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

25.2.09

Summer draws to a close.

Early summer evening after a hot day last week. I looked out the kitchen window at a parched lawn and beyond that, the old green shed that leans and the rose climbing over it and behind that a line of heat-singed twelve-foot lilly pillies along the back fence.

In the middle of the the lawn was a garden table and around the table were William and Thomas and their much older sister and their sister's friend and Tracy. On the table was a setting for dinner, several glasses of wine, a large salad bowl, an assortment of childrens' books and two plastic wind-up steam engines called Percy and Gordon.

I had an old Essteele pan on the left front burner of the stove. I always used to buy Essteele until the lid handle surrounds started cracking and falling off after they moved production off-shore and the company's new advertising line became Proudly designed in Italy. But made somewhere else.

In the pan was olive oil, six or seven very finely chopped garlic cloves and a couple of dozen roughly pounded black peppercorns. I tipped chardonnay from a Dan Murphy cleanskin - about a third of the bottle - and it hissed and bubbled and settled down to boil. When it did, I threw in forty banana prawns - raw, peeled, tails on - and watched them as they went from bluish opaque to white. As they cooked, I tossed in half a jar of cream and shook the pan to blend cream with fluid.

On the back burner, the rice (Thai basmati, the kind with extra large, fragrant grains) had just got to the point at which, when you lift the lid of the pot, evenly-spaced depressions gently puffing steam appear in its surface. Perfectly cooked.

The prawns took no more than a couple of minutes and I quickly lifted them out of the pan, turned up the heat, reduced the cream and white wine, threw in some chopped parsley and spring onions and poured the garlicky reduction over the prawns, divided on four hills of rice in wide serving bowls.

Is this my favourite summer dish? It must be close.

The salad: one can each chick peas and lentils. One jar, drained, artichokes. Half cup of peas. One jar marinated small onions. Grilled red capsicum strips. Grilled eggplant strips. Combine all ingredients. Top with quarters of boiled egg.

*

We sat under the spreading grapefruit tree and ate garlic prawns and the much older sister's friend spoke in a way that was unusual in the sense that when you lose two houses in one family, you adopt a kind of distracted tone typical of someone who has lost everything. But instead, I noticed something that might have been a sense of disbelief mixed with some subconscious recognition of a force that is not supernatural but which nevertheless doles out fortune randomly. Two houses gone and no-one hurt.

*

She talked about not wanting to open a newspaper for a week because familiar faces jumped out. One would prefer to have news of loss from family and friends. One day, perhaps in the depths of winter when national days of mourning are long past, some of these people will crash headlong into a final, grim comprehension that their lives have changed forever; for some, their past all but erased. Meanwhile, many cannot even touch the remains of their houses to look for, I don't know, trinkets that escaped the flames?

... Mr Walshe again took the opportunity to remind the community that the Coroner last Friday restricted access to six fire affected areas, under Section 40 of the Coroners Act. ... areas covered under Section 40 include Callignee, Churchill and Hazelwood, Murrindindi Mill, Marysville, Narbethong, Mudgegonga, Redesdale, Maiden Gully, Bendigo and Wandong, Kilmore, Humevale, Kinglake and Taggerty. The notices give police the power to restrict access to these areas so they can conduct further searches and locate any human remains.

The notices do not prevent residents from returning to their local area but they do prevent owners from starting any clean up and removing any rubble or items from their destroyed homes until such time that police and the Coroner are satisfied that the area has been thoroughly searched and all human remains have been located.

Deputy Commissioner Walshe said that whilst police understood that many in the community were keen to begin rebuilding their lives, this process was vital to ensure closure for as many families as possible.

20.2.09

Lunch on Swan.

It was lunchtime. I sat in the window of a Swan Street cafe with a chicken and salad sandwich on Schwob's multigrain and looked out at the grime. Of Richmond's three main east-west streets, Swan Street has changed least in twenty-five years.

There are new shops and too-expensive cafes in which to waste your money, of course. In fact, only two retail tenants remain from twenty-five years ago when I first frequented this street; and they are next to each other - Bertie the butcher and the Commonwealth Bank, except the bank was the State Bank in those days. But Swan Street has the same down-at-heel atmosphere it had when I used to stroll up here from Church Street for lunch in 1983.

That's not to say it has no charm. The Dimmey's building is still interesting, even though it looks like it hasn't been cleaned since Richmond football club last won a premiership. In the early 1980s there was another department store - Ball's - at the other end of the street, on the corner of Church. Ball's had those flying-fox money cylinders that shot across the ceiling on wires, like a kind of retail circus. Then Ball's closed and Dimmey's got lazy in the knowledge that it no longer had any competition for its $2 singlets, teamless football socks and 150 thread-count sheet sets and didn't even have to try to look nice any more.

I flicked through a copy of The Age ("Property of This Cafe Do Not Remove") and read an ad placed by a government department warning people of the dangers of returning to their burnt-out homes. One of the dangers was ash, and you were supposed not to raise dust. Good luck with that in 400,00 hectares of devastation. The ad cautioned residents of homes that aren't there any more to avoid taking children back to burnt-out properties where possible. Sure, just drop them off at the daycare centre on top of the mountain. One paragraph commenced with the following claim: "Bushfires generate large amounts of smoke and ash ...". Who writes this stuff?

I turned the page, finished my sandwich and went back to work.

17.2.09

One Wednesday night.

It was twenty-six years ago yesterday: February 16, 1983. Ash Wednesday.

I was at home in the evening with my children - William and Thomas’s much older brother and sister - at the small Carlton terrace house in which we lived from 1979 to 1985. Much older brother was six; sister had turned three three days earlier. They were in bed, asleep. Their mother was at a concert at Hamer Hall or the State Theatre or whatever it was called in 1983.

I sat in my favourite chair with its polished timber arms and green brocade and wondered how to spend my evening. A cold beer sat, just opened, on the arm of the chair. The beer was Abbott’s Lager. Why do I remember that? Because they had just changed the can design from its traditional white to yellow and I didn’t like it. Why change a beer can design? You can't drink the design. The things you remember.

I gazed out the small high window of the tiny lounge room towards the south-west at an angry sky.

The day had been hot, well into the forties, with a raging northerly that had turned, fatally, late in the day. A week or so earlier, the biggest dust storm Melbourne had ever seen crossed the state, rolled around Port Phillip Bay and came back at the city on a rogue wind, turning it black at three in the afternoon. Ash from earlier fires had been falling in suburban backyards all week. You don't often get to sweep up half-burnt gum leaves from a tree in Mildura when you're in Melbourne.

When the winds changed that afternoon, the fire fronts changed with them and barrelled towards towns and roads and houses and people. I switched on the television and watched the Dandenongs and the Otways and the Adelaide Hills burn.

My wife arrived home around eleven and told me the concert had been cut short because smoke was filling the theatre through the air conditioning vents, and what was happening? Are you sure you were at the right show, I started to joke. It wasn’t a time to joke. Two states were on fire.

*

In Adelaide, radio journalist Murray Nicoll went to air almost live – in both senses – as his house burned down. Twenty years after the fires - in 2003 - Nicoll was interviewed on ABC television about the 1983 fire and how it changed his life.

MURRAY NICOLL (RECALLS IN 2003): I ran down the road to my place, and of course it was burning. ... All the houses around were burning. We saved a couple of houses, but I think 30 went up that day, and five people died right where I was.

NICOLL (BROADCASTING IN 1983): We are in deep trouble. We can't see any houses. Greenhill Road is just wiped out. There are a dozen people here with me - we can hardly breathe. Things are white with heat and smoke. There are women crying, and there are children here.

And we are in trouble. There are people crying, and this is just too much. And I really can't believe it is happening. At the moment, I'm watching my house burn down. It's in flames, and there's nothing I can do about it - absolutely nothing.


NICOLL (RECALLS IN 2003): In fact, I was quite certain we were going to die, so I started broadcasting through to the newsroom, live on the air, at 5DN, because I thought if we're going to die, people have got to know about it, because nobody knew what was going on up here at the time, did they ... I said, "Put us to air, put us to air! ... Put us to air now! We are dying up here!"

Nicoll survived, won a journalism award and rebuilt, with a new attitude.

MURRAY NICOLL (IN 2003) ... something changes in you when you lose everything. Material possessions don't seem to mean so much any more. Like, there's no point in buying antique furniture. What is it? Just old stuff. It costs a lot of money. There's no point in trying to replace all the books that you lost. You get other ones, you get new ones.

You just lose that sense that a lot of people have that their home is their showpiece. It's not a showpiece, really, it's a roof, and it's got to operate efficiently, and it's got to be comfortable, and it's got to be fireproof. Apart from that, it's just a house.

... You hear the same things said now, twenty years down the track, that were being said the week after Ash Wednesday. How houses must be better designed. Well, of course they must be better designed.

But we just don't do it, we're lazy, and we haven't had those heavy northerlies this summer, thank God, but if we had had a northerly, and the fire had started, you'd see the same thing. Exactly the same thing.

*

Exactly the same thing:

"Years of severe drought and extreme weather combined to create one of Australia’s worst fire days in a century. ... Many fatalities were as a result of firestorm conditions caused by a sudden and violent wind change in the evening which rapidly changed the direction and size of the fire front. .... The speed and ferocity of the flames, aided by abundant fuels and a landscape immersed in smoke, made fire suppression and containment impossible. ... In many cases, residents fended for themselves as fires broke communications, cut off escape routes and severed electricity and water supplies."

From the Wikipedia description of the Ash Wednesday 1983 bushfires in Victoria and South Australia.

*

Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

13.2.09

The red eye.

And so, back to Richmond again after a break of almost three years. William was not a year old then but it feels like yesterday.

This morning I got off the train at East Richmond and crossed under the tracks via a dirty, graffitied subway to a narrow street of tiny, terraced Victorian cottages. Once, factory workers lived in them but now they have paper blinds in the windows, yuccas in the front gardens and silver BMWs out the front.

Down the street, the houses give way to small industry. A growling roar came out of an auto repair shop where an engine was being wound up on a test bed. Farther along, a circular saw in a cabinetmaker’s warehouse screamed as it bit wood. Across the road a refrigerated van reversed, beeping, into a seafood wholesaler's.

Towering over all of this like a fortress is the old Bryant and May match works. Factories like this once spewed smoke day and night over the suburb, known then by some as Struggletown.

There was haze over Richmond again today as I walked through it, but not from any factory. A capricious breeze had finally ushered smoke over the city, days after the fires. The sun rose this morning and hit the haze and at 6.30 it was a giant limpid-red ball, like a wet eye that has cried too much and doesn’t know why.

*

My sister has lost one of her best friends, who died from severe burns and grief. The friend's husband didn’t make it out of the fires on Saturday.

*

The helicopters flew across last night as usual. There were three, flying in formation. One of the pilots talks about the fires here.

*

Germaine Greer is the loud aunt in the corner. No-one really likes the loud aunt but they never care and they never shut up. They're the kind of woman whose voice can be heard at the back door, down the driveway, at the front gate and as she is driven away in the taxi.

On Monday in the Times of London Greer dragged the fire debate out of its green ‘noble savage garden’ comfort zone of the last thirty or forty years, and took it kicking and screaming back through the 1939 and 1926 fires, past Captain Cook almost to the beginnings of time 60 millennia ago.

Last night she was back in the corner again causing awkward, if not shocked, silences.

She said the failure (to) accept that fire is an intrinsic feature of eucalypt bushland would ensure that tragedy will occur and re-occur. "It can't be prevented but it can be managed ... until there is a fundamental change of policy across all levels of government in Australia, there will be more and worse fires and more deaths," she said.

"I was born in 1939 and Melbourne was under black clouds of smoke with cinders sifting down everywhere and we were already there on Black Friday," she said.

Well said, loud aunt. She may not be well-liked but people sure as hell listen to her. (My mother was 10 – almost 11 – on that January Friday. She remembers the horror. And there were vastly fewer people in Victoria back then.)

*

Food? Is that what this blog is about? We’ll get back to food in due course.

11.2.09

Animals, etc.

Everyone in the whole world has seen that koala picture so it was probably unnecessary to post a link to it yesterday. What everyone might not have seen was the CFA officer's report of how the koala not only drank three entire bottles of water as he held them to its mouth - they usually drink very little at all - but it also reached out with its front paw and grasped the CFA officer by the hand. The koala took the officer's hand.

*

More animal stories:

A woman was being winched by a police helicopter to safety from the flames. She was holding her dog. She dropped the dog. She then jumped to the ground from the moving helicopter winch to retrieve her dog. A police ground patrol picked her up in a police car and the helicopter radioed the car to safety.

A horse followed a man into a dam to escape the flames. Both survived. "He follows me everywhere," said the man, straightfaced.

Tragic: an aged couple's car was found packed and ready to go with the keys in the ignition and the dog on the back seat. Their way was barred by a tree crashing over the driveway. They returned to the house, leaving the car door open. When firefighters found the house next morning - razed - the dog was still waiting patiently in the car for two old people who would never come.

A woman, unable to locate her three dogs when evacuating, presumed them dead and visited a vet to register their loss, to be greeted by two of the dogs bandaged but fine. The third was in a shelter.

*

Amazing rescue story. Two firefighters saved nineteen people - including seven toddlers and babies - who were camping in dense bushland directly in the line of the fires:

Firefighter Brad Sexton tried to cut his way into the scenic reserve -- which was destroyed by the start of the fire that later razed Marysville -- with a bulldozer to rescue the group.

The firefighters herded the families, all campers from Melbourne, into the shallow water, parked their truck to protect them and then drove cars into the water.

They bundled the toddlers and babies, as young as six months, inside before covering them with a fire blanket and hoses.

One firefighter later learned his own house had burned down.

*

Down here in the safety of the concrete jungle that is the inner city, I haven't seen even a wisp of smoke (unlike Ash Wednesday in 1983 when ash rained on the city for a week and a dust storm turned day to night). But every night this past week or so at about eight o'clock in the evening, a shuddering noise rolls over my house and I step outside to see a red mechanical monster approaching in the sky from the east, its rotor circling idly above and a hose dangling below like a teenager's untied shoelace. It is the water helicopter returning from a day of dousing fires.

10.2.09

In one of the quickest decisions it has ever made, the State government has announced a royal commission into the fires; ahead of strident calls that were very obviously coming. The government will not want to look like it is dragging its heels. It will be looking for answers. Some it may not like.

*

Things are different now. There are vastly more people in what is virtual suburbia in the bush. Kinglake is almost an outer suburb; 3000 people living in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, already dry and subject to roaring north-westerlies that sweep the continent. It was vulnerable. And eucalypts don't burn slowly; they explode. As do gas bottles. It's like having grenades lining your driveway and a bomb in your house.

*

You need fire breaks and wide road verges. I've driven through parts of New South Wales where road verges are cleared to a length equivalent to or greater than the height of the roadside trees. Those trees that fell on roads on Saturday night and Sunday morning were the gates of hell slamming shut on humanity. People were locked in and nature threw away the keys.

Having said that, it is perfectly understandable that some wish to live in pristine bushland. It is their right. Other answers may be needed. I don't know. Compulsory bomb shelter-like bunkers?

*

Over at the ABC they're already blaming global warming. Fine. Go ahead and blame global warming. However, one degree less than 46 wasn't going to stop that firestorm. But if we've got global warming we need counteracting infrastructure to protect life in the new and changed circumstances: and now. You can't have it both ways. The place is an unlit incinerator but they won't build dams or allow clearing. This same State government has previously banned the collection of firewood in some areas - i.e., dead wood on the ground cannot be picked up - and outlawed farmers from removing dead trunks without a permit. Insane.

*

I drove through Kinglake with Tracy and the boys late last month, reaching it via that incredible route up through St Andrews. The road winds and snakes back on itself, taking corners you would have thought impossible and just about throwing you into the scenery if you're not careful. Speed is limited at a couple of points to 15 km/h. You pass the boles of giant trees on your right and the tops of others on your left. It's like taking a plane ride without leaving the ground. It came to me again when I thought of people trying to outrun the firestorm raging across at 100 km/h and more. No wonder there are still so many missing, including at least one entire family.

*

Stories emerge. Some terrible; some inspiring. A 12 year-old boy took up his dog and his playstation and drove his father's four wheel drive to safety. Gary Hughes of The Australian should be dead but isn't. A darker story from one small town reports that it was left without firefighter assistance when the town's units went to fight fires elsewhere; when the flames moved in, the last remaining emergency services worker - the town's policeman - warned everyone to get out ... and then fled. Is that how it works?

*

Last month the SES and CFA were collecting money at street corners. They are volunteer organisations. This is the one of the most firestorm-prone areas on Earth and we don't have a paid force?

*

Finally, take a look at this picture of a volunteer fireman offering a drink to a firestorm survivor.

8.2.09

The wind was always going to come and it came in the middle of the afternoon blowing fifty degrees of furnace in front of it and it headed towards the eucalypt-covered mountain and the mountain exploded.

The news coming down from the mountain is dreadful. There are plenty of ways out of the mountain but only one - the road to Whittlesea - that gives you up to four lanes of firebreak and even that isn't enough. There are reports some fleeing were turned back - up the mountain - before it exploded, because the fire at that earlier stage may have been thought to be threatening an area further down. This is unconfirmed but chilling in its implication.

The media are already calling this Black Saturday but to hell with the media and their glib labels. A politician muscled his way on-air mid-afternoon with a self-important message that was about as useful at that particular juncture as an ad for Frank Walker's National Tiles.

The family of the partner of William and Thomas's much older sister lives in Kinglake and surrounding areas. A sister and a brother lost their houses but they and their young children were unharmed; their parents' house was saved. They reported seeing cars burnt out along roads leading out of the area. These roads are only just this afternoon being entered and reopened by police and emergency workers. They are finding horrors beyond anyone's imagination.

There is an utterly chilling photograph at theaustralian.com showing four burnt cars jammed together on the edge of a road under a giant blackened gum tree, melded like creatures clasping each other for comfort in terror. They had obviously collided in the black horror that engulfed the mountain before it went up in flames; the black horror was smoke blacker than any night, removing any hope of vision for the occupants. This would have been accompanied by a deafening roar that would have destroyed any possibility of hearing another vehicle - even colliding. The drivers would have been driving deaf and blind and probably panic-stricken through a winding hell that led to nowhere.

Unimaginable. God rest their souls. The extent of this disaster may be apparent tomorrow. Fires are still burning.

6.2.09

Muffin break.

I don't bake, Tracy bakes.

Tracy doesn't measure when she bakes. She just throws everything into a bowl and tosses it around and throws it into a baking dish and a short while later you are eating perfect cake, shortbread, scones, you name it.

On a cooler day this week, in between heatwave conditions, she turned out probably the best batch of muffins she has ever made, which is saying something because they are always good.

But since Tracy doesn't measure, it was difficult to extract this recipe from her.

- How much oil?

- A small to medium amount.

- What's a small to medium amount?


Orange and chocolate marble muffins.

Process a whole orange, skin and all. Combine with 2 cups self-raising flour, a quarter cup of vegetable oil, one egg, one-third cup of sugar, 10 prunes (make sure they are seedless) and enough milk to produce a batter that is ...

- How wet should the batter be?

- Not too wet. Just enough to ooze slowly.

- Like what? Molten lava?

- No, not molten lava; in between cake batter and scone batter.


We were getting closer. Enough milk to produce a batter that is wetter than scone batter but drier than cake batter.

- Just don't overwork it, she said. That's the biggest mistake people make. The bead turns out too fine, like cake. It needs to be coarse, with a crunchy top.

Fine. Don't overwork the batter. Just a few turns to combine everything roughly. Now halve the mixture and add, to one half, some cocoa powder ...

- About two tablespoonfuls.

- About?

- Well exactly two tablespoonfuls then. Whatever. And add some more milk to return it to the right consistency.


OK. Now we have our finished batters. Add them progressively to a lightly-oiled muffin tin so that they 'marble' together. Tracy uses the large Texas size tin.

- How long in the oven?

- Depends how hot the oven is.

- How hot was the oven?

- 350. But that's not what I meant. Ovens vary. Some are hotter than others.

- Then why do they have temperature dials if they're all different? Is everyone just guessing?

- Yes.


We went on inanely like that for 20 minutes, and then an aroma of citrus mixed with melting chocolate filled the kitchen and Tracy opened the oven and pulled out a tray of nut brown hills with crunchy but yielding tops that bore cracks breaking open to reveal paler, oranger insides flecked with deeper orange. She wrapped the whole thing in a tea towel for a few minutes and then upended the tin and the steaming hot muffins fell out and landed upright. How does she do that?

3.2.09

The Iceberg Cometh: a tribute to the lettuce.

When I was a child in the 1960s and it was summer, there was always an iceberg lettuce in a large bowl on the table at meal times. The bowl was a single piece of carved, highly polished blond wood with a convex side curving into a sharp upper rim, like an oversized wrist bangle.

The lettuce was sometimes joined in the bowl by radishes grown by my father in the fenced-off vegetable patch at the end of the garden where the chicken coop used to be. At the table, we picked at the lettuce like rabbits; before, during or after dinner. Crunch, crunch. We must have eaten a million iceberg lettuces over the years.

Iceberg lettuce is so ubiquitous it is the subject of some derision; but while cos, radicchio and the other varieties have their uses they cannot touch the iceberg for all-round hot weather brilliance.

25 things to do with iceberg lettuce.

The iceberg lettuce in sandwiches.
Cheese and lettuce.
Egg and lettuce.
Cold roast chicken and lettuce.
BLT.
Lettuce and rare roast beef with grain mustard and watercress (or alfalfa).
Lettuce, sliced chicken breast and mayonnaise.
Lettuce and smoked trout on pumpernickel.
Lettuce, cold cooked prawns or crab, sliced red onion and tartare rolled up in flat bread.
Lettuce, avocado, sliced tomato and colby cheese.
Shredded lettuce, ham off the bone, sliced swiss cheese and spring onion.
Lettuce, sliced cold roast lamb, mint jelly.
Corned beef, egg and lettuce.
And the classic on-the-road country salad sandwich: Lettuce, beetroot, tomato, grated carrot, onion, cheese. Add pineapple when you cross the Queensland border.

The iceberg lettuce in salads.
Italian: Torn lettuce, sliced tomato, onion rings, black olives, olive oil and vinegar.
Lebanese: Torn lettuce, tomato segments, cucumber, pickled turnips, chopped onion, green olives, mint, olive oil, shake of zataar or sumac.
Pellegrini: Chopped celery, white beans, diced tomatoes, chopped onion, chopped parsley on a bed of lettuce leaves.
Greek country: Torn lettuce, capsicum, cucumber, fetta, black olives, oregano, oil.
Retro 1: Carrots, red capsicum and green beans julienned and blanched; topped with a mixture of grated coconut, grated onion, cayenne pepper, salt and lemon juice and served in chilled lettuce cups.
Retro 2: Cold leftover kedgeree in chilled lettuce cups.

The iceberg lettuce Asian-style.
Marinated cooked beef strips with rice noodles, basil and mint tightly wrapped in a lettuce leaf and dipped in nuoc cham, a delicious whisk-up of sugar, water, fish sauce, lime or lemon juice, minced garlic, chilies and spring onion.
Variation: Strips of carrot and cucumber with prawn meat wrapped in lettuce.

Minced pork and vegetables with a variety of sauces served in a lettuce cup; generally known as san choi bao. (Recipes all over the net.)

Two-inch cubes of well-packed iceberg tossed in a very hot wok with peanut oil, garlic, ginger; splashed with soy and sesame oil; sprinkled with salt and sugar and quickly served as a side dish to marinated rare beef.

The iceberg lettuce French-style.
New season baby peas cooked in a little stock with chopped spring onions, mint and finely shredded lettuce. Thicken slightly with a little roux and/or cream.

*

Or do what my mother did most of the time: just sit it in a blond wood bowl on the table and let them tear it up. Crunch!

What do you do with lettuce?

1.2.09

The wind in the ti-tree.

Behind the strip of sand that leads down to the seashore is a stand of straggly ti-tree that arches over a sandy walkway parallel to the beach and edged with the kind of tough stringy grass that grows by the sea. I walked across an almost melting Point Nepean Road and crossed into the shade where an old couple sat on deckchairs behind the ti-tree, facing the water. The man turned to me as I passed. "It's better than air-conditioning!" he said, almost gleefully.

He was right. The oven-blast northerly had cooled on its way across the bay; and even though the temperature was nudging forty degrees behind us where the sun smacked the white-brick shop walls, here in the shade of the ti-tree the breeze was cool. That was Friday morning.

*

We had attempted to escape town late on Wednesday night via a scorching freeway in the newest member of the Kitchen Hand Volvo fleet, a 15-year-old 940. It stopped dead at the Forster Road exit. I called the RACV. Half an hour later Tracy and the boys were heading back to town in a cab. I waited with the car for a tow truck while intermittently trying the ignition; twenty minutes later it fired up. Do I wait or do I take a risk and go? I went. It failed to make it home by a mere 1.2 kilometres, giving up in exactly the same time as on its outward journey. To me, that says engine management system or engine computer or whatever the hell they call it. The engine hadn't overheated but the computer thought it had.

Home again, it was 10 p.m. now. We opened up the house again and threw up windows and tried to encourage some cooler thirty-five degree air to come in and push out the really hot stuff inside the house. It kind of worked and kind of didn't. The boys fell asleep thinking this was what you did in a heatwave; shut up the house and ride around on freeways and catch cabs home and open up the house again.

Next morning - Thursday - we tried again, using an older member of the fleet, one without an engine mismanagement system. It got us to the peninsula just fine and without complaining. Thank you, old Volvo. We spent most of the day in the shallows and came home late with excellent grilled barramundi with tartare and lemon and chips from the Blairgowrie fish shop. We ate outside. Cicadas ticked in the trees. The heat didn't go away.

Friday morning dawned with a sky as red and angry as I've seen. We took refuge in an air-conditioned cinema in the afternoon. Something about dogs taking over an old hotel. Once you've owned dogs, you can't beat a dog movie for pure escapism. If you've never owned dogs, you'd probably be bored.

Saturday was cooler than expected and we returned home today to walk around a parched garden and see what was left.