Sunday, December 28, 2008

Welcome to my shed

What a manic time it has been. I have completely dropped off the perch in terms of my humble blog which bothers, I am sure, no one else but me but it does lead me to wonder.

I have created a little time bubble for the next week in which I hope to dedicate some time and energy to things other than journalism work, clothes washing and the general chores of life. Yes it is that time of year when one’s head turns to resolutions and plans but my commitment to myself this week is simple: DON’T TAKE THE LAZY OPTION.

I began last night by actually using one of the 800 bottles in my bathroom cabinet to take my makeup off. Revolutionary? Perhaps not to you but in a life of sloth, it’s the little things that add up … surely.

Getting back to some writing on my blog is another item on the TO DO list. I have taken to watching CALIFORNICATION on DVD and a recent episode has only reinforced some concerns I already have about the Net and the blog blamange that dominates it now. Is it weird that so many strangers are pouring out their thoughts and feelings to us should we choose to log on and read up? I am not sure.

Californication’s lead character, twisted and sexually liberal novelist Hank Moody, is being interviewed on the radio and he talks about the web: “People... they don't write anymore, they blog. Instead of talking, they text, no punctuation, no grammar: LOL this and LMFAO that. You know, it just seems to me it's just a bunch of stupid people pseudo-communicating with a bunch of other stupid people at a proto-language that resembles more what cavemen used to speak than the King's English.”


I know what he means. This clearly must be the opinion of at least one writer of the show. He has a point. However, my day to day work leads me to constant reading, analysing and interviewing of blogs and their authors and, because many of my subjects are writing with a purpose, I think I do see the value in their outpourings. Only recently a highly intriguing woman who is striving to live a “simpler” and more sustainable life in the Australian countryside, near Bathurst, explained how there were few like minded souls living in her area. While she hand washed cloth nappies, grew her own veggies and picked up old fabric scraps at the op shop to sew with, neighbours were running around in four wheel drives, eating MacDonald’s and saving for even bigger plasma TVs. It was on the web and via her blog that she had found like minded souls. There she could document her weekly efforts at saving the planet and her peace of mind, it was where she could swap tips with other “simple” folk and where she had found friends. Does the fact that they may never meet face to face matter? I don’t know. I suppose it’s better than living like we used to – lonely square pegs in round holes, forever feeling alone and alienated.

My blog, I have been forced to remind myself, is a way of maintaining some writing discipline away from work constraints. It has a purpose but one known only to me. That’s ok. If anything, in 2009 I hope to use it more constructively as a place to explore some thoughts and as a workroom. This is, I suppose, my online shed. Maybe I should redesign it to look like one? I have a constant supply of sticky notes and paper scraps with words, events, websites, ideas scribbled on them. My blog should be the place I pull this stuff together, research and investigate the various threads and chart the results of this activity, similar to the way a home handyman might gather design ideas and bits of woods to try and knock something together.

What happens in one’s shed is one’s own business. What happens on one’s blog can be the same, especially when it is visited almost exclusively by the author. Hmm, I am liking this concept. So for this week I will a) try not to take the lazy option in general and b) look at improving my shed. The first thing required, naturally, is a calendar with girls with big boobs sitting on cars. I’ll just go find one …

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Potato, beer and lamb

The stench of beer and potato that permeates his skin and breath turns my stomach. Watching him there, slumped ridiculously over his ancient meal, I feel nothing more than disgust and loathing. Saliva drips from his half open mouth and onto the cold plate.

He brought a dead lamb home for our son to play with tonight – how adorable! Oh I know he didn’t mean to kill it. He found it on the side of the road, abandoned. He probably did mean it as a gift for Alex but, in his drunken state, lurching and staggering along the cold road home, he squeezed the life from it. Either that or the poor thing died of shock.

Sweet Alex, he has sat in front of that fire, petting the dead lamb for three hours now. He thinks it is tired and cold. When he finally sobs himself into exhaustion I will tiptoe outside and bury the unfortunate creature. Painful explanations can wait ‘til the morning. His father, one can be sure, will remember nothing. At least, usually he would remember nothing.

Damien, of course, remains silently huddled in the corner, his usual position of retreat. His dark 10 year old eyes betray the pain and resignation of an old soldier who has witnessed many battles without honour or fairness. He will not move from beside the stove until his father has been snoring for at least an hour. He likes to be sure the beast will not stir again this night.

Anger seethes beneath those smooth, hairless features. Tonight he took to his father with the old wooden chair. As the ‘big man’s’ hand came down to meet my jaw, Damien was between us, the chair his only weapon. He must despise me too. Mother love, his protector. How uncourageous and weak I have been. Small boys, mere babes, deserve better and they will be protected.

The brick by my bed is left over from the building of the laundry outside, the one that remains unfinished. It is wrapped in Aunt Phoebe’s old lace nightgown. After all, this is a somewhat special occasion.

I will follow our nightmarish routine tonight. The boys and I will go to sleep. As the cock crows the monster will stir, head and bones aching. Scratching and farting, he will cringe at the dawn and stumble to our bed, our marital coffin. As he pulls down the cover he will mumble, “Had a good drink last night love”, then dissolve into snoring and stinking.

Poor, simple, obnoxious fool; the man I once so readily cosseted and adored. Poor fallen, pot bellied, drunken idol; the man who sucks the gaiety and innocence from my children. As sleep engulfs him the brick will end him. It’s just the stains I’m worried about. Still I’m sure it’s nothing hot soapy water and baking soda cannot fix.
Author: Me

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Comfort in words

Is it a sign of getting older that I find such comfort in certain routine items, especially those linked to books and words?

If I have been travelling, especially in less than joyful circumstances – like when I went to Uganda last year – there’s nothing I find more comforting that than the sound of Mark Colvin’s voice as he calmly and authoritatively presents ABC radio's current affairs program PM. It helps me know I am at home and back in my private bubble.

This came to mind when, heading off to Noosa with Mum for a few days recently, I found myself fondling a P D James book a the shop at the airport. I needed ‘holiday’ reading as I call it and I knew it had to be easy to dip in and out of and its entertainment value had to be guaranteed. I can get a bit toey when I'm with people a lot, so used to solo time at home am I, and I need a panacea. I opened The Private Patient while still on the plane and, after one or two pages, felt myself breathe out with relief. I was in safe and familiar hands.

To be honest the book was not one that will go down in the annals but bloody PD (pictured above) is 88 now. Give the woman a break! She’s quite an inspiration. Commander Adam Dalgliesh, poet and policeman and a returning character for her is making his fourteenth appearance for Scotland Yard in this book. The twists and turns are all there, the language spoken by the characters is precise and wordy, there’s a fine old English country house, some literary references, some religion and some mayhem. Ah, so reassuring. I tell you, even as I noted some repetitive phrases or had that strange premonition of what was going to happen next I was simply further appeased. That’s the power of the book, it’s like a woobie blanket for grown ups, or at least it is for me.

Holiday reading is a funny thing is it not? A number of people I know save up all their trashiest books to savour by the pool or swim-up bar. Why is that I wonder? Surely, at a time in the year when one’s mind should be freer and less preyed upon by the day to day pressures of life, a holiday is the very time one should be tackling challenging and exciting reading?

I have a new plan in place. I always tend to read one ‘serious’ book followed by one (or I dip in to both at once) guilty pleasure. Of course I pride myself on reading well written ‘guilties’ like a cracking yarn by Ian Rankin. Now, because I love books on CD so much, I have committed to non fiction in the car and fiction on my MP3 player. Now I can have at least four books going on in my head at one time.

Jesus, no wonder I’ll never get ‘round to writing my own.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The book club is a happening thing

Hi there handful of book club members.

Our first book is BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh.

We will give ourselves two months to get hold of this book and read it. Obviously we are inspired by the re-make of the movie but, on alll accounts, it sounds like it pales in comparison to the 1980s mini series. Perhaps we can have a marathon viewing session of this when the book is finished.

Time Magazine included Brideshead Revisited in its list of 'All-time 100 Novels' which is good enough for me.
We will be ready for online chat about the book week commencing 19 January.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The spirit in things

In my experience, often when people lose very close loved ones they turn to religion or spirituality for succour. A mad dash to the pulpit is not for me but, amidst the platitudes and pleasantries that I have found myself doling out over recent weeks, some weird powers have been at sway, dumping religion, God even, into my lap.

During the wake for Mrs U one of the delectable catering staff we hired turned out to be a book editor for a major publishing house (in the children and young adult arena I believe). Using the W.C at the rear of the house – the one that I only arghhh today remembered has a big poster of a girl having beer splashed all over her breasts (a gift to Mr U from one of his pals during their more boisterous days) – the editor found herself reading a piece I wrote a thousand years ago called Stealing Jesus. It’s about a boy who secreted a host (the piece of unleavened bread that represents the body of Christ for the heathens out there) whilst serving as an alter boy. Man I had not thought about that story, about that period or about that church for a long, long time and yet she really liked the story and seemed struck by it.

On Monday I interviewed a wonderful young NZ woman who has been working in Cambodia teaching girls whose families had sold them into prostitution (for reasons too complicated and tragic to enter into here) to make jewellery as part of their recovery and rehabilitation period. This 29-year-old is about to throw in her life as a teacher in NZ and return to that country and volunteer her services for two whole years. At that age I shudder to think what I was doing. I believe it was throwing back Moet and complaining about my workload on the Melbourne Fashion Festival account and trying desperately to sneak a weekend away in or dinner with the girls. Hmmmm.

The really interesting thing about my interviewee though was how she came to even find out about the group in Cambodia she is now working so diligently for. She qualified me very carefully before she told me and asked a few times, “This won’t freak you out too much will it?” before going on to explain:“I said to God, if you give me a contact in Cambodia and at least around $800 worth of jewellery supplies to get things started I will do the rest.” The next day her sister called, said she’d met a woman running an NGO in Cambodia who’d just had a whole heap of jewellery supplies donated to her, didn’t know how to use them and was desperate for someone to come and teach her girls skills in this area that they could then trade on. Spooky no?

Finally, last night, while tossing and turning at 2.30am as per usual a fabulous idea for a story came into my head involving a haunting by a recently deceased family member. Of course I am reading Hilary Mantel’s fabulous book, Beyond Black, which deals with spirit mediums but I did think, imagine if – amongst all the other gifts and kindness my mother in law has given us – she gives me the elusive idea I’ve been looking for for a book. Drawing a long bow I know and jumping the gun and imagining I can write the bloody thing but, hey, if I did, the press release would write itself.

Say a little prayer hey?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bon Voyage

Today someone emailed me and asked about the trip. What a different a week makes. That trip seems like it took place in another galaxy compared to the journey Mr U and I have undergone since then. Sadly Mrs U senior has passed away. Life, as we know, has momentarily come to a stop. She was the life of many parties, I know because I have found the photos. The phone won't stop ringing with people who wish to join us and celebrate the astounding, jet setting, adventure packed, courageous and outrageous life she lived. "You go girl" is what I say!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hang on a DANG minute!

Okay so here are just a couple more shots from the trip ... these are all from RUBY's - Mr P's favourite BBQ haunt and just a few steps from Antone's record shop. The pie featured is called DANG pic - coconut and tinned pineapple ... straight out of 1972 Womens Weekly cookbook I am sure.

Back to reality soon. Visited the good people at The Smith Family today. They do some amazing work helping disadvantaged kids to stay in the school system. I hope to do some volunteer work with them using my old PR powers for good instead of evil so be warned. My nagging tones will probably be coming to a phone or IN box near you soon (:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

AND MORE PHOTOS (scroll down for travel notes)

The 'Undies' at The Alamo in San Antonio
The Bindies in San Antonio - a beautiful city
A friend we met at the Texas State Capital building in Austin


Miss Gigi in the 'western room' of her new abode
The gang at historical town, Gruen (at Gruen Hall, oldest dance hall in TX)
Eating SCARY bbq at Kreuz

Hello y’all, here’s too much information

Our hotel in New Orleans

The Garden District - NO - view from trolley car

beignets (donuts covered in mountains of white icing sugar) at Café Du Monde

Mr U at the Hank Williams exhibition at Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame

The Bindies in Austin

Yes we’re back from the States and I have to say it’s nice to return to some glorious sunny weather in Melbourne. The trip was a complete blast. We had a ball. I’m posting some notes on Mr and Mrs Peters in Austin so everyone can see how they’re going. They’re known as The Bindies over there (Ben and Cindy for the slow-to-catch-up) and are in fine form. I’m shite at getting the photos in the right spots when it comes to this blogging thing but hopefully it will be easy enough to follow.

NIGHT ONE saw us arrive in New Orleans where it was hot, hot, hot and steamy. Thirty hours awake did not stop us from hitting the town (and all the bars) til about 2am in the morning. I tried a Sazerac, (a rye whiskey concoction invented by a New Orleans pharmacist in the 1830s) an unofficial cocktail of the city, which we sipped at The Old Absinthe Bar, one of the only civilised places to visit in Bourbon Street.

The next day we hit the trolley car to visit the garden district. This is not to be missed if you go to New O. The houses are sublime. We didn’t get great shots but I’ll pop one on to give you an idea. An old guy on the tram wore rolled up jeans and kept his ciggies in their cuff. Cool.

We ate a Po-Boy at Mother’s Restaurant at 401 Poydras at Tchoupitoulas (basically meat, more meat, a bit more meat on top, juices and a white bun), beignets (donuts covered in mountains of white icing sugar) at Café Du Monde at 1039 Decatur Street and had a terribly upmarket dinner at the famous Arnauds. This place is all 19th century grandeur with mosaic floors and bevelled glass windows in the dining room. I had this: Quail, partially deboned and filled with Foie Gras Mousse and Mushroom Duxelle. Served on a bed of Truffle-infused Bordelaise Sauce. I kid you not! Plus we shared the side dish the place is famous for - SOUFFLE POTATOES – don’t ask! Suffice to say Jenny Craig was not consulted when the menu was drawn up.

New Orleans was recently voted the fattest town in America. I am moving there to become a petite sized model.

SECOND STOP was Nashville and the flight in, over the Tennessee wilderness, has left me wanting to go back and really explore this State. We went to the Grand Ole Opry on the night we arrived and were treated to a fantastic night of bluegrass. The next day we took a tour of the city which only had us and three other people on it. Highly recommended as a quick way to see a city when you only have 24 hours there. A highlight of the tour was a visit to United Record Pressing where the business of producing vinyl records is on the increase. This is the place where famous black performers of the 50s and 60s would stay in Nashville when black folk weren’t welcome in hotels there. We got some shots of the party room, located just steps from the Motown Suite. This large room was once used as an event room and hosted record label signing parties for folks including Wayne Newton, The Cowsills and a then 16 year old Hank Williams Jr.

OUR SECOND NIGHT in Nashville was spent honky tonking and, yes, shock and horror, drinking again. We hit all the ‘name’ bars like Tootsies Orchard Lounge where we met a wine distributor from Australia, Jason ‘signed’ a guitarist to his imaginary HELL YES RECORD company (ok, we were flying by this stage) and we managed to sneak in yet another dinner, this time at Merchants (referred to as a ‘fine dining’ restaurant in local parlance). The room is gorgeous. We didn’t have our camera with us but it’s worth looking at if you’re planning a trip to Nash in the future.

THIRD LOCATION was, of course Austin where The Peters picked us up at the airport in the v e r y long ancient Pontiac that Mr Peters is restoring. It was SO GOOD to see them. Mrs Peters is the colour of coffee and her husband has taken to dressing in striped tees (a la Leave it to Beaver). Divine!

After initial confusion because they thought we were staying at the hotel the first few nights and THEN going to their place (nope, it was the other way around) we got to the wonderful house where they’re staying (email me if you want new postal address) and Gigi wet herself saying hello (yes, literally!).

Of course we hit two venues that first night – The Broken Spoke – where Mr U and I had chicken fried steak (arggghhh!) and then Trophy’s where a great Cajun guy was playing. The Spoke is a revelation … a real honest to goodness dance hall with people Texas Two Stepping from the ages of 21 to 80. Pitchers of beer were consumed and much gushing was done.

DAY TWO IN AUSTIN was spent at Walmart where Mr U bought 1000 Hanes t-shirts and singlets and I bought THREE pairs of jeans for $60 all up. Ha! We then went and dropped more than USA$200 on groceries at HEB supermarket where an old bloke told Mrs Peters she was “r e a l perty” and then headed home to cook up a Texas Melbourne style BBQ. We drank Californian reds. Never again. I thought Mr U was going to cry.

Other activities in Austin included two lots of parmesan coated French fries BEFORE an Italian lunch and the discovery of a wonderful Italian white wine called Tenuta (thank God). We saw a few bands at the famous Continental in South Congress (including the very chubby handed, amazing playing, charmingly witty Red Volkart), sat outside and drank margaritas at Guero’s Oak Garden and drove out to Kreuz Market for the German-style barbecue restaurant in Lockhart, the barbecue capital of Texas! Here the food is ordered by the pound and served on brown paper, accompanied by white bread and crackers. Vegetarian Mrs Peters ordered potato salad and beans, both of which had meat in them. Hilarious. I think the Coke had meat in it.

We went to Ginny's Little Longhorn and saw Roger Wallace play, we took Mr P out for early birthday dinner to the very swank Mexican restaurant, Fonda San Miguel, where I had a half chicken baked in traditional mole of Puebla, we had MORE bbq, this time at Mr P’s favourite place – Ruby’s – and shopped for records at the famous Antones. We had drinks at The Belmont, saw Nick Curran play at Antones … you name it!

The Bindies are in fine form. Mr Peters is playing again and was working on a big all day, six band extravaganza while we were leaving. Mrs P is the belle of the ball as ever, has the town wired and has officially proved to be the head of the social club, no matter what hemisphere she has her sling backs dug into. Hooray!

Friday, September 26, 2008


In love with a monk

Have you ever heard only the voice of someone and fallen instantly and sweetly in love? Voices can have an amazing effect on us humans. You just have to look at the scope of the phone sex industry throughout the world now to get the idea. I mean, really, what other animal could fall prey to this concept? Can you imagine a tom cat getting a little furry hard-on by just listening to a lady cat purring in another room? Well … maybe

Anyway, I digress. Listening to a Canadian Broadcast Commission program, I believe it’s called Tapestry, I heard the voice of the Benedictine, Father Laurence Freeman, and within one lap of the oval I was walking at the time I was deeply besotted.

As someone brought up in the Catholic faith who has ended up deeply suspicious of its modern form (let the poor African folk pop a condom on for God’s sake!) I am always, frankly, surprised when I hear someone from the Christian tradition speaking sense. It’s so easy these days to feel more sympathetic to Buddhism or other Eastern traditions. They tend to seem so much more gentle and wise … and I suppose fashionable.

I’ve written before about my meditation gum tree. I like pursuing a little stillness but I had no idea there was a thing called the World Community for Christian Meditation. Christianity does, in fact, have a history of meditation stretching back thousands of years. Who knew?

Father Laurence, he of the calming, wise and soothing voice, runs the John Main Centre for meditation and inter-religious dialogue at Georgetown University, USA. John Main was a Benedictine monk and priest who presented a way of Christian meditation which utilised the practice of a prayer-phrase or mantra. He only died in the 1980s. Father Laurence continues his work.

“Every day at 12.30pm and 6pm …in the centre of a highly competitive modern university, the students come pouring in,” said Father Laurence on the podcast. “They come with all kinds of experiences of faith or a lack of faith … and what meditation can do in this simple way is bring them to their own centre … to self knowledge …unity … to their own truth.”

I don’t know. He talked about how he teaches classes on love, using Jane Austin and other texts as source material. He talked about modern life, he talked about everything which such remarkable common sense, compassion and wisdom. I just really dug him.

Asked why humanity has, throughout its history, sought out this stillness and silence (in Australia Father Laurence said he met an Aborigine who explained his people’s term for this mediation was something that sounded like ‘digiri’ and they’d been doing it for 40,000 years) the monk said, “I think it is our true nature … that stillness is not static … building meditation into your daily life is simply respecting the law of nature (like accepting you must stop to rest before you can work again).”

In the end, he believes, we are programmed to search for transcendence. So modern marketing – the ads for fast cars or deep blue pools, even the otherworldly buzz of the AFL Grand Final – is just another kind of attempt by marketers and so forth to achieve that transcendence. Hmmmm!

“In a normal health society we need to pass on a way to open the heart,” said Father Laurence. “The mind and the heart need to be in balance … our culture/education system really neglects this heart dimension.”

He told the story of how, whilst travelling in India, a local guide told him that we, in the West, lack heart. “Meditation offers us a way to let go of thoughts and allows the heart to open like a flower … to experience silence … these days we are suspicious of silence but silence is revealing and purifying and nurturing,” he said.

Both Main and Freeman recommend using the prayer-phrase Maranatha, which is Aramaic for "Come, Lord". They say Jesus spoke Aramaic. Regardless, it’s a nice word, a nice thought hey?

* If you're interested in listening to the cast go to:

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The view from my perch...

Is it possible that, because so many words are running from one’s fingertips and brain, there are none left to invest in flights of imagination?
I have beamed into my blog regularly over the last week or so and have simply not been able to find anything to say. Thank God says Mr Underhill! I have also NOT been working on my book project. In the weeks leading up to and following the Melbourne Writers Festival I was incredibly hyped. I’m disappointed now to find that I have fallen off my perch. Instead I am sitting on the old newspapers lining the bottom of my cage, surrounded by shredded paper and bits of crud, and looking up forlornly.

Of course a lot has been happening that has absorbed my creative juices but shouldn’t I be able to keep on writing creatively? All the bloody experts seem to think so but perhaps one has to follow one’s own light. Or perhaps one’s own light is a particularly dim and lazy one and needs a couple of new double-A batteries inserted up its jacksy?

Yes the double issue of the magazine took an inhuman amount of effort to get out the door. It even has a couple of good stories in it, especially the one about a 70-year-old woman in Queensland who teaches craft classes to troubled school girls for absolutely nothing. They all call this gorgeous old cancer survivor ‘Nana’ and she bakes them cakes once a semester because some of them have never seen home made baked goods before. Ha! They could be my kids.

And I have been to some wonderful social events where people have passed on their books about Nashville for the trip which is four sleeps away, where I have completed two laps of The Tan (Botanical Gardens) and discussed everything from childlessness to ideal 40th birthday parties and where I have discussed sex over Hong Kong style roast duck at Pacific House in Toorak Road (thanks for that one Mr H!).

And – ding ding - I have devised my 40th and sent out early invites. It’s been keeping me up at night – sad but true – but I think a weekend in a drug lord’s palace sounds like a pretty good idea.

And I have heard reports on my divine goddaughter’s 5th birthday party which I couldn’t attend in the flesh.

And I have finished a couple of books, one being ‘Harry, Revised’ by the chap whose class I attended at MWF. Did I say he linked to my blog from his? (See for proof.)

Plus I have been having loads of fun working on a travel piece on Melbourne for a new UK website (thanks to many helping hands giving me tips) and, of course, I have been working on my Austin wardrobe. Okay, and trying to tee up a few interviews along the way.

Yes, when I think of it, it’s all pretty engrossing and creative. It’s even kept me away from my newly arrived October issue of Architectural Digest which, may I say, is the ‘inside the homes of the world’s top architects’ issue … one of my faves.

If I can miss that I must have been busy.

So perhaps I will have to take the writing thing at my own pace, fully aware that, when I return, I need to start being disciplined, perhaps even callously mean about the whole thing. Author Pat Barker tells her family not to knock on her office door when she’s writing unless an “ambulance is involved”. And she’s got at least 12 books to her name since 1982 and one of them won a Booker.

Of course, did I mention I might be going to Zambia two weeks after I get back from Nashville, New Orleans, Austin? Don’t ask.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Cicciolina gets international coverage in TIME

Southern Accents
Go to this week to see Marion Hume's story on dining in Melbourne. She includes the best restaurant in our town - Cicciolina - in her run down. Mrs U even gets quoted hee hee.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Where the magic happens

This week Ms F, author of Spiritual Business, declared her unending interest in other people's workspaces. Apparently people send her photos to feed the appetite.

Funnily enough, only last week, completely out of the blue, a couple of gal pals mentioned how much they like my office. Coincidence of topics hey?

This week, as I struggle to file 18 stories for the double issue of the magazine (Dec/Jan combo), my office ain't so pretty. As I look around it I see a couple of cardboard boxes laden with some beads one reader is meant to be winning along with eight copies of a jigsaw puzzle based on an award winning Australian quilt design.

Of course there is STILL my orange HUNTER $200 wellington boots that I am meant to be putting on eBay, paperwork from the weekend's yoga workshop, a stack of books I'm using for a give-away, not to mention a growing collection of bills, (a speeding fine! argh, don't tell Mr Underhill), notes from The Bank Job that I have now completed and (sigh) invoiced for, random business cards and event invitations and you name it.

It's bedlam.

It doesn't help that I am completely distracted by plans for the USA trip. I've been checking the weather in Austin every day ... it's still 30 to 35 degrees. Yikes. I've just been to buy leg tan. I know, very callisthenics concert circa 1979 but it must be done. I am not ready for hot weather. My efforts to cut down on alcohol intake have gone swimmingly but, for three weeks during the acclimatisation process, comfort eating was the replacement hobby. Comfort now lies around my stomach like an ever expanding safety vest. I am changing the blog name to MrsMichelindotcom.

Alas I am waffling. I do this when I should be writing about the wonderful girls at The Thread Den in North Melbourne. Check them out ... It's a retail store and sewing lounge with a thoroughly retro twist. Adorable!

I've been up since 4.30am and had three stories filed by 9am. Now I should REALLY be knuckling down to capitalise on such a commendable work ethic. Instead I am looking at photos of a recreation of (the Showgirl) Kylie's dressing room. So let's pretend it's my work space ... a spot where leg tan fits right in.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Getting your news online

In recent days Prime Minister Kevin Rudd came out and said his wife and children haven’t read the ink and paper version of a newspaper in a few years now. They do all their news reading online. This intrigued me as I have not taken to online news dissemination, possibly because I still need to get a sense of how ‘big’ a story is physically … how much space it actually took up … and where it appeared within the paper. That’s very old school of me, I know.

Anyhow, I jumped online this week at and was bloody well rewarded for the effort. Two headlines jumped out at me. One was ‘Mouth to meow’ about a firefighter reviving a house cat (a a tiger angora if you’re interested) with the ‘kiss of life’. Come on! I am still laughing about this now. Can it be true? The best of this story was the closing line about how the fireman-to-felines responded when asked what resuscitating pussy tasted like. His answer: “fur!”

The other headline was simply this:
‘Man gets stuck in window - suffocates.'
I mean, that was it. How depressing. Someone’s hideous end, the snuffing out of a life, distilled into five words. The story proves, though, that truth is stranger than fiction. Some bloke in Ohio was found dead, his legs sticking out of one of his apartment windows. He’d locked himself out, tried to break in and, somehow, had his diaphragm crushed in the process and couldn’t breathe. Saddest was that someone had seen him and not reported it because they thought he was a burglar. Someone else finally reported him, a neighbour I believe, when they realised how long it’d been since he moved. Please nominate a more embarrassing, useless way to die than this.

Gotta go … am hooked on online news now!

Photo: A video screen grab of firefighter Al Machado giving a cat mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Monday, September 8, 2008


My friend, sometimes known as Dreamweaver, also known as Ms F, has a new book out. It's called SPIRITUAL BUSINESS and it is remarkable. See it at her new website and be enthralled. What an achievement!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Goodbye Melbourne Writers Festival, hello cowboy!

Gruel, Fay Weldon and Mark Sarvas

Some good information was picked up during my recent foray into the world of the Melbourne Writers Festival.

Tutor and first time novelist, Mark Sarvas, was particularly good value. This author of Harry, Revised ran a workshop about getting started for would-be writers. It was a very practical class which I think is crucial when you’ve shelled out $200 and are not just there to hear someone’s life story. If you want that you go to a panel discussion or a reading but sometimes people don’t really seem to ‘get’ that.

Mr Sarvas has a website – - and is the man behind a respected literary blog called ELEGANT VARIATION. I’m going to beam in and give him some feedback as he requested during class. Although he did work in LA as a scriptwriter in the past I think novels were his real passion and he’s attended a lot of workshops and classes himself, making it easier for him to distil what’s required to actually make them useful.

A newcomer to the festival scene, I think he also enjoyed meeting other authors and slipping into that world. I took it as a sign of how social and engaging he is that he was able to tempt a few other authors to drop by our 10am to 4pm session to share a few pearls of their wisdom with us also. Or he could have bribed them ...

Nam Le (, from Melbourne, sat in for a brief while. His is a name on a lot of lips currently. The hosts were raving about him and his short story collection – The Boat – on 3RRR’s Aural Text programme (Wednesdays 12pm - 2pm) this week. By the sounds of things this Vietnam born Australian chap has an international career ahead of him. Funny to hear the 3RRR gals mention that he was good looking too. I am thinking launching a new magazine – don’t tell anyone – called Literary Hotties.

Hannah Tinti from the USA also visited us. Her new (first) novel is called The Good Thief. She was interviewed on 'The Book Show 'on Radio National this week. I purchased her book at the Festival bookstore at Fed Square (I also picked up Harry, Revised which is burning a hole next to the bed but, unfortunately, the library emailed to say Fay Weldon’s Spa Decameron had arrived so I just HAD to swoop on that first. Eeeek and I still haven’t finished Salman’s Enchantress of Florence. Ah the reading joy of it all!).

Hannah's particularly interesting because she’s one of the founders of the US literary magazine called One-Story. Every three weeks one short story is published in this tiny, lovely publication. I won’t go into details. Check out if you’re interested. Suffice to say a) I think they have around 8000 submissions a year and can publish only 18 stories and b) the mag is getting some serious attention from editors around the world looking for new writers.

As you can see I’ve been enveloped in bookish thinking. I’m surprised I’m not dreaming of reams of words, scribbled on blue-lined paper, swirling around me at night. Instead I’m dreaming of creatures like those hideous monstrosities from M. Night Shyamalan’s film, 'The Village'. Go figure!

Anyway, I digress in a monumental way … great advice picked up from Mr Sarvas included reading like a writer. This involves being aware, as one reads novels day in day out, of the mechanics being employed by the author … the construction of the book and the way the story is being moved along and so forth. Part of me always thinks such examination or analysis takes the fun out of activities such as this but, committed to a home made 'Mrs Underhill Masters of Creative Writing in the sunroom' for the remainder of this year, I am going to knuckle down and give this a bash. Mr Sarvas also gave EVERT student a copy of his favourite novel, The Great Gatsby. Bless!

In the spirit of “thinking like a writer” as was also discussed in class, I am going to buy a specific tiny notebook to record all manner of intriguing dialogue I hear between airports and luggage carousels between here and Nashville, New Orleans and Austin in October. I will probably end up using it to write lists of perfumes and booze that I want to purchase but, hell, it’ll come in handy either way. Maybe when Mr Underhill’s not looking I can get down a few cowboy’s phone numbers too.

Of course I am also going to put the finishing touches on my big bank job, write the double issue of the magazine that is hovering before me and pull off a terribly chic and amusing Melbourne travel piece for one of the editors of Tatler or some UK website. I’ve been commissioned, accepted the price, floated a deadline and still am not sure who I am writing for. Crazy!

But, as everyone who has shared insights into writing with me in the past months has said, life just cannot get in the way of the writing. There are, apparently, no excuses – save death – which can be accepted. And, if I am going to us Ms Weldon as even a token role model – she has four bloody sons and I think step-kids as well – she probably had a spot of ironing and plenty of gruel cooking to distract her. Didn’t stop her from pushing out something like 30 novels. Bitch!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The killers amongst us ... have feathers

Most days my walking route takes me through a small neighbourhood of Mc Mansions in a little settlement named after a school … something Mews. A primary school used to stand in the site where the houses are now. I like this part of the walk because there seems something so safe and controlled about the area; like it’s from that film with Jim Carrey – The Truman Show. I couldn’t live there – way too boring – but, for a walkway, it’s like being in a dull yet comforting department store of houses.

The other reason I like that route is because of the black and white cat I catch up with. He’s what some people call a tuxedo cat – black and white but the white is just a patch on his chest and his paws – like a white shirt poking out of a dinner suit. He wears a yellow collar and has loads of personality. I think he must be one of the luckiest cats in the western world. After all, he lives in the centre of this safe neighbourhood where no dogs have ever been sighted and, across the road from his house, is a park that’s been completely designed using native plants … meaning plenty of native birds come to visit.

Walking past there today my feline pal was nowhere to be seen. I was a little disappointed. Still, I was soon at my favourite meditation gum tree and all thoughts of puss were banished. The sun was beaming for a moment just before it set for the day and its intensity through the leaves of the tree made me feel like I was in one of those 70s sci-fi films – Omega Man or Soylent Green.

I switched off my MP3 player (David Sedaris on Radio National’s Book Show and got to thinking about the characters in a story I am writing. I need to figure out how to move them along and I felt a little stuck today. As I looked at the tree, though, I realised for the first time that there is a nest in it.

It’s a strange nest, it looks more like a giant grenade than an ant’s nest but I’m pretty sure it’s a bird’s nest. I walked round and round the tree trying to get a better view. A little magpie lark was the sole occupant of the tree at the time and he/she seemed to become aware of my loitering. It flew to the nest and hovered near it, then started picking and pecking around it. It was too high up for me to see what was really going on. At first I thought, ‘How sweet, it’s probably feeding its little ones in there’ but then my thoughts turned dark. I’ve always had a thing about birds, about things that flutter really. When Mr U and I were at London Zoo in the butterfly enclosure I completely freaked out when rare creatures started landing on my fire engine dyed red hair of the time. Little kids gathered around, amazed and envious. Only Mr U realised the immense will it was taking for me to not swipe those little fuckers – the butterflies not the kids – and take out something probably worth thousands of pounds, shipped directly from the Congo.

Anyhow, I have tried to fight my wing-flapping paranoia and make friends with birdies in recent years. They are all God’s creatures and very special in their way. Well that’s over with now once and for all. Last week I saw a raven killing a pigeon in the driveway of a house round the corner. It had two accomplices with it, Indian Mynahs I think. I pulled up in Mr U’s ute and honked to break up the violence. The raven flew off but not far, it’s two vampiric little mates sitting on powerlines nearby, just watching. The pigeon was ruffled up and dazed. It looked in a bad way. It made it over a neighbour’s fence but, even as I was standing there, I could see the attackers swooping down behind the posts to continue their evil deed.

So when I saw this magpie lark in the nest I went from delight to unease. Was it friend or foe to whatever dwelled inside? Was it attending to its young or eating someone else’s precious eggs?

Perspective’s a funny thing isn’t it? I’ll never know what was really happening all those many metres in the sky but, as I’ve nurtured a dislike of our ornithological friends, I choose to assume the worse.

Go Mr Tuxedo!

Monday, August 25, 2008


One junkie to the other one in the middle of the street in St. Kilda recently:

"They wouldn't give me an effing bandaid in that effing shop and now I have to wear these effing dogs all day."

She was wearing slippers with dogs' heads on them.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Farts on planes, festivals and facial hair

So Saturday was spent at a Melb Writers Festival workshop with Kate Rowland, the BBC’s Creative Director of New Writing. Is it bad that the most fascinating elements of some of these activities are the kind of people who attend them? Like the guy who somehow managed to ask a question of Kate but also slip in that he is on the ethics committee at one of the universities … I mean, who cares? What did it have to do with story structure? Plus there was the ex-arts editor of one of the major daily newspapers here who shoved her CV down my throat too. Okay, okay, I get it. You're very, very clever and, in fact, could be teaching this class rather than attending it.

You know what my theory is? (I’m going to give it to you anyway.) My theory is that these middle aged people are often VERY proficient in their original fields of work but are now dabbling in the area that every second person thinks they can excel in – writing books or movie scripts – and they can’t really cope with being back at the starter’s block professionally speaking.

Because of this, and because they are once again being spoken to as students or newbies, they feel practically violently obliged to ensure everyone knows that they are, in fact, incredibly respected in another field. I say “Fantastic! Now stick to that field and let the rest of us try and learn something here from this tutor.”

It goes to the core of the growing phenomenon that so many people, regardless of how worthy or interesting their professional field is, just don’t seem to think it compares to success … making a name for oneself … in the media. I mean, is this the 50-year-old’s version of ‘Australian Idol’?

Suffice to say these classrooms are great gathering points for mankind’s archetypes so, if nothing else is gained, characters for stories could be.

There is always the over-the-top IT genius who has consumed every episode of every obscure British and US television show in the past 20 years and is now ready to shop his 1"13 ep" - he always uses jargon - idea to unsuspecting network staff.

Then there is the girl with the nerve rash. There is ALWAYS one of these.

There is also, often, the incredibly careworn 60-something woman who looks like she’s struggled out from underneath a library desk somewhere to pop on her orthopaedics and make it to this class … where she will say NOT A WORD from 10am to 4pm.

And then there is the me … too much liquid eyeliner, aviator glasses and a penchant for the Kingston bickies that are supposed to be shared but just keep calling their Siren call.

Probably more genuinely intriguing was the crew at the memoir writing class. I’ve never been interested in this genre but went for a sticky beak and it was magic. Elderly Indian brother and sister, a man who clearly used to be a woman (‘he’ told me he ran his own self publishing business and then proceeded to talk about Snap Printing ... um puhlease), the guy who’d grown up in an Italian community in regional Victoria and wanted to capture the spirit of those times for posterity, the philosophy student who wanted to apply mythical archetypes to a family history (okay, I vagued out during her 10 minute description) but you get the picture.

The weekend finale for me was David Sedaris' reading at the Capitol Theatre last night. As well as his most recent book, he read excerpts from his diary. Now that was a treat. It’s amazing how people confide in him about everything from farting on aeroplanes to eating monkey’s brains.

I’m trying to keep my eyes and ears open now to see how day-to-day life can be transformed into witty anecdotes. Sadly, though, since last night I’ve only dealt with the guy that brought my car up from the hotel’s valet parking, the girl who made my coffee on the way home, my ginger cat and my Mum on the phone. Of course Mum did tell me about the most recent visit she had from my brother.

He came to her house to pay her back some money he’d borrowed. He’d been to the doctor for migraine medication which seems kind of redundant when he then proceeded to pour two cans of no name vodka and orange into the bottle that Mum calls “the baby bottle” which he carries everywhere in his back pack. Surely if he eased up on the voddie the headaches might take a backseat. But, hey, I’m no doctor. In the end the poor lamb handed over $50 to Mum, took $10 back ‘cause he had “no money now” and also walked away with a loaf of bread and a nice serve of smoked ham the pensioner had just bought on special from the supermarket.

See that’s just not as funny as farts on a plane.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


God I have really fallen off the perch haven’t I? I haven’t even been near my mythical meditation gum tree for over a week. I just re-read that post. God I’m a wanker sometimes.

There’s a pattern developing here though. As I head towards deadline for the mag … or other jobs … my drive to keep on tapping via the blog seems to suffer. Certainly this week with a bank job (a legal, brochure writing one, not a crime) plus the November issue of the mag I have been weighed down by words. Sad too because I have begun working on a personal project that really had me revved up – and still will – but I have had to drop the bundle for a moment.

There are only so many hours I can sit in front of this lap top, especially when the central heating is broken. No big deal. That’s the road and that’s how I’m rolling.

Pedal is to the metal now as the trip to Austin countdown commences. I have been liaising with the media/tourism unit over there for help locking down stories and have been making contact with potential targets directly. All good!

I have just made contact with Marcel the Journeyman today in the hope of interviewing him for The Age. A friend’s husband told me about this chap. He is living and working in Abbotsford for a few months and is part of a rare breed of craftsmen (think this one is cabinet maker of some description) whose roots go back to medieval Germany. You can google the phenomenon but I’ll have more to tell when I’ve interviewed the chap. Suffice to say he wears a special outfit … touch of the leather lederhosen … cannot wait! Actually I believe the look entails a black wide-corduroy suit with enormous bell-bottom pants, large black floppy hat, golden earring, collarless shirt and heavy pocket-watch. Lederhosen is a funnier word though.

This weekend is Melbourne Writers Festival time. I have a 10am to 4pm workshop on Satruday, a three-hour workshop on Sunday, a break in-between and then the Sedaris reading Sunday night with the girlies. Can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to this. Especially as I am staying at the sponsoring hotel on the Sunday so can sneak in a bit of shopping Sunday arvo … while absorbing all the lessons I have learned of course.

Lesson number one for successful writers? Dress sharp, of course. Lederhosen anyone?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Pool or tree, we all need a place of stillness and inspiration

I recently finished reading Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story which features a novelist character who talks about the “pool” we all go to, as humans, for inspiration and language, for our shared stories I suppose. King says he got this term from his College English teacher and mentor, Burton Hatlen

"Burt was the greatest English teacher I ever had,” writes King in the book’s postscript. “It was he who first showed me the way to the pool, which he called ‘the language-pool, the myth-pool, where we all go down to drink.’ That was in 1968. I have trod the path that leads there often in the years since, and I can think of no better place to spend one's days; the water is still sweet, and the fish still swim."

I thought about this today because it is joyously sunny, clean like someone’s been out overnight with the Enjo cloth and really given the sky and surrounds a good scrub. I threw on my runners and headed out for a walk and to do a few flights of stairs at the local running track but a primary school was having school sports day there – little bastards – so I had to take an alternative route.

This brought me to my favourite local spot – a huge ghostly gum tree in a local park, set amidst a ‘natural bush setting’ that has – naturally – been planted and cultivated near a football oval here in suburban land. The spot is divine though. It smells like gum and lemon myrtle and this tree, with a bench placed in a perfect viewing spot, has become my new focus of meditation. Even when I am far from the tree I conjure it up and use it as my focus. It’s got lots of visitors through its branches and the leaves are always moving. It is NEVER still. Today I hugged the tree. So now I am officially a tree hugger.

As I sat in the sun and stared at said tree I began to think about a story I am working on - a fictional, non work-related piece. Ideas started to bubble and I realised that this tree may start to become my pool; the place I go for ideas and inspiration and the place that is sweet and still. I hope my path there becomes well trod.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Peter Temple and my religious achievements

Saint Francis de Sales, patron saint of journalists and writers
A lass who I once did a short course with let me know that Peter Temple was interviewed on The Book Show in connection with the Crime and Justice Festival. She was unaware of my blogging misstep so didn't pick up on the significance ... to me ... of this comment in the interview.

Temple: "So you learn to cut stuff very savagely and I was brutalised by these people (newspaper sub editors), there's no question about it. I'm thinking of demanding an apology. Many of my ex-students are demanding apologies from me, too. So...Mrs Underhill, I'm sorry."
God I feel bad now. I mean ... Mr Temple was the winner of the 2007 Duncan Lawrie Dagger award in the UK for his novel The Broken Shore. Mrs Underhill once received Dux of Year 8 for religion. And look where that has gotten her!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


A fair bit has been happening since last I beamed in. I miss my little blog when I’m away. I see so many of these damn things in my day-to-day work and I often wonder over their amazing popularity, with the writers if no one else. The crafty community bloody loves them. You can’t stitch a new apron without photographing it and posting it and discussing it. Who am I to criticise though? At least with their blogs they’re actually making something. I find myself banging on about some duck dish I ate somewhere or an Austrian white wine I recently sipped. Weighty stuff, for sure.

Nonetheless I think the charm of ‘blogland’ is that it’s ultimately just for us. And, for me, someone who has devised and divined so many communication tools for so many other people over the years, it’s like I get to take 30 minutes and build my own little mini magazine, complete with photos and a too-personal letter from the editor. I just need access to designer fashions, a town car and someone to deliver coffee and I am the Miranda Priestly of my own tiny domain. True, in this Miranda’s domain I can hear that the washing machine – best known as Mr Simpson – has just finished his cycle but, for a moment, it all washes away. Ha! Get it? Washes …

Anyhoo there’s been the October magazine deadline, the Crime and Justice Festival, the visit of the mother-in-law (sadly stereotypically disappointing) my three day strike (where I tried to do as little work as possible, not enter a supermarket, write only for creative purposes and see the Get Smart movie), dinner and a Maeve Binchy inspired movie with Mum and a beautiful, very Melbourne, night on the town for Miss R’s birthday that involved drinks at the Carlton Hotel in Bourke Street followed by dinner at Punch Lane and more drinks, hiccup, at the bar at Florentino. Heaven.

Oh and did I mention I finally pressed SEND on version three of the 45,200 word corporate history I have been writing? Praise the lord! Let it be over.

The Crime and Justice Festival was an interesting foray. Definitely those grounds are a wonderful place to meet and discuss ideas. Melbourne’s winter does give them a slightly bleak aspect but it was fun to walk around pretending to be one of the young women “in moral danger” that the Good Shepherd Sisters cared for a hundred years ago. Hopefully their rooms were slightly better heated than the one that housed the Peter Temple lecture,

So … he had read my blog. How ghastly. I think I know how it happened … unless he is an obsessed googler about himself. Let’s just say lessons have been learned. He was terribly gracious about the whole thing however. And, I have to say, his talk was very witty and his readers love him. In fact, there was so much obvious respect for him amongst the audience and other writers who spoke at the event that it was quite touching. Like he was a cricketer I’d hit a few balls with in the playground and now he was batting for Australia and on the telly every other day in summer.

Both Peter Temple and Michael Robotham (another Australian born ex-journo and now successful crime author) couldn’t express more clearly and energetically how bad they thought journalism was for the soul and the skills of the would be novelist. Thanks guys! Nevertheless, Temple had some great advice which I have been trying to act on rather than mull over; a turn up for the books in itself.

I am now terribly excited at the thought of the upcoming Melbourne Writers Festival for which I have bought an embarrassing array of tickets. I think, however, that immersing oneself in workshops and all day classes on any topic is absolute bliss when you’re someone who does not have the time/money/inclination to be in full time study. It feels so decadent and it takes you worlds away from Mr Simpson’s cycles and supermarket foraging.

I really could go on for ages … don’t you know … but I have to prepare for my tax meeting today. Could life be more thrilling?

I’ve had some very nice feedback about this blog in recent weeks. I am touched by one and all because I know everyone has better things to do than read the rants of a woman in a sunroom sporting striped pyjama pants and un-brushed teeth at 10.25am in the morning but … there you go!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Bicycle tyres on the hot green surface
You're wearing a safety vest in the middle of the day
You're riding in a velodrome for fuck's sake
What do you need with a safety vest?

The grass is all I can smell
It's been cut recently and bits stick to me
There's an absence of loud noise this afternoon
Just the machine-like sounds of crickets and some Dad calling to his child
And you, of course, on that bloody bike, passing me again and again

You've started doing a few tricks now
Weaving up and down the side of the velodrome
You've also started making eye contact when you pass
You must be in your late 30s, early 40s
That's got to be your daughter pedalling behind you
For God's sake! It's time I go home

- by Me - 25/1/08

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Justice for crap writers

So it's deadline for the magazine again .... and I go to ground to get the little treasure written. One day I will have to count the total amount of words I write in one issue; one day when I have been sacked and have the time to do that kind of thing.

So, just to keep my blogging hand in, may I say that I am COMPLETELY looking forward to attending the Crime and Justice Festival at the Convent in Abbotsford this weekend. What a reward at the end of a slogging week.

One of the sessions I am sitting in on is with crime writer, Peter Temple. He is South African born but has lived in Australia for a long time. I know this not because I have to google him but because he was one of our principal lecturers at RMIT when I was studying journalism. Even now, as I write about him, I feel ill. After all, is that the correct spelling of 'principal' in this instance?

He was the only lecturer who ever genuinely tested me, who I ever really tried for. He humiliated and terrified us and the red pen marks that covered essays after he'd marked them looked like he'd cut his wrists during the session. Often he probably wanted to.

It was not just me either. He wrote sarcastic and downright mean comments on many people's work. For me, once, he gave me 10 per cent and wrote 'charity mark' next to it. Bless him.

Unfortunately he is one helluva writer. If you see his novels - The Broken Shore for example - pick it up. It's got nothing to do with whether you like crime genre. You just have to like good writing. It makes me sick. Why can't he be lousy? It would make it simple then to hate him.
Instead I look back on my studies with him and am very grateful. I envy his talent but know a large part of his success lies in his commitment to perfection and attention to detail. This commitment can be tough to live with when you're 19 years old and just discovering the joys of beer in various sticky pubs around Swanston Street but, in the long run (yawn yawn), apparently it is essential. At least, in later years, I discovered a little weakness the great man did have. It gives me relief to know he is indeed human. We all end up with a little red pen on some aspect of our lives.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

the other side of the story

You know one of the reasons the eulogy topic pops into my head in terms of my father is because there are always a number of ways to see and describe a person or thing. It just depends on where you are standing.

One of the things that has always bothered me about Dad's funeral is that the young, hip, modern priest took our honest account of the old fella and really honed in on the, admittedly numerous, negatives. If he used the term "flawed" human being once he used it a thousand times. Said priest has since left the business, so I hear.

Still, my recent scribblings about an alternative eulogy in no way paint the entire picture of the man who raised me. And, to be honest, I would never write the other side of the Dorian Gray portrait here. But someone who has done that - in a form so wonderful I could never achieve - is writer, George Bilgere.

Listening to Writer's Alamanac ( on podcast over the weekend, this poem was read. Go with it for the beginning, really feel it then watch as George presents a subtle knife and quietly gives you a slice. He brings it back to the positive but, for my money, this is one helluva great presentation of the two faces of a family, the two faces of a story. In George's case the positive light seems like it might have been fictional. For me, thank God, it was anything but ...

Like Riding a Bicycle
by George Bilgere

I would like to write a poem
About how my father taught me
To ride a bicycle one soft twilight,
A poem in which he was tired
And I was scared, unable to disbelieve
In gravity and believe in him,
As the fireflies were coming out
And only enough light remained
For one more run, his big hand at the small
Of my back, pulling away like the gantry
At a missile launch, and this time, this time
I wobbled into flight, caught a balance
I would never lose, and pulled away
From him as he eased, laughing, to a stop,
A poem in which I said that even today
As I make some perilous adult launch,
Like pulling away from my wife
Into the fragile new balance of our life
Apart, I can still feel that steadying hand,
Still hear that strong voice telling me
To embrace the sweet fall forward
Into the future's blue
Equilibrium. But,

Of course, he was drunk that night,
Still wearing his white shirt
And tie from the office, the air around us
Sick with scotch, and the challenge
Was keeping his own balance
As he coaxed his bulk into a trot
Beside me in the hot night, sweat
Soaking his armpits, the eternal flame
Of his cigarette flaring as he gasped
And I fell, again and again, entangled
In my gleaming Schwinn, until
He swore and stomped off
Into the house to continue
Working with my mother
On their own divorce, their balance
Long gone and the hard ground already
Rising up to smite them
While I stayed outside in the dark,
Still falling, until at last I wobbled
Into the frail, upright delight
Of feeling sorry for myself, riding
Alone down the neighborhood's
Black street like the lonely western hero
I still catch myself in the act
Of performing.

And yet, having said all this,
I must also say that this summer evening
Is very beautiful, and I am older
Than my father ever was
As I coast the Pacific shoreline
On my old bike, the gears clicking
Like years, the wind
Touching me for the first time, it seems,
In a very long time,
With soft urgency all over.

"Like Riding a Bicycle" by George Bilgere, from The Good Kiss. © University of Akron Press, 2002. Reprinted with permission. – I stole from

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Families remind me of fathers

I spent four days in Byron Bay recently (well Bangalow to be precise - AKA God's country). The main reason was to be there for Mrs R’s birthday but I also had a meeting about a website I am writing the text for. Nice work if you can get it.

Mrs and Mrs R have possession of my goddaughter, my best (small) boyfriend and, now, my new favourite poochy friend called Louis Vuitton. I am proud to say that, while Louis was named by his four-year-old owner, it was Mrs R and I who came up with his surname while we were in New York. We felt that, because he was a tad plain at the time, he needed a little help in the élan department.

I am now proud to report he cuts a fine and gorgeous figure although he did smell remarkably similar to a jar of duck fat I picked up from the Essentail Ingredient not so long ago. Don’t ask me why. Regardless I am in love and, while I will respect everyone’s privacy in terms of photos, a few ones the witness protection programme would allow are shown here.

Spending some time within a little family unit got me thinking about my own family. One night recently when sleep wouldn’t come I got to thinking about how much I regretted not eulogising my father at his funeral. I could never have done it; too much of a blithering mess. As I get older, however, he begins to loom larger than life as quite a pisser of a bloke and someone who, though very traditional in so much of his attitudes, was quite odd in his own day-to-day ways.

So here, for my own benefit, are a few of the best things I remember about him, 10 years too late perhaps:

1. He was the man who had the common sense to drive off on me one day when, aged around 15 or 16, I came out of the hairdressers with a style that involved a flat top on top, shaved sides and a bob at the back. Help!

2. He grew up in Ireland on a farm. Farm people are not meant to hold animal life too dearly. Dad put a notice in the paper when our rabbit died. He was the one who killed it. (Admittedly it had myxomatosis.)

3. He had gout but he didn’t say much about it. He just cut pieces out of his shoes where they pressed on the sore areas.

4. He brought us home a sheep for a while. We lived in a suburban housing estate. The sheep was black; we called it Teddy (as in Teddy Bear). He used to walk it. On a lead. Around the block. I was in my early teens. No I was not embarrassed!

5. Dad loved grooming. Born in more recent times I think he might have been a good stylist or hairdresser. He was a big bloke and, in my day, he always wore overalls (ironed sharply by Mum, of course) but he’d stand in the doorway of the bathroom and talk to my sister and I as we did our makeup. He often commented on what we wore, how our makeup was done, even what perfume we chose (“smells like a brothel in here” was his most common observance there). My favourite photo of him involves him sitting in the backyard in the afternoon sun quietly plaiting the hair on one of my dolls.

6. Dad wasn’t much of a reader. He left school at age nine and used to sit in a tree, smoking, and watching the others kids walk to class. The only thing I ever saw him read were those old school cowboy books in paperback. Yet he supported and encouraged me in any of my pursuits. Once, when some mad woman got me involved in a Sylvia Plath poetry reading, Dad drove himself and Mum into Greville Street to a tiny airless bookshop to listen while I stood, like a wanker, in front of a buch of poor sods, to read from The Bell Jar. My God! What a man.

And people ask me why I don’t have kids.

When writers write back

An amazing thing happened after writing about Jack Kerley’s book, The Death Collectors. I went onto his website out of interest (I am of course always fascinated by people who have successfully thrown off corporate life to become novelists) and left a comment and the lovely man sent me a really detailed response. Bet bloody Stephen King doesn’t do that!

Here’s a little of what he said … “Although I never sold ice to Eskimos, I did write lyrics for singing hot dogs. I think that's in the same basic category. I've also freelanced … Years ago a fellow was a thousand bucks or so in debt to me (back when that was real money). I went to his office to hear his latest sob story, then glanced through the window at his fleet of snow-white service vehicles and mused how someone with a can of spray paint could find creative release in his parking lot. Got a check two days later. Never underestimate the power of malevolent musings.”

Now you see that’s not advice they dole out at journalism school! Naturally I am now reading his first novel, The Hundredth Man, alongside Peony in Love (about love, death and ghosts in 17th century China). I like to mix it up a bit.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Sticks and stones can break them bones

I think one of the best things about my current working life is its flexibility. Take today for example. While I rushed into the office this morning – the real one, where there are other staff besides cats and I have to wear my bra – and got cracking by 9.15am it wasn’t long before I realised that things on the current issue of the mag weren’t quite where they needed to be so I couldn't do much of the on-screen editing work. I decided I’d be better off coming home and getting on with some website text that is now due and head back to the office on Monday.

Of course I stopped in at South Melbourne Market on the way through and picked up some fabbo ingredients to cook up home made pizza tonight and, of course, I dropped into the Prince Wine Store in South Melbourne and picked up something as similar to the Austrian drop that I discovered in Byron Bay on the weekend as I could find. Now I am blogging but you see … I will get to the website work.

Big problem now though is that, when I opened the letter box, the paperwork for the Crime and Justic Writing Festival – organised by Reader’s Feast - has just arrived and now I feel COMPELLED to have a big smooch through it and see what there is to attend.

I’m in full crime mode because, after finishing The People of the Book, I have turned to a a paperback I picked up in a three-for-$15 deal. Gotta love it! I don’t really read investigate/crime stuff too much anymore. I, like many, was an obsessive reader of Patricia Cornwell and the like in the 90s but I have tried to reduce the dose of crime fiction in recent years and broaden the old mind.

Anyhoo, I picked up Jack Kerley’s Death Collectors which I thought would be good for the airport. Within moments I was hooked and I remembered what made good crime writing so hard to put down. Kerley’s got a great turn of phrase, gives his male characters some fresh and honest feelings, emotions and reactions to things and he comes up with some fairly outrageous plot ideas. Love it. He’s as smooth as butter as a writer and this was only his second book (two more have followed I believe) but he has spent 20 years in advertising selling ice to eskimos should be bloody well able to see a story to me.

The People of the Book was a surprise. I guess I thought it would be a bit more of a challenge. I forgot that I had already read Geraldine Brook’s Year of Wonders which is about a young woman’s battle to save her family and her soul when the plague strikes her Derbyshire village in the 1600s. I didn’t mind that book but I remember it being very accessible. This skill of Ms Brooks is probably required when she tackles the huge job of tracing the journey of a rare illuminated Hebrew manuscript from (stealing from her website) “convivencia Spain to the ruins of Sarajevo, from the Silver Age of Venice to the sunburned rock faces of northern Australia”.

It can be tricky when an author introduces a number of different stories within a story because, if you end up getting entrenched in one set of characters and their lives, you can feel kind of disappointed when you're dragged out of that world and into another one. I’ve got to say though that I did learn a bit about theological writings, the fate of religious documents during times of war, the ever expanding catalogue of sins committed by the Nazis (was there ANY area they left untouched?) and, amazingly, the fate of family during war. I think the most important thing the book gave to me was time to pause to think about how one minute people can be living normal, very urban, very modern lives and the next moment bombs and bullets can be tearing through the streets and everything becomes surreal.

I want to find out more about Sarajevo now. I am shamefully unclear about the things that have happened there in the past two decades but any region where Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism peacefully coexisted throughout centuries is surely worth some attention.

I mean, did you know that, in 1914, Sarajevo was the site of the assassination that sparked World War I? I bloody well did not. God I am a dunce. Apparently the city is now recovering after the hideous Bosnian siege. Somewhere worth visiting I am thinking.


Talking about visiting … Mr & Mrs P in Austin have undergone a major trauma. Mr P fell off a truck while helping friends move house. The result? Broken leg – he’s got a rod in it – and a broken arm with FIVE!!! pins in it AND a fake elbow. Joisus!

We’ll see how things proceed but my thoughts are with them. Luckily they grow love like weeds wherever they go and, within two days of the accident, a benefit gig was held (it was to be Mr P’s first stand alone Benny & the Fly By Nighters gig) and money was raised to go towards medical costs. Impressive huh? The venue was the Continental Club
1315 S. Congress Austin TX . I am writing that here to remind me to visit just in the office chance the injured lovebirds fly the coup before October.

Don’t forget to send cheerios:

The Horton Bros in Austin continue to be legendary friends to the Ps and I believe a chap by the name of 'Bear' was also one of the performers. THANK YOU.

See Bobby Horton's blog at and see a review of a Bear album here:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Because I really should be concentrating on work today

I must point out that we have paid for our tickets to Austin. YAY YAY YAY

I am already working on my wardrobe. My inspiration is the following quote from Dolly Parton:" I look just like the girls next door... if you happen to live next door to an amusement park." I repeat, YAY YAY YAY

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My new chair - I have already fallen asleep reading in it

I confess I have converging deadlines this week - the magazine I edit plus a corporate book project plus some website text work. And I have a head cold. Ohhh boo hoo! So I dream of sitting in my new chair, bought from the most camp furniture dealer in Melbourne, sipping something tasty and, of course, writing my blog. None of the above will be happening.

I will say that, inspired by listening to him speak on a podcast I downloaded recently, I put down People of the Book and picked up Lisey's Story by Stephen King. Bad move. I have made yet another dire discovery about getting older. I cannot read creepy books before bed.

Let's just say, an hour after falling asleep I was dealing with a train station where, on a cold bleak night, trains kept coming and going but none of them were going to my destination and no one could tell me where to find mine. Then, in grassland near the tracks, I discovered a man's body, face down in the grass - looking pretty dead. Nearby stood a child wearing a hooded top. So small and isolated in the cold night. The child had its back turned from me.

I went over to it, realising it must have been the child of the dead man. I touched its shoulder. It turned around but its face was a wizened thing - white, chalky, somehow featureless. Arghhhh. I woke up with my hear thumping like it was going to burst through my PJs and, I tell you, it took an hour of reading Architectural Digest to calm me enough to sleep. Nigh night Stephen!

It was all very Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in 'Don't Look Now'. Haven't seen the film? Take a peep at

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Giving good quote

Last night, whilst making Dreamweaver’s Tuna casserole with fresh tuna, I had the USA TV show, The NEWSHOUR with Jim Lehrer (, on in the background. Good old Kofi Annan was being interviewed. I don’t know about those corruption stories surrounding his son etc from a while back but that man has grace; he should be the Captain on the Enterprise or the guy Obe One Kenobi turned to when he needed a mentor.

Anyhoo, he was discussing Robert Mugabe and the situation in Zimbabwe and, while everything was very grim and sombre he did pipe up with: “Zimbabwe used to be described as the bread basket of Africa, now it’s just a basket case.” Kofi made a funny!

And, as for a good quote about writing that I heard Stephen King give (yes I am broad in my tastes, not just my arse) his was something like (good, accurate reportage here): “Fiction is what you get when you bounce imagination against reality.” Anyway if I listen to the podcast again I’ll try and get it straight. Geesh.