Articles for the Month of December 2010

Some bricks now, baby, let’s build a home



We spent all day yesterday packing and all day today moving into our new house. Our new house that we own*. The first house we’ve ever owned. And if all goes well, the last we ever own.

It’s a big old rambling 1940s home on a good sized block in the hills about 10 km from the Adelaide city centre. There’s lots of room and it is laid out so that even when the boys get older there will be plenty of space for all of us. We’re secluded from our neighbours, surrounded by trees and the moon and stars are clear and bright.

Now it isn’t perfect. Far from it. There’s a leaky faucet. The fence needs finishing. The shower is either hot or cold but never warm. The garden needs some serious work. I can’t figure out where all our stuff is going to go. The trains are frequent and close.

But it is ours. In all its glory and all its problems.

It is ours.

I’m sitting here on the couch, surrounded by boxes with the bloody farting dog at my feet trying to summon enough energy to get up and go to bed and watching that tired Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

And tonight it kind of is.

Robbery! Muggery! Aussie skulldeggery!

The Aussies were seriously lacking in skullduggery at the Adelaide Test last weekend. But that didn’t stop us from having a good time at the Adelaide Oval. Even if it did seem to involve a full day of watching England’s mercenary South African batsman Kevin Pietersen spend the whole day smacking Australian bowlers around the pitch.


Oh, wait, that was exactly what it involved…

I know that most of my readers aren’t cricket fans but I choose to believe that this is due to ignorance rather than indifference*. I’m firmly convinced that if you are a generally a sports fan and someone takes the time to explain the Byzantine rules of cricket to you that you will become a fan of the game. If you’re not a sports fan, well I can’t help you.

Yes, it is slow paced. Yes, it can go on for days – by design. Yes, you can score 500 runs and still lose.  All of these things are true and they are only a few of the things that make cricket such a compelling sport.


And The Ashes? Well, the Ashes is cricket at its finest. Every couple of years since for the last 120 or so, the finest that Australia and England have taken the field for the summer to battle over the eponymous trophy, purportedly the ashes of a bail that represented the death of English cricket. A demise brought on by the first defeat of the English side by filthy colonials in 1882.

Over a century later, it is still the biggest sporting rivalry between England and her erstwhile colony. So much so that for several glorious weeks in December and January, ‘the cricket’ rules. Staff was pretty scarce on the ground at work on the first day of the Adelaide test last Friday and those of us cursed with meetings or other unavoidable work engagements spent a lot of time refreshing scoreboards on our phones.

Having lived in each country, having one son born in each, I have the advantage of neutrality in the series. This may be all the more advantageous this time around, because it looks as if barracking for Australia is going to be a hard slog.


And if all this doesn’t convince you to care about The Ashes, well, many of us know that The Ashes are “vitally important for the past, present and future safety of the Galaxy”.


*That’s right, insulting your readers is bound to keep them coming back.

There is, perhaps unsurprisingly, very little good music about cricket. But Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy managed to put together a cracker of a side project concept album. The Duckworth Lewis Method is remarkably uncampy and a good listen for both the cricket fan and music lover alike.

Find the heat over the bay or in the scraps of someone’s plate.

This will be our third summertime Christmas and I must say that I’m warming to it. I don’t know if it is having young kids to enjoy it with or whether the seasonal reversal removes the S.A.D.component of my typical holiday dread, but I find myself looking forward to Christmas this year. If you’ve known me for any period of time you will know just how surprising a sentiment this is for me.

Christmas in Australia is all ass backwards, it’s true. There’s the expectation of sitting down for a full roast dinner on a day that temperatures might reach 40°C. There’s all the same trappings of Christmas – plastic snowmen that nearly melt in the brutal Antipodean summer sun. But now that  I’m beginning to get my head around it, I’m beginning to see the charm.

Christmas in Australia is days at the beach. It is barbecues on sweltering, sunny afternoons. It is long weekend days watching test cricket, listening for that distinctive sound of leather on wood  that precedes the bails tumbling. Christmas down under is ice cream and mangoes and cherries and mince pies. Not all at once, of course. It is sunny days on Rundle Mall singing along to ‘Winter Wonderland’ or ‘White Christmas’ in shorts and sandals.It is hot, dry northerlies and ineffective air conditioning and sweating on the verandah with my feet in the kids’ paddling pool. It is splashing toddler boys hosing down the dog, each other and occasionally their mum.

Christmas in Australia is ass backwards. Absolutely. But it is also about redefining the holiday. It’s about new traditions for a new life. That is what I came here for and Christmas by Christmas it is what I’m getting.



By now I know the answer’s always in the question

I’ve just sent the invoice for three chapters that I wrote for inclusion in a biochemistry textbook. It isn’t a heap of money, but it is the most I’ve ever been paid for writing. It always feels good making money for doing something that I love. Not that it is that common, mind, but nonetheless. Feels good. I think, in fact, that it was the exercise of structured, paid writing that allowed me to catch the blog bug again. When I stopped putting it off and made the time to sit down and write, I thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted to keep writing after my task for the day was done. Hence, the recent burst of blogging.

A part of my was a little sad when I mailed off that invoice today. I want to keep going, keep writing. The problem is that blogging isn’t satisfying me this time around. It all seems a little trivial, a bit of vanity writing. Sound and fury. I need something ‘real’ to write. That was what made the textbook writing so satisfying – the fact that it is going to be published in old school book form, that undergraduate students are going to be forced to buy it and that maybe, just maybe, it will help someone learn something useful. Unlikely, I know, but a guy can dream.

I want to write something real. But what? I love reading fiction but can’t fathom writing it and, as a friend in publishing told me – ‘nobody wants fiction from new authors, fiction doesn’t sell.’ Nonfiction it is then. But what to write and, more importantly, when? I knocked out 20,000 words in a week by taking some days away from work, but I knew that there was a payday at the end. I’m not sure I could convince Dr. O’C to get the kids out of the house on a Sunday afternoon on a whim. A fantasy.

On a tangentially related note, today is the first official day of summer.  I’m going back to four days a week at work over the next few months to get some time with the boys and so Dr. O’C can go back to work full time. I’ve stored up enough leave time to take every Wednesday from today through the end of February home with the boys. For the first year or so we were in Oz, I did that and generally enjoyed the time I had with Boy Z. Then Not Max came along and Dr. O’C was on maternity leave and my work got a bit out of control. And, to be honest, I was a bit scared to deal with the two of them on my own. But we’re doing OK today. We’ve spent the morning messing with marsupials and the boys have been charitable enough to take good long naps simultaneously. I reckon they realise I’m out of my league, here.

Behind you, mate!