Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The big nowhere

I was thinking, in the middle of the book, Ellroy never describes anything. He doesn't just stop and say this is like this, that is like that. He inhabits his world, he fills it. He writes as though you know his world, as though you are walking the streets of 1950 LA and don't need to be told what it looks like. Ellroy's skill is such that you never gainsay that idea. You never feel you cannot go where he takes you.

He is often described as a cynical writer and yet his central characters are Romantics to a man (I can say this because Dudley Smith, though a huge character in the book, never is the POV character). Danny Upshaw fights his flaw, his hamartia, which as it must, brings him down. Mal Considine aims for the noblest end -- love. And Buzz Meeks. A character to die for. Unsentimental but romantic, noble but low, willing to swim with sharks but a man with his own sense of right and wrong. Anyone who's read LA Confidential or seen the film will almost weep at the dramatic irony of knowing his end.

But they all do meet sad ends (bar Smith, of course). Ellroy doesn't do happy endings. He does something much more real and vital. It is rich and satisfying; it is what you need but it is not what you want.

I mentioned a couple of months ago the notion of the writer who threw you twists that, while plausible, are not foreseeable. A writer who allows you to be able to know, but you cannot know. I was challenged to name a work in which this was the case. Well, The big nowhere is one.

This is not its only virtue. He never slips in tone -- it's pure 50s street, always believable (if you get in a tizz at the "N-word", don't get this one from the library). The pace is unrelenting, yet never forced. The plot works itself out without contrivance -- it is kinked but it doesn't rely on fatuous coincidence, and it doesn't sell itself out.

On top of that, this is the work of a stylist supreme. It's an absolute joy to read. Ellroy doesn't know how to write bad sentences (I daresay I'll get quoted a couple now, but there were none that nagged at me in reading). This is not quite the stylistic experiment that The cold six thousand (one of the greatest works in American fiction -- I will bat for it in any arena, it is a brilliant success) turned out to be. But it is taut. It's somewhere between the hardboiled policier style of The black dahlia and the protoSixthousand of American tabloid. There's no relief but you do not ask for it, breathless, you keep wanting more.

If I aspired to write thrillers (I don't), I would be looking at this as an example of what the genre can achieve and as a daunting summit to climb. There is no one in the genre that I know of who gets close to Ellroy's ability. He transcends it. He leaps out of it. As it happens, I do aspire to write fiction and I look at The big nowhere and I think this is what I must strive to match, but how I don't know.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Zen entrances

I am a father of three.

It is what I will do and I will try to do it well. I had doubts that I could, that I would be equal to it, but when I see my children sleeping, I know that I will have love enough for three, the fierce manly love that unwords a man, even a man of words like me, the love I have had for Zenella since the day I first held her, and the love I feel for Naughtyman and Zenita, despite myself, all my cool, calculating cleverness dribbling away in helpless adoration.

I do not have any more to say about it. I am all talked out. The same story to family and friends: one, a boy, 6lbs7oz; two, a girl, 6lbs51/2oz. All well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


The name of the man we love is Rooney.

In Argentina the boy genius is known as the "pibe". They have a long tradition of slender gypsy boys, who begin as whispers in the barrio and strut their merry way across the stage of world football (usually never quite fulfilling their potential, yet being adored for their very specialness, their rareness -- for nothing, really, is rarer or more valuable than the number 10 who can thread it through a tight Argentine defence and make magic happen).

Rooney is no slender gypsy, of course, being a big fat scouser, who barrels rather than struts. He is no Beckham -- you cannot imagine him taking to the catwalk, and his girlfriend, though pretty, has no pretensions to being "posh".

But we love him despite that because he does do magic. He has made it possible for us to believe that we can, finally, see greatness in our team. His enormous self-belief and drive seem to be enough for the whole team.

Even Scholes scored. You know witchery is in the air when Scholes does anything worthwhile, let alone hit the net.

Our dreams will be shattered, we know. Rooney will lose his battle with booze/his weight/referees/injury. But he can have his moment right now and he must take it. Love may only burn for an instant, but the embers can warm you for life.

burglary cervix

Charles and I took inside starlet
with garbage can living with trombone, bottle of beer related to.
bicep inside avoid contact with CEO about dilettante.
Charles, the friend of Charles and flies into a rage with stalactite inside shadow.
Now and then, vacuum cleaner beyond derive perverse satisfaction from bowling ball over.
A few biceps, and grain of sand living with) to arrive at a state of nation
Still write a love letter to her from pocket defined by gonad, make a truce with her fruit cake related to with bubble bath beyond bullfrog.
virtuosi romeo stem rookie domestic cherubim passionate


This is, without question, the most evocative spam I've ever received. I almost regret that hotmail blanked the picture that came with it. Even knowing why they do it doesn't entirely rob them of charm. I'm not sure "burglary cervix" would pass a Bayesian filter (it didn't pass hotmail's but I think that it could if it were more cunningly mailed -- it would probably land in most corporate mailboxes, if it wasn't for the picture).

Sometimes I wonder, though, what it is a spammer is doing that Coke is not.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Looking through the square window

This is the dullest webcam ever. The chick just sits in a chair.

Maybe it's a pomo comment on the whole life on the web phenomenon. Maybe the chick doesn't know that if she put the cam in the shower she'd get more hits than she can handle.


This weather site tells lies.

The only way it's 11C is because heater's on. It's at most absolutely nothing, maybe -10 or something.

They never invented central heating in this country. I'm not kidding. They strut around boasting about how they don't feel the cold.

Yeah right. Dude, English people don't feel the cold because they have the heating on.


I was curious what a Servo really is. Yes, I know, a machine thing. But I don't know one machine thing from another. But ever since my computer problems (resolved by the simplest route -- I bought a new one) I have been increasing my technical knowledge a little bit. Apparently Servo has an output shaft.

Like I didn't already know (in-joke, and not even a good one).


I realise I haven't written a scrap of fiction in three months. Still, neither has Dickens.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Of wit and love

One thing I miss about the old country is our famous sense of humour. I don't mean the knockabout antics of our football fanatics abroad. I mean the dry wit of our mockers, best exemplified by Simon Hoggart, whose sketch in the Guardian (which I get to see in the weekly edition) pricks some overinflated balloons nicely.

The quip is king in the UK, but Aussies think it is a small bird, and if they see it they shoot it. Their conversation is often dry, but it is almost never witty. TV humour involves shouting and jokes about bottoms and wanking (if you are thinking a less madcap Bottom, you are right there). Commentators tend to the serious (those who write columns, I mean, the sports commentator is the exception -- some of the Aussie Rules guys are studies in understatement) -- you know when they are trying to be funny because they drive it in in a bus.

Something else I won't get to share in is this showcase for Brian Wilson's renaissance. I didn't make it to this or to the Smile concert, and I'm kicking myself.

Pet Sounds is one of the great records. If you question that, not only do you and I differ beyond any hope of reconciliation on the subject of music, but I wonder about your sanity. It is a marvel of songwriting, an expression of genius that has few parallels in any genre, let alone pop music.

These are simple songs, of course, gentle statements of eternal verities: God only knows, for example, encapsulates for me how I would explain how I feel about Mrs Zen if I were clever enough with words to find words that could do the job. But they are a lesson to those who feel that art must be ornate to be worthy. Doing the simple excellently is the hardest thing in any art: it is in the execution of the simple that the worker of the ornate often fails themselves.

Not that the ornate cannot make great art, too. I remember looking at the carving on the walls and pillars of the Taj Mahal and thinking to myself, this, this is how you express love on the grand scale. It is like the boundless spirit of love in stone -- it is pure, but it is wild, simple, but it is intricate.

Would I build Taj Mahal for Mrs Zen? Perhaps not. I doubt that I have ever quite touched the soaring affection Shah Jehan had for Mumtaz Mahal. I wonder if many of us ever do. But I would have written God only knows if Wilson and Asher hadn't beaten me to it. For me, the Taj Mahal is the ultimate expression of what love is, and God only knows the clearest expression of what it means.

Whichever way, love finds a way to express itself. All we need is our own empress (or emperor, of course) to inspire it.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

More of the war on truth

The US administration has oftentimes insisted that Saddam had links to Al Qaida. Will it now admit it lied?

The investigation into Iraq-bin Laden links will report shortly, and its findings will be that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

Will the government be as loud and clear in stating that the links did not exist as it was in claiming that they did?
(Bush even wanted to make it the casus belli!)

Of course not.

They are liars in the grand tradition of Goebbels. They tell lies so preposterous, so incredible, that people believe they must be true. Big Lies.

And when confronted with the truth they shift the agenda.

We went to war because of the links to Al Qaida... oh no, it was the WMD... oh no, it was to liberate Iraq.

And all the while the truth goes unsaid... We went to war for oil. We used 9/11 as an excuse to pursue business that we couldn't otherwise excuse.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Camping out

A couple of nights ago a young man caused a stir on Big Brother, a programme Mrs Zen watches and I pretend not to enjoy.

On his eviction from the house, he refused to talk to the hostess. Instead he taped over his mouth and help up a sign that but for a couple of loose letters would have read Free the refugees.

It is our dirty secret (not such a secret these days but it no longer makes the headlines it once did). If you run from persecution, torture, poverty, coming to Australia means a sentence in our concentration camps. I was powerfully reminded by the similarities between this description and that of Monowitz in If this is a man.

For years, Australia welcomed (white) immigrants. Most of its citizens, if they are not immigrants, are their children, or at most the grandchildren. I am of course one of those immigrants. But times changed. The citizens of Italy and Greece -- almost incomprehensibly known as "wogs" here and never really welcomed by the original whites (Australia has a history of not welcoming successive waves of incomers -- the convicts hated the Irish who hated the ten-pounders who hated the wogs, and so it goes on) -- stopped being poor enough to want to leave, and the newer immigrants are Chinese, Vietnamese, Malay, Afghans, Arabs, Indians. A key difference between Australia and the UK, and one that takes a great deal of getting used to, is that you will hear obnoxious racist views at the dinner table. Your guests will look on aghast if you take someone to task for describing east Asians as "slopeheads" or claiming that the "brown menace" will overwhelm us if we turn our backs (I'm not kidding -- I've heard both).

A pernicious, right-wing media, which has stilled most competition, has helped create a society that does not welcome other cultures. Australia prides itself on its "multiculturalism", but this is not the American melting pot or even the English pick-and-choose mentality. This is a land where different cultures live side by side rather than mixing together. This is a place where you can still get dumped by a girlfriend because you're not a Catholic and there can be no future (yes, but I got over it).

This is a land of plenty. In many ways, it is as good a place to live as you can imagine. Unemployment is low, the standard of living excellent. Even the poorest have a living far better than they would in most countries of the world (although the right-wing government has done its best to erode that). It is not intolerant (preferring to ignore rather than embrace) and the people have a belief in being pleasant that makes daily life smooth, if anodyne.

It has those things, people here forget, because of the massive investment in it by the English. Not so much the government, but the capitalists who sought their profit here. And they took their money out of the backs of dark people around the world.

We could share. Australia needs more people (the chancellor begged us in the Budget to have more kids - three: one for mum, one for dad, and one for the state). It doesn't have a large enough population to power its economy. It suffers shortages of skilled workers. In short, it does need people. But it doesn't want Afghans, Iraqis, Chinese, Indians, Africans etc. For them, there is no "Aussie dream", no house on a bit of land, no opportunity, no future: just a small piece of desert, a cell block and our contempt.


We are all human beings. Forget that and you face damnation. Love is sometimes as small a thing as remembering that your neighbour is a person like you. Sometimes, something that small is too big for a land of plenty. I don't say Free the refugees. I say Free yourselves.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Overthinking in circles...

... would make a great title for this blog.

I don't know how you stop doing it, outside of a good few big glasses of bourbon straight (I've earned it -- accountancy and finance fill my days -- and most of my nights this week).

Listening to Neither Washington nor Moscow today took me back (new CDs). I suppose I must have bought the vinyl in 1985 or somewhere near. The miner's strike.

It made me think, when you've felt the baton across your ear, you know that class struggle can be real.

I was willing to fight when I was a youngster. I marched against racism when it was important to show that there were many who opposed it. I think it made a difference. I marched against Murdoch (this is before I started working for him -- the sellout in a sentence: I fought the Man and the Man won) and got concussion and a night in a cell.

Now I fight all my battles in the virtual world. Have I stopped caring? I don't think so. I try to do my caring where I live. I truly believe that's how the world changes. We change the people round us and the ripples spread. Well, maybe. But I never did see the point of the socialist who didn't live it. (Not that I'm a socialist. Not with five mouths to feed, albeit two of them are still getting theirs by umbilical. Not an anythingist. There never was a bag I could fit everything I believe, feel, hope and dream into.)

I have never yet learned that you cannot figure it out. When that lesson finally sinks home, I think I will know that I can stop overthinking it and start living it. Gawd, I hope that day comes soon. I'm tired and the grey has run the black clean away.

Still, I raise my glass (JD -- forty bucks a bottle but the babies can't suck up every dollar) to all the tired old men who still believe that the world can be made good and we can make it that way if we come together.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Fair's fair

Our friend arleen asks what are fairness, justice and love.

I'm not sure anyone has ever found an answer to any of those three questions that satisfies. Rawls came close to one for justice.

I believe fairness is equity on the whole, and justice is the administration of equity. Fairness is a state, I feel, and justice is an action. Justice rectifies what is not fair.

Love is a whole nother thing. In part it is the belief that fairness should exist even when you will suffer for it personally.

These are just the beginnings of what justice and fairness are. I know that many of the people I know do not agree with the definition of fairness I use. They would say that it is not necessarily "fair" to bring about equality (to which I would say that equity and equality are not entirely the same thing). They have a rather different idea of justice, which allows them to believe that some things are just that I do not. But for me, equity is the basis of fairness, and fairness is the aim of justice. However, even they probably realise that equity is a posh word for a level playing field, and that the level playing field is fair. They may not feel that the world has to be fair, but we will at least be reasonably in agreement about what fairness is.

I know that justice is something I strive to do, and often fail miserably in doing. I don't beat myself up over it. Trying is the main thing. I admire those who try to do justice, and deplore those who overturn it. If the programme of the government of the day does justice, I support it. If not, I do not. This notion is far more important to me than the colour of the rosette (although if I voted, it would not be for a conservative, because conservatives on the whole wish to conserve inequalities -- thence the name -- and maintain societies without justice in the sense I'm defining it).

It boils down, I suppose, to the belief that you ought not to give to one what you would not to another, or have given to one what another will not be given. How you build a world from that is not something I have easy answers to, but I think as a policy for my own life, it will do fine.

Free wheel

Why believe in free speech?

For me, the reason is simple. I can never rid myself of the suspicion that those seeking to curtail it in whatever way are trying to do no good.

This isn't always true, of course. Some who wish to put limits on free speech are trying to prevent harms arising out of it. The "fire in the theatre" provisions have this notion at heart. Even the staunchest supporters of free speech can, if not support, understand those who wish to limit its expression where it is clearly harmful: in hate speech, child pornography, etc.

Free speech is the lifeblood of several of the things that bring me joy, not to mention one of the foremost rights in the nation I call home. There are always those who wish to put limits on it, and I do believe that each in our small way we should resist that, whether the censors are using public decency, copyright or simply their own taste as their weapon.

I have an interesting case in alt.fiction.original. I occasionally criticise a story in that group. Some of the regulars don't like my style, which is okay by me. I'm not writing critiques for them, but for anyone who wants to learn from what I know. Given my experience and my understanding of English, that's a gift that some welcome. Those who don't can, of course, use their killfiles.

Now I post critiques without much regard to the bumph, the intro, etc. I go straight to the story. So I was surprised when some guy got himself into a tizz because I hadn't set a no-archive header.

I never set no-archive headers. I never will. I don't have anything to hide in my posts. I don't break any laws. I don't have the least notion of shame, so nothing I write is ever going to embarrass me.

But it seems these guys in AFO have taken to no-archiving their posts so that publishers won't know they've previously published them. They think publishers google the titles to check whether they've had previous publication.

Well, I suppose some publishers might. It's a reasonable concern on the part of the posters. The solution is not to post their work to Usenet, of course. By doing so they make it available to anyone who cares to read it, free of charge.

But these guys want more than just not to have their stories show up on google. They want all critiques of them also to be hidden. They don't want me to stop reviewing their work (well, they do, but they don't want to ask because they fear being exposed as petty censors); but they want me to join them in defrauding publishers.

They have published work by some publishers' definition. Hiding it from google does not change that. What they are seeking to do is curtail my right to free speech -- to make fair comment upon their work, which after all they have offered up for the specific purpose of allowing that comment -- so that they can cheat publishers.

Some are talking about involving lawyers. Any decent lawyer will of course point out to them that only they are doing anything dodgy! In making a representation to a publisher that they have not previously published the work, they will not be telling the truth.

Will I respect their wishes to no-archive their posts? No, I never will. They are practising a dishonesty, and I will not join them in it. Would I simply not review their pieces if they asked me? Well, I might, but although some are discussing the law -- I'm not kidding -- not one has written to me privately and made any case for obliging them.

But of course they haven't. Like all censors, they are not interested in the principle half so much as the public display of the superiority they feel and the public imposition of their ideas on others (censors do not just write to the broadcaster to ask them not to show a certain programme -- they like to appear on TV themselves so that everyone can see them demanding that the programme is withdrawn). Censors do not simply watch what they read themselves, turn the TV off if they don't like it or just not go to the movie in question. They seek to make others conform to their notion of what is right. But they do not do it the right way, the way we have found that I believe to be the best, which is by the free passage of ideas, the exchange of views.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Waiting for the axe

I can hardly think.

I mean it. It's a peculiar sensation for a thinking person, and I pride myself that that's my species. I cannot bring myself out of the confines of my life. I cannot stretch out into real life; it seems as though it is no longer touching me at all.

Of course, these are strange times for me. I will never experience anything like it again. I am like a man on the block, waiting for the axe. It won't be long -- at the scan today, Naughtyman scaled 6lb7oz and XX 5lb110z. They are cramped and no one likes that feeling or can stand it for long. One day or night soon, Mrs Zen will feel an almighty gush and then it's all on.

I don't know how I feel about it. I don't know how I feel about having them. I cannot think about it. It is just something that is going to happen and I numbly accept it. We have all our baby things, all the paraphernalia -- you could invade Russia with less! -- that shows you care about the soon-to-bes. I have a lot of work on, so I can't relax too much. I am house husband and breadwinner, and still Mrs Zen is far more tired than I am. She's not always good humoured about it. I don't think about how our relationship will stand the dizzy madness of new children. If I could think, I might think about that, but in any case, I know I would conclude that I would come out the other side still the man I am, loyal husband, kind father, but with a few more dozen hours' bastidry under our belts.

I wish I could talk about something else but it chases you around. I seek distraction but when you cannot think you cannot be distracted easily.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Trolls beware

Members of the Honourable Society of Trolls should note that flaming can go too far. I'm certainly going to take care when I cross the path of Japanese schoolgirls, who I had previously only noted as a source of used panties for the businessman who wants a nostril full of teen juice. (What is it about the Japanese that they should have so many vices that the rest of us just wouldn't see the point in indulging in? After all, we're talking about a nation where a porn dog can earn more than a woman.)

Still, I have fond memories of my brief visit to Japan (I stopped over on a flight from Brisbane to London -- one night in an airport hotel with not enough time to visit Osaka. Mrs Zen insisted on watching the hotel porn, and laughed her teeth out when she realised that they fuzzied up the dirty bits) and, as is the case with most things foreign, our view is coloured by fear and distrust of the new, so that we are happy to accept a vision of the Japanese as nutters who eat bizarre food (forgetting, of course, that all inhabitants of coastal environments enjoy fish, many don't actually cook it -- we do because we were not able to get it fresh often enough -- and the other elements of their cuisine are simply local adaptations of a cuisine enjoyed by more people than any other), have peculiar social customs (forgetting that Japan has less arable land than, say, the UK, and has much longer been crowded, and has a more refined sense of courtesy and place as a consequence -- even so, the English could teach lessons to the world in gradations of insult and language that shows awareness of social station) and all look the same (I think it's quite universal that everyone who doesn't look like you looks exactly the same as all the other people who look a bit like them if they are unfamiliar enough -- the Japanese can't tell Westerners apart either, which surprises a Westerner because we think we're all so very different... now, change into their shoes innit).

But we're all human beings. We all like fucking. We all eat. We all do the things humans do. (Without exception. Even Posh and Becks take a shit, although I could believe they hire someone to suck it out for them. With a vacuum I mean, not... I wish I just hadn't had that thought at lunchtime.)

Still, I will continue to be a connoisseur of Japanese weirdness. They just seem to do it weirder.

War on the truth

Whoever writes President Bush's speeches is either demented or a sick genius. I fear it's the latter but either way, they are taking a huge risk. Comparing the war in Iraq with World War II will prompt two quite different questions, one the speechwriter is hoping will only occur to the liberal intelligentsia who hate Bush anyway, the other they are hoping will pop into the patriotic noggins of all good Americans. First, who are the invaders, the aggressors, and who the heroic resistance? The people of Iraq are not Nazis. They didn't attack anybody, nor are they currently aggressing against any other nation. America's short war in Iraq has blown out into a drawn-out occupation, which is being fiercely resisted by sections of the populace. No amount of accusing the resistance of being "turrists" or claiming that Al Qaeda is behind it all will change the fact that Iraqis are fighting against the occupiers. And these occupiers are looking less each day like the guys in white hats that we take the US GIs of WWII to have been. In Saving Private Ryan, despite its ferocity, Tom Hanks did not piss on any civilians, or rope them up naked. He didn't even play them any loud rock music (okay, he would have had to invent it first, but he could have shouted at them a bit, rhythmically).
The second question is not so much who won but was it worth winning? By that I mean, was it worth going to the lengths we went to? Of course, in hindsight we know it was a war that had to be won. The man in the street probably doesn't question whether it was worth the horrific lengths we went to. He just knows it did involve some ferocious fighting, often directed against civilians. World War II brought the end of the notion of the inviolate civilian, which had had some currency for centuries, at least since feudal times, when combatants were readily delineated. The perceived justice of the cause seems somehow to still any questions about the methods. The end is seen fully to justify the means.

But I think there's a case for asking whether it did. Certainly, questions could be asked about the strategic bombing of civilian populations. Does a good cause excuse that? Does it today?

The speechwriter has hit on a tremendous device. Many are comparing Iraq with Vietnam: a war fought without justice, a grinding slaughter of a people fighting for their nationhood, a folly. How smart to put the idea out there that this is rather the Second World War and that Bin Laden is Hitler (when, of course, he is far more like Ho Chi Minh -- it is nationalist sentiment he appeals to, just like Ho, and the ideology is probably not what attracts his cadres -- all of this is doubtless true of Hitler but Hitler did not aim to inspire the siege mentality but to reawaken visions of former greatness).

But this war looks more and more like the Jewish Revolt. The locals simply will not worship the same gods as the Americans (money, consumption and sex prime among them) and the Americans will keep fighting them until they feel they have changed that. Unlike the Romans in Judaea, though, they haven't fixed the water. Would Bush be so glad to be cast as Titus as he is as Eisenhower or Truman?

Well, of course, he hasn't the faintest idea who Titus is, but if he did, he'd know that Titus also believed his cause was just, and his cause was nothing more noble than the enrichment and glorification of Rome.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Webs we weave

Reading a comment from PJ just now, I felt powerless and unmanned (you have to be a man, I think, to know how unbearable that feels).

I am reminded that the people I know through the interwebnet are real -- feel real to me, I mean -- and can touch me. They can be just as real as those I know in the meat, sometimes more so, because we don't have to lie to one another (you know what I mean, we don't have to make excuses about how we can't make Saturday night because we're washing the car... or how we'd love to come to dinner but the kid has a cough). If we don't want to talk, we can leave it till later.

We can choose one another. That's what it's about for me.

PJ is a wonderful woman. Anyone who has interacted with her knows that. Her foremost characteristic is her desire to make others laugh. That is a damned good trait in a person. A man has scared her enough to rob her of the enjoyment she had -- and brought to us -- on the interwebnet. He has done the worst thing you can do here -- he has breached her persona and intruded in her self, the passwords, files and details that make us safe. More importantly, he poses a threat to her IRL.

We all meet ugly people. Sometimes they are wolves in sheep's clothing and they charm us. There's no shame in being taken in by someone who is trying to deceive you. (If only people on the Uselessnet could learn that lesson!) But sooner or later the teeth will show.

In interwebnet terms I am a fairly powerful character. In a medium where capability in writing is an enormous plus, I make a good specimen. It is easy to be fearless, bold, when you have the tools for it.

But I cannot do a thing for PJ. Except to tell her that I miss her blog, even if it sucks donkey cock, and her witless blather from misc.writing, but I would not miss that guy, not one piece, not one iota, not a jot, a tittle, a speck, an atom, if he were never to cast his wolf's shadow over her life -- and that small part of her life that I am -- again.


Sitting in the dead of night, a time I love. I can hear Mrs Zen sleeping above me and if I listen very carefully, I am sure I can hear the soft breathing of Zenella. She had a late night, another phase – they come and go with the tides. She is a beautiful child. It is gratifying that she looks like me – and I cannot deny that shot of pride that any father has who has a goodlooking child. I love her so much. I wonder whether I can possibly love three as much as I do one, or whether the twins will live in her shade. It is not what I want, but who can rule the human heart?

Am I a good father? I don’t often stop to think. I’m so busy now being the good husband, the cook, the cleaner, the breadwinner. I feel I am a good man. I make mistakes. Sometimes they are so painful I don’t know how I can wipe them away. But there are always new days, new chances. Even when you feel you are out of them, shot down, broken-winged, even then, you find you can walk where you can’t fly, crawl where you can’t walk. Even when I do not feel I have anything to offer the world, I find I have grit.

I have love. I know I have enough for more than one. It is just the fear of another burden that tempts me to believe I don’t. Of course you cannot know if others are feeling loved. I know that I am not good at being the other, feeling how they feel. I am not even good at knowing what I would feel if I were them. When people do not write me or phone, who I thought might write or phone, I feel hurt, but it doesn’t occur to me that I might hurt them the same way. I suppose I simply assume that I cannot be valued enough to hurt anyone.

Zenella is shy. She is aloof and doesn’t readily join in. She doesn’t feel she has to. Some small children will say hello when you enter a room. Zenella won’t. She won’t say anything she doesn’t feel needs saying. Not that she can’t talk. She can talk. But she chooses when and what. Sometimes she will kiss everyone goodnight but she would not kiss my parents goodbye when we caught the plane. When do they learn to know what is supposed to be important, when they are supposed to care? Is there a day that comes when they stop choosing when to talk and who to talk to and start to be the automata we are all inclined to be.

Zenella is fragile as the butterflies she loves and rock solid, all at the same time.

You are what you eat... moo...

Eating is a pleasure in Brisbane. If you like steak.

I am still reeling from the experience of the "hearty" vegetable soup in IKEA. Now, your definition of "hearty" might differ from mine, but I doubt there's any way it includes chicken. Not just chicken bouillon (which is no surprise -- even carrot soup is made on chicken bouillon), chunks of chicken.

The concept of vegetarianism has not taken root very widely here. No one would make vegetable soup with chicken in London. Mind you, if this was London, it would be pissing down and I'd be hawking up black spit, so don't think I'm complaining. But this is a place where potato salad comes with ham and Pizza Hut warns you that although they take care, your veggie supreme pizza might come with pieces of meat.

What the fuck? How little care is that?

But the steaks are good, Mrs Zen says. They are worldbeaters, the cows fed on grass because there's plenty of it, green grass making sweet steak. But no Quorn, much to her chagrin (because now we eat tofu more often than a Chinaman). What can you do with a country that can grow cows but finds fungus hard to master?

I try not to care too much about what goes into my food. You can go crazy with it. One of my sisters is a hardcore veggie, she won't touch biscuits that she suspects were made with animal fat (I just don't read the label) and she wears vegetarian shoes. Vegetarian shoes! Man! This side of nuclear winter, I'm not even planning to eat any shoes.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

PC blues

Breaking things is a learning process. For me, it's the only way I learn about anything technical. This is because I don't care how things work, so long as they work. It's only when they stop working that I take an interest. It's a foolish way to approach the world, and if I had time to think about it, I would berate myself fiercely for my shortsightedness.
My stuff arrived from the UK. I dug out my PC -- my single most valuable piece of equipment, the tool of my work, the source of at least half of my fun (three-quarters now that I have sex less often than the Pope) -- and fired it up. Literally. Somehow in transit the heatsink and fan had come loose. First I knew about it was the smell of burning.
I'm no PC expert but I know nothing is supposed to burn. I looked inside the case and saw that the fan was off. I picked the chip out of its slot and could see it was ruined. A new chip didn't fix the problem (in fact, I'm sorry to say I burned it out too -- I didn't know how the heatsink was supposed to be fixed). So the mobo was buggered. I called a guy.
Actually, I called several guys. I wanted someone to put in a new mobo and make sure it worked. The first guy said he wanted 450 dollars. I worked it out -- 170, 180 for the chip and mobo, 270, 280 for the labour -- and said maybe I'd call him back. The next guy said he might need to back up the hard drive, blah de blah. No, I said, the hard drive is fine. It's the mobo is fucked. He wouldn't have any of it. It could be the power supply, he said. There's power, I said. The fan goes round. The lights come on. I'm the expert, he said, 20 years in the trade. I began to have an inkling.
The next guy thought it might be the RAM. There was burning, I said. I really think the mobo burnt out. No, he said, I reckon you'll need new RAM. In my 25 years in the business, it's been RAM more often than not. My inkling grew.
I bought a new mobo and fitted it myself. It's not rocket science -- you just follow the manual. You keep yourself earthed by touching the case and you take care not to bend it.
But it still didn't work. I had the idea it might be my display card. The manual had cautioned about using ones that didn't work. The guy in the shop had said it would be okay.
So I get another guy. I think it's the display card, I said. I think it's the hard drive, he says. I say that the manual says it will boot without a hard drive, so how can it be?
This guy pokes around at the mobo. He checks the hard drive. It's fine. My inkling is growing. He claims the IDE channel is fucked, because the pins are a bit bent. He's been giving the slot a bit of hammer, so I reckon he might have bent it himself.
Did you bring a display card? I ask him.
No, he says. My testbed has onboard video.
He looks at the manual. It says here, he says, that you need this and that kind of card. That could be the problem. Take it to the shop and get the guy to test it.
I just paid you 50 bucks to test it, I'm thinking, but I don't say anything. I show the guy the door. My inkling has blossomed into a realisation. If I want a guy to fix my PC, I'm getting a teenager. These guys with 20 years' experience don't have the least fucking clue how a PC works, let alone how to fix it. They got into computers when it was straightforward, when each was a straight clone of an IBM, before the enormous diversification that has made computers almost entirely incompatible not just with each other but with nearly everything you try to put into them. Each runs through a checklist of the obvious, which I can work out for myself. I've been looking for an expert but found no one with any more expertise than I have myself.