Thursday, September 30, 2010


Not even twenty minutes since I posted about my potential possum success...and I can hear one scrabbling in the roof.


Time to put more paw paw on the ladder, open up the window to give it an escape, and set my alarm for 4 am...

Things I learned about Ancient Rome while researching my novel, Part 2: The Gods of Childbirth.

Childbirth in ancient Rome is a hazardous undertaking. To safeguard the delivery of a baby, there are at least thirty different gods you have to petition, and that’s not counting those who specialise in fertility and conception itself. Nothing says high infant mortality rate like an entire legion of gods enlisted to keep away evil tidings. These days most mothers and infants have a fighting chance, but in Roman times childbirth is perilous, and you can’t afford to make a misstep in your devotions and sacrifices if you want a happy ending. 

Here are the gods whose names you have to know: 

Success! ...maybe

My ceiling is officially possum-free!

At least I think it is. The manhole is still open, and there are some pieces of paw paw on the ladder that remain untouched. I think I'll give it one more night before I claim total victory over my possum squatters. I keep thinking one of the canny little bastards might still be up there, biding his time, his stomach growling, but if there's been no action on the paw paw by Saturday morning, I'm calling it.

I know one of them is out, because I saw it - wedged up in the corner of the carport, looking like a sad-eyed refugee. It would be easier to maintain the rage if possums weren't cute.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Impossible Dream

     Tonight I am Dreaming the Impossible Dream. That dream is to be possum free in a matter of hours. To recap: There is a possum in my roof. I hate it. I suspect it is an agent of Satan.

     Today, on one of my precious days off, I organised for someone to come and fix that bit of the house under the guttering where the possum was getting in. It is called the fascia. So at least I learned something. The nice man fixed the fascia, and now things have gotten interesting. At about 6.30 pm the possum woke up and started scrabbling around. At about 6.32 pm it realised it couldn’t get out, and started screaming abuse. It’s now 8.14 pm and one thing I’ll say for that possum is it can sustain a tantrum.

The Story About Ping, by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese

      I have just finished reading The Story About Ping, and I’ve decided that I hate it.     

Monday, September 20, 2010

Word Soup

I love interesting, archaic, or bizarre words. From the time I was eight and convinced that Shakespearian English just meant throwing in the occasional "eth" on the end of verbs, as in "I am walkething to the shops", I have loved words. I even love made-up words and nonsense words, because they aren't  really nonsense if people get what they mean, right?  The following exchange is from The Simpsons:

Mrs. Krabappel: Embiggens? I never heard that word before I moved to Springfield.
Ms. Hoover: I don't know why. It's a perfectly cromulent word.

Here are a few more perfectly cromulent words. These have the distinction that they are all real, and were all once in common usage:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Best One-Liner in the World

UK comedian Tim Vine won the award for this year's best one-liner at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

"I've just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday," he said. "I'll tell you what: never again."



Nero's Killing Machine

I have just finished reading Nero's Killing Machine: The True Story of Rome's Remarkable Fourteenth Legion, by Stephen Dando-Collins.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tree Killer

Writing is an odd business, and that’s even before you get to the business end of it. I’ve been writing for years, but I’ve only recently developed the “let's stop stuffing around and see where this goes” attitude. With that in mind, I picked the work-in-progress I felt had the most potential and I finished it. In December 2009 I sent it off to an appraisal service. When the parcel came back in late January I was too scared to open it. It sat on the side table for hours, just sort of lurking. Whenever I walked past I sneaked a sideways look at it. Yep, still lurking. Eventually, having prepared myself for the worst, I opened the damn thing.

The Coast Watchers

I have just finished reading The Coast Watchers, by Patrick Lindsay.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My favourite place in the whole world

If I had all the money in the world, I would live on Tanna. Tanna is an island in Vanuatu. It has black-sand beaches courtesy of the volcano, Yasur. Last year, when I stayed on Tanna, this was the view from my bungalow:

Living on Tanna would be quite cheap, but I would still need all the money in the world because I would have to buy a generator to run my fridge and computer. These are the two modern conveniences I could not live without. I would have to buy a large metal locker of some sort, to keep the rats out of my supplies of sweet potato chips and peanuts. I would also need an internet connection to have instant notification of impending cyclones, tsunamis, and celebrity break-ups.

I probably would not live in a bungalow, actually. I would probably live on an old boat. That way I would not have to rat-proof my supplies, but given that I have no idea about navigation, boat repairs or basic seaworthiness, it might not be worth the trade-off.

I say that I need all the money in the world, but of course I don't. The Ni-Vanuatu people are among the poorest in the world, but, according to the Happy Planet Index, also the happiest. After a few years of living on Tanna I will also know the secret. When people ask me how I like living there, I will tell them I am very happy, thanks. Except by then I'll say it in fluent Bislama: Mi glad tumas, tangkyu. 

Obscure Roman Gods

I love ancient polytheism. A god for every occasion. If I ever start a cult based on the ancient Roman model, I will have T-shirts made up that say "It's no stupider to worship Jupiter". What we lack in faith I hope to make up in merchandising. Here are five of my favourite obscure ancient Roman deities: 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ancient Rome is ruder than you think

     I love ancient history, and it's mainly because of the filth. When I was at school the textbook View from the Forum was full of black and white photos of marble busts, and the world that the text described seemed utterly sterile and lifeless. And it was dull. Sure, I could name the Julio-Claudian emperors, but what's the point of that? I suspected there were things I wasn't being told about Caligula, which is how I learned to dig deeper to discover the world underneath. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I hate my possum

    I hate the possum that lives in my roof. The possum that lives in my roof is not cute like the possum in this picture. The possum that lives in my roof is evil. If it just lived there quietly, spending its days sleeping or doing crossword puzzles, I could handle it. But it’s a noisy possum. And it gets down into the walls, so that when I’m sitting at my desk writing it’s about fifty centimetres away from me, scratching, scrabbling and swearing. I’ll say it: I wish my possum was dead.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Things I learned about Ancient Rome while researching my novel

1.                  Surgery
Ancient Roman surgeons performed cosmetic surgery, including breast reductions, nose jobs and eyelifts. They were all over the blood and circulation stuff, they even knew how to reshape cartilage, but given that they were still in the dark about that whole germ thing, and they weren’t too crash hot on anaesthetic either, it was a very brave or very desperate person who went under the knife. Especially given that these are the knives:

         (From the University of Virginia collection:


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