Saturday, March 31, 2007

KaBOOOOOM! (Whoop! whoop! whoop!)

We just had a great big thunderstorm. Three times the thunder was so shatteringly loud that the alarm went off in the car parked next door. It is an interesting sound effect.

KaBOOOOOM! (Whoop! whoop! whoop!)

When I hadn't heard the thunder for a while I turned the computer on again. While the computer was still starting up, there was another KaBOOOOOM! (Whoop! whoop! whoop!).

I just about jumped out of my skin.

But you can't turn off a computer that is in the middle of starting up, except by pulling the plug. I wasn't willing to do that, so I let it continue. That was twenty minutes ago and there hasn't been another KaBOOOOOM! (Whoop! whoop! whoop!) yet, so it's probably safe now. At least I hope so.

After the first thunderclap of this storm, which wasn't so loud, the rain started, and just after that I heard my first frog of the season. I guess spring has really arrived. We're having wild and windy weather, and the frogs are singing.

Well, the frogs WERE singing. They seem to have stopped again. Perhaps those really big KaBOOOOOM! (Whoop! whoop! whoop!)s were too scary for them, and they decided to hibernate a little longer.

Did you know that tree frogs hibernate by burying themselves in earth? Did I mention that before? That was something I didn't know until I dug one up in the garden one year. It was a sad and somewhat revolting discovery, and I held the little dead frog in my hand and wondered how on earth it had ended up buried in my garden. As I was peering at it closely, one of its legs twitched.

That wasn't a very nice experience, for me or for the frog. It can't be pleasant to go straight from hibernation to the discovery of flight. Things should be arranged a little better than that, I think. When frogs bury themselves in your garden they should leave little markers, so you can know where not to dig.

But since they don't, I have no spring bulbs. It's too risky.

(Oooh, the thunder is coming back. Time to unplug.)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The park pervert

When I was in the park taking the first crow coat hanger nest pictures, something rather odd happened that I did not write about because I was still excited about having actually seen a crow coat hanger nest in real life rather than on TV. (I did not know that a couple of days later I was going to find another two and it would become old hat.)

The odd thing that happened concerned one of the usual park perverts sitting on another bench, diagonal from me. This in itself was not odd. There are always park perverts. I did not take pictures of him, because he did not look like a particularly stable person, for reasons that will shortly become clear. But I did keep an eye on him. It is a good idea to keep an eye on park perverts. You never know what they might get up to.

(I should insert a disclaimer here: I do not know that this guy was really a pervert. Nor do I know whether any of the slightly grubby, lone middle-aged guys who haven't shaved for a while that always seem to be hanging around in parks watching children play are actually perverts. However, there have been rather a lot of unpleasant incidents in our area, in parks, involving lone, slightly grubby middle-aged men who haven't shaved for a while, so that any lone, slightly grubby middle-aged man who hasn't shaved for a while and hangs around a park for no obvious respectable reason is suspect. If you are a lone, middle-aged, slightly grubby guy who hasn't shaved for a while and hang around in parks for perfectly innocent reasons that are not obvious, I apologize. I didn't mean you.)

Anyway, this particular lone, slightly grubby middle-aged guy who hadn't shaved for a while (let's just call him a park pervert, shall we? It's quicker to type) was feeding pigeons and watching children play, particularly the eight year old girl with the very short skirt whose clever mother had sent her out to play in the park frequented by lone, grubby, middle-aged men who haven't shaved for a while. And because he was feeding the pigeons rather slowly, taunting them with his full bag of food but doling it out crumb by crumb, they got braver than they should have, and, foolishly trusting, started using him as a landing pad. With a goofy grin on his grubby, unshaven face he let this happen for a while, and then, just when they were getting comfortable with their new friend, he grabbed one of them.

It was about then that I started paying closer attention, while still photographing birds and pretending to ignore him.

He held the pigeon tight. It struggled and tried to flap but he clamped its wings down and held it firmly, still with a goofy grin (and still keeping an eye on the eight year old in the short skirt).

I sat transfixed on my bench, taking unfocused and blurry pictures of crows. My heart suddenly wasn't quite with the crows any more. All my attention was directed to a captured pigeon, and I was trying to develop eyes in the side of my head.

A part of me did not want to know what he was going to do to the pigeon. I had a feeling it was not something I wanted to know, and I knew I was not brave enough to confront him if he started doing something that would be frowned on by the RSPCA. I am not a large or strong person. Only my students are scared of me, and that's only because I have the power to give them bad grades. I was fairly sure that threatening to give this park pervert a bad grade would not work.

So I continued to take bad photos of birds at the same time as keeping a corner of my eye on what the park pervert was up to. I wanted to photograph him, but every time I looked directly at him he looked directly at me, still wearing that goofy grin. It was making me nervous. And every time I glanced he still had the pigeon firmly clutched in his hands. The pigeon seemed to have given up, and was just sitting there, possibly squeezed breathless.

After a while I heard the rustle of a plastic bag, and glanced his way again. What I saw was horrifying.

He was stuffing the pigeon into a small plastic bag.

I had to do something, didn't I? Wasn't it illegal to stuff live pigeons into plastic bags? Or ... perhaps it wasn't? There is a lot of talk here about how pigeons are a health risk in the cities, and about the problem of what to do about them. There are signs in parks instructing the public not to feed the pigeons. If I reported a man stuffing a pigeon into a plastic bag I would probably be laughed at, and he would be given a medal.

I stared, openly now, with horrified fascination as he closed the plastic bag, held it up, and watched it wiggle frantically. He was still wearing the goofy grin on his slightly grubby, middle-aged unshaven face, and I trembled for the pigeon.

Then he glanced at me again, and I looked back at the crows. I am a terrible coward.

After a while I heard the rustle of the plastic bag again, and risked glancing over. What I saw amazed me.

The park pervert held the plastic bag up high, and opened it.

There was a pause, as if the pigeon was assessing whether this was a new trick, and then the bird burst explosively out of the bag. It flew straight up and across the park. I do not think I have ever seen a pigeon fly quite that fast before, or in such a straight line.

I looked back at the park pervert. He was watching the freed pigeon fly away and his whole body was shaking with unrestrained, open-mouthed laughter. He looked like a person who had just been liberated himself. He also looked more than slightly insane.

After the pigeon disappeared over the trees, the park pervert opened a new plastic bag, fished out some more food, and went back to feeding pigeons and watching the eight-year-old with the short skirt. The pigeons, having apparently learned nothing, approached him with their usual idiotic lack of caution.

At that point I didn't think my nerves could stand a repeat episode. I decided it was time to leave.

I had taken enough photographs anyway.

Early blossom

There are buds all over the cherry blossom trees, but here and there, if you look carefully, you can find a bloom.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Last night I did a little research (with the aid of Professor Google) and discovered the reason why the two crow nests in the little park are so different. The hippie nest belongs to a carrion crow, and the avant-garde nest to a jungle crow.

I didn't even know there were any carrion crows around here, but evidently there are. Today I went back to the little park to see if I could get some better pictures of the wire nest, and was just in time to see the carrion crow mother coming back to her hippie nest. When she was standing on a branch, she called to some other crows that were flying overhead, and her head bobbed up and down. That settled it. She nests in a deciduous tree, and her head bobs up and down when she caws. She is a carrion crow.

I also discovered I could get a different view of the wire nest if I went out onto the road and got honked at a lot. (I hope you appreciate the way I risk my life to get these photographs.)

It looks like the nest is abandoned and collapsing, from this angle. Either that or it is a very tall nest.

As I cycled off, about a hundred metres down the road there was a school, and I was still looking up into trees as I cycled. What I saw made me wonder whether I have been cycling around with my eyes closed for most of my years here (or possibly with my eyes on the traffic?), because I then saw not one but two more hanger nests. TWO! That means there are three, within about a hundred metres of each other. How bizarre.

I took my life in my hands again to take these pictures. I had to stand in the middle of the road, and again got honked at.

This is a truly horrible picture, and I normally would not post it, but it shows where the school crow nests are located in relation to each other. The park was behind me when I took this picture.

Here is the nest marked with the arrow:

And next is the nest marked with the circle, which, like the one in the park, seems to either have two levels or be in the process of collapsing. It seems odd that these nests should collapse, though. When the hangers are that tangled up, I can't imagine them untangling themselves easily, even in a high wind. Maybe they're not collapsing after all. Maybe they are two-storey crow nests.

Here is a close-up of that last one, giving an idea of the sheer number and tangled-up-ness of the hangers.

Conclusion: the jungle crows around here are suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Incidentally, the other bird I saw yesterday was not a thrush. It was a bulbul. I saw it again today, and when it called out to its friends I recognized its voice. I was misled by its speckled chest. It sat in the tree above my head for a long time, and posed. I think it was showing off a new haircut.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Crows' nests

Today I went out for a little while, and stopped at a little park near our house. It is a beautiful spring day, and I sat under this tree.

That is my bicycle.

I sat on the bench and observed, across the park, a crow's nest, with a crow in it.

I sat there and tried to imagine one of those hooligans being a mother. It wasn't easy. But actually I didn't need to imagine it. I could see a crow tail. The crow was definitely there, being motherly.

After a while I caught a glimpse of movement above me, and looked up.

How come I'd never noticed thrushes around here before, and suddenly this year I've seen two? Maybe it was the same one. Maybe it followed me from the paddy field.

(Correction: It is not a thrush. It is a bulbul.)

As I tried to focus on the thrush (and about twenty clicks later finally succeeded) I noticed a big blob in the tree, much higher up. It had to be another crow's nest, but something about it looked ... odd.

I zoomed in, and clicked. Then I checked out the picture I'd taken, and zoomed it some more. I saw a much blurrier version of this:

(I took another thirty or so photos, and the one above is the only one that was in focus. I also ended up with a crick in my neck.)

I tried to find other angles to take pictures from, but the only place the nest was visible from was underneath, more or less where I was sitting on the bench beside the bicycle in the first picture.

While I was showing The Man the pictures just now, he commented that the two crow's nests are entirely different in style. We came to the conclusion that the log cabin-style nest belongs to a hippie back-to-nature crow who eats only organically grown rubbish. The coat hanger nest, on the other hand, belongs to an avant-garde, modernist crow, who collects rubbish and calls it 'found art,' and who believes that art shouldn't be comfortable.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Tomato trick

You may (or may not) have noticed that I rarely give hints for cooking. There is a good reason for this. I am not a good cook (except when it comes to custard). However, I do have a tomato trick. This is a trick I learned years ago as a way of making out-of-season tomatoes taste pretty damned good, which they don't usually.

(I will warn you up front that it is not a particularly HEALTHY trick.)

What you do is to slice the tomato in half, sideways, then use a knife to make crisscrossing slices in the middle bit, which is always a bit hard in out-of-season tomatoes. On the middle bit, put a little brown sugar and a dab of butter. Then grill the halves for a few minutes, until the butter and sugar are melted in and the tomato is sizzling and a tiny bit blackened around the edges.

If you can taste butter and sugar you have used too much (although I have to admit I haven't managed to use too much butter yet, and wonder if it is possible). But if you have used the right amount, your tomato will taste MUCH better than out-of-season tomatoes usually do.

It will taste almost like a real tomato.

Friday, March 23, 2007


I went into Osaka today to meet a friend for lunch, and we discovered that they give alien registration cards to ANYONE these days. There are alien weirdoes all over the place. I took a picture of one.

At least he smiled for the camera.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dusky thrush

For the last few days I have been seeing a bird standing in the middle of the rice paddy down on the corner. It just stands there, looking alert. (The rice paddy does not have rice in it, yet.) I did not ask The Man what kind of bird it was, because whenever I ask him what a bird is he tells me with great authority that it is a thrush.

But I should have asked him this time, because in the same way that a stopped watch that tells the correct time twice a day, this time he would have been right.

Look Ma, no hands!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

All he needs is heels

Mystery skull

At flea markets here there is always a skull. This time was no exception.

But what is this a skull OF?

(Added: Extra bonus closeup for the truly ghoulish)


It's the 21st! Flea market day!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Moody and short-tempered

(Readers of my old blog will recognize this. I'm in the process of deleting old stuff, but some stories are worth keeping.)

Amazing story out of Australia:

A man attacked by a shark swam 300 metres, walked to his car and drove to a local surf club with the shark still attached to his leg.

The wobbegong attacked Luke Tresoglavic, 22, yesterday as he was snorkelling on a reef off Caves Beach, south of Newcastle.

When the 60-centimetre shark attacked, "(I) instantly grabbed hold of it with both hands as hard as I could to stop it shaking", Mr Tresoglavic told ABC radio.

A doctor was quickly located. When he asked what the problem was, the shark snapped, "Are you blind? I've got something stuck in my teeth, you fool."

Wobbegongs can grow up to three metres, have razor-like teeth and are said to be moody and short-tempered.

Read the rest here.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Burning down the house

In my music collection, I just discovered a copy of Burning Down the House by Talking Heads. I hadn't listened to it for a long time, but fired it up, turned up the volume, and ROCKED.

That brought back some memories!

One specific memory it brought back was from when I was about 21, living in Dunedin. I was involved with a drama group for a while. I've never really been interested in acting, and for me it was one of those things you get into without really thinking. I used to go out to drink (lime juice – I had no money) at my local pub, where one of my drinking buddies was a slightly demented Dutch ex-opera singer who was into drama and involved with a local amateur drama group. He got me to agree to do something with his drama group, and it was late and he was drunk and I thought he'd forget. He didn't.

Anyway, I'd ended up acting in one of their productions, and one of the other actors was a guy I'll call Alan. The other women in the group and I had been teasing him a lot. He was the most experienced actor of us all, and was actually very good, but had no confidence in his ability. He said he wanted to be a professional actor, and took his acting very seriously, but for three years running when audition time rolled around for the drama school, he'd get drunk and miss the audition. He was one of those self-sabotaging types, but a lovely guy and very talented. I don't know why we teased him so much. Probably we all fancied him but didn't want to admit it because he was so obviously hard work. We weren't mean, exactly – we encouraged him as well – but he was pretty hopeless when it came to self-esteem. In retrospect, I think he was painfully shy, a strange thing for an actor to be.

Anyway, Alan decided to hold a party, and in his usual self-deprecatory way invited me by saying it probably wouldn't be very good because he was hopeless at parties but please come. It was such an odd, almost furtive invitation that I asked one of the other women in the cast if she'd been invited too. When she said yes and so had a few other people, I figured it was safe to go.

So on the very cold night of the party I walked to his place, using a map he'd drawn for me. He'd told me I should take a taxi, but I had no money, so walking was my only option. It took more than an hour, but I was young and full of energy. Still, by the time the road started going uphill (which hadn't shown on the map) I was pretty well worn out but stubbornly determined that having come this far I was not going to turn around and go home again. So I slogged on.

When I finally got to the house, which was in a respectable area of town I was unfamiliar with (as opposed to the student area of town I lived in) I was unsure at first whether I was at the right place. The house looked pretty dark, and suspiciously quiet. Most of the parties i went to in Dunedin were detectable for several blocks. The student area of town was a 'let's go and find a party' sort of place. (I don't know if that's what it's still like, but it certainly was back then, at least on Friday nights. I didn't go to very many parties, but I certainly heard quite a few.)

So I stood for a long time outside the very quiet house, puzzled. Was I at the right place? I listened for a while, but couldn't hear any music. Then I tiptoed around the house trying to peer in the windows. I couldn't see anything because the curtains were drawn. I listened at the windows, feeling like a spy. There was somebody in there, but no music and I couldn't hear much. It certainly didn't sound like a party to me. I waited, hoping someone else would come.

Nobody did, and finally, after about half an hour, I worked up enough courage to knock on the door. Actually, I got cold and tired of sneaking around outside, and was afraid that someone would see me and report me to the police.

Alan answered the door.

"Oh, hello! Come in," he said, sounding exactly like a normal, somewhat nervous host.

"Have I come on the wrong day?" I asked anxiously. "I thought the party was tonight."

"It is," he said. "Not many people are here yet, that's all."

I followed him in, still doubtful. I was at least an hour later than he'd said the party was starting. Was this some sort of a trap? I didn't really know Alan that well. And the house looked wrong. It was not student housing. None of the people I knew lived in houses like this. It was ... NORMAL. I can't think of another way to describe it. It had nice wallpaper, and carpet that wasn't threadbare, and normal things like that. It looked like the kind of house our parents would live in, not us. How come Alan was living in a normal house?

He took me through to the living room, and I looked around. It was a normal living room, too. There were normal pictures on the wall instead of cheap prints, and good furniture. It did not look like an Alan place, except for the party guests. Also, it was eerily quiet.

The party guests were all guys. There were about six or seven of them, and none of them were sitting together. They were all over the very large room. Most of them were sitting or lying in various postures of abandonment, smiling at the ceiling or walls and saying "Wow!" in a dreamy way occasionally, except for one who was sitting bolt upright on a pouffe (a pouffe? Alan wasn't a pouffe person, was he?) and rabbiting on about model planes. Alan tried to introduce me to them, and I shook hands with a couple but then gave up when the third one didn't respond. The model plane guy gazed at me and went on for a while about model planes, and I decided to talk to Alan instead. He seemed to be the only coherent person there.

"Sorry," he said, awkwardly. "Some of my friends are a bit strange."

"Never mind," I said. I was feeling equally awkward. I wasn't quite sure how to behave. I was still learning how to be a normal person myself, and wasn't good at party small talk. Most of the parties I'd been to until now hadn't required small talk, or else had been small groups of people I knew already. Student parties were usually loud and lively and you could be a fly on the wall and not worry about doing the right thing. But Alan seemed to expect me to know how to behave, and I didn't have a clue.

"Would you like a drink?" he asked, politely.

"That would be nice," I said. "You know, it's awfully quiet. I didn't hear music when I came. That's why I thought I had the wrong house."

His face lit up.

"Oh, yeah, music!" he said. "I knew something was missing! The tape ran out and I forgot to change it. Can you do that while i get you a drink? The speakers are in here but the stereo is in the other room."

"All right," I said. "What do you want me to put on?"

"Oh, whatever's there," he said vaguely. "Anything you like."

He pointed me to another door, across the hallway. "Through there," he said, and went off to the kitchen, all elbows and legs. He seemed even more uncomfortable than I was.

I crossed the hall, feeling a little nervous. I was the only woman there, and those guys were all off their faces. What was going on? Were the others from the drama group going to come? Also, I didn't have a clue what sort of music I should play. What was the right music for this sort of party? What sort of party WAS it? What music would Alan have, anyway? Maybe I wouldn't know any of it, and would make a terrible choice. Perhaps I should just go home. I was far too straight for this sort of thing.

I opened the door, walked into the other room, and froze. I was in another normal room, this time a dining room. This room had a dining table, a TV, and, shockingly, three completely sober people sitting and watching a rerun of Dallas. (Or maybe Dynasty - one of those American soaps from the early 80s.) When I barged in they all turned to look at me. There was a hostile silence.

"Er, excuse me," I said. For a panic-stricken moment I wondered if somehow I'd walked into the house next door by mistake. "Um, I've come to change the music...?"

They stared at me, their expressions blank.

"Er, where's the stereo?" I asked.

Someone pointed.

"Sorry," I said. "I'll just, um ... " Feeling totally intimidated I grabbed the first tape I found, stuck it in the stereo, hit play, and left hastily. After I closed the door I turned and stared at it. Had I just hallucinated that? Did that room really contain three people sitting grimly and silently around a TV, watching Dallas? Had I taken something weird by mistake? I hadn't had anything to eat or drink yet, had I?

Back in the living room Alan wasn't there, so I went through to the kitchen to find him. He was in the process of making a very complicated drink.

"Alan?" I said, somewhat tentatively. "Er ... who are those people in the other room?"

"Oh, them," he said, as if he'd forgotten. "They're my flatmates."

"But ... but ... why are they in there?" I asked.

"They don't like parties," he said. "I don't think they're very happy about it."

"I noticed," I said. "You could have warned me! They're a bit unfriendly, aren't they?"

"Oh, they're all right," he said. "It's probably not easy, living with me. I don't think they like me very much."

"That's terrible!" I said. "Why do you live with people who can't even be polite to your friends? Why don't you move?"

"I can't move," he said. "This is my parent's house."

We went back to the living room, where the model plane guy was still talking to empty space about model planes and the others were still lying around being unsociably happy, and that's when I realized that the music I'd put on was Talking Heads. Burning down the House was playing, not very loudly. In fact I'd never heard it played so quietly. It sounded wrong.

"Good song!" said Alan. "I'd forgotten that one." Then he went on, thoughtfully, "Actually, the last time I had a party the house burned down."

"Ha ha ha!" I said, and when he didn't join in added, "Er, really?"

"Yeah," he said. "Fire engines and everything. My parents weren't very pleased to come back and find nothing left."

"It actually burned down?" I said. "Right down? How? What happened?"

"Oh, you know," he said. "A fire started."

I probably shouldn't have had any of that drink, because even the next day the rest of the party was a blur. I remember that Alan said he was kind of surprised that his parents had trusted him to take care of the new house, and he was so grateful he had chosen the straightest and most boring people he could find as housemates. He didn't exactly like them, but he thought they'd be less likely to burn down the new house. He didn't trust himself. And I remember that eventually the others from the drama group arrived, and the party became more lively and probably less puzzling. But I didn't stay very long. I was feeling too not-normal. I remember deciding to walk home but the next morning I couldn't remember the walk at all, or getting home, where I suddenly metamorphosed into a non-stop comedian.

My flatmates (there were eight of us) told me about this the next day, and at first I didn't believe them. I didn't remember anything about it, but apparently I kept them entertained for several hours. They said I kept them up way past their bedtimes because I made them laugh until it hurt, and they never knew what I'd come out with next. They had never seen me like that before, they said, but when I asked them what I'd said they claimed they couldn't remember exactly. "Everything!" they said, and started laughing again, and then doubling over and moaning, "Ouch, my stomach still hurts." They said I was brilliant, totally off the wall, and on a roll that went on for several hours. Jokes, stories, imitations of people (I can't even DO imitations) and more, they said, but couldn't (or wouldn't) remember anything specific. Whenever I tried to prod them they got that remembering look and started laughing again.

(One thing I suddenly remembered the next day was that I was on the last day of a course of antibiotics and wasn't supposed to drink. Was that what did it?)

But how could I forget something like that so completely? As far as I was concerned I had got home and gone straight to bed – I had no memory of it AT ALL. This made me terribly anxious about the party as well, but later my drama group friends told me that at the party I'd been boringly well-behaved, had only one drink, done nothing outrageous, and left early, so I decided not to worry about it too much.

However, I vowed that from then on I would mix my own drinks and not eat the cookies. And perhaps I shouldn't listen to "Burning Down the House" at low volume, either. It had probably done something funny to my brain.

You never know.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

You need us

A Japanese friend told me today that she read about some studies done with ants, in which the researcher discovered that 20% of the ants in a colony are lazy. They don't work. They are useless slackers.

The researcher then removed the lazy ants to see what would happen, and what happened was that 10 - 20% of the remaining ants became lazy. So he kept doing it, and it kept happening, until finally I guess he was only left with Type-A ants, because they all started arguing and fighting each other.

I don't know how accurate this story is. I tried looking it up and only found information about a slightly different experiment, and an abstract about some further research based on the original research. (I did find an irrelevant but rather amusing little exchange on Yahoo Answers, though.) However, the lack of facts does not in any way prevent me from having a theory about this. It never does.

My theory is that the 'lazy' ants are not lazy. They are dreamers. They are the peace-loving hippies, the philosophers, and the thinkers of ant society. They probably meditate, write haiku, have little guitars, and give out free hugs. They are perpetual students of the world around them. They stop to smell the roses, read a lot, stargaze, pick their noses, and write songs about how the rain makes them feel.

Every society needs dreamers. Take away the dreamers and everybody else kills each other. The dreamers give you an outlet, quite aside from the poetry and music. You need to have somebody to complain about. "USELESS LAYABOUT!" you can yell as you rush off to work. "GET YOUR FAT ARSE OFF THE SOFA AND DO SOMETHING!"

And you feel much better. If you hadn't been able to do that, you would have had to kick the cat, and that would be ... catastrophic. The cat would bite a dog, the dog would chase a car and cause an accident, the drivers would blame each other and start a fight, and so on. Society would break down within days.

My friend and I discovered, upon reflection, that we are the human equivalent of lazy ants. When the government gets sensible and institutes a decent welfare system for our previously unrecognized but necessary category of people, we'll be the first to sign up.

You NEED us.

Monday, March 12, 2007


You are not allowed to talk about polar bears. Just stop it, right now. You bad, bad person. You must have permission, and you don't, do you. So shut up.

You're still thinking about polar bears, aren't you? STOP IT!

Here. Maybe this will help. Look at this recently pruned tree, instead. Isn't it a lovely tree?

No? That didn't work? Well, how about this one?

See that lovely white fluffy cloud behind the tree? It looks just like a po- SHEEP. Doesn't it?

Now, the interesting thing about these trees is that they are in a park that just happens to be below sea level. Isn't that fascinating? I wonder if trees can swim, like polar be -


(via Echidne of the Snakes)

Sunday, March 11, 2007


It's official. says I'm 8% Stupid! How stupid are you? Click Here!

(Thanks to Kay, who tipped me off to this test in comments on the last post, and who is ALSO totally smart.)

Saturday, March 10, 2007


When I was very small and we had just moved, our new (but old) house had a couple of huge rainwater tanks on a tankstand out the back. The tanks were not needed, and eventually my father took them down. I don't know why he took them down. Maybe they leaked, or maybe he wanted to use them for something. It's possible he thought they were an eyesore, but that sort of thing didn't usually bother him, so I doubt it.

But I was reminded of the rainwater tanks when I saw this comic. Those tanks were huge, and for a while we kids used them to play in. We'd run inside them, rolling across the lawn and banging loudly into trees and fences, or stand on top of them and roll them along feeling like acrobats. Those of us who were big enough could stand inside like a starfish and be rolled along by another kid, and then when the tank stopped rolling we'd stagger out, fall over, and with a bit of luck, not throw up.

I don't remember our parents ever buying us toys from a toyshop, but we still managed to have the best toys of anyone I knew. We had climbable trees, a trampoline, the longest swing I've ever seen (the older kids made it, and it hung from an eight metre rope. You needed someone to pull you by another rope tied to the main one, and you FLEW), and the rainwater tanks. I'm fairly sure that if I'd been asked at the time what toys I wished for I would have answered just like the guy in the comic.

It's possible this cat feels the same way.

Friday, March 09, 2007

I am a silly person

I've been reading a lightweight mystery passed on to me by a friend, and came across this sentence:

Her breath came in ragged pants.

There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that sentence. Only a silly person would laugh.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


If any of my readers are ever considering hitchhiking in New Zealand, beware of the area around Cheviot. Cheviot itself is a wide spot in the road (pop. 390), but the people around there are very, very friendly and helpful. I know, because I got rides with people from that area several times, and at some point they'd turn off on a road to nowhere (well, to their homes, probably), leaving me stranded.

"Are you sure you don't want to stay at our place for the night?" they'd say. "It's no trouble. What if you don't get a ride? You could be stuck here all night."

And me, the idiot, would reply, "No, no, it's no problem. I'm sure someone will come along."

If this ever happens to you, take them up on their offer, especially if it's towards the end of the day.

I once spent two hours waiting for a ride at one of these turnoff points, with my then boyfriend. Just as it was getting dark and we were about to give up and look for a soft spot on the ground to sleep on, an insane old fisherman in a beat up pickup truck with several crates of beer on the back screeched to a halt and asked us where we were going.

"Kaikoura," we said.

"Jump in," he said, and we did, idiotically grateful.

He told us that he often picked up hitchhikers there.

"It's a bad spot," he said. "Not much traffic. You could be stuck here all night. Happy to help!"

Of course we did not know he was insane. He just seemed rather jovial. We climbed into the cab, and ... well, I guess we should have been warned when he told us he knew the road like the back of his hand and could drive it blindfolded, but we were so relieved to get a ride that all we did was thank him effusively. We probably thought he was harmless because he was old.

Ha. Ha.

That old guy drove like a madman. He hardly seemed to look at the road, so perhaps he was right about the blindfold thing. But he seemed to have perfected a sort of no-hands driving method as well, waving his arms as he told us a series of increasingly wild fish stories which we only half heard because we were busy holding onto various bits of the truck and each other and trying not to shriek. It was not so bad for the first bit but once we got to the hills it was terrifying, and we were mad to stay in the truck. (When we talked about it later we discovered that I was determined that if my boyfriend wasn't complaining then I wouldn't either, and he said that he was waiting for me to complain, and when I didn't he thought that if I could cope then he could too. How's that for stupid?)

At some point our frighteningly jolly driver asked if we would like a beer. Thinking he would have to stop the truck to get the beer from the back, and welcoming that prospect, we accepted. He responded by cackling dementedly and taking the next hairpin bend EXTRA FAST so that the crates would slide across the back of the pickup to his side and he could lean out through the window and grab a can for us, still driving at full speed. We told each other later that if he'd stopped we probably would have risked sleeping rough rather than get back into the truck. But as it was we were too terrified to think straight, and concentrated on holding on tight as we hurtled over the mountains in the dark. That beer maneuver was the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced in a vehicle. Most of him wasn't even in the cab. And he did it TWICE. Frantic cries of, "We'll share this one!" did not prevent the second occurrence, because he wanted one for himself as well.

The beer did not help our nerves, but we survived, so I suppose I shouldn't complain.

"You guys were a bit quiet," said our benefactor as he finally dropped us off at our destination. "Never had a ride like that before, eh? Told you I knew the road! Got you here in double quick time, too! "

"You certainly did," we agreed. "Er, thanks very much."

"Going anywhere tomorrow? Want a lift?"

"NO!" we chorused. "I mean, no, thank you."

He was still cackling as he drove off. We could hear him.

People think that hitchhiking is dangerous because of the risk of assault, theft, rape, murder, and other crimes that occasionally happen. But those sorts of incidents are very rare. I have met the biggest hitchhhiking danger in New Zealand, and he is probably still hanging around Cheviot, waiting for his next victim. He'll probably be about ninety by now, but I very much doubt that will stop him.

Piano lesson from hell

Monday, March 05, 2007

What I've been listening to

(iTunes link here)

Did you know that Diocletian was the first Roman Emperor to retire? He was, and after retiring developed a passion for cabbage-growing.

Curriculum Vitae

Name: Dioclês (a.k.a. Diocletianus, a.k.a. Diocletian, a.k.a. Dominus et deus)

Born: A.D. 245

Employment History

- 284: Soldier

284 - 292: Emperor of the Roman Empire

292 - 305: Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire: (Empire too damn big; delegated half to Maximian.)

305 - 312: Cabbage grower

Skills and experience

Semi-divinity, autocracy, repelling barbarian invasions, persecuting Christians, creating martyrs, ending civil war, splitting up empires, growing cabbages

Not polite

Today we had gorgeous May weather (yes, I know it's March, but the weather was May), so I cycled down to the big river. There I discovered a very good reason to wear a hat.

I also discovered a very good reason to wrap a plastic bag over your bicycle seat.

(See how I cleverly focused on the grass instead of on the man or the gulls? I have a bruise on my forehead from when I noticed that after uploading the photos to my computer.)

I had brought food too, but my food was for the ducks. I cycled further down the river to find some. When I did, and threw food to them, the gulls spotted me.

Poor ducks. They know when there's no point in competing. The gulls were catching the food before it hit the water, and if a duck was in the way it got divebombed, so they left. Quickly. They paddled like mad. They could not get away fast enough.

I soon discovered that taking photos of gulls while I was feeding them myself was very, very difficult, because I also got divebombed. At one point I was trying to hold up the camera with one hand and had some bread in the other, and suddenly the food was snatched away. Another gull then made a close pass, and apparently annoyed that the food was gone, shat on my hand and screamed. The ingratitude!

Gulls are not polite creatures, and are positively ruthless when it comes to food. This is the only shot I got when I was feeding them. I think I'll let other people do the feeding next time.

When I told the gulls the food was finished they didn't believe it, and hung around for a while keeping a keen eye on me just to make sure. That was the only time I could get decent pictures. They aren't as interesting as the feeding ones would have been if I'd been able to take them, but still, I'm quite fond of that last one.

Friday, March 02, 2007

More crows

Hey, you! Yes, you over the other side of the bank! Why are you feeding the gulls but chasing us away? What's wrong with us, eh? NOTHING, that's what. When we rip open your rubbish bags we're HELPING. We're getting rid of the rubbish you don't want! What do you mean, we spread it all over the road and make a mess? You put it on the road to start with, didn't you? What's the problem then, eh? How come you won't give us any food now? If you feed us now, maybe we'll leave your rubbish bags alone!

(Yes I KNOW, but it's worth a try.)


(I don't think it's working. Can we go crap on their washing now?)

Thursday, March 01, 2007


How come crows look so scruffy when they fly?


I'm sure I'm a MUCH better balanced person than my results in this game imply.


A couple of weeks ago I took in the grades for one of my universities. I cycled over, spent a little time down at the river watching someone feeding the gulls, and then went into the part-time teachers' room. I chatted with the two other teachers who were there, and then went over to the office to hand in the grades. I took with me only my attendance sheets, the official grading sheets, and a pen. That was one thing too many, it turned out.

I asked the guy at the office what grade I should give students who never turned up to class or only came once or twice. Should I give them a zero, or put a slash through the box? (They have different systems for dealing with this at different universities, and a fail is not the same as a 'did not attend.') He told me to leave the box empty. That was a new one! I signed the sheets cheerfully, not bothering to argue about the ethics of leaving a blank space for the university administration to fill in themselves on a paper I'd signed already. I know they will pass the students they want to pass (the two fourth year students who'd never bothered to turn up) one way or another, and this way is less hassle. I do not want to spend my vacation writing 'retests.'

(Aside: The first time I was asked to retest a student I made the mistake of telling the university that I didn't know how to 'retest' a student who had never taken any test in the first place. There WAS no test for that particular class - it was a writing class and graded on work done during the year, and in any case, what was I supposed to test her on? She had never come to class. I didn't even know who she was. If I tested her on work we'd done during the year she would fail. That turned out to be NOT a tactful question. I was told that if she failed, I'd have to re-retest her, and when I asked I was told if she failed THAT test I'd have to re-re-retest her, and so on. I thought about spending my entire vacation writing tests for one student to see how far they'd take it, but decided it wasn't worth it. I passed her on her first retest even though she was not capable of writing a coherent sentence in English, and she graduated with her English degree.)

Anyway, having sorted out the grading (or lack of it), the guy in the office picked up my attendance sheets, which had been lying on the counter while I'd been explaining about the absent students, and said,

"We need these, too."

I went into paroxysms of embarrassed horror.

"NO!" I shouted, and tried to grab them back. He stepped deftly out of reach "But, but, you see I have written all over them! I didn't know you wanted to keep them! They are a mess! Let me tidy them up first."

"They're fine," said the office guy. "All the teachers do that. Don't worry about it."

"But, REALLY," I said, trying to grab them back politely. "Look! It's awful! It's too embarrassing! I'm sure nobody makes as much mess as this!"

"They're FINE," he insisted. "No problem!"

"Let me just take them to make a copy," I tried, desperately.

"I'll do that," he said, and helpfully did. When he came back he left the originals over on his desk, far from my reach. He gave back the copies, and I folded them quickly. I knew I was beaten, and didn't want to even look at them. I didn't want to know how badly I'd embarrassed myself.

I went back to the teachers' room. The secretary had come back from wherever she'd gone, and when she saw my face she asked what was wrong.

"My attendance sheets!" I wailed. "They took them! I'll never be able to look the office staff in the eye again!"

"Why not?" she asked.

"I write stuff on them," I explained. "Silly stuff. Stuff about the students, or about my teaching. Personal notes. God knows. Awful stuff, if I'm in a bad mood. I didn't KNOOOOOOW they were going to take them!" I wailed. "They've never done it before!"

"Never mind," she said soothingly. "Nobody will understand them if they're in English. And anyway, I'm sure nobody will ever look at them. It's just a new requirement from Monkasho."

I hope she's right, but just in case, next year the first thing I'm going to do when I get the new attendance sheets is to photocopy them, so I have one copy for me to scribble on and the other a nice tidy one, to hand in at the end of year.

(I just glanced at my copies of the attendance sheets, and now I'm wondering whether anybody in that office knows what WTF??? means.)