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


A woman ahead of her time.

My first mother-in-law collected 1970s trash, which is cool today, but she collected it while the 1970s were still going. Now, her house would be a collector's gold mine. It was an old bloated Queen Anne style with bay windows and draughty hallways and return verandahs; plenty of space to fill up with useless knick-knacks.

The living room could have filled a copper mine. Or was it brass? On one wall was a life-size brass rubbing of a medieval knight, taken from some castle in England. Next to that was a massive copper pan hanging by its three-foot wooden handle on a very large hook. You could kill a burglar with it, if you could lift it. One another wall was an imitation knight's shield with an image of an English village pressed into it, showing a church spire, a farmer wheeling a brace of pigs to market, and a curved bridge over a river. It was the kind of thing you'd sit in your chair and look at once, and then wonder why anyone would go to all the trouble. Next to the shield was a pressed brass chicken. These objects were usually fish, for making 1970s-style salmon mousse, but this was a chook. Maybe some people made chicken mousse in the 1970s. That would have gone down well at an Australia Day barbecue after a few hours in the sun. Maybe that's why it was on the wall, never to make mousse again.

By the fireplace was an ornate brass bucket with wooden handles for holding briquettes or firewood, but it only ever held copies of TV Week with Graham Kennedy or Ernie Sigley on the cover. In front of the fire was a giant fireguard that would have stopped a bonfire falling onto the hearth, brass with a bas relief hunting scene. Over the fire, the mantelpiece was congested with brass ornaments, pewter goblets, a tarnished ice bucket and several silver photo frames.

There was so much metal in the place it rattled like a cannery in full production when the wind blew. I stayed overnight a few times and left with tinnitus each time.

But copper was not the only 1970s obsession.

There was macramé. My mother-in-law's kitchen was full of it. Macramé was big for about five minutes in the seventies. That little acute on the last 'e' gave it instant flair and chic. Macraaaaar-may, the suburbanites called it, with a long drawn-out middle syllable, as today they would order a moscaaaaa-to in a wine bar. Macramé was essentially bits of coloured rope tied into intricate, but ridiculous geometric shapes. Of course, the trend didn't last because it was ugly, impractical and useless. It was the stupidest craft craze ever, apart from framing completed jigsaw puzzles. Everyone threw their macramé in the incinerator or gave it to the dog to chew.

My mother-in-law was a secondary school teacher and very busy, so she never got around to throwing her macramé out. Anyway, her children gave them to her, so how could she? Her kitchen looked like the inside of a Greek fisherman's shed. Over the years, her dozens of macramé acted like miniature inert exhaust fans, collecting cooking fat in their thick fibrous strands, and they smelt of a thousand stale fish dinners. They also attracted flies, like flypaper, so they were not completely useless. You picked off the fly, leaving a leg or two stuck in the smelly fish fat-infused threads, and disposed of the rest of it down the insinkerator.

If you walked from the kitchen into the cavernous hallway, and past the rattling copper-filled lounge room, you could visit the bathroom and find more macramé. Here, it was mostly shades of green, to match the Village Apple Soap collection on the bathroom vanity in between the Victorian bath jug that contained two hundred dead moths and dozens of old toilet roll inner cylinders, and the Ali Baba wicker basket that held about fifty fraying burnt orange Dickies towels. The macramé in the bathroom were all spotty with mould, and smelt of stale hair conditioner. One, over the toilet, was festooned with geometric cobwebs that mimicked the craft of macramé in an unintended example of life imitating art. Or art imitating life. I don’t know. One or the other. My head hurts. Home décor was breaking my mind, like the Roy Orbison song.

Last weekend I was leafing idly through one of those newspaper magazines that give readers ideas for decorating: river pebbles on the dining table, clocks the size of Big Ben with numbers in different fonts, retro paperback books stacked for their visual effect and never to be read, tree houses in children's rooms, that kind of thing. You'd feel like you were living in a cross between a London railway station, a Dali painting and a page out of Where the Wild Things Are.

On one page of the magazine something vaguely familiar jumped out at me. Mounted on a wall, it had strands of cord hung on a foot-long wooden crossbar, every second strand interwoven with its next-but-one neighbour, so that they cascaded down in a regular triangular pattern in front of the untied ones, which hung down limply, like a miniature fly-screen door. Macramé, and just as I remembered it!

Someone in the magazine's editorial meeting – "Notice any new trends anyone?" – had thought it was a good idea. Or maybe they were getting desperate.

Macramé is easy to knock up in an hour or so, if you can tie knots.

Or, as the magazine said, you can buy one online. Starting from $139.

Got a dog? You can’t burn things in the backyard any more.

1 comment:

Dr. Alice said...

I cringed and laughed while reading this. Now I really, really want to clean my house.
I haven't done macrame since I was a Girl Scout, and we won't talk about how long ago that was.