Sunday, June 30, 2013

That time I listened to the football with my cats

You will all be wildly surprised to hear the news that we have two cats, Harriet and Beatrice. As you would imagine, Harriet is an ardent supporter of the Geelong Cats, while Beatrice, like me, is a devoted, er, devotee of the Richmond Tigers.

This evening, while the Baron went away to the far north for a few days, we all indulged in a little group bonding activity and listened to the Richmond vs. St Kilda match on the radio. Here is how it happened:

I turned the radio up loud so we could all hear it in the house. Beatrice mostly slept on the chair in the living room by the radio for that time, but soon the excitement got too much for her and her ears pricked up. Meanwhile, Harriet, who obviously had less at stake in the game, slept up the other end of the house. It was an exciting first quarter of football all right, and we were all on the edge of the seat by the end of it. Well actually Beatrice had jumped off the seat by the end and was sitting in front of the piano.

Beatrice was clearly concentrating hard on her team's efforts this quarter. She just sat in front of the piano and looked ahead while the game went on. She was clearly gripped: she didn't move an inch. I'm not sure why she wasn't looking at the radio, but come on. She's just a cat. She wasn't expected to know that that was where the sound was coming from. Oh yeah, Harriet came out that quarter too and joined her sister in front of the piano and looked ahead too, I suppose just because Beatrice was doing it.

During the break between the first half and the second half, funnily enough, for most of the time Beatrice and Harriet continued sitting looking ahead to the piano. They couldn't wait for the second half to start! Well I'm not surprised, the tension was almost unbearable.

During this quarter, Beatrice went to the donut shop to get some treats for everyone. Well okay she miaowed at me and took me in to the kitchen while I filled up her food bowl with biscuits. The tension was almost too much for her in this quarter: she started poking around behind the couch. (As for her sister, well, she couldn't stand the tension at all - she ran outside.)

Well for the thrilling finale to the game, Harriet did come back in but then plonked herself under the piano seat again. Beatrice had gone back to sitting and looking fixedly at the piano too. Actually, their eyes were very focused on the piano indeed. Hang on, I thought - are you cats interested in the football at all? Wait! They were looking for that damned mouse again! They weren't even listening with me! I had been fooled all along!

And that is the story of that time I listened to the football with my cats.

What? Oh yeah. The Tigers won.

 A thrilled cat.(Photograph courtesy of the Baron).

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How to knead a quarter droplet with naught but an egg white and the whisker of a cat.

"Why do so many brewers have beards?" was the question posed a few months ago on a certain Facebook page of a certain brew and cheese making store. To which I was pleased to be able to respond: "Beards add flavour, like cat hair". As I recall, they agreed with the broad thrust of my argument but caviled with the inclusion of cat hair.

Splitting cat hairs aside, the question of ingredients and proportions and ratios and recipes for beer and cheese is endlessly fascinating. Bugger the dispute over metric vs imperial, pounds and litres and gallons and quarts and oddities such as 'The Vanishing Australian Tablespoon', what we really need to worry about is quarter-droplets and walnuts and nickels and the balancing of eggs and how to knead with spoons.

 Blurry out-of-focus cheese to be eaten by blurry out-of-focus hipster.

Directions in slightly recondite culinary procedures like brewing and cheese making can be irritatingly imprecise. When I first started making full mash beer I was driven crazy by the direction 'add yeast' in recipes. 'Add yeast? How much?' Brewers, apparently, used to just skim yeast off the top of their beers once brewed, (or took the yeast from the bottom once the rest had been drained away); placed in a new cask of unfermented ale the yeast would remultiply and go to work again. These days you can just go to the store and get yeast (it comes in a little square packet that sits comfortably in the palm of your hand), but this tiny packet is for a 5 gallon, 23 litre batch of beer. I still don't have all  the material to do a full 23 litre batch; all my beers have been little 1 gallon/5 litre runs. So one afternoon I found myself opening up one of those yeast packets, pouring out all the yeast, weighing it, working out roughly how many teaspoons it was, and pouring it all back into the packet. Then again, yeast is completely puzzling: when you add it to beer, you expect it to multiply anyway. It's an ingredient that grows! And then, equally mysteriously, at some point it will just collapse and waste away.

Cheese culture is just as puzzling; it's the bacteria that curdles milk, lives in the stuff, but dies off after a few days if you don't preserve or propagate it. I've had some culture in my freezer for months, and repropagate it every few weeks - though each time, it comes out slightly different. It was traditionally kept going by just taking a bit from the curds every time you made some cheese, setting it aside, and then re-adding it to milk when you wanted to make more cheese.

Cheese making books and recipes can sometimes sound completely fey and whimsical. My Rikki Carroll book Home Cheese Making is perfectly splendid in many ways, but it also contains some notable eccentricities. 'Break the curds into walnut-sized pieces' reads one recipe. 'Break into nickel-sized pieces', says another, which last direction seems to combine the question of size and shape with that of international finances. 'Cut the cubes [of curds] into rice-sized pieces' specifies a third, which is really getting ridiculous. Other recipes inform you that the curds when treated should have a consistency 'like cooked chicken flesh' , or 'custard'; on page 140, I even found 'The curds should now be about the size of a grain of rice, and they will squeak when chewed'. There are plenty of directions like 'stir curds gently', 'stir occasionally to prevent the curds from matting', which are lovely - though they are completely contrary to a direction I found in a recipe in the back of one of Kerry Greenwood's books: 'Punch the dough about for a bit'. Crikey. No wonder she's a crime novelist.

One recipe for Chevre I downloaded from the internet somehow manages to combine extreme whimsy with utter precision in the direction '1/8 of a drop of rennet' - rennet, of course, being the enzyme you add to many cheeses to encourage the formation of curds and the separation of the whey. It's difficult to imagine letting one drop of rennet run out of your bottle and then dividing that drop up (with - what, tweezers?) before adding the correct portion to the mix. Actually, I'm told the trick is to put the drop into two cups of non-chlorinated water, mix, and then divide that water into eight portions. I'm generally too lazy to do all that, but occasionally, when I make cream cheese, I do keep a jar of rennet in the fridge for several runs. It's easy:

Ingredients: 200 mils milk
200 mils pure cream
A tablespoon mesophilic culture (don't ask me how much this is from the packet, I don't know)
1/8 drop rennet mixed in 1/4 cup non-chlorinated water (ie, a splash from the jar)
Method: Heat the milk and cream gently to just over 20 degrees celsius, pour into a jar, mix in culture, add rennet, shake it up, and leave it in a room at 25 degrees celsius for a day and night. The kitchen will do, or, if you live at my place, the study, where  I often have the heater on. When the curds have separated from the whey (the whey will be the greenish liquid at the bottom), pour it into a cheesecloth bag over a bowl, tie the cheesecloth bag up and hang it up to dry for a day. Ta da! What you will have is a delicious cream cheese that nobody but you will want to eat because everybody is on a diet or doesn't like cream or suddenly seems to like their cat biscuits and which therefore you will be able to have all to yourself.
Cream cheese sausage: three of my favourite things. 

Anyway. Where was I?

So, while cheese recipes generally seem to have a 'bung it all in and see how it goes' approach, beer brewers can be rather pedantic, verging on completely obsessive about their directions, to the point of including tables and percentages and weighing up the chemical content in different types of hops and specifying the precise temperature at which barley malt should be mashed at and the fine details about which sort of malt to buy and whether you are stirring the malt with a spoon made from a rhinoceros tusk or the wood of a Nubian oak sprung from virgin soil that has been well watered with ox blood and I just made that last bit up but you get the picture. If you google a few full mash recipes you'll soon see that some brewers set out their recipes more like directions for chemical equations than anything else, which level of precision infuriated me just as much as the complete lack of precision in the direction 'Add yeast'. My beloved Laurie Strachan book, The Complete Guide to Beer and Brewing, is the exception here because it actually sets out the list of ingredients as in a recipe, and follows up with a method. (And following that link now, I discover another bizarre recipe direction, courtesy of Steve: when making sake, you apparently have to polish the fatty bit off each rice grain).

Old brew books, and old recipe books in general, have the same mixture of fastidious exactitude and imprecision. Checking out the online version of Digby, who collected a whole heap of mead recipes just because he could, you find that eggs feature heavily in recipes for the honey-based drink:
put in a New-laid-egg; if the Liquor beareth the Egg, that you see the breadth of a groat upon the Egg dry, you may set it over the fire.
Egg white is used as a clarifying agent -
let it boil gently, till you have skimed it very clean, and clarified it, as you would do Suggar, with the whites of three New-laid-eggs.
Plenty of other recipes have similar directions - 'it is to bear an Egge boyant', 'a New-laid-egg swims upon it', etc. (I wonder if the addition of eggs might also give the yeast nutrients (which they need to eat in their initial stages of growth); one old recipe for cider calls for you to drop a steak into the drink before it begins fermenting, which may have performed the same function.  Another old American brewing book I found in a Thornbury bookstore has several directions like 'spread the yeast on toast before adding to the liquid'.)

Other directions include 'Take one part of honey, to eight parts Rain or River-water', 'Take Spring-water', 'take six handfuls of Sweet-bryar'; there are instructions to not mix mead 'in a wooden vessel, for wood drinketh up the honey', and the singularly non-specific but nonetheless helpful and encouraging instruction 'Take of all sorts of herbs, that you think are good and wholesome'.

Old recipes for cheese, some of which I have in my under-used copy of Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery, are similarly intuitive:
To a cheese of 2 gallons of new milke, take 10 quarts of stroakings & 2 quarts of cream. put to it 4 spoonfuls of rennit, set it together as hot as you cam from ye Cow...

Or I vaguely recall directions in other old recipes - possibly that I found on Gode Cokery - to 'set the cheese' so far from the fire, so it is the right temperature. (Actually, that reminds me, once I carried some cheese culture around with me for a day trying to warm it with my own body temperature, but it didn't set well - the culture was the sort that liked temperature to be around 25 degrees, room temperature; my body temp was the usual 37 degrees*.)

Those are about all the recipe eccentricities I can think of at the moment. But before I forget, I should tell you, I think I've finally worked out how, when you're making mozzarella, to 'knead with spoons': don't. See, what you have to do is wad the mozzarella curds together with a ball before dipping them several times in hot whey and kneading them. You can use the spoons to hold the curds under the whey, and press them on the curds to give them shape, but in between you do the kneading with your hands (covered in gloves). You just moosh them together to make them join up while squeezing out the whey. See? Now aren't you glad you rhetorically asked me? Don't rhetorically answer that. It could, rhetorically, get very heated indeed.

*(UPDATE! - This footnote is an update.) In Buffy, as everyone knows, vampires are actually room temperature. So theoretically you could culture milk by a simple method: 1) CATCH VAMPIRE 2) DON'T STAKE VAMPIRE 3) DON'T GET BITTEN BY VAMPIRE 4) STRAP CULTURE TO VAMPIRE 5) LEAVE FOR 8 TO 12 HOURS. There, you see, completely safe.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The best woman man thing for the job!

Clearly things have been a bit quiet and simple lately, and people have started to feel a little complacent, because the Australian Labor Party has decided to come along and make everything more complicated and confuse the entire public. Let me see if I can sum up the entire situation:

Certainly, Kevin Rudd was the Labor man best suited to be Prime Minister in the lead up to the 2011 election, a position which he held before Julia Gillard was obviously the best first female Prime Minister ever to contest the same election, for the Labor Party, which was definitely the best Labor Party to vote for in that historic election. Aside from being the only first female Prime Minister Australia has ever, or will continue to ever have, until the next one, Julia Gillard was also clearly the leader best suited to lead the Labor Party to the 2013 election, until Kevin Rudd took over those positions tonight, making him without a doubt the best man to be female Prime Minister elect ever, and in the unique position of being yesterday's man for the future two seconds ago today, but whether he will be the same man of yesterday's future when tomorrow is Monday is another question entirely. However, as Bill Shorten will have already said any day now, "Whatever Kevin Gillard, I mean Julia Rudd, I mean Kevin Rudd said, I'm sure he's right".

What does this mean for Australia? Concerns have already been raised over the fact that this backstabbing in the middle of a show down could lead to a blood bath such as we haven't seen since the Titanic fell flaming out of the sky, but on the other hand Tony Abbott is certainly not fit for the role of female Prime Minister, so that's okay then.

Confused? Good, carry on then.

Mission proposition

Considering the situation in Canberra (you know the one, yeah, that one) I propose a new phrase to be added to the Macquarie Dictionary:

Ruddy Gillard, to do a (phrase) - to wreck one's party and, by extension, one's country, through a needless and prolonged leadership crisis.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Doctor vs Doctor

Recently, courtesy of the Baron's library card, I've been watching old episodes of Dr Who - the Doctor from the sixties and seventies and eighties, I mean, when the Doctor was old, he wore impressive flowing capes and scarfs instead of leather jackets, sex and romance was absolutely inconceivable, and the show was actually good. I had a great time starting off with the Jon Pertwee Doctor's Invasion of the Dinosaurs. Scenario: the Doctor and Sarah Jane-Smith find themselves in the middle of London that appears to be completely devoid of people. "No cars, no pedestrians, no police, nothing!" cries Sarah. "Maybe it's Sunday. London always closes on a Sunday" says the Doctor conciliatorily. Later they try to call the police on a public phone, which doesn't work, maybe because it's been vandalised. "Nothing wrong with vandals", says the Doctor, "They're very nice people".

All this niceness was highly amusing; by the time a dinosaur appears - halfway through the first episode, demolishing a city building - I was actually cheering. There were the good old boys from UNIT HQ, of course, with their bullets that never worked, trying to fell a dinosaur; and the villain, with clipped nasal tones and sinister glasses (I'm not sure how but they really are sinister glasses), operating in some secret London laboratory. In, I suppose, the fourth episode Sarah gets abducted onto a futuristic spaceship full of colonists fleeing an ecologically-devastated earth - it's actually a fake spaceship, and the colonists have been brainwashed, in a clever 1970s twist that recalls various J G Ballard plots - and is sent to the 'Reminder Room' for 're-education' so she can be part of this grand ecological repopulation scheme as well. (I liked this bit very much: for one thing, it's refreshing to see a science fiction plot in which ecological paranoia is actually viewed as suspect. For another  thing, people always used to say about Doctor Who that 'the sets wobble'; well, here was an early Doctor Who plot in which the drama actually depended on the characters not noticing that the sets wobbled. No need for us to willingly suspend our disbelief when the actors do it for you.) And yes, it really does all end with the Doctor reversing the polarities of something or other because science.

Quickly, Doctor, reverse the polarities of this cup of tea before it's too late!

Hard Science Fiction adherents might object to the somewhat cavalier way that the old BBC show adopted scientific terminology, but it never bothered me as a kid: it's just science fiction with an emphasis on the fiction. In the other show I watched - The Android Invasion ('Invasion', along with 'Fatal' and 'Deadly' and 'Death' and 'Curse' and 'Evil' was always one of the Doctor Who team's favourite words) - there's a scene where Sarah has to free the Doctor from a post he's been tied up to so they can escape a 'matter dissolving bomb'. She can't cut through the cords with a knife, and the Doctor says 'The sonic screwdriver! Quick! Set it to Beta Omega!'  'Science as magic' appeared in those episodes of the new Doctor Who that I watched too, of course, though as usual the old series did it better: when the Doctor begins gallivanting around the universe with Rose Tyler, he gives her a mobile phone that, magically, allows her to call back home whenever she feels like it, no matter how far back or forward in time she is, or was, or will be, and no matter how far away earth is, or will be, or was.  You'd never get this sort of thing in the old Doctor: science may have been powerful, but the adventure relied upon characters being thrown onto their own resources, marooned in incredibly remote locations, and isolated from their family, their country, their world, and sometimes even their universe. The old Doctor Who show trusted its characters to be resourceful and independent and courageous in a way that the new Doctor Who show doesn't: that's progress - the new is less than the old.

Aside from all this, what really stands out about the old show is the technology, in all its rustic charm. No more are the computers and televisions and radios that I grew up with in the 80s new. They wobble, they blur with static, their knobs are too big or too small, there are no remote controllers, in short they don't impress anymore with their bizarre otherworldly gleam. The future is certainly not futuristic; whenever the BBC producers wanted to convey an image of the earth in, say, 100 or 1000 years from now they either seemed to go for the 'apocalyptic wasteland' look (empty desert, dotted here and there with grimy scowling men, probably with Yorkshire accents, going about in rags), or the ' claustrophobic spaceship' look (cream-grey walls, the occasional sets of flashing lights, electronic doors that slide open or shut on command for the characters).

In Android Invasion the Doctor and Sarah travel back to the earth on a rocket, and back on earth there's a whole impressive room for communication purposes with the rocket - that is, it's meant to look impressive but the computers just look incredibly dated, with probably less data space than my Dad's old Commodore 64. The Androids themselves are incredibly hokey - occasionally their faces spring open to reveal a metal plate with a few lights on it; when they don't have faces they're given suits to look like beekeepers, and are able to fire bullets out of their fingers. Invasion of the Dinosaurs ends in an underground bomb shelter of the sort that were constructed by the British government during the Cold War - incredibly extensive spaces complete with deep frying vats and a labyrinthine series of rooms for meeting up (or, in the case of this show, constructing a time warp machine in order to bring a series of dinosaurs into central London to terrify the populace to create a devastating distraction in order to continue on to the final stages of their diabolical plot which I'll get around to in just a moment when I have a glass of water). They do this using a nuclear reactor, which of course was down in the bomb shelter as well. Maybe the Doctor's fashion sense - capes, mile-long scarves, question-mark collars - was meant to anticipate a kind of future trend amongst his own people, the Time Lords, but then again his fellow Time Lords all had terrible taste in clothes, save, perhaps, The Master. Nothing dates quite so quickly as science fiction, something which Michael Moorcock - one of the shrewdest of Dr Who's fans - realises in his novels, which involve intercontinental, time-travelling, dimension-hopping characters moving through dimensions, places, and times that all seem to have been envisaged in other dimensions, places, or times - futures as imagined by the past, pasts as imagined by the future.

It's all very lovely, this look at the past Doctor Who and his journeys into a future that never was.  In just about every scene there's something that makes you sit up and remember how things were. Communications are by intercom, public telephone, landlines, not mobiles or computers. (Even when the aliens talk to their fellow conspirators via television it feels like an intercom conversation with images). The computers don't even seem to have keyboards; there are just large fiddly knobs on the right hand side. The TARDIS itself is an exceedingly eccentric device for travelling - no steering wheel at all, just a gigantic octagonal computer in the middle. Just watching the show makes me daydream now about the world I grew up in, where remote controls didn't even exist, and televisions really did have impressive arrays of knobs and switches and notches on them. I thought about the achingly beautiful, comforting televisions of the past - sturdy, squat little boxes, standing on legs in the corner of the room, pleasantly rounded around the sides, in warm brown and ochre colours - and compared them with the sleek, flat, gigantic, digital, plasma televisions of the present. Is it any wonder that the new, disappointing Doctor Who has been made for such an obviously inferior medium?

Take back the future, I want to go back.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Put down the milk, sir, and back away from the bath...

Milk. You know, watery white stuff, comes out of the udders of a cow, can be produced in great quantities, bottled, sold to people at shops, you can make cream and cheese out of it, excellent product. Seems simple, doesn't it? But at some point we all got confused about the whole damn thing, and we started getting things like 'raw milk' and 'bath milk' being sold on the shelves alongside, um, 'milk' milk. You know, 'Raw milk' - it's milk that isn't pasteurised or homogenised before being sold to customers. Same deal with 'bath milk'. Same as virtually all the milk that's been drunk by our ancestors since bovines and primates first began cohabiting the same spaces.

So today I made a raw milk cheese. I did it because you're supposed to get better results if you make mozzarella out of unpasteurised milk; fewer proteins and less culture get destroyed and makes the curds more pliable in the final stages. Well, no. Actually I made it because the very slight risk of contracting listeria from a slice of delicious raw milk cheese adds a delicious zing to the cheese and makes the taste that much more delectable.

In fact the raw milk wasn't nearly cultured enough for me; I even added a spoonful of yoghurt (live cultures: acidophilus, bifidus, plus a spot of Mozart and Picasso) to the mix and let it think about what it had done while I went off and wasted my time elsewhere.

Anyway, you know how it is with recipes: pour this in, heat this up, stir this around, let this rest, bla bla bla. So here I was, busily doing all this over the stove, and of course at some point - when you've got the mozzarella curds ready, you heat up the leftover whey, and you repeatedly dip the curds into the whey to turn them into mozzarella cheese, proper - you come across the baffling recipe direction:

Knead with spoons

Knead with spoons? You might just as well say make a cabinet with penguins. Fey and whimsical and ambiguous directions often pop up in my cheese recipes, I've got to say - I'm making a list which I'll be happy to report on soon - and this one is definitely being added. (This recipe was from Rikki Carroll's excellent Home Cheese Making).

How was the mozzarella in the end? Disappointing. I'm not quite sure what it is about the curds, but they still don't quite have that mozzarella feel to them. No, I don't know what that is either. Disappointing. But delicious. That tasty, tasty, just-possibly-with-a-hint-of-listeria-zing. I recommend it.

And remember, every bottle of raw milk you take off the shelves, you save from some hippy who wants to pour it into their bath. Because hippies having baths is so very, very wrong.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Think thing

Is thinking over

Is thinking over thinking
Over thinking thinking?

Is overthinking overthinking
Thinking over thinking over?

Is overthinking ever thinking?
Is thinking ever over?
Or is this just overthinking thinking?
Is this think thing over?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

An overstated understatement poem

An overstated understatement poem
or possibly
An understated overstatement poem

The overstated underpants
Were much too undersized
To cover over much at all
Or leave it in disguise,
And what they didn't cover over
Was less than you might wonder
Hence the underwhelming underpants
They only half sat under.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A pleasant post about my chickens

We have new chickens. Have I mentioned that? We have new chickens, two glossy black-emerald feathered Australorps; their names are Shirley and Esme - or, because they're barely distinguishable, and they're always together anyway, perhaps we should refer to them by the one name: Shirleyandesme? Esandshirl?

But yeah. Pertinent points: New. Chickens. They're due to take up their laying duties soon, but in the meantime they're working on their other talent (and what a talent it is), escape. Their principal method is to fly over the back fence when I'm in the room at the other end of the house; there is also a subsidiary method, but we'll get to that soon.

Once they're out and over, a simple five point manoeuvre is employed on my part.

1. Open the back gate to go out after them.
2. Close the back gate again because the other chickens have heard it and come running, excited by the possibility of getting some oval time.
3. Going round the side of the house and scattering some seed to distract those chickens.
4. Opening the back gate and slipping out while the chickens are distracted.
5. Closing the same back gate and holding it shut with a pole stuck in the ground.
6. Walking the Australorps (wherever they are) back to the gate.
7. Opening the gate and somehow attempting to keep the other chickens in (they have ceased being distracted by the food and are now distracted even more from their previous distraction by the oval, which is really just one gigantic food bowl)
8. Running after the Australorps again, wherever they have got to, and walking them back through the gate.
9. Walking the other chickens back in through the gate again.
10. Somehow making sure that the Australorps don't get out while the other chickens are getting in, shutting the gate, and going back to the other end of the house waiting for the whole exercise to be repeated.

As you will have worked out - probably at about point seven of my simple five point plan - it's all pretty tricky, and I'm not sure whether I'm fully practised in the finer details yet. Strangely enough, the Australorps only seem to do this escape trick once a day; the rest of the time they work out other tactics for escape around the garden, which I discovered the other day when I was trying to walk them back into their house before it was dark because I had to go into the city. First of all they refused to be walked to that corner of the garden where their house was, and kept turning around and dashing back to another corner, then when I got them near their house they veered away repeatedly, then they ran to the other corner of the garden and split up into two so I had to choose which one to chase and by the time I'd got that one cornered and almost into the house the other one would be far away and I'd have to let that one escape while I ran after the other one, then infuriatingly they ran around a tree in pointless circles so that I wasn't walking them anywhere and they weren't walking me anywhere; I became quite outraged, I spluttered, I blustered, I waved my arms in the air, I swore like a maniac, basically I was having a great time; and still the Australorps weren't in their house! So I gave up and left them there.

That's about all I wanted to say today about my chickens.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Sodomy by electric eel and the exciting world of customer service

A while ago I was standing around La Trobe University waiting for the Baron to call (I didn't have any credit on my phone) and walking around in ever more erratic figures looking for the right building to disappear into. I was quite confused, a little bit puzzled, and completely lost. After a little while I happened to bump into a woman who, with solicitous concern for my welfare, must have noticed that this tall messy bearded person walking in eccentric polygons all over the courtyard, looking lost, probably was lost. She asked the natural question: "Are you lost?"

To which my natural reply was, naturally: "NO THANK YOU QUITE ALL RIGHT GOOD BYE THANK YOU!" And walked very quickly in the opposite direction where I could be lost in peace.

I have a thing. My thing is this: people helping me: I hate it.

Quite why it is that I should be so terrified of the helpful prospect of helpful people helping me when I need help, I do not know. But almost every other day (I am, as you can imagine, one of the most helpless individuals on the planet when plonked out of my familiar environment) I run into more examples of this. I'm even worse than normal when people approach me in shops and asking, "Can I help you?" (Why do they seem to do this more in some stores than others?) Their use of the word "help" somehow makes the situation even more excruciating, and, I am ashamed to say, my response to their pleasant offer to assist me in order to facilitate a commercial exchange of money is often met with a curt response on my part, more or less along the same lines I have described above: loud denial accompanied by the speaker walking in the opposite direction. (Ask the Baron. She's been there when it's happened.)

Tip to all shop assistants who want to sell something to me: next time you approach me, why not say: "Can I tip a vat of liquid elephant manure over your head?" I might even say "Yes". Then you might just be able to sell me whatever you like. (Other useful variants to this line may include: "May I poke Ottoman sabres through your heart?" "Would you like to be sodomised by this electric eel?")

Worst of all, for some reason, is when it happens in the chemist. Of all terrifying, awful, and frankly rather embarrassing situations, standing around in the chemist and suddenly being approached by a pleasant person tenderly inquiring if I might need some help is just the pits. Really, I could be coughing up blood, have two legs rotting off with gangrene, my arms lying limp, bloodied, and useless at my side, and my head lolling at a quaint angle suggesting a very painful broken bone, and if somebody were to approach me in that situation asking if I needed help, then I am really not sure whether my answer would be "Yes" or not. I might very well deploy my standard defence, yelp out my predictable denial, and walk - well, crawl, perhaps - very quickly in the opposite direction before the dreaded help could arrive. It's my thing, you see. Help: I do not like it.

The metamorphosis of me into cranky old man continues apace, as you may have observed. It's getting so bad, honestly, that soon I'll be getting outraged at the directions on the back of soup packets: "Boil water and mix in soup". "Well that's just bloody presumptuous, isn't it!"

So, anyway, that's my thing about help. So now that you know about it, I wonder if you might.... NO THANK YOU QUITE ALL RIGHT THANK YOU GOOD BYE GOING IN OPPOSITE DIRECTION THANK YOU NOW GOOD BYE NO!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Your life looks like the wreck of the Hesperus!

In the last week, we've had several interstate visitors round, which is lovely, but this morning we've finally had the chance to put the house back in order again.

I started things off by spilling fejoia wine onto the floorboards (although, come to think of it, 'spilling' implies an accidental occurrence; perhaps it would be better to say 'tipping'). I continued in this way by boiling a large pot of water on the stove, and then walking into another room while it repeatedly splashed all over the place.

Meanwhile, I wandered up and down the kitchen in filthy shoes until it was thoroughly muddied up: good. In the bedroom, I patted the cats until copious amounts of fur where whirling and flying through the air, and thoughtfully spread out dark blankets to capture and show off the furs at their best. I took several dirty cheesecloths and muslin bags which I'd used for sparging and infusing beer with hop flavour, and dumped them in bowls of water, before taking them out and flinging them idly into the laundry*; I pulled several clothes out of my cupboard and left them lying on the floor just because I wasn't sure I was living down to my usual standards of filthiness; and I left some old socks that I'd been wearing around the house for the past few days to hang up in some dark cupboard spaces, just to mature.

I'm almost done now. But later, I might leave the door open and be 'surprised' by the chickens coming inside, wait until they've scattered the cat food everywhere and left several fertile fecund messages under the table, and then fill a bucket full of mud and use it to mop up the kitchen some more. Just to add to the general hygienic atmosphere. Ah, home sweet home.

*'...before taking them out and flinging them idly into the laundry' - obviously I am referring here to both the cheesecloths and bowls of water.'

Friday, June 07, 2013

It's a high likelihood, and it squeaks

Over the past few days, I have come to the conclusion that it's just possible, verging on highly likely, that we have mice in our compost bin out here in Lalor. Nothing is certain in life, of course, not to mention balance of probabilistics, statistics, heuristics, and what not, but I really do think we have mice.

A number of signs seem to have been pointing to this. For one thing, for the past few weeks, when we've been letting the cats out for exercise, that exercise has consisted in them sitting on the cold ground in front of the compost. For three hours at a stretch. That, then, is one sign pointing to the likelihood of mice.* Another sign: odd holes appeared here and there in the compost; that seems to raise the evidence of mouseular existence from a definite maybe to an absolute possibility. And there's a third thing, too: the other day, when I went out and opened up the compost bin lid, about eight mice ran around the compost bin in great confusion before disappearing down those holes. Call me simple, if you like, but that would seem to be an almost definitive indicator of the high probability of the continuance of life of a rodent kind at close quarters with the own human, feline, chookish, and apiarian life forms existence in or around our house.

I jest, of course; because the other day, when we turned over the compost bin for good (the cats and chickens were ebullient; some of the other life forms, less so), the high likelihood of rodents existing near the house suddenly turned into a high likelihood of rodents existing within the house. The cats suddenly became dramatically less interested in going outside at all; all of a sudden their favoured activity seems to be to sit on the kitchen bench and stare with an intense moodiness at the stove. Nothing that Fabio doesn't do in his spare time, I'm sure, but more curious activity for our cats to get up to. Such intense moody staring is occasionally punctuated by a sudden clattering of jars, usually while we're on the other room.

Guys, maybe it's just me. But I think it may be the case that we could possibly have mice in the house.

*Nor should I forget to point out that time, about four weeks ago, that Beatrice spent all night romping and pouncing and frisking about in the rosemary, before coming back to bed apparently highly satisfied with her endeavours, perfuming the whole room with a pleasant herbal odour.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Pastie-faced people unite

In accordance with the traditional ways of my people (half-arsed city-dwellers of a pastie complexion), I have deleted the name of the now-dead lead singer of Yothu Yindi from my blog, in spite of the fact that I never posted it in the first place. Some may object to this, saying that I am just doing this because I want to seem sensitive about the death of someone without doing much at all, but my reply is simply this: it's convenient. And so, in the words of a famous poet whose name escapes me right at the moment,

Lest we forget remember.

Sunday, June 02, 2013


David Cameron has held crisis talks at Downing Street after being told of allegations of a sensational love affair which has potentially significant political implications for him.
For legal reasons, The Mail on Sunday cannot disclose the identities of the people involved or any details of the relationship – even its duration – other than that they are middle-aged figures.
The affair has now concluded. But this newspaper can report that when aides told Mr Cameron the identities of the alleged lovers he was ‘stunned’, and, according to sources, ‘immediately realised the importance of the story’....
Daily Mail, No 10 rocked by secret love affair

London, Sunday - British Prime Minister David Cameron is reportedly 'stunned' and 'alarmed' at revelations that people actually have sex.

The news about the flagrant sex-having habits of the British populace and the world at large has rocked the Tory cabinet, causing Cameron to immediately hold crisis meetings and release a generic photo to the media of him looking generically stunned.

Generic photograph of the generic Prime Minister looking generically stunned for the Daily Mail.

Further disclosures that 'sex actually is how babies happen', including Cameron's own children, meaning the British Prime Minister may have actually engaged in the activity himself, shocked him still more, causing him to demand a report into the unfolding disaster and commission a study into the report and hold crisis meetings on the study into the report at the same time as the other crisis meetings he was already holding.

'Oh, dude', the British Prime Minister is reported as saying. 'It's just too much!'
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