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Wed, Dec. 2nd, 2009, 12:09 am

Today I went in search of a sleeping pelican, as sleeping pelicans are pretty much the best thing ever: great big pelican lumps, heads turned backwards and beaks buried in feathers, and then they wake up and gradually unfold, swivelling out and blinking open their glaring peevish eyes.

I didn't find a sleeping pelican, but I did find a great big waking pelican as it landed clumsily on water, and then immediately started gliding on graceful patrol as if it would never ever splash. Also, a pile of five sleeping ducklings watched over by an alert parent duck; ten black swans twisting their necks around and digging in the grass; many parrots; more ducklings; starlings in a palm tree; and forty tiny brown sparrows in the dirt, flapping it around and blending in so well that they were barely visible except for the movement of their wings.

And then I came across a few copies of this sign:
Magpie-lark warning sign: protect yourself by raising an umbrellaCollapse )

Oh, Australia, I thought: you and your alarmist warnings. I understand it, I do; I too mention the deadly spiders and don't dwell on the fact that it's twenty years since they successfully killed anyone. If we're going to have all these theoretically perilous creatures around, we should at least get to alarm people with them. Do not throw anything at magpie-lark; it may attack more vigorously.

And then I came across this additional sign:
Magpie-lark warning sign: magpie-larks may engage in obsessive behaviourCollapse )

Hm, I thought. There are half a dozen of the big signs up, and they still feel the need to put up extra laminated sheets? "Travel in a group"? "Walk quickly away from the area. Do not run"? And the little picture in the corner, all security-camera watch-out-for-this-dangerous-criminal. Gosh. Still, I've never been swooped, I'm sure there's no need for alarm.

Then I walked up to the Festival Centre, where a tiny magpie-lark sat on top of a work of public art. Staring. And it flapped, and I jumped in fear and put my arms over my head and ducked.

No, it didn't attack me. Of course it didn't attack me. It was probably a baby itself rather than a protective parent, and even if not, it was clearly nowhere near a nest; you'd have to be a really dedicated magpie-lark to raise your young on the peak of an Otto Hajek environmental sculpture. The point of this story, such as it is, isn't that I was swooped at: it's that I feared, for a moment, that I would be, and then five seconds later I felt very sad and foreign and like I'd been away from Adelaide far too long and would never really get the hang of it again.

Fortunately, ten minutes later I saw a UK-style pigeon and was confused by how weird it looked without a proper Australian spike on its head. So that was okay.

Wed, Nov. 25th, 2009, 09:44 pm
Adelaide, still

More things about Adelaide that I'd forgotten:
  • Hard rubbish week - the special week when garbage trucks will pick up sofas and bookshelves and tree-branches and broken-spring folding beds and what-have-you. Within a few minutes walk of where I am now, I could pick up an artist's palette on wheels or any one of three different basketball hoops. (It's a rare piece of hard rubbish that makes it to the rubbish truck; anything halfway useable gets thrown into the back of a passing car.)

  • Jacaranda trees, which are astonishing: gnarled angry-looking bare trees line whole roads and then pop out thousands of purple flowers overnight, all startling and visible from the air; and then a week later the flowers fall off and the footpaths are caked with the things for two or three very bright days. For most of the rest of the year the trees just look irritable and shed big awkward seed-pods, so good timing on the visit, me.

  • Visible horizons.

  • Fruchocs.

  • The reason I automatically withdraw £40, £80 or £110 from ATMs rather than £50 or £100: Australian ATMs stock 20s and 50s, so it's important to withdraw an amount that guarantees you some useful 20s instead of just awkwardly-large 50s.

Things about London that never seemed quite right, and for which Adelaide provides me with the obviously correct alternative:
  • Tile-roofed houses are just a bit too quaint and storybook; corrugated iron is correct.

  • London birds twitter and sing, but birds should squawk and trill and make creaky, cross plumbing noises, and swoop more, and go skwaaark or brrrrip-brrrrip a lot.

A thing about Adelaide that I don't think I'd noticed properly:

It is really hot and dry here. And this isn't a brief aberration during summer; it's constant, lurking, even when it rains.

Which I did know, of course! South Australia is the "dryest state in the dryest continent", as small Adelaidean children are constantly reminded whenever they leave a tap on. But I didn't notice, I think, what that means about how people relate to their environment.

Everyone is surprisingly aware of the approaching weather; it doesn't hurt that the four-day forecast is pretty much accurate, instead of England's zany work of near-future speculative fiction. Meetings are planned around the very hot days (43 celsius, last Thursday). People with gardens, which is to say most people, seem to know what time the sun sets, because you're only allowed to water between sunset and sunrise. Sprinklers are forbidden at any time. Since I left, a new fire alert system has come into place, with three levels of fire warning: these are Severe, Extreme, and Catastrophic.

This is why, of course, I find it so alarming that in London you're allowed to buy fireworks, at will, just like that. I assume, at some level, that I am still in the Adelaide Hills and things could suddenly burn down at any time, that all schoolchildren are drilled on what to do in case of a bushfire (as far as I can remember, it's "hang blankets on windows, put buckets of water behind the blankets, hide under tables", but it's been a while, so if a bushfire comes to Battersea don't rely on me to know what to do).

Sat, Nov. 14th, 2009, 11:37 pm
Things I had forgotten about Adelaide

  • Fences made, for some reason, from dry twigs.

  • Despite this, a heightened awareness of fire hazards.

  • So many front yards thick with oleanders. Hard matte leaves, pink and white flowers, and fretful warnings from parents. There was a boy who touched an oleander and didn't wash his hands before lunch, and he DIED. Oleanders are bright and hardy, which outweighs the fear of death.

  • Drive-through alcohol shops.

  • The sea, you can go in it and it's comfortable, warm patches and cool ones, take your pick. It's not "fine once you get used to it"; it's just wonderful, straight away.

  • There is a shopping centre called Big Crow.

  • There are licorice bullets. These are small, hard-chewy, bullet-shaped pieces of licorice coated in (usually dark) chocolate. Rest of the world, please sort out your failure to stock these.

  • People do actually say "no worries", all the time.

  • Sometimes it's really hot. When this happens, people with cars have to get up every couple of hours to move the car into a new patch of shade.

Fri, Nov. 6th, 2009, 09:19 pm
"Daring? Well yes, I suppose it was daring."

This week's best thing ever: recordings of suffragettes going back to 1937.

The Holly-and-kerrypolka Society of Feminists Who Suddenly Feel Bad About Not Fighting The Patriarchy With Airships particularly recommends:

Muriel Matters, who sounds wonderfully as if she's reading out a children's book to a class of eager five-year-olds. It was quite a little airship, eighty feet long, and written in large letters on the gas bag were three words: VOTES FOR WOMEN. Below this was suspended an extremely fragile rigging.

Lilian Lenton, whose specialty was escaping when under house arrest: Well, I set fire to a lot of buildings...

Elizabeth Dean, crossly pointing out that not all suffragettes were middle-class: It didn't take me long to realise that the vote was just one thing, and not very much.

Fri, Oct. 23rd, 2009, 11:41 pm
Keeping warm in winter

From Oliver Goldsmith's letters:
A Dutch lady burns nothing about her phlegmatic admirer but his tobacco. You must know, Sir, every woman carries in her hand a stove with coals in it, which, when she sits, she snugs under her petticoats; and at this chimney dozing Strephon lights his pipe.
And from Francis Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue:
SOOTERKIN. A joke upon the Dutch women, supposing that, by their constant use of stoves, which they place under their petticoats, they breed a kind of small animal in their bodies, called a sooterkin, of the size of a mouse, which when mature slips out.
Some foot-stoves. In use in paintings (last two links from a consideration of the footstove in Vermeer's The Milkmaid).

It is coming up to the half of the year where I need to wear tights or stockings or the like, and therefore have itchy legs; perhaps voluminous petticoats and a foot-stove would be a good solution.

Wed, Oct. 7th, 2009, 04:55 pm
I know this is not technically your fault but

Why did nobody tell me about Black Hearts in Battersea?

So okay, it's a children's book set in alternate-history London - written 1965, set around 1825. There is Battersea Castle, built for ludicrous fake-historical reasons. There's a Battersea crest ("two squirrels respecting each other, vert., and az., eating mince pies"). There is a tunnel. There are art lessons. There are people who refuse to go to the opera without company and a board-game to play. There are wolves and snow in Battersea Park, there is a climactic scene featuring a hot air balloon. This book is full of so much stuff that I like that I can't even tell whether it's any good.

It's very confusing to read, because I am pretty sure I never encountered it when small, but also that if I had then I would attribute some of my most abiding obsessions to its influence.


EDIT 2: Also one of the sequels is apparently about a quest for rare games.

Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009, 04:01 pm
Things that should be large: another list, a thousand years later

Squirrel tails. Bumblebee bottoms. The eyelashes of llamas.
The individual nodules of a raspberry.
Balloons, soup-bowls, swept piles of autumn leaves. Towels.
Fried breakfasts. Birthday cakes.
Clock faces. The difference between low and high tide. To-read lists. Parcels. Geese.
Cheerleader pom-poms.
Toasters, light switches, computer monitors.
Chalk. London.

Thu, Aug. 6th, 2009, 12:34 pm
Reading Jan to June 2009: non-fiction

Brief reviews of non-fiction that I remember reading in the first half of the year.

I enjoy pillows, am ambivalent about scandals, and don't like David Foster Wallace.Collapse )

Since we solved "why are YA books better?" on Tuesday, today's question is: what books about sport should I read? Non-fiction and fiction are both fine, and it is very safe to assume that whatever you might mention, I will not have read it, unless perhaps the sport takes place in a futuristic dystopia where the only way out of the underclass is to play... FOR YOUR LIFE. I currently have C.L.R. James, Beyond a Boundary on my to-read list, so maybe steering away from more cricket?

Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009, 02:55 pm
Books to halfway through the year: YA

Every six months or so, I realise that hey, reading is great!, and I decide to keep track of books as I finish them. Last time it happened was January this year, which of course means I posted one entry about it and am now seven months behind.

But! I've been suddenly overcome with the desire to catch up. So: today, YA I remember reading in the first six months of this year. Tomorrow, non-fiction. Thursday, adult fiction. And then, presumably, another "oops, forgot about this" post sometime between December 2009 and February 2010 - put it on your calendars now!

Children's and YA fiction, read Jan-June 2009Collapse )

Anyway, the question is, why are YA books better than books for adults? I don't mean that they're always better, or that the best novels in the world are all YA, or even that most of my own favourite novels are YA. I suppose I mean, approximately, that I would much rather be trapped in a room for a week with 100 random YA novels than with 100 random novels for adults; or that I'm more likely to keep reading them late into the night and through travel-sickness on the bus.

Is it that they're easier to read and I'm lazy? Both these things are undoubtedly true. Is it that, outside the adult section, crime and science fiction and history and literary fiction and all the other genres sit next to each other, and writers (and individual works) are more likely to jump between them? Is it that they're shorter, the extraneous sentences and boring characters excised? Do they just involve more adventures and games and all those things that are fun?

Tue, Aug. 4th, 2009, 12:32 pm
How I spent my weekend

How I spent my weekend (photo by digitaldust):

Proper summary to follow in due course.

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