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Saturday, 4 December 2021

The last of the Copywrong Pirates

This is the third and last sample from my revised Monster Maintenance Manual, a book recommended for the very young who want to grow up as cryptic crossword champions.

Go here for the print version, and here for the ebook

Roger Rabid was a very mild-looking person because he was a very mild person. He was born with the name Peter Percival Rabbit, because his parents named him after the famous Peter Rabbit, but his grandfather was an artist and he warned Peter’s parents about copyright law.

“I got into trouble once when I was using the name Rupert Bunny, so put in a Percival to be safe,” he told them.

P. P. Rabbit grew up in his home burrow on Circular Island, embarrassed by his name. He got in the habit of telling people he was named after Padraic Pearse, a famous Irish rebel, but people soon found out that it wasn’t true.

Because P. P. Rabbit hated his name, he hated the copyright law. At a very young age, he decided to run away and become a copywrong pirate.

He wasn’t really sure what a copywrong pirate did, but he thought it was probably damaging to copyright. He hoped it meant smashing up the copyright laws, but whatever it was, it had to be more exciting than living at home, competing with aunt’s flock of lawn moas for a feed of grass, and very occasionally getting some grated carrot.

He decided to go and find a copywrong pirate so he could ask what they did. He worked out that most pirates use ships, and that meant they should be found near the sea, but he wasn’t sure where to look for the sea.

This should tell you all you need to know about P. P. Rabbit. He lived on an island, surrounded by sea, and he had several lucky rabbit’s feet. His mother said they had to be lucky, because they were still part of him.

One day, P. P. Rabbit heard a rumbling while was out walking, then he heard the squawking of parrots, and he decided that a troppo was coming along the road. Off the road he went, fast as he could, right across Circular Island—and fell into the sea.

Thinking quickly, he grabbed a bar of soap out of his pocket. “All I have to do is wash myself ashore,” he bubbled, but the soap ran out, and so did his luck.

Then his luck returned, as a kind old man with an eye patch scooped him out of the water, shouting ‘Aaaaarr!’ as he did. P. P. Rabbit smiled, even though he was cold and soggy.

Going on the eyepatch, if this man wasn’t a copywrong pirate, he must know about them. So as the man rowed him back to the beach, he plucked up the courage to ask a question.

“Thanks,” he said, shaking off the water. “Are you a copywrong pirate?”

“Aaaaarr!” said the man, either winking or blinking. P. P. Rabbit might have been a bit silly, but he worked out that when somebody has a patch, it’s hard to tell a wink from a blink. “That oi be! Me name’s Wrong John Sliver! Why did you ask that?”

“Oh, thank you,” said P. P. Rabbit. “Now can you tell me what copywrong pirates actually do? I think I want to become one…”

The man thought for a moment. “Well, we shout ‘Aaaaarr!’ quite a lot.”

“What does that do?”

“Well, it makes you feel a lot better if you’ve just stubbed your toe because some evil son of a sea-cook just shivered their timbers and didn’t clean up after themselves. Besides that, d’you know what our favourite letter of the alphabet is?”

P. P. Rabbit thought about this. “Could your favourite possibly be the letter P? That’s my favourite letter…”

“No, you hornpiped lump of unspliced mainbrace! It’s R!” bellowed Wrong John. “That’s why all our names start with an R!”

“But your name starts with a W, doesn’t it?”

“Only if you’re a copyright pirate, but we’re copywrong pirates. And I’m the pirate king! Aaaaarr!”

“So you don’t like the letter P?”

“Aaaaarr, we like it a bit. That letter’s the next best, but if you give it a wooden leg, it’s an R. Anyhow, you can’t be called anything Rabbit, so we’ll make that Rabid. Aaaaarr, we’ll call you Roger Rabid.”

Roger was glad they didn’t chop off one of his legs or even one of his lucky feet. Instead, Wrong John tied a lump of wood to one of his own legs. And he didn’t poke out one of Roger’s eyes, he just gave him a patch to wear. “Which eye will I wear it on?” Roger asked.

Wrong John Sliver grinned. “Aaaaarr, we be copywrong pirates! Different eye each day, lad!”

They stood, looking silently out to sea, but the quiet was soon ended with a roar.

“AVAST, YE BLUBBERS!” Roger jumped and turned to see two men with eye patches. One wore a kilt, but Roger noticed that instead of being tartan, it looked as though it had been made from a Hawaiian shirt. The other one held a teapot and wore a garland of leeks with camouflage shirt and pants.

The one in the kilt held his hand out. “I’m Rrrrobert the Brrrruise!” he said in a broad Scots accent. “I jump to contusions quite a bit, while my friend here with the teapot jumps to infusions.”

The other waved his teapot and spoke in a Welsh accent. “I’m Roberts the Brew,” he said. “Care for some tea, boyo?”

Roger nodded.

“Hold your hand out then!”

“Umm, maybe I won’t,” said Roger.

Roberts the Brew shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

Roger noticed Long John Sliver was looking unhappy, and glaring at the other two. “What’s this BLUBBER stuff?” he asked them. “I’ve been losing weight!”

Robert the Bruise nodded. “We can see that. We’re just trying to be wrong, like the rule book says.” He pointed at Roger. “This here’s a new member?”

Roger held out his hand. “Roger Rabid,” he said. “Pleased to meet you!”

Robert the Bruise scowled at him. “Are you really pleased?”

Roger nodded. Roberts and Robert jumped up and down, chanting loudly “Keelhaul him! Keelhaul him!”

“Just a moment, lads,” said Long John Sliver. “He’s very new, and I haven’t explained yet.”

He turned to Roger. “See, lad, it’s, aaaaarr, like this. Everything we say has to be wrong, and the punishment for being right is keelhauling.”

“Right!” said Roger, but then he noticed their faces. “Umm, wrong, I mean. I’m sorry—I mean I’m not sorry at all.”

“Aaaaarr,” said Robert and Roberts, smiling. “Bad lad, you’re not catching on quite badly!” said Roberts.

Two more people with eye patches walked onto the beach. One was a good-looking short man with green skin, the other was a beautiful tall lady with blue skin. Long John Sliver introduced them as Richard the Repulsive.

“Which one’s Richard,” he asked.

“We both are,” said the lady. “We are identical twins from Poland. People can’t tell us apart, so we save them having to ask us which of us is which.”

Roger noticed that she had a strong Irish accent.

“And we’ve both got magnetic personalities,” said the short man, in an even stronger Irish accent.

Roger thought he understood now why they were called repulsive. He began to wonder what he had got himself into. “That sounds only a bit more exciting than stamp collecting,” he said.

“We do that,” said the man. “But we only collect forged stamps.”

“Why?”

“Because imitation is the sincerest form of philately.”

“Right,” said Roger, setting off another chant about keelhauling. He decided it was time to do something before they went from chanting to doing.

“Think about it,” he told them. “If it’s right to be wrong and wrong to be right, then every time I’m right, that’s wrong, so being right is more wrong than just being ordinary wrong.”

“I understand that,” said Long John Sliver. Roger realised this meant the opposite, so he took a deep breath.

“Think about it,” he said, “when I’m right, I’m being doubly wrong. It’s like being not unhappy, which is the same as being happy.”

Long John Sliver looked very unhappy. “But two wrongs don’t make a right!”

Roger grinned. “Is that right?”

“Yes, it is. No, that’s wrong. No it’s not, it’s aaaaarr …” Long John Sliver stumbled up the beach, sobbing.

The other copywrong pirates looked at each other as he disappeared. They pondered.

Then, when the copywrong pirates realised how they had been deprived of their wrongs, their lips trembled. Then they went into a huddle. Then they went into the kitchen, where Roberts the Brew taught them how to make tea.

Then they all went off in different directions to open tea shops in seaside villages where they charged pie rates, and there were no more copywrong pirates.

Or were there? I know the answer to that, but it would be wrong for me to say.

Aaaaarr!

Legal notices (for groan-ups):

All the low-fat words in this story were laid by free-range word hens.

All blubbers mentioned in this story were derived from surplus tea shop proprietors.

The tea used by Roberts the Brew was actually an aaaaarr that had come down in the world. It is now feeling much better.

Peter Rabbit has gone freelance, and declined to be part of this story. His role in the back-story was played by a piece of tape, a bunch of keys, and three mice in a tennis sock.

Long John Sliver’s leg was played by the runner-up in the Hollowood Wooden Actors’ Award who wishes to remain anonymous.

The forged stamps were played by themselves, as was the tennis match, but that was in the binding of the book. It was a net gain.

Epimenides was invited to take part, but declined when he found he would have to change his name.

Reference:

Johann Sebastian Bach, The Copy Cantata.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

The Deconstructionist who liked books

Another of my monster stories for kids who are adult in years. You can now buy the whole book, either as an ebook, or as old-fashioned dead tree print.

That second link also allows to look around inside.



Always read between the lions.

*************************

Spanner the Surfing Wrench was a deconstructionist. She was an expert at taking machinery apart, and most of the deconstructionists admired her mechanical skills. All the same, Spanner couldn’t ever make friends with other deconstructionists, because she liked books.

When she was little, her family worried about the way she read. “Why can’t you rip the ears off teddy-bears like your brothers and sisters?” her mother asked her one afternoon.

Spanner just sighed, and turned over the page. They would never understand, but her books made good friends.

Constructors put things together, but deconstructionists get their name because they like taking things apart. At home, they call themselves Decos, and they were active in Egypt in the days when the pharaohs made pyramids. Back then, the things Decos liked best was taking the head off a hammer, or separating a pick or an axe from its handle.

Then one of them, a deconstructionist called Ptakeittobits discovered papyruses and decided to pull those apart as well, because one of them told readers about better ways of repairing axes and hammers and picks. Ptakeittobits shook his head. “We don’t need that,” he growled as he chewed up the papyrus.

A papyrus is a long roll of stuff that looks like paper. The Egyptians used to write things on papyrus, and sometimes they would add drawings, before they glued the pieces together to make a long scroll.

Ptakeittobits found one of these one day, and realised that if you undid the glue, the scroll would fall apart. He started with that, then he began changing what was on the papyruses, and for a while, the Egyptians made upside-down pyramids. “It’s brilliant,” he told his friends, “all the taking apart just takes care of itself…”

Later, the ancient Romans had problems when the deconstructionists discovered Rome. It took a long while for them to get there, because every time the Decos set out to sail from Egypt to Rome, one of them would start taking the ship apart, they would all join in, and all the deconstructionists would drown.

In the end, the deconstructionists walked east, all the way around the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, and then west to get down into Italy. By the time the deconstructionists got to Rome, the Romans had forgotten about them, and they had started gluing sheets of paper together to make scrolls.

Well, the deconstructionists soon put an end to that! The Romans were clever, but Biblius Philius was the cleverest of them all, because he came up with the idea of stitching sheets together, so there was no glue to undo.

When the deconstructionists made it to Rome and learned to cut the stitching on books, Biblius Philius invented page numbering and book binding, so the pages could be assembled once more, and then be bound again.

Sometimes the book lovers won, and sometimes the deconstructionists won. Illuminated manuscripts used poisonous pigments full of arsenic and lead, mainly because it stopped the deconstructionists chewing the pages. In the end, the deconstructionists learned to wash the pages before they chewed them, and the Dark Ages started when all the illuminated manuscripts were eaten.

Over time, most of the deconstructionists found other things to do. Some worked for builders as demolition experts. Some learned to pull old cars apart for spare parts, but most of the time they forgot and pulled the spare parts apart as well. Most deconstructionists weren’t very bright, because they never read books.

Modern times have been hard for the deconstructionists. It’s hard when you plant a vegetable garden and somebody in the family digs the seeds up every five minutes to see how they are doing. Sometimes, there was no work to be found, but the deconstructionists scraped by.

Still, wherever deconstructionists went, even if they worked in some other area, they liked to damage books whenever they could. They would sneak into libraries and put books on the wrong shelves, they would scribble in books, they would tear books, they would steal books, they would borrow books and not return them. All of this made it very hard for Spanner, who was often stopped at library doors, because all the deconstructionists look like each other.

And then she met Jo March.

Jo had been brought up to judge people by their actions, not by their appearances. More importantly for Spanner, Jo wanted to be a writer. In her researches for plot ideas for books, she had excited the suspicions of public librarians by asking for works on poisons. Now she was older, they knew Jo and trusted her when she spoke up for her friend Spanner, who might look like a monster, but who really, really loved books.

“And I don’t love books the way my father does,” Spanner told the nice librarian. “He likes to curl up in front of a fire and eat toasted pages. I just like to read them.”

Over time, Jo and Spanner became interested in how books were made and how they were repaired, so they went to one of the library technicians who knew all the old skills of book binding. Spanner’s family had taught her well, so she was already expert at taking a book apart into its sections, but now she and Jo learned the old arts of stitching, gluing. trimming and binding old books and slipping them into new covers.

“Taking apart’s much more fun when you turn around and put the bits back together again,” Spanner told Jo, who just grinned.

At home, Spanner’s family noticed that she was behaving more like a proper deconstructionist, pulling things apart. They worried, though, when they found her reassembling an old broken alarm clock. They were shocked when she set it going and it worked. Then she took apart an old television set, soldered it all together again, and it worked as well.

The family learned to turn the television on when the alarm went off, and sit around watching Demolition Derby and Great Junkyards of the World on the fixed TV set. Soon, they began to say nice things about Spanner and her fixing skills.

All the same, her father Bash looked worried and muttered “It’s not quite right for a deconstructionist…” He shivered and threw a few sheets of the Book of Kells on the fire.

“No,” said Mash, her mother. “It’s more like a reconstructionist than a deconstructionist. I’m not sure that we should tell the rest of the tribe, just in case the High Degger gets cranky, but there’s money in it, Bash. I think I’ll do something about putting all the old car parts together.”

Spanner’s family would have been more worried if they had known what she was doing in the library now. She was studying history, and in particular, the history of the poisonings caused by pigments in the old illuminated manuscripts that her ancestors had eaten.

One day they were at the beach, because Jo liked to swim and Spanner liked the breaking waves. “It’s amazing,” she told Jo. “All those bright colours seem to involve metals that are poisonous to us. Even painters used to get sick from them.”

She and Jo started looking into poisons and what they do. Jo was interested because she was going to write a murder mystery, but Spanner was beginning to think that it might be fun to make some new illuminated manuscripts to replace the ones her ancestors had eaten.

The only catch was that she didn’t want to be poisoned, so she needed to understand about all sorts of poisons that might be found in paints. Jo planned a murder story, set in an old monastery, and the plot involved manuscript pigments. “I’ll call it The Aim of a Nose,” she said.

They had no idea how useful all their study was about to be.

Mash and Bash had put together all the pulled-apart things in the house, but then a call went out for all the deconstructionists to come and help take apart a whole lot of old ships. It was well-paid work, and it involved cutting up the ships with tools and big torches.

Best of all, there would be lots of things falling down and making loud crashes. There is nothing a traditional deconstructionist likes better than the loud crash of bits falling off something, and Mash and Bash were very traditional.

Even though they were very traditional, Mash and Bash let Spanner do as she wanted. Spanner would come down to the breaking yard at lunch time. They would all break bread together, drink bits and pieces soup and eat lots of pizza, before they finished up with broken biscuits and Broken Orange Pekoe tea.

In the third week, Spanner noticed that all of the workers seemed tired. They had trouble lifting their heavy tools, and they complained all the time about having stomach aches, and deconstructionists never do that. Spanner started asking a few questions. Then she went back to the library to talk to Jo, because she had remembered something.

“It’s a nasty condition called Devon colic,” she told Jo. “But I can’t see where it’s coming from. Ships are made of steel, not lead!”

Jo thought for a moment and then walked over to a shelf and took down a large book. She looked in the index and opened the book up. “It’s the paint,” she said. Under all the other paint, there’s a layer of paint called red lead. They’ll need dust masks, or maybe breathing apparatus. We’ll have to tell them.”

“Right,” said Spanner. “Now don’t worry, I won’t tear the page out, but we’d better photocopy it.”

Within a week, all of the deconstructionists at the ship yard were happy, healthy, and making twice as many bits and pieces. The High Degger, the leader of the whole deconstructionist tribe, came on a special royal visit. He listened to what the tribe said and then called Spanner over.

“Reading has never been our way,” he said. “But it seems that your reading has saved the whole tribe from being very sick. Keep up the good work!”

And ever since that day, deconstructionists have been great readers, even if they read in a funny way.

Notes (for groan-ups):

Told to the author by the High Degger during breaks in the conversation, in broken English.

All the words in this translation were hand-crafted by traditional artisans working in reputable fair-trade workshops.

All rapping on doors, walls and fragile things in this work was all done by Mr McHammer.

Jo March appeared in this story by courtesy of L. M. Alcott Enterprises.

The Book of Kells was not harmed, as it was played by a stunt double supplied by Barbara Cartland.

Special illumination make-up by the House of Caravaggio.

All books damaged in the back story were later given first aid and provided with shelter under the Palimpsest Resettlement Program.

The Broken Orange Pekoe was bathed in hot water, and now feels much better.

Reference: Jack Derider, trans. Alan Bass, Writhing and Diffidence.

Vincent van Gogh: Semiotics: listening with half an ear.

Friday, 26 November 2021

I'm ba-a-ack!

 While I have been notably missing from here since early September, I have been flat out seizing back the rights to out of print books and republishing them.

You can find out all about them on this link, but today, I start on the last of them, the book that got me started as a writer of mainstream history. Australia's Pioneers, Heroes and Fools was in iconoclastic look at the tales of 'explorers' that Australian kids are fed at school.

Well, it's about to get a lot more iconoclastic: I wrote this foreword this morning:


There is a set of conservative politician who thunder that educational standards are dropping, that children are no longer taught the important dates and names (presumably including the names of the conservative politicians). The educational standards are indeed dropping — among the critics.

If you ask them to define Australian history, it comes down to a fluffy list: Bushrangers and Convicts (both scum), Diggers (the military ones), Explorers (brave openers of untamed wilderness), Farmers (who turned the sterile wilderness into riches at no cost) and Gold (ours by right of conquest). I call this the BCDEFG model.

If you question them about these headings, they may be able to name five of the more than 2000 bushrangers who once flourished, their understanding of the convict system is pitiful, they could not locate a single battlefield on the world map, they would be lucky to name more than four explorers worthy of note (and no, Burke and Wills don’t count), they have no understanding of the harm done to country by agriculture, and their history of gold is complete rubbish.

So their BCDEFG history of Australia is just worthless scribbles, but one in fifty of them may amend that to the ABCDEFG, because the ‘Aborigines’ don’t come into it for most of them—and don’t confuse the poor dears by amending it to a more polite IBCDEFG. Mention the role of Indigenous Australia, and they will look at you like a mallee bull which has just run at full tilt into Crooked Mick of the Speewah.

Having thought about it, let’s leave Aborigines as A (after all, they were here first!), but add H for Home (Britain), because for too long, that is where everybody looked for leaders to rule us. Then tack on I for Invasion. That gives us the ABCDEFGHI model of Australia.

This book is about the realities of what is in the E file, how exploration was done, what it achieved, and who the active players were. Mainly, ‘exploration’ was about drawing and labelling maps with new names.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Now I have almost completed Project Resuscitation, I will be surfacing more often.

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

The binomial theorem and herd immunity

Godfrey Hardy once called out another statistician's faulty analysis of Mendelian genetics, writing:

"A little mathematics of the multiplication table type is enough..."

I wish to call out some fatally flawed amateur assumptions about herd immunity. Please stay with me, because this has lockdown relevance. Be warned that the binomial theorem seems counter-intuitive, but it's a corner-stone of mathematics.

At one time, I was between jobs, and I worked as a casual (supply) teacher. I was amused once to hear some of my charges discussing me on a bus. One claimed I was their science teacher, another knew me as a computing teacher, and another thought I was their maths teacher. The fourth said "Naaah, he's Angus' dad."

They were all correct, but at the school where I taught maths, my Year 9 kids quickly worked out that I gave intellectually honest answers. I also had them to the point where a number of them came up to me in the playground to ask about maths problems I had floated past them. That's the payoff for being intellectually honest.

One of those kids, a boy, later asked me in class "what's the use of the binomial theorem?" and I said I would look into it. The next day, I gave an adequate answer. Now here's a Good Answer:
(a + b)^2 = a^2 + b^2 + 2ab. That's one form of the B.T. I keep hearing GladnBradnScotty bumbling about 70% vaccination being the Gold Standard, but consider a hundred random meetings after that time. Here are the odds: I will call single vax and no vax Nvx and double vax Dvx. P (Dvx x Dvx) = 0.7 x 0.7, so 49% might be OK. That may not be so, but let's pretend it is.
P (Nvx x NVx) = 0.3 x 0.3, so 9% are in a handbasket together. The balance of cases, 42%, involve a contact between a vaxed and a non-vaxed person (2 x 0.3 x 0.7, if you prefer). I call those people at risk, and notice that 42% > 30%. The 49% are OK, the 9% are self-selected and gone, but the 42% bloc is where the mayhem will occur. The vaxed can carry and spread the virus to the 21% of unvaxed that they encounter (and some of the vaxed can still be infected. Putting it another way, the 30% of unvaxed have a 70% chance of encountering a vaxed person: that's 21% another way.

Even with 80% vaxed, that means 16% vulnerable, and 90% vaxed leaves 9% vulnerable.

Now one of the three pollies named above once worked for me, and said numpty's papers were marked by me "not to be reemployed" due to incompetence, and I have only done that to one subordinate, ever. The other two are, in my estimation, far worse. These people should only be allowed to put the bins out, and even then, only if they are supervised.

There's a storm coming, and I want to be able to point back to this and say "Told you so!" There is no way in a sane world that you let decision-makers choose options when they haven't run the numbers. The Binomial Theorem does not make mistakes.

Please fasten your seatbelts...

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Back among the monsters

Note added 17 November 2021: the former published has returned all rights to me, and there will be things happening by the end of the month. Check here for the latest details.

 In the first decade of this century, I had fun, over about five years, inventing a whole string of child-safe monsters, like the long-legged underbed pig and the hairyoddity. On the left, meet the mud alligator, which lived in pea soup and custard. It was nonsense, it was fun, but there was amusement there for adult readers as well, like the Post Impressionists, monsters that did impressions of posts and poles. And piano tunas

The vision was that we would, with deft handling, have the idea picked up for cartoons, and also decided that there would be a series of small booklets, similar in format to the Mr Men series. Seventeen openings, less than 100 words per opening.

The target kids were people like me (as a child) and mine, lively minds able to see the fun that underlay the literary allusions. The problem was that Marketing at Murdoch Books, a house that was going under, apparently didn't do anything literary or get anything vaguely intelligent. Just think of Scotty from Marketing.

See what I mean?

Anyhow, even though Cartoon Connection had taken an option on the series, and I had done a dozen or so story lines, bloody marketing tossed the whole thing into the remainders pile as the company collapsed, though the revived skeleton decided on keeping the ebook version on sale through Amazon. The price was, in my view, set too high.

Well, as I slip away into the mists of advanced middle age, I'm still pitching a few ideas that exist only on my hard disc, and that means the booklets are currently under scrutiny once again. Here's a sample, the title that features two mud alligators, Murray and Mustard.

The Mud Alligators who liked kitchens

“Mustard, you’re busted, get out of the custard!” shouted Big Al.

The chef’s roar made the other kitchen workers jump and drop things. They knew what it meant when Al shouted those words. He always shouted a lot, because he had an idea that it made the food taste better, but he wasn’t a good chef. He also believed that mud alligators in the pots made the food taste worse.

Mustard and Murray, the mud alligators, knew that they actually improved the flavour of the food . Everybody in the kitchen, except Al, knew that, so the workers did not tell him that Mustard had crept into the kitchen, and was in the custard pot, and that Murray was nearby.

*

The cleverer kitchen workers had already turned to the curry pot as the chef picked up a pointed stick and started poking into the custard. “Hurry, Murray, get out of the curry!” a gutter otter worker called out.

Two small snouts appeared in two pots, one curry-coloured and one custard-coloured. The crowd cheered, and the chef roared. “Out!” he cried, waving the stick and spreading globs of custard. “You’ve spoiled my two signature dishes from tonight’s menu!”

“But we make such a nice match,” said Mustard. “Me in the custard, and Murray in the curry.”

The chef waved a large mallet, the sort used to make meat tender. “Well, those pots weren’t made for you. Now be off, before I decide to add mud alligator stew to the menu!”

*

Sadly, slowly, dripping curry and custard, they went out the door into an alley. They walked along until they bumped into a gutter otter.

“Sorry,” they said.

“Oh, that’s all right,” the gutter otter said with a smile. “You’re very light. Anyhow, I’m Hibrau and I’m not mad—who are you and why are you so sad?

“We’re Mustard and Murray,” said Mustard. “We were hiding in the custard and the curry, but Al shouted “Hey!” and sent us both away.”

*

As you may have noticed, gutter otters like rhymes, so Hibrau raised one eyebrow. Everything about gutter otters is heavy, so he quickly put the eyebrow down again, but the strain made him forget to rhyme. “Mud alligators are named after rivers, but where’s the Mustard river?”

Mustard pointed over her shoulder. “It’s Mustard Creek, really, and it gets its name because it’s fed by hot springs. I’ve never seen it.”

“You should go and find it,” said Hibrau. “Maybe it’s full of trout.”

*

“It’s a very hot creek,” said Mustard. “I think they might be fish stew by now.”

“Or fish soup,” said Murray.

“Yummy!” shouted Mustard. “Let’s go!”. They packed up all the disguises they used to get into kitchens, tucked up their tails, climbed onto their unicycles and headed off into the hot dry centre of Australia.

“I hope there’s water in the creek,” Murray said.

Mustard laughed as she swerved to avoid a kangaroo. “Maybe it’s full of dry mustard!”

*

They unicycled under fruitbats, slipped around wombats and almost ran into three numbats on skateboards. They saw potoroos, wallaroos and kangaroos, and then they saw a sign.

It said “Mustard Creek, 800 km. Bring yer own water.”

“I think it’s going to be dry mustard,” said Murray, but he needn’t have worried. Further north, something was happening.

A cyclone had come rushing in, over the coast, where it calmed down and now it started soaking the land. Pitter-patter, went the rain.

*

Then the rain went splish-splosh, then flimp-flump, then it went BUCKET! The ground got wet, water soaked in until no more would fit, and a flood began to flow, slowly and quietly across flat Australia. It filled the runnels, it filled the channels, and it annoyed many animals by filling their tunnels.

In the hot dry south, Murray and Mustard unicycled north and west as the water dribbled south. Long before they got there, Mustard Creek was full and gurgling.

*

Water flowed over the sunny plains, and long before they got there, Mustard Creek had disappeared, covered by a sheet of water. Pelicans and other birds flew in from the coast to build nests. Granny and Grandpa Mactavish saw the birds fly by and got worried. They lived in the dry inland, because they couldn’t swim.

“The tractor’s bust, the truck’s full of rust, but the bike works just,” said Grandpa, looking at their tandem bicycle, leaning against a gum tree.

*

“Not too sure about that, the tyres are flat,” said Granny.

“Drat,” said Grandpa. “And the boat’s got a leak, so we’re quite up the creek.”

“We’d better walk to Little Mountain, then,” said Granny, who was always the practical one.

Little Mountain was well-named. City folks who saw it called it Mount Speed-Bump or Mount Molehill, but it was the one place on the plain that always dry.

They packed tents and swags and billies, and started off for Little Mountain.

*

By the time the Mactavishes had finished setting-up, they were hungry, and that was when they realised that they had forgotten to bring food. They hurried back to their home by the billabong and filled a big wheelbarrow with food. Then they started pushing it back to Little Mountain.

That was when the flood arrived, turning the ground to mud and bogging the wheelbarrow. As the water level rose, the barrow floated, and they were able to push it along, but soon the water was too deep for them.

*

That was when the monsters came around to help. The Mactavishes had never seen them, but the billabong by their home was full of monsters.

These were music-loving monsters who lurked in the shadows and the shallows when Granny and Grandpa sat on the verandah, playing duets on the viola and violin, or listening to evening concerts on the radio.

They always hid, in case they frightened Granny and Grandpa, but now the monsters all knew they just had to help them.

*

“If they get flooded out,” said a moat monster, “they might sell up to a tuba player!” The other moat monsters quivered at the thought. None of them liked tubas.

So she and the other moat monsters swam up to help the Mactavishes, giving them something to stand on in the deep water.

That worked until Grandpa said “This is rather fishy—the ground round here feels very squishy!” As quick as a flash, the moat monsters knew they had been spotted, and they swam away, leaving Granny and Grandpa clinging to the barrow.

*

The billabong’s only moby duck tried to help, but almost capsized the floating barrow and that made the Mactavishes panic.

Then the local Schrödinger’s Cheshire cat tried to help, but every time it appeared, Granny and Grandpa screamed, and that made it disappear.

A team of Invisigoths came up in a canoe and tried to help, but the Mactavishes got worried because they couldn’t see their helpers.

The motets (which look like hats) tried to help, but Grandpa had a hat-hating attack, and started to panic.

*

Murray and Mustard had unicycled in, with just their snouts and eyes out of the water, and they had seen all this. “They’re nervous,” said Mustard.

“Yes,” said Murray. “I think they’re scared of monsters, the silly things.”

“Maybe we could help, if we used our disguises,” said Mustard,

“Good idea! “said Murray, opening the disguise kit. They put on false moustaches and chef’s hats and swam over.

“Hello,” said Murray in a bad French accent.

“Hello! Who are you?” Granny asked.

*

“We are Gascon and Gourmand, ze famous unicycling chefs of Normandy. May we help you?”

Granny and Grandpa spotted the phony accent, but the Mactavishes were both keen cooks. They thought anybody in a chef’s hat should be trusted, so they accepted their help.

When they all came ashore on Little Mountain, Granny saw that they were a funny build for chefs, but they did have unicycles, and when she unpacked the barrow, they praised Grandpa's choices of curry powder and custard powder.

*

Even when Murray and Mustard sneezed their moustaches off, the Mactavishes still trusted them. When the other monsters came out of the water and apologised for scaring them, they began to relax. The couple cooked a meal for their guests, gave them a concert, and felt quite sad when a helicopter came to rescue them, so all the monsters had to hide.

Two months later when the flood had gone, the Mactavishes came back and went down to the billabong with the violin and viola.

*

They played, and all the monsters came out of the water. Now, as soon as Granny Mactavish hears the swish and clang of unicycles on the cattle grid, she starts making a large pan of curry, while Grandpa makes the custard.

Murray and Mustard live as happily as two mud alligators in curry and custard.

The other monsters have settled back into the billabong and started the world’s first and only lagerphone band that provides backing for violin and viola duets.

******************************

Notes (for groan-ups):

All words in this story were prepared in hygienically monster-free kitchens (if you don’t count the sue-troll and the plongeur bucket bogle).

Please note that on alternate Sundays, the sue-troll becomes litigious and should not be annoyed.

The flood was provided by Cooper Creek, where it takes three rivers to make a flood.

The third moat monster was played by Madame Brownell, our willing morphing murphy stand-in.

Warning: curry powder in this story may contain traces of lead chromate. This was the Visigoths’ idea, so don’t blame us if your toes fall off!

I mean, when did we suggest paddling in the custard, huh? Take it up with the sue-troll, but be warned: this is the second Sunday, and we told him you called him a suet roll. He isn't happy!

Reference

Glenn Miller, In the Mud.

Here's the full list of titles that are ready to go:

·        The Quarking Duck who hated bridges

·        The Invisigoth who wanted to stand out

·        The Mud Alligators who liked kitchens

·        Deconstructionist who liked books

·        The Sensible Cow who wanted to grow

·        The Molar Mole who wanted to live outdoors

·        The Sensible Cow who wanted to be bigger

·        The Hairyoddity who wanted to be smooth

·        The Piano Tunas who forgot their scales

·        The Mud Alligators who liked kitchens

·        The last of the Copywrong Pirates

·        The Dwarf Underbed Lion who went outside

·        The Gobblesock who was scared of water

·        The Schrödinger’s Cheshire Cat who forgot how to smile


Monday, 16 August 2021

A cretinous critic: William B Palmer

William B Palmer is about to learn that making outrageously untrue statements about my work carries a cost. I have granted myself permission to make manifestly true statements about him and his pathetic excuse for "work".

On the evidence set out below, he is a clown, a fool, a drivelling idiot, of that, there can be no doubt.

I don't look much at reviews of my books, so this 9-year-old review of The Speed of Nearly Everything has only come to my attention now, as I prepare a second edition.

You can see what it will look like, on the right, but I will have more to say about that later. Here's the most offensive part of Palmer's misleading review:

Note his first claim: the botfly is not in the index. Let's test that, with a small sample from my index: let's see what we can see...

Well, now, the moron didn't look very hard, did he? But it gets worse, when he says there is no "further explanation". Is this true?

Not really. Take a look at pages 17, 18 and 19, as indicated in the index. What a pity he didn't read this, instead of demonstrating his scintillating research skills by looking in Wikipedia.


That stupid, incompetent, illiterate and misleading review is featured by Amazon as its "top review", and there appears to be no way that I can respond, or contact Amazon to have these arrant lies taken down.

This same farrago of nonsense will no doubt be attached by Amazon to my new edition, and that is unacceptable.

His blunders are inexcusable, I want the whole load of dreck gone. As my friends know, and my enemies recall with regret, I am a scorched-earth person.

So I am going after this galah's head. He lives in Brighton Victoria, says he is a "retired university science lecturer", and this appears to be his mugshot.

Until such time as I get a grovelling apology and a complete removal of his damaging clumsy and stupid untruths, this stays up.

He lives in Australia (or did in 2020, when he posted his most recent review). If any of my Australian friends know him, please direct him to this, and tell him he's got a large load of crow to eat.



Australian history

The past 18 months of pandemic bungling have seen me staying closer to home, and pondering stuff. I'm not getting any younger, so I have been getting my back-burner cleaned up and tidied. Basically, I don't want to fall off my perch without saying quite a few things.

I'm not an historian, even if lots of people call me one: I am an enquirer after facts who writes accounts of history, and there are tiny minds out there who are fearful of the truth. Good: I like frightening tiny minds so they shrink and blink out.

Conservative politicians whine that standards are dropping, that children are no longer taught the important dates and names (meaning the names of those same conservative politicians). They want unquestioning and regimented learning of the names of lots of dead white males.

If you push them to define Australian history, their version comes down to Bushrangers and Convicts (all scum, of course), Diggers (the military ones), Explorers (brave openers of untamed wilderness), Farmers (who turned the sterile wilderness into riches at no cost) and Gold (ours by right of conquest). I call this the BCDEFG model of Australian history.

If you question these politicians about their favoured categories, they may be able to name three of the more than 2000 bushrangers who once flourished (Ned Kelly, Ben Hall and Thunderguts, usually); their understanding of the convict’s lot is pitiful; they could not locate a single battlefield on the world map; they would be lucky to name more than four explorers worthy of note (and no, “Captain” Cook and Burke and Wills don’t count); they have no notion of the harm done to country by agriculture; and their “history” of gold is codswallop.

So their BCDEFG history of Australia is a set of worthless scribbles, and only one in fifty of them will amend that to the ABCDEFG, because the ‘Aborigines’ don’t come into it for most of them—and don’t confuse the poor dears by amending it to a more polite IBCDEFG. Mention the role of Indigenous Australia in our history, and they will look at you like a Speewah back paddock bull that’s just run at full tilt into Crooked Mick of the Speewah. (Yes, I've done a book about him, as well.)

Then I had a brainwave and adopted Inga Clendinnen's name that she gave the original custodians in Dancing with Strangers. I call them Australians, so now I have my ABCDEFG, all stitched up, though I also look at the  homes we made, immigration and journeys, so I guess it's really ABCDEFGHIJ, but I have drawn the line there. Until I work out how to wedge in kaolin, liniment and medicine...

The sort of history I write is about How Things Worked, based heavily on contemporary descriptions. In my works, you learn about the things that don’t get mentioned in school, almost all of them things that happened after the white invasion in 1788, and from a legal point of view it WAS an invasion.

I like to explain how all the early Australians swam naked; wrote dreadful poetry; played strange sports; were fooled into believing in bunyips; feared foreign invasions (French, Russian or American); how convicts came to Australia; how free settlers travelled in the days of sail; what they ate, drank and wore; what the shops were like; town life and bush life; what diseases they got and how they treated them; how they used animal, wind and steam power; how they travelled across the land; coaches, trams, omnibuses and bicycles; ferries and ships; inns and pubs, and we’re only just half-way.

I look at how “explorers” followed established foot tracks (they called them “native roads”); how farms got started; how homes were made and managed; how society worked; how justice worked (not very well); punishment; race riots; the coolie system which exploited Indians, long before the Chinese were here; how Indigenous people were treated; newspapers, telegraphs and communication (some early Melbournites used smoke signals, and Port Arthur had a semaphore station!).

Getting the bit between my teeth, I look at education, democracy and science in a colonial setting; the people who visited, the plants and animal pests that came in; bushfires, floods, droughts and storms; the materials the early settlers used; the minerals they dug up (including the real story of gold in Australia, which is very different from what the school books say).

I also romp through the rogues, scallywags and conmen, and examine the armed forces and wars that changed Australia and the Australian myth.

I did that through four editions of The Big Book of Australian History, an exercise in truth telling for younger readers, published by the National Library of Australia, but the NLA seems to have fallen silent on a fifth edition, and I have, in any case, moved on to write for a more adult readership.

Update mid-September 2021, there may still be a new edition...

That brings me to my most recent effort, where I have cut loose from the apron strings of traditional print publishers, because I can do the job faster and cheaper. You Missed a Bit is a large collection of stuff I have written over the years in a number of books, all pulled together in one volume. On the left, you can see the cover of the ebook version.

And on the right, the cover of the necessarily more pricy print version, both available from the link above. At 813 pages and 1.4 kg, it's almost two inches thick (46.7 mm, if you want precision).  This is in-your-face history, boots and all, warts and all history. I have taken in stuff from this blog on occasions, but also from many of my earlier and now out-of-print books. This is a conscious effort on my part to keep the inconvenient truths out there for people to find.

Please, shed the word.