Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Yvonne the Cow

So yesterday afternoon while I put my feet up to rest my back for half an hour - yes, bad backs are the pits - I turned on the TV for some mindless viewing and found a program featuring animal escapes. I thought someone must have bundled some videos of dubious quality together and it was showing as a filler. Turns out I was wrong and it was much better than all those excruciating so-called "funniest" video programs which largely feature people being hurt in various ways.

There were all sorts of animals like rhinos and baboons escaping from all sorts of enclosures and then we had Yvonne the cow from Bavaria. In 2011 Yvonne took off into the forest where, for 98 days, she evaded capture by the police, searchers (including farmers and animal rights activists) on foot, horseback, quad bike and in helicopters and hunters (the authorities issued a shoot to kill order but had to withdraw it due to public outcry). Even a bull being brought to the area didn't entice her - which is odd because, when she was eventually recaptured, she was found to have a cyst that was causing her to be permanently on heat. Obviously he wasn't her type.

Yvonne became so popular that a song was written about her and steadily made its way up the charts. Not a great work of art perhaps but the chorus is certainly catchy and the singers had a lot of fun with it. Have a listen. Then there's this.

Yvonne is now living at an animal sanctuary where the owner says she will live out her days.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

It's Nearly Summer

and the bobtail goannas are about. They are actually a type of skink (proper name Tiliqua rugosa) and rejoice under a number of common names - bobtails, blue tongues, stumpy tails, all obviously related to their appearance, and, more obscurely, sleepy lizards, which I assume relates to their winter dormancy.

    Taken by: Grant65 from English Wikipedia (original source)
    License:  cc-by/3.0 (500 x 341 px) (52741 bytes) 

I have the good fortune to have a family of these endearing creatures living in my garden. The adults are reported to grow to around 26-31 cms in length - although the one of our current adults that I saw yesterday is more like 36 cms. They have thick scales and their stumpy tail is believed to be a combination of defence mechanism - unlike other skinks it can't jettison its tail but as it looks something like another head, it could confuse a predator - and as a fat store for the winter. 

Generally they are shy and hide among the plants, although they will sometimes sun themselves particularly in early Spring when they are first coming out of dormancy. When threatened they open their mouths wide, displaying a bright blue tongue in a vivid pink mouth as they rear up. It can be quite a shock if you aren't expecting it. They very rarely bite, however, and it's largely a remarkably effective warning show. I had a reputation in the street for a while for being the person to remove them from inconvenient places like the middle of the road or on driveways because so many people are scared of being bitten. It's not rational but people aren't always rational, are they. I usually wear gloves (not because I'm afraid of them biting but in case they are carrying ticks) and just grasp them firmly behind the neck with one hand and rest them on the other hand and release them in among some plants. 

Unfortunately some folk are afraid of them and kill them (It's illegal but they have to be caught doing the act for any action to be taken) and a number die every year crossing roads, sadly sometimes deliberately run down It's stupid really because one of their favourite foods is the destructive garden snail. 

They are unusual in a number of ways. They pair bond for life, coming back together every breeding season. As well they are live bearers, with the female giving birth to 4-5 babies. The family stays together for a month or so then the young move on. From what we've observed there seems to be a fairly high death rate among the young but once they get past that they can live for twenty or more years. 

You can read more about them here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

AWWC 2014: The Caller by Juliet Marillier

The Caller, the third book in the Shadowfell trilogy begins with the rebel headquarters coming to terms with the terrible loss they suffered at the end of Raven Flight. But the plan to rid Alban of its brutal king, Keldec and his vicious queen has to continue. The Caller of the title, Neryn, has so far met three Guardians, the trickster Master of the Shadows (although he has left her with more questions than answers), and trained in using her ability with the Hag of the Isles and the Lord of the North but still has no answer as to how they can protect the Good Folk from the effects of iron. She still needs to learn from the fourth Guardian, the White Lady and time is running out if she is also to find the elusive and unreliable Master of Shadows again. Even worse the king now has a weapon that could change the balance of power and undermine the rebels' alliance with the Good Folk, one that could threaten Neryn herself. While she has had to make some hard choices as she learns to master her ability as Caller, Neryn also finds she has to be flexible. Now everything has changed and, while it has been drummed into her that she must keep herself safe for the rebellion to have any chance of succeeding, she is forced to make risky decisions relying on her intuition. If she is wrong the consequences could be dire for all - rebels, Good Folk and especially for herself and the one she loves.

 Juliet Marillier is an gifted story teller with a wonderful way with words and I enjoyed The Caller very much. She evokes the world of Alban beautifully whether it is the physical setting of the isolated clearing where she finds the White Lady and the tiny winged creatures who live there, the tension filled court where no-one is safe from the cruelties of the king and his sadistic queen or the rebels' strongholds. I have read reviews of the previous two books in the trilogy where the reviewers thought the story moved a bit slowly but I disagree. I suspect this relates to the times when Neryn is training under the Guardians but, although I'm notorious for skimming over slow bits, I didn't feel that need here. Yes, it is not rushed but that made sense to me. Neryn has a lot to learn and some of her learning is slow and painful. If the author had skipped over this it would have lessened the importance of what she needed to know. For me, there's still sufficient tension here because Neryn has time constraints if the rebellion is to succeed and the Guardians often have very different world view.

One of the engaging features of the trilogy is the way Neryn has matured. In Shadowfell she is young and immature, weighed down by her terrible experiences and losses. By the time we reach The Caller she has fallen in love with Flint (and had to farewell him as he returns to the dangers of the court) and earned a position as one of the inner Council of the rebels. Now, too, she is mature enough to be prepared to make her own decisions if she believes them to be right (even when she knows they may well prove unpopular) and strong enough to stick to her convictions whatever the cost - and the costs are often high.

The terrible toll of his double life on Flint, the rebels' spy at court and Neryn's lover, is also convincing. Always in danger from the increasingly erratic king and under suspicion from the queen and her cronies, he is already in danger of unravelling at the beginning of the book and his struggles to survive in a hostile court are deeply believable. These struggles add to the sense of menace in the court, which I found almost uncomfortably palpable as the story draws to its climax.

All in all, The Caller is an absorbing and satisfying read with a well written and complex story and well drawn characters I came to care about. While it and the two earlier books are marketed as YA I found all three equally enjoyable as an adult reader. I do have reservations, however, about their suitability for readers as young as twelve, the starting age nominated by the US publisher.

The Caller was published by Pan Macmillan Australia in Australia and Knopf Books for young Readers in the USA.

The Caller (and Shadowfell and Raven Flight, the two earlier books in the trilogy) are available from various retailers and online booksellers both as hard copy and as e-books.

Juliet Marillier's website is here and she also has a Fan Page on Facebook.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

NaNoWriMo 2014 - fail

I suspect a report card on my attempt at NaNoWriMo would certainly read as fail. I had the best of intentions but health and other issues have made it impossible. I'm quite gutted but I have a plan. This is for a faux NaNo early in the New Year. I'm thinking that a week - or if I'm lucky two - away somewhere, preferably on a beach and where there are no distractions, might be the way to go. We'll see. Who knows, I might be able to persuade some of my fellow writers to come with me. Some who, like me, can't think of anything nicer than going somewhere to write and share. Sounds heavenly, doesn't it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lest We Forget - Remembrance Day 2014

I took these photos at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra in 2013.

The Commemorative Courtyard and Pool of Reflection. The Eternal Flame is at the back of the pool near the entrance to the Hall of Remembrance. Unfortunately it's hard to see it in such a small photo.

The cloister arches on both sides of the courtyard house the Rolls of Honour listing those Australians who lost their lives in wars.


        The Eternal Flame in the Pool of Reflection.

The World War I Roll of Honour. The red is from the many red paper poppies inserted by visitors in memory of individuals named here. There is a corresponding gallery for those who died in World War II on the opposite side of the courtyard.

We will remember them.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sometimes It Just Takes Time and Compassion

Today this heart warming story of a rescued dog appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. Someone took the time and made the effort to make this little dog's life so much better. I suspect many people would  have just had him put down or left him to walk on two legs (which he was certainly doing quite effectively) but someone looked past the obvious and with patience made his life the one it should have been all along. It made me cry and I'm not all that sentimental a person.

It also reminded me of how, but for people taking the time to rescue our sweet kitty and the care taken of him at our local vet's, both as a kitten and an adult, we would not have him with us now. He has had to cope with a lot in his life. He and his sisters were found abandoned as tiny kittens and obviously bad things had happened to him meaning he has an ongoing fear of men in general as a result. (He lived with us for nearly a year before he allowed Pisces to stroke him. Now he demands it and that is a lovely sight to see.)

When Virgo first brought him home he was terrified of everything and everyone and spent most of the first six weeks with us hiding in the wardrobe in the spare room. How a tiny kitten managed to open its heavy doors remains a mystery to this day but he did. Slowly we brought him out into other parts of the house where he immediately raced for cover under the sofa, behind the curtains or behind any other piece of furniture much to the bemusement of the dog and our other cat who followed him around wondering what had moved in with us. Eventually, slowly, I was first allowed to stroke him then to pick him up and he became my shadow. He still is although he remains extremely anxious. This morning's thunderstorms had him hiding under my bed for hours.

Anxiety wasn't the end of his trials though. Earlier this year he developed what the vet thought were behavioural problems and we nearly lost him before things turned for the better. He's been left with a condition that will require medication for the rest of his life but that's a small price to pay. He's a happy and affectionate sweetie and he's lying beside me right now curled up on my laptop bag. It took a lot of time and even more patience to help a terrified kitten grow into this contented adult cat but we - Pisces and I - have never regretted making the effort.

Sunday, November 02, 2014


I was sitting here listening Don McLean's intricate melodies and words and wondering if I should even try to do NaNoWriMo this year. I'm overwhelmed with so much to do it seems insane...but, you know, I'm unhappy when I don't write so I've pulled out the outline I did a couple of months ago and I'm going to try to at least write something every day. I might not get a complete novel done but at the end I'll have something.

And these words from John Scalzi are part of what inspired me. Wish me luck.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Hallowe'en Thoughts

I'm very ambivalent about Hallowe'en as it's practised these days. It's an ancient festival dating back to the end of harvest/beginning of winter festival of Samhain in the Northern Hemisphere. It became a time to remember the dead who might be wandering around at this time of seasonal change as might witches, ghoulies, ghosties and other non human folk. Since this could end badly if you met them in the dark, it was a time to carry neep lanterns (hollowed out turnips with a light inside) when you were going to be out in the night. There were ritual fires, too, to ensure Spring would come back after winter (these eventually translated to bonfires) and pagan customs like ducking for apples which became regarded as harmless fun. All understandable in a culture where life was largely linked closely to the natural cycle of life.

When it became co-opted by the Christian church around 1,000 AD and the festival changed day and became All Saints and All Souls Days the ancient rituals changed but continued as fun customs in their new forms with Hallowe'en being one of many celebrations harking back to pagan times like May Day, Mummers and Morris Men. Hallowe'en was especially popular in Scotland, Ireland and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere in the UK and made its way to the US along with the new settlers. Here 'neep' lanterns became pumpkin jack o' lanterns.

In the US and Scotland and Ireland Hallowe'en gradually changed to become more of a secular children's celebration. In Scotland children would go 'guising', visiting houses to recite or sing to be rewarded with a treat of some kind while in the US dressing up and parties became popular. By the early part of the twentieth century it was more community based with parades and town-wide parties but 'trick or treating' led to a crackdown because of vandalism and other less appreciated demands. It took off again in the US somewhere between 1940 and 1950. Now much better supervised to prevent these problems, it has grown to the huge event it is today in the US which means that, due to the endless supply of US television and movies, we see it too and our children think it looks like fun and want to do the same.

So all good fun, a chance for children - and grown ups , for that  matter  - to dress up, vast quantities of sweets dispensed making the children and the confectionery industry very happy and parties for all ages. What's not to like?

Well, this is where my ambivalence comes in. There are a number of things that bother me. First the pumpkins. For the last three weeks our local Coles/Woolies have had huge piles of pumpkins for Hallowe'en carving. The thing is that in the Northern Hemisphere it's the end of harvest time and the pumpkins are ripe and ready to be picked. Here we're just planting the seeds. This means these pumpkins out of season and are imported which offends my green beliefs.

Then there's the fact that older teens feel that they have a right to demand treats or they 'trick'. Well, no. I don't have to give you anything and I can tell you it's not pleasant to find egg dripping down your windows and staining the walls.

Thirdly, I don't really think that it's a good idea for vast quantities of sweets to be handed out. Yes, I know that makes me a bit of a grump but we're continually being told we're in the midst of an obesity epidemic so is handing out sugar really a good idea?

Finally, although some of my American friends may object, it seems to me that the pumpkins and 'trick or treating' are something that is being imposed on us. We don't have the history behind them so it seems artificial. Frankly, if we do want to celebrate the day, I'd rather it was as fancy dress parties for all ages and not children roaming the streets demanding sweets.