Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

20.5.19

GetUp chief self-congratulates.

(GetUp chief lobbyist) Mr Oosting ... said the campaign in Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton's seat of Dickson had been partially successful because the swing to him was weaker than the swing to the Coalition across the rest of Queensland.
The Greens' road trip to re-educate outback Queenslanders also went well:
"The Stop Adani convoy in particular reminded locals about everything that's wrong with elitist politics. ... (they) decided to get in their petrol-fuelled cars and drive thousands of kilometres to a place in central Queensland to tell them they shouldn't have a job."
Well done, everyone.


3.5.19

Green's Beach.

The road had ended in a short curve that wound into itself at the entrance to the caravan park. The only movement we had seen last night in the utter blackness on those last few kilometres had been hundreds of small hopping shadows reflected in the headlights. Some kind of marsupials jumping like abandoned soccer balls in an earth tremor.

I had finished Deliverance some time after midnight on the deck of the cabin under the yellow light of a single globe. This remote place is probably the best place in the world to read the book if you exclude the actual Chattooga River. Far off, a muffled crash of distant surf carried in on the wind. I went inside.

Now it was morning and the sun had jerked the black curtain back to reveal a bay washing onto a shore that curved around to a point at the western end and a lighthouse the other way. Directly in front of the cabin a pathway broke through scrub and led down to the water, probably fifty steps away. The children had stolen out of the cabin earlier and gone that way. Behind the row of cabins, a green swathe stretched across and up a long hill. The hopping pandemelons or potoroos or whatever they were had gone and the place was crawling with golfers.

Further around a bluff hung over the bay. The hill was tumbled with summer houses, mostly white, the kind that was common on the mainland about four decades ago: simple brick and timber with sun decks set in neat unassuming lawns reaching down through the wooded areas to hidden pathways leading to the beach. Some had grander picture windows or two or three stories commanding a higher view but the whole effect was of a village at peace with its own timelessness and simplicity. No reality TV look-at-me renovation madness here. Yet.

Buggies loaded up with golf club bags that looked like giant tool kits in case they broke down were zigzagging down out of the hills towards the green. In the bowl at the end of the street the sole shop had opened and a man was setting up trolleys of goods and A-frame signs and tables and chairs and stands of hats ready for the throngs of beach-goers that wouldn't come at this time of year. After a while the children came back looking like they had discovered another planet, and needed breakfast.

Green's Beach is at the top of Tasmania and the end of the world. A refuge for the overwrought, where doing nothing is productive, where green is a colour that you can see, and where the rumble of the world's most treacherous passage of water steals in your open window at night and the glitter of the stars is so bright you could read Ts and Cs by it. If anybody ever did.

30.4.19

Poet writes story about canoes.

There was once a poet who won the American National Book Award in Poetry, and then got appointed Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress. After that, he was hired as poet-in-residence at the University of South Carolina. In the end he must have tired of rambling around empty halls of learning like a kept ghost, albeit a scholarly one, while stroking his beard and frowning as if trying to give birth to a sixty verse epic.

So he wrote a book.

He called it Deliverance.

I may be exaggerating a little, but just about the entire world has seen the movie 'Deliverance'; or if they haven't, they know what it is about. But most people have never heard of James Dickey.

My copy is a Pan from its tenth printing in 1976. One of the reviews on the back cover states that it ' ... achieves what it sets out to do ... ' and even the word 'brilliantly' prefixing that snippet doesn't really detract from the quote's air of faint praise. Time called it a ' ... shapely adventure tale.' Shapely? Well, I suppose so. But the word has possibly seen a reduction in its meanings over the last forty years. There is however some modern shapeliness early in the book.

Dickey can't help his background, nor leave it. The novel rolls out like the river it follows, flowing relentlessly down to the end, a disquieting noise in the background punctuated by eerily unlikely metalanguage that nevertheless works. The central character who climbs a cliff to thwart the murderous toothless hillbilly takes from page 141 to 155 to do so, and the progress is not so much described as pschyoanalysed. The book is an experiment in time and scale and a few other dimensions I haven't quite found yet. Yet it's also just a straight tale, if you excuse the 14-page cliff climb. Books like this shoot themselves in the foot. They are too good for their apparent readership (a marketing problem, not a criticism of the popular book audience) but conversely the academics tend to hate them.

If you were anxious for Ed Gentry to get up the cliff, don't hold your breath during the canoe ride.
I waited for the upward revengeful smash of the river, but the nose rode down with an odd softness and into the back-scrolled smashed water at the foot of the rock, quivered straight back through the spine of the canoe into mine and into my brain, where I saw a vision of burning jackstraws or needles, and we were back down on to the bedded river in two almost simultaneous stepdowns.
Most writers would have just said 'saw stars' but 'saw a vision of burning jackstraws’? Dickey was a poet, but he had lived experience with an ability to verbalise it locked together like a freight train and its tender at 100 miles an hour. Lucky man. Apparently he was a pain in the neck on the set of the movie, but you would have to be. Dealing with all those fucking art directors.

Deliverance by James Dickey
Hamish Hamilton 1970

Three-word review: Hemingway with commas.

24.4.19

The cabin.

It was a late afternoon flight – the only one available – and daylight saving had ended the day before. The plane rode cloud cover all the way across Bass Strait and in just under an hour it came down out of the clouds and banked and frail dying orange light came into the plane as the sleety runway rose up and hit the wheels.

We climbed out of the rear of the plane and walked a hundred metres through light warm rain to a square terminal that seemed a lot bigger once you got inside. A trained beagle led by a uniformed customs officer greeted the passengers and pushed into someone's bag and pulled out an apple. No fruit admitted. I've seen this trick several times and every time the perpetrator looks guiltier than a terrorist. For some reason it always seems to be a well-dressed upper middle-class lady who has forgotten about the no-fruit rule. Bailed up by a beagle, hands in the air in dismay. Or just well-bred embarrassment.

I had wanted light so I could see where I was going. They had built new roads since last time I was here. But as we were heading north, I should be OK. No real easts or wests before you make the north/south decision. The airport is south of the city so I pointed the hire car north, across the river, and then north again alongside the river. It was completely dark now; the light had died with the contraband apple.

Next thing to think about was food: either divert into town and waste time looking for something or stay on the highway until about halfway where I knew a food store in the last small town would still be open: if I hurried, and if its website was correct. Closes 8 p.m. Mondays, it said. We'll see. It was seven o'clock. I had an eight year old, a twelve year old and a teenager on board. And two adults, counting me. Food. There would be nothing at our destination except a cabin and a key. If they remembered. I'd called twice, once to make the booking, the second time to confirm, but neither time did they ask for a deposit or a credit card number. I put it down to rural nonchalance, a quality that no longer exists, or at least the word doesn't.

The rain got heavier and the road narrowed as it wound north around hills. The river, a massive estuary, was below us off to the right but all you could see was blackness on that side. Rising away on the left were houses with sleepy yellow windows way up behind the trees. Half an hour of that in violent rain and then the 110 speed sign went down to 80. That was the halfway town approaching. Some lights were on in the main street, including the ones in the supermarket. I pulled over, right out the front.

'Stay here.' I opened the car door, letting in a few bucketfuls of rain, crouch-ran into the supermarket, gathered up some things from the hot bar and some drinks, and ran back to the car after paying the twenty-something behind the counter who could have known me half my life given her friendliness. Lightly freckled calcite skin, swept-back pale straw hair and a smile to launch a thousand small towns. The things you notice in ten seconds.

More hard rain. The windscreen wipers struggled, and the road ahead was a silver ribbon. No lights anywhere now. The river was still somewhere off to the right. It had to be. The car swished through another smaller lightless town, all tucked up for the night. Then another, just the same.

Twenty minutes later, the rain stopped just as the road ended, curving gently around to the right and narrowing down to a gravel bowl, one one side a closed shop and further around, an entrance: 'Green's Beach Caravan Park. Cabins.'

I could smell the sea. I walked around and looked for an office, found one and knocked. No-one home. I looked for a key. No box. Then a crunching sound. A dog emerged out of the darkness, leashed to a figure close behind. Could he help me? the figure asked. Yes, he could, I said. I had booked a cabin. Bit late, he said. Not accusing, just pointing out a fact. I said I'd told the lady on the phone we'd be here around eight. Not defensively, just stating a fact. We stated a few more facts just to be friendly in the darkness and then he said come over to the caretaker's caravan and we'd get his wife out and she'd fix everything. She came out and we had more pleasantries, and then we walked back to the closed office and she opened up and we examined the reservations book as if we were all detectives. She said the other people had gone a week or so ago, and they'd taken over and weren't sure about who was coming and who wasn't. Then she gave me the key and some milk for tea and pointed at cabin no. 1. I was right about that word that doesn't exist any more. It was right here on full display. They were the nicest people you could hope to meet but not a word of gushing city insincerity would ever pass their lips.

It was warm and clean and cosy inside, and the children destroyed the food and the drinks, and we opened the windows and the sea roar came in. They didn't even know how close the sea was, but I did. I'd been here before in a past life or what seemed like it. They would go out early in the morning, and they would run across the broad sand and shriek and climb the rocks and see the Bass Strait surf breaking and dancing on the horizon way out past the gentler waters of the semi-bay.


5.4.19

Prescient.

"Why, Rebecca, how can you call him a name like that?" Evelyn exclaimed.
Rebecca laughed, "Oh, come off it, Kansas. You can't pretend you like the son of a bitch."
Evelyn thought very deeply. She had to admit to herself, and then to Rebecca, that she did not.
"Look," Rebecca said, "if there's racial equality, we have the right to hate bores and loud-mouths regardless of what species they are."
Evelyn was a little reluctant to admit she was right. "He is an aggressive fellow, but after all, Becky, any member of a minority is bound to be ..."
"Now that's real prejudice, Evelyn. If you think you have to go around loving all Jews because of what happened in Germany, then you're as guilty as Hitler is, or was. For God's sake, respect us enough to hate us when you feel like it."
"I see," Evelyn said in a small voice that held an enormous new realization. "Yes. Of course I see." But if anyone but a Jew had told her what Rebecca had, she would have labeled the person "a vicious anti-Semite."
*
Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff by William Inge
Little, Brown and Company 1970

26.3.19

The real McCoy.

This 1962 edition of Horace McCoy's No Pockets in a Shroud was clothed in the typically gritty Penguin Crime design sensibility of the time featuring a murky photograph of a newspaper in a monochrome gutter. Oh to have been a fiction cover designer in the early 1960s.

But Penguin often published earlier titles. It's an old game: I start reading and try to pick the original publication date. There are usually plenty of period clues, but sometimes few.

*

Reporter Michael Dolan walks into his managing editor's office to be told his story has been spiked: commercially 'sensitive'. The manager of the baseball team that has deliberately thrown a series has connections. Dolan resigns, sets up his own newspaper, having a list as long as your arm of corruption ready to print: all the stories his former employer refused to run. The corrupt baseball series story is followed by revelation of the death of the husband of the woman with whom Dolan has had an ongoing affair. The heat is on.

A subplot sees Dolan’s amateur theatre company taken over by arts bureaucrats who turn it into an establishment company after its initial glowing notices make it too successful. The bureaucrats freeze out the non-paid amateurs.

Affairs and jealousy abound. Shootings and murders puncture the pages.

Then the big one: Dolan stumbles on an organisation of 'crusaders' peopled by leading citizens who take the law into their own hands. He attends their covert meeting (wearing the group's cape supplied by an sympathetic insider police officer). Dolan witnesses members curiously greeting each other with Nazi salutes. He makes notes of identity, writes the story, publishes.

But no happy ending.

After the headline 'Leading Citizens of Town Head Crusaders' hits the streets, Dolan exits his office late at night heading down an alley to the parking station.
... he smelled the odor of orange rinds and coffee grounds. ... for no reason that he could understand he was frightened ... The point of light that was the alley rushed towards him with terrifying speed, red and roaring and utterly unstoppable. ...
That's it. Last sentence of the book:
The the top of his head flew off, and he fell face downwards across the garbage can, trying to get his fingers up to hold his nose.
No Pockets in a Shroud
by Horace McCoy
Penguin Crime 1962

Originally published by Arthur Barker Publishers, 1937.

(1937? The Nazi salutes are the only real signifier of pre-war unrest. Otherwise the plot could have come straight out of the free-love 1960s.)

19.2.19

How to read your way out of a heatwave.

On the long sweltering days of a late summer I like, if I can find the time, to switch on my internal air conditioning by reading something from another time, another place, another climate.

One of my favourite things to read (we could be talking 'genres' if we were a book club, but we are not) is period fiction and I don't mean regency romances but gritty 1960s British thrillers. Eugene George was a pen-name of Paul Chevalier. (They all seemed to have pen-names - nom de plume to you, Mr Book Club Guy.)

George/Chevalier wrote only a few books and is unknown to the extent that you cannot google him, but I Can See You But You Can't See Me is a masterpiece of the sinister British style. (My short review posted at Neglected Books, a godsend for readers now listed in the sidebar.)

I Can See You But You Can't See Me by Eugene George
Hamish Hamilton, London, 1966

7.2.19

Broken pen theories.

Why don't people throw out ballpoint pens that no longer work?

You want to shout at these people. It doesn't work! Throw it out!

I was in an office recently and, of nine ballpoint pens sitting in one of those plastic pen caddies given out by print suppliers or pharmaceutical companies, six didn't work*.

I've been thinking about this and I have several theories why the pens never get thrown out and end up back in the drawer.

Theory 1

A ballpoint pen that has run out of ink doesn't look broken - and people only throw out things that look broken.

Theory 2

They are not sure whether the pen has run out of ink. They think it might be that the paper is waxy. The pen gets the benefit of the doubt.

Theory 3

My most compelling theory: people are lazy and the waste bin is too far away. Straight back in the drawer.

*

There's a thesis in this. Maybe a book.

Where's my pen?

*

*I put them back. It was not my office. It wasn't my job to throw them out. (That introduces another theory: that pens are ownerless, like cats.)

31.1.19

Keyboard warrior defined.

" ... in the next few years he is ... upset at the injustice and hypocrisy that exist in the world: a world in which some men are athletic stars, James Bonds and millionaires and he is not; he is morally appalled. In his dreams he recreates the world, righting all wrongs, eliminating suffering, redistributing wealth ... ending all wars. He becomes a reincarnation of Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ ... Evil governments topple, corrupt churches collapse, laws are revised, and Truth, written in Xeroxed tablets of stone ... presented to the world."
Or on Twitter. Or Facebook. Anyone can take part. The description of the keyboard warrior and his (or her, pedants) delusions of grandeur are well described - in a 1971 novel by George Cockcroft under the pseudonym Luke Rinehart.

*

The Diceman
Luke Rhinehart, Granada, 1971
Kitchen Hand's one-sentence summary: dated parody of psychoanalysis clothed (but often unclothed) in early 1970s post-psychedelic era preoccupations.

*

(The meadow, the pond and the girl named Joanne referred to in the previous post were, of course, from the Mike Nesmith song of that name released in 1970.)

27.1.19

Meadows and ponds go missing in sad, angry music. Haven't heard much about Joanne lately, either.

Newspapers are reporting a study that found music lyrics are not as happy as they used to be.

I could have told you that twelve years ago.

4.1.19

They come out at night ...

They impelled themselves in mad arcs, rather than flew, towards the porch light: airborne armadas of brown hard-backed buzzing creatures about half an inch long. But they did not see the wall and they crashed into it. And then they fell on the floor, upside down, and could not right themselves.

I put around citronella candles. But they were not deterred. Because they are not mosquitoes. They were attracted. One zeroed in on a candle like a kamikaze pilot at a navy ship, and found itself upside down in molten wax, waving clawed tentacles or legs or whatever an entomologist calls them in the air. I picked him out because I felt pity for such utter stupidity. I threw him into the darkness, away from the porch, but the wax probably solidified in the air and he will end up a fossil to be discovered by some future scientist sixty million light years from now. A beetle embalmed in wax!

It was nine o'clock, a warm night with a northerly still blowing straight down from the Queensland outback and straight across New South Wales, riding roughshod across the Great Divide and dumping itself in Melbourne's northern suburbs.

The brown beetles rode in on that northerly, probably from somewhere near Longreach, or Cunnamulla, or Cobar, or Bourke. Or maybe they just surfed down from Craigieburn, catching the last few miles. I don't know. It doesn't matter. They ended up on my porch disturbing my summer evening. One fell in my drink. One clawed my hair with his tentacled legs. I had to pull him out. One got inside the house when I went in to refresh my drink and started dementedly zapping at the walls in the hallway. It was easy to get him outside. They all eventually end up on their backs.

Outside in the warm evening again, I made a strategic withdrawal. I moved my chair off the porch and down to the lower front lawn near the Queen Elizabeth rose waving her pink blooms in the warm air. The new position still caught the porch light for reading, but the bugs were well overhead now.

I read for forty-five minutes, and on the way back into the house, I noticed in the fading light a black stain against the paleness of the side fence. The black stain was a spider with short legs and a fat one-inch body of finest black velvet. Her front legs were busy and she was binding up one of the brown beetles.

It was my dinnertime too.

3.1.19

The fourteenth summer.

They shut the Oak Park pool for a year and renovated it. The low curved cream-brick walls topped with white wrought iron detailing are gone, as are the cascading concrete steps and the multi-coloured 1960s seats, and the general retro atmosphere of the place. Now it's angular blocks and steel and seats made from recycled drinks bottles, and an entrance foyer with a revolving glass cylinder door more typical of an office block. But there are still large swathes of lawn, and some trees for shade, and the elephant is still there; but he is no longer pink and water no longer spurts from his trunk.

42 degrees tomorrow. Hemingway is already in the bag by the front door with the towels and sunscreen. Full circle. There was a time when I could read, when the boys were small and stayed in the toddler pool. Then they grew and needed supervision as they leapt into pools, and dived, and tore around the place. So the books stayed at home and I supervised.

But now they are old enough to look after themselves, so I can lay on the grass and read again.

5.12.18

If this doesn't melt your ice caps nothing will.

The Herald Sun, among other newspapers, reports on an intergalactic collision:
A collision between two massive black holes generated ripples in time and space and formed another black hole, 80 times bigger than the sun, according to a new discovery by Australian and international scientists.
When? Yesterday? It doesn't say. But caution is advised:
In total, four black hole collisions have been detected ... "These were from four different binary black hole systems smashing together and radiating strong gravitational waves out into space," ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering's Professor Susan Scott said.
And I was worried about snakes. But look out, there's more to come:
... a third observational run by LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) next year would add to the identification of 10 black-hole mergers and one neutron star collision.
Just to be on the safe side, I'm digging a bunker in the backyard this weekend.
Meanwhile, check out these black holes at the Town Hall on December 22. Beware! Black Holes sounds like Link Wray meets the Hondells with a bit of Johnny Duncan and His Bluegrass Boys thrown in. Twang!