Saturday, 31 October 2009

au revoir blogtober

I think we'll all be glad when this daily posting is up, right? You're as exhausted as me aren't you? I tell you my knitting progress has been hopeless and my evening conversation more than a little stilted.

But I have been very happy that blogtober has resulted in me articulating a few things that until now have just been hanging around in an unformed kind of way. And as a result of saying them out loud I have acted on them, taken steps to start some balls rolling. And that's a good thing.

The other has been refocusing on my camera and on the task of recording life in a more meaningful way.

While I have utterly failed to do a study of the amazing variety of grevillias and banksias I pass on a daily basis, I have managed to capture some really beautiful images of, in particular, my children.

Portraiture has long been my favourite style so I am very happy with some of these images. I have to say, they make it easy these two.

(do go check out my photos on flickr for more if you like the ones you see here).

But I didn't spend today contemplating blogtober.

In fact this morning I spent quite a bit of time thinking about lakes. At the crack o dawn we headed off to Boreen Point to check out Lake Cootharaba. Especially at such an early hour it was astonishingly peaceful, with some lovely little houses overlooking the lake in a sleepy holiday town kind of way.

The kids lost one piece of clothing after the next until they were both paddling nudie in the knee high water, chasing fish and itty bitty baby crustaceans.

D and I relaxed on the old rug scanning the headlines, although it was tough to hold the papers up in the increasing breeze, so I gave up and did a few rounds of the monkey socks while I watched the kids.

And the whole time I had this funny kind of image in my head that I couldn't quite tease out. After I wandered off for a little walk I realised that lakes just haven't really featured much in my life.

I've been more a beach and bush kind of girl and pretty much all the images I had in my head that came anywhere close to what I was seeing came from the pop culture references of my youth and my more recent blog reading.

I was kind of shocked to realise this made me think of the lake's landscape and vista, and the houses that dotted its shore as being American. Summer camp and holiday houses with little wooden jetties and lots of greenery and a big wide horizon of flat water. Life a long way from the coast.

And I can't imagine a life away from the sea, but it was a lovely place the spend the morning and it was really delightful to see the kids so relaxed in the water.

When we came home, in between lunch and errands (including another bargain from the half price fabric bin in town) and a trip to the beach before dinner for a run and some sea air I started drafting a pattern for the everyday dress and am contemplating how I might make it available to others. Clothes patterns are so awkward to transmit electronically...

Then tonight to celebrate the end of October and a Saturday without too many obligations I cooked a couple of new dishes (with recipes from a trusted source), both of which were extremely good. No photos because I was too busy eating. I am reminded again why it is always good to make the effort to cook new things, and how it is never as hard as you think it might be, but how much easier it always seems to make the same old stuff over and over.

Friday, 30 October 2009

dye works

We did another round in the dye works today. Violet and navy produced this wonderful inky purple. Destined for another everyday dress for the (young) lady of the house for her upcoming trip to Darwin with her dad. Should certainly do well in the absence of the iron.

Again the photos seem to exaggerate the contrast between dark and light.

Here's another attempt to capture the grey, perhaps a little better this time but still missing it's essential dance between dark and light.

And since the mixing of the dye colours produced more dye than I needed for the lightweight bubbly cotton, I chucked in a length of linen I dyed unsatisfactorily weeks ago. I like it too. No plans for it yet.

And lastly Amy has really taken off in her own sewing these last few days. I've given her a 'scrap bag' of her own and when I am down working in my office she often comes down and has a play with fabric and the machine. She picked up one of the sleeves that remained after the black linen shirt make over from last week and without so much as discussing it with me she sewed it up and made herself a little bag.

She presented me with this little piece of machine embroidery yesterday, along with one that said WIL. Too cute. Today she made a really excellent little snap closed purse (photos tomorrow). I had to help her a bit, but she did all the sewing and most of the design work too. I am so very pleased and excited.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

the trouble with learning to drive when you are older

is you can't blame stupid stuff on your youth. Locked the keys in the car today. Was very very grateful to a friend's partner who popped the door with packing tape (yay for old and insecure cars!) and saved me from admitting to the QAC that I don't know our membership number because it was in D's wallet when it was stolen from the car the last time someone popped the door without the keys (or our permission).

Finally started some drugs because 12 days is too fucking long to have tonsillitis. Don't feel like such a whiney woos since the GP said two of her patients had been sent to hospital with this viral tonsillitis because their swallowing was so painful they had stopped altogether and become dehydrated. So I expect better tomorrows real soon.

Last week I picked up some interesting fabric in the half price bin out the front of the town fabric store. I nearly didn't bother because it was white, but when I looked closely I realised it had an interesting texture with random patches of puckering in the weave, creating an effect a little reminiscent of the quagmire wool from Tessutis I used for my favourite jacket. So I chucked it in the wash with a packet of dylon black dye and a black T-shirt to try and reduce the strength of the dye and bring it down to a grey. And as it was turning I thought, wouldn't it be good if the denser patches took the dye differently to the rest...

I was very happy to discover that this was exactly what happened. In this photo the lighter areas look quite blue and much lighter so the whole effect is not quite this stark, but the contrast is indeed there. Plus the seersucker effect around the puckers that had been pressed flat in the production process have popped up, making the whole thing very lumpy and sculptural. Interesting no?

Immediately thought about bubble skirts and flowy dresses and the same effect but in other colours...and then kicked myself for only buying 2 m. So I headed back today and bought the rest of the roll and another lot of dye and tomorrow I'm going again. So much fun!

And there's other stuff too, but well, I'm not sure right now that it is....

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

what's hot and what's not

So hot...

I am really enjoying sewing. I know that's kind of obvious if you've been reading here, but just because I do it doesn't always make it fun or good. At the moment I am just loving making stuff for everyone in the family, meeting real needs with minimum waste and outlay. If you can't sew you should think about learning. It's the best.

Exploring new creative partnerships. Exciting ideas and possibilities.

Contemplating other ways to spread the craft virus. Anyone want to work with me to set up a craft school??

Finding someone in my workplace who can actually hear and share my concerns and act on them. Goes without saying that everyone deserves this and should expect it and yet it so rarely happens. Why is that?

Rediscovering that Facebook and Twitter can be lots of fun and keep you in touch with people you aren't lucky enough to be able to see in real life. I admit for a while I lost interest in them both.

A beach date tomorrow with a Melbourne mate and her sister and their families. Friends! Yay!

Planning for two new waves of visitors in November, including our adopted Thai family with their new and much loved baby. Exciting. Looking forward to showing off my driving to the Melbourne visitors. So totally uninteresting for anyone but me, but since I am the host and they have excellent manners they will have to feign being impressed :-)

Also planning for a trip to Melbourne to attend our 11th craft camp. 11! So many great times and so exciting to have a few new faces coming along and the die hard crew as well and all at our most favourite place on earth. Just need to work up the perfect menu for dinner...

Baking bread every other day. Love it.

So not...

Having the most god awful painful tonsillitis and ear infections for 11 straight days. Never had it so bad. And never taken painkillers for so many consecutive days in my life. Childbirth included.

Crappy doctors. Really, there is such a difference between a good and a bad doctor.

Finding out someone is making and selling toys using patterns from the Softies book (including mine). I know that they are being scked by a shop that doesn't have a phone listing yet so I can't ring up to say stop it. (But it is really hot that it was an ex-student of mine that alerted me and is going to go in real life to get their number - thanks Amy. Talk about above and beyond!)

Confusion and conflict in the workplace. One of the things I really value about where I currently work is the general tenancy for my colleagues to just get on with the job. Sounds simple enough and yet people, especially when in large organisations, and even more especially when those organisations are subject to the vagaries of public policy and politics so often get diverted off the path and end up just making trouble for themselves and everyone else. This kind of culture is like tinnitus to me (a painful and relentless annoyance you can't be sure anyone else can hear), a slow and gradual decline into insanity. I have been really scrambling not to lose my balance.

Amy saying you know I feel really sorry for B (a class mate at school). His mum is in hospital and he doesn't know who will look after him each day and when he comes to school sometimes he doesn't have any lunch or just a sandwich, which is not enough to eat. And he is really rough with other kids and sad too. I have been thinking about B a lot.

The extra hour earlier I have to check in for my flight than the passengers of other airlines do. Is this a Tiger Scareways scumbag airline tax?

The mornings getting fully light at 4.30am. Come on people, can't we have daylight saving?! I mean I wouldn't mind if everything else (in particular the TV programming) came forward an hour too, but this is doing my head in...

Amy complaining her throat is sore for 2 days now. Doesn't bode well for the future...

That crappy Go channel skipping a whole lot of survivor episodes. WHY!?

My old computer (now Amy's) running so slow it can't even play you tube any more. Time to call the 'puter doctor.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

the next stage

Daily I look at this crazy mess and think to myself, that boy needs a hair cut! I know once he has it, he will start to look like the little boy he is, not the toddler he was.

And we'll all say how grown up he looks! And I will be reflecting on how fast the baby years went with him and how exciting this new phase is but how I feel a little sad those other days are gone.

But he does not like the idea of a hair cut at all. Despite watching the whole family get theirs done he has no desire to join in. He hates me touching, brushing, shampooing or even talking about his hair (and he has the cradle cap to prove it). Nooooooo! You stop it! he says.

And there are moments when I love his tender locks. When he has woken from a sweaty afternoon nap and those thin little curls are stuck to his head, or when he's fresh out of the shower and it's all sticky uppy all over the place and we call him the mad professor. So really, what's the hurry?

Push me pull you.

Monday, 26 October 2009

enough of the pretty

It is a work day for me today and I am still sick (day 9! can't believe it!), so there's no fun to report on (though I did make some very cute long shorts for the littlest yesterday as planned.)

Instead I'll just purge my brain on the page.

A friend of mine has become involved in a local housing project that's designed to help some really needy people find a safe place to live. She has become involved because she's really horrified about the way many of the local residents are resisting the development. The language they use to describe people in need, and the way they characterise groups such as single mothers totally shocked and appalled her. Head over to her blog, and if you live in the general Bentleigh area I hope you'll give some thought to supporting the initiative and challenge others who equate in need with undesirable (or criminal or drug addicted or immoral or...).

I'm going to compile a list of places to go, things to do and see, good shops, restaurants, cafes etc in and around Noosa so I'd welcome suggestions.

I want a good palak paneer recipe.

Why can't I read pages and pages of stuff and actually remember what I read? And why in hell given this reading disability I have did I choose a job in which I constantly need to read pages and pages and remember what I read?

I am loving new music by Lisa Mitchell, Pete Yorn and Scarlett Johansson, Lily Allen and Black Eyed Peas.

I am thinking about driving a rather long distance in a few weeks time, without a navigator or coach, to pick up friends from the airport. I am in turns quite excited and completely terrified. Do I dare?

Looks like D is headed into even greater opportunities to do his work up North. I am encouraging him like crazy at the same time as thinking more time apart and more stress for him is not something I should be seeking. It gets me fantasising about a whole different life direction for us.

I really want someone to invent a new and delicious vegetable. I'm bored with all the other ones.
(I stole this from my sister)

I have some excellent gift knitting planned, but I'm kidding myself about getting it done in this heat. Do I give IOUs or just do something else?

Why isn't there anything good for lunch on the days I am at home?

I am planning a banquet dinner for 9. I have a moderately dysfunctional oven at my disposal and someone else has to do all the shopping. I'd planned Thai (because I think I'm pretty good at that) but I don't think it will be a crowd pleaser so now I have to think of something else. I'm excited about this but I think the chances of finding 9 small round eggplants is slim. I am tossed up between greek, lebanese, mexican....totally indecisive!

I really should have baked bread today. Breakfast will be interesting.

I'd rather be sewing.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

sew on and on

D woke up right as rain this morning which was fortunate since I feel as crap as ever and none too happy about it. My daily disappointment for a week now is waking up to realise I feel the same as yesterday. Anyway my new strategy is just to take a shit load of panadol. No surrender.

And to prove my point I did some more sewing today. The rest of the clan went out to ride bikes and I got the jump on another long standing project, some new boardshorts for D. My ma and sister brought the fabric back from Vietnam for exactly this purpose a few years ago (and he thanks you yet again) and for reasons I am at a loss to explain it has taken me this long to get around to it.

Since big boy patterns do not make it into any of the usual sources, I had to draft a pattern from an old pair of shorts I made D back in the mists of time. (garage sale chenille bedspread. now with all the pile worn off the butt.)

Sewing the fabric - I don't even know what you call this boardshort stuff, except, well, boardshort stuff - was a complete nightmare. It kept skipping stitches, sometimes in whole long runs so I had to sew some bits over and over again. What a mess. And so frustrating! And all the stitches pull on the seams, making it look like it isn't properly sewn which couldn't be further from the truth in terms of effort.

Anyway, the fit is good, the pocket just like a real one and they met with approval from the owner who hates cotton boardies that weight too much when wet and take forever to dry and who finds most bought boardies baggy in the butt department. So you know, all's well that ends well.

And while I was snapping his pic, I got him to return the favour so I could show you the linen shirt reno from yesterday. I do think the pictures aren't ideal but you get the general idea.

The shirt started life as a classic dull shirt, identical in fact to one I extensively renovated in November last year. A cheap shapeless big girl sack shirt. This time instead of trying to improve it as a shirt, I went in a different direction.

I took the sleeves off, narrowed the shirt and sleeve widths, raised the shoulders a couple of centimetres and re attached the sleeves. I then cut the sleeves very short and gave them a really narrow hem (this is how far I got a few weeks ago before we went to Darwin).

I also radically shortened the shirt. Next I reversed the closing order of the front pieces, so the left side with the buttons was on top and sewed it down, with just the edge of the button stand from the right side poking out. I put some waist darts in back, but I couldn't get too fitted since the shirt doesn't open any more and has to slip on over my head and bust.

I cut the collar off, widened and lowered the neckline. Using all the scrap pieces of fabric I cut out a tonne of small circles, sewed them together slightly overlapping and then used them to edge the neckline and trail off to one side over the bust. I sewed them down with several rounds of stitching to keep them secure knowing they will fray a bit with wear.

Lastly instead of a front dart, I made small box pleats at the waist and secured them flat with another circle sewed down with lots of stitches.

A really major improvement!

Next up something for the littlest one, who never seems to score much of anything (except the odd bit of cake). And he's going through such a stage at the moment. Endearing as always but the language is continuing to build, as is his memory (he can now get pretty much every word that finishes a line in his favourite tough trucks book, which makes us all smile and laugh) and his delight in a new level of complexity. He's started singing at last and when we drove home in the dark on Friday night and Amy slipped into sleep in the back seat and D and I silently watched the landscape slip by he suddenly piped up Bob the builder blah blah fix it, Bob the builder blah blah. D and I could barely contain ourselves but Wil was utterly unselfconscious and it was so sweet. I do love him so.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

a funny old day

So my heinous tonsillitis/ear infections/cough/sore throat/gamy eye/cold has improved not at all and swallowing brings the kind of pain I associate with violent trauma and now the d is under the weather too. He's either coming down with what Wil had and now I have, or he's on the second round of some giardia type parasite he picked up from tap water in Aceh and had him off to the GP about exactly 28 days ago. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Today was an exercise in amusing the children with minimal parental strain. D spent most of the day in bed while I managed quite well except for the aforementioned swallowing. Wil had a quick trip out in the world to fetch the newspaper while Amy and I knocked off the leggings I had promised her to go with the dress we made yesterday.

For weeks she's been asking me to make her an 'everyday' dress - basically she's sick of me telling her that coming home from school and putting on a 'party' dress is not OK. So when I was in Darwin I picked her up some light grey and white cotton seersucker (not quite the black and white zebra print she had her heart set on but I don't know, I think seven is too young for animal prints?).

She chose the contrast colour (red) and specified elasticised short puffy sleeves, slip over the head without closures, a bow, some 'decoration on the front' and the length. I didn't have a pattern so I just made it up. We are both very happy with the result.

I had seen this leggings pattern when the autumn Ottobre came out and mentally bookmarked it because of the pin tuck detailing around the leg. So when Amy asked for black leggings (we compromised on grey, not least because I had this fabric already left over from the pin tuck T-shirt I made before we left for Darwin) I traced it off (a single pattern piece! bliss!) and made them up in no time at all.

I opted to use the same double needle stitching I did on my T instead of proper pin tucks because the fabric is super stretchy and I could just see her bustin' all the stitches in a jiffy. Lovely pattern, shall be making it over and over again.

And because the leggings were such a snip, Amy asked if we might finally get onto the project she's been angling for ever since we made her bed quilt - a doll's quilt for her to play with. Since Wil also has a fondness for wrapping up his mousey I decided we could do the two together and use up some of the pretty scraps I had. She picked all the fabrics while I did the slicing with the rotary cutter and then we decided the layouts together.

She watched on while I pieced the top of Wil's and then she did her own. There was a fair bit of unpicking but she managed the process really well. Then I did the quilting and binding while the kids watched Tom and Jerry and Mr Bean on You Tube.

While Wil and D slept Amy and I headed out to the supermarket to get some basic supplies and even though it seemed really hot this morning, by the time Amy, Wil and I got in the pool it was really too cold for everyone except Amy. So once we were dried I put the kids in front of the computer yet again to watch the latest hot on DVD (don't ask) and I got on to finishing the linen shirt renovation I started before we went to Darwin. Because the shirt is black and the light wasn't great by the time I'd finished I couldn't get any decent photos, so they'll have to wait till tomorrow. But I think it's pretty good. D said it looked expensive, which is a compliment I think.

Then I made a great big dinner because I'd set it all in train before D fell ill and it was lucky I had excess because I'd put a bit of the meat on the BBQ before I realised that the funny smell was in fact roasting possum shit. Needless to say I had to bin the lot, clean the hot plates and start again.

And while the meat was grilling and the kids were making cubbies and wrapping up stuffed toys I put a loaf of bread into the oven. And I had planned to use the ricotta I made earlier in the day for some palak paneer, but I am guessing D won't be up for it for a while yet so I am thinking about how I might use it in a kid friendly way. After that I made a huge bowl of fruit salad and finally got the kids in bed and looky it's after nine.

Since I suspect tomorrow will hold much of the same (sick parents, bored kids, a general reluctance to the leave the house) I will spend my small allotment of quiet time before bed contemplating the board shorts I intend to sew for D, whether I should make Wil some pants from the left over seersucker and what projects I might need to get me through the gift giving season.

Friday, 23 October 2009


So I've been thinking that perhaps, since we're damn close to half way through our Noosa adventure it's about time I started saying a few things about it.

Although it does say something that in comparison to Darwin at least I don't often feel moved to comment at all. Considering the magnitude of the shift to come here I should think I would have more to say.

Today I witnessed two things that are very much of my experience of this part of the world. Let me share.

The first happened while I was buying a bit of elastic to finish off Amy's new dress at oh sew noosa (the town fabric shop). There were a few people there and I was kind of in a hurry and the new owner was a bit flustered under pressure and then someone who showed not the slightest awareness for all the action going on came in and tried to engage the owner in a bit of chat. And as I was thinking she was being a bit thoughtless I cast my eye over to her and was completely shocked.

The owner of the voice was like something come to life off a tabloid plastic surgery gone bad feature. Whilst I was trying not to be rude and stare and resisted my strong urge to go over and get a good close look I could not help seeing that she was a complete freak. She had obviously had cheek implants, ENORMOUS cheek implants, which distorted her whole mouth so her upper lip sat far out and above her lower lip. Her eyes were also weird, and I am sure a number of other bits were wrong too, but compared to the half tennis ball cheeks they paled into insignificance. I grabbed my elastic and left thinking, only in Noosa.

And I was thinking that because you don't have to tour much of Noosa before you notice the proliferation of establishments aimed at rich people feeling their age. There's dental spas galore offering teeth whitening and caps and goodness only knows what, dermatological clinics offering peels and lasers and sun spot removal for people who aren't just old but sun worn too and all the usual health/massage/beauty salons. So while I haven't seen the plastic surgeons it would come as no surprise to know they are here in numbers.

Because Noosa is full of rich people. And since there isn't a load of work options, they are mostly retired or businessmen and women (though it should be said they mostly appear to be men, more than a few with trophy wives judging by the age differentials between couples at the more expensive restaurants). There are loads of shops with very expensive clothes (and not just on the tourist strip), gourmet food delis, kitchen and home wares shops and the town fabric shop is very up market not just in terms of prices but in relation to the style of fabrics (think spring racing carnival).

Of course wherever there are loads of rich people there's loads of the people who serve them - the gardeners and tradies and pool cleaners and kitchen hands and waiting staff and supermarket shelf stackers. And this provides something of a cultural counterpoint with a fairly thin layer in between of the middle class home owning professionals. Not the kind of socio-economic distribution you see in a big city like Melbourne. And because the whole spectrum is geographically condensed there's a lot more co mingling that you might find in the classically stratified suburbs.

Incident number two happened when we went out for fish a chips tonight. Peregian Beach is a 15 minute drive south along the coast and we went the extra distance because Peregian has a nice park area between the dunes and the shops so D could play with the kids while I waited in the Friday night crowds for our food. I like this little town, it has a nice shopping and cafe area organised around an open square covered in big shady trees and tonight it was filled with all kinds of people - little kids on trikes and ride ons, bigger ones kicking balls, older teenagers posing in baseball caps, dogs on leads, families picnicking and tourists eating fancy meals at the outdoor restaurants. Lots of people in bare feet.

While we were eating our dinner at one of the many publicly provided table sets a teenager rode up to the general store, came to an abrupt stop and just dropped his bike right outside the door before going in D turned to me and said it reminds me of the 70s. He's absolutely right, it is very much like what I remember of the old days. And we were saying it in a really positive sense, that feeling of safety and community and inclusiveness. The lack of agro and the sheer number of kids of all ages just hanging around and playing with each other was really delightful. D commented that both ours played extremely well with other kids in the park and shared toys and left him alone in a way that pretty much never happens.

Then D says I can't think that car is parked legally and I look up to see one of those big car/van/people mover things parked incredibly badly and illegally with it's backside hanging out in to the roundabout and we reflect that it would be unlikely a parking inspector would be out at this hour on a Friday night.

Then Amy says where are those kids' mum and dad?

And D and I both realise the van is full of kids - there has to be at least 8 of them, all really young and there are no adults in the van with them. The inside light is on and they aren't strapped in and basically look like they are having a party in there. I don't find this so much alarming as, well, surprising I guess. Would never happen in Melbourne we say, or not anywhere we might see it. And we're speculating about where the parent must be and expecting any moment a harassed mum to turn up with an armload of fish and chips (of course you couldn't attempt to get all those kids out and manage them in a busy area just for a pick up) when along saunters mum and dad with milk and blocks of chocolate looking not the least bit harassed. Two adults and neither stayed with the kids. Hmmm.

And then they get in the van and mum sits in the front passenger seat and puts one little kid who couldn't be even two yet on her lap and puts her seat belt round the both of them and dad starts the engine and some of the kids are still standing up on the seats and without a backward glance he drives off. Not fucking likely I'd be seeing that in Melbourne either. And as D and I are picking our chins up off the table I am remembering something one of the carers at Wil's childcare centre said to me about her mixed feelings when she says goodbye to kids who get picked up by parents with their breath stinking of alcohol already at 4pm. I mean it wouldn't be fair if they died in a car accident because their mum or dad is pissed but if I said something there'd just be so much trouble...

Yep, it's just like the 70s alright.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

I went to see a film

And I really hated it.

Which doesn't happen too much to me. Spending 4 prime years of my life studying film has given me the capacity to see a film through many lenses, and to find something redeemable in pretty much anything - if not the film then certainly in the insights it may give as a cultural artifact. Occasionally I see something I think is poorly made, or with a thin plot or unwisely cast or a rip off of someone else's work, but in the same way that you can enjoy the odd junk food meal, a less than perfect film is not a wasted experience.

But beautiful landscapes (of which there are many in this film) were not enough to make me feel like I wouldn't rather have been home asleep.

So that would be, you know, no stars from me.

d's red rib socks (a day late)

d's red rib socks, originally uploaded by Soozs.

Very happy with these, as is the man of the house who now has three pairs of hand knit socks (the first pair still going strong after two and a half years of heavy use - way to go Lion Brand sock yarn!). They are as vanilla as they come, a simple 2x1 rib, short row heel and toe made using the old universal toe up sock formula. Here they are shown on my feet (since the bloke is still asleep at 5am when these were taken) and the heel is a little slacker than they are on the recipient's foot.

For the first time I tried out Elizabeth Zimmerman's stretchy sewn bind off and I will never finish socks any other way. Totally brilliant and why the heck did it take me so long to uncover it? Thank you to those who led the way.

Also super happy with the yarn, which I dyed and then overdyed a good number of months later when I decided I really wasn't happy with it. It is knittery chubby sock merino/nylon and I dyed it using food colour in the microwave. Brilliant, cheap, safe, quick...

Have just turned the heel on the Monkey socks (well, my toe up no purl version anyway), which are going swimmingly. Great stitch pattern. Love this yarn too - also knittery chubby and dyed (and overdyed) at the same time as the one I used for D's reds - which I am calling deep sea diving. I did the foot in 2.25mm bamboo DPNS so I could sneak them on the plane, but since I broke one yesterday, I've had to switch up to my Addi turbos at 2.5mm for the leg. Hopefully by the time I get to sock number two some replacement 2.25mm will have arrived from Hong Kong. (Speaking of which, read this post about the crazy dealings behind the scenes in the knit business world. And while you are there consider investing in a bit of Ingrid's gorgeous yarn so she doesn't have to move it all when she relocates.)

Amy has already claimed ownership of the undyed sock yarn I bought to take to craft camp and chosen her colourway for some knee high socks. Ahem.

And I am seriously seriously loving listening to this album by Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. I loved it when we first bought it and after very heavy rotation I am loving it more. Buy it from Skinnyfish (the album link above) because it is a great business, or from iTunes if you prefer.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

so. darwin.

Gudorrka dirt track by you.

Going to Darwin is like entering a parallel universe. I've thought that each time I've landed, whether it has been from Noosa, from Melbourne, or after a very long time living out of a backpack in South East Asia.

You see, coming from another country, it has so many Australian hallmarks. All the reliable national things you see no matter where you are like familiar post boxes and road signs and supermarkets and beer. Public phones plastered with the Telstra logo. And the accents of the people you deal with over counters and on the phone, and the behaviour in the pubs and the cars and so many other invisible details that let you know you are back home. And a certain suburban layout and sprawl that can seem a bit Canberra and a bit like somewhere else you've driven through but can't recall the name of. A bit city, a bit town, a bit country. A bit of lots of things you've seen before.

And yet somewhere along the road I notice things that are entirely not of my Australia. The pegged out town perimeter and its red dust surrounds could not be further from the urban Australianism that has traditionally been my home. The enormous distances from here to, well, anywhere. The searing tropical heat. The apparent lack of class order in suburbs and the generally run down and disordered state of most homes and yards. Given that Darwin has the second most expensive real estate in the entire country there is an astonishingly lack of not just fancy pants houses but of suburbs of middle class aspirations - all those cyclone wire fences covered in black plastic! All that trash stacked around outside! All those completely nothing gardens! There is a flat barren droopiness like Canberra at the end of a really hot and dry season that is in stark contrast to the lushness of so much of the local tropical vegetation. Everyone still smokes everywhere in public just like in Melbourne back in the early 80s and everyone drinks alcohol all the time everywhere. I went to the poolside 'snack bar' at a large resort hotel at 11am and when the guy asked me what I wanted and when all I could see in the fridge were beer bottles I asked what non-alcoholic drinks he had and he was temporarily stumped. Seriously he went I said you got coke? and he said oh! yeah! coke! You want, like just a plain coke? as though no one ever in his time working there had ever asked for a non alcoholic bevvy ever.

Darwin Sailing club by you.

And there's a certain kind of edginess, a wild frontierness, that means I almost never quite feel totally relaxed. It's not that the place scares me, I'm just not quite sure what might happen next or how I should best respond to it. I can't read the social cues very accurately and I don't think consequences are necessarily going to be as I expect. Once I would have characterised that as a degree of lawlessness, the healthy disrespect for authority that people have when they have had to do so much more for themselves than those who live in big and old cities. But now I suspect it is less about the law and more about an absence of binding social mores and institutions. There are so many elements in the mix and none of them have enough weight in them to sink to the bottom and solidify into some kind of foundation.

(On the lawlessness thing - when I first went to Darwin in the early 90s I was amazed to spend weeks driving through the Territory and never see a cop. There was in those days no official speed limit on the open roads and the process for getting our second hand dodgy car registered was laughable - I had to sign a stat dec that I had bought it because it had no papers and the only road worthy they did was to check it had working brakes and headlights! On this last trip despite lots of signs announcing that there were in fact speed limits in the Territory and that these were enforced through speed and red light cameras - a daily announcement in the press and on radio gave everyone their locations - the locals were still telling the old joke that if you saw a car with it's indicator on it must have been on when the owner bought the car and they never bothered turning it off.)

D's Darwin pictures by you.

In Darwin, like in Alice Springs, I sometimes feel more like I am part of an expat community than a native. A visitor and explorer. I am sure this is more than a little a reflection of who I get to meet and talk to but the reality is that an awful lot of people who live there come from somewhere else. And most of them it seems have come with clear reasons. Whether they are running away or running towards, Darwin is a place that holds the promise of a departure. Because with that ambiguity, that unexplored and undetermined social context comes a freedom to be do and be in a new kind of way - for individuals as well as communities. And that is exciting.

But the other reason, the really big reason for people like me who come from the big cities is that Darwin is a place in which contemporary white culture sits side by side with traditional and not so traditional aboriginal culture. When you have been raised to see traditional, and often less traditional aboriginal culture as a kind of theoretical proposition, seeing it played out at large is quite confronting. Sorting through such an enormous number of beliefs and stereotypes and differences and issues and basic areas of total ignorance tends to knock you flat at least some of the time.

D's Darwin pictures by you.

And add to that the number of conversations you have with Territorians about aboriginal people and policy and what the government is doing or failing to do or what the real problems are and who is to blame and the evidence you see with your own eyes as you walk down any street about who is struggling (believe me there's way plenty of badly pickled and fucked up whites as well as blacks) and if you happen to have some kind of access into a community of aboriginal people and you see for real those kinds of images that play on the evening news about the 'gap' - the health problems, the violence, the despondency, the seemingly bottomless sink hole into which government money falls and yet fails to in any way impact the underlying fundamental problem that for most Aboriginal people life is much harder according to conventional measures than it is for white people - and somehow the problem is both disassociated from you (like it is still just on the TV screen or in the newspaper) and yet right there on your skin at the same time because it is all happening right in front of you and all around you (no changing channels here).

D's Darwin pictures by you.

I can't help but keep switching hats. I put on my work hat and look it like a social policy project. From this perspective it seems hard to believe that so little has changed in the last 30 years, that no one has ever really gone further into our base policy assumptions and shifted the ground. Well, I mean, on one level this is happening all the time and the intervention is a classic example of someone just like me screaming in frustration enough! and setting out to change the rules to see if something can't be done. And yet it doesn't seem like any of these forays have really resulted in much difference. It is very hard not to see that white culture has been a cancer on traditional black culture, and that black culture has utterly failed to effectively fight that - either through adaptation, strategy or coercion.

D's Darwin pictures by you.

My experiential hat, the basically me just checking things out and listening to people hat feels that the daily reality for people is enormously diverse. There are pockets, communities, families in which essential parts of black culture survive and thrive, where people are happy and healthy and living a kind of life I will never be able to have access to. Some of the aboriginal kids I saw were so ethereally beautiful, so divine I could not take my eyes off them and every moment around them was filled with a pure and uncomplicated joy. In some invisible way they have sidestepped the ultimate dilemma of coexistence and have simply gone about their business. And while they remain vulnerable, they go on and adapt.

D's Darwin pictures by you.

And the terrible disadvantage, the 'problems' are well evidenced in the white community too, and imagine if they weren't so well camouflaged how much greater they might seem! And that's the problem with totalising policy and problem definition and the search for solutions - it utterly fails to be able to see this level on which life, for individuals, really takes place and it seems to be that solutions occur here and not somewhere higher up the conceptual chain.

D's Darwin pictures by you.

And I have a sort of community hat, the one I wear when I get to meet D's colleagues and other 'expats' who have come to make a difference, and for whom managing the interface between these two cultures is a job and a calling. And I get to hear about the things they do, and how much they know and how complicated it all is and how there is room for good stuff to happen. Or at least for some of the bad stuff to be held at bay. And their sense of purpose and camaraderie, and their warmth towards us is comforting and captivating and exciting.

D's Darwin pictures by you.

And then, and perhaps I shouldn't even admit to this, but then I have my mummy hat and really I am haunted by this one. In a completely unintellectual and instinctive way I just can't get past how wrong and messed up it all is. That while I am kicking back with beers on the lawn at sunset in the sailing club, there are scores and scores of people for whom there are no other life choices than the really shitty ones they have. It doesn't matter whether it is their fault or someone else's, or whether that someone else is another black person or a stupid white bureaucrat like me. Bottom line is their lives are way way harder than they should be. So so many black people look like they have been beaten in every sense of the word and I don't care how much of it can be explained away or how much I don't know, I feel an incredible sadness, a sense of injustice and disgust and anger and frustration and despondency about how things could ever have gotten to be this horribly horrible wrong. About the diseases these people get and the diets they have to live on and what happens to their kids and the houses they live in and the ways traditional cultural contracts have been overlaid on crazily different times so that nothing works and yet everything is constrained.

D's Darwin pictures by you.

And people, it makes me cry. D says he sees it all the time when he takes new people to the community, that first day when they can't believe that it's really happening for real and that they are somehow expected to bear witness to it. Everyone has their own weak spot, the moment that drives it home for them. For D it was when he realised one family would be bringing their newborn baby home to live in one of the worst houses in the community (and I use the term house loosely here) and he said all he could think, knowing all too well what a newborn is all about and knowing all too well what housing is all about, was that you just can't bring a newborn there. And yeah, I guess for me too it is the babies and children it is hardest to categorise and simply parcel out. No matter what I may think about evolution and the over arching issues, I just can't get over the sheer numbers of kids whose lives seem to be largely fucked up before they have even had the chance to start making their own mistakes.

D's Darwin pictures by you.

I am aware that I know a lot less than a lot of people about all this and many voyeurs and dilettantes have preceded me in these sentiments, but a simple drive through the city raises all these things. I love it there. I find the lifestyle, the climate, the sensibility and the family inclusive sense of engagement in the public spaces absolutely thrilling. I love the diversity and the excitement and the unknown that makes every day feel new and worthwhile and I spent a lot of time while we were there wondering how it would have been to be hanging out up there for six months instead of four days. I'm sad I am not up there. But there are other things I am all too aware I am glad I don't have to navigate on a daily basis (and I'm not just talking about Casuarina shopping centre).

D's Darwin pictures by you.

American Wife may not have been a good choice of relaxing read while I was there, driving home as it did the complicity of standing in the shadow of privilege while others pay the price. I'm left with a kind of hangover even though I don't remember getting drunk and I find the comparisons I make between myself and those of my type and Laura Bush and those of her type more than a little uncomfortable. Now I just want to say, you know, la de da, don't worry, everything is alright, sorry, really, I am being melodramatic, I did have a good time too! And it's true that perhaps the most complex part of it is how conflicted I feel, that I oscillate wildly between these different states of mind.

So, yeah, Darwin.

Gudorrka dirt track by you.

all photo credits aside from the first and last go to D.