WHAT IT IS, IS BEAUTIFUL

If you’re a fan of Lego it’s been impossible in recent days to avoid the charges of sexism that have been levelled at the company since, well, pretty much since the first days that the Friends line hit the shelves. Arguments against the aggressively-girly line have largely centred around the genderisation of creative play: why does a toy that relies on a child’s imagination to repurpose homogeneous elements need to undergo a gender split? There’s merit to the argument: after all, there was a time when Lego itself marketed just such a question to parents to get them to consider buying the toy for their daughters–



Both my children have a Lego collection, and they’ve both been given open slather when it comes to collecting sets: we don’t direct them, and the only limit we impose is one of price– no matter who the sets are aimed at, they’re fucking expensive. Even so, Master 9’s collection is dominated by Star Wars, dinosaurs and a black/grey/dark blue palette, while Miss 12’s Friends-heavy collection is a rainbow of pastel shades.

Which got me wondering, because as an AFOL, I love the Friends colour scheme and stock up on individual pieces whenever I visit Bricklink, but I’ve never bought myself a set, largely because I don’t like the minifigs. So I decide to run a little experiment, to see whether something in the marketing was affecting my children’s choices, or if it was, indeed, the range of parts and colours that was the deterrent. I asked the kids 3 questions, and these were their responses:

1. Your collection is very strongly dominated by (Miss 12: Friends, Master 9: Star Wars/ Dinosaurs) sets. Is there a reason why that is the case?
Miss 12: I like the story line in Friends, and the colours.
Master 9: I like the adventurousness of the stories.

2. Is there something in the colours and shapes of the parts that you prefer to other sets?
Miss 12: Yes. I like the Friends colours.
Master 9: No. I like the Friends colours, too. I like the Star Wars minifigs.

3. If I gave you $50 and sent you to the shops to buy a set, and you already had everything in your favourite range that was on the shelves, would you prefer to buy a set in the (Miss 12: Star Wars, Master 9: Friends) range, or would you prefer to buy a duplicate of a (Friends/Star Wars) set you already own? 
Miss 12: I’d buy a duplicate.
Master 9: I’d buy a Friends set.

So, conclusions drawn from this exhaustive survey: Miss 12 responds to the Friends sets aesthetically, and chooses them over other sets based on an enjoyment of the palette and the non-aggressive narrative possibilities; Master 9 likes the combat/adventure narratives implied by the “boy” sets (not surprising, given his love of the Star Wars universe), but likes the Friends colour palette enough that he would buy a set and incorporate it into his building. 

All very well and good, and easy to say. But would it hold true if, say, I instructed them to take 150 random elements from their collections and swap them? Could they happily build outside of their own preferred colour and set choices? Without telling them why, I did just that. The kids randomly picked 150 pieces from their collections, and then built with each other’s selection. These are the results:


Miss 12 created three works: two different spaceships and a tuning fork.

The space scooper has a scoop at the back to collect debris. The scoop rotates through a 360 degree angle to make pick up and delivery easier.
The Junker is made from pieces of space junk discovered by the Space Scooper.

The tuning fork. A great use of leftover parts.
Master 9 took a different approach, and created a series of smaller works:
Girl colours for a boy concept? A ballista, at any rate.

A beach scene, incorporating a shark net, diving board, and lifeguard tower.

The entrance to a cafe.

A catwalk.
An armchair.

A couch.

An abandoned tree at the end of a garden path.
And to finish, the classic tablescrapper’s use for that
pile of random pieces you can’t do anything with: some ruins!
So, in a complete lack of surprise, two different genders of children quite happily extended their creative building techniques when confronted with a random assortment of bricks, although I did note with interest that the general theme of their builds did conform to the kind of bricks they thought they were using: girly-girl Miss 12 completing a space-themed build, and rocket-powered-boy-attack Master 9 focusing on situational and domestic concepts. 
What this shows, at least to me, is that the promotion of Lego does have an effect on how the demographic– that is, the kids who receive the sets– perceive the purpose of the bricks themselves, despite the fact that, as stand-alone items, the bricks are met with approval and enjoyment by both children. Miss 12, in particular, perceives a definite difference between ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ Lego, at an age when advertising and gender-based marketing are concepts she pays attention to. Just as clearly, their ability to create and enjoy the act of creation with any random group of elements that is placed before them, shows that gender-splitting Lego is not only limiting the potential market penetration for Lego themes, it’s downright unnecessary
And as Lego themselves once understood, it always has been.
Oh, and for the record, I don’t ask my troops to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. Here’s what I came up with, using the 150 Friends pieces I asked Miss 12 to give me:
The lost ruins of the Temple of Ice-Cream, the Pastel Battlestar, and, you know, some ruins…

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, PART TEN

Over at Facebook, I was tagged in a meme that required me to list three things that made me grateful, every day for three days.

So I thought I’d list them here, too.


  1. I’m grateful for my art. It has provided me with friendships, income, travel opportunities, and was the vehicle by which I escaped the soul-destroying depths off despair I was slowly being crushed by while working in the Public Service. I’ll never be famous, I’ll never be remembered, and I’ll never be considered at even the middle of the tree, but my art has been the thing that has kept me from disappearing into the obscure midst of my mediocre family tree, and I’m grateful.
  2. I’m grateful for a reasonable income. Yes, we struggle, and we juggle finances on a fortnightly basis, but I’m aware that we do so from a level of decent comfort. My children go to a good school, my wife is able to study, essentially, full time, and we have room to both expand our horizons and entertain our hobbies & indulgences. We never suffer, and having both come from backgrounds of grinding poverty, Lyn and I have only ever wanted our children to appreciate a good upbringing.
  3. I’m grateful for the respect of my peers. I get little of it at work, and I rarely feel like an author doing good work, so when a fellow artist expresses their respect or admiration for the work I do then it usually comes as an enormous, and humbling, surprise, because, to be quite honest, I generally don’t know what I do to merit it. I’ve undervalued my work for so long– it’s only in the last fortnight, for example, that I’ve decided to set a minimum fee for appearances, despite doing them regularly for the last 12 years– that I’m always a little stunned when others do value it. And grateful, because sometimes, I doubt I’d go on without it.
  4. I’m grateful for my readers. Despite all the mechanical hoo-ha-ra that goes into writing, ultimately it comes down to entertaining a stranger with the power of your imagination and your words. Anybody who comes back for a second helping, or who picks up my work because they like the cut of my snippets, is someone who has chosen to invest their time and imagination into my maunderings. It’s a weird kind of long-distance love affair of the mind, and I’m thankful to all who take it on.
  5. I’m grateful for my children. As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve read this Facebook page for long enough– by which I mean half a day or more– my kids constantly entertain me, fill me with wonder, and enrich my life by keeping me innocent, impish and focused on doing good for others who need me in their life. Whether it be my naturally-arrived Miss 12 and Master 9, or my inherited bonus kids Cassie, Aiden and Blake, granddaughter Little Miss 2, grandson Little Man
  6. I’m grateful for the quickness of my mind. I’ve mentioned before that my father’s mind is failing, and it’s killing me to watch a charming, erudite, quick-witted man struggle for words and concepts he used to fling about like gossamer. I love being funny, I love being deliberately unfunny to spark a funny exchange, I love to tease, to argue, to explain, to build worlds and concepts out of nothing more than my vocabulary and my ability to knit words into never before-seen shapes and tastes. All my other gifts belong to the people who bestow them upon me. This is the only thing I have going for me that is purely mine. If it ever begins to desert me, I don’t know what I’ll do.
  7. The care and love shown to Master 9 during his illness by people who have no other investment in it than they are his teachers, or our friends. From just-because gifts, to messages of support, to structuring his classroom, people have gathered round him for the 14 months of his illness and provided him with an atmosphere of caring and support that has done wonders for his morale and self-esteem. To Kris, Kim,Grant, Lilysea, Mark and countless others, my gratitude.
  8. Free education. I went to a shitty High school in the 80s, when my pre-Child Support Agency divorced mother raised two teenage boys and covered a mortgage on a single mother’s pension and a $30 a month in child support payments, and thanks to a nominally free education system I still managed to claw my way through 4 years of University. Now, it’s going to cost tens of thousands of dollars to send my children to a good high school. Much as I would love to do my Master’s degree, I simply can’t afford it. My wife’s attendance at University each semester is a matter of financial negotiation. My eldest sons struggle to hold down shitty part-time jobs and find enough time to attend to their study obligations. If I were starting my educational career today, I’d be working at K-Mart full-time, because that’s the best that people like me could have hoped to afford. I’m grateful that free education enabled me– and subsequently, my children– to escape a lower-class existence through education.
  9. A stable political system. Yes, Tony Abbott and his Ant-Hill Mob of witless cronies are a blight on our culture, and yes, we can argue back and forth about the relative merits of our chosen allegiances until we’re blue in the nads. But nobody shot at me today, and I own my house, and my children are safe and my wife can wear whatever she wants and get herself a tertiary education, and any meal I’ve missed since I was at Uni has been by choice, and I have freedom of travel, speech, religion and thought. And I’m an artist, and a well-paid member of the permanent workforce. I’ve never been conscripted, I’ve never fought in a war, or against my own people. I’ve never been gaoled for my beliefs, tortured, or disappeared. My neighbours don’t spy on me. I’m safe, and warm, and comfortable and educated. And I’m grateful.


And, things being what they are, here’s a little bonus extra grateful content:

10. Above all else, I am grateful for the presence of Luscious Lyn in my life. We have been together almost twelve years now, which boggles me to think of, and in that time we have faced innumerable struggles, traumas and hardships, but throughout it all she has been the pivot around which our family revolves. She has brought me unparallelled joy, belief and support, and whatever happiness I have managed to gather unto myself has been, in large part, because she is beside me, pointing me always towards positivity and joy. I cope, and occasionally flourish, because of her. I am a better person because of her.

And for that we should *all* be grateful.

TIME TO START CHECKING OUT GUN SHOPS

My daughter lost her birth mother when she was just 4 days old, thanks to a criminally incompetent doctor and a hospital that would be lucky to operate successfully as an abattoir. As starts in life go, there would be few less auspicious. 

Today, she turns 12. Thanks to Luscious, the mother I met when she was 14 months old and she chose when was approaching 2, she has grown into a stylish, graceful, intelligent, mature, wondrous child, at whom I marvel every day. There is nothing of me in her: she has her birth mother’s looks, and her Mum’s dignity, optimism and unwavering moral compass. She is a developing artist, a burgeoning cook with a fine line in muffins (another skill in which she follows her Mum), an fan of Katniss Everdeen, a listener to Goon Shows, Queen of the colouring-in competitions (undefeated in 12 attempts over four years). admirer of Pink, chooser of NuWho over Classic Who, with a heart like a planet and a caring nature and fierce desire to learn that constantly fills me with joy, consistently at the top of her classes, recommended by her teachers to stand for School council, awarded and rewarded and valued by all who meet her.
She is the kind of 12 year old I never even attempted to be, and truly precious to us. 
Happy birthday, my girl. 

WHERE THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WON’T.

Well, I warned you things would be a bit quiet around here for a short while, didn’t I?

So let’s catch up.

Firstly, health matters are slowly on the improve. Luscious can get out of bed now, as the bed rest and immobility appear to have finally gotten a grip on her condition. Miss 11’s asthma is being managed: her birth mother was a chronic asthmatic, and I’m all too familiar with the routines associated with breath testing, puffs, washing of chambers and associated routinery, and Lyn’s eldest came close to death when younger from the same condition, so we’re both hypersensitive to any changes in breathing pattern, lip colouration, or tingling in the extremities. In other words, we’re all over Miss 11 like blankets on a pig. And we continue the hospital trips and juices in support of Master 8, who had had pipes up his nose, down his throat, into his stomach and just about every orifice except his third eye and still maintains a diagnosis of Rumination Syndrome and the best we can do is manage it and hope it goes away.

As always, a change in habit becomes the habit becomes normality: we live our lives around puffers and vomit bags and we keep moving on.

Writing-wise, Marius and Gerd have officially completed their journey, and so I move on to other things: Magwitch and Bugrat is with a publisher, and I’m feeling the itch to write fresh words, which means I really have to shift my arse and complete the editing on Father Muerte and the Divine so I can get it out of my in-tray. I’m desperate to start a new novel by the beginning of November, so expect the odd excerpt from the Muerte work as I renew my acquaintance with phrases I thought I was dead clever for writing when I came up with them and decide to share them with you.

First off the rank for me, however, is a jaunt to the murderous confines of CrimeScene WA, the crime writing convention taking place this weekend, where I’ll be co-presenting a critiquing panel with Juliet Marillier and Alisa Krasnostein. Two days of lazing about the hotel, talking shop, expanding my skill set and teasing out the kernel of an idea I have for a crime novel is just the thing I need at the moment: an escape from the pressure of work, an immersion in the world I want to live in full time, and a weekend away with my beautiful wife, it comes at exactly the right time.

Check out the programme here, and head along if you’ve got a spare day or two: the lineup of speakers looks awesome and anything that teaches you a better way to murder someone can’t be all bad, right? I’ll pop up a con report after the deal, so you can see what you’ve missed, but you’d be far better just coming along.

And I’ll have another entry in my It Could be You anthology series tomorrow: one of the reasons I’ve not been blogging is that I’ve been rereading it, and have once more been lost within it….

MANFLU 2: THIS TIME IT’S TERRIFYING.

Typical, isn’t it? As one rises, another falls……

Recently, I blogged about the problems our youngest son has been experiencing with something called Rumination Syndrome, a condition which causes him to vomit in excess of twenty or thirty times a day. It was a post touched with more than a little despair.

About a week ago, a good friend of Lyn’s visited for the first time a while, and offered a potential management solution: Lyn’s friend has been suffering from cancer, and has responded by ‘going raw’- eating nothing but raw food, avoiding anything that has been processed, and eliminating all possible toxins from her system. I’m happy to say that it seems to have been working, but one of the things she mentioned to Lyn was a method of raising the alkali levels of our boy’s stomach: a freshly prepared juice of green apples, celery, and mint, with a bit of beetroot every now and again for added flavour.

It was worth a shot. Fuck it, at this point just about anything is worth a shot.

In the last 4 days, his vomiting has decreased to little more than half a dozen times a day. On occasion, we’ve even managed to get him into bed without having to change his bedding. This, my friends, is a major breakthrough. He still has episodes– it’s possible he’ll never not have episodes– but for the moment we seem to have found a temporary abeyance, and it’s enabled us to visit the touring Egyptian exhibition at the museum, travel to the WA Scale Model Expo, and generally travel around town without having to pack a change of clothes and a three-pack of sickbags just to go food shopping.

He can do things like this now.

Which is just as well, because since last Thursday….

Luscious woke up with chest pains on Friday, which became a trip to the doctors, which became an ambulance ride to the hospital with a suspected heart attack after a dodgy ECT result. A terrifying eighteen hours later she was released back into the wild with a diagnosis of muscular spasms so sever that they had affected the ECT monitor, but nonetheless, we’ve been edgy and clingy ever since: she’s still in bed three days later, and any but the simplest of movements leaves her wincing in pain.

And our daughter has turned lung-hacking coughs into a diagnosis of bronchitis, so she’s lying on the bed next to her mother watching Pretty in Pink and other assorted girlie movies for the next two to three days at least.

I am, literally, the last Batt standing.

UNTRAINED, AND IN CHARGE OF PAINT

So here’s how my job can eat my life:

Australia Day means families. Families mean a family-friendly event. 5000 people on the foreshore, which means hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kids.

Kids means face painting. Ask them. They’ll tell you.

When your face painters pull out three weeks before the event, this can be construed as a problem. It can also be construed as a problem. I know I repeated myself…

Solution: put the call out amongst our local artists. Gather up a crew of volunteers, equip them, train them, stick them in a marquee, open the lines and cross your fingers.

And it worked. Bloody brilliantly, as a matter of fact. But it also meant that I had a car full of face painting kit in my driveway all weekend. Just sitting there, in my car, all painty and kiddy and sitting there.

Come on. What would you do?

In my defence, I only did one each 🙂


Hulk not mad. Hulk just disappointed.

Is it a panda? Is it a skull? Either way, the 10 year old hates it. Five minutes with a wash cloth and…. 

This is me, sticking to writing…