Man has been forever confronted with right and wrong, fact and fiction, truth and falsehood. Is that tiger a maneater? Try patting it. Is that plant poisonous? Eat it and find out. Can that neighbouring tribe just over the hills be trusted? They gave us food. They could be OK.
True or false. The game never ends. It's an endless cycle that allowed man to evolve by trial and error: the only method that works. Animals don't search for truth. They search for food and reproduction and rest. The search for truth is evolution at work.
But it tricks people. When real events seem so unlikely that they challenge credibility, the alternative starts to look better. The prime minister went for a swim at a Portsea ocean beach and completely disappeared. Where was his security? There was none. That pushed credibility to its limits. So they said the Chinese got him. In submarines.
A couple of years later the US sent a metal cylinder into space, where it stopped near the moon, spat out a module, and waited while its pilot and co-pilot landed and got out, made obvious footprints like a corrupt cop planting evidence, and then flew the module back to the waiting cylinder, which was idling in neutral the whole time. Then they all rocketed back to Earth, and the men went home and went to bed, tired. Not credible. So the whole thing happened on Earth, in a studio or a desert. More believable.
Item from yesterday's paper:
Strict coronavirus lockdowns, which have crippled the world's economy, were encouraged by a sophisticated Chinese propaganda effort that used Twitter and Facebook to spread fear and panic about COVID-19 and admiration for Beijing's authoritarian approach. ... A damning forensic report ... found the viral videos largely drove the world's initial panicked reaction to news of a strange virus coming out of Wuhan. ... China's goal was threefold - weakening global economies ... spreading totalitarian values in nations whose leaders profess respect for human rights, and using their "success" at fighting COVID-19 to "give his oppressed people a victory". "It's very disturbing how gullible and dismissive of human rights many leaders have proven to be," (author) Senger said.
True or false? Don't ask me. I'm busy figuring out what to feed ravenous teenagers for dinner tonight. Last night was lamb cutlets with vegetables. The sprig of rosemary from the garden added an extra dimension. Panfried, and with aluminium foil around the bone to serve. Kind of a handle.
I do it. Not obsessive; I just like clean shoes. People ask me if I have new running shoes and I reply, no, I just cleaned them. I scrub them and then I put them in the washer, I tell them. You can't do that, they reply. Yes you can, I tell them. You just don't use hot water. If you scrub them well enough first they don't need it.
OK, maybe I am obsessive. Nine sentences about cleaning shoes. I should see a psychiatrist. Lie on the couch and tell me all about your shoes, says doctor. Is a psychiatrist a doctor? I don't know. I once had a brand new pair of Onitsuka Tiger X-Caliber GTs, I tell him. And the dog got them and destroyed them on the first day. They still smelled new. Red and blue flowing stripes on pure white fabric and that softly flexible sole they used to use pre-gel. They moved when you looked at them.
Merri Creek has become the playground of the north; at least of those within a rubbery five kilometres, or a half-hour round trip. It's like Bourke Street on a Sunday afternoon. In the 1920s Coburg Lake was a popular weekend venue for picnickers who came up from suburbs south, on one of two tramlines, or the train. Or they walked. It had gardens as pleasant as Baron von Mueller's in town, and a large pool of water overlooked by terraces of the same bluestone that enclosed the prisoners across Murray Road. And the water was clean. People swam in it. Then it fell out of favour because the factories that lined its banks further upstream dumped their old oil and paint, etc, in it. The creek path was eventually paved for walkers and cyclists, but that was only as recently as the late 1990s. Before that I used to follow its willow-shaded curves upstream to Campbellfield on an ill-defined track with the 1986-2001 dog, a Brittany Cocker cross called Monty. The shoe-eater. He ate a new pair of sunglasses once as well. $150.
I have a different route now. Quieter. Few people know about it. Wait, I posted about it a few weeks ago. I'm averaging 80 kilometres a week.
I still miss the shoes. Monty must have been bored that day. Maybe I forgot to take him on a 10 mile walk.
Trouble here. The idiot-class State politicians that were elected to enact politically correct legislation are hopelessly out of their depth. Closing borders bang-shut is cutting the meagre populations and many families in two. Or even three. Bickering amongst themselves, the State fishwives (of both sexes, if you like) have managed to destroy communities. In reply to one case (and there are thousands) in which a family was twenty kilometres from a hospital - which was on the wrong side of the border - was told to fly to Sydney, quarantine for a fortnight and take it from there. 1600 kilometre round trip. The Queensland premier blithely added Queensland has its hospitals and so does New South Wales. A farmer received a kind suggestion from a bureaucrat to fly 45 tonnes of hay to Sydney and then truck it back to his paddock 45 kilometres over the border, a twenty minute lonesome truck drive. One bureaucrat in charge of agricultural affairs asked a farmer what a header was when the farmer wanted to transport one to his crops.
Utter failure of intelligent decision-making is further compounded by sheer lack of actual knowledge, the latter having been replaced in the inner-urban bureaucrat's mind with a tattered PC songbook smeared with stale coffee and bits of avocado on sourdough. Back in the city of hysteria, an enquiry into the hotel quarantine mess was told by a security guard that he was given ten minutes training on what he had to do; no PPE instruction - and an hour's diversity and equity training.
There's no conclusion to be drawn other than the western world has for some reason elected a political class that is a garden party when there are no national issues; but when a major problem arises - and far beyond 'major' in terms of what they understood the word to have meant previously, is an unmitigated disaster.
This is political commentary. It doesn't amount to personal complaint. Right now, here it is a bitterly cold August afternoon, about nine degrees outside, and an unmistakable aroma of baking pie circulating through the house. That combination of spiced meat and browning pastry is probably the best smell a chef ever chanced on. Or maybe it just brings similar memories of the canteen at St John Bosco's all those decades ago. Noon pies, way up in those aluminium-drawered warmers.
Noon pies - the brand, and the time of day, both.
In any case you don't need a recipe for a dish containing potato, cheese and onion. The three ingredients are fellow travellers and kind of just collide. In the presence of heat, they know what to do, and turn alchemy-like into that clichéd term, comfort food, which means something you don't quite make it to a chair to start eating.
The title was 'pan haggerty', but Wikipedia shows several different names for it. That proves the point: the recipe was never written down because it was so intuitively obvious.
Peel and cut two large potatoes into very thin slices. Do the same with two onions. Cook the onions in some oil in a pan until just softened.
Lay some of the sliced potatoes into the bottom of an oiled baking dish and caress them with melted butter. I use a paint brush (that has never been used to paint - I bought one for the purpose). Add a layer of softened onion and grated cheese - any cheese you like but probably not the stretchy ones. Repeat layering, add a layer of chopped bacon and finish with a thick layer of cheese.
Bake until cheese is golden. Set aside for a few minutes until the bubbling goodness has settled down from the roiling heat before you serve it. Scatter some parsley or Spring onions on top to serve.
Earlier that day, the forecast heavy rain had finally arrived in a three minute burst when I was stuck between the back of the shed and that of the property behind mine. I was in a three foot space bisected by the remains of a picket fence which had collapsed and sagged forward, throwing pickets. That made an unreachable pyramidal space where the escaped guinea pig was hiding. So I had to strip and raise pickets that carried rusted nails past my body and head and onto the roof of the shed. This, as the storm raged. Water off the raked roofs of both sheds bucketed into the gap. The wet guinea pig forged on, but became stuck in the intersection of two fallen beams. I scissored down and my hand just made him, and I scissored up again and somehow rose vertically and climbed the end-fence abutting my shed and placed the squeaking animal back into the two-storey cage from which he had escaped earlier.
Later, there were others. Lulu smashed with To Sir With Love in 1967 but her apogee - if singers can have one of those - was the minor hit Oh Me Oh My, a soul-infused love song that never rose into the year's top 100 in '69. 1967 also saw Brit Sandie Shaw impossibly catchy with Puppet on a String - once heard never forgotten. Meanwhile, Morgana King's soul-fired coloratura went in a totally different gospel/soul direction and the Fifth Dimension were on fire.
I was at a parish fete one warm October day in 1967. They used to play a radio station over the loudspeaker in between prize draws on the spinning wheel. A southern accent came out of the speaker and the story was some kind of personal disaster and the guitar in front had a weird echo behind like the soundtrack to a murder mystery. Bobbie Gentry had one or two more hits after Ode to Billy Joe but you would never forget that song you heard on a warm Australian spring day when you were ten years old.
In 1968, a Sergio Mendes version of Scarborough Fair blew Simon and Garfunkel's sclerotic folk version out of the park; the singer was Lani someone as far as I can remember. Merrilee Rush topped in 1968 with the yearning Angel of the Morning and then Aretha Franklin rode a bus and said a little prayer. It never got any better.
Maybe it did. In 1969, Dusty Springfield released Windmills of Your Mind and then backed right up with Son of a Preacher Man the same year.
I found her snoozing in front of the television, which was shouting at full volume about some political issue. I turned it down slightly and went through to the kitchen where a small mountain of plates and pots and plastic meals-on-wheels containers rose up next to the sink. I made a start on the mountain but didn't get far because the sink wasn't draining. I put the brush down and wandered through the vastness of the house into an old dusty abandoned bedroom full of memories and linoleum. I opened a wardrobe and shoved several hundred 1960s ladies coats along the railing until I found an unused wire coat hanger. Returning to the kitchen, I unwound the coat hanger at the part where the wire twirls around itself and made a hook at one end. Harder with bare hands than it sounds. Then I emptied the sink of dirty plates and dove the wire into the sea and searched for the plug hole. I found it and probed for some minutes before drawing it up. It brought up some grey matter that might once have been food, but its tail end had dragged up something metallic that stopped at the grate. I twisted the wire and a teaspoon surfaced. It was no longer silver or chrome, but a kind of weathered gunmetal. I lay it aside on the drainer and went back into the pipes. Same result: grey matter and another teaspoon.
She had woken by now and had the kettle on because that's what you do when you have company. We drank tea. Then I went back to work. Twenty minutes and five more spoons later, I thought I must have been getting close. The sink was draining well now, but I worried that if the spoons had created kind of filtering ladder effect, when I removed them any remaining gunk might settle into a solid mass and cause a worse blockage. I was up to seven spoons. The plumbing is original top-quality bullet-proof 1954 vintage, all copper; and the plug hole was the type with slats, allowing small items to fall through.
I got to fourteen teaspoons and laid them all out on a newspaper like a prize catch of fish. The bowls of the last four or five were worn away, as if by acid. They looked like they had sat in a shipwreck for two hundred years, except that spoons out of shipwrecks never seem to corrode that badly. I thought there might be one or two spoons left in the u-bend but the sink was draining perfectly now, so I stopped.
Later I bought a metal plug hole filter that stops food matter going into the drain. That would suffice until we can bring the 1954 plug hole into the twenty-first century.
I once wondered hypothetically where all the spoons went. Little did I realise.
The (Essendon) Health Officer, Dr. Flanagan, was informed of an outbreak of the deadly Pneumonic Influenza and immediate action was taken to prevent its spread. An inoculation program was commenced with 150 citizens presenting themselves for inoculation. Theatres were closed locally, and restrictions on Defence Department drills and church gatherings were being considered. Householders were advised to throw open their windows. The Mayor, Cr. Arthur Fenton, amid accusations of over-reaction, took full responsibility for actions taken as 11 mild cases were reported.
10 February 1919:
The Essendon Gazette reported that local doctors were inoculating as many as 800 people a day against the disease; that many citizens were wearing masks; that large public gatherings were prohibited and church services were being cancelled, or attended in small numbers. The Public Library was closed, and schools would not open until further notice. Essendon High School was being converted into an Epidemic Hospital and householders were being asked to supply equipment to cater for its needs.
12 February 1919:
The Essendon Gazette noted that Council reported that inoculations were being given daily at the Moonee Ponds Town Hall in spite of the serum being in short supply. Council workers methodically worked the streets of Essendon and Moonee Ponds, spraying them with phenyl, 'a strong disinfectant'.
20 February 1919:
Open-air united church services were being held in front of Essendon Post Office until churches were able to resume their normal services in the church buildings.
24 February 1919:
The Essendon Emergency Hospital, since being set up two weeks ago had treated 56 patients suffering from the influenza, of which 16 had been discharged. The Health officer reported that 5,275 people had been inoculated in the first batch and 4,849 in the second. There had been 463 cases reported in Essendon.
24 March 1919:
The 1st Moonee Ponds Scout Troop recommenced normal activities following the influenza outbreak. During the epidemic a number of the boys acted as voluntary and honorary orderlies at the Essendon Influenza Hospital and as cyclist messengers, delivering 8,000 pamphlets for the Essendon Council.
25 March 1919:
The Essendon High School buildings, after being fumigated and disinfected, were returned to the Education Department, and school classes commenced the following day.
27 March 1919:
The last patient was discharged from the Influenza Hospital which was to be closed down after being in operation for six weeks.
10 April 1919:
A second outbreak of pneumonic influenza was reported in the first week of the month. The Broadmeadows Army Camp was being turned into an Influenza Hospital to take patients from Essendon, Brunswick, Coburg and Northcote.
23 April 1919:
Essendon High School was re-opened as an emergency hospital, and seven patients had been admitted as the second outbreak of influenza became more serious.
5 May 1919:
New regulations were foreshadowed due to the severity of the second outbreak. Patients must be isolated and all cases reported. ... 12 deaths had been recorded at the Essendon Emergency Hospital over the last 14 days.
5 May 1919:
Essendon State School ... became the first of the local schools to be disinfected to assist in controlling the spread of the epidemic.
18 July 1919:
Anxious parent of Essendon High School scholars met at the Essendon Town Hall to express concern about the school's continued use as an influenza hospital and pupils being disadvantaged.
28 August 1919:
Essendon High School was free from occupation as an influenza hospital and was expected to be returned to the education department shortly after it had been fumigated and disinfected.
13 November 1919:
The influenza epidemic was now under control and the health authorities decided to close the Broadmeadows Hospital.
The Essendon Health Officer, Dr. Flanagan, made the following report for 1919: ... of 340 deaths (in the district), infectious diseases accounted for 109 (influenza, 80; tuberculosis, 27; whopping cough, 1; and scarlet fever, 1). In the initial outbreak (13 February-22 March 1919) 80 patients were admitted to the Essendon Influenza Hospital of which 4 died. In the second outbreak (early April-27 August 1919) 344 patients were admitted, with 38 deaths.
Take the meatloaf out of the fridge.
We can safely presume I have already taken this step because, in order to read the cooking instructions which are attached to the package, I am not standing in the fridge doing so.
It was 2010, late July. Mid-afternoon on a crisp but very cold day. Pale sunshine tiptoed across the carpet and onto the bed on which I lay, ill with a severe flu. I subconsciously felt the sun's friendliness on my feet as I finished the third volume of The Lord of the Rings.
That night she lay next to me, heavily pregnant. The baby, a girl, was born a few days later, overdue a week.
The funny thing is, a few months ago in late summer, and now all grown up at nine, she had finished all of the Famous Five, some 1960s horsey girls books by upper class British writers (Pullein-Thompson sisters etc) and a million of those children’s large-print faux-novels in which the author varies the text point size for emphasis, or prints them in capitals of a different font, or puts words like 'fart' or 'bum' in the title.
And she was looking for something else to read. Browsing my shelves, she pulled down a copy of The Hobbit.
Will I like it? she asked me.
I don't know, try it and see, I said.
She read it in a few days.
Are there any more? she asked, vaguely. I handed her The Fellowship of the Ring. She took it. That would have been early autumn.
A few weeks later, she asked for the next one. I gave her The Two Towers. More time went by, and winter was starting to wrap its icy fingers around us, and I gave her The Return of the King.
She finished it the other day, a decade after I had closed the book with her beside me, yet to born.
She will turn ten on Sunday. Some kind of strange, wonderful quirk of time. Or maybe just a simple coincidence.
Alert readers will note that I've gone from criticising literary snootiness in one post, to indulging in it myself in the very next. Either publishing has deteriorated ... or I'm a hypocrite.
After finishing The Lord of the Rings, she asked me if I had anything else by Tolkien. I looked for the copy of Farmer Giles of Ham that I'd borrowed from St Bernard's College library in 1974. After 45 years someone asks for it and I can't find it. (I'd dipped into The Silmarillion once but didn't proceed with it.)
No italics - having trouble with the Blogger control panel.
I was trying to teach you not to care too much. … caring too much … showed in your writing, and that, my dear, my too young, my sweet, my talented, my beautiful Allison, does not make for clear, cool, analytical prose.
They ate eggs and toast and drank coffee, and there was sunshine all over the yellow tablecloth.
I stood on cold concrete staring up at the whirling, swooping amusement park rides. Shrieks and yelps rose and fell, like the ride operator was twirling a volume button. The place seemed smaller inside than it had looked from the street, but that might have been because the entire block was penned by a giant lattice, rising and falling like a suburban picket fence built on a castle-scale. That, of course, was the white-painted timber scaffolding for the roller-coaster, a live relic from the early twentieth century.
I stood and gazed as the boys went around again and thought about once when I had stood on the same spot on a sunny spring afternoon, queueing to sail through the river caves with a girl in my arms and her younger brother in the back seat, a kind of idiot chaperone whose presence had been ordered by their mother. The memory I kept was like a postcard, a static picture full of yellowing light. I had had a bunch of free tickets that day, and we – me and the girl and her brother – had stayed on the roller coaster fifteen times in a row. Later we rode the ghost train; built for exactly the same reason as the river caves. Afterwards, we rode home to the other side of the city on a train full of Richmond fans jubilant about winning a semi-final. If you had been a train-riding fortune-teller that day and said their team would kick 25 goals in the grand final they would have been in raptures – until you told them that Carlton would kick 27. Then they'd call you a drunken fool, but you would have been right.
But that was decades ago. Now I had my own teenagers, and on the many occasions we had driven past the lunatic entrance to the place, I had promised I'd take them. Finally on this bleak July Tuesday we had walked into the carnival's open mouth, and it seemed I had closed a circuit in some spiral timeline. The boys were the age that I was then, and that made it uncanny.
I followed the wave of shouting and laughter around, and even went on some the rides just to remember what it felt like to make myself feel ill voluntarily. At some point in the grey afternoon the surge of noise had given way to an eerie quiet when someone announced that they were starting another lockdown – tomorrow.
We fell out the gates past the old clanking turnstiles under brittle, cold darkness just before six o'clock, and walked the half-moon path around the old palm tree gardens to Acland Street. Post-war European migrants made Acland Street what it was, a strip of lit-up shops and cafes and european cake shops within a short walk of the sea, and elements remain. We went into one of the cake shops – Monarch – and the boys gorged on cream cakes. Since 1934, it said. A depression, a world war, post-war emigration to St Kilda and their grandchildren running the shop now. Or not. Then we did what generations have done, worked the the cream cakes off by walking out onto the pier past the kiosk. Silent out here in the blackness, except for distant traffic on Beaconsfield Parade and, closer, the menacing slap of seawater against the piles. You wouldn't want to fall off in winter but it would have happened over the years. Thomas took the car keys from my coat pocket and did that exasperating teasing trick of throwing them up over the edge and catching them at the last minute. Maniacal laughter.
It was just a guitar. I heard it again a few weeks ago during a radio tribute after its player passed.
The player was someone called Lynford Brown and the lightning bolt was the start of a Paul Simon song of that era, something about a reunion. I never particularly liked Paul Simon's work: my favourite Simon or Garfunkel song was the sorrowfully evocative Tim Moore minor hit Second Avenue that Garfunkel covered the same year. By comparison I found, for example, Simon's Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover to be the diametric opposite in sentiment; a lightweight collection of hardboiled rhymes. As for El Condor Pasa, I'd rather be a chimney than a sweep.
But that guitar on Mother and Child Reunion.
So they had a Hux Brown tribute on the serious music station*, and then one for Ennio Morricone a week later. You could listen to their vastly different combined output and never tire of it.
Then it was Charlie Daniels, a music everyman. However, a WSJ obituary for Daniels carried in The Australian noted: 'Over time, his politics made him a polarising figure for new generations of music fans ... '.
For new generations? Like a gift? Yes. They own your music and your opinions and your politics and they will object – they will be polarised, dammit! if they disapprove.
So watch it, musicians: if you were to have an opinion, you could polarise someone. So you may not have one, let alone several. You are a slave to your 'new generation fans'.
Just as they are pulling down statues and renaming confectionery, the 'new generations' - as identified by the Wall Street Journal - have embraced slavery.