Saturday, May 31, 2014

Things I like to have on toast and the order in which I like to have them

Normally when I am drinking my morning coffee I like to have something sweet with it, toast with jam perhaps, or toast with honey. But sometimes I like to change things around and have a little toast with Vegemite as well, with the bitterness of the Vegemite complementing the bitterness of the coffee brilliantly.

There is no real point to this observation, though it is pleasant to talk about pleasant things, which is the point to my lack of point, at any rate.

On that point, the general order in which I have things on toast is highly important, I find. Whether to have toast with jam before or after toast with honey is one thing: I used to quite like to conclude affairs with toast with jam, since I consider jam to have a more satisfying complexity than honey: there's fruity sourness and bitterness in there as well as a rich sweetness. On the other hand, I've really begun to appreciate honey a lot more since keeping bees; its golden smoothness seeming to be emblematic of good fortune and luxury. No other condiment melds so well with melted butter, sinking right down into the pores of the toast. But then again, the plum jam we have at the moment is pretty ace.

I still like to have golden syrup on toast sometimes, but whether I have it before or after another slice of toast, it is often slightly disappointing: not quite enough sweetness to stand out against the saltiness in the bread. (Occasionally I even try treacle on toast; treacle really is pretty fantastic, rich and black and viscous, like the Thing from Outer Space. On your toast. And edible. It tastes pretty strange, though in a nice way.) Golden syrup, though, is fantastic on crumpets. It's best for store bought crumpets, although it's good on home made crumpets as well, although I find the very best thing for home made crumpets is honey.

Of course, all these condiments have to go with butter; there's no question about that. A little butter, spread on the fresh toast, straight from the toaster, and then left for a minute or two to melt and sink down into the toast and leave a glistening surface on which the condiment can be spread. The question of butter is another delicious subject which I will enter into sometime at tedious length, if you'd like, or even if you wouldn't like. Though of course there is always honey and cream. (Have you tried honey and cream? It's fantastic.)

Having continued to make my lack of a point for several pointless paragraphs, I have now got to the point where I will stop.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A disquisition concerning rain, clouds, and grey things

For some reason, about this time of year, on train stations around Melbourne we start seeing ads for holidays in Brisbane. I say "for some reason" though of course I know the reason why: people don't like the cold and wind and rain and wet. People are perverse that way. I was standing on Reservoir Station just the other day glowering at one such advertisement showing people wearing customary "happy" grimaces on their faces, and not much else, in the ocean somewhere, with some smug slogan about "That's why we say/Give me Brisbane any day" hovering over the top. The strange thing was, it was a beautiful day; cool rain caressed my skin and the train platform glistened in the wet. There was a refreshing and crisp breeze coming from somewhere. Curlicues of clouds hung in the sky, mounting one on the other: you never quite realise how many lovely shades of grey there are until you see a bunch of clouds ornamenting the sky. The sight of these clouds louring over old early 20th century terraces and shop fronts was particularly attractive.

A guy called Lantern once said to me: "How could you not like Debussy? His favourite animals were cats. His favourite musical interval was the tritone. And his favourite colour was grey." That struck me as being a Great Truth at the time, and it's why I feel certain that Debussy would have loved winter, clouds, and the rain and wet, also. A sky is always interesting with a few clouds floating about in it. A city is interesting with a few clouds floating around in it as well: smog will do, but fog is even better. It adds just that little touch of adventure and mystery to your everyday life, making you feel like you might end up somewhere wholly unexpected (sometimes, you even do). Perhaps that's one reason why people started the industrial revolution: all those smokestacks and chimneys produce wonderful clouds.

Take a walk along a Melbourne street in the middle of winter or on a cold autumn day and you will discover another reason why these cold seasons are so nice: the whiff of wood smoke. We so rarely have an excuse to set a log fire roaring in Australia, and wood smoke has such a pleasant smell. There is a reason people use it to flavour their foods. Rain, also (though it is more pleasant being inside a house while it is raining) causes beautiful smells to rise in the air: the cool, earthy whiff just before rain comes; the satisfying smell of wet soil that has just drunk its fill; and the pungent fragrance of plant resins, eucalyptus and lemon verbena, that have come to the surface of the leaf or tree bark in the rain.

It all makes me wonder if there oughtn't to be an advertising campaign for winter, the rain and wet, and the colour grey. Something like a picture of an atmospheric, mossy building shrouded in some nice fog, with attractive people doing nice dances around it, and a slogan hovering over it:
That's why we say
Give me rain and the colour grey. 

Then again, I suppose that would attract entirely the wrong crowd of people.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Shrouded in fog and dust and smoke and mystery and shit

My brothers and I were walking down the street in Raymond Terrace. Euan wanted us all to see Godzilla. Lachlan, rather poetically, wanted to see a sunset. I wanted to lie down on the couch at Mum and Dad's house and scoff chocolates. "How about if you just go and see Godzilla on your own?" Lachlan suggested to Euan. "We can go down to the river and you can see it and report back to us" I helpfully put in. Naturally, we all ended up seeing Godzilla. Euan is good at winning debates like that, mostly by refusing to enter into them in the first place.

I don't really need to describe the plot of Godzilla to you because you'll pretty much know in advance anyway: gigantic prehistoric monster is awoken from his slumber by radiation, wreaks havoc on a city, the end. What's striking about this latest Hollywood adaptation is how bad they are at sticking to even this simple rule: there's a ridiculous 20-30 minutes of backstory before we even get a decent sight of a monster. Then for most of the rest of the film you don't even get a chance to have a decent gawp at the beasts (there are several), because they're shrouded in fog and dust and smoke and mystery and shit, even though there's no mystery really, because when you walk into a Godzilla film, how can you not know that you're in for a few hours of a gigantic monster trashing a city?

But anyway, the bit where Godzilla wins the battle by breathing fire down another monster's mouth was kind of good. But on the whole, it was a bit of a disappointing monster flick. Definitely not as good as a sunset in all its beautiful transience, or lying on a couch scoffing chocolates in all their beautiful transience. I think I prefer Blue Oyster Cult's version:

 PS I just realised this blog post might contain spoilers. Spoiler! Gigantic monster trashes a city the end!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Living down to expectorations

I'm in Newcastle again (what? why?) at my parents and have had the chance to read over once again that fine work, B J Ratcliffe's and Sir Holward Elphinstone's English-Swahili Phrase Book. You might be wondering why my parents come to be in possession of an English-Swahili Phrase Book, but the answer is simple: I bought it at a school fair once as a joke present at a school fete for Mum.

Part of the fun of reading any such phrase book, of course, is to find ridiculously specific phrases like the Monty Python classic, "My hovercraft is full of eels", and there are a few like that in here: "I want also two cucumbers for afternoon tea", "I want you to bring four sheeps' tongues". But the really odd thing about this phrase book is just what phrases it assumes will be useful; almost all are orders of one sort or another. Look at the beginning to Chapter III, The House:

I want a good house-boy
One who knows house-work
One who has good manners
Have you a registration certificate? 

Soon the bearer of the phrasebook is ordering his house-boy:

Do not leave the house without permission
Come and ask if you want to go out

I especially like the opening question in the last chapter, Chapter VIII, Sickness:

What is the matter with you? 

An exceedingly useful phrase that, not to mention

Do not expectorate about here

There's something in that for all of us.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I think these things so you don't have to

If the proverbial brain surgeon met the mythical rocket science at a party, what if they swapped jobs for a while so that the brain surgeon did brain surgery on a rocket while the rocket scientist practised rocket science on somebody's brain? Hadn't thought of that, had you? (If you had thought of that, shoosh!)

Memories! I remember what it was like to have those!

Got a new memory stick because I can't remember where I left my old memory stick.

Subsequently spent hours searching around my house for my new memory stick because  I can't remember where I left my new memory stick either.

I need a memory stick for my memory of where I put my memory sticks. Or maybe just a memory.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sneezy does it

Sneezing is great, isn't it? Admittedly when you've just put a bee suit on and have opened up the beehive and angry bees are flying everywhere and you have a knife and a hive tool ready to take out frames, then might not be the best time to get something caught in your nose to start you sneezing, though that in itself might be preferable to being a brain surgeon in the middle of their craft caught with a sudden dose of sneezes. (Though has that ever happened? What do brain surgeons do in these circumstances?)

Even so, sneezing is awesome! A small volcano explosion in your own head. I like to give myself over entirely to the sneeze, to luxuriate in it, to be teased by the tingling anticipation before sneezing as loudly as I possibly can, throwing my head into it. The Baron sneezed just then and I have to admit I was a little jealous. I especially like it when a whole row of sneezes happen, one after another. Anytime to sneeze is a good time, but one especially good time might be in an important workplace meeting, just when the head of the company is getting up and waving his or her arms around and pointing at an important graph that no-one, including themselves, understands; if possible, you should sneeze on these occasions, a small volley of nasal eruptions to entirely block out their pointless speech.

It occurred to me the other day that sneezing is so wonderful that there should be a small daily apparatus devoted to them. We should have sneezing jackets, and sneezing rooms, and most especially sneezing chairs - a voluminous brocaded armchair, with antimacassar. Of course, it would be called a Sneezy Chair.

But I suppose no-one likes other people having that amount of pleasure. The last time they did stuff like that, with smoking, folks got incredibly jealous, and tried to ban it. It just goes to show what sort of a rotten, wicked world we live in.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Definitely not


(How did this blog post come about, I hear you cry?  I'll tell you. It's because of the brutally efficient IT system we have here at home:

TIM: Hey, how do I get the strike through to operate in Word?

BARON: I know how to do it on mine, but not on yours, your version of Word is all.... weird. 

TIM: Ooh, idea! You could do it in your Word and send it through to me!

BARON: Why don't I just do it in my email? I can do it in my email too! 

TIM: Yes! I'll watch! 

BARON: Hang on.... hang on, I've got an even better idea. Why don't you do it on blogger and just cut and paste? 

TIM: (Crestfallen) Yes you are absolutely right. Thanks. 

Got a problem? Just call us. We'll help.)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A poem about Gaia

Gaia, Earth Mother
 (Bountiful, radiant,
  Burgeoning, beautiful)
   Walks to the shops.
Behind her spring daisies,
 Birds singing and bunnies,
  Rainbows and kittens,
   And non-GM crops.
Her phone rings. Oh bugger.
 Her old 90s boyfriend,
  Captain Planet, the arsehole.
   That does it, she thinks, I'm calling the cops.

As Mother-of-all,
 Gaia's feeling her age,
  A zillion year's old,
   Not counting today.
And Nature, her kid?
 Hardly bothers to call
  Smokes far too much pot,
   And is probably gay.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

If you haven't pressed apple cider in your underpants you haven't lived

We made cider. Windfall apples, picked from all over Bright and Wandiligong when we visited during Easter, combined with Granny Smiths and Pink Ladies from our own trees, formed the base. We came back to our house with boxes of the stuff, which we poured out onto the lounge room floor, making them go every which way and get under the table and under cats' and chickens' and visitors' feet while they mellowed (read: a good quarter of them went mouldy and the other three quarters went from looking rather dubious to looking exceedingly dubious over the course of a week or so). This mellowing is an extremely important part of the process, as all good cider makers will tell you. Otherwise, there won't be any opportunity for one person to say, "when are you going to make cider?" and the other person to say, "I can't make cider yet, the apples are mellowing!" and the first person to say "if they were any more mellow they'd be rotten" and the other person to say "don't be ridiculous!", and so on.

To make cider, you're going to need a mill to load the apples into and crush them into chunks, and a press to squash the juice out of those chunks, and a partner to whinge at every time something gets stuck and won't press or squash any further. Well, no, you don't really need all those things, but it really is incredibly therapeutic to have someone to moan at when things look like they're going wrong. Last year we didn't have a mill and we ended up just breaking up the apples into a pulp in the blender before squeezing the juice out of them in the press, which is just about as much fun and lasts even longer than breaking up the apples into a pulp in the blender before squeezing the juice out of them in the press sounds. 

So, in full on industrial mode this year, we piled all the apples into our freshly bought mill. I ended up with a gigantic pot full of apple chunks, which I took scoops out of and loaded into the press. While I was in the middle of crushing one bunch of apple chunks, Pamela the Chook happened to wander through the house, as she likes to do from time to time. As soon as she saw the pot full of apple chunks, she made an incredibly excited cluck, as if to say: "I can't believe my luck!" She was in the middle of ogling the pot up when I and a tasty looking pot of yoghurt intervened.

Crushing all those apples is hot work. I took my jumper off and rolled up my sleeves and then rolled down my sleeves again and took off my shirt and wiped a calloused hand over my shining brow as the relentless sun beat down on the fields full of toil-weary peasants and saw, far off, in the hills, a vision of Julie Andrews singing and dancing and then knew I was hallucinating again. But, you know, it is pretty hard work. And if you haven't pressed apple cider in your underpants you haven't lived (though, on the plus side, you may not need to get a new pair of underpants after all). 

At the end of all that - the collecting boxes of apples, the milling, the crushing, the collecting of the juice - I ended up with.... about four litres of juice.


Yeah, but when we taste our scrumpy when it's finished fermenting and been bottled and aged it will be worth it. In another ten months or so....

Friday, May 02, 2014

Education time! Tannins - what even are they?

For today's exercise in raising consciousness, attaining a higher state of being, and becoming one with the universal all, I thought I'd find out a little bit about tannins, a frequent ingredient in wine, cider, and sometimes beer . It's about time really because I've often advised others starting out in cider or meads "you'll need to get tannins in that" or "tannins will provide some balance". Without ever really knowing 100 per cent what the damn things are.

So, I took myself off to that fount of all wisdom and knowledge and benevolence, Wikipedia. It has this to say:

A tannin ... is an astringent, bitter plant polyphenolic compound that binds to and precipitates proteins and various other organic compounds including amino acids and alkaloids.

The term tannin (from tanna, an Old High German word for oak or fir tree, as in Tannenbaum) refers to the use of wood tannins from oak in tanning animal hides into leather; hence the words "tan" and "tanning" for the treatment of leather. However, the term "tannin" by extension is widely applied to any large polyphenolic compound containing sufficient hydroxyls and other suitable groups (such as carboxyls) to form strong complexes with various macromolecules.*

Righto! So that clears that up then! Now that I know that, I just need to find out what "polyphenolic compounds", "proteins", "amino acids", "hydroxyls", "carboxyls" and "strong complexes with various macromolecules" are. Actually, I didn't have time to look all that up, but I did look up what seemed to me to be the most important terms: "polyphenolic"...

Polyphenols.... a structural class of... organic chemicals.... of large multiples of phenol structural units.

Well wank you very much, Dikypedia. So a phenol is....

Phenol, also known as carbolic acid, is an aromatic organic compound with the molecular formula C6H5OH.

A carboxyl.... well, we get redirected here:

A carboxylic acid /ˌkɑrbɒkˈsɪlɪk/ is an organic compound that contains a carboxyl group (CO2H).

A hydroxyl:
A hydroxyl is a chemical functional group containing an oxygen atom connected by a covalent bond to a hydrogen atom, a pairing that can be simply understood as a substructure of the water molecule.

Er.... and I'm not even drunk.

And as for "strong complexes with various macromolecules", I'm not even going to go there, as I'm a happily married man.

So there you go folks. That's what tannins are. So know that I know what they are, I still don't know what they are.

*Fun party trick: try reciting all of that while drunk. 
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