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!

A man must have a shed to keep hime sane.


If there’s anything on god’s green earth better than a fresh Queensland mango, I’d love to know about it. Firm, silky, the taste of a golden spring afternoon. Absolute perfection.

They think so too…

What hasn’t even approached perfection this year is the performance of my beloved Georgia Bulldogs. I haven’t been writing about them, and clearly that has taken a toll as they’ve stumbled along to a 5-6 mark on the season. But they take on the hated Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Saturday. If there’s any hope of salvaging a modicum of pride, this is it. So, bygones be bygones Go Dawgs! GATA.

And while we’re cheering teams on, c’mon Aussie, c’mon, c’mon! No better way to start the Australian summer than a Saturday afternoon of test cricket.


And finally, our move date is less than three weeks away. I’m getting excited. And extremely stressed. Here are a couple of sneaky peeks from the estate agent’s website.



Image credits: Mango


Everything’s gonna get lighter, even if it never gets better.

Forget all your politics for a while.
Let the color schemes arrive.

I knew it would happen eventually. The American Left and the American Right have moved so far apart that they’ve backed into one another. I heard both MSNBC ranter Keith Olbermann and talk radio screecher Mark Levin shouting about new safety regulations at American airports. I wonder if they know that they agree with one another.

American politics: the best reality show Mark Burnett never produced.

My Mom asked me why I moved so far away, which I’m fairly sure was a rhetorical question. It isn’t because of the absurdity of the American political system, as much as I would enjoy declaring that to be the case. It isn’t for any one reason.

It is because I never felt at home anywhere until I left the States.

The sky here is a different shade of blue. Richer, with a clarity that is almost impossible to explain until you get off the plane on a sunny day from anywhere else in the world.

And there’s a wind as spring turns to summer that comes whispering in from the North. And as summer turns to high it starts to howl, maddeningly.

Every morning I wake up with the sun and caterwauling magpies, kookaburras and lorikeets. And I walk to the bus in the full glory of an Australian spring morning.

But I do miss Thanksgiving and the family and friends and the warmth that comes with it. And I was to lazy to replicate it this year. I’m thankful though.

Thankful that I’m not flying through an American airport.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.


As for the accompanying track, what I wrote back in 2008 still applies:

“The latest record from the husband and wife team Mates of State is the perfect example of that latter criteria. There’s nothing groundbreaking or original about “Rearrange Us” – it is just perfectly crafted pop music. It’s wonderfully written. There isn’t a bad track on the record. And it’s perfect to sing-along to. Do you need more? The record kind of got panned by the critics. I don’t know why. It’s as close to a perfect pop album as I’ve heard in years and it was my favorite album of the year. I can give you A Free Man guarantee that if you buy this one from  you will not be disappointed.

Looked at my kingdom, I was finally there…

Well, it has been a little while, hasn’t it? I sort of had a spell of blog fatigue there coupled with a spurt of seasonal affective social networking withdrawal, but really I’ve just been too busy. Yeah, yeah, everyone’s busy but for those few loyal readers/family members here’s a litany of excuses:

  1. I have a new job. Well, not a new job per se, but a new contract. A lovely, long term, stable contract. Tenure track. Serenity. With that new job, however, comes new responsibilities and new expectations. Establishing a research program, supervising graduate students. No more money though. But security is priceless.
  2. I have, under my academic tutelage, about 600 nursing or pre-nursing students who take up a surprising amount of time. You wouldn’t thing that several hundred 18 or 19 year old (mostly) girls would be that high maintenance, but by jiminy they are. Don’t get me wrong, they’re lovely. After a couple of semesters of teaching them, I’m absolutely enchanted with my charges. They aren’t the most academically rigourous students in the world, but they’ve signed on to do what has to be one of the toughest jobs in the world and they’re great fun to teach. And the lecture halls smell much better after the nursing students have been in there then some of the more co-educational courses. But, man do they require a lot of attention around exam time. I’m glad we’re in the waning days of the semester and three months of summer break is on the horizon.
  3. I’m writing a book. Well, not a book per se, but some chapters in a text book. Chapters that I’ve had six weeks to do before the due date (Monday) and decided to start approximately two days ago. In fact, what the hell am I doing right now? I should be writing about intracellular signalling.
  4. I have two kids under four and a puppy. Enough said.
  5. (Deep breaths). We’re buying a house. I know people buy houses every day. Well, maybe not anymore in the U.S., but in much of the world I know people buy houses every day. But when our landlords told us they we’re selling our house and Dr. O’C decided it was time to get on that mythical property ladder, my stomach spontaneously twisted itself into a knot that I can’t seem to untie. We went through weeks of looking at horrible overpriced houses – the property market hasn’t dropped out in Australia – weeks of debate about passable houses. Then, one weekend we shuffled into the house. The only one that we both loved. Then there were weeks of haggling and hair pulling with the estate agent from hell. But today, the contract is signed, the loan is approved and we’re on the verge of being homeowners.

I think I’m as frightened as I am excited.

Those of you who are locals and recognise today’s song of the day, which has been on an endless loop in my head for the last few weeks, may be able to work out the neck of the woods in which we’ll be laying our head in a few short weeks.

Well, that’s my litany of excuses. I don’t know if I’m back for good or just popping my head up for a quick hello. Either way, in the words of the Fresh Prince, I might as well kick it.

I’m wondering how the glass will hit

The new dog, in a cyclone of sharp little puppy teeth and a flood of puppy pee, has arrived. Boy Z is besotted, Dr. O’C resigned and Not Max slightly confused. Along with the peals of laughter and declarations of love, however, have been fits of tears. Puppies nip. It’s what they do. Not Max has borne it with his typical aplomb. He’s spent the first year of his life receiving various injuries and insults from his older brother, so the occasional nip on the ear is nothing out of the ordinary.

Boy Z, on the other hand, is struggling a bit with a rambunctious pup. The new dog seems to have summoned memories of the old dog for Boy Z. After Timmins bit Boy Z we used the standard “gone to a farm with lots of other dogs” line. As we were driving back from the pet store this morning with new collar, lead, toys and other puppy paraphenalia, Boy Z asked “When is Woody going to go the farm?”

This isn’t something we’ve talked much about in the last six months, so I was a bit confused. “What do you mean, Boy Z? What farm.”

“The farm that Timmins went to, with the other dogs. When will Woody go there? I don’t want him to go there. I like Woody and I like Timmins.”

The cracking sound you heard from wherever you’re sitting in the world was my heart breaking.

Later today, after being nipped whilst playing with the pup, he moaned. “Woody bit me. Like Timmins bit me yesterday on the beach.”

It surprises me that the memory is so seared into his little brain, especially since he’s been so keen to get a new dog. It also brings all that back to the front of my mind.

But Woody isn’t Timmins. He isn’t really even a replacement for Timmins. He’s a new dog. A fresh start. But with any fresh start comes the, pardon the pun, teething pains. I just hope a bad memory and bit of playful roughhousing doesn’t turn Boy Z off the new dog. Any advice on quickly curbing puppy biting would be gratefully received.


And speaking of dogs, or Dawgs if you prefer, it is college football season. At long last it is college football season. Another few months of late nights/early mornings spent listening to football games on the internet that are being played 10,000 miles away. If there’s one thing besides my family that I miss from the U.S. anymore it is Georgia Bulldogs football. Since I escaped in 2004 I’ve spent many an autumn (or spring) Saturday (or Sunday) . I’m not going to lose any sleep tonight, however, as I don’t expect the University of Louisiana-Lafayette’s Ragin’ Cajuns to give my boys in red and black much trouble. But the season gets interesting starting next Saturday when the Dawgs roll into Columbia, S.C.

Go Dawgs!

And you feel so right, but how come you can’t sleep at night?

In the suburbs
I learned to drive
And you told me we’d never survive
Grab your mother’s keys we’re leavin’…

In my younger days, when the stress tide was rising, I used to pop on my favourite record at the time, crank the volume up to maximum and bathe in an anodyne sonic sea. Cheaper than Valium and a bit better for someone of my addictive nature.

I’ve been a bit tightly wound these last few weeks and the release of The Arcade Fire’s new record, couldn’t have been better timed. All the way home from work today, I was looking forward to a little music therapy. I can usually get some music blaring in the boys’ witching hour between dinner and bedtime.

Boy Z doesn’t get it, he’s got too much of his mother in him and is as likely to order me to turn the music down as he is to dance around the lounge. Not Max, however, he gets it. He’s a rocker. All it takes to turn him out of a bad mood is “Paradise City” at maximum volume. So when Dr. O’C and Boy Z took a trip to the supermarket this evening, we pulled out the new record. Delighted in the anticipation as the cellophane was pulled away from the jacket and those expectant moments of quiet as the disk slid into place and the CD player chirped to life and the speakers roared to life.


It has been three years since the last offering from The Arcade Fire – a long three years. The Montreal band’s two previous offerings are easily among my top ten favourite albums of the last decade. They were, quite simply, masterpieces. I’ve actually been a little bit nervous since the announcement that their third full-length record was due this week. Could they do it again. Could they make another album that becomes an inherent part of the soundtrack of my life. One of the things that The Arcade Fire does well is to make a concept album that isn’t a novelty album. Their 2004 debut, “Funeral”, was about loss – a theme that struck close to home for me at the time as well. Their sophomore effort in 2007, “Neon Bible”, was all about spirituality and salvation – as was my 2007.

And this one, as you may have guessed from the title, is about suburbia. And an album about suburbia in all its banality, uniformity and, yes, even its hidden darkness is perfect for me in 2010. I grew up in the virulent Florida suburbs in the 1980’s and spent much of the last twenty years trying to escape their  of the 1990’s trying to escape their clutches. The irony of landing two decades later in the bosom of suburbia on the other side of the world is not lost on me.

While the record is as cynical as I am about the suburbs, it is also nostalgic. It’s not a condemnation of the endless 21st century sprawl as much as a resignation to its inevitability. This is the way we live. This is the reality of the 21st century. Win Butler and his merry men see a world slowly crumbling away. And who doesn’t? Maybe not your idea of the way to quiet the grinding gears of your mind on a suburban Friday evening.

But then there’s the music.

It’s bigger, but not as bombastic as the previous two. The band has made good use of the last three years, delivering an album that is more lush, more mature than their previous efforts. They’ve also embraced a wider range of musical styles veering from straight-ahead punk rock to intricate, even challenging, orchestration. Despite hinging thematically on the banality of the day to day, it’s musically epic. But above all, beautiful and compelling.

Not Max probably missed the thematic overtones and the intricate instrumentation, but he seemed happy enough with the music – and he certainly liked the flavour of the cover. He’s not afraid to let me know when he thinks something sucks. If I’m playing the indie folk for which I’ve got a penchant these days, he’ll fuss and grizzle until I turn on something with a barrage of electric guitar. And as we bathed in a musical barrage, I found the musical narcotic that I needed. As for suburbia?

It is what you make of it, I suppose. And I’ve spent Friday evenings in worse ways.

Put the cellphone down for a while
In the night there is something wild
Can you hear it breathing?

And hey
Put the laptop down for a while
In the night there is something wild
I feel it, it’s leaving me