Archives: October 2006

30 Oct 2006, Comments Off on What I’m reading: Waterlemon

What I’m reading: Waterlemon

Author: Helen

This is a book of the triumph-over-adversity genre, or what Pav calls pathography. It’s about the writer’s husband, Jhonnie Blampied, who suffered a brain injury when he fell off his bike. The writer,Ruth Ritchie, is a film and TV reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Of course, I bought the book because of my sister in law. Prepared to identify, learn more, and all that. Ritchie’s husband’s injury was different in cause, severity, age and health of injured person, but their main trajectory was similar; Sudden catastrophic event, spell in ICU, move to hospital ward (and realisation that they’ll live, but with what deficits not yet known); Rehab; then home. But apart from this skeletal plot outline, and the knowledge that personal tragedy is what it is despite differences in circumstance, the book didn’t really speak to me as a fellow traveller on the ABI road.

Talking of the SMH thing, you can’t shake the feeling throughout this book that it’s part of a broadsheet Lifestyle section, with its crisp David Jones bedlinens, gorgeous platefuls of exquisite food, and articles about people in seven-figure houses with children who go to the best schools in crisp straw hats. Yes, I do sound mean and politics-of envy-ish; How can I say that about a woman whose husband, the father of her two children, met with such a horrible accident just when there was a three-month baby at home? All I can say is despite the undeniable traumas she went through, the family’s lifestyle was so replete with financial and social cushions it bears scant resemblance to what a more “typical” person might go through. It makes me feel like the Fairfax lifestyle magazines do; impressed, but not able to identify.

Husband Jhonnie (Bogans are mocked when they misspell their names, but not the Naw Shore) is a former highly-paid CEO who has just taken a golden parachute in order to work as a consultant. Let’s just say that the stress of a typical family struggling with the sudden incapacity of the main breadwinner isn’t apparent. Yes, school fees and child support get a mention. But the crunch never really comes. There really is an awful lot of spending in this book.

When the author receives the fateful phone call, it is necessary to tell us she’s between “egyptian cotton” sheets. A strong feature of the book, as this review points out, is the relentless food fetishism. Many writers bring out the beauty and the poetry of food, but many of the food descriptions in Waterlemon are a litany of expensive purchases. Although numerous laksas and other (not McDonalds) takeaways are consumed, the home and restaurant cooking as described is jaw-dropping (and droolmaking, I have to admit). Beef can’t just be beef, but is “fat boy Angus” or “those amazing little spicy cubes of Wagyu beef they do so well”. Lamb has to be “thick organic lamb cutlets” and “excellent lamb racks”. Fish is John Dory, veal “White Rocks” (what the hell is that, anyway?). No corners appear to be cut in this house, there is no end-of-the-week juggling of mince and Tofu and tinned tuna to eke out a household budget (there is no mention of a budget).

There’s the baby, of course. A three month old baby, at such a time. Major stress. But there’s also a difference… he has a full-time nanny.

…Last night Anna Ritchie and I ate some fat-boy aged Angus steaks (roast leeks, pumpkin and snow peas). Esther stayed for dinner and demonstrated enormous vegetarian tolerance of all that rare beef, and kept her filthy capsicum risotto to herself.
…Patrick is mostly in the capable care of Meera, an amazing woman who started working with us a month ago. she already has a tight relationship with both the boys and can clearly do a better job running the household than moi. (See, if we didn’t have any help with the children, this never would have happened.)

But one must economise:

My car went yesterday. We won’t be needing a two-door convertible any time soon. So I’m driving Jhonnie’s new Audi. This is the first new car Jhonnie has ever owned… It arrived around the same time as Patrick, and he loves it nearly as much. Chock full of very Jhonnie toys, seven seats, great stereo and a chassis that goes up and down – presumably for the change in terrain between Cremorne and Elizabeth Bay. His favourite toy is the sat nav…”

At one point financial reality seems to be about to intrude. There are mentions of this or that income stream coming to an end. But, since her little boy starts school at Cranbrook soon after Jhonnie comes home – fees currently start at $12, 384 for Prep-2 and end at $19,734 for years 11-12), they clearly don’t end up on struggle street. When Jhonnie finally comes home, to celebrate, they book tickets to fly to New York to see The Producers on Broadway. And so on.

Yes, I sound like a sourpuss old sour grapeser. But it’s hard to identify with Ritchie. She didn’t like the social worker at the hospital; well, fair enough, and he was probably no genius, but how many of us would say “…we talked about getting him fired…”? The constant disdain got to me- in the hospital: “I haven’t caught public transport since school….I don’t see a lot of miserable government-issue public spaces on a regular basis…” and driving to the Rehab: “…I’d escaped the tyranny of peak hour traffic in the clogged arteries that pump the pergola-building masses from their renovated homes to their very promising jobs”.

The book always seems to be on the edge of a revelation about how different, and how privileged, her experience is compared to the pergola-building, nannyless, sausage-eating masses, and their representatives in adjacent hospital beds, but it never comes.

There’s another strand through this book, and it’s horribly riveting, though nothing specifically to do with brain injury. In a toe-curlingly personal, remorseless and fascinating way, like some personal bloggers, Ritchie trashes her extended family and her husband’s ex so utterly and in such detail (publishing scores of personal emails, verbatim, throughout the book) that you can never see her going back to having any kind of relationship with them again. Which, when I thought about it, was unfair on the subject and raison d’etre of the book, whose family it was. (The writer’s own family, of course, are uniformly lovely). While the family might well be as dysfunctional as they’re made out to be, what now, now that all the family’s personal failings have been hung out in the village square for everyone to see? While the ex might well be as clueless a waste of space as the writer makes out, her portrayal is an extreme trashing of a reputation, out in a locally published, popular work of nonfiction (and one which her two stepchildren- the children of the trashee– are bound to read one day). Like the AGE reviewer, I felt uncomfortable and thought that some fundamental boundary had been crossed. But where is that boundary? I admit it’s difficult. One hopes it doesn’t come back to bite her one day, but after the Pergola-building masses, does one really care?

So, two stars for this book as a realistic taste of what life with a brain injury might be like, but five stars as a juicy deckchair read for those who’d delight in a raw expose of how the Other Half Responds to trauma, in all its bitchy, gourmandising glory.

29 Oct 2006, Comments Off on More on THAT cat meat comment

More on THAT cat meat comment

Author: Helen

Let’s get this straight right from the get go: I am not an apologist for Sheikh Al-Hillaly. But neither am I going to sit idly by while the usual suspects start up with their concern trolling.

Concern trolling is a behaviour we all know and love. A common example here is when right-of-centre commentators, who either couldn’t give a stuff about womens’ issues or are actively antifeminist, suddenly come over all concerned about the “treatment of women”, specifically by Men of Middle Eastern Appearance. They then claim that “feminists” are “silent” on this topic because they’re muzzled by their leftie inability to criticise any other culture.

I say bollocks.

Not only because Muslim men and women across the land reacted immediately, superbly, to tell this guy to pull his head in and to say he did not speak for them.

Because if you think Mr Hillaly-sack-of-shit is Robinson Crusoe in his blaming of rape victims for their lack of womanly modesty, or insufficient body covering, or simply being out of the house between sunset and sunrise in the wrong place without a male escort– and his obscene and hurtful language– then you simply haven’t bloody well being paying attention to the utterances of a whole lot of non-muslim men – and women, I have to add. In the mainstream media, on the internet, on buses and trains, wherever people gather and have an “aint it awful” session about this and that.

(As Kaz Cooke once pointed out, nurses, schoolgirls and nuns are going about in garb commonly used in porn fantasies and other “naughty” narratives. The hussies. They only have themselves to blame.)

“Yes, but she shouldn’t have been out at that hour, dressed like that,” (or alone, or drunk, or whatever), is a much-loved staple of Australian / English / US conversation as much as it is in Iran or Turkey. Some people think that you shouldn’t claim “equivalence” between someone like Bishop Hollingworth blaming a rape victim and the Sheikh’s much more extreme comments. Bollocks to that, too. Hollingworth is just better educated in a Western background, and better able to couch his sexism in a form that won’t frighten the conservative horses.

If you don’t think the Judeo-Christian traditions have any form in treating women as unclean instruments of Satan, as Daryl Kerrigan would say, yer dreamin’. The same day, there was a report on a new Victorian survey on attitudes to violence, including sexual violence, and the release by Werribee schoolboys of a DVD of them sexually assaulting and urinating on a young girl. And it’s well worth reading this excellent recent essay on Orcinus on the growing misogyny of the Right and its relevance for non-Muslim society.

27 Oct 2006, Comments Off on Extry! Jim Schembri now expert on feminism!

Extry! Jim Schembri now expert on feminism!

Author: Helen

Many people blame feminism for promoting the concept that motherhood runs a poor second to a career of boardrooms and paper jams. And I do, too. (Feminism is still a good idea. It just needs to be digitally remastered to include women.)But I thought we’d moved past all that. Apparently not.

Image from Burke's Backyard (website of another wellknown tool). Watch out, Jimbo!!

The word “tool” needs redefining, as it doesn’t currently encompass the full tooliness of this tool. (Do you like the way he assumes the women will be the ones dealing with the paper jams?)

27 Oct 2006, Comments Off on Why I love Boychild

Why I love Boychild

Author: Helen

Cast iron Balcony (watching television blocked by Boychild): Come and sit on the couch, please. you’re a better door than a window.

Boychild (curling up on couch): You’re a better jukebox than a chicken.

26 Oct 2006, Comments Off on Poverty week

Poverty week

Author: Helen

I was going to do a post for Anti Poverty week, but of course at the Cast Iron Balcony we hardly ever blog anything in a timely manner. Anyway, has poverty gone away since Poverty week? NO! OK then.

I meant to link to this famous blog post by John Scalzi (Whatever)* and the reply by the dearly departed Body and Soul (Jeanne D’Arc – does anyone know why she stopped writing?) Here’s some of John Scalzi’s post:

Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.

Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they’re what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there’s not an $800 car in America that’s worth a damn.

Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.

Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends’ houses but never has friends over to yours.

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.

Being poor is living next to the freeway.

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.

Here’s some of Jeanne’s:

Being poor is crossing your fingers and hoping that your stomach doesn’t growl and give you away when you tell your teacher you didn’t bring lunch because you never get hungry in the middle of the day.

Being poor is when you’ve repeated that lie so many times you start to believe it yourself, and think that the reason you can’t concentrate in school is that you’re not as smart as everybody else.

Being poor is waiting an hour in the sun for a bus, and then watching it pass you by, and not reacting, because that’s just the way it is.

Being poor is when your couch is against a wall because your mom says it isn’t safe to sit with your back to the living room window.

Being poor is accidentally keeping a library book too long, and then never going back to that library because you’ll have to pay a fine.

Being poor is when the driver’s ed teacher tells you you’ll do just fine if you get a little practice in the family car, and you tell him your family doesn’t have a car, and he laughs, because every family in Southern California has a car.

To put these in context, in October last year, “Two proposals from Democrats and Republicans to raise the minimum wage to $6.25an hour were rejected on Wednesday by the Senate, making it unlikely that the wage, $5.15 an hour since 1997, will rise in the foreseeable future.” $5.15 an hour, people. If you work normal hours, that’s around $200 a week, before tax. (Ah, but people on these kind of wages wouldn’t be working “normal” hours.)

Elizabeth of Half Changed World describes the effect of poverty in creating a mindset, even in intellectually bright students, which affects their ability to get access to higher education in the way more privileged students can. Poverty or class is further entrenched.

While we shouldn’t lose focus on the plight of people on unemployment, disability or carers payments in Australia, the US experience now is that being in work doesn’t necessarily even mean a roof over your head. If WorkChoices brings a race to the bottom in wages to compete with overseas sweatshops, we’ll have a similar working-poor situation here.

*The name of Scalzi’s blog, not a sarcastic aside from me.

22 Oct 2006, Comments Off on Pats for Zeke

Pats for Zeke

Author: Helen

For anyone who doesn’t read Creek Running North, Chris has a very, very old dog called Zeke. He hasn’t got long to go, and Chris is spending the next year or so making sure the last months are happy ones.
Image from CRN old site

Today I clicked on CRN and got this:

System Offline

After family discussion regarding a commenter’s threat of violence against our dog, Creek Running North has been taken offline.

I am incandescent. Whoever you are, your awfulness is beyond all description.

I hope you come back as a dog. A stray dog. In Calcutta.

Update 26/10: Hooray! They’re baaaaaack..

Here in this place of dried pigs’ ears
I have attended and obeyed,
And those who menace with vague fears,
If you ask me, can go get spayed.

It matters not how vile their hate,
How lame-anonymous their troll,
I am the master of my plate:
I am the captain of my bowl.

19 Oct 2006, Comments Off on Mogul


Author: Helen

Image from

Speaking of words we love, words we hate… I love mogul. Particularly when it’s used pofacedly by morning newscasters referring to media moguls (when they’re in the news, as they are now).

A mogul catches Lily Smalls in the wash-house.

Ooh, you old mogul!

17 Oct 2006, Comments Off on SIEV-X anniversary

SIEV-X anniversary

Author: Helen

(Not written by Edward Lear, 1812 – 1888)

They went to sea in a SIEV, they did,

In a SIEV they went to sea:

In spite of all their friends could say,

On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,

In a SIEV they went to sea!

And when the SIEV turned round and round,

And every one cried, ‘You’ll all be drowned!’

They called aloud, ‘Our SIEV ain’t great,

But back where we came from we’d meet a worse fate!

In a SIEV we’ll go to sea!’

Far and few, far and few,

Are the lands where the Jumblies live;

Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

And they went to sea in a SIEV.

The water it soon came in, it did,

The water it soon came in;

And each of them said, “We’re going to die!

What’s that helicopter that just passed by?”

And Ruddock and Johnny in Question Time

Said “Stay in that non-existent line!

For your heads are green, and your hands are blue,

So really don’t want to have people like you,

We’re rich but we’ve nothing to give!”

Far and few, far and few,

Are the lands where the Jumblies live;

Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,

And they went to sea in a SIEV.

17 Oct 2006, Comments Off on Possible light blogging ahead

Possible light blogging ahead

Author: Helen

I’ve been asked to do some shows in November with this most excellent and under-publicised singer/songwriter. She has a voice like an angel and her wit is the very devil. Just the medicine for your Idol malaise.

Image from

This might mean I actually have to do some


(vinegary moue)


So, blogging might be patchy in the next couple of months.

If you haven’t heard her before, I recommend this.

17 Oct 2006, Comments Off on Oh, look, I’ve got a new blog.

Oh, look, I’ve got a new blog.

Author: Helen

Oh, no, I haven’t.

This fecking spambot company takes bits out of your blog and posts it on a new botblog whose only reason for existence appears to be spam.

” Cartoon vet” (
steals this post. (No Link for You, Mr Spambot! although I’m sure, like the lowlife who has attached himself like a leech to Amptoons, Mr Spambot benefits from the Cast Iron link in some way.) If you go back to, it’s even weirder.

“Hills Hoist” ( steals this post, as well as someone else’s fascinating technical treatise on the tensile properties, load restrictions and other properties of Hills Hoists.

I can’t even work out what the hell these pseudoblogs are trying to do. I can’t find any pr0n links or anything.

Oh the joy. No point in complaining because, unfortunately, you can’t argue with a spambot.