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June 15th, 2014

04:34 pm - Weekend musings
A good weekend for:

1. Writing success. My story was shortlisted in this month’s Writing Magazine. The theme was “Comeuppance”. I had a good feeling about this story, and was pleased to have cracked the top ten.

2. Buying cars. Yes, after thirteen years, I’m trading in my little Barina. It’s been great, and thanks for the memories. But yesterday I found my new car – a shiny Peugeot 208.

3. Selling cars. Craig got an offer for his 1989 Nissan Skyline.

4. Lemons. Our tree is dripping with ripe yellow orbs. I’m baking lemon and sour cream cupcakes as I type this.

5. Group Rankings. Sure, Australia went down 3-1 to Chile. But right now, we are above Spain in the Group B rankings!!!

A bad weekend for:

1. Sampling Harry Potter themed beer. The Wig and Pen has a low alcohol beer called “The Three Broomsticks”. Gave it a try on Friday night, when having a drink with colleagues. Too bland, sadly.

2. Pizza delivery. Took two hours for Dominos to deliver our food on Friday night. We called up, only to find the pizzas were still in the oven. And worse, they’d completely run out of soft drink! How does that happen? They gave us a couple of cheesy bread sticks to compensate, but only after we’d asked for something to recompense the lack of drinks.

3. Weather. Persisting rain all of Friday night and Saturday. Mini hail storm on Saturday afternoon. Watery sunlight and chilly breeze today.

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May 18th, 2014

05:59 pm - Book review - "The White Peacock"
“The White Peacock”, published in 1911, is the first novel of D.H. Lawrence. ‘The usual way of constructing a novel,’ the young Lawrence remarked at the time, ‘is to take two couples and to work out their relationship.’ Lawrence certainly achieves this in his novel, through deft description and piercing characterisation.

The novel follows a group of young friends living in the English midlands. The narrator is middle-class Cyril Beardsall, who lives with his mother and sister Lettie in Woodside cottage. Cyril’s best friend is working-class George Saxton, who lives on the neighbouring farm with his sister Emily. Then there is Leslie Tempest, son of the local mine owner, who is courting Lettie.

“The White Peacock” is divided into three parts. The first two parts take place over several months, and follow the growing attraction between George and Lettie. The third part describes, in a series of episodes, how the characters change and suffer over the next decade or so, after they marry. It is not giving too much away to say that Lettie settles for a comfortable life with Leslie, and George – lost and miserable – marries barmaid Meg, who proves to be a wholly unsuitable spouse for him. Marriage and disillusionment are major themes in this novel, as is class difference.

In this sense, I found Lawrence’s novel to be almost a prototype of “The Great Gatsby”. The peripheral, detached narrator. His flawed best friend from humble origins, who falls in love with the narrator’s flighty female relative. The wealthy husband/suitor, whom the female protagonist eventually chooses. And the tragic ending which befalls the lover.

However, unlike Fitzgerald’s brazen tale of the Jazz Age, “The White Peacock” is a quiet novel. And Lawrence’s George Saxton is more akin to Frank Wheeler from “Revolutionary Road” than Jay Gatsby. Lawrence paints a fine word portrait of a young man who is both ambitious and timid; brash and cautious.

Both the main strength of “The White Peacock” is the description of the countryside and changing seasons. Here is one example:

“Against the wall the globed crimson plums hung close together, and dropped occasionally with a satisfied plunge into the rhubarb leaves. The crop of oats was very heavy. The stalks of corn were like strong reeds of bamboo; the heads of gold swept heavily over like tresses weighted with drops of gold.”

Alas, these descriptions are also a weakness, due to their sheer volume. The young Lawrence over-eggs the pudding, resulting in all the constant descriptions of nature – while lovely – becoming tedious.

But the novel’s main weakness is that, quite simply, the device of first person narrator doesn’t work. There are many scenes detailing intimate conversations between Lettie and George, or Lettie and Leslie, where Cyril is not actually in the vicinity. This makes the reader wonder how Cyril could possibly have overheard them. As Cyril has little to do in the story, a better option might have been to scrap his character altogether and write the story in third person. Or – as Nick Carraway does a few times in “The Great Gatsby” – have Cyril imagine the conversations that might have taken place.

While “The White Peacock” might seem slow to a modern reader, there are plenty of biting observations that some might say hold true today. Here is Lawrence, describing the older Lettie’s interest in her children to the exclusion of all else:

“This peculiar abnegation of self is the resource of a woman for the escaping of the responsibilities of her own development… Service is light and easy. To be responsible for the good progress of one’s life is terrifying. It is the most insufferable form of loneliness and, and the heaviest of responsibilities.”

Ouch. And further on the subject of motherhood and marriage:

“Meg was quite indifferent. She listened occasionally, but her position as a mother made her impregnable. She sat eating calmly, looking down now and again at her baby, holding us in slight scorn, babblers that we were. She was secure in her high maternity; she was mistress and sole authority. George, as father, was first servant; as an indifferent father, she humiliated him and was hostile to his wishes.”

Yet Lawrence also has a sense of humour. Here are the young friends, having tea at the Saxtons’. Leslie asks George:

“’Do you play tennis, Mr Saxton? – I know Miss Saxton does not.’
‘No,’ said George, working the piece of cheese into his cheek. ‘I never learned any ladies’ accomplishments.’”

“The White Peacock” is in parts brilliant and flawed. Recommended, if you enjoy a slow, insightful read.

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March 23rd, 2014

05:41 pm - More than a game? Or more than Victoria?
Autumn is here. Footy is back. This weekend is the second half of the first (split) round of the Australian Football League (AFL). For the next six months, 18 teams will compete in the competition. Ten from Victoria. Two each from Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, and Queensland. As can be seen from these figures, the AFL continues to be dominated by Victorian teams. Even when accounting for Victoria’s larger population (as compared to WA and SA, anyway), this is still a disproportionate number of teams.

But what if this wasn’t the case?

Some quick Fun Footy Facts for my non-Australian readers (and possibly some readers from New South Wales and Queensland):

- The two main codes of football followed in Australia are AFL* and Rugby League. These codes are basically divided along state lines, with Rugby League being the main code in New South Wales and Queensland; and AFL being the football code of choice in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania.

- Until the 1980s, each AFL state had its own state-based football league. All were founded in the late 19th century, starting with the South Australian National Football League (SANFL) in 1877, the Tasmanian Football League (TFL) in 1879, the Western Australian Football League (WAFL) in 1885, and the Victorian Football League (VFL) in 1897.

- By the 1980s, the VFL, despite being the “baby” of all the leagues, played the highest standard of football, due mostly to its larger population and better financial resources.

- The VFL turned pro in the 1980s and 1990s, changing its name to the Australian Football League, and admitting teams from other states. (South Melbourne was also relocated to Sydney in 1982 to become the Sydney Swans, and in 1996, the Melbourne-based Fitzroy Lions relocated to Queensland to merge with the Brisbane Bears, forming the Brisbane Lions). The VFL changed its name to the Australian Football League in 1991.

- In the last couple of years, two additional teams from the Gold Coast and Western Sydney respectively, have also been admitted.

The result of having the AFL spawned from the VFL, is that the leagues in WA and SA have declined. Wikipedia indicates that the average attendance at a SANFL match today hovers around the 3000 mark – a far cry from when matches in the 1970s or 80s might attract around 25,000. In addition, much of the footballing history of WA and SA is lost. Most books and articles on AFL which cover the pre-1991 history of the AFL will focus on the VFL, and ignore the history of the WA and SA leagues**.

Remarkably, nearly all of the foundation clubs of the VFL still play in the AFL. To put it in perspective, this would be the equivalent of the original small-town/city clubs such as the Akron Pros, or the Dayton Triangles, still playing in America’s NFL today.

What’s done is done – if the national competition had to have been derived from any of the state-based leagues, it would have been the VFL, as the strongest competition. But it’s nice to think about what could have been.

Take soccer***. In Britain, soccer teams move up and down divisions, according to their performance in the previous season. For example, the bottom two or three teams in the Premier League are relegated to the next tier down (the Football League Championship), whereas the top two or three teams in the Football League Champion get promoted to the Premier League the following season.

Could this have been done in Australia? Could all the state-based teams have merged into the one big system, with the top few teams forming a premier league? Imagine a Grand Final, where Glenelg plays Collingwood, or South Fremantle takes on Hawthorn!

However, I believe this wouldn’t have worked in Australia, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, with Victoria having the numbers and finances, a premier league would have quickly become dominated with Victorian teams anyway (although the traditionally weaker teams such as St Kilda, Footscray, and Richmond would have languished in the lower divisions) with a few of the stronger teams from WA, SA thrown in for good measure. This has already happened a bit in Britain, where the same few teams – Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, etc – dominate the Premier League.

Secondly, Australia’s geographical size presents another drawback. Whereas the lower division teams in Britain can travel around that small island relatively easily, Australia’s size makes this less feasible. There’s no way a team like Peel Thunder would have the financial resources to fly to the eastern states every fortnight. , the lower tiers would have to fly great distances

What about American football? Wikipedia tells me the NFL has 32 teams playing in two conferences (the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference). Each conference is further divided into four regions – north, south, east and west. Eight teams (four in each conference) play in a region. Teams play most of their games against other teams from the same region. Then the winners of each region/conference, and four wild card teams make the play-offs.

I believe the NFL system would work better for Australia. Obviously, we only need the one conferences, due to Australia’s smaller population. But the competition could be divided up into west (WA), south (SA), east (Victoria and Tasmania) and north (NSW, Queensland). Or you could simply have two regions. North-west (WA, SA and Queensland) and south-east (Victoria, Tasmania and NSW) or however you want to divide it. The top ranked teams from each region would compete in the finals.

Playing most games in the same region would solve much of the travel issue (currently the two teams from WA are at a disadvantage, as they have to fly east for at least ten “away” games. In comparison, a Victorian team might only need to fly four or five times). And because scheduling for the following year is based on the rankings in each region from the previous season, the invariable annual debates over the “fairness” of game schedules would be resolved.

Most importantly, it would ensure a fairer representation of teams across the country, to make it a truly national competition.

*The proper name for this code of football is “Australian Rules Football”, but it has come to be known as “AFL”.

**A similar thing has happened with Rugby League, where the local New South Wales competition has expanded into the national competition, to the detriment of the local Queensland league.

*** Yes, I know it’s technically “football”, but this is Australia, and we call it “soccer”!

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March 10th, 2014

04:58 pm - Book review – “Over The Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon”.
Last October in the USA, Craig and I spent a day at the Grand Canyon National Park. We rode the shuttle buses around the South Rim, took a plethora of photographs, saw a chipmunk, an elk and a condor, and hiked part of the South Rim trail. Interesting thing about the Grand Canyon: the only safety rails you’ll see are at the main lookouts. Despite America’s reputation as a litigation-happy, safety-first country, most of the Canyon is unfenced.

‘How many people die at the Grand Canyon each year?’ is a question often asked by visitors, according to Michael P Ghiglieri and Thomas M Myers, co-authors of the book: “Over The Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon”. In this gripping and sobering book, Ghiglieri and Myers recount the ways in which people have died, or come close to death, at the Grand Canyon.

Of all America’s national parks, Grand Canyon holds the record for the most fatalities. In the past one hundred and fifty odd years, nearly 700 people have died in or around the canyon. “Over The Edge” devotes each chapter to a certain category of fatality, including: falls from the rim; drowning (the Colorado River flows along the bottom of the canyon); aircraft crashes (including the tragic 1956 crash between a TAA plane and a Delta plane which killed a total of 128 people; deaths caused by animals and plants; and murder.

The book is stuffed with fascinating tales. Consider newlyweds Bessie and Glen Hyde, who in 1928 decided to spend their honeymoon attempting to become the first man and woman team to run the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. In a homemade boat. Without life jackets. The ambitious Hydes decided this trip would be their ticket to a lucrative life, giving lectures and writing a book on their adventure. Sadly, the young couple disappeared four weeks after they set off. Their scow, containing all their possessions, was discovered several days later. But despite a search financed by Rollin C Hyde, Glen’s wealthy rancher father, Bessie and Glen were never seen again. Or take the 1992 manhunt for Danny Ray Horning, a bank robber and child molester. Horning attempted to take a family hostage, before eluding police. For the next five days, hundreds of law enforcement personnel swarmed the Grand Canyon. Yet Horning managed to change his appearance, and take another couple hostage, before finally being captured.

Some of the most personal and harrowing stories are found in Chapter 3 – “Environmental Deaths”. Each summer, many unprepared hikers get lost, and risk perishing from heatstroke or dehydration. For me, the most heart-breaking story was that of 24 year old Margaret Bradley. In 2004, with her companion “Ryan”, she attempted to hike a 27 mile trail. The pair failed to take an adequate amount of water. Halfway down the trail, Ryan collapsed from exhaustion. Margaret pushed on ahead to get help, only to lose the trail and become hopelessly lost. Ryan was discovered the next morning by an NPS ranger who assisted him back up to the top, and gave him a lift home to Flagstaff. Ryan did not inform the ranger (or indeed, any other authorities) that he had been travelling with Margaret, or that she might be in trouble. As a result, a search was not launched until the following day, when Margaret’s family reported her missing. Tragically, her body was discovered in a pitfall 500 feet above the river, only hours too late. Ghiglieri and Myers stop short of blaming Ryan for this tragedy, merely stating that Ryan felt “an enormous amount of responsibility for Margaret’s death”. Today, there are signs at the Grand Canyon with Margaret’s picture, warning hikers of the dangers of dehydration.

A point that is made repeatedly throughout the book, is that many of these deaths are entirely preventable. None more so than falls from the rim. Incredibly, most falls are the result of human behaviour such as skylarking, urinating off the edge, and “backing up” for photos.

However, “Over The Edge” is not a morbid expose on deaths, nor is it a condemnation of human stupidity (although the authors’ somewhat dismissive comments about the ‘selfishness’ of suicide victims sit a little uncomfortably). Ghiglieri and Myers also cover much of the Canyon’s history, as well as outlining ways in which fatalities can be prevented in future.

“Over The Edge” is well researched and comprehensive. The authors have utilised NPS reports, old newspaper articles, and books; and have conducted many eyewitness interviews with eyewitnesses. The book is dense, yet readable, although some of the descriptions may raise one’s eyebrow. (“She went over the falls like a piece of limp spaghetti!” is one quote from an eyewitness.) “Over The Edge” should be essential reading for anyone planning to visit the Grand Canyon. It is also highly recommended for people who are interested in topics such as American history, wilderness survival, and aviation disasters.

As dusk fell on our day at Grand Canyon, Craig and I caught the Orange Shuttle to one of the lookouts to photograph the sunset. There we saw a group of Asian tourists in their twenties. One young man was standing on a rock jutting over the edge. His friends cheered and laughed as they snapped photos of him balancing on one leg and pulling crazy poses. But if he’d lost his balance, even for one second, he could well have joined the list of tragic, yet preventable, fatalities that occur all too frequently at the Grand Canyon.

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March 1st, 2014

07:25 pm - 2014 Summer Wrap
Hello, readers. I’ve been MIA these last few weeks, so this is going to be another “recap” entry. Here’s what I’ve been doing since I wrote last.

Watching the Australian Open and the Winter Olympics

January is a good month. Many people are still on holidays, so the traffic’s not as heavy when you drive to work. When you get home, it’s still light and warm, so you can garden, or sit outside. It’s the season for prawns, mangoes, and barbecues. It’s also the time of year when you get to watch the world’s best tennis players dance, slog, and drip* all over your screen.

And this year, February is a good month too. In addition to it being my birthday month (see below) it’s also the month for the Sochi Winter Olympics. Up for watching the aerial skiing? The snowboard half pipe? The bizarre “sport” of Curling? Don’t mind if I do!

Having a birthday

Fell on a Sunday this year, so I didn’t have to spend it at work. Had a barbecue (with skewered prawns, and mango salad – seems like February is the season for them too) the day before, and several friends came over, which was great, especially given they braved 39 degree heat. Scored a set of kitchen knives from Craig (which assisted me in deveining the said prawns, and chopping up the said mango for the salad), perfume from my folks, a novel from my brother (“The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared”), some teas from T2 from E- and P-, and some nice cards).

Only catch was, while I didn’t have to go to work on my actual birthday, I did spend a fair chunk of it cleaning up – collecting bottles, emptying the punch fountain, washing the salad bowls. And it was still very hot so we didn’t go out. On the plus side, there were plenty of leftovers, both of the solid and liquid variety.

Learning new words from Thomas Keneally

Every year, our department gives out Australia Day Awards to members of staff who are deemed to have done well. There is also a guest speaker at the awards ceremony. This year the guest speaker was the author Thomas Keneally. Afterwards, we had the opportunity to get our books signed by him (that is, books that he’s written).

So, of course, I took “American Scoundrel”.

“Ah, this is one of my favourites!” Mr Keneally said when I presented it to him. This is what he wrote in my book:

“To Eugenie, enjoy this tale of chicanery and grief. Thomas Keneally, 2013**.”

I didn’t know what “chicanery” meant*, and I didn’t want to make a prat of myself by asking Mr Keneally there and then. But I Googled the word when I got back to my desk. It means “the use of deception or subterfuge to achieve one’s purpose.” Very fitting for the story of General Dan Sickles.

Being totally vain with my hair

A couple of weeks ago, I got the best haircut of my life. No kidding. Went to a new-ish salon at the Hyperdome. The hairdresser told me that he’d had previous experience cutting curly hair***, which sounded promising. He gave me a shampoo and cut, then suggested giving my hair a wave. This involved blow-drying it – and I was a little apprehensive about this part, because it made me look like a pale, female version of Redfoo from LMFAO. But then he got to work with the hot tongs and I ended up with a sleek and straight ‘do.

Hot DAY-amm, it felt good, and looked even better, and for the next week I couldn’t stop checking out my reflection in every window and reflective surface I passed. And Craig, my co-workers, and people on Facebook**** were all like "You've straightened your hair!!!"

This lasted for a whole week, until I washed my hair, whereupon it sprang back into curls once more. But, like a junkie chasing that first high, I wasn’t going to give up easily. I bought a blow-dryer and straightening tongs, and tried to replicate the hairdo at home. It wasn’t that great – while somewhat straight, it was quite dry and bushy. So I then bought a stiff round brush, and a little spray can of heat protectant for hair. My second attempt was much better (although it still wasn’t quite as sleek as how the hairdresser got it). I’ll be “going straight” more often, I think.

Reading and Writing

Have recently read “The Three Musketeers” and “The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared” (the latter being a rather quaintly humorous novel in the vein of “Forrest Gump”). I’ve also written and submitted a couple of short stories for Writing Magazine competitions.

*Rafael Nadal is the sweatiest sportsperson I’ve ever seen.

** An easy mistake to make in the early weeks of the new year.

*** The hairdresser was American, and told me that more people in America have curly hair. Interestingly, he also reckoned that that could be partly explained by the fact that curly hair was more socially “accepted” (for want of a better word) in the USA, whereas in Australia curly-headed people tend to straighten their hair more.

**** Yes, I posted a pic.

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January 19th, 2014

10:22 pm - Summer Vacation Montage
“What is THIS? A Colecovision, huh? Never heard of it… Made in 1982 I see… You know, Craig, we talked about getting a Playstation 4, but this is something else… Yeah, I like it! Thank you for my Christmas present.”

Watch me chug complementary bottles of water with my brother as we kill time at the airport gate, waiting for our flight to Perth (delayed by more than three hours).

American Hustle is a great movie, cracking soundtrack, I’m really enjoying this, and – oh my goodness! What is Amy Adams wearing? She’s about to pop out any minute.

Watch me peel a bucket of potatoes for fifteen people on Christmas Day. In the kitchen, Dad carves the turkey, dropping tidbits to a waiting, drooling, Hugo.

“Mum, there’s still wine in that bottle... Yeah, I can see those other ones you’ve got are empty, but there’s still some left in that one… It’s more than just a little bit, it’s a quarter full… Yes, give it to me. Don’t waste it.”

“Happy Christmas, Craig. What’s your family doing? I can hear stuff happening in the background. Huh? You guys are playing on the Colecovision? But that’s meant to be MY present!”

Watch me bake and ice a stack of cupcakes for thirty people on Boxing Day. In the kitchen, Dad carves leftover turkey, dropping tidbits to a waiting, drooling, Hugo.

Watch me loll around baggy-eyed at Brisbane Airport at 6am, watching the big birds arrive and depart, killing time before my flight to Newcastle.

“Kidneys! I’ve got new kidneys.” Heh. I bet Peter Capaldi will be a great Doctor.

Watch me play Donkey Kong on my 1982 Colecovision. Jumping over those barrels and climbing those ladders. Just look out for that damn ape!

POC! POC! POC! POC! Craig’s mum and I are watching the tennis.

American Scoundrel is a great book, amazing biography of Dan Sickles – interesting character, being the first man acquitted of murder in America because of temporary insanity. Then becoming a Civil War General and having his leg blasted off. Thomas Keneally really brings him to life. Gee, it’s nice sitting on the steps, reading in the sun. Knees are getting a bit warm though.

Watch me play Mousetrap on my 1982 Colecovision. Flipping those red, blue and yellow doors, eating the pieces of cheese as I go through the maze. Just look out for those damn cats!

Oh god, my knees are killing me! Can’t believe how red they are.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Craig and I are watching the fireworks over the bay.

Watch me play Fishing Derby on my 1982 Colecovision. Dropping the line into the water. Trying to hook a fish. Just look out for that damn shark!

My knees are gonna peel badly.

“My bag’s ready, Craig. I’ve left it by the door. Have you packed the Colecovision?”

See our car pull into the driveway, back in Canberra. “Can’t believe the Christmas break’s over already.”

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November 23rd, 2013

07:48 pm - The Land of Opportunity
“Sometimes I think this is the best country in the world, and sometimes I think it’s the worst. And on the day they told me the shutdown was over and I had to come into work, I thought it was the worst.”

I’m on a shuttle bus, with Craig. We’re at the Grand Canyon, doing the Village Route. Two employees from one of the lodges – a young black guy, and an older white guy – are on the bus too. The young black guy is talking about the shutdown and how he was suffering from a horrible vodka hangover the day he was directed back to work.

It’s a cold, clear morning at the canyon. We’ve already taken some early morning photos from the lookout near the Visitors Center, and seen a chipmunk and several squirrels. Now we’re headed out to the west side of the South Rim. We’ve also been chatting to a middle aged lady with feathered earrings, who is a huge fan on the Grand Canyon.

“This is my third day at the Canyon. I live in central Ohio, and drove all the way out here! Yesterday I fell over on my butt – I was chasing after an elk.”

God bless America, and Americans. The two employees are still talking.

“Someone stole my pants, right out of the laundry,” the young black guy tells his co-worker. “If you see anyone walking around in size 28 pants, they’re mine.”

He dumps his backpack on the floors of the bus and rummages through it. “These clothes right here are all I have, man.”

We started off in Los Angeles. Stayed in Santa Monica, across the road from the pier. Drove past the beaches. Manhattan Beach. Hermosa Beach. Redondo Beach. Long Beach. Huntington Beach. Newport Beach. Saw the white houses set back among the hills. A slice of Spain. Then we turned east, into the desert. Stayed in Hemet. Palm Springs. Crossed the border into Arizona. Drove on Route 66. Wind farms. Souvenirs for sale. Dogs and Shakes for $2.99.

Later that day, we will take the red shuttle out to the west end, and the orange shuttle out to the east end. We will see mules and elks. Hikers. I will turn away from a group of crazy Asians in their twenties, posing on one leg on the cliff’s edge for photographs, spurred on by their giggling friends. Later, in the gift shop, I will but a book called “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon”. It turns out the Grand Canyon NPS suffers the most fatalities of any National Park in America, and many of those are due to people falling off the rims.

Later still, we will arrive in Las Vegas. My eyes will itch whenever I walk through the blaring, carpeted casino of the Luxor Hotel. A constant odour of cigarette smoke and old sweat and industrial carpet cleaner will hang in the air. We will watch our friends get married outside the Excalibur by a man in sneakers and a pork pie hat. And in two weeks’ time – although it will seem like two centuries – Craig will be back in Australia and I will be in New York, with my parents and aunt. “This would never work in Australia,” my mother will say each time we visit a restaurant and see people walk away leaving their money in the billfold on the table. “Back home, some smarty pants at the next table would grab the money and pocket it before the waitress arrived.”

We will watch my cousin run the New York marathon. See the Statue of Liberty in all her tarnished green glory. The Met. The Empire State Building. See chortling Spanish tourists fondle the balls of the bull statue outside Wall Street.

My parents and aunt will order tea with their breakfast every day, and gripe about the quality. I will drink my juice and check my phone for emails.

Now, we pull up at the Bright Angel Lodge stop. I play with my camera.

“You gonna be ok? You need anything?” the older, white guy asks his young, black co-worker.

The black guy stands, hefts his backpack. Comes close to a smile. “No man, I’m good. Thanks.”

He gets off the bus and lopes towards the cabins and disappears among the trees.

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October 7th, 2013

07:45 pm - Work, Winnings, and Downton
Thanks to the Machinery of Government changes, my section had to move offices last week. Odd expression “Machinery of Government”, isn’t it? Makes me picture a steam-roller or locomotive powered by public servants. What it really refers to is the organisational changes within the public service that usually occur after an election.

Our department is taking on staff from another department that’s being abolished. On Monday our team was informed that we were merging with the legal team from the soon-to-be-abolished department, and as such, we would be moving over to their building before the week’s end. Luckily, their building is located just across the road. However, it meant we had to pack up everything. Including The Library.

For an early 21st century in-house legal team at a mid-sized public service department, The Library was remarkably well stocked. Last year, we found some money in our usually non-existent budget and bought a heap of new legal textbooks. And we also decided to keep the old ones “just in case”. We also had many volumes of Commonwealth Law Reports and other hardback legal journals in our conference room. All we had to do was pack everything in boxes. Being public sector lawyers, it really was a case of “we” (the lawyers) doing it ourselves. Not to worry. Sounds like a good job for a graduate, right? Just as well I’m currently supervising a Grad, right? Put him to work, right? Nope. The Grad picked that week to come down with a horrible virus and was off sick. Our General Counsel was off too, with a dodgy back. And another lawyer was sick too, and another was down the coast on holidays, and another had to urgently prepare documents for a litigation matter and couldn’t help, and you get the picture, right? It was down to myself (assisted by a couple of the junior lawyers and our former office manager) to empty out The Library.

We ended up with 65 boxes of books.

Now we’re at the new building. Most books are still in boxes. My phone doesn’t work (despite repeated calls to IT). And the good news is, we get to do this all again in two to six weeks, as apparently this move is only temporary.

In other news, I’ve had a couple of wins lately. One came a couple of weeks ago, when I attended a trivia night to raise money for Boundless, a charity which builds playgrounds for disabled kids. Our table came first, and the prizes were pretty good. Not your usual chocolates or movie tickets or hampers full of teabags. Craig and I walked away with a matching set of a water jug, salad bowl, and serving tray.

My other win is a writing competition – the monthly short story competition run by the Writing Magazine. The theme for this one was “Separation” My story was about a man with a terminal illness who leaves his wife because he doesn’t want her to waste her life looking after him. Perhaps the subject matter evoked strong emotions in the judge? Or perhaps it was simply an interesting reason for a separation? Whatever the case, I now get 100 Great British Pounds, and my story published in the Writing Magazine later this year.

Craig recently bought Season Three of “The Walking Dead”, so we’ve been watching that. I was a bit worried that Season Three wouldn’t be as good, since my favourite character died at the end of Season Two. But luckily, it’s still the same thoughtful, addictive show.

I’ve also been catching up with “Downton Abbey”. Just watched Episode 8 of Season Three. Downton is a great series, but I find the plots a little inconsistent at times, and the characters’ problems wrapped up a little too neatly. Lady Mary and Matthew are having trouble conceiving an heir to Downton? Solution: Lady Mary has a mysterious “operation” that solves the issue! Downton is being broke? No worries. Matthew and Branson come up with a brilliant idea to buy the farms worked by the tenants or something. Never mind that Branson has turned from a young socialist firebrand into a Member of the Establishment. And here’s Lady Edith, discovering that her crush (the newspaper editor) is married, and going into a huge spiel about how she doesn’t date married men. She didn’t have a problem snogging that married farmer in Season Two. And here’s a new problem – Mr Married Editor’s wife is a lunatic, so he can’t divorce her (because she’s incapable of understanding or something) and thus properly court Lady Edith. What’s the bet that in Season Four they’ll conveniently solve that issue by killing off the lunatic wife, or having her miraculously regain her sanity?

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September 15th, 2013

09:57 pm - The Truth Was Out There
It’s a Wednesday night in an unspecified year of the mid 1990s. Just home from Debating. The boys team from Grammar beat us, and there were only plain biscuits in the common room afterwards, but at least Sister Mary didn’t bog the school bus getting out of the car park this time. Anyway, it’s all over now. Time to watch “The X Files”.

I turn on the TV and flick it over to Channel 10. Soon, I am absorbed in Mulder and Scully’s latest adventure. My parents come in and watch a few minutes, as they occasionally do. And as always, they have to comment.

“That guy’s got no chin,” grunts Dad, pointing at Mulder.

“It is a silly show,” says Mum. “And what sort of names are Scully and Mully?” Then, relenting: “But the theme song is catchy.”

“Shh!” I reply. “It’s Scully and Mulder. And the show is really, really good.”

And it was.

“The X Files” turns twenty this week. Twenty. The pilot aired (in the US) on 10 September 1993. It starred the then-relatively-unknowns David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as a pair of bright, fresh-faced FBI agents who investigate unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena. Within a couple of years, “The X Files” grew from a cult show into a global hit and turned Duchovny and Anderson into stars. It spawned nine seasons, two movies, several comic books, a short-lived spin-off (“The Lone Gunmen”), a Simpsons episode, and inspired many songs (go and look up Catatonia’s marvellous “Mulder and Scully” on YouTube).

As was the case in the pre-internet days, “The X Files” took a while longer to hit our shores, not airing in Australia until February 1994. I didn’t start watching it until midway through 1995, after listening to several friends at school rave about it. Happily, the very first episode I saw was Season Two’s “Humbug” – widely acknowledged these days as a fan favourite – in which Mulder and Scully investigate mysterious deaths at a freak show. I was hooked. From then on, every Wednesday night was X Files Night. Every Thursday at school would involve an intense discussion of the previous episode: How cool was the Monster of the Week? How gruesome was it when that guy got killed? How funny were Mulder’s wisecracks? And the big question – will Mulder and Scully ever get together?

Yes, a large chunk of the show’s popularity was down to the UST (that’s Unresolved Sexual Tension) between Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. This was a show where even a brief touch on a shoulder could spark much analysis. Yes, we were teenage girls; and yes, we drew pictures of David Duchovny on foolscap paper during quiet moments in class; and yes, we pored over TV Hits magazines with X Files articles inside. And speaking of magazines, who could forget the infamous Rolling Stone cover of the naked Duchovny and Anderson in bed together? That was one magazine that my teenage self didn’t risk buying and bringing home.

My love of “The X Files” didn’t end when I left high school. One of my friends moved to Melbourne the year after graduation. We wrote to each other, and our letters usually mentioned “The X Files”. By then it was 1999 and Season Six was airing. “For heaven’s sake,” wrote my friend, after the alternate reality episode “Triangle” screened. “Fox even told Dana he loved her, and all she said was something like ‘Get some rest, Mulder’. How frustrating!” (In fact, Scully’s actual response was ‘Oh, brother.’ but the sentiment remains the same). I also remember that same year going to Moore River on a university camp during semester break, and everyone crowding around the telly to watch “The Unnatural” and whooping and hollering at the end where Mulder puts his hands on Scully’s hips when teaching her how to play baseball.

But nothing lasts forever, and “The X Files” never regained its former popularity after David Duchovny left the show after Season Seven. The show limped into the first years of the Noughties with the new characters of John Doggett (who in fairness, was a pretty solid character) and Monica Reyes (who was pretty forgettable). Nonetheless, I stayed until the end, watching the last episode of Season Nine as a twenty-something law student, together with my then-boyfriend.

A couple of years ago, Craig bought the box set of “The X Files” on DVD, and we have slowly been making our way through it. We’re up to Season Three now. Some aspects of the show look dated now. The boxy cars. People wearing big glasses. Brick-sized mobile phones. The music (the episode “Syzygy” features a scene where teenagers dance at a party to the song “All Over You” from Live’s Throwing Copper album). It’s hard to believe there was a time before September 11, before social media, before the GFC. A time when it was still the twentieth century, and Clinton was in the White House, and grunge and indy rock ruled the radio, and we dialled up to get the internet.

And aliens walked among us (or oozed among us, in the case of the Black Oil). But we slept safe in the knowledge that Mulder and Scully were on the case.

Happy twentieth birthday, X Files.

Postscript: The Vine ( last week put out a Top Five X Files episodes list. I can’t do a list like that, because there’s no way I can limit it to just five. However, I will say that memorable episodes for me include:

“Beyond the Sea” (Season One) (Scully’s dad dies, Mulder calls Scully ‘Dana’ for once, Mulder gets shot, the guy who played Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings movies plays the bad guy);

“The Host” (Season Two) (A giant fluke worm man emerges from the toilet to lay its eggs in human hosts);

“Irresistible” (Season Two) (A rare episode, in that (a) there are no paranormal elements – the villain is simply a human serial killer; and (b) the normally stoic Scully has a breakdown and cries at the end;

“Humbug” (Season Two) (The freak show one);

“Anasazi” (Season Two) (A stunning season cliff-hanger that ended with the Cigarette Smoking Man burning a box car in the New Mexico desert, where Mulder was trapped inside. Also memorable for the fact that Mulder wakes up in Scully’s bed wearing only his boxers);

“Syzygy” (Season Three) (The planets align causing everyone to act kooky. Mulder and Scully spend the episode sniping at each other, the crazy girls dance to Live);

“Home” (Season Four) (For me, this is memorable for the wrong reasons – it was a repulsive episode featuring cannibals and inbreeding. Haven’t seen it since I was 16 so perhaps I’ll find it more palatable on the re-watch);

“Tunguska” (Season Four) (First of a two-parter. Scully is hauled before a Senate Committee, bad boy Agent Krycek reappears, cliff-hanger ending when Mulder goes to Russia and is infected with the Black Oil);

“Bad Blood” (Season Five) (Hilarious episode told alternately from Mulder and Scully’s point of view);

“Arcadia” (Season Six) (Mulder and Scully go undercover to pose as a married couple in a posh suburban estate);

“Milagro (Season Six) (The Monster of the Week is a frustrated novelist, with an unfortunate habit of ripping victim’s hearts from their still-living bodies);

“Hungry” (Season Seven) (Told from the “monster’s” point of view. Mulder and Scully are actually the antagonists);

“Requiem” (Season Seven) (Mulder is abducted by aliens, Scully discovers she’s pregnant).
Current Mood: nostalgicnostalgic
Current Music: "All Over You" (Live); "Mulder and Scully" (Catatonia)

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August 19th, 2013

08:06 pm - What's In A Name?
It’s not easy being named Eugenie.

I’m an Australian woman with a French name. To Anglo-Saxon eyes and ears it’s tricky to spell, trickier to pronounce. Over my lifetime, I’ve experienced many “interesting” spellings and pronunciations. Regarding the latter, the main four I have heard are these:

1. “Yoo-ZHAY-nee”.
2. “Yoo-GEE-nee”.
3. “Er-ZHAY-nee”.
4. “YOO-genee”.

(Note the “zh” sound is akin to the “ge” sound in words like “genre”.)

From my (admittedly limited) experience, most Anglos use the first or second pronunciations. The French pronunciation, I believe, is somewhere between the third and fourth: “ER-zhay-nee”, with the emphasis on the first syllable. The “eu” sound in French is “er” (as in “Sacre Bleu!”)

My parents have always used the first pronunciation, so this is my default setting. People associated with my youth – relatives, school friends, university friends, say it this way.

People who met me as an adult (eg, co-workers, friends who I met in my current city) tend to use the second pronunciation – quite possibly because they often saw my name before they met me.

My late grandmother (who loved All Things Europe) used the third pronunciation, as do some of my relatives on my father’s side (presumably they picked up the habit from her). A couple of my friends with European backgrounds use the fourth pronunciation. As stated above, the French pronunciation is somewhere in the middle of those two, so they are definitely on the right track.

Any one of those four pronunciations is ok with me. What I don’t like is being called “Eugene”. It’s a male’s name, and reminds me of that nerdy guy in “Grease” who gets picked on by the T-birds.

I once read that Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, helps people to pronounce Princess Eugenie’s name by telling them “It’s like saying ‘Use Your Knees’”. To date, I haven’t been game to do that, as I can quite easily imagine people taking that literally, and adding an “s” onto the end of my name, where no “s” should be added.

This brings me to the latest instalment of name-mangling. Last week, I won an award at work. These awards are presented once a year, to individuals and teams who have made “outstanding contributions”. This year, for the first time since I’ve been working here, I was getting one (along with a bunch of other people, for assisting with a high profile project).

The awards ceremony is kind of a big deal. Everyone from the department is invited to attend. There is a video link to the regional offices. And afterwards there are photos of the award winners, and a morning tea for everyone. A couple of days before, one of the organisers rang me up, to confirm the correct pronunciation of my last name (yes, I have a tricky last name too, but that’s a whole other story). How nice, I thought. They’re making sure that my name is read out correctly. Note – they never asked me how to pronounce my first name, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time. After all, the person who called me used the second pronunciation, and I assumed the person presenting the awards would too.

So the awards ceremony rolled around. The room was packed. The recipients were lined up to the right of the platform. As our names were read out, we had to come up, shake the Secretary’s hand, and receive our certificate. I was the second last person in line. The line dwindled. The person in front of me was called up. Then it was my turn. There was a pause, and then the words:

“Egg-WEENIE [Lastname]!”


How can you get that from Eugenie? My theory is that the person calling the names was reading from a list. And I suspect the list had my name spelled incorrectly. Eguenie. The “u” and “g” transposed. Did I mention that sometimes my name is spelt in “interesting” ways? Oh well, at least they pronounced my last name right.

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