EVERYTHING GOES BETTER WITH BOOKS

Back in the long-distant past, my best friend Seanie and I bought each other a second-hand book for Christmas each year, because we were skint and it was a fun way to do it. The idea was to find a book that the other party would never buy for himself, but open opening the gift would say “Oh, yes. perfect!”

When Luscious rejoined Christmas a couple of years back, we revived the tradition. It was a nice way to do something individual, and thoughtful, and bought into our mutual bibliophilia. Last year, we included Ms 15 and Master 12, and made it a Secret Santa.

And this year, we expanded, drawing in our adult children and their partners, and organising things so that each couple contributed something for our two grandchildren, so that they ended up with the biggest swag of all. I assigned a name to each family member. We stuck to a $20 limit. Every book had to be second hand, and conform to the gift-giving “perfect!” philosophy that Seanie and I set 25 years ago. 

Last night, we gathered at our house. I make a bucket of eggnog, Luscious made a bucket of macaroni cheese, everyone added to a bucket of chips and dip and nibblies and chocolate. And we settled in to receive our books. 

So here we are: three generations of Triffbatts, with our Secret Santa books. This is how traditions start.

GHOST TRACKS

Paul sat on the back porch of the motel and pitched stones into the long grass that covered all the visible land between his perch and the broken fence that failed to delineate the boundary between the motel ground and the abandoned railway line beyond. He’d been stuck here for four days, now, ever since his grandfather’s funeral. Four days in a nowhere town of eight streets so far up the bum of the Western Australian wheatbelt that even the grain trains had stopped rolling through town for lack of interest. Four days with no internet, no TV, no video games, barely any phone reception, one café that closed between 1 and 4 pm and after 8pm, three books of which two were snaffled by his Mum and dad and he wasn’t allowed to read the other one because it was ‘too adult’, no kids his age, no kids of any age, no interest from his parents and worst of all, if he stopped to think about it too much—although he didn’t… couldn’t—no Granddad.

One of the best parts of writing Magrit was reading it to Luscious and the kids every evening– the book started out as a way of giving Master 11 something to look forward to each day to help him cope with the Rumination Syndrome that was destroying his life at the time.  

Now that he’s recovered, and Magrit is in print, I’ve turned my attention to a new kids’ novel. That thar is the first paragraph of Ghost Tracks, and just like last time, I’m reading it to the family as we go. 3400 words in as of tonight; there’s going to be some lovely nights curled up, finding out what happens next together.


IF THIS POST IS LATE IT’S BECAUSE I’M STILL ON BALI TIME

You’ll have to forgive me if I seem distracted: two weeks ago I was standing at the bottom of a forty-foot gorge, having clambered a hundred feet upstream to stand at the base of a fifty-foot high waterfall, halfway up a mountain in the middle of an Indonesian island.

By which I mean, I was in Bali.

Let’s be honest: when Luscious organised the trip with her brother and sister-in-law, I was on the ‘un’ side of enthused. Nothing I’d heard about the island made me want to go there– everything pointed to a filthy third-world shopping mall fit only for drunken AFL end of season piss-ups and surfer dope-a-thons with bonus dysentery and bombings to deal with assuming you didn’t get picked up for not noticing the baggage handlers’ dope stash in your carry-on.

Turns out that’s just Kuta. And I’m happy to admit just how wrong my preconceptions were, because we found a whole lot to love.

For a start, we managed to avoid the plastic beer-haus atmosphere of Kuta by staying at a villa just outside of Seminyak, rural enough that there were multitudinous rice paddies dotted in between the buildings. As our driver explained, the Balinese grow three types of rice for different purposes– white for eating, red for ritual meals, and black for religious festivities– so a significant percentage of the rural environment is held over for growing the crop, something we saw in spades on our next-to-final day when we took a trip up-country to the Old Balinese Kingdom capital of Pejeng to view the National Archaeological Museum.

Before that though, there was a stunning range of experiences: the traditional Aussie-in-Bali market shopping, including a visit to a series of stalls run by a family who lived side by side with their stalls inside an old unused temple; a roadside fish pedicure, with Luscious, Master 10 and I sitting on a bench with our feet inside a whacking great fish tank having our peds nibbled by a swarm of teensy tiny catfish; a hand-in-hand walk along a shell beach with Luscious (I’m a softie. Sue me); the trip up-country through the artist’s enclaves at Ubud to view the Museum; a day spent screaming and laughing at the utterly insane Waterbom Waterpark; and to wrap it all up we spent the final night of our stay on a night safari at the Bali Safari and Marine Park, where tigers with heads wider then my shoulders climbed the caged truck in which we stood to feed less than 6 inches from my face.

By the time we stumbled, exhausted and sunburned, onto the plane home, the Battchilder had already started a list of things we’ll be doing when we return. I’ve got one of my own.

The view from the entrance to our villa. Staying away from the plastic FcknOZYEAH! facade of Kuta was the best thing we could have done. It gave us a chance to explore some genuine– or at least, genuine-looking– culture without getting caught up in the ugly shopping mall/beer hall environment that was my impression of Bali, and which finds its full expression in Kuta. Lyn’s brother and sister-in-law found the villas, and they were an inspired choice: close enough to town to provide access to cafes and shops, but far enough away that we could experience a side of Bali closer to real than I expected.
The common kitchen area inside the villa, just around from the pool and air-conditioned, semi-detached bedrooms. It was hell, I tells ‘ee, hell!

Breakfast, round one. Every morning, a fresh platter of fruit to begin the day. It sounds like a simple thing, but we were so enamoured of it that we’ve brought the habit home with us, and it gives us a huge life each morning. Of course, the $6-each-in-Australia dragonfruit have gone by the wayside, dammit…

The ruins of a beach side temple, ten minutes walk along from the ultra-Western hotel restaurant we ate at one day. I’ve a fascination for abandoned, ruined buildings such as this. There’s such a forlorn beauty about them, such an air of quiet despair. It speaks to something inside me. Also, I totally nailed the photo, which is a rarity in itself. 
Master 10 and Miss 13 go the full Aussie-in-Bali native route: hair braiding and pedicures all round. The girls were particularly taken with the idea that a boy would get the full set, but that’s what Master 10 does– break down perceptions and bring delight. 
Another view of the hair braiding, included purely because it amuses me to see the girls having to stand on the couch to reach the top of Miss 13’s head 🙂
Anyone looking at my hard drive would think I was obsessed with Balinese traffic. Because I was. I spent shot after shot trying to get the perfect image of the slow-motion insanity. This comes close. More often than not, a two-lane road would host three to four vehicles on each side, plus a complete mosquito fleet of a dozen or so scooters: all moving in harmony, all in synchronised motion, no accidents, everyone just flowing along at 30 kilometres an hour ignoring any sense of road rules or logic. Balinese traffic is the perfect democracy. Decided by, educated by, and policed by the people themselves. It’s balletic, and I loved it. Also, check out the statue: can they do a fucking roundabout or what?
Fish pedicure. Tiny little catfish nibbling away at your feet for half an hour, while all you can do is sit on a bench with your feet dangling in the water and watch the world go by. You simply must try it. 

Master 10 gets his first nibble. This is what the trip was all about for me: that sense of joy, and discovery, in the arms of my family. 

Also: my wife’s an utter babe. A babe at an horrendous, FcknOZ bar that specialised in misogyny, sexual crassness, and a view of Australians that does us no credit at all. But it was good for a laugh, until we realised our kids can read the ‘specials’ board as well as we can, and it became time to get out and shop.
But the point is: Wife. Babe. Mine.

We spent one day hitting the market trail, because we wanted to do the traditional Oz-in-Bali shopping thing. This was my highlight: a set of stalls inside the owner’s house inside an abandoned temple. Magnificent buildings piled on top of each other so that I lost all interest in cheap wallets and board shorts and simply wandered from corner to corner marvelling at the statues and the beauty of the architecture. It was Bali in a nutshell: once you picked away at whatever thin veneer of tourist accommodation faced you, you found unlimited beauty and tradition. That was the Bali I wanted, and I found it in abundance.

Another view. This is someone’s house. Their stall inside their house

An hour from Seminyak, past Ubud, we discovered the village of Pejeng, which just happened to be the capital of the Old Balinese Kingdom, and which is now the site of the National Archaeology museum. It’s not very big, and there are few exhibits beyond a collection of Chinese, British and Indian crockery that hints at trade links with mainland Asia and Europe going back to the 9th Century, but it’s worth it for the architecture– again– and these magnificent stone sarcophagi displayed in the gardens. 

Faced with such history, what’s a fat man to do but strike a Man of Destiny pose and hope his shorts don’t fall off?

On our last night we visited the Safari and Marine Park, and took in a night safari. On a night filled with highlights, having a tiger with a head wider then my shoulders eating a hunk of meat less than  inches directly above my face will go down as unforgettable. Damn the wobbling truck: I have no good photos. This is the best. There’s something awe-inspiring about being so close to so much raw, natural power. How anyone could want to hunt animals is beyond me. We cannot allow such beauty to leave the world.
Balinese dancers play with fire in a dance show that incorporated stilt-animals, shield dancing sword fights, and a magnificent, booming drum performance. It was a show my children will remember their whole lives, and was a perfect way to finish our time on the island.

And here they are: the falls I’ve failed to get out of my system. halfway up a mountain in the centre of the island, at the bottom of a forty foot ravine, with a hundred feet of stream and rock to traverse to stand at their base. Unspoiled (or, at least, as unspoiled as possible) natural beauty; the very definition of ‘far from the madding crowd. Luscious, Master 10 and I climbed down, and Master 10 and I made our way to the foot of the falls, where we simply stood and marvelled at the sheer wonder of it all. For a moment, I recovered a sense of peace.

If there is one picture I had to point to in order to define our time in Bali, it is this one. Master 10, all four feet nothing of him, at the base of a fifty foot waterfall deep in the heart of the island, far from the traffic and the markets and the noise and the people. A tin adventurer stunned into a moment’s immobility by a sense of wonder at the natural world around him, dwarfed by all the physical aspects of his environment but with his mind and soul expanding with every moment. 
We left Bali with an overwhelming urge to return. There is so much we haven’t seen, such a deep culture we’ve barely scratched. We came armed with half a dozen Indonesian phrases, hoping they would see us through, only to discover the Balinese language itself and the delight shown by the people when we spoke the two or three phrases we picked up– and what does it say about our culture of tourism that native peoples should be delighted when we learn just a few simple words in their language? 

THIS MAY BE THE LAST THING I EVER WRITE, SO I BETTER MAKE IT A GOOD ONE

Holy Meatballs Mother of Brian, do I ever need this break.

You don’t need to have read too much of this blog in 2015– indeed, there hasn’t been very much of it to read– to know that I’ve felt under the hammer, and pretty much squashed by the hammer, for most of the year to date. Things just haven’t let up for the last 3 months, and between work, editing, family life, moving into a new house, and all the other million and one bits and bobs that strike you in the face as you walk through the days, I’ve become increasingly stressed, and increasingly fragile. Thankfully, I’m beginning to emerge from it, but there are still a few lingering weights, and I need some time out from underneath them.

Edits of Magrit are progressing at what might kindly be called Hella pace: I’ve been over the manuscript 3 times in the last 2 months at the behest of my editor, and I’m reliably informed that there’s only one more before the book will be ready to go to the typesetter. It’s due to be published in early 2016: come to the launch and I’ll happily underline for you the one line remaining from the original manuscript…..

Yeah, it’s a much better book, but we both know you only come here for the comedy kvetching.

I’ve also, out of the insanity of my heart, committed to a new artistic enterprise: namely, building an enormous diorama for a public Lego display in October called, wait for it, Bricktober! The concept is fabulous, if I do say so myself– a shuttle dropping crowds off on a moon surface to visit a shrine to the Unknown Spaceman. Only downside is, the shuttle itself is approximately 4 times bigger than anything I’ve ever built before, never mind the actual shrine. It’s going to look great…… assuming I finish it…… assuming I have the skills…… assuming I haven’t bitten off way more than I can chew……

Yeah, I’m not afraid to admit it: I may have been the
teeeeeeeeensiest bit over-ambitious……

This isn’t even mentioning work, which is, you know, work.

Which is why the next six days are necessary. Because tomorrow, we fly out to Bali for the first time, armed with instructions on how to navigate the Waterbom water park, and which shops in Discovery Mall are best for teenage girl clothes shopping, and when best to take the Night Safari (hint: at night), and me insisting all the while that I want to go to the Archaeology Museum, dammit! and sketchbooks and notepads, and camera, and damned if I don’t intend to come back sun-browned, exhausted, refreshed, recharged, and with enough material to get me writing again and not stopping until the Christmas holidays because fuck it, I’m sick of where I am and who I’ve become and it’s time to get back to getting on with it.

Also, Luscious has never flown overseas, Master 10 was Master 3 Months the last time we flew anywhere for a family holiday, and it’s bloody well time.

I’ve got a Thumbnail Thursday and Fetish Friday posts booked in the interim, but as far as live words go, this is me over and out for the interim. I shall return, with photos, in April.

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.

I HAD THE BEST-LAID PLANS THIS SIDE OF AMERICA

Day job. Writing career. Hobbies. Social media. Family. Wife. Exercise. House maintenance. 

The trick is to keep them all separate. 
Now, here’s the thing: the stresses of my day job, they’ve been bleeding over into my home life. That’s put pressure on my relationship with Luscious, which has bled back into my work life. I’ve been bringing that home with me, which has affected my relationship with my children. Because I’ve been so stressed, I’ve been eating badly, which has affected my ability to exercise, which has affected my weight loss. I’m lethargic, tired and constantly in pain because of it, which has affected my ability to perform the multitudinous house maintenance tasks that need doing. And I’m tired, so I’ve been spending my spare time flaked out in front of the TV or playing stupid Facebook games instead of pursuing the one actual hobby I have that I’ve spent hours and hundreds (I’m not saying thousands, I’m not…) of dollars on over the last couple of years. And spending hours and hours on Facebook and Twitter and blogging. Hours and hours and hours. And hours. 
You notice I’ve not mentioned writing yet?
I’m fat. I’m miserable. I’m in pain. I’m stressed. My time management is for shit. My writing career has stalled to the point where I barely feel able to call it a career anymore. I’m directionless. 
Either this can’t go on, or I can’t.
This can’t go on.
Luscious calculated last night that she’s spent in excess of 200 days on Facebook since she joined 7 years ago. If that’s the case, then I’ve spent more. That’s insane. Simply fucking insane. So here’s the thing:
As of today, the Facebook games are gone. The continuous Facebook posts are gone. TV is relegated to the status of reward for work completed. Blogging will happen once a week– other than my Thumbnail Thursday posts, which take my 5 minutes and aren’t really content, not really, and those things like Goodreads reviews which flick over here automatically. But blogging will happen to a calendar: if I have a lot to say, I’ll say it once a week. If I don’t, I’ll post a picture of a cat or something. Work for everyone else.
I have to exercise. I have to eat well. I have to re-read Booklife and decide whether I really am the low-level journeyman author I’ve drifted into being or whether the career goals I once held are still relevant; and if they are, I have to sit down and put the work into redirecting my career back towards those goals. I have to spend time with my kids. I have to maintain my house. I need to reconnect with my wife and make damn sure that nothing, not a fucking thing, intrudes while I’m doing it.
If you’re here because you’re a friend of mine then you know we’re friends already and we’ll catch up somewhere along the line, and there will be carousing and laughter and starting conversations mid-sentence like we’ve never really been away. And if you’re here because you’ve read and enjoyed my work– or, at least, can recognise a train wreck when you see one– then thank you, I appreciate and relish your company, but if it’s the work that brought you here I’m sure you’ll be happy at the thought that I want to put my head down and bring more of it into the world.
I can’t get rid of my day job. I don’t want to get rid of my wife and my kids. I absolutely want to get rid of the fat and stress and feeling that I’m wasting what few days I have left to me. I want to pursue this Lego hobby that has become an artistic joy to me. And I want to write. I really want to write.
I can’t fit it all in. Something has to go. Until I can find a better balance, it has to be the web.

PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER AS A 70 YEAR OLD

It’s my Dad’s 70th birthday today.

It’s an odd occasion in many ways: as I’ve spoken about before, we have a friendly relationship if not an overwhelmingly close one, and he really is the last link between me and what I think of as my ‘old’ family: that traditional family structure of my birth– my mother is dead, I am estranged from my brother and see no way of going back, I have never been close to any cousins or grandparents and never see them beyond the occasional visit from overseas relations or bumping into each other in the shops, which suits me fine. Dad is it, and even though we live no more than thirty kilometres from each other, we’re far from in each other’s pockets.

I’ve never thought of him as old. Perhaps you never do with parents– I don’t know. Mum died when she was 61, which certainly is not old, so I’ve no experience in the mind set. But there’s no denying that 70 is an age where the average lifespan begins to loom on the horizon: certainly, there’s got to be a point where every year begins to feel like an extra year, one you’ve been granted rather than taken as your right. Or perhaps I overstate the age thing because of my own particular phobias. Either way, I find it difficult to associate my old man with an old man. There’s the understanding, at the back of my vision of him, that one day he’ll be gone and that somewhere along the line I’d better start preparing myself for that eventuality.But not now.

For now, he’s only 70. There’s plenty of kick in the old bugger yet. I’ll drop in on him after work today: the kids have made him cards, and I have a present and a hug for him. We may not be in each other’s pockets, but he’s still my Dad.

Happy birthday.