Friday, 31 December 2010

vous connaissez l'histoire...

Health and peace to you as the old year passes.

Try not to make any pacts with the devil tonight, ok?

Thursday, 30 December 2010

taken for questioning

I buy soap and shampoo from a particular shop for a particular reason. They sell solid shampoo, which means it doesn’t come in a plastic bottle.

I hover around fifty-fifty on whether it’s preferable to avoid plastic or palm-oil when it comes to soap and shampoo. I don’t know which is worse – buying things with palm oil in them, or buying things in plastic bottles. Each as bad as the other, probably. However, at the moment it is certainly easier to avoid the plastic bottle (soap and shampoo-wise) than to avoid palm oil. Even fair-trade places like Ten Thousand Villages still use palm oil in their soap.

I’m not sure if the particular shop has palm oil or not.

Okay, I just looked it up. Apparently not, so there’s another reason for me to keep going there.

Anyway I was lucky enough to receive a gift voucher for this shop, and was almost out of both soap and shampoo, so today I went.

I headed straight for the shampoo, and picked up the one I always get, because it’s meant to be good for if you swim in chlorinated water a lot. Immediately, a sales assistant appeared. ‘Which is your favourite shampoo?’ Um, this one. The one I’m buying. She fetched me a little paper bag to slide it into and I carried on. Another assistant asked if she could help me. I asked her to cut me a piece of the face soap I use. ‘Have you used this before?’ Yes. A third assistant then approached to ask if there was anything she could help me with and if I’d seen a particular product, the one she was holding. No, I said, because I hadn’t. Then she told me all about what it did. And then, shampoo assistant came back, and, wondered ‘Do you know that buying two shampoos would mean you get a free tin?’

I’d been in the store about a minute and been asked six questions already.

At that point the second assistant came back with my soap and asked if I knew about their promotion. I could get the same amount of soap again – of any soap – free! So I set off to look at all the soaps and choose one. Then, the first assistant came up again. ‘How long have you been a (our product) lover?’ I blinked. Caught off-guard, I actually started explaining how when I first moved here I’d fly home to England through Toronto airport and there was a shop there, and then when I came back I…

Then I stopped. You know, I finished vaguely. She nodded receptively, but I managed to hold my tongue and turned back to the soap.

‘Have you chosen your second soap yet??’ I jumped. Second assistant was back. No, I’m still looking. She slipped away again. Each time I reached for a soap, I could feel her inching back towards me. I backed off and took a turn around the shop to steady my nerves. And, in honesty, to see if I could do it without getting questioned.

With a deft two-step I made it back to the soaps and grabbed one of approximately equal size to the one I already had. I stepped smartly to the cash desk to pay, congratulating myself on avoiding having to parry a single enquiry.

‘Have you seen our (these products on the counter)?’ This time, I went for yes, because they were technically in front of my eyes and I had, in fact, seen them. ‘Would you like one?’ Not today. ‘Have you received our newsletter??’ No, I said, again truthfully, and watched as one was put in my bag while I paid. ‘Have you signed up for our email newsletter???’ Just for a moment I almost told the truth, but caught myself in the nick of time. I straightened my shoulders, got a grip and, Oh, yes, I said sunnily, signing the slip with a flourish and picking up my bag, escape now firmly in my sight.

One soap was left on the counter. The sales assistant picked it up to put in my bag. ‘Ah, you chose that one?’ she said encouragingly, and unable to stop myself, I said, I once got a lip salve thing in the same…flavour, and I liked it. ‘Oh!’ she exclaimed, ‘we don’t have the lip balms in that line in our stores any more. You must shop online. How long have you been visiting our online store?!’

I eyed her for a long moment.

I haven’t, I said. But I begin to think I might start.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

some sort of joke?

Winter solstice, don't get me wrong. I like you. I like your vibe. I like what you signify.

But...let's make it a year til I see you again, shall we? Because this is the third time in a row we've got together, without an intervening interruption from your carefree brother, summer solstice.

I'm glad we were able to meet again here in the northern hemisphere, where things are the right way up and go in the right order. But, you know, absence makes the heart grow fonder. So how about this: I promise to stay on this end of the globe, and you promise not to come back for 364 days. Deal?

Also: today's lunch? fly in my soup.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


For holiday giftitude this year, I decided to only get people exactly what they wanted. Often I spend a lot of time thinking of something [that I think is] cool and unusual that totally goes with someone’s interests. But the thing is, everyone gets a lot of gifts. Not only is there Christmas and Hanukkah but there are a tremendous amount of end-of-year birthdays within my closest and mostest. And the thing I thought of was probably fine, but it wasn’t something they said they wanted, it was just something that kind of goes with them.

In the past I have also made socks for people. Because, well, even if socks don’t necessarily ‘go with your interests’ as such, I still think someone spending time to make you something nice by hand is a good gift. One reason I like to make people socks as gifts is because it means I was thinking of them, and spending my time producing something that is especially for them. To me, it’s meaningful.

I am still going this route in one direction; possibly two. But for everyone else, this year is the ‘just pick something off the list and buy it’ year.

This may sound a touch cynical and easy-way-outish. Well, it sort of is. I am making myself an easy holiday after all the travelling and moving and jobhunting and so on. But if there are Amazon wish lists out there, and there are HBC registries, and they have on them things that people said they wanted, well, why not point and click? You said you wanted it; here it is.

Then, quite recently, my dad threw a spanner in the works. When are you going to do me another pair of socks, then?

So my dad would really actually like - he said he wants - a pair of socks. A week and a half ago, I decided I would just about have time to squeeze in making a pair and mailing them.

This, friends, is lovely yarn. Look at it. I absolutely knew it was going to self-stripe in an interesting colourway and pattern. It’s Gawayn and the Green Knight foresty – pine foresty, the dark green and silver-grey-blue of evergreens and mythology.

And lo, the silver-blue behaves and interacts very nicely with some of the other blended colours, interleaving row by row. Pleasing.

Then suddenly, this arresting weird-ass pooling effect with the dark green. What the hell?

It doesn’t get better.

I did not sign up for making socks with a map of farking New Zealand on them. I hated it more and more as I went along. I wondered if it would work differently if I had knitted it pulling the yarn from the inside of the ball rather than from the outside, but deadline knitting is no time to be experimenting in that way. I had to get these in the post, pronto. I decided the Pooling New Zealand of No Apparent Reasondom could go at the back and down the heel, where it would be covered by trouser, and carried on.

When I got to the foot, it did this:

So now the well-behaved interleavery of the smoky silvergrey with the other evergreen forest colours was pooling to make a new zigzag stripe – a New Zealand in negative, if you will, and right on the top of the foot – in colours pulled straight from my sister’s bedroom decor circa 1987: pale grey with dusty rose, lavender and powder blue accents.

None of which features in my dad’s favourite colour schemes, for socks or anything else. None of which is part of any legendary evergreen forests of yore. And all of which combine with the original New Zealand effect for a yin yang of Ugly As Sin.

I have two balls of this yarn, so my final bid to unbugger up this sock was to add in the new ball, knitting one round in the first yarn and one in the second, to try to break up the pooling. Break up the pooling it did, but it also gave me a random pattern last seen on the screen of my Atari computer during the 20 minute burr-burrr-burrr session it underwent while loading the Sammy the Sea Serpent game from a cassette tape.

I unambiguously hate this sock. I thought it was going to be lovely, and it’s ugly. It’s taken a lot of hours, and everything about it is off. I don’t even slightly want to give this to my dad for Christmas. I definitely don’t want to carry on, and finish it, and then waste even more hours making a second that is equally hideous. There is nothing to like about either the process or the product.

Emergency socks are on the go. There’s still time.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


If you look at the thingy at the top left of this blog, you may have noticed that the ingredients of the magical fusion have been absent of late. Not a lot of books, music, socks or cake going on at the moment.


Luckily Joan is about to release her new book! and here is the spiffy trailer:

Saturday, 6 November 2010

my hero

I am a treehugger. You know this to be true. I take my canvas bags to the supermarket and my travel mug to tea and coffee shops and recycle and compost and don’t buy stuff or eat meat and I get fair-trade tea and use solid shampoo because it's made without palm oil and doesn’t come in a plastic bottle and most of all, I ride a bike and take the bus. I’m not on the map as far as cars are concerned. The Top Gear men would hate me (even though I actually find them quite charming and watchable, for ridiculously posh wealthy petrol-headed hoons). I don’t, in general, much enjoy the burning of petrol to get places you could get with the burning of a bit of leg energy just as well.

A year ago, I had a car, to get to a stupidly distant job. The best I could do was find a small and fuel-efficient one and carpool daily. Since that time ended, it’s been bike and bus all the way.

But I have to admit to you, that in the last week, my hero, whom I love with a love that knows no bounds at all, at all, is:

I have a new job, and a new home. It’s a long long way from where I last lived in Canada. More than 3,000 kilometres. And everything I own – which to many people, doesn’t amount to much, but is still quite a lot to me – was located near to where the old job and home were. It had to be moved from one to the other, and so did I.

This, my small and fuel-efficient hero, is what got me and everything I own – that is, EVERY. SINGLE. THING. I. OWN. – more than three thousand kms in three days, without a complaint. Without a squeak, a moan, a groan, a hiss, a crunch; without even a polite request for a refreshing drink and a bit of a sit down.

It took me safely around scary Detroit in the early hours with news of a gas station carjacking shootout on the radio;

through the centre of Ann Arbor because of my creative map reading; across the rest of Michigan in such a flash I hardly noticed;

over the Chicago Skyway, pointing out the baseball stadium and a building with funny white ears on the way, and politely ignoring the oddly pull-y camber of the road and the continuous stops for bizarre mini-tolls of sixty cents every ten paces;

into and through Wisconsin without requesting fresh cranberry juice, or asking to stop at the restaurant with the name you’d never hear in the UK (The Bog) or even at the Wisconsin Indoor Kalahari Experience;

purred happily along the beautifully-paved highway between La Crosse and Madison;

joined me in a juvenile giggle at Minnesota’s billboards for Stearns Vet Outlet and Pharmacy (We Do Cows!);

stepped easily up to the challenge of the 75 mph speed limit in North Dakota that meant we zipped through the state like a dose of salts;

nobly protected EVERYTHING I OWN through one night parked in Eau Claire and one in Brandon, Manitoba...and proudly rolled me home more relaxed and content than I’ve felt in a while.

It’s been treated to a nice new set of winter tyres and a service, and as a true hero should be, was allowed to rest on its laurels for an entire day before we headed off flat-hunting together.

Last week I was on the bus to my new job, outside temperature minus four. The woman sitting next to me commented, ‘well, I guess we’re getting our Indian Summer at last!’

Hi, Saskatchewan! I’m back!

Friday, 15 October 2010


I'm here.

I am here, I promise.

It's just that here, on any given day recently, has been an astonishing variety of places, most of which are extremely far apart, and it's a bit tiring and quite hard to think or even put my trousers on the right way round, never mind get the right vitamins and/ or any sleep at all.

So. I'm here. Soon, I'll be elsewhere.

Oh, also? The keys keep pinging off my keyboard. ('keep pinging off' = two keys. Have departed my computer keyboard, and I can't fix them back on). One of them, even the little rubber nobble beneath the key has come off. It's been suggested it's because I bang the living daylights out of my computer keys, having learnt to type on a typewriter as a wee girl. I say, they should stand up to that sort of treatment. Is nothing built to last any more?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

doing it by the book, or Sybylla says hi

So I set off from Jasper Jones...

...made a right at Breath...

...and oddly enough, ended up right in My Brilliant Career in time for tea.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

got my Ls

At the bus stop. Youngish guy rocks up carrying an open bottle of some fizzy thing (asti spumante, or something, with the foil peeled back at the top) in a paper bag, and a slab of stubbies.

GUY: (sings) Wha-aaa-t are YOU dooo-ing the re-EST of to-o-o-DAY?

ME: Going home and working. How about you?

GUY: (still singing) Con-TIN-yooooouuuu-ing to drink, then going to see my friends, and dri-i-i-ink....ING. (looks at me quite closely) I know!!! I don’t look the type, do I?!??!

ME: On the contrary, friend. The only empirical evidence I currently have is that you are, in fact, The Type.

GUY: I mean, ok, I haven’t achieved everything my friends have. One of them, he flies jumbo jets!! I don’t even have my driver’s licence.

ME: Not ambitious in that direction?

GUY: Nooooo, man! I hate cars. Hate ‘em. Never been interested. (nanosecond pause) I could buy a house in Brazil.

ME: Well, Brazil. Naturally.

GUY: This bloke I know has one there, right, and it has, like, everything. A kitchen, a whole school!! A four-car garage.

ME: What do you want with a four-car garage? You can’t drive.

GUY: *blinky blink*

ME: *eyebrows*

GUY: Yeah, got my L plates, though, ay.

In other news: climbing up high things in the vicinity of Sydney, and looking down.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

all she'd do was just...

Well, my little Doney gal, don’t you guess

Better be making your wedding dress, wedding dress, wedding dress

Better be making your wedding dress

Well, it’s already made, trimmed in green

Prettiest dress you’ve ever seen, ever seen, ever seen

Prettiest dress you’ve ever seen

Well, it’s already made, trimmed in red

Stitched all around with a golden thread, golden thread, golden thread

Stitched all around with a golden thread

Well, it’s already made, trimmed in brown

Stitched all around with a golden crown, golden crown, golden crown

Stitched all around with a golden crown

Well, it’s already made, trimmed in white

Gonna be married on Saturday night, Saturday night, Saturday night

Gonna be married on Saturday night

Well, she wouldn’t say yes and she wouldn’t say no,

All she’d do was just sit and sew, sit and sew, sit and sew

All she’d do was just sit and sew

There are those who say this Appalachian song is about a relentlessly hopeful and ultimately jilted bride. She’s stuck at the end of the song with nothing to do but sew away as all her chances pass her by.

They’re wrong though.

Well, I mean, nobody’s wrong in folk music. It’s all about interpretation.

But they are mistaken.

This is a bride who’s read up on her Greek myths, and taken a leaf from Penelope’s book.

ODYSSEUS: Pen, my dearest, I gots to go and do something manly. Be right back!

PENELOPE: Okay, honey. Telemachus, say ber-bye to your dad.

ODYSSEUS *doesn’t come back*

GENTS OF ITHACA: Penny, you are HAWT. You should totally marry one of us.

PENELOPE: No thanks!

GENTS (suddenly menacing): No, seriously.

PENELOPE: Oh dear. Well, as it goes, I’m inconveniently right in the middle of weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus’s dad. I’ll pick one of you absolutely as soon as I’m done.

PENELOPE:*weaves shroud all day*

PENELOPE: *unravels shroud all night*

PENELOPE:*weaves shroud all day*

PENELOPE: *unravels shroud all night*

GENTS: Ready?

PENELOPE:...Not quiiiite...

PENELOPE:*weaves shroud all day*

PENELOPE: *unravels shroud all night*

*twenty years later*

ODYSSEUS: Hey my lovely wife! Sorry I was ages. I missed you like whoa.

PENELOPE: Me too honey! Incidentally, there are about a hundred men around here I would really like you to say hi to, when you get a minute and have a sword handy.

This Appalachian girl doesn’t want to make a decision. “Nope, I’m still, not quite ready...try Tuesday week...oh, no, sorry, still not done...” The freedom not to decide is small but significant in a folk tradition where girls often don’t have a lot of power.

It doesn’t have to be husbands; it’s more that not making a decision - on anything - means you get to keep all the decisions open. The minute you make a decision, you unmake a million others. Once you decide to do x, then you know you’ll never do y, and it reduces the likelihood you’ll do a, b or c, too.

That you may not really all that much want to do y or a or b or c is academic. It’s just the fact of those possibilities existing, and not existing once you have decided. Penelope and the Appalachian bride keep their freedom to not make a decision by never being quite finished their weaving and sewing.

The socks don’t lie. I’ve got some decisions to make.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Floating accent, part the first


Scientists – yes, Scientists good and true – conclude Floating Accent Syndrome exists!

I first read about floating accent syndrome in one of Dave Gorman’s books (I have an imperfect memory on this, but I think it was the googlewhack one). Gorman claims to have the tendency of gravitating his accent to align with the person to whom he is speaking, completely accidentally and unconsciously. I think he also mentions it as an especial outcome of being from the Midlands, where we don’t really have much of a distinguishable accent ourselves. Well, Dave Gorman is a wise man, and now Scientists – Scientists! mark you – have confirmed it.

These Scientists say as humans we are likely to imitate those with whom we’re in conversation. It’s an empathetic reflex. I want you to feel I am familiar, so I will try to sound a bit like you and mirror your speech patterns and inflection and even the speed at which you talk.

I’ve said it before; if you live anywhere other than where you were born for any length of time, you probably should start to get a bit of a floating accent. (That is mostly because I have the world’s worst case of it*). Our surroundings should change us. We are supposed to respond and relate to what’s around us.

Unfortunately, in practice, this just makes us sound massively inauthentic. It appears we’re trying to be something we’re not.

It’s funny, because when you're learning a foreign language, mimicking is demonstrably the right way to do it. That’s how you learn it. My French sounds determinedly Québécois. I learnt French in school, but I learnt to use French in Canada. If you use your own accent when operating in a foreign language, you simply sound like someone who doesn’t care enough to try very hard.

My accent these days is an unlovely tattercoat stitched from the shreds of all the places in which I’ve lived. By someone who doesn’t entirely know how to sew. And who doesn’t have time to do much more than vaguely mackle things together relying quite heavily on iron-on hem tape and baling twine. Some things are quite ingrained: I haven’t ever got rid of my glottal stops (Ga’wick airpor’) or my non-rhotic intrusive R (Canada-r-and Australia-r-and New Zealand). Vowels are much less unequivocally nailed down.

The really irritating thing about my floating accent is that sometimes it will float in the opposite direction. Sometimes, with people posher than me – or with Australians/Kiwis – I will hear my vowels rounding out to match theirs (although I’ve never gone as far as grarss or barth). At other times, though, it will send me in the complete opposite direction and suddenly I’m channelling my colliery heritage and asking where ‘ast tha bin since I saw thee last? At what point wanting to belong becomes losing your authenticity, I don’t know.

My question for the Scientists, though, is this: who is mimicking whom? Because if I am trying to sound like you, aren’t you also trying to sound like me? Down what sort of wormhole is that going to end? are we ever going to get out?

*except maybe for Dave Gorman.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


The Winterswimmers are of a different breed.

Never mind that it is actually almost 23 degrees outside. It’s Winter, so almost nobody is at the beach, and absolutely nobody is swimming.

Except, of course, for the Winterswimmers.

We love our Winter Sea, the Winterswimmers, and we love each other a little because of it. After all, everyone’s a Summerswimmer, so there’s no common ground, no unity among the masses. Winterswimmers have Shared Experience, a special nod, abbreviated interactions of recognition and acknowledgement. “How’s the water?” we will ask. And “Bewdiful,” we reply. We all know ‘bewdiful’ is code for ‘it’ll take your appendages off if you stay in too long’, but we participate in the code nevertheless.

Winterswimming, to be fair, is different from Summerswimming. Although the sun is blazing over 20 degrees at us, the sea didn’t get the memo, so it’s pretty cold. When the waves close around you, your body gets that physiological reflex to gasp in, which means you have to concentrate very hard and override your natural response each time you go under. The Winter Sea is unforgiving and unlovely. Its waves are a little choppier, its currents tug at you a fraction more magnetically. It swells snarled black mats of seaweed unexpectedly beneath you. It’s even a little more difficult to extricate yourself from, because the suckback of the waves as you stumble up the shore after Winterswimming is strong and unbalancing; the sandshelves fall away uneven beneath your soles.

For some time after I leave here, I know my body will fight not to relinquish its memory of being a Winterswimmer.

Friday, 23 July 2010

five things

Yahoo (exclamation mark) News has an incisive headline tonight: 'five things you should never put in a dishwasher'. I did not click the link to find out what they are, so I'm going to guess

1. Babies

2. Pets

3. Musical instruments

4. Electrical appliances

5. Geraniums

...and, now I think of it

6. radioactive waste

7. endangered species

8. firewood

9. soft furnishings

10. your passport

11. former wrestling star Giant Haystacks

12. the Stanley Cup

13. cheese

In fact, now I really think of it, Yahoo (exclamation mark) could’ve saved itself a lot of time by just listing the things you can put in a dishwasher, because I suspect that list is considerably shorter.

Monday, 12 July 2010


Dear Google Chrome,

I love you very much. You are much friendlier than Explorer. You are very helpful and speedy to deliver me webpages.

It’s nice that you notice things, too, and give me a popup saying ‘This page is in French! Would you like to translate it?’ I click ‘Nope!’ every time, but you do like to check. Even, I feel bound to point out, when the page is not in French at all. You just did it on my email homepage, actually. And your helpfulness seems to be influencing other websites too. Youtube has permanently affixed itself into French for me now. I think it’s mostly to enable you to put your jaunty popup line over the top and ask me if I want to translate it back again. Are you perhaps in cahoots? I suspect it.



p.s. the answer’s still no. But thanks for offering! Really.

p.p.s. actually, if you want to tell me what ‘in cahoots’ is in French, I would be cool with that. Perhaps when you pop up to tell me this page is in French, which when I last looked it still wasn’t, I will hit translate, and then I’ll find out.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

a lesson in clarity

Well. That was a very interesting exercise and you all stepped up to the plate in a completely different way from how I was expecting. I thought I was going to be reading about your love for a bunch of places in Canada and the reasons they would be a smashing spot to hang my hat. Perhaps I could’ve been marginally clearer on that one, because I wasn’t actually trawling for you all to just tell me you want me around where you are. You are all either astonishingly nice, generous and kind-hearted people, or hoping to be lined up for some good Australian gift loot when I come back. Maybe a bit of both.

In other news, I spent the afternoon stacking beautiful red, brittle jarrah logs for firewood. Jarrah! I am officially living in a Tim Winton novel.

(ps I am not sure why the most recent comments haven’t displayed. Maybe there is a comment limit, and blogger simply can't believe this many people want to talk to me. However, the comments are still appearing in my email, so I am seeing them, and responding, although mine are also being eaten by the hungry hungry comment gods).

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The One

I need your help with a Very Important Thing.

2010 is going to be the year I find The One. And you’re going to help me.

O good heavens no. I don’t mean that kind of The One. No calling up brothers and cousins to beg favours.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s been some...relocation, in my recent past. New Zealand. Australia. Saskatoon. I have learnt a lot, taught a little, and experienced and enjoyed many things I would not have done, had I stayed in one place.

But I am ready, now, to find my Place, and make it The One. I am ready to take all the things I have experienced and enjoyed and learnt, and put ‘em all together somewhere that I want to be long enough to make it worth buying Tupperware. Painting a wall. Making a home.

So this midwinter Canada Day, when I have officially less time left here in Australia than I have until I go home to Canada, I pass it over to you.

Where shall I go?

Within certain boundaries mostly dictated by my own caprice, I’m willing to give most places a shot.

I’d give you my list of capricious needs, but I’m at the romance stage at the moment. I just want to hear things about places and imagine finding my Place there. So long as there’s some music (yes, MY kind of music. You know) and some books, the remaining needs can wait until the plans get more concrete. When I pack my bags for home, where should home be (and why)?

Find me The One. I trust you. I know you can do it.

(p.s. 1. It doesn’t have to be where YOU live, though it can be. 2. You don’t have to be Canadian to suggest. Pick a place and send me there. 3. Look! Cake!!)

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

social song

Tomorrow, this starts:

A Folk Song A Day

In summary: English folky John Boden does his bit for ‘social singing’ by recording and sharing an unaccompanied song each day for a year. He starts on Midsummer Day (because that’s the sort of thing that is relevant to Our Kind).

Well, the two of you who are still reading, this is undoubtedly A Good Thing, yes?

It is a particularly trad music thing, the preoccupation with ‘social song’. The reason response songs are so bloody long is because it gives everyone a chance; even what my primary school teachers would have called the Slow Learners’ Group can pick up the line after hearing it that many times. If there’s one thing trad music gigs everywhere have in common – England, Canada, Australia, wherever – it’s that consistent effort to make it seem social, as if, ‘well, sure, some of us are up on a stage amid a bunch of heavy-duty sound equipment, having spent thousands of hours honing this talent, these skills, to bring you these sounds, but really we’re all just hanging out together sharing our songs, right?’

Because that’s where it came from, all this, in the beginning.

Coope, Boyes and Simpson have always done unaccompanied singing. Oddly/ excitingly (yes, to me), one song on their new CD As If employs a Québécois style of foot-tapping in a way that pulls the swing of that sound into a really straight, almost Methodist, pure trad English style. It profoundly anglicises it, tames it, makes it something entirely different.

Five very fine Charbonniers do untamed-and-unaccompanied here:

(this is not a recent recording. Aside from anything, they have all apparently discovered scissors and/or barbers these days, which...well, you know how a fairy dies every time we say we don’t believe in fairies? A little bit of my soul dies every time a Québécois musician cuts his hair. Call me Tinkerbell. Anyway, these boys are still purveying The Beautiful like this; hear them more recently (though not unaccompanied) here).

As all of us who have had the misfortune to have ever been trapped around the bad kind will know, the tedium and whininess of unaccompanied English folk singing at its worst can lead you to want nothing so much as to hack your own ears off with rusty shears and feed them to zombie wolves. And never mind ‘social singing’; as far as ‘social skills’ are concerned in that extraordinary brand of fellow whose speciality is the rape-and-pillage ballad, he’s actually the last person on earth with whom you’d want to social-ise.

But at its best?

On my UK touchdown in December, I went to hear the BBC Young Folk Awards, and James Findlay, the kid who won, Had It; the whole thing that ‘It’ is about. He sang and played fiddle, and for the last couple of verses, dropped out the fiddle. In the whole audience, not a timber was left unshivered. He sang again after he’d won the award, and got everyone to join in – in a radio theatre – in the way trad singers all do, to make us feel we’re sharing it, not just being presented with it.

One reason this stuff is important, to me, is that for those of us who live in secular world, we don’t have a good excuse for sharing song. Go to church every Sunday, there’s a reason to lift your voice in the company of other people. In secular world, this is our really good alternative, I reckon, going back to the roots of it like this. One song at a time.

Next week: cake, and the Very Important Question.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

ring out those bells (again)

Ah! Hello, winter solstice, longest darkest night of the year! We meet again. Why, it seems as if just six months ago you and I were rubbing shoulders back in the northern hemisphere. Good times!

The local government of Perth has had this whole bell-tower built – not especially for solstice bells, to be sure, but...they could be for that.

And I am here to tell you, I have not run into a single West Australian with one good word to say about the bell tower. It is in fact the very genesis of the question that marks you out as One Of Us or One Of Them: “What do you think of the bell tower, then?”

If you are One Of Us, there is but one answer to this question, and it is the same answer you would give were you asked “What do you think of someone who skins live kittens and eats them raw, then?”

Whisper it softly, but I am not One Of Us.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


I went to a place recently that had a contraption on the wall that floofed out soapy foam for cleaning your hands with. It had a sign above it: 'Waterless Hand Washing Facility'. Someone had taken a biro and crossed out the word ‘Water’ and written ‘Use’, so it read “Useless Hand Washing Facility”.

Then on the bus home this evening, I saw a sticker in the back window of a car, that read: BREAD + DUCKS = DEATH. And I briefly fancied that same person might come by in the night, and replace 'DEATH' with 'SANDWICH'.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

it's a canadian thing

Summertime. Canadians, you’re going to The Lake, aren’t you?

I knew it.

This may be the only thing on which I will always, always disagree with Canada. I have never understood your affinity with The Lake. (Everything else, I adopt and embrace in the way that only a foreigner who has humbly chosen and asked to be One Of You can. Oh, except also, not Ashley McIsaac. Two things).

Y’all know how I love a good seaside. Perhaps it’s originating from an island nation that makes the ocean something that locates me; I know where I am, there where the tide is. The ocean’s the absolute Unknown, but sand under soles, you know yourself.

A decent river absolutely turns my crank too. Rivers are purposeful; they GO somewhere. Like oceans, their history is one of taking things places. Rivers are busy and effective and efficient; they get stuff done. Connect things to other things.

The Lake has no such qualities. It’s so stand-offish, The Lake. It’s got no tides (‘think you can influence me, ‘the moon’, if that even is really your name? I shun you.’). There’s no Unknown; I get that the Canadian lakes are jolly big, but...say you set out on The Lake from Toronto, The Unknown is...Rochester. There’s nothing Kon-Tiki about that.

And it doesn’t DO anything. Off goes the St Lawrence, ‘busy busy, can’t stop to chat, putting in the hard yards, keeping the world running, doin’ my job, 365 days a year’, and The Lake’s just like, ‘oh, you know. I sit here. You can walk along my shore if you like. Or you could sit, too, I guess. I don’t really care, one way or the other.’

I like it not.

What’s yours: lake, river, ocean? None of the above?

I have an important question to ask you, in a few weeks. At the moment it’s exam season and I’m up to my eyes in marking and cannot quite put my mind to important questions (nor, in the interest of honesty, to combing my hair before leaving the house, which, in the interest of further honesty, does not make a great deal of difference to my appearance). But soon.

Friday, 14 May 2010

return of the socks, and how

Until I find that bûcheron who’ll come home from a hard winter at the chantier (circa 1840) and lift me up in one hand while making me tea with the other, well, I’ll just be content to knit myself the girls’ version of the socks he’ll be wearing when he does.

I have the crazy sock gleam in my eye for these, the one that leads me to write sentences longer than a whole paragraph should be. I cannot begin to describe how beautiful and miraculous this yarn is. It is from Bilby Yarns, a local producer.

This is the quintessential voyageur yarn. It’s rough (in the best way) and honest; springy and even and clean; it feels good in your hands and smells good, and it makes the warmest socks I have ever produced. These are socks that could only be worn out by a thousand days on the hardworking feet of someone with a sincere and loving heart. I know for certain that socks made with Bilby Yarn are worn by every wholesome woodcutter, every good farmer, every truthful man in every folk tale or fairy tale ever written or sung, in any country, in any language, ever, primarily in northern hemisphere ones where there is real winter. (I don’t know how they got it from here to all those places back then, but dudes, it is le fact).

Photos never do colour justice, and I can only imagine the dyes used on these yarns are distilled from nothing less than the quiet and happy souls of those who did small kindnesses, who built bridges, who did not hurt, who laughed long, who sang loudly, who loved deeply. They are beautiful.

The pattern is from a hardcover book (deetz below) that I could not bring all the way to Australia with me. I did photocopy this one pattern, though, because I already had a skein of Bilby Yarn and knew this was the pattern it had been yearning for all its life.

As we all know, it’s better to be happy than to be right, but being right is cool too, especially when it coincides with also being happy. And I was so right. They were made for each other.

I have two more skeins of this yarn already. I am so not done. I may never knit anything except these socks with this yarn for the rest of my life.

(For the knit-interested who need to know, the facts: the book is Handknit Holidays by Melanie Falick; it recommends knitting these on four needles but I usually use three until I get to the foot, when it gets bulky on three; these are made with a double-strand of Bilby 4-ply on 4mm needles.)

Friday, 7 May 2010

in the soup

Because if I didn’t mess everything up much of the time, there’d be nothing to write about, right?

Yesterday I bought a big ole handful of fresh prawns, and thought, I’ll do this properly, and use the shells and legs and brains and stuff to make stock for soup.

Quite why I decided to undertake this shortly before I was to leave to get the bus to get the train into the city for a friend’s Very Massively Important exhibition opening, I do not know. Anyway, I threw the shells and legs and brains into a pan and started boiling away.

After a while, I removed the shells and legs and brains, and put potatoes into the stock to boil. Then I took the shells and legs and brains outside to the bin.

It was when I came back inside that I realised the whole house boomed with the smell of prawn shells and legs and brains.

Didn’t think this through.

I had that moment of...can I get away with it? Because what with the fourth-quarter decision to start the prawn peeling and stock making, I was already in a might-need-to-put-your-foot-down-a-bit place vis à vis getting myself out of the house in time to make the bus.

Good sense, in the form of realising I’d be the person on the bus and the train and in the gallery about whom people whispered, ‘Crikey, that woman reeks of fish’, prevailed. I poured the stock and potatoes into the blender to soup them up, and hopped in the shower.

Tick tock, tick tock. Out of the shower, poured the soup out, filled the blender jug with dishwater to soak. Sat the blender jug on the counter.

Aha! I see you got there before me! If only you’d been here at that moment, instead of now, to remind me blender jugs don’t have a bottom. The blender blade bit just sits underneath with a seal. Setting the thing down on the blade bit makes it pop up inside the jug. A tidal wave of fishy water slapped into my front in the manner of a perfectly executed Soak the Bloke booth at the village fete.

Tick tick tick tick tick.

I wiped down, dressed up, threw towels over the fish-flooded floor, and got the heck out.

I’d checked my route on the public transport website. I’d typed in the street the gallery was on, and it told me which train station was closest. At no point in the process did it occur to me to think, “Gee, I wonder if Aberdeen Street is by any chance the longest street in the city, encompassing two different train stations?”

It took me ten minutes (with two false starts; I have no inner compass) to walk to Aberdeen Street from the station. I reached it at number 189. The gallery was at number 12.


I missed the speeches, but on the plus side, nobody was heard to remark that there was a strong smell of prawn shells and legs and brains in the vicinity. And today, I’m having soup.

And washing the towels.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

what lemonade is for

I bought a cup of lemonade and a bag of popcorn for forty cents from a little girl and her mum who had a stall in their driveway.

They had gone to a LOT of trouble for the forty-cent lemonade and popcorn combination deal. They had a proper little stall, and had even cut fabric up into flags to make bunting.

I made my purchase and stood passing the time, drinking my lemonade and waiting for my change (what do you think is the etiquette on this? I had a buck, and dithered between just-give-her-a-buck-because-she’s-making-some-pocket-money-and-it’s-only-a-buck, and mum-is-trying-to-teach-her-maths-so-you-should-let-her-figure-out-change). Anyway, at this point their second customer of the day approached, and you can believe me that this dude wasn’t necessarily in absolute command of all his faculties. He had either been very drunk last night, or was drunk right now. Or both.

And mum, without missing a beat, said ‘Now. This lady needs her change, because she gave us a dollar, and this gentleman needs a cup of lemonade. Because he has a hangover.’

Sunday, 25 April 2010

En roulant la navette, le beau temps viendra

I’m losing my French.

Careless, careless, careless. But it’s definitely slipped down the back of the radiator in the last few years, and I haven’t put my hand down there, because it is a haven for dust bunnies and stale biscuit crumbs and fear.

I can still read French pretty well. And in my head, practised and re-practised, I can have a decent conversation (because I know exactly what the other person is going to say). But out in the world? My French is too fragile to survive.

Example: I spoke French to someone the other day, because he was struggling to find one or two of the English words to formulate the question he was asking me. When he’d heard me answer, he responded. And I panicked, because he wasn’t in my head, so I hadn’t made up what he was going to say.

All it was, was ‘Ah, whereabouts in Canada are you from?’ and I didn’t get it.

This proves two things: one, having once been fluent, I would barely pass my Basic Listening French GCSE these days; and two, I obviously still quack like une vraie Québécoise.

I just recently went to Fairbridge Festival, and I was half-inclined to avoid the Canadians (Genticorum, James Keelaghan, Hugh McMillan) because I figured hearing them would make me homesick and sad to be here, and I am not at all sad to be here, but music can be sneaky that way. In the end, I didn’t avoid them, and they did make me cry like a baby, but in a good way, and anyway some Yahoos, and others, reminded me of what I would miss were I back in Canada, so it was okay.

Pascal Gemme of Genticorum is, weirdly, a dead ringer for Michel Bordeleau circa 2001, whose leaving of La Bottine Souriante I never quite got over, and thus got a bit out of the habit of listening to them. But my festival experience (complete with camping in this jolly SWAG, natch):

made me wheel out some French-Canuck tunes when I got home. I had to write a bunch of articles right off the bat when I came back, and my brain was right in that place, concentrating really hard on fact-checking how many flights were cancelled in Europe and on whether a quoll is a marsupial, when I suddenly realised my lips were shaping themselves unhesitatingly around the words of every single song that came out of the speakers. Jeunes filles mariées aux (dreary) avocats; jeunes hommes qui sont des premiers marins; even one with a pun, where the joke is that ‘trop petit’ (too small) sounds like ‘rôti’ (roasted) - a joke that’s possibly a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiit too laboured to bother explaining here. It was as if the French was the motor part of what I was doing, while my brain was otherwise (dis)engaged.

Frankly, no, being fluent in 19th century chansons à repondre is not spectacularly helpful to my communication skills. But it is a bit comforting to know it’s still in there, someplace.

C’était une fille en Australie

Qui a fait du camping dans un swag

(Répétez: C’était une jeune fille en Australie

Qui a fait du camping dans un swag)

Et elle l’a trouvé bien jolly

Même qu’elle n’a eu ni un jumbuck ni un tucker bag.

Whaddya reckon?