I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Naughty chickens

Something there is about a chicken that wants to climb high into a tree at dusk. That's all well and good;  but the danger for chickens is early morning, when the foxes come out for breakfast.

Tonight at dusk I left the party, changed my shoes and drove up to Ceres. By the time I got there it was pretty much pitch black, and the chickens were lined up quietly on their perches in their shed. I counted them, but came up two short, and I remembered that this morning I had found two black ones outside that had eluded capture the night before (the group is on a fortnightly roster). Determinedly, I went outside with my little torch and started scouring the runs, to no avail. Finally I saw two black chickens high up in the quince tree. By climbing a couple of feet into the tree, I could just about reach them with the end of the rake, but no amount of poking or prodding (in the dark, clutching my little torch, trying to keep my balance, trying not to poke my eyes out on the tree, trying not to wreck my clothes, trying not to hurt the chickens) would budge them. I then tried giving the branch a vigorous shake, but from underneath I could just see their little feet curling tightly around the branch. Finally — it's pretty much pitch black, remember — I had to climb up over bags of mulch, onto the wooden supports of the flimsy wire fence between the two runs. Standing five feet off the ground, propping myself against a quince tree in the dark, I had to reach into the tree and grab the two chickens, one at a time, then precariously lower myself down so I could drop them onto the ground. And then I had to jump down off the fence and run around to the gate into the other run so I could chase them inside before they took it into their heads to fly up into the tree again.

All this time I had an image of how funny it all was — except that I wasn't so much laughing as swearing. The funniest thing though was when I finally picked them up to put them inside, they both set up such a dreadful complaining squark. They really didn't want to go inside; they really didn't see why they couldn't stay up in the tree; they'd been all right the night before, so what was my problem? And then when I put them inside, all the other hens woke up and squarked about being disturbed. Not sure I'm spelling 'squarked' correctly: but I kind of like the look of its awkward q and k there.

I was very glad to get back to the party, I can tell you. Our boys had played beautifully for Peter's guests: Joel set the keyboard to the marimbah sound effect, and it blended perfectly with electric bass and drums. After most of the guests had gone, the band and its parents dined on a perfect pea and ham soup and orange and almond cake, and then the boys played again. As parents, we are simply in awe of our talented children. We are of a generation that learned to play music, but learned to play set pieces from scores. These kids experiment and improvise, and take the beat from each other, and watch each other to produce perfect, irregular rhythms together. Now that Joel's wrist is out of plaster and is gradually  becoming more mobile, the drummer, naturally, has a thumb in plaster; and was holding the brush between the second and third finger of his hand.  The poor boy had a blister developing on the inside of one finger from this unaccustomed use. But they weren't going to stop the music...

Cockatoos, creek, work

What with going to the gym these days, and gadding about in Europe, and then being sick, and finishing up a big semester, I've not spent much time along the Merri Creek the last few months. So for how long have there been black cockatoos there? I went for a walk on Friday afternoon, and at first thought there was a murder of crows in the tree on the opposite bank, but then I saw a flash of yellow. (And as I realise, the Australian ravens tend to go about in pairs, as I know from seeing them perching on the top of the huge Norfolk pine two houses down.)  Anyway, I think they were yellow-tailed black cockatoos. There were about a dozen of them, moving from tree to tree, hanging upside down and generally ... creating (scroll down this page and click to hear their call). And I've just seen a few more this morning when I rode up to let the chickens out at Ceres.

This creek is full of surprises. I've been living on its banks for sixteen years, as its vegetation has been improved and refined, and de-Europeanised. I hated it when they cut down the willow trees (J used to sing at them in his pram when we would walk along), but since then I've probably seen more birds; and apparently the willows were dreadful for erosion of the banks.

Normally P does the fortnightly morning run to Ceres, but once I'd got out of bed it was pleasant enough riding along the creek. And now I'm back at my desk, it's good to think of those cockatoos busily working their way through the trees along the water.

Now that teaching is over, and now that I have the all-clear from my editor to do the final revisions of my book (and write the last chapter) more or less as I see fit, I'm preparing to fire up the cylinders for a final onslaught. I have to hold all the ideas in my head at the same time, to ensure the balance and sequencing of the argument is right. I had a quick read through the other day. Having a few months' break from it was good (try telling that to the ARC!), and overall it's not looking too bad. Let's see how much I can get done before I leave for Siena in July.

Today will be a pleasant clean-up day: washing, ironing, running Joel to band rehearsal, sweeping up piles of bright yellow leaves from the garden, catching up on email, then the afternoon at a friend's retrospective art exhibition where J, the drummer (the artist's son) and the bassist will play, then a dusk trip up to Ceres to put the chickens away. Then tomorrow? Chapter Seven:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Two good talks

A busy night next Wednesday. First there is this seminar by one of our outstanding graduate students:

School of Culture and Communication Seminar

Wednesday 26, Lecture Theatre C, Old Arts, 4.30-6pm

David McInnis

(University of Melbourne, English)

“Lost Plays, 1580-1642”

Our picture of the English Renaissance theatre (c.1580-1642) has been shaped exclusively by the plays that were printed and have survived, but more than 550 plays have been lost, or exist only in manuscript fragments. Our conception of the Renaissance theatre is, therefore, a partially distorted one. This seminar will provide an introduction to a new, collaborative digital humanities project designed to address this problem: the Lost Plays Database. Edited by David McInnis and Roslyn L. Knutson, and hosted by the University of Melbourne, the LPD is a wiki-style forum for scholars to share information about lost plays in England. It provides a wealth of data for early modern scholars interested in repertory studies, the history of playhouses and playing companies, Renaissance audiences, and playwrights of Shakespeare’s day, and promotes an innovative alignment of technology and scholarly aims.

David McInnis is a PhD candidate in the English program at the University of Melbourne, where his thesis examines vicarious travel and the early modern English stage. His work has been published in such journals as Parergon, Notes & Queries, Ariel and Early Modern Literary Studies, and (with Brett D. Hirsch) he has recently co-edited a special issue of EMLS on the theme ‘Embodying Shakespeare’. He is currently co-editing a book on ‘Refashioning Myth’ for Cambridge Scholars Press, and has just been awarded a short-term Fellowship at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC to pursue research on lost plays.

and then later that same evening, I'm off to a lecture for the Heraldry Society. I'm thinking of doing some work on Australian university coats of arms, but Stephen is the real expert here:

Stephen Michael Szabo will present a lecture titled "It's Academic: The Heraldry of Australian Universities and Colleges". Based on research done during 2006 (The Year of Academic Heraldry) and since, this will be an overview of arms, both granted and assumed, of many of Australia's universities and some of their associated colleges. Details are:

Date: Wednesday 26 May 2010

Time: Doors open at 6:00pm for 6:30pm start

Meeting Room
Balwyn Library
336 Whitehorse Rd

Light refreshments will be available and a gold coin donation to assist with costs would be greatly appreciated. Please telephone 0431 701 055 or send e-mail to secretary@heraldryaustralia.org to advise if you will be attending.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Two good stories

Home on Tuesday morning after fabulous conference in Berlin. The whole trip was rushed, but went smoothly enough, even down to the last minute escape from Heathrow on Sunday night before the airport was closed for six hours due to the volcanic ash cloud — they practically frogmarched us on to the plane to ensure an early push-back.

I'll blog the conference (and the surprise arrival of three Australians), and perhaps my paper, another time. I'm just waking up, late Friday afternoon, from two days asleep in bed with a horror cold (the price of international travel, perhaps). Am I well enough for Italian class tomorrow? Fingers crossed.

But it was a trip marred by my own forgetfulness. I left my ipod in the plane on the way to London (knowing that P had bought me a fancy i-pod dock with fabulous speakers that was waiting for me at home); I left my glasses at my sister's place when I went to stay in Bloomsbury for a night; I left my contact lens solution there when I went to Berlin (and had to beg some solution from another delegate as we were out in the suburbs on a public holiday...); and worst of all, when I got home, I couldn't find the little zip-up purse with a selection of favourite jewellery I'd taken with me. I know it's not a very practical vanity, to travel with precious items like this, but they are mostly gifts from P, as well as lovely in themselves, and I do enjoy very much having a small selection of coloured stones and shiny metals when I'm travelling and homesick. There's something so personal about jewellery: a connection to home, somehow. Anyway, an hour after I'd declared the loss at home, I went and checked again through every compartment of my travel bag, and there it was, with everything safe and sound. What a great relief.

Another great relief has come in the form of an email from my editor. We had had a bit of toing and froing about the two reports on the six chapters I'd sent. Both reports were generally favourable but both made lots of suggestions about doing things differently; but the Board has now agreed unanimously to contract the book; and they have said specifically that I should be given free rein to write the book as I choose. One of the board members said the only problem was the readers' reports; and that my ms. was elegant, independent, readable and insightful. Now that's more like it! I will take some of the recommendations and suggestions seriously, of course, but it's a wonderful feeling to know that the board as a whole likes the way I put the book together.

Semester ends in a week's time; I'll see how much I can do before I leave for Siena in July. I'm currently making some very sensible resolutions about trying to travel more lightly — and more efficiently.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Day Before Leaving

... is always pretty bad. I realise I haven't written the essay questions for my students; my paper is too long and has no conclusion; I can't decide what combination of shoes and coats to pack for London and Berlin; suddenly there's an enormous pile of laundry to do; and there's no bread or milk in the house. I'm doing it all on my own, too, as P and J have gone off to Sri Lanka for a father-son-bonding-research-trip. Nor have I started my homework — i miei compiti — for tomorrow's Italian class, but I'm determined to go, as I'll miss the following one as well. Tomorrow, then, I'll wake up with a brilliant conclusion to my paper; then change the sheets and clean the house for the family members who will be here to minister to the cat and the fish (lucky we didn't go with the long-necked turtles and tree frogs that captured our hearts on the last visit to the aquarium) while we're away. I'll then nip into class, pick up my watch with its new battery, ride home, then call the taxi for the airport. But what will I read on the plane? Malory, Tennyson and Chaucer for the week's classes when I return. Or perhaps a novel...

I did the essay questions, but still have some reports to read and write while I'm away. Grr.

Right now I'm going to pack. Frankly, I'd be glad to hear the volcano has stopped travel again. But once I get going, I'll be okay, I suppose.