in Sydney where arriving an hour in advance was the minimum needed to get a seat, let alone a table.

Dizzy’s is a great venue: it’s the original Victorian-era Richmond post office, with high ceilings of fabulous carpentry. There are some great little rooms or spaces off the main area with its small stage, and a cheerful beer garden out the back. It is virtually below the railway line, but miraculously unaffected by any noise. There’s no tap beer, but for a boutique bar the wines and bottled beers aren’t badly priced, and you certainly couldn’t complain about ticket prices. I’ve been to one ticketed show, and the Saturday afternoon open jam session twice (which is free and remarkably good). I’ll certainly be going a lot more in future.

Especially any time Julie O’Hara’s singing. She rocks.

(I may also have to go to a Wednesday night big band session. How they fit a twenty piece jazz orchestra on that little stage will be a sight to behold - and it’s only a $5 cover.)

In other news I am presently in Adelaide, but more about what I think of the City of Churches some other time.

Sunday, February 9, 2003

Why do these people all look so young?

I will not disclose the occasion or the company, because if I imbibed excessively, it was entirely my own doing.

My real mistake Friday night was mixing drinks. I do not mean that I artfully constructed cocktails with an elegant backhand flip of the shaker - I mean that I mistakenly thought the following sequence of beverages appropriate: beer, beer, beer, lemon squash, white wine, red wine, toblerone cocktail, tequila shot with beer chaser, beer, beer and very possibly more beer. (My memory gets hazy towards the end.)

It was a bad, bad combo.

I should have been more responsible.

I really shouldn’t have had the lemon squash.

Anyway, the accompanying sequence of venues went something like: the Mint beer garden, the obscure (but fantastic!) Café Baloo on Russel Street for curry, catching up other friends at the Supper Inn in Chinatown, going to the Gin Palace for the first time (!) and then ending up at Charlton’s in a search for free karaoke.

What is beginning to weird me out about a night on the town is my perception of the age groups around me. For instance, Thursday, when I was walking back to my car in Richmond after going out for jazz with my landlord we noticed that the crowd queuing to get into bars and clubs along Swan Street all looked to us as though they’d need fake ID.

At 27 I’ve reached an age were anyone younger than 22 looks about 12.

The crowd at the Gin Palace Friday was very, very late twenties/early thirties and lookin’ to hook-up. Desperately amusing, particularly in such a wonderful venue. (The place has the plush vibe of a 70s Bond villain lair.) There was a couple performing what I dubbed “the business wear karma sutra” in one corner: fully clad but snogging in a series of weirdly contorted poses. I had thought most people got over that type of fierce, drunken public groping by the end of first-year uni.

To each their own.

After the Gin Palace, Charlton’s felt like the year 10 party of urban legend you never got invited to: I’m sure everyone in the room was of drinking age in this country, but to me they looked about 14 - if only because we were so obviously so much older than they. I certainly felt the most confident I’ve ever done going out and dancing badly with mates: we simply had no peer group in the room who could judge us, we were self evidently the oldest people there and we ruled the joint.

Though that’s probably the tequila shot and beer chaser talking.

I never go out dancing. Well, maybe three times a year. The last time was New Year’s Eve, and like NYE I was still home by 2 am.

Unlike New Year’s Eve, I did not manage to lose any expensive personal items.

I did lose my security pass at the Mint though. We all remember the havoc that causes me. Fortunately, the gods were smiling and it turned up again in a friend’s hand at the Supper Inn.

I also have a feeling I sent text messages last night I may live to regret. I think the last, unpunctuated SMS was “i am going out now i may be some time do not expect further missives”. Yeah, me, Captain Oates, wandering out into the Antarctic wilderness of teeny-bopper karaoke.

At time of writing, Saturday morning, I am meant to be going to the Dali exhibition with friends. I am too hung over to confront burning giraffes, melting clock-faces and lobsters, lobsters, lobsters. I will read about Dali’s tennis performance in my new copy of “The Tournament” instead.

And in other news: League of Extreme Dating Sports, DOA

Despite the chronicles of the cocktail hour of madness, and the idea of the kris kringle dinner party – the Book Club of Intestinal Fortitude appears now to have resolved unanimously not to have anything to do with the dating lives of its members and we are collectively piking on all our ultimately light-hearted dares, ideas and deadlines.

I think this comes as something of a relief to all of us. Amusing as it was to hatch schemes best confined to the realms of musical comedy over drinks, none of us had the appetite for humiliation the process would have entailed.

Also, this is not the kind of blog that is ever going to be so confessional as to comment on such events. Failure and mad schemes make for far more amusing reading than success ever would, anyway …

Thursday, February 6, 2003

"The Fraudsters"

A contemporary fairytale musical comedy in which lawyer Boy meets waitress/script-writer Girl. (Apologies to Gershwin, Porter, MGM, Fred Astaire and Ella Fitzgerald – just to begin with.)

Opening sequence: a dawn-light train commute, followed by a montage of corporate hell in a Sydney law firm. (Because this is a musical, people carrying papers will collide in showers of paper.)

Our hero, Boy, is shown at a desk pouring over a booked titled “The Law of Commercial Fraud” as daylight fades beyond his window. He has files. Lots of files. He picks at dinner from a takeaway container in an empty office, then pushes it, hardly touched, away from him.

Music: The WaifsSound the Alarm” (music sample) and “Lies” (no lyrics available, dammit).

Insomniac, late at night, he drops in at the only café in his beach-side suburb that is still open, where the Girl is working the shift until close. Girl: It’s late to be in a suit. Boy: I’m a solicitor, the money’s good but the life sucks. Girl: I’m the opposite – I Got Plenty o Nuttin.

Girl: What would you like to order? Boy: I’m hungry – I’d like the Frim Fram Sauce [adjust lyrics for male singer, this was first a Nat King Cole number].

She sits and sips her tea while he eats. She tells him she’s writing a screenplay and has learned to read tarot cards. She reads his, they are BAD and end with The Fool: a leap into the unknown. She locks up as he leaves, and he walks her home. She wears her hat, even though it's night, which he finds crazy but cute.

Sadly, Girl announces at her door that this is the place she shares with her boyfriend and her other girl Flatmate. Boy is still reeling from meeting her, and sings he is just happy to be “On the Street Where You Live”.

Montage suggesting Boy’s days pass between office and falling asleep in his flat: in the roaring traffic’s boom, in the silence of his lonely room, he thinks of the Girl – Night and Day.

The Boy returns to the café where a young couple are disgracing themselves under Girl’s watchful eye and confesses that if He Loves and She Loves – "can’t you love and I love too?"

She replies that she has a Boyfriend - and she Can’t Help Loving Dat Man [scroll right the way down to item 11 to play the Ella Fitzgerald version], but decides they can still be friends. It’s late on a Friday and they have no plans, so they dance ‘til three. In fact - they dance Cheek to Cheek.

Disaster strikes, and the Girl’s Flatmate runs off with the bond, the rent and her Boyfriend. Girl declares that while Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall, too much has been falling in hers. [scroll down to item 13 to play the Ella Fitzgerald version]

The Boy hatches a crazy scheme to get her screenplay to a firm client with connections, and encourages her to set up a tarot-reading stall in the meantime. Girl asks: why are you helping so much after I turned you down?

Boy replies: For all the great memories you’ve given me - the way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea, the way you’ve changed my life, the night we danced till three – They Can’t Take That Away From Me.

Unknown to Boy, Girl’s Boyfriend returns, with grandiose promises to take her away and declares There’s A Boat That’s Leaving Soon for New York. He also confesses the Flatmate dumped him.

Girl replies sarcastically, “Goody Goody” and tells him “I hope you’re satisfied you rascal, you”.

Boy’s plan to influence firm client into buying Girl’s script fails miserably, and he is given a month’s notice to quit the firm. He returns dejected to the Girl. She replies that it might be a good thing, and she in fact, Is Beginning to See the Light [or scroll down to item 15 to play the Ella Fitzgerald version here] and besides, her tarot-reading business is BOOMING. She is now a commercial success, while he is penniless.

Boy and Girl elope to a small south coast town and set up a fortune-telling business, realising that while They All Laughed and said the two never could be happy, they still got together - and who has the last laugh now?

Song and dance number – big finish.
Mini poll: comments

The flash all bells and whistles comments system I have at the moment is a free trial. If I subscribe I get to keep the nifty features that let people format their comments and put in smilies. Otherwise, I'll still have comments, but it'll be just as you type it. Are the smilies and formatting options a big plus as far as anyone is concerned? Speak now, or forever be doomed to basic comments.

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

And another thing ...

It now appears, according to the BBC, that a leaked British military intelligence report as recent as three weeks ago found no links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Apparently any "fledgling realtionship" between these Evil Powers "foundered, due to mistrust and incompatible ideology". So much for conflating enemies. The Age story is found here.
Rogue states and international law (yes, an Iraq war blog)

Somehow, I’ve bluffed people into believing I know something about international law. So a friend in an e-mail discussion recently asked me for a definition of “rogue state” and challenged me to think about whether the United States is one. (I should say the discussion challenged/spurred my thinking about classifying the US, there was no flinging down of ideological gauntlets.)

My view is that international law is a game of standards. It is a frustrating game because there is no enforcement unless there is the political will to back it. The only way international law can live up to its calling is persuasion, and that includes persuading weak players they are better in the game than out of it, because it may protect them from the strong. It also includes persuading the strong the rules are worth sticking to.

I have a big objection to the concept of a “rogue state” as a legal concept; and object to applying the term to the United States. The concept, like “terrorism”, is meaningless and its use counterproductive. I dislike attempting to attach legal significance to merely rhetorical terms. Terminology can confer legitimacy where none exists.

The US Government’s classifying al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners taken in the Afghanistan War as “illegal combatants” and using that as a reason to deny them full Geneva Convention rights is a case in point. “Illegal combatants” is simply a ludicrous concept: the laws of war know combatants and non-combatant. Combatants may breach those laws and be prosecuted for war crimes. To say these men are inherently “illegal” because they did not wear identifying uniforms would put, say, the French Resistance (also an irregular movement, not officially government-sanctioned and operating in “enemy” territory) in a dodgy position. These prisoners may have acted illegally and committed war crimes, but until tried and sentenced, they are POWs.

Not according prisoners Geneva Convention rights only erodes the moral force of the Conventions and places US (and allied) servicemen at risk. Yes, “our boys” may be fighting opponents unlikely to respect the Conventions; but that respect is much less likely to be fostered under the present approach.

Similarly, I think many new “terrorism” laws are misconceived: Al-Quadia forces are either combatants who can be tried for war crimes, or they are ordinary criminals. The special category “terrorist” has proved enormously difficult to define (see provisions of the reasonably workable, if, I think, complex to prosecute, Australian legislation here and here). Most definitions of terrorism talk of the use of violence to change public policy, which can sound a good deal like war as waged by states. The slipperiness of the term tends to make for bad laws, legislated in haste, that infringe civil liberties.

Sometimes I wonder if the English-speaking world learned nothing from Northern Ireland. If you relax laws to make detention or conviction easier, you risk unjust results and radicalising the moderates whose support you need for a lasting peace (or even, crudely, as informers). There are still inquiries, headed by international jurists, looking into the mess created by that “terrorist” conflict. (Does anyone doubt it was a guerilla war?)

OK, so why is “rogue state” meaningless? Like “illegal combatant” or “terrorist” it is essentially a political term. It expresses a pre-judgement, not a solid legal meaning. As far as I know the phrase has no meaning at international law, and has principally been a US State Department classification, now replaced by the friendlier term “states of concern”.

“Rogue state” might indicate a willingness to resort to the unilateral use of force (other than in self defence) outside the UN system. It might also indicate a history of human rights abuses. It might also indicate a level of general condemnation by the international community as expressed by trade embargos, lack of diplomatic recognition, etc. It might also indicate being in breach of Security Council Resolutions or a ruling of the International Court of Justice.

Depending on how you want to weight those elements, almost any nation could be a “rogue state”.
Democracies are particularly vulnerable to human rights scrutiny, and tend to resent adverse UN (or other) reports rather than accepting them as a challenge to live up to democracy’s potential. Australia hasn’t had a great track record at the UN, attracting consistent adverse criticism on asylum-seeker and indigenous issues; and Britain has had a series of losses in the European Court of Human Rights. We don’t call our country or England rogue states. I am not making an argument for unconstrained relativism here: some states are clearly worse international citizens, and worse places to live, than others. But lumping groups of states under perjorative terms and then trying to give those terms legal meaning is unhelpful. That process elides significant differences just as relativism does.

Present US foreign policy, in the hands of George W. Bush and his Cabinet, does have dangerous unilateralist leanings. International law is a game where you have to persuade standards up, convincing the least powerful players they have a stake in a secure, stable system. If the system can’t keep the biggest player within the rules, it will not be seen to be worth much. Threats or intimations of a willingness to act regarding Iraq without a second Security Council Resolution may be diplomatically expedient, but can only serve to reduce the confidence on which the system is built.

Am I arguing a slippery slope? Yes. This week in Parliament the Prime Minister of Australia cited the 1999 NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia as a justifiable military exercise that was not authorised in advance by a Security Council Resolution. It’s called precedent, people - and it’s a part of legal reasoning. If it justifies acts that undermine the stability of international systems, it’s dangerous. So is the growing talk of “self-defence by pre-emptive strike” - also a concept without legal content. (Apparently a Japanese military academic has opined that the Japanese pacifist constitution should be re-interpreted to make defensive strikes against North Korean airbases “legal”. This comes on top of US, British and Australian uses of the idea.)

What’s the answer? The same as always: persuading people, leaders, countries to respect international law - because it’s the only game in town. It can only be enforced by the will of nations: the ICJ can’t impound your economy, the UN has no standing army. Yes, the process of persuasion is slow and tedious - but telling the US, a country that does not actually want this war or agree with its leader about the necessity for it, that it is a “rogue state” is not going to be very constructive. Yes, successive US federal governments have had a patchy track record on international law and cooperation: many other nations do too.

At the end of the day there is no “game” without the US, and no “game” if the strong trample its rules underfoot either. We have to persuade everyone to stick with the UN project. Like international law, it may be flawed, it may have little power beyond moral authority; but it’s goals are worthy and provide our best hope for a stable world order.

The thing I find encouraging? In Britain, Australia and the US there is only majority support for a war with a second Security Council Resolution.

What do I call that? A modest triumph for moral authority.

I call it a start.

Rant over: a reward for those who made it this far, tomorrow’s entry will be in the form of a romantic musical comedy.

Tuesday, February 4, 2003

Yesterday, One of Those Days
(Sunny Optimism 0, Ratbastard Universe 12)

Universe to Doug: It was too hot to sleep last night, you really should consider staying in bed.

Doug: No, no, I’m tip top, honestly. I have a good feeling about to day. I have a positive outlook and I'm on top of my game.

Universe: We’ll see about that.

Doug: No seriously, watch me. Ta dah, wearing my favourite suit and here’s a shirt that don’t need ironing. Add a tie and I’m ready for a day in court! Ooh look, pasta leftovers, no boring ole sandwich for me! No sir. And look, not making a sandwich for lunch has let me get to the train EARLY. Yup, I’m here at the station early.

Universe: So where’s your train ticket, shmuck?

Doug: My WEEKLY pass is right next to my security pass so I can enter my workplace.

Universe: And where did you last see those two fab-u little items?

Doug: … In the pocket of yesterday's shirt - currently a crumpled ball in my laundry basket.

Universe: Yup, that’s where they still are alright. Frisk yourself all you want, they won’t turn up.

Oh and your train will be late, but you’ll convince yourself you don’t have time to dash home.

Doug: However, I can buy a ticket and still be at work in time to prepare thoroughly for court!

Some hours later. In a court room.

Employer to Doug: Do we have that volume of the Australian Law Journal Reports?

Doug: The one in their list of authorities? The one I was meant to dig out this morning? Um, no. You see, the temporary pass I was issued when I got to work - they didn’t key it into the system immediately, so when I got in the lift it would only take me to the ground floor and then it took all this time to … I guess you really don’t need to hear this now, do you?

Many hours later.

Doug: Well here I am. I had to work back to fix up my mess, but it’s all OK. I’m back at the train station where I deposited my car this morning, ready for a smooth ride home.


Where are my car keys?

Ah. In the office.

I’ll phone my flatmate! He’ll be home and cooking me a yummy dinner by now because it’s his turn. He can come pick me up!

>dial tone, dial tone, dial tone<

Guess he’s not in. Wait! I can catch a bus up the street! Save me a half hour’s walk in this blistering heat!

Yup, this is a bus - it must keep going straight up my street, right? Right?

Universe: Oh, dear. Do I even need to try at this point?

A little while later …

Doug: OK, so the bus got me closer to home, at least.


Well, I needed the walk.

In this heat.

In a suit.

Anyway, I’m sure the flatmate is home by now … oh, he’s not. How fortunate there’s a spare key artfully hidden (by ME!) in the garage.

Universe: Um, remember how your flatmate loaned the spare key to his brother who’s now flown back to Sydney?

Doug: Seriously. I mean.


The key is in Sydney?

Universe: Uh-huh.

Doug (deflated): Well, maybe there’s a window open somewhere. I mean, I told the World’s Greatest Summer Clerk, the friend who’s in town from Sydney, to call at 7! I don’t want to miss that call.

Man, would it be great to catch up with her tonight.

From inside impregnable, fortress-like house: >bring bring - bring bring<

Some time later yet …

Doug’s flatmate, the Gentleman Academic: Why are you trying to lever up your window from the outside, armed with only a small corroded garden trowel?

Monday, February 3, 2003

Half-naked wage slaves and other disturbing Victoriana

Ah, the joys of working in an legal job near Melbourne’s Flagstaff Gardens in un-busy January. Joys, now sadly fading, like the memory of days with urban air uncluttered by the bushfire smoke haze now clotting city skylines. Now the Courts have opened once more, and justice, or at least the legal profession, is waking from its slumber.

Chief among the pleasures of that Elysian, receding month, was being able to round up a lad or two from the token “team male“ contingent at my highly feminised workplace, grab a frisbee and slip down to Flagstaff Gardens for a brief bit of a game punctually after work with no-one chained to their desk by pressing business.

Much healthier than stopping in at the pub on the way home.

In Flagstaff Gardens, though, I’ve noted a disturbing lunch-time trend: male office workers getting their gear off. Lads in business wear just stripping off their shirts and flaking out on the grass.

I clearly missed the memo. I have removed my shirt once in the presence of work colleagues (not counting anything involving a swimming pool) and that was during a rest break at the end of the uphill portion of a 10 km hike with packs. One other member of team male got down to it before me: we were hot, our shirts were disgusting, we wanted them drier before walking the “easy“ bit.

But when did office workers, with no sweat, no packs, no excuse, cross this line? At what point did we become as sun-desperate as the British? Why have I NEVER seen it in Canberra or Sydney? Why has allegedly conservative Melbourne lead the charge in male semi-nudity as lunchtime business-wear?

For the record: it’s not for me. The world is not clamouring for my abs and pecs. I am happier with my own shape than I’ve ever been, but a quick trip to Sydney’s Coogee beach the other weekend with Madness Boy and his flatmates did nothing to dispel the impression there’s a good bit between me and a modelling contract. The death of 30 - 50% of the western world’s men to start with, followed by radically increased gym attendance and gaining 15 kilos in muscle. Minimum.

What I found most interesting was that the one time I encountered this Flagstaff Gardens phenomenon with ladies present, was that the practice drew a good deal of derision. Admittedly, most of that may have been due to the fact that one of the young men in question was trying too hard to pass as a roue Calvin Klein model: his salmon pink shirt unbuttoned down the front, and artfully slipping from just the one shoulder. Sleek Ray Bans firmly in place, naturellement.

Imagine the following from oestrogen-charged sports commentators at a distance from the scene that only just qualified as discreet:

“Is he going to go the other shoulder?“


“I think he is!“

“It’s slipping! It’s slipping!“

“With a wiggle he frees himself!“

“Arms out! It’s gold for Australia!“

“Yeah! Whoo, whoo, whoo!“

“Come on guys“ (this to the men present), “when’re you going to get it off?“

Strangely, we declined the invitation, and retired to our desks - pallid, possibly, but with dignity intact.

Other things that weird me out about Melbourne, in a good or a bad way:

1. Cheerful yellow and green trams. Trams rock. Hopeless for commuting but brilliant for weekends, tourists and getting home when you can’t find your car let alone drive it. (Canberra would vastly benefit from trams.)

2. The way every freaking thing closes down from Christmas day until January 6 - the day you’re officially allowed to take your Christmas tree down. I kid thee not: ’tis murder to find a watering hole in the holiday season.

3. “Melbourne Weather“ is a synonym elsewhere in the country for four seasons in one day, provided all seasons contain intermittent drizzle. That may have been the case on my arrival in October, but as the drought progresses I’m remembering the other thing about Melbourne - long, dry, hot summers regularly reaching 40 degrees Centigrade.

4. The genuinely vibrant café culture here, particularly in the city alleyways -wonderful to leave the office to a civic centre where people are drinking and eating, not a dead heart in a concrete canyon. (Shame so few suburban cafes open on Sunday afternoons, though.)

5. I have gotta get out to more live music. Sydney manages to support maybe two really top-notch jazz venues (and one of has had to start Saturday night dance music to make a buck). Melbourne has four or five, minimum, one of which is easily world-standard. I’ve only visited two, dammit, two! In three months here! What am I doing?
Elliot v Joyce: third set and all is not well on centre court ...

Courtside, the fans are getting edgy. Super Tom, TS Elliot himself, has refused to serve to James Joyce for some minutes now.

“Could you try and keep the interior monologue down, please?” he hisses. “… Do you have any idea what constitutes acceptable on-court language?”

Joyce knows he’s got Super Tom rattled now, and smiles laconically. Super Tom reaches down and rolls the bottoms of his trousers, but still refuses to serve.

“Mr Elliot,” says the umpire. “Hurry up please, it’s time.”

John Clarke, my favourite Australian comedian has written what sounds like a gem. I caught him reading the above, loosely paraphrased, scene on Radio National yesterday. As he puts it, everyone in the modernist project occupies the same place in your head – but many never actually met. Now they do, in “The Tournament” the imaginary chronicle of the greatest tennis tournament that never was. Einstein is seeded fourth, and Salvador Dali is a wildcard more interested in misbehaving at press conferences – who still scrapes through to the finals. Competitors include Freud, Chaplin, Louis Armstrong, HG Wells and many others. Full of pastiche, parody and insight dressed up as satire, I think this is going to be a fantastic book.

I haven’t read it yet, but given my extraordinary love of Clarke’s TV satire on the preparations for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, “The Games”, I may have to be forcibly restrained from buying the enitre print run for gifts.

Sunday, February 2, 2003

Brilliant, erudite, but kinda empty? Salman Rushdie’s “Fury”
(A review that may contain ‘spoilers’)

“It was a perfect April day at the height of the foot-and-mouth epidemic. The government was simultaneously ahead in the polls and unpopular, and the prime minister, Tony Ozymandius, seemed shocked at the paradox: what, you don’t like us? But it’s us folks, we’re the good guys! People, people: it’s me!”

“Fury” feels brilliantly contemporary and topical, and is written with a wonderful eye for modern mores, and an ear for current conversations. The prose often dazzles with the unexpected. However, these may be the sum total of its virtues. Otherwise it feels like a rather ordinary outing from a truly brilliant writer.

I enjoyed “Fury” more than “Gould’s Book of Fish”: not that that would be hard. It is, however, yet another novel where it’s hard to tell what the story is finally about.

Ostensibly it’s the story of a man gripped by a rage so boundless that he attributes it to the Furies (the Graeco-Roman triple goddess of revenge, familiar to all Neil Gaiman readers). Traditionally, the Furies hounded murderers (particularly those who killed close relatives) into madness or suicide. Paradoxically, Professor Malik Solanka feels that it is this divine fury that almost drove him to kill his wife and child. Having found himself standing over them with a knife, he flees to New York.

One suspects parallels between Rushdie and Solanka.

Solanka is an Indian-born former Cambridge academic, who turned to making dolls and puppets. Eventually he created a cult TV series based around a time-travelling doll called Little Brain who meets history’s great thinkers. His creation becomes a success beyond his control, and its ensuing commercial debasement also fuels his rage.

On abandoning his family he moves to that calmest, least populated, most likely place to hide from one’s anger at humanity - New York - where he decides to live a celibate recluse. This doesn’t last long.

The novel is in three books: in the first Solanka is celibate (so it is mostly about his relationship with his wife Eleanor); in the second he takes as a lover a dangerously intense fan, Mila, the daughter of a Yugoslav poet with the unfortunate surname Milosovich (an absent father, killed at the airport on returning to his war-ravaged country to oppose the other Milosovich); and the third book in which his lover is Neela, a woman so beautiful she stops traffic. (Neela too has a war to fight, in the awkwardly-named nation of Lilliput-Blefuscu.) Three books, three women, three Furies. Ultimately, these women heal him: he begins to make dolls once more, and to acknowledge the family whose memory he has “killed” - his Indian parents and past.

It starts off full of observational wit, peopled with improbable characters; yet a violence hangs over it all. It is neither tragedy or black comedy: as Solenka reflects towards the end, it is full of “slightly tragic but mostly farcical events”.

Perhaps its greatest achievements is how current it feels: the contemporary events of the last US election year are captured brilliantly - Monica Lewinsky, Hilary Clinton’s ambition, “Toy Story”, digs at high-profile academics and numerous other references ricochet through the prose.

(We discussed this trend in novels at the Book Club of Intestinal Fortitude: life now moves so fast novelists seem obliged to set ‘present day’ stories in a specific year, almost apologising for their inevitably being dated on arrival in a reader’s hands.)

Dolls, fiction becoming life, the triple-goddess, murder, racial hatred, war, father-figures entering wars, America as a place where you can re-invent yourself (or at least sell your Old World story). These are the novel’s recurrent themes, and they’re manipulated skilfully - even if you can see the wires.

Those who dislike novels populated solely by gorgeous women who sleep with average-looking older men will find a good bit to criticise in “Fury”. The women are beautiful and basically serve as healers to an emotionally damaged, rather infantile, and not terribly sympathetic character by allowing him to regress into his denied past, thus becoming more childish still. Yes, they are smart, intelligent, and passionate - but Solanka does not view them as equals, or even mortals. Their youth and beauty make them Divinities; Solenka even re-invents Neela as Nike, Goddess of Victory.

The “effect” of Neela’s beauty (men falling down stairs, traffic accidents, falling window cleaners) is cartoonish, reducing her to a stereotype. There is a passing reference to her finding her own beauty an alien shell, a mask she stares out through - but this doesn’t square off with her physical ease and comfort with nudity.

There will be those who think this an anti-American novel, but at worst it is perhaps anti-New York. (And not even that, really, at least no more than Carey’s “The Tax Inspector” was anti-Sydney.) Really it is about a generation gap - a sense that Solenka is not truly in touch with the passionate free-market capitalism or global politics of the twenty-somethings around him. Solenka admits he has lost touch with pop culture, that he can no longer cast imaginary movies because he doesn’t know the contemporary stars.

New York disturbs him not because it is American (as a multi-ethnic melting pot he makes the point that New York belongs to everywhere, not the US) but because it is the apotheosis of naked capitalism and the antithesis of British reserve. As I quoted in a previous blog, Rushdie points out that Anti-Americanism is just Americanism in disguise: conceding, as it does, that the United States is the only game in town.

The novel’s real failing though is the lack of credible plot resolution. It degenerates into a bedroom comedy, then political farce. Like Chip in Franzen’s “The Corrections”, Solenka must enter a civil-war zone in the role of internet mogul, and then confront his doppelganger. In “The Corrections” there is a sufficient air of realism to pull this off. Chip goes to Lithuania - a country that exists and which is described in plausible detail; Solenka goes to Lilliput-Blefuscu, a fantastically named place where, surreally, rebels adopt the identity of his puppets. It doesn’t ring true, it is rushed - and hard to see what it adds to the character’s development as opposed to the novel’s symbolism.

Ultimately, this is not a wide-ranging social novel, it describes one man’s journey - a rather bewildering retreat into childhood, seemingly needed to reconnect with his four-year-old son.

I was left unsatisfied.

If this is a redemption novel, I wanted to feel more sympathetic to Solenka at the end, not as indifferent as when I started. The whole story is too arch, too detached. It is littered with gems of prose and observation, as someone said of Chandler, “a kind of lightning strikes on every page”. Ultimately, it feels like an enjoyably discursive biographical essay, but about people who are perhaps neither knowable, or even particularly likeable.

Comments? Post them here (or use my finally up-and-running new comments thingee below ...)