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Of Armour, Bloody Cummerbunds & Missing Skulls 


Thursday, March 30, 2006

I hate the idea of Australia.

Yeah, koalas are cute, wombats cuter. But, hell, if all Australians aren't annoying. Haven't they got better exports than shrimp on the barbie?

The True History of the Kelly Gang, a prize-winning novel of epic scope was never on my list of books to read. It's Australian and an anchor of a book. Now, however, that I commute to work through traffic as fast as frozen lard, books on tape are my new friend and Peter Carey's novel, at 13.5 hours, has been a very good friend over the last three weeks.

The novel is narrated in unabridged finery with an Australian accent that could slice fleas. Its vocabulary, strange at first, has become part of my vocabulary. The truest test of fluency is the choice of swearwords in moments of anger: I curse adjectival this and adjectival that nowadays. A man's become a cove, his sausage a pizzle, a drinking place a shebeen, a tease a bull-maiden, the cop a trap, an outlaw a bushranger. I think more about cockatoo pies and wombat holes, never mind the novel's changeling boy and the banshee who sent me running for my celtic dictionary to re-consult their histories.

Mostly, I am in need of verifying the Australian curiosities in the novel. The outlaw, Ned Kelly, what was his true story and how he got curled into his intrigues.

Hung at 26, Kelly outlived his younger brother Dan Kelly, his brother's cross-dressing best friend Steve Hart and a poetic opium addict Joe Byrne. The four played the corrupt Australian law at its own game and ended up shooting dead three of the police officers sent to kill them. Spiralling into bank robberies, destroyed train tracks and disabled telegraph wires, the young men meet their doom encased in armour suits.

It's the tidbits that flow out of this story and beyond the scope, so far, of the novel, that keep me up tonight:

About the armour: "The sets of armour removed from the Kelly Gang were recorded on the spot. These sets were then taken to various locations around the state by the police. The armour was subsequently dispersed even further, with some pieces finding their way into private hands and others into the collections of institutions. A number of pieces were wrongly identified and, until recently, there was confusion and disagreement about the components of particular sets of armour."

About the photograph of the dead Joe Byrne: "On Tuesday morning, to the disgust of some of the onlookers, the body was taken outside and slung up against a door to be photographed.....The hands were clenched in the agony of death and covered with blood. Blood stained the blue sack coat and strapped tweed trousers, which, even in death, Joe wore with loose grace." In life, he was, by the way, fluent in Cantonese.

Ned Kelly's sash
, which he received in childhood for saving a schoolmate from drowning, can be seen every day from 9 am to 5 pm: "Made of green silk grosgrain, backed with plain weave green woollen fabric, and interfaced with undyed linen, Ned Kelly’s bloodstained cummerbund is one of the prized possessions of Benalla & District Historical Society. It is 230 cms long, 14 cms wide, and finished at each end with gold coloured metallic fringing.....Ned wore the cummerbund under his armour during his last stand at Glenrowan. It was collected at Glenrowan on 28th June 1880 by Dr. John Nicholson of Benalla, who dressed Ned's [28] wounds. It remained with his family until being donated to the Benalla & District Historical Society in 1973 by his daughter Mrs Emmie McNab."

Even more thrilling to a semi-ghoul like me is the whereabouts of Kelly's skull: "Ned’s death mask, made immediately after the execution by Maximilian Kreitmayer, proprietor of Bourke St waxworks. After his execution Kelly’s hair and beard were shaved, his head was cut off and the brain removed. Medical students then dissected the body. The flesh was boiled away from the skull, which was then shaved and oiled to become a ghoulish souvenir. While the headless body was buried in unconsecrated ground next to the Gaol, the skull's whereabouts are still unknown."


Book Review 


Monday, March 20, 2006

Review #1:

"If you dropped the book on a gerbil, you might well kill it."


Mad Scientist Meme 


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

I've been memed up and down, and now that the memes have piled up, here are my answers.

Seven things to do before I die
1. Surgically implant piranha teeth into puppies.
2. Inject piranha puppies with testosterone.
3. Watch piranha puppies attack Tokyo.
4. Cross-pollinate tulips with sharks.

5. Send tulips to mom.
6. Make someone happy.
7. Blow up the world.

Seven things I can't do

1. Yo-yo.
2
. Explode silly putty.
4. Count.
5. Face transplants.
6. Lick my own genitalia.
7. Lose those pesky holiday pounds.

Seven things that attract me to blogging
1. The fact that I can put all my nefarious plans in print.
2. The fact that the world can tremble with fear at reading of my evil plans.
3. The fact that I can type "Bwa ha ha" over and over again.
4. The fact that there's a whole community of people like me all over the internet and I can meet them through this blog.
5. The fact that after I meet these people I can implant their shih tzu puppies onto their backs.
6. The fact that these hybrid puppy people now make up my army of evil.
7. The fact that disembodied puppy heads have less fur to brush.

Seven things I say most often
1. Where are my scalpels?
2. Sheise!
3. Kawaiiiiiiiiii!
4. I will control the world!
5. Bwa!
6. Ha
7. Ha!

Seven books that I love

1. Frankenstein
2. I am Legend
3. How to be a Villain
4. The Zombie Survival Guide
5. How To Survive a Robot Uprising
6. The Annotated Anne of Green Gables
7. The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Golf

Seven movies I watch again and again/four films I watch/I can watch over and over
1. White Zombie
2. Night of the Living Dead
3. Creepshow
4. Freaks
5. The Island of Dr. Moreau
6. Little Shop of Horrors
7. Otesánek

Seven people I want to join in too: You, you, you, you, you, you, and, um, you.

Four jobs I have done/I've had
1. Implanting puppy heads on the President of Venezuala
2. Genetically modifying the President of the Honduras
3. Tumour augmentation on the Vice President of the United States
4. Taking over the world

Four places I have lived
1. Vienna
2. Half an hour out of Zhuhai
3. Taipei
4. An hour north of Tokyo

Four TV shows I watch/TV shows I love(d) to watch
I don't watch TV but when I did it was:
1. Blackadder
2. Futurama
3. The Simpsons
4. documentaries

Four things I like to eat/favorite [sic] dishes
1. Dim sum
2. Fresh sushi
3. Kaiseki cuisine
4. Tex Mex

Four places I have been on holiday/on vacation
1. The Island of Dr. Moreau
2. Haiti
3. Transylvania
4. 20,000 leagues under the sea

Four favorite [sic] web sites/websites I visit daily
1. Bloglines
2. Gmail
3. Petistic
4. Monsterama

Four places I'd rather be/ right now
1. Drinking coffee at Cafe Hawelka with a good book
2. Nude onsen bathing with Pugshot
3. Shopping for Barbrapappa/Smurf/Doraemon/Kyoro-chan/Gegege no Kitaro/Moomin merchandise, comics and books - and discovering cool new comics
4. Watching movies/cooking/playing boardgames/travelling with Matt

Four lucky tagees/four I'm tagging: The rest of the four readers I haven't yet tagged.

Total number of books in your house
Presumably in the thousands

The last book you bought was
Oddball Texas

What was the last book you read before reading this?
Casanova's Parrot (
And Other Tales of the Famous and Their Pets)

Write down 5 (or 6) books you often read or that mean a lot to you
1. The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson (Royalist colonists, ghosts rattling chains, pranksters - taught me everything I know and that there's room enough in the world for those of us who aren't charismatic and brash demagogues - and that Scandinavia is the place for me)

2. Matilda by Roald Dahl (I come from an anti-communist, anti-intellectual family who hated me for being a nerd, so it was nice to know that fictional people have the same problems)

3. Teachings of the Tides:
Uses of Marine Invertebrates by the Manhousat People (out of print, but if you're ever shipwrecked off the west coast of Vancouver Island, you better hope this book is with you)

4. Ciuleandra by Liviu Rebreanu (the first book I ever read in Romanian - I was 27 and the book has a wife murder and insanity)

5. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Thumb Index Edition (lots of words!)

6. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (the first book I read in English - and I don't give a shit about the Xians who think this is their book - I cheered for the lion but I got into monsters thanks to C.S. Lewis; besides aren't real fauns a lascivious bunch? Lucy wouldn't have stood a chance)

List your current six favorite songs, then pick six other people to do the same. Thank God it isn't six all time favorites...
1. Boney M: Rasputin
2. The Video Dead: The Reinforcement Channel
3. The Covenant: Figurehead + all others
4. The Jesus and Mary Chain: Lowlife
5. Yellow Magic Orchestra: Key
6.
Șuie Paparude: Hard Dub
7. Skinny Puppy: Blue Serge + others
8. Depeche Mode: mostly everything
9. Rammstein: can't decide
10. Concrete Blonde: Bloodletting
11. Nation Writer: Unrest
12. Gorillaz: Clint Eastwood
13.
Die Ärzte: can't recall song name
14. Die Toten Hosen: Deutschrock Girl (??)
And many others.

Who are you going to pass the stick to (three people) and why?
I hate chain letters


Having Broken the 100-Page Barrier 


Monday, March 13, 2006

Continuing, ever so slowly, with Perdido Street Station, Matt recommended that I make myself more reading time by going to a teashop after work and there sneak in my reading time. So I did just that after work.

The little Tea Muse Cafe, always criminally empty, is where I sank into an armchair for an hour and a half of delightful reading, with a cup of jasmine blossom tea and dinner (chocolate muffin).

Tea Muse Cup

As I progress through Perdido Street Station, I have noticed patterns in what affects me most in reading this novel - the theme of Remades, or Franken-beings; the theme of libraries; and the vocabulary, of which the complexity inspires me to look up words every few pages.

I want here to address tonight's unknown words: oleaginously, synaesthetically, femtoscopes and moiled.

Let's start with page 104: "Something swirled oleaginously through a huge vat of liquid mud: she saw toothy tentacles slapping at her and scouring the tank." Having the properties of or producing oil, is the definition of oleaginous. Quite frankly, if I were some mudborn creature, this would piss me off. On the other hand, the sicko in me sees plenty of possibilities in my own novel. I've rather shifted from a working title of The Vampire Carnival to the Chriselda novel to Skin, and I am, at the moment, more into briars, thorns, thistles, quills, teeth, spines, razor blades and prickles in terms of tactile themes, but maybe I could expand into oiliness. Thank you for the inspiration, weird word.

Then page 106: "Snippets of alien joy and inhuman terror wafted in her nostrils and ears and behind her eyes, synaesthetically." The production of a mental sense-impression relating to one sense by the stimulation of another sense; or, a sensation produced in a part of the body by stimulation of another part.

Page 107: "She pushed it closed and bolted it, before turning happily to join her white-suited fellows staring into femtoscopes..." Femto- is too confusingly mathematical to render here with a lack of the correct character. I took my search to the internet, where the femtoscope's inventor appeared: "Ahmed Zewail was awarded the 1999 Nobel prize in chemistry for developing the femtoscope, which photographs the actual moment of molecular binding of chemicals. Born and raised in Egypt, he is now a naturalized American citizen who holds the Linus Pauling Professorship at the California Institute of Technology."

Even more fascinating:
"Zewail’s technique uses what may be described as the world’s fastest camera. This uses laser flashes of such short duration that we are down to the time scale on which the reactions actually happen - femtoseconds (fs). One femtosecond is 10-15 seconds, that is, 0.000000000000001 seconds, which is to a second as a second is to 32 million years. This area of physical chemistry has been named femtochemistry."
As I tried to place femtoscopes within the steampunk trappings of Perdido Street Station, I revisited the definition of steampunk itself - "modern technological paradigms occurr[ing] earlier in history, but ..... accomplished via the science already present in that time period." Ok, I can slightly accept femtoscopes in the novel.

Page 111: "The clouds just visible through the skylight moiled vigourously, dissolving and recombining in scraps and shards in new parts of the sky." Moiled, there's a word to which I should have paid attention the last time I looked it up.

Drudged. As in toiled and moiled. Should be easy enough to memorize this time around.

Eighteen pages notched against the novel's 698. Another couple of hours devoted to reading tomorrow, then nineteen more days to forming a reading habit and I should be ready to join the world of the well-read soon enough.


WC Day 


Monday, March 06, 2006

Tonight at the big supermarket, the deli guy kept cutting slices of the gourmet cheeses for me to try. Each cheese was more marvellous than the last. After every bite, I packed that brand in my shopping basket.

Luckily, I was already on a cheese-buying mission. This upcoming Sunday is WC Day, you see. Wine and Cheese Party Day.

The flavours so far:

Wensleydale with Mango & Papaya: traditionally eaten with apple pie, this favourite of Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit fame) is the most famous of all the Yorkshire Dales, according to my World Cheese Encyclopedia: "The flavour suggests wild honey balanced with a fresh acidity." Original Wensleydale is based on a recipe that stretches back in time to the Cisterian monks that accompanied William the Conqueror in the eleventh century.

Sage Derby: harking from the seventeenth century, when people began adding sage to Derby cheese, this green-veined, semi-hard vegetarian cheese, once only made for holidays, is one of the oldest British cheeses. Perfect for the digestive system, sage derby lends itself to cooking.

Irish Guinness Cheese: all I can say about it is thank god it's made with Irish Guinness and not those horrid Taiwanese knock-offs.

Cheddar with Carmelized Onions: I kind of went on a leap of faith with this one because the deli guy didn't offer me a slice. I like carmelized onions and cheese, and assume, because of this, that I will like cheddar with carmelized onions.

Aged Gouda: now enjoyed worldwide, gouda originally came from the Dutch village of Gouda in the sixth century. Having tasted a sample from the friendly deli man, I have to agree with the website that thus described it: "Like a fine wine, maturity has been generous to this gouda, lending it nuances other cheeses only dream of."

Applewood Smoked Cheddar: the name of cheddar, unlike other European cheeses, has not been protected and the World Cheese Encyclopedia warns against the bastardization of this amazing cheese whose history might have started with the ancient Romans. I am certain my cheese is one of the forbidden cheddars yet, my partygoers, fear not for I have nibbled on it and I deem it good. Smoked with apple wood embers and outfitted with a paprika-rubbed rind, this mild cheddar goes with pork chops or with raisins and apples and a Boddingtons.

For my guests, I also have a bag each of apples and pears, six boxes of crackers, and an assortment of juices for the drivers. My party might need more cheeses; I've been told spreadable cheeses have longevity. I still fear that I have more guests on my list than generous cheese quotas and I may need to make a trip to a specialty cheese shop to round out today's choices.
If I come across mimolette, I may, however, eat it all before the guests arrive.


The Decline of Crenguţa 


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Lymphosarcoma. It sounds so ominous.
Cutaneous lymphoma (mycosis fungoides)-epidermotropic in adults, lethargy, weight loss, patch alopecia, exfoliative erythroderma. Dense infiltrates of neoplastic lymphocytes in the dermis with extention into the epidermis. The most common malignant tumor is the lymphosarcoma , often involving the thymus, thoracic lymph nodes, mesenteric lymph nodes, superficial lymph nodes, spleen, liver, and others. with variable cell types.
I never noticed the lethargy before. Crenguţă is no longer her usual monkeybar acrobat. She sits in her hamster ball near the cage and waits for me to put her back home.

Here she is in happier days:

Crenguţă Climbing

She bit me twice the other day, but it was a halfhearted biting; no puncturing of the skin. Hamsters can distinguish between bites and will alter the force of their chomp depending on whether they think you deserve a warning or a stern warning. This bite of Crenguţă's was not entirely by choice. She probably would have liked to draw blood, would have drawn blood, if only she had the strength to sever my finger.

She has bags under her eyes. She packs her cheek pouches as usual. The vet said that the tumour was tangled with her salivary glands. That explains the thirst, I thought. A little scab on her back, hidden by the fur.

Tonight she ripped open a stitch and the skin seams turned red. I snipped at the loose string and Crenguţă winced each time the scissor blades crossed. The stitches were too strong to cut.

Crenguţă Peeking

She prefers to sit in her cage and gaze out, too tired anymore to go about her usual hamster business.


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