And now it was another day and I was on a beach and the sky was blue and it was neither hot nor cold and there was nothing to look forward to except fresh mussels in wine tonight; and tomorrow, which would be the same.
I had nothing to do and nothing to remember and nothing in my head except the book I was reading, an old Hemingway that had sat unread and yellowing on my bookshelf for years, next to a brown hardback Brunnings Australian Gardener from 1958. So it was time I read it. It had a 1980s Arrow Classic red cover design that had dated badly and typography that made it look wrong, like a light romance by Edgar Allen Poe.
Like all good writers, Hemingway does great geography and he’s in a car lurching across a dusty border into Spain with low dry mountains and villages in the distance and later there will be bulls and wine and treachery and heat and death.
I read for a time while William and Thomas moved sand at my feet with small plastic vehicles and soon we arrived in one of the Spanish villages and got out of the car and went into a dim bar and then I fell asleep. That was fine. Tracy was by my side to watch the boys. She was reading as well: James Hadley Chase. We seem to be catching up on our twentieth century light reading and ten per cent. of the next one has already passed. The novel fell out my hand and I dreamed that aliens had landed on the beach and they saw people doing nothing except read long novels and wonder what to have for dinner, and children shouting and splashing, and yellow sand stretching to two horizons; and after a while one alien asked the other if he wants to return to their cold dark rock six million light years away, and the other replied "No, of course not. Are you crazy?" and so they stayed and lived happily ever after, eating mussels in wine.
Evening. The last day of 2009. I showered a dozen North Queensland wild prawns with finely chopped garlic and squirted them with lime juice and a shot of chili sauce and threw them over the coals for exactly thirty-five seconds each side.
I had marinated some fresh calamari for an hour or two in lemon juice and a few sprigs of oregano and a dash of pepper and then I dusted them in flour just before I placed them on the grill and they turned opaque and slightly crisp within a minute and I whipped them off and onto plates and more lemon juice on top.
Then there was ocean trout in foil: lime juice again with thinly sliced rounds of onion and ten minutes over the fire was probably a little too long.
Earlier I had made a peanut and chili dipping sauce, the kind known in some places as sate but every region has its variation. In a pot, I heated about ¾ cup peanut butter, two tablespoons tamari, four of hot chili sauce, a good squeeze of harissa paste, two squeezes of lime juice and two tablespoons of white vinegar. I slowly added enough water, mixing it through, to give the finished product an ideal dipping consistency; somewhere between motor oil before you start the engine on a cold day, and warm honey. The amounts and ratios of these ingredients can alter according to your taste. I like it spicy so I usually use more chili paste and sometimes a raw chopped chili. The sauce was to go with the prawns and fish, but it is very good with blanched vegetables such as zucchini, florets of broccoli etc. Or try it with sweet potato: split a sweet potato down the middle, bake it and top it generously with peanut sauce and sour cream and a squirt of lime juice and a shower of coriander. You’ll think you’re halfway between the West Indies and Thailand. (That would put you on a shore in Honolulu; or, if you went in the opposite direction, in the southern Sahara in the north of Chad. The sauce would taste exactly the same in either case but you’d probably enjoy it slightly more on the Pacific sand.)
Nine o’clock New Year’s eve. Dinner on the front verandah. Crackling thunder in the distance. Blue black clouds low enough to touch. Cold white wine in glasses the size of halved footballs. Why do wine glasses keep getting bigger? They take up half the table. It’s one of those fads, like dinner plates as big as truck wheels in the late 1990s.
Crunch. The prawn tasted of sea and lime with a far-off chili warmth. Then bang. Out went the lights, and at the same time the clouds opened like a tap. It rained tropically, with no wind and the air still hot. I lit candles and they guttered and we ate the prawns and rice and hot peanut sauce and later the lights came on again, which was a shame because I like candles, especially when they gutter. They remind me of a draughty Rathdowne Street French café I used to eat at in the late 1970s. It was called Bullfrog.
Early New Year’s Day was like that first morning in The Day of the Triffids. Deathly quiet. Hours went by. Nothing. Then, from not far away, perhaps next door where they had been singing Morningtown Ride at 2 a.m., came the first inkling of human life reawakened. It was that unmistakable, enchanting aroma of bacon and eggs cooking, with back notes of buttered toast and a mesmerising hint of coffee. Brewed.
Happy New Year. And Decade.