Sunday, December 31, 2006

On the seventh day of Christmas

Not much to report this morning. Did some more housework yesterday, and went to the movies to use up my last discount Hot Cash before the coupon expired (ie. today). I saw "The Queen", which stars Helen Mirren, in an excellent, thought-provoking docudrama about the reactions of the Royal Family to the death of Diana, the Princess of Wales. These days, this kind of movie usually turns up as a telemovie or mini-series on TV, but it was refreshing to see this on the big screen. Fascinating!

Here are today's Christmas tree ornaments:

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Above left: For 1994, the (very heavy!) ceramic, church-shaped stable is hinged, so it can open up to reveal the Nativity scene. Baby Jesus is in a water-filled glass ball on one side and the onlookers are on the other side, reunited only when the stable is closed up. Purchased from David Jones' city store. The little raccoon inspects a bag of Christmas gifts. This cute little ornament was purchased from Grace Bros. in Roselands.

Above right: For 1993, this decoration celebrated that year's big animation movie, Disney's "Aladdin". When a cord is pulled, Genie raises his arms. From Grace Bros. in Roselands. The silver plastic Tin Woodsman, from "The Wizard of Oz" was found in a local "Two Dollar Shop" and was good timing, since there was a great stage show version doing the rounds at the time.


Happy 2007 everyone!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

On the sixth day of Christmas

While cleaning up some file boxes in the garage this week, I found a batch of my "Star Trek" movie scripts, which I haven't seen since I moved house in 2000. I'd forgotten that I owned three versions of the ST III script, in addition to Harve Bennett's slim bootlegged premise, ST III: "Return to Genesis".

But in the so-called FIRST DRAFT script of "ST III: The Search for Spock", dated March 23, 1983 - well after the Romulan crew of "Return to Genesis" has officially morphed into a Klingon crew - Bennett has this to say about the controversial makeup change from TOS:

"Present are the 1ST LORD of the Klingons, and his command staff. The variety of Klingons will be fully explored. Elders have been seen in STAR TREK I. Forehead bumps are marks of age and wisdom, not common. What is common is that they are a dark race of large and frightening appearance."

The "elderly" Klingon idea has been nixed by the REV. FINAL DRAFT of September 13, 1983, because Valkris wears a half-veil to hide her bumps, and Kruge is described as a "handsome but frightening presence, and relative youth".

(Since those early days, of course, we've seen Alexander, Worf's son in "The Next Generation" series, as a toddler with a matching bumpy forehead to his Dad's. Then we had Worf's enigmatic comment in DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations", and a two-part explanatory episode about the origins of smooth-foreheaded Klingons in "Star Trek: Enterprise".)

The early script also specifies a flotilla of Klingon heavy cruisers, and Kruge's cloakable Romulan Bird of Prey that "Trek buffs will recognize" from its "distinctive bird & wing motif". After they watch the Bird of Prey turn visible, the script goes on:

1ST LORD: What is this? None of you knew?

3RD LORD (hastily): It is his toy, sir. A Romulan prize. He has perfected their Cloaking Device.

1ST LORD: Commander Kruge, I want you here... Now!

INT. BIRD OF PREY BRIDGE - ON KRUGE

KRUGE: Always your servant, my Lord.

(He turns and CAMERA reveals his CREW, the most awesome collection of large, cruel and piratical men since the Pittsburgh Steelers of the Seventies. We will see more of them later.)

KRUGE: Well, my jolly lads, a few more triumphs like this and we'll all be back in prison.

(then turning)

Try to behave yourselves while I'm gone.


I reckon Kruge probably should have had a Klingon parrot on his shoulder, too (but perhaps the lizard/dog from the REV. FINAL script ate it?).

A major character difference is the addition of vulcanoid (Romulan?) defector, Galt, who essentially fills the role taken by Maltz the Klingon in the final film. Galt is welcomed back to Vulcan by Sarek at the end of the movie.

Towards the end, instead of the REV. FINAL DRAFT and FINAL SHOOTING script version of Kirk saying to Kruge, "I... have had... enough... of you!" the FIRST DRAFT script has Kruge saying, "The last face you see, Kirk. The last face you ever see."

He then grabs Kirk in a choke hold, they struggle, and Kirk seems doomed - but when the zombie-like Spock grabs Kruge from behind, Kirk is able to break free, retrieve. Kirk is able to reach the Klingon dagger and throw it into Kruge's back. Then he asks Galt to beam them up, abandoning several remaining Klingons to their fate on the doomed Genesis.

Bennett also says "The writer suggests to the producer and director that no acting credit be given for the role of SPOCK until the END CREDITS. (And that's what they actually did. There's a blank space in the opening credits of ST III, where Nimoy's acting screen credit should normally be.)

Cool, eh? Anyway, here are today's ornaments:

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Above left: For 1996, the Coca-Cola polar bear mascot, sitting in the stocking to chug down his Coke straight from the bottle, was bought just after that Christmas, from a countertop display in a roadhouse (on the way to wherever I was holidaying in January 1997). Marvin the Martian, from "Looney Tunes", was a Hallmark boxed ornament. He has a Santa sack of (Acme?) dynamite over his shoulder and is, no doubt, trying to clear his view of Venus for Christmas. As Marvin would say, "Isn't that lovely?" Purchased from Grace Bros. in Roselands.

Above right: For 1995, the cute mouse on a swing has a hard head and a soft, stuffed body. He's actually standing up on a swing, and the swing's rope is what attaches to the tree. Another purchase from the Lakemba pharmacy/newsagency. The haloed angel cow is made of some form of clay and looks like it's been homemade, but was from Grace Bros. in Roselands.

Friday, December 29, 2006

On the fifth day of Christmas

Yesterday, my friend Leonie and I went to see the new Ben Stiller movie, "Night at the Museum". Based on Milan Trenc's children's picture book "The Night at the Museum", this movie is a lot of fun, with some great special effects that are seamlessly incorporated into the story. (Why should toys be the only things to come to life at night?) this film should make anyone eager to take a stroll through the New York Museum of Natural History. By day or by night...

Today's ornaments:

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Above left: For 1998, one of my favourite ornaments: Pinky and the Brain, two determined mice attempting world domination, and have seemingly achieved it by wrapping up the Earth in Christmas lights and carrying it away. From the "Animaniacs" cartoon series, and bought from the Warner Bros. store in Parramatta. The little troll with Christmas hair, tie and pixie boots, is actually a girl's hair accessory for a ponytail. I bought him from the Lakemba pharmacy/newsagency, back when I lived in that suburb.

Above right: For 1997, the Christmas elf with the Jack-in-the-box just had lots of appeal. It's spring-loaded and came in a display box from Grace Bros. in Roselands. The cat is unusual and wasn't intended to be a Christmas tree ornament. The head is ceramic and the body is a tiny bean bag, made of patterned material. He doesn't actually hang from the tree, but rather reclines on the top of several branches. I bought him from the Lakemba pharmacy/newsagency.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

On the fourth day of Christmas

I spent a good chunk of the day back at the school yesterday. The general assistant was on duty, which meant I had access to my old classroom. Tossed out lots of files and old worksheets I won't be needing any more, in my quest to make my room look vacant, yet welcoming for the new teacher arriving to take up my class teacher position.

Today's ornaments:

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Above left: For 2000, the first Christmas in the new house! A ceramic camel mask on a long handle, from a floristry and giftware store near Eastwood Station, when I was working at Scan in Ryde; and a ceramic teddy bear in denim jeans and a hand-knitted jumper, and holding a hobby horse. He came from the all-year-round Christmas shop in Windsor. These ornaments were bought many months apart, and I hadn't realised they both had a "mounted on long sticks" theme. 2000 also marked the first year of a new Christmas angel, but you'll have to wait till Epiphany!

Above right: For 1999, two "M & M's" candy tube toppers (from Target). Promoted as "the candy for the new millennium" due to "MM" being the Roman numeral for "2000", so it seemed a natural for turning into an impromptu Christmas ornament. The miniature skateboard-riding Lori Custer sock monkey was bought in an eBay USA auction, and is actually made from baby-sized "red heel" socks. The purchase started out as a joke when I was demonstrating to some colleagues at the
Scan office just how eBay auctions worked, and we all fell in love with this particular one. A few months later, when the creator realised she'd overcharged me on postage, she sent me out a second miniature sock monkey for free: an editor sock monkey, blue pencil tucked over one ear, working away at a tiny computer.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On the third day of Christmas

If you're looking for a fun cinema experience these holidays, and wish to avoid the huge queues for all the latest movies that opened on Boxing Day, you can't go wrong with Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Sacha Baron Cohen, creator of British television's "Ali G", has discovered within himself an embarrassing new persona, whom I can only describe as a Middle Eastern version of Norman Gunston. I had a great time giggling away to myself. Even the subtitles - and the modesty patches over some of the unexpected nudity - are hilarious. Highly recommended!

Jack's favourite Christmas present has turned out to be his new "squeakie", a gift from my friend Zena. She bought him a "Divin' Dude", a cute pink and green dog made of wetsuit material, which means it might be a little tougher than the average dog toy -we'll soon see - and can even be used in the pool. But I had to laugh at the tag, which has a short essay on "The Importance of Play". It says, in part: "Depriving your dog of play may result in boredom which may lead to behavioural problems such as excessive barking or destructive chewing or digging." Well, I can guarantee some "destructive chewing"... as Jack diligently attempts to remove the squeaker from inside of "Divin' Dude"!

Today's ornaments:

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Above left: For 2002, a unique metal mesh Christmas stocking from Grace Bros. in Penrith; and Woody the cowboy of "Toy Story" riding a Christmas bauble while using a rope lasso, purchased from the Disney Store, probably the one in the Sydney CBD.

Above right: For 2001, A reindeer-antlered Snoopy the beagle with little Woodstock from the "Peanuts" cartoon strip. It originally came with chocolates, from Target; I think this might have been a leftover gift I'd bought, and I decided it would make a fun inclusion to my tree. (I also got to eat the chocolate, of course.) The frog with the luscious lips and sparkly crown actually opens on a hinge to reveal a secret hiding place for - whatever! It came from a very cool magic and giftware store, Fantasy Road, which used to be at Fox Studios, Moore Park.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

On the second day of Christmas

Okay, this is really weird.

A few years ago, I was wandering through the Christmas Cave here in Penrith, one of those popular warehouse-looking retail/wholesale outlets that had just opened up in Penrith for the first time. The place had some very reasonably priced, larger-sized plastic Christmas baubles, especially made to go on outdoor Christmas trees, ie. because the garden had lots of blue flowers in it at the time, I bought a package of metallic blue balls.

It was a bit of a challenge getting enough baubles up into the higher sections of the huge pine tree in the backyard. Essentially, from chair height, it entailed grabbing a fist full of foliage, pulling it towards me, looping the bauble into place, then letting go. Unfortunately, I managed to launch at least two baubles, as if on a Medieval catapault, over the back fence and into the neighbouring yard. (The neighbours did eventually toss them back over.)

The decorated tree looked amazing but, after a few weeks of the hot Penrith sun, most of the baubles had lost their metallic sheen on one exposed side, so the next Midwinter Christmas, I had to place them other side out. Of course, whenever the wind blew, they'd rotate around to expose their faded sides. By the time of the next outing, the were more plain aqua than shiny metallic blue and I needed to purchase some glittery gold plastic shapes to supplement the decore. These new ornaments have lasted surprisingly well over the years, although last year I seemed to be missing one faded blue bauble and one glittery gold bonbon shape when packing everything away.

That was also the year I stepped back from my chair to admire my work after decorating the tree, only to end up in the pool: clothes, watch, wallet and all. I limped about with a sprained ankle for the rest of November, all of December and most of January. The things we do in an attempt to celebrate Christmas with a little flair.

Anyway, after last year's soggy debacle, I was rather reluctant to go climbing for my Midwinter Christmas in July, and I still didn't find time to paint the round baubles with some strong, outdoor-resilient glue, and smother them in new glitter, in time for this Christmas, either - and then we had one day where it absolutely bucketed down with rain for most of the day - so it looked like the backyard was going to be decidely less festive this year.

Then, yesterday, as I was making breakfast, I looked out to my decoration-free yard - and, hanging high in the tree, was a lone glittery gold bonbon ornament glinting in the morning sun! It was one of the missing trinkets from last Christmas season. Hidden for an entire year, the massive downpours of rain we had on Christmas Eve had exposed it from wherever it had been, lost inside the tree. Another miracle of Christmas, I guess!

Outdoor tree

I had an immediate urge to race out with the chair - or maybe a stepladder this time - and put up the rest of the outdoor decorations, but I noticed the pool smirking at me, and recalled the pain of my ankle the year before.

But wait, there's more! This morning I went out into the yard and my eye was distracted by a flash of blue: sitting beneath the pine tree is a single blue Christmas bauble! It, too, has spent at least a year, lost in the densest part of the tree, and had chosen Christmas Day to drop back into sight.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and bizarre coincidence is alive and well in Penrith... Either that, or it really is a sign that God has a sense of humour. (Some of my crueler "friends" have told me that the vision of me falling into the backyard pool while decorating my pine tree last year was the real proof that God has a sense of humour.)

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Above left: For 2004, the goofy-looking horse (left) came from a specialist Christmas shop, probably the one in Leura in the Blue Mountains.. At right, a miniature picture book of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" by Dr Seuss (bought from Angus & Robertson to use in class that year), plus a last minute addition: a Grinch-as-Santa ornament, found at the Parramatta Collector's Fair - several years after searching for one (especially popular after the Jim Carrey movie came out). Better late than never.

Above right: For 2003, a tiny teddy bear ornament, originally attached to a Christmas gift from my cousin, Christina. The glamorous giraffe in the shoe, seemingly inspired by "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"(?) is applying lipstick. She came from the specialist Christmas shop in Leura in the Blue Mountains.

Monday, December 25, 2006

On the first day of Christmas

I was very slack/busy this year and almost didn't get my Christmas tree up in time. The school year went right up to the Thursday of last week (21st), a week later than we used to experience in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s - and soooo inconvenient for doing Spring cleaning, decorating for Christmas and relaxed shopping. The last few years, in order for the Easter break to be longer, we break up later and it seemed like I was still writing comments for students' report cards when I shoulda oughta been tidying up around the house.

Last night, I was still decorating the tree and it occurred to me that I can relate many anecdotes about my Christmas ornaments. In the early 80s, I'd read an article in one of my Mum's old "New Idea" magazines, of a young married couple, so short of money after their wedding, that they had no money left to buy many decorations for their first Christmas together. They ended up pooling their cash and buying just one single ornament, which they dated - and thus began an annual tradition: of buying one, perhaps fairly expensive, unique ornament. Over the years they built up a Christmas tree full of important memories, and the cumulative effect of such a, um, well-hung(?) tree is infinitely more special that one covered with the contents of a bag of el cheapo baubles from the local Two Dollar shop.

The idea really appealled to me, especially because there fashion and decorating trends are even reflected in Christmas ornaments - certain styles, colours, glittery effects, commercial tie-ins, etc that firmly root a particular ornament to a time and a place - so when I knew I was about to buy my first home unit, I used a trip to the USA (December 1983) to start my hunt for unusual ornaments, to scrawl dates upon and perhaps to imprint some favourite memories, for my own tree. Of course, I couldn't restrain myself to two ornaments that first year, and I've usually try for one expensive, and one el-cheapo-but-cute, ever since. Watch this space over the twelve days of Christmas!

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Above left: For 2006, a Hallmark "Superman Returns" over the Daily Planet; and a Homer Simpson as Santa, complete with stolen candy hidden behind his back. The Superman came from a local Target store and Homer from "The Simpsons" was a souvenir of the recent staff shopping trip (the Christmas Cave at Alexandria).

Above right: For 2005, a silver and frosted glass snow ballerina from a Christmas store cut-price sale in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains; and Spiderman carrying a webful of toys, purchased from The Phantom Zone comics collectibles shop in Parramatta.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

'Twas the night before Christmas...


Santa's Aussie Boomers

Merry Christmas everyone. Santa is on his way to Australia. Don't forget, the Aussie boomers do the first shift, then the reindeer take over for the northern hemisphere.

Jackelf

Yes, it's Santa's little helper! Smile Jack, it's almost Christmas!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

New beginnings

Yesterday morning, I was asked to be Master of Ceremonies at the retirement dinner for our school's outgoing teacher-librarian, which was held last night. It was quite a thrill to be asked, as I am essentially stepping into the guest of honour's shoes next year. I've only known her, and worked with her, since July 2002, and there were people at the function who had known her for much, much longer. It was a chance to show a side of me that my work colleagues rarely see. And from next year, in my new (old) role as teacher-librarian, they'll all have a chance to work with me in collaborative team-teaching situations.

It all went off very well - although, as I told the gathering, most times I MC a function, I'm usually dressed as an Andorian, or some lycra-clad superhero or another and wearing a mask. So, as our teacher-librarian starts a new journey, literally anticipating the commencement of a series of caravan holidays around Australia with her husband, I'm starting yet another part of my journey through my career, which may well be the last major change before my own retirement.

We've had several teachers making farewell speeches. The teacher-librarian last night, a former deputy principal last week (who's been doing casual work for a few years) and several classroom teachers today. they've all talked about the uniqueness of the school, and the many qualities that make working there such a great and rewarding experience. I feel very blessed to have ended up there.

As I was sorting my files today, in preparation for vacating my Year 1/2 classroom to move into the library, I found a wad of hand-scrawled diary entries and "incident reports" concerning a difficult class I'd had several years ago. The numerous, um, "challenging experiences" reminded me of my very first year of permanent teaching, but I guess you have to have years like that, every once in a while, so you know when you've got the next great bunch of students. I was feeling a little low, when one of my current students handed me a Christmas card, written by his mother, which said (in part):

"... I have watched him grow and overcome learning obstacles while he has been under your guidance. You have always been so approachable and have always offered me the information and answers to my worries and questions. Like every parent, my child is my pride and joy and I only want the best for him, so that he can be the best he can be. He got that with you.

"He came home the other week excited. He stated that 'Mr McLean is going to be the librarian [next year] and that means that he is still going to be my teacher on Library Day. I still get to have him!'

"What more could a parent ask for in a teacher?"

Monday, December 18, 2006

Ghosts of Christmases past


Xmas 1961whiteXmas 1986

The colour shot above recently dropped out of one of my many old photo albums, while I was looking for something else, and I was stunned to realise that it had been taken (at a 1986 ASTREX Star Trek Fan Club Christmas function)... 20 years ago! Sometimes it seems like only yesterday. Actually, I remember the night quite well; it was a "Whodunnit?" murder mystery, held at Sydney's Mortuary Station, back when it had been revived as a pancake restaurant - on a train! That's me, as Mister Fantastic, of the "Fantastic Four", back when I was able to get away with wearing stretch lycra. Interestingly, the signature white in my Reed Richards sideburns was sprayed on, from a can. These days I can do a pretty mean Mister Fantastic impersonation without any hair enhancement whatsoever.

Piggy Claus (Steve Simpson) was a rather gruff and feisty "Star Trek" Tellarite. ("Piiiiigs iiiiiin Spaaaaaace!!!!!") Steve had gone to a lot of trouble to surprise everyone that night. He was supposed to be Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, also of the "Fantastic Four" superhero team, but he turned up a vision in paunchy red and white, with a Tellarite nose pilfered from my Star Trek makeup box, and the obligatory bottle of Saurian brandy.

The photo made me determined to find a much earlier shot. Even though my mother has all the other annual "family w/Santa" pix in a shoebox, this one was lent to me to put into a teachers college media assignment (in 1978), and somehow it stayed in that assignment album. Until a few years ago, when a box of precious stuff narrowly escaped getting permanently saturated in a garage flood. I thought the black and white photo I'd remembered might have been from 1966. But no, it was 1961, making me - only just - three years old! It features me (at far left), wearing a shirt I still remember quite vividly; my younger brother, Keith, on Santa's lap; and my older cousin, Bruce. This was the only Santa photo in which Bruce accompanied us, so I assume my mother and grandmother organised to meet up with my aunt for a rare combined shopping expedition in Bebarfalds' department store, now long gone, of course.

Most of the other old Santa photos we had taken were at various Grace Bros. stores (now Myer), and my brothers and I had a particular preference for the (quite famous) Santa who frequented Grace Bros' old Broadway store, now the site of the Broadway Centre. I once had an amazing deja vu incident when I went to the Guild Teachers College, just around the corner from that Grace Bros. During the rest of the year, it seemed that the same guy we had known as Santa Claus worked on the microphone as the daily store announcer. Each festive season, he'd often receive a lot of television and newspaper publicity: as a trainer of professional Santas. Obviously, even as little kids, we recognised quality! We used to tell ourselves that he was the real Santa, and all the others we saw around the traps were "Helpers".

Ho, ho. ho.

Time magazine's "Person of the Year"!

And the winner is... :

Me.

And indeed, you. According to a blog entry over at KRAD's page, Time has given the title of Person of the Year to "anyone using or creating content on the World Wide Web".

So congratulations to KRAD. And me. Oh, and you!

Time

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Save the penguins

Okay, I already have way too many stuffed toys - and, indeed, even too many stuffed penguins - but this weekend I assisted one lone, frightened-looking, stuffed penguin from having a very rough Christmas this year.

Penguin

The penguin toy is rather well made, but he's meant to be a dog's chew toy - the type my Jack Russell would have had mostly consumed by Christmas Day afternoon. The penguin's legs are made of the same cotton "rope" as other rope-pull toys; although they always look strong, and are meant to act like dental floss, Jack tends to just eat the rope, and pay for it for days and days, straining desperately in the yard to pass wads of multi-coloured cotton.

This sighting (of the penguin, that is, not Jack straining) occurred during a quick trip through the pet section of Big W, while supposedly helping a friend look for Christmas gifts. (He'll be too busy to do more shopping in the coming week). The only one who actually bought anything was me, and most of what I picked up was for Jack, anyway: a new ant-free dish at last (please don't tell Jack it's actually a cat bowl!), and various festive munchies, such as smoked pig's ears, for putting under the Christmas tree (if I ever get around to putting it up in time.)

What was of most concern regarding the poor penguin: the manufacturer had tied another length of the cotton "rope" around the penguin's neck! Other animals in the series had four limbs made of "rope", but to compensate for the penguin having tiny wings, incapable of flight, they put a noose around his neck. I mean, why not look like you're going to kill yourself when your whole purpose in life is literally "going to the dogs"? Such a great Christmas message!?

Rope

So I weakened - and, if I can manage to keep his delectably consumable legs out of harm's way, he now joins a flock consisting of Opus the Penguin (of "Bloom County" and "Outland" comic strip fame), a little Christmas penguin that I was given last year from a student, a wooden Christmas ornament of a family of penguin carollers, and a handmade felt penguin (at least 45 years old) which I'm still minding for my friend, Scott, who emigrated to England about 20 years ago.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Birthday blog

Happy birthday to me. Luckily, I don't feel any different. Nothing else to report yet, 'cos I just got out of bed...

Captain's Log: Supplemental
A rather uneventful day. The morning was spent finishing off the snowman, as mentioned in yesterday's post. And much of the rest of the day involved snatches of time to rehearse the class with their lines for Friday's assembly. I even tried a little blackmail to keep them calm: "Now, it's my birthday today, and I'm sure no one wants to spend my birthday in Discussion Time at lunch." Okay, I know it made no sense, but it did seem to work. A bit.

The students were very charged up about the play. We haven't had time to practise with a live microphone yet - and probably won't - but they've been drilled to go slowly and loudly, since stage fright and the sight of their parents in the audience is bound to make them too fast and too quiet in their delivery of the script. I'm hoping to over-compensate now and solve a potential problem.

The afternoon was spent on my regular "trip into the city" on the train. Thursday nights have become a ritual, since 1977, when I first started travelling into the city daily to go to teacher's college in Broadway. I discovered the joy and convenience of visiting all my favourite bookshops, toy shops and comic shops all on the one night, and I can't imagine a Thursday night without new "Star Trek" items, or "Starlog" magazine, or other exciting things to buy and/or read on the way home.

It would have been nice to share my birthday evening with someone in the city, but I didn't really put any thought into who might have been available, until I found myself trudging around alone, feeling peckish and realizing some company would have been cool. Oh well, I commiserated with a Krispy Kreme donut (or two), from the tiny outlet which has opened on the site of the juice bar where I used to buy my non-fat fruit smoothies. Oh well...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Midsummer snowperson

I've spent the last few days making a life-sized snowman for use as a prop in my students' long-awaited annual class item, to be held during next Friday's assembly. Each class gets a turn, and we got the short straw, I think, as we've had to wait for the very last Friday in the school year.

It seems ludicrous to be making a snowman in December here in Australia. This particular one's made of white nylon wadding wrapped over a donated prop Bar Mitzvah drum, and, as the head, my hastily-made Humpty Dumpty prop from much earlier in the year. The snowman is almost finished and is looking pretty, um... cool! ;)

I've only ever made one real snowman before: Ann Arbor, Michigan, late December 1983, with the assistance of my US penpal, Olivia. Naturally, our snowman had a "Star Trek" theme; Andorian antennae, an authentic Enterprise insignia on his chest and a Starfleet phaser attached to one of his tree-branch hands. Actually, come to think of it, he was probably the first ever Aenar snowman. The final year of "Star Trek: Enterprise", the prequel series to TOS, introduced a blind, albino, psionic subspecies of Andorian in its final season.

The snowman for our class item will be unveiled at the climax of our readers' theatre performance, There was a Cold Lady Who Swallowed Some Snow! by Lucille Colandro & Jared Lee. It's based on the higher profile children's rhyme, There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly! Except this woman eats a range of wintery ingredients (snow, a pipe, some coal, a hat, a branch and a scarf) - until she hiccups out a snowman!

Not only did it seem a festive dramatization for December, without being too Christmassy, the book allows almost every child to have something to say and do. The worst thing about school assemblies if that, traditionally, some students get shy and deliberately pull a sickie on The Big Day - but The Show must still go on. Even though they are only six, seven or eight years old, all of the students need to be able to be last-minute stand-ins for any other vacant role. Wish us luck!

I shall try to get images of both snowmen for the blog.

Captain's log: Supplemental: Well, here's the skit's snowperson, anyway.

Snowperson

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Good and the Baaaaaaad

Today, at work, we had our annual Christmas staff luncheon. With the odd mid-week ending of Term Four next week, and several inservice courses running offsite, we had a tough time selecting a day where almost the whole staff will be at the school on the one day.

As it is, working in a school, a roster of playground duty has to be worked out on these special days, so that the students are not left unsupervised while we are feasting away in the assembly hall, far away from the 350+ sets of gazing, greedy little eyes. It's real eat 'n' run stuff; I was fairly lucky in that I scored a late shift and only had to delay dessert by ten minutes.

A highlight of our annual Christmas function is the distribution of the "good taste" and "bad taste" Kris Kringle gifts. Over the years, and after a few embarrassing gaffes where the last person would get two "bad" presents, we've perfected the art of ensuring that there isn't any last-minute mix up of the "good" and "bad" boxes. As each person brings in their contributions, in the days leading up to The Big Day, he or she is responsible for attaching raffle tickets (from two colour-coded books) to the gifts, and the ticket stubs are given out at the entry door.

The "good" present has to be of at least $5 value, and the "bad" gift just needs to be something totally tacky/embarrassing/useless - and there has evolved quite a catalogue of oft-recycled "bad" items. I pray that I never manage to win the well-endowed naked plastic monk-in-a-barrel, the regifted packet of mothballs (with attached flashing "I am a virgin" pin), or the $5 worth collection of already-scratched $1 scratch lottery tickets - non-winning, of course.

This year I was finally ably to get rid of the incredibly tacky table lamp, with garishly-painted fruit on both the base and the shade, which I received last year. (I haven't yet gotten rid of the real wooden Dutch clogs - size "Small" - but one year they shall be passed along to some deserving recipient.)

So what did Good and Bad Santa bring me in 2006?

My "bad taste" gift was... deja vu! An item I put into the prize pool about four years ago has finally homed: a pair of fabric Rudolph the Reindeer antlers, complete with attached nose-piece. Definitely worth saving up for my December 25th blog entry portrait - just watch this space!

My "good taste" gift is a funky, very science-fictiony, metallic blue Massage Mate, as illustrated here:

Massage Mate

Aren't you jealous?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Purple and gold in 1975

Okay, so I was searching through my old photograph albums and this Polaroid fell out from its position on a page marked "At home - 1975".

Bedroom 1975

It's the bedroom of my teenage years, when we lived in Highclere Avenue, Rockdale. Thankfully, you can't see the purple chenille bedspread or the gold net nylon continuous curtains. But you can see: my then-newly-purchased b/w portable television set (for watching "Number 96" and all-night Saturday movies); flocked creature from the Sydney Royal Easter Show; a souvenir temperature gauge from Canberra; Mickey Mouse poster (also featuring much purple and gold); a little flocked purple cow; a larger flocked gold bull money box; matching flocked purple bull money box; and (barely visible at the bottom) a glow-in-the-dark Kooky Spooky finger puppet from Christmas 1969. Her name was Grandma Macreak! (Grandma is still with me, and worth a small fortune on eBay, I understand.)

KookySpooky
"Grandma Macreak"

Kooky Spooky (1968) retailers ad
Kooky Spooky (1968) retailers ad

With thanks to the gang at the Universal Monster Army BBS.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Star Trek movies: then and now

Over on TrekBBS, someone asked for our pocket reactions to each of the "Star Trek" movies, our first reactions and whether the movies had stood the test of time:

ST: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)
My age then: just turned 21
Where seen: the beautiful retro-art deco Paramount Theatre, Sydney
Note the age above: this film was very much my "coming of age". I'd managed never to have seen "Star Wars" and had just finished up three fun-filled years at teachers' college - including writing and performing in skits, making teaching aids, critiquing kids' TV shows, etc - and along came TMP, a reunion movie of characters I knew mainly only from breakfast television reruns of Filmation's animated Trek series (TAS)!

So TMP, based on a friend's review (at my 21st birthday party) of then-recent gala opening night, became a fascination to me. During that week, the newspaper had carried a serialized "My week on the Star Trek set" item by Aussie journalist Jim Oram.

I encountered the novelization in the local supermarket (read it in a weekend), bought the soundtrack with a birthday gift certificate, and finally went (by myself, when its general run finally started) to see the movie - and was blown away by it. I have since worked out that it had to be a daytime session on Christmas Eve, and I came home with second hand copies of several Blish and Foster adaptations of TOS and TAS episodes. (I recall showing my grandmother my already-expanding collection of Trek stuff on Christmas Day!) With TMP, I felt like I was on that starship; thanks to director Robert Wise, whose direction made the whole film so real to me. I needed to see the movie about four times before finally spotting the cool, new aliens I'd seen in the program book, the LP inner sleeve and Starlog.

Later, discovering organised ST fandom via the monthly ANZAC House episode marathons, I was shocked that most diehard TOS fans hated the movie and called it "boring". For me, I was ready for the sequel the next week, and how did I scream when I realised TMP was originally to have been "Star Trek: Phase II", a weekly TV show! Oh well, I spent the next few years reading ST novels, catching up on old TOS and TAS I hadn't seen and researching details on ST II.

It's still my favourite ST movie (now equaled by the 2009 film), and perhaps my favourite movie of all time.

ST II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)
My age then: 23
Where seen: the ornate State Theatre, Sydney (preview and gala premiere)

A very solid TOS movie-era outing. I was thrilled this one got critical acclaim, though I really missed the costumes and cinematography of TMP. Saavik (Kirstie Alley) was very cool - and yay, Mr Kyle (John Winston)! - but where were Rand and Chapel? Khan was a very impressive guest villain. Loved the Ceti Eels, but missed McGivers, whom I'd enjoyed so much in "Space Seed". On opening night, they deliberately had no "II" in the title, avoiding the memory/stigma of negativity about TMP as much as possible. Sad to read about Nimoy's directives to Robin Curtis (in ST III) which seemed so intent on blotting out Kirstie Alley's interpretation and popularity with the fan base.


CaptTherin

My fan club friends all made new costumes for the premiere of ST II and we booked out a large block of the cinema. This was the beginning (for me) of ST fandom at its most interactive and creative, with plenty of time to build excitement for the next sequel.

ST III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK (1984)
My age then: 25
Where seen: Pitt Centre (aka "the pits centre" by some), Sydney (two previews and the gala premiere). This alternative venue was due to the fact that there was still a giant hole in the ground where they'd torn down the Paramount and Rapallo Theatres in 1983.

I loved all the "will he or won't he" publicity about Nimoy returning as Spock (not to mention directing and, as "Frank Force", the voice of Excelsior's elevator voice) - and it was fun seeking out all the gossip. My friend Jill was a set visitor on the very day (the new) Saavik and David opened Spock's casket, and she came home to tell us that the torpedo tube had been... empty! And that Merritt Butrick, whom she'd hated in ST II, because he was a Kirk wannabe, was actually very cute in person. I was then in New York in January 1984 and saw Paramount's Eddie Egan give his ST III slideshow at a Creation Convention.

Then the agonizing wait: Australian cinemas elected to delay ST III by almost six months, whereas the previous ST films had been an almost-simultaneous release. Although I found the "live on set" planet FX to be rather hokey (fibreglass texture on cactus plants, chunks of earth on hydraulic lifts, falling trees rigged to fall again, multiple shadows from overhead studio lights), the film was exciting, funny, sad, nostalgic and satisfying.


Star Trek III: The Search for Spock premiere

It was a great movie to see on premiere night in a cinema packed with diehard costumed fans. (I took in a box of champagne flutes, after seeing the "absent friends" scene at the first preview, and my whole row clinked glasses with the onscreen heroes and we got a roar of approval from the whole audience. A magic moment, repeated each time we went back that week.) I'd moved into a new apartment only days earlier - and, as the Genesis planet went down in flames on opening night, I remembered I'd left the iron on! Another agonizing wait till we raced back.

ST IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986)
My age then: 27
Where seen: Paramount/CIC Theatrette, Sydney (preview: work print!); State Theatre, Sydney ("Buspak" Awards and gala preview); Greater Union Centre, Sydney (finally), on the site of the former Paramount and Rapallo Theatres (opening night)

A very fulfilling film, although a risky first few minutes with yet another giant probe heading to Earth. Great comedy and use of all the main characters, and I thought most of the whales stuff was great. Wonderful to see ST being widely accepted by general audiences, and the renewed interest in licensed ST tie-ins.

I helped to organise a huge gala preview for ST IV that had Sydney "A List" celebrities, the first annual "Buspak" advertising awards, a disco after-party and free alcohol. The awards night section was terrible but the ST film was enjoyed by people who'd never seen a ST episode, although I had several diehard friends who felt ST IV "dumbed down" its ST messages for the populace. And it was a shame that Saavik was seemingly shunted aside and forgotten.


Buspak

ST V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989)
My age then: 30
Where seen: ConQuest '89, Brisbane (gala preview); Hoyts complex at Westfield Eastgardens Shoppingtown, Pagewood (opening night)

I'd have been more accepting of the plot had Sybok simply been a mentor/teacher of Spock's rather than a son of Sarek, since Shatner worried little about flying in the face of complaints from Gene Roddenberry and DC Fontana. However, I did appreciate Shatner's attempts to recapture the format of a ST episode, and I actually liked some of his more unique directing contributions. The "field of holes" scene ("It's all I have...") was so poignant, and the approaching unicorn in a dust cloud.

I have had many belly-laughs reading "Captain's Log: The Making of ST V" by Lisabeth Shatner; an excellent insight into the ego of Shatner. A book which often says much more by what's between the lines. ST V was a disappointing follow-up to ST IV; a very much "contractual obligations" deal. TNG was already doing better FX on a weekly TV budget. Even more ironic: the pre-release poster of the seatbelt on a cinema chair.

ST VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991)
My age then: 33
Where seen: Paramount/CIC Theatrette, Sydney (preview); Ann Arbor multiplex, Michigan, USA (feature)

To think we almost didn't get this film, or almost got a "Starfleet Academy" movie instead. This was a fun experience in many ways, and the many blue-sashed UFP aliens at the end paid homage to TOS aliens we'd seen before. I loved the film's ties to "Unification" (TNG double episode, guest-starring Spock). However, although I'd have been devastated by Saavik being revealed as a traitor, as was originally planned, the Valeris subplot was no surprise at all... because Valeris was the only newbie in the team. (I tried to avoid all spoilers, for the first time. When a big Cinefantastique article came out, I decided to save the article till after the movie. I just read the captions - and that's where the editor chose to reveal that she was part of the conspiracy. Drat!)

Loved Sulu and Rand working together, and loved the big sign-off by the cast at the end. Some minor annoyances: spelling "Uhuru" in the closing credits was bad; forgetting which ship had been cataloguing gaseous anomalies; the phaser in the kitchen; books for translating into Klingon, etc. The local premiere night experience was bittersweet, as a new faction had taken over our ST club, most fans turned up in civvies, and I then went off on a US trip a few days later and missed out hearing about everyone's opinions. Watching the movie with my US penpals was fun, though, but it had been out a few weeks by then and the US Cineplexes were running so many sessions, each tiny cinema was almost empty. Hard to build atmosphere in such a tiny space! Loved photographing Mann's Chinese in Los Angeles (below), decked out for ST VI, although I didn't see it there.

ST GENERATIONS (1994)
My age then: 36
Where seen: Greater Union complex, Bankstown Square, Bankstown (premiere)

Almost the entire script, and most versions of each draft, were being leaked onto UseNet, and a friend used to print it all out for me. I wasn't sure I liked the idea of Scotty and Chekov parroting lines originally written for Spock and McCoy. Malcolm McDowell, whom I'd loved so much in "Time After Time" seemed too much like a bully - and he seemed to keep the silver haircut and angry face for every movie appearance ever after. I'd have loved for the film to explore the alien differences in El-Aurians. After seven fun years of TNG on TV, this movie seemed to have many missed opportunities, not to mention killing off Picard's Earth family, then not even using the same René for the "Christmas in the Nexus" scene.

I admit to feeling underwhelmed by "the franchise" after all the fun and excitement generated by TOS movies every few years and the launch of TNG on TV. The premiere night I attended was run by a fledgling ST club recovering from all the old, long-running big ST clubs being obliterated by an Australian version of the Official ST Club, who were holding a rival screening in a different location. Although the movie was fun, I'd enjoyed "All Good Things" much more, and I think TNG on the big screen might have been more compelling if the characters had been unseen in all-new adventures for a longer chunk of time, a la the TOS crew in TMP.

ST: FIRST CONTACT (1996)
My age then: 38
Where seen: Greater Union complex, Parramatta (premiere)

People certainly came out of this movie feeling like they'd gotten plenty of bangs for their bucks. It was an excellent grafting of: personal drama with SPFX space battles; TNG with its TOS roots; and use of popular themes (time travel and Borg) in fresh ways to maximise opportunities of pleasing audiences.

Again, nearly everything got leaked way before time - even preliminary sketches of the possible looks for the Borg Queen. Alice Krige, James Cromwell and Alfre Woodard all gave excellent performances. The cameos were funny (and welcome) too: the EMH, Ogawa and Barclay.

ST: INSURRECTION (1998)
My age then: 40
Where seen: Hoyts complex at Broadway Centre, Sydney (premiere)

I loved this, even though many slammed it as "like a double episode of the TV show". The cinematography and music were beautiful, and everyone gave strong performances, except maybe the development of Ru'Afo. The idea of two subjugated races - the Tarlac and the Ellora - to keep afloat what was actually a very small number of Son'a, was excellent, and would have been fun to explore in other films (or novels).

Once again, the scripts were leaked to the Internet - and I really wish I had not read the part in the script where it's revealed that the Son'a are just very wrinkled up exiled/renegade Ba'ku children, because I may not have realized until the film's Big Reveal. Gates McFadden must be wondering by now why she gets so little to do in these TNG movies.

ST: NEMESIS (2002)
My age then: 44
Where seen: Hoyts complex, Penrith Plaza (opening night)

Oh, so sad. The fans' ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy? This movie was castigated on Internet forums before more than a sentence or two had been written - and then to prove how much a failure it would be, US ST fans joined the general public to go see the opening weekend of J-Lo in "Maid in Manhattan" instead of supporting "Nemesis".

I'm talking about the many thousands of people in the USA who prejudged this movie. They had no intention of going to its first screenings, waiting for friends to tell them whether it was okay or not. Every previous ST movie had queues of fans to see it as soon as they possibly could, whether it turned out to be their favourite film or not. Many fans never even saw "Nemesis" once on the big screen, making their decisions from Internet rumours, or by a reading of the bootlegged script. So it's not just a drop-off in repeat attendees after opening weekend (such as with ST V or "Insurrection"). They didn't go even once! At least "Nemesis" won its opening in Australia, and performed well in the USA on DVD. We see more recent comments like, "Well, I finally saw 'Nemesis' on DVD and it's not as bad as I'd been dreading".

Data is my favourite TNG character and, under a more sensitive director than Stuart Baird, I might have enjoyed torturing myself by watching my favourite character sacrifice his eternal life for his captain, but ultimately the scenes fell flat. The lighting of the sets was dark and gloomy, too, and it would have been fun to get a little more canonical detail on the Romulan/Reman connection, but I actually liked Tom Hardy's performance as Shinzon, and how ironic/cruel the whole thing was turning out for still-lonely Picard. I'd have preferred more links to "Unification", and perhaps the involvement of Ambassador Spock? No big gala opening - just one work colleague who went with me to the local cinema on opening Thursday night...

This movie was no worse than other ST films (esp. ST V), but the whole exercise proved how jaded and bitter a large number of ST fans had become. After "Nemesis", they turned their ire on "Enterprise", and will no doubt lie in wait for JJ Abrams to put (any) foot wrong with his upcoming ST movie project.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Send in the clones: Leslie triplets and Galloway twins


LeslieLeslieLeslie

Someone on TrekBBS asked if it was true that poor ol' Mr Leslie, one of the longest-lived, red-shirted security guards in the original series of "Star Trek", was supposed to return from the dead - seeing how he appeared as Leslie in episodes made long after "Obsession"? That was the episode in which several guards were killed by an evil gaseous monster that sucks human red corpuscles.

The answer is, yes, the guy was more than a little concerned about his character being proclaimed dead, and the director of "Obsession" even promised him there'd be a scene where his body was successfully revived but, of course, it was never filmed.

Extras and two-line extras in television series don't usually get much say when their character is killed off, mainly because they're back next week anyway. We aren't supposed to notice that the same extra in TOS keeps playing unnamed crew in the background (let alone that he also pulls additional duty as an alien, or that he drives the 20th century truck that kills Edith Keeler).

When TOS scripts were being written in the 60s, noone ever knew which extras and which two-line walk-ons would be available for which episode, and the names were often added at the very last minute. Neither was it imagined that, 40 years later, we'd be analysing the episodes so closely that we'd realize that some extras played multiple characters in the one episode.

It was only due to William Shatner that Mr Leslie was even called the same name so often. Shatner dubbed "Leslie" by that name in honour of one of his own daughters (similarly, Mr Lemli was named for all three Shatner girls: LEslie, Melanie, LIsabeth) - and the actor who played Mr Leslie, Eddie Paskey, was Shatner's stand-in, so they did become quite close. Paskey had previously played a Starfleet character named Ryan in "The Naked Time" (and Connors in "Mudd's Women").

I've heard fans try to explain that Edward Leslie survives till the end of the series, but that poor Leslie Ryan, whom Kirk mistakes for "Lieutenant Leslie", due to their similar appearance, is the man who actually dies in "Obsession". Or is it Edward's lookalike twin brother, Ryan Leslie?

GallowayGalloway

Similarly, Mr Galloway dies in his fourth substantial TOS appearance, "The Omega Glory", and yet seemingly returns in the final episode of TOS, "Turnabout Intruder". But he's not named in that onscreen footage, only identified by a misspelt end credit (ie. "Galoway"). The answer there is that lookalike Mr Johnson, the guy whom actor, David L Ross, played in "The Day of the Dove", is the guy who appears in the TOS finale - because Galloway is still dead.

Or did Doctor Phlox the Denobulan (of "Enterprise") leave some notes on cloning human beings for Doctor McCoy to follow?

Other fans have a different explanation. Supposedly, if you place all TOS episodes in stardate order, the two problems of the resurrecting security guards disappear. But I prefer my versions - and production order, very different again to original screening order, for watching my TOS episodes.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The counter halts...

Well, NaNoWriMo, the (Inter)National Novel Writing Month, finishes up in this timezone in a matter of minutes - and I've been what is best described as a dismal failure.

I have written a lot this month: school reports, book reviews, emails, blog entries, a report on my student teacher, but - on the first two days of November - only some small chunks of a new novel.

As I said at the beginning of November, procrastination is alive and well. I'd have been more successful growing a moustache for a different charity event, Movember. Nah, scratch that. My moustache is all-grey these days...

Oh well, I understand that for people whose other careers interfere too much in November, there's also JaNoWriMo, January Novel Writing Month. Ah, a second bite at the cherry! Wish me more success, and less procrastination.

Who are you?

As I pondered here this time last month, I've found blogging to be quite confronting. People who know me in person know that I talk a lot and, when a writer writes, he or she is usually encouraged to write about what they know. Also, as a teacher of the writing process to children, I have to demonstrate how real writers research their potential audience first, then work out the most effective way to pitch their information.

All those attributes combine when I write my blog entries but, so far, "Who is my audience?" is impossible to gauge. Especially when comments are sparse - and even moreso when they are from anonymous strangers.

My quandary is, when blogging, I'm still sort of flying blind. I can just cast out what's on my mind at the moment, but I've also been using the blog to make a more permanent record of questions I attempt to answer on various "Star Trek" bulletin boards I frequent, since I found the trivia interesting the first time I encountered it, and blogging it catalogues it so I can refer to it next time the question gets asked again.

However, it means that, for you people who are regularly visiting this site for "Number 96" or "Star Trek" news, you may be disappointed when I go all Jack Russell on you. ;)

Did I mention that Jack threw up on my doona today? (The weekend's regurgitation episodes seem to be becoming a bit of a pattern this week. It's a new dry food, or rather, a hand-me-down dry food a friend passed to Jack when her dog rejected it.)

I'm washing the doona cover now, as I type. Oh, well, at least in winter Jack doesn't spend the day (and night) under the doona. Spoiled much, you ask?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Because I read...

On Monday, I was invited to join New South Wales Premier, the Honourable Morris Iemma, to a presentation for the conclusion of this year's Premier's Reading Challenge at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum. My principal graciously let me attend, in my capacity as a member of the reviewing panel, even though there wasn't much direct benefit to my school.

An innovation of the previous premier, Bob Carr, the first Premier's Reading Challenge's caused a bit of a scramble at Scan, when I worked there, digging through all our old book reviews to find the best of the best in children's literature, both classic and new, to help the coordinator draw up a reading list for school students in time to meet a tight deadline. Since then, the PRC has become a well-oiled machine, and I'm really enjoying being part of the review panel, which meets numerous times each yea, both in person and via email.

5900 students successfully completed the PRC in 2001, but 119 796 did so this year: a 40% increase! The number of students (Years K-9) signing up to take part in the project was almost 260 700. Between them, 3.6 million books were read.

All attendees, big and small, were asked to bring their "favourite book". I took my well-loved Cole's Funny Picture Book No. 1, a uniquely Australian publishing phenomenon, which still carries my paternal grandfather's handwritten inscription inside: "to Ian, aged 6." Whenever I riffle through it, being aged six years old seems like only six months ago...

My friend and fellow book review panellist, the prolific author Libby Gleeson, was a guest speaker at Monday's presentation, and I loved the quote she used during her speech. Quoting another Australian children's author, Paul Jennings, she recalled that when Paul was asked by a young fan, "Why do you read, and why should we value reading?", he replied:

"Because I read, I don't bash people up."

So eloquent! Reading allows us to see the world through the points of view of other people, and this helps children (and adults) to realize that all "other people" have thoughts, feelings and actions - whether they are the same as our own thoughts, feelings and actions or not. Reading literature grants us unique and valid perspectives that are not our own.

It would be difficult to sit through such an inspiring day and not be affected by the fact that everyone in that room - and many thousands of others who weren't - have made astounding differences in the lives of 260 700 NSW students in 2006. Amazing stuff.

Next weekend, 410 new book titles will be added to the already-impressive existing PRC booklist.

Cole's Funny Picture Book

(ed. E. W. Cole, 70th edition, purchased December, 1964. Originally published: 1879.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

"This is Big Sister..."

So my aunt decided to take my mother, who's visiting us from Perth, to the semi-regular craft show held at the Entertainment Precinct, adjacent to Fox Studios Australia, at Moore Park. My aunt got into making her own gift cards in a big way after her retirement, and when she went to the show in November 2005, the organisers had given her a flier with all the craft show dates for 2006.

When they arrived, the area that usually hosts the craft show was cordoned off, and the place was filled with young, beautiful people. After wandering aimlessly for a little while, Aunty Pat and Mum approached a security guard.

"We're looking for the craft show..." they tried to say.

"Come on in!" he exclaimed. "We need more people like you. Grey power! Sign up over here. There's a bit of a wait, but you're just what we're looking for. You'll really add some spice to the show."

Yes, my mother and her sister had stumbled upon auditions for "Big Brother 2007". (Obviously Network Ten had paid a high enough fee to oust the craft show from its regular spot.)

I can picture it now: "Attention housemates. This is Big Brother. This week, your task is to make greeting cards with the Barron sisters. Those of you who fail to glue your tinsel adequately shall enter the Punishment Room."

Who flung Blue?

My Mum and Dad, who retired to Perth in 1990, are over in Sydney for a brief visit, staying with my aunt in Malabar Heights. We had a big family reunion yesterday and, because Jack (my Jack Russell bundle of canine energy) was home all day while I was at the literary seminar, I checked with my aunt if it was okay to bring the dog with me.

Last time he was there, Jack was on his best behaviour, and really enjoyed playing ball in the backyard and hunting in the rockeries for blue-tongue lizards. This time, however, we both blotted our copybooks. Firstly, I put Jack's plastic bag of doggie accessories very close to a lighted oil burner and almost caused a fire. Then Jack coughed up excitedly - twice - on my aunt's carpet, and accosted my cousins' young children to steal their soccer ball. When my uncle opened a bottle of cold, sparkling red I'd brought, the wine fountained out along with the cork, covering no less than three of my uncles in sticky, blood-red stains. Then the dog went wacko (as in "Wacko Jacko"), desperately looking for the lizards he suddenly remembered sniffing out last time.

On what must have been our fifth visit out into the yard yesterday, when most of the smaller children had already gone home, Jack actually located a medium-sized blue-tongue. I saw Jack pounce, and before I could shout "Not for Jack!" (which usually causes him to "Drop!" the item he's just put in his mouth), I noticed him shaking his head violently, from side to side, ragging the poor lizard, just as he would his stuffed toy tiger at home. But then, just as suddenly, the lizard was gone. What a clever escape artist was that lizard!, I sighed in relief. The miracle of instinct and survival... The choice was "fight or flight" - and the lizard elected to flee.

By the time I reached Jack in my aunt's inaccessible, elevated rockery, he had realized he'd lost track of the lizard, and was now desperately poking his head into every gap, looking for it again. A human voice called up from the lower level of the yard. Whew! The lizard had been found and it seemed to be okay. Somehow the clever little thing had scuttled down onto level ground already, without Jack noticing.

I finally was able to retrieve Jack so he didn't reach the lizard before I got there. With Jack in my arms, still sniffing the air and struggling to keep searching out every nook and cranny, I clambored down. (Strange, I thought. The reptile was upside down, and presumably in shock, but it was still breathing. How did it get down here so fast, I wondered? And why did it flip itself over onto its back, exposing its more vulnerable side in time of still-present danger?) I returned the lizard to a secluded spot in the garden and Jack and I went inside, not sure if I should even admit to Jack's latest indiscretion to my aunt and uncle. Maybe we just wouldn't say anything, particularly after the oil burner, vomit (x2), wine and ball-stealing incidents.

Somehow, everyone already seemed to know what had happened. My Dad asked, "Jack found himself a bird in the garden, eh?"

"Ah, no, he was just hunting for blue-tongue lizards... He remembers he saw one last visit," I said, sheepishly.

"Oh, we all thought it was a bird," everyone said together. "It flew right past the window!"

Oh my. So that's why the dog's head-shaking action had ended so abruptly. Perhaps Jack can stay at home for the next family reunion.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

My Sassy friends


Sassy

In November 1993, I was invited by Selwa Anthony, literary agent extraordinaire, to attend an all-day seminar and gala dinner for her little band of authors, and soon-to-be-published authors, at the Novatel Hotel in Brighton-le-Sands. It was called "Succeed Some More in '94" (and was a follow-up to a very successful dinner the previous year, "Succeed With Me in '93", named for a book she'd just written with Jimmy Thomson).

At the time, I was deep into my proposal-and-sample-chapters for a book on the social history of the Aussie soap opera, Number 96, and the wonderfully encouraging Selwa was going to agent it for me. While that project did the rounds of the publishers - twice - and gathered a lovely collection of encouraging rejection slips, it was eventually seemingly accepted by Allen & Uwin (for two weeks) in 1995, who then declined to offer a contract on it after all. Sigh.

So, rather than try to self-publish the thing instead, I launched the briefest of details as a website and started working on some other book ideas. Despite the fact that, so far, I haven't earned Selwa any percentages, she keeps inviting me back. Yesterday was "Succeed, it's Heaven in 2007".

Selwa has faith in me that I'll eventually get my act together and complete something both literate and commercial! I did get an article published in a "Starlog" magazine for Star Trek: The Next Generation (an interview with actor Leonard John Crofoot, who played Data's little gold android offspring). Mind you, I have incorporated a lot of skills learned at "Succeed with Me" seminars into my daily life, and it's paid off in so many other ways than just financial and literary ones. There has been advice I've used to tighten my book reviews for Scan, improve my mental health and feng shui, lose many kilograms, and how to use visual clues to tell when people are telling the truth. I've also been part of Selwa's unique brand of networking, helping out numerous other authors with their various writing projects. And I knew all the right answers when being interviewed for my editing position at Scan.

From November 1995, when Selwa added her annual Sassy Awards to the night's entertainment, it really added some glitz and glamour to the nighttime activities. Ten or so trophies are given out each year, to Selwa's most successful authors or editors. (Feeling a bit like the ultimate phony, as Selwa's longest-attending "author" who's never actually earnt her any $$$$, I even received a Sassy myself, in 2000, for my "Positive Attitude", from that year's Sassy presenter, Harry M Miller.) Last night, Toni Lamond was back, along with Maria Venuti (this year's Sassy presenter), Jeanne Little, science fantasy author Ian Irvine, Jennifer Green, Barb Angell, Tara Moss... And so many more.

The most amazing thing about this year's seminar was the first sentence uttered in the first presentation. Helen Hope, an astrologer who has written 2007's twelve "Daily Horoscope" guides for Hinkler Books, asked for a show of hands as to who were the Sagittarians. Had we noticed that we Sagittarians seemed to have lost some of our magic in recent years? We all nodded "Yes".

It seems that yesterday, 25th November 2006, marked the return of Jupiter into the sign of Sagittarius! Pluto has been in Sagittarius since 1995, coincidentally(?) the year my "Number 96" book was rejected. Now, thanks to Jupiter, "a big year" is coming my way: one that "may forever see as crucial". My ruling planet of Jupiter returning is cause for great celebration - and Pluto's exit from Sagittarius makes 2007 "crunch time". (Notice how it ties in to my news a few days ago that I'm back in the school library next year?) Thanks Helen!

Time to kick in my "Positive Attitude" again - and finally redeem myself and earn that Sassy!

Ah, well, back to the manuscript...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Star Trek: the Aussie connection

Today, on TrekBBS, someone asked why none of the Star Trek series or movies featured a ridgie didge Australian character.

Nella DarenwhiteLiam Bilby

However, the poster had forgotten Wendy Hughes (left), aka Lt Cmdr Nella Daren, love interest of Captain Picard in "Lessons" (Star Trek: The Next Generation), is Australian, albeit without a strong accent. Born in Melbourne, Ms Hughes speaks (in most of her many TV, stage and movie roles Down Under, such as Lucy Sutcliffe's niece, Vanessa Harrison, on Number 96) with very cultivated English pronunciations, similar to many Aussie actresses working in Australia in the 70s. So, anyway, there's at least one Australian Starfleet officer.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Liam Bilby ("Honor Among Thieves") is also played by an Australian, Nick Tate (right), previously of Space: 1999 fame - and Holiday Island infamy! Since Bilby and his family reside at the New Sydney Colony - and a bilby is an Australian marsupial - I assume his character is also supposed to be of Australian origin (despite his American accent).

Tate was also a shuttle pilot called Dirgo on TNG ("Final Mission"), but that character is an early Michael Westmore humanoid "forehead alien". Bilby in DS9, though, definitely pays homage to Nick's human Aussie roots.

These two actors are certainly not the only Aussies to have worked on Star Trek, but Dame Judith Anderson (as Vulcan High Priestess T'Lar on ST III) and ex-Neighbours' Alan Dale (as Romulan Praetor Hiren in "Nemesis") both appeared on the silver screen in pointed latex ears!

Onya guys!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Back to the books

As I mentioned here, I recently applied for a transfer - to my own school! - as the next teacher-librarian.

On Friday afternoon, I tried to ascertain just where in the continuum my application had progressed, but to no avail. Yesterday, my principal tried to find out the same information. While at first he had no news, later in the day he was contacted about what codes were required for the filling of the classroom teacher position I'd be relinquishing.

Today the confirmation came through: I've been appointed to the position of teacher-librarian. It's a four-day position, with the additional day per week being made up from our Priority Schools Programs (PSP) funding budget. This means that our school library can be made available to the school population five days per week, a similar strategy to the one I suggested at my first school (when I "fell" into the job as an untrained teacher-librarian, after I'd been doing the relief-from-face-to-face (RFF) teaching position the previous year).

So I start the new job in 2007. The last time I was in a school library, as the fully-trained T-L, was in 1997, before I was seconded to Scan as editor. A decade ago?

I shudder to think how much has changed. But I can't complain; my teaching colleagues are excited for me, and I'll be back in the unique teaching and learning niche that I find the most rewarding and exciting. Teaching is certainly a job that opens many doors and new challenges, often without even leaving the security of the Department of Education and Training.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Bluetooth, the whole Bluetooth and nothing but the Bluetooth

Ah, the wonders of modern tech. My mobile phone comes with Bluetooth, a supposedly wonderful wireless connection that enables my phone to share data without the cost of a phone call, and to communicate with others people's phones and even my computer. If only it was easy to do.

Actually, my phone has been able to pick up several friends' phones with Bluetooth - just not my friend's mobile of the same make and model as mine, which was bought on the same day, in the same shop! Anyway, I've since downloaded a batch of very nice high resolution photographs (that were way too large to send by email), but last week, after several head-scratching attempts to read the manual and learn how to make the phone talk to my iMac, I was able to Bluetooth my Big Brother 2006 House collection of pics to another friend's PC... and have them emailed across town to my computer! Phew!

See them, at last, here!

Anti ants!

You can tell New South Wales is still in drought! The ants are invading the house and making a point of investigating the dog's food bowl every day. Poor Jack always keeps a few morsels for later, but he gets very miffed when the ants swarm over even the tiniest stray piece left in the bottom of the bowl.

I thought I'd outwitted them by placing his food dish into a shallow pan of water. Jack was, at first, rather threatened by seeing his food as an island. But it didn't thwart the ants. Not one bit. They simply marched a few centimetres to the right and took up residence in his bowl of dry dog biscuits!

After several days of racing a swarming mass of insect life and Purina One Lamb & Rice out into the backyard, I decided to buy a much bigger tray - and now both food dishes are jammed against each other and surrounded by water, like some gourmet's bizarre archipeligo.

Jack's reaction to this? He drank the water.

Now I have to keep refilling the tray. I guess the next thing will be like in that awful jungle movie (was it 1977's Empire of the Ants with Joan Collins? Or was it 1954's The Naked Jungle?), where the tricky killer ants get across the river on floating leaves to devour the cast?

Captain's Log: Supplemental. Dammit! More ants! (Because Jack drank the moat again!)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

ST Magazine UK/Aust vs ST Magazine US

I've seen a few questions as to whether there are significant differences between the UK "Star Trek" magazine from Titan and the version that has now been made available to the US as a niche replacement for the US Official Fan Club's still-on-hiatus(?)/defunct "Star Trek Communicator".

I've always had a standing order for the US "Star Trek Communicator" from a local Australian comic collectibles shop, mainly because I've seen a lot of friends' mail-ordered subscription copies get badly damaged in the post. I've bought every issue since the small format, from the days leading up to ST IV, through its revamp for TNG, and until its final issue.

The Titan "Star Trek" magazine turns up in Australia on newsstands in the month following the UK release. It gets renumbered on the cover, following a relaunch of that magazine a few years ago, but I have tended to only pick up those issues with interesting articles.

The first US version of Titan's Star Trek (#1 SEPT/OCT) turned up at my comic collectibles shop (Kings Comics) last month so I put it on my standing order. The Australian version (#86 OCT/NOV; #128 UK) of the UK edition has only just hit Australian newsstands - the same week that US "Star Trek" #2 turned up on my standing order. Since I'd seen various inaccurate posts from people quoting page counts etc, and speculation about whether the wording of the US articles suffered any changes (none that I have noticed), I bought one so I could compare them satisfy myself that the content was identical.

STmag

Both versions have 98 pages. The main differences are size (the UK version is 2 centimetres taller and one centimetre wider, and has improved paper quality over the previous dull finish) and the placement, and sometimes wording, of the full-page glossy advertisements. The US magazine has a big "#1" in the Starfleet delta shield logo, while the UK mag reads "New look" instead. The one-sided pull-out poster, advertising the cover of Pocket Books' new "Ships of the Line" hardcover art book, is folded and stapled colour-side out for the US, but white-side out (and slightly larger) for the UK.

* Inside cover: "Lost" magazine ad (US version has different subscription details, of course, and a sample of alternate cover art)

* Inside back cover: US Diamond/Art Asylum's Kirk in command chair action figure vs UK "24" magazine

* Back cover: US "Star Trek: The Animated Series" on DVD vs UK "Stargate: SG1 & Atlantis" magazine.

Other differences in advertising pages:

* US Vulkon.com 40th anniversary convention vs UK "Dreamwatch" magazine

* "Battlestar Galactica" magazine (different sub details)

* US "24" magazine vs UK "Star Wars" magazine

* US "Stargate SG1 & Atlantis" magazine vs UK Titan "Star Trek" reprint collections of the DC Comics ST line

* US "Dreamwatch" magazine vs UK "Buffy & Angel" magazine

* US Titan magazines & books vs UK "Charmed" magazine

* US "Angel featuring Buffy" magazine vs UK subscription information for "Star Trek" magazine

* US Titan "Star Trek" reprint collections of the DC Comics ST line vs UK US Titan magazines & books

* US two-page mail-in ST readers' survey vs UK two-page "Tower of Commerce" mail order catalogue of Star Trek products (Note: the US version uses a Klingon teddy bear from the UK catalogue as an illustration for its readers' survey)

* US subscription information for "Star Trek" magazine vs UK "Star Trek" magazine back issues

* US "Next issue (ie. #2): 24 Oct" vs UK "Next issue: 12 Oct". (Note: the UK ad boasts that the next UK version of the mag will contain "Free 'Voyager' supplement", including interviews with Robert Duncan McNeill and Rick Berman, plus Tim Earls' 'Voyager' designs.) I only have the US #2 edition so far, and it has only 66 pages. While there is some commentary from Berman on the casting of Janeway within the main text, it does appear that the "free" UK supplements are NOT going to be a regular part of the US magazine. This may be Titan UK's way of ensure that its regular UK and European readers aren't tempted to order in the US version of the magazine from distributors of American product when they place their comic orders.

I'll be interested to see how many extra pages will be in the Aussie version of the UK edition - and which version I decide to make my regular purchase.

Captain's Log: Supplemental
Cool! Paul Simpson, incoming editor on the Titan "Star Trek" magazines, addressed the above blog entry over on Psi Phi

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The circular transfer

It seems a bit weird, but yesterday I had to fill out an Application for Transfer form - but only giving a choice of one school - so that I can transfer back to my own school, as a teacher-librarian. These days, most of the transfer process is done by computer; they enter all the data and the computer spits out your new destination.

After my job as Scan editor finished up in July 2002, the Department of Education and Training had no vacancies for teacher-librarians in my nominated districts, so I ended up back in a classroom, first as a supernumerary and then as a permanent teacher. I really like this school and, as much as I've enjoyed teaching Year 1 and 2 students the last few years, there is lots to miss about being the gatekeeper of information in a school library. Our current teacher-librarian has announced her retirement, and so - if all goes well - I will be moving into that position.

I've always felt that teacher-librarianship was my niche, where I could do the most good for the students and my colleagues in education. I'm looking forward to my return. (But it's daunting after so long away from the OASIS computer network - and budgets, stocktakes, book fairs, lost library books, etc.)

My greatest fear: remembering to write the correct four-digit school code on my form. That's no time to make a typographical error, and finding myself posted somewhere else more, um, scenic. Or my circular transfer ending up in the circular file.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The truth about Efrosians

Pardon the geeky Trek trivia, but I've answered the Efrosian conundrum in many posts on TrekBBS, but they keep disappearing, so here's a more permanent version:

EfrosEfrosian

The makeup guys who worked on "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" called these orange-skinned aliens Efrosians, after Mel Efros, the Unit Production Manager of Paramount Pictures' movie.

The USS Saratoga's Efrosian, assuming he is typical of his race, had an orange complexion, long white hair, a Fu Man Chu-style moustache, and white irises (an effect produced by making the actor, Nick Ramos, wear white contact lenses). There was also at least one young, short haired, white-eyed Efrosian usher, wearing a United Federation of Planets badge on his uniform in the Earth-based. Although he's not visible onscreen, a FASA roleplaying manual of the time showed him to have white makeup (or tattoo?) streaks on his cheeks.

Now, of course, since most of this information didn't get conveyed that way onscreen, it is not what is known as "canonical". The novels, comics and new "Star Trek" series and movies are free to ignore the term "Efrosian", and some do. Novelizations are not canon. Vonda N McIntyre, the author of the ST IV novelization, was not aware of the new alien species term coined by the production because she hadn't seen the captions on the official stills. Being a term coined by the production, it perhaps carries as much canonical weight as the numerous alien species names coined by the costumer and makeup artist of ST: TMP.

The FASA role-playing people did see the caption, though, which is why they used the term in the licensed "ST IV Sourcebook Update", which is of equal canonical weight as the tie-in novelizations.

But a good alien design is worth revisiting. For the United Federation of Planets' President in "ST VI: The Undiscovered Country", the actor Kurtwood Smith (of "That 70s Show" fame) was given the familiar white mane and orange skin colouring of the ST IV Efrosian, plus solid blue-irised contacts. Since his pince-nez glasses have very dark lenses, as featured in one scene, we may assume that Efrosians see different light frequencies than most humanoids. Indeed, the text commentary on the ST VI DVD explains that the UFP President was originally intended to be blind.

FedPres

Perhaps Efrosians are blind under our "normal" conditions, but can see better than us in ultraviolet or infrared situations. That would also explain the Saratoga's dark lighting on the bridge (in ST IV). Maybe the lighting wasn't just due to the invading Probe; it was already shifted to the red end of the spectrum to assist their helmsman to see?

Not everyone calls them Efrosians, though. In Decipher's "Aliens" sourcebook, that supports their "Star Trek" roleplaying game, the ST VI UFP President's photograph represents the Atreonids of Atreos IV. Before that, JM Dillard, in her novelization of ST VI, assumes that Federation President Ra-ghoratrei was a Deltan, no doubt due to a previous reference (in the ST IV novelization): that Deltan males actually had hair, so she simply followed the Vonda N McIntyre naming conventions for Deltans!

The more recent Efrosian names in ST novels, such as Ra Mhvlovi ("In the Name of Honor"), Hu'Ghovlatrei ("SCE: Home Fires") and Ra-Yalix ("Articles of the Federation") do sound similar to the exotic full Deltan names of Jedda Adzhin-Dall and Zinaida Chitirih-Ra-Payjh (in McInytre's novelization of "ST II: The Wrath of Khan").

The ST II Indian-sounding names were probably a salute to planet Delta IV's Ilia (and Bombay actress, the late Persis Khambatta) of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture". From what we saw of Deltans in TMP (and some extras dressed in TMP Deltan robes and headdresses in ST IV), and from what we were told in the media releases of the day, all Deltans are hairless, except for eyebrows and eyelashes. For those who've not read the ST II novelization, Zinaida was an original-to-the-novelization bald female partner of Genesis Project scientist, Jedda. The ST II script actually refers to Jedda being a Deltan - even though actor John Vargas wasn't required to shave his head. (We know that director Nicholas Meyer was trying to avoid all comparisons to TMP; by the time of "The Next Generation", the empathic Deltans had morphed into Betazoids.)

IliaJeddaTroi
Above: Deltans, Ilia (ST:TMP) and Jedda (ST II), and the Betazoid, Deanna Troi (ST:TNG).

Their other two "partners" of Jedda and Zinaida are introduced and named in McIntyre's ST IV as: female Verai Dva-Payjh and male Kirim Dreii-Dall, who is described as having fine, rose-coloured hair down to his knees. Ah! The male Deltan with hair I mentioned earlier!

Note that McIntyre does add a Deltan science officer to the bridge of USS Saratoga, Chitirih-Ra-Dreii, in her ST IV novelization. While not in the same console position as the canonical/onscreen, white-haired, white-eyed Efrosian helmsman, McIntyre would have been working from the script only, and a few random stills of characters. I guess JM Dillard, when researching for ST VI, assumed that this guy, in the ST IV novelization, was meant to be the same race of alien. Thus, for a string of novels featuring cameos by President Ra-ghoratrei, he became a male, hairy Deltan - bumpy forehead notwithstanding. And I guess one can use it as an attempt to rationalize Jedda having a mop of onscreen hair for the ST II movie.

The recent novel "Titan: Taking Wing", the first of a new novel series, reaches a great compromise. Its Efrosian engineer, Doctor Xin Ra-Havreii, is said to be from... Efros Delta!

There was a Memory Alpha history/discussion recently where someone actually rang Mel Efros, former ST IV Unit Production Manager, to confirm the story about the race being named after him. At first Mel denied it, because he really had no idea. Then he mentioned the phone call to his son, who made Mel ring the guy back a few days later. They confirmed that yes, official Paramount publicity photos of the alien Saratoga helmsman had been captioned "Efrosian" by Kirk Thatcher, IIRC (who also played the punk on the bus and wrote the "I Hate You" song). The alien race was named as a salute to Mel Efros. But noone thought to mention it to him.

By the way, just for fun, the President's Efrosian consort was seen fleetingly in the trailers for ST VI - in a brief, cut scene from the final print of the movie:

President1

Efrosian 2

Can you tell I'm procrastinating? :)