Thursday, January 31, 2008

A bunch of ratbags

I said quite a while ago I'd been reading old books. Not so much reading them as wallowing in them. Some are old but new to me, some old even to me, but nonetheless I've been enjoying them. Part of the charm is in their very age. Many writers essay the historical but there is something about the, to me, historical, written by someone to whom it was not history. Hence the charm of, for examples, Dickens[^] or Gissing[^]. The last author in particular impresses me with the way he describes the London of the 1880's (like I'd know if it was accurate or not!). You can find a selection of his work at Project Gutenberg (or just click on the link over there --> under Literature).

But the book that sparked this particular wander down memory lane is 'A bunch of Ratbags' written by one William Dick. I've not managed to find a single link through Google that says anything about Mr Dick. I was impressed, however, by the filtering that Google apply; I half expected a plethora of links of a non-worksafe nature but was pleasantly surprised.

This is one of those books that's old to me; I first read it in 1968 when a teacher at Footscray Tech intimated that it might interest me. He was right. The charm was (and is) that it was written by a Footscray boy and the places he writes about are in and around Footscray. To be sure he disguised the name, calling it Goodway. I'm not sure why he changed it; perhaps he was writing a little too close to the time (it details his life from the late 1940's until the early 1960's and it was published in 1965).

But I know, from the descriptions, most of the places he wrote about; the house he lived in was at Errol Street, since demolished as part of the rebuilding of Mt Mistake[^] (the space is now occupied by an onramp to the Princess Highway). The Star theatre in his book is what was once the Trocadero on Barkly Street; the Gold was the Grand in Paisley Street. Interestingly enough he doesn't mention the La Scala in Leeds street but perhaps it wasn't there in the mid 1950's. It was certainly there in 1962 though not of much interest to us at the time; they ran Italian movies.

My friends and I used to go to the Saturday Arvo matinee at the Grand in 1963/64 - we preferred the movie at the Grand but the Troc had Tom and Jerry Cartoons in the first half so we'd buy our tickets at the Troc, sit through the first half and sneak in the backdoor to the Grand for the main feature. We thought ourselves clever young bastards but in later years I've suspected a shared management!

I think I've established that I know the milieu though I do confess I resorted to the Melways[^] online to be certain. (They obviously don't want people doing detail links).

I went to the same school and I have to say that, going by the description of life at Footscray Tech in the early 1950's I'm glad I wasn't there then! I probably wouldn't have survived the experience. It had a reputation as a 'tough' school in the 60's but I certainly didn't experience the gang life he describes.

He describes how he aspired to, and eventually made it, to the status of Bodgie[^]. I can just remember Bodgies at the end of the 1950's; sitting on a tram with my Grandmother and Mum and seeing these old people (remember I was five or six) dressed so differently, and with such strange haircuts. (How interesting that one of the things we judge people by is their hair). The other thing I remember is that they left us alone though I seem to remember my Grandmother being apprehensive.

But the thing that got us interested in reading this book in 1968 was the forbidden subject of sex! In a time when PersianKitty is a click of a URL away that seems quaint but it was certainly so in Australia, the 'summer of love' notwithstanding. We were so censored that when that silly song 'Snoopy and the Red Baron' was on the top 40 they'd bleep the word 'bloody' because it was a swear word in Australia! Indeed, as recently as 1972 the vice squad raided a prominent Melbourne Department Store (Myers) because they'd displayed a copy of Michaelangelo's David in the window!

And then this book was placed in our hands. It's pretty tame stuff these days but back then any literature that even hinted at the mystery of girls was avidly consumed. As an accomplished reader I was called upon to read the 'dirty' passages out loud. I vividly recall walking down Nicholson Street, away from the school and toward Footscray shopping centre, the book in my hands, reading it out loud to a half dozen or so schoolmates. Even more vivid, the feeling of embarassment when we encountered a group of young ladies from the Footscray Girls School and my friends insisted I keep reading, out loud!

Well, sequestered in a boys only school, what did I know of girls? How was I to know that they were every bit as interested in the opposite sex as we were? I had much to learn!

It was quite fun learning.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


24 years after it was released, and nearly 40 years after the movie it pretends to be a sequel to, I finally watched 2010 tonight.

Now I'll admit that when I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in June 1968, I came out with mixed feelings. I had no idea what the movie was 'about'. But I had no doubt whatsoever that what I'd just seen was magnificent. A couple of hundred viewings and the aforementioned nearly 40 years later I still don't know what it's 'about'.

And I don't really care. What's music 'about'? A painting? Why does a botrytis riesling taste so damn good when paired with blue cheese?

I thought, when I sat down to write this, that I'd already written about Kubrick's masterpiece but I find I haven't. Maybe a reference or two to the feeling, emerging on a bright sunny Melbourne winter afternoon, that we'd seen what it must be like to walk upon the moon; this a year before Neil Armstrong actually did it.

Now that might seem silly if you weren't a technologically minded teenager at the time but I had the good fortune to be just that and the way I remember it is that we seemed to be saturated with NASA. This wasn't all that much after the first international TV links were established and it was still quite the novelty to see footage, today, of something that had happened on the other side of the world on that very same day.

There was also a surfeit (in the pre-google age) of information relating to the Apollo program. I lapped it all up. Damned if I can remember the numbers anymore but at that time I could have recited the escape velocities of all the inner planets and the moon!

I still vividly remember riding my bike up Mulhall Drive, St Albans, just at sunset in December 1968 and looking up at the moon; knowing that the first manned orbit was happening. I think that was Apollo 8 (Wikipedia confirms that it was).

So I walked out of that first viewing of 2001: A Space Odyssey mightily puzzled yet elated. It was probably the most exciting movie I'd seen up until then and there have been very few more exciting since! Indeed, I suspect that the movie also got me interested in classical music; certainly I remember buying the introduction to 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' on a single the same year. Came as quite a suprise when I heard the entire work; the bit we all know even if we don't know we know it runs for all of two and a half minutes out of a total of forty minutes!

Did I enjoy 2010? You guessed that from my opening line 'the movie it pretends to be a sequel to' that I didn't much. Too much of a contrast with 2001. In the first nothing is explained; we're expected to make up our own minds. In the later movie too damn much is explained. Did I really need to know that HAL did what he did because he was forced to lie?

And that 'something wonderful is going to happen?'. Give me a break.

So no, I still don't think I know what 2001: A Space Odyssey is 'about'. And I'm perfectly happy with that. I'll treasure the memory of arguing with friends about whether this or that detail was 'correct' (the orange juice in the straw was my favourite - we never could decide whether air pressure was an adequate explanation for it's motion once Heywood Floyd stopped sucking).

And I'm quite sure the next time I play the movie I'll enjoy it just as much as I always have!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Where's the profit?

Last Saturday it seems my awakening was eagerly anticipated. You understand that the rest of the family enjoy it when I sleep in almost as much as I do; if I'm asleep I'm not annoying them with unreasonable demands aimed at cleaning up their own mess!

But overnight Andrews machine stopped talking to the Internet. Disaster! Without the Internet he had no access to World of Warcraft and, apparently, no other resources to distract him from the business of being alive. It's such a bummer sometimes, having to breath!

Of course my car is still unwashed[^]. Little did he know just how soon those chooks would turn into homing pigeons!

Two coffees, some bacon and eggs, four leisurely cigarettes and a good hour after rising I condescended to inspect the wayward machine, expecting nothing more complex than the need for an IP lease renewal or perhaps a reboot. But for some reason we'll never know the network chip on the motherboard has disappeared. BIOS shows it enabled, the little lights wake up when you plug the cable in but Windows Device Manager shows it not!

I tried the usual suspects. Uninstall the driver and let the plug'n'play manager do its stuff; no network! I suppose I could have reformatted the drive and reinstalled Windows (would have served the little bastard right to lose his music - he won't do backups) but I can be as lazy as he can at times. Sticking a new network card in was going to be much easier.

Thus to Frys Electronics, where I purchased a PCI 10/100 Twisted Pair card for $4.99 plus tax. But first there was the price Andrew had to pay to be considered. No promises to be forgotten once his computer was safely back on the Internet. I wanted immediate action and it had to be completed before I'd even leave the house on the errand of mercy.

Loud the wailing and loud the gnashing of teeth as he cleaned the kitchen and scrubbed the floor. It wasn't fair! Bretts father wouldn't have made Brett clean the kitchen. I quite agreed whilst asking if I looked like Bretts father.

When I got back from Frys he couldn't believe it when I handed him a cup and instructions on how much milk and sugar went into the coffee. Well, I was doing the hard yacka with his computer; the least he could do was make me another coffee!

What I couldn't believe was the price. The tax inclusive[^] price was $5.40 and I reckon the State of Arizona and the City of Phoenix made more money on the deal than anyone else invloved. The card is made in China, packaged in a cardboard box including a CD of drivers, shipped halfway around the planet, distributed to one of a hundred outlets and lands there marked at $4.99 retail. Either someone is making one hell of a loss or everyone's working on tenth of a cent profit margins! No wonder high tech jobs suck so much!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Touch this potato peeler and you die!

While Heino was in the air on his way here last September I remembered, too late, that I'd meant to ask him to get me a humble potato peeler of the kind we used to have in Australia years ago. They're made of plastic with the blade parallel to the handle. Unfortunately I've not managed to find anything quite like them here in the US. The most common one I've managed to find has the blade at right angles to the handle and they're a bloody nuisance to use.

Even when I found one in much the shape I wanted (and purchased it) it was about three sizes too big and made the peeling of a humble spud a much more involved process than it needed to be. Indeed, I've preferred the old fashioned method of using a sharp knife.

A week or so after Christmas Heino hinted that he had a package ready but he hadn't yet actually packed or sent it. Lazy bastard! And late last week I finally got the email intimating that it had been sent.

I suspected it was a DVD; either one of his homemade ones (and they're bloody good) or perhaps series 4 of Kath & Kim[^]. I felt the latter more likely and so it proved to be; his homemade DVDs usually come out before Christmas, not after.

8 new episodes of K&K; pig heaven!

Of course, Heino being Heino, he couldn't resist a surprise; the package contained not only the DVD aforesaid, it also contained an Aussie potato peeler! Of course I had to cook tonights dinner; cheesy potato bake as the centre piece.

How do I describe the peeling of those spuds? The skin practically slid off!

I told the family, as I cleaned the peeler and hid it away beside this computer, that if they touched it they'd die! Don't forget, these are the people who need, on average, one new mobile phone a year each because they drop em, lose em, leave em on the roofs of cars, leave em in pants pockets in the laundry and so on. I've had the same mobile for 4 years!

There's a reason the remote controls for my TV/PVR/DVD player are hidden away when I'm not using them!

Friday, January 04, 2008

I can't decide if I'm disappointed by this result or not

You are 27% hippie.

You're not in the lowest bracket of non-hippie-hood, but you're close. I advise a field trip to a food co-op or a farmer's market. Do a few interviews and take notes, because there will be a quiz next week to see if you've learned anything.

Are you a hippie?
Quizzes for MySpace