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Showing posts from December, 2007

Case solved.

QANTAS couriered my brother's lost case to my mother's house - where he is staying - 24 hours after they lost it. Where was it for 24 hours? Had it remained in the spot the baggage handler mistakenly placed it, surely suspicions should have been raised. In all likelihood it was diverted to a subsequent flight. An implanted GPS chip might have been interesting. Meanwhile, I had packed up some assorted clothes and delivered them to my brother. We are much the same size in clothes and shoes. * On Thursday we packed up a simple picnic, placed the boys in their double stroller (we are occasionally asked if they are twins), strolled to the station and caught an empty train into town, got off at Flinders Street, walked down a sunny St Kilda Road, crossed at Nolan Street, entered the Botanic Gardens at the cactus garden gate and found a spot under the impossibly large canopy of an ancient tree in a spreading lawn overlooking the lake. We ate turkey sandwiches. The boys tottered and rol

A happy Christmas: eccentric behaviour, missed planes, lemon curd sponge and Old English.

They used to be called merely, and possibly kindly, eccentric; but these days, people who display somewhat odd behaviour are apt to be labelled with some medical description, even by people who are not doctors. However, the 'A' word came into even my mind when, on arrival at my mother's house for Christmas lunch, I found ten cellophane packs of patterned paper plates stacked up on the sideboard. Thanks to my late father's career as a sales representative with a catering supplies company, my mother has the world's largest collection of fine crockery. So what was with the paper plates? I don't want anyone washing up on Christmas Day, she explained, which had a certain grim logic to it, but have you ever tried to cut roast pork on a paper plate? Of course, I had wondered, when she returned from Turkey earlier this year with a badly gashed leg which had landed her in an Istanbul hospital for stitches. What happened? I had asked. Oh that , she had said dismissively

The fourth Christmas.

The drive to Gippsland was a whole new experience, as if Pakenham had never existed. The bypass is open at last. Now you don't get thirteen sets of traffic lights, just a view of the town from the south - a sea of red orange roofs and a shopping centre tower rising out of the middle. Once it would have been a church steeple. The tower was painted with a red Coles logo that could have been seen fifty kilometres away if not for the occasional drifts of heavy rain. It rained most of the way and the wind whipped. Clouds hung low and black. The boys dozed in the back seat. Music makes them sleep. A golden oldies station was doing a retrospective of 1972 and it went from a six-minute Argent progressive rock piece with a Hammond organ solo in the middle, to a Rod Stewart hit, to early Eagles, to the late Billy Thorpe, and then Led Zeppelin's signature song. When was that a top 40 hit? I wondered. It wasn't. Stairway to Heaven was an album track never released as a single; but re

The school, Sydney Road and a barbecue idea.

Back in town. It has rained intermittently for two days; yesterday morning heavily enough to stop traffic on Bell Street as I ploughed west and onto the freeway. I circled Essendon Airport and pulled off at the next exit. By the time I pointed the car down the long, sloping, winding driveway to the school, the rain had passed. Schools on the edge of holidays always have that same tired atmosphere. The year's work of pictures, drawings and posters stuck to classroom windows were already yellowing and curling and odd items of left-behind clothing hung on hooks or on the backs of chairs. The students had finished earlier in the week, and the few remaining teaching staff wandered here and there, tying up loose ends and looking forward to lunch. Then they were gone and I spent a lonely day in the staff room working on the book. There's something kind of melancholy about an empty school. At least you don't get interrupted. I locked the place up at four o'clock. It echoed. *


Sometimes you forget to look at the scenery. I was driving south on the Nepean Highway out of Mt Eliza and behind Mt Martha towards Safety Beach. The road bears inland for a short way and then dips down and curves around in a wide arc, so that the view opens up like a curtain in a theatre. And you see the water. Endless blue stretched away towards the southern peninsula. In the haze, a ship trudged up the horizon towards the city. Here the road turns back towards the bay along a ridge parallel with Martha Cove. This was the old way into Safety Beach and Dromana, before the freeway came; and houses hung on the cliff on both sides of the road enjoying the unchanging view. Now some of the older houses on the lower side are gone, bulldozed for the new development. A few cling on, like elderly aunts who refuse to go into the nursing home. Two years ago, Martha Cove was just a long scar in the earth of an undeveloped section of the peninsula. Last year it heaved with excavators, and earthmov

Eleven days to Christmas.

It was hot and humid well into the evening. The sun hadn't broken through the haze all day. Late in the morning I had had to drive to East Kew, commonly referred to as Far Kew, because it stretches almost to North Balwyn; and the roads were choked with traffic, the kind of traffic that doesn't know quite where it's going, like Christmas shoppers torn between Chadstone and the City and ending up at Northcote Plaza. Something should be done about Christmas. Three million people (or is Melbourne four millions now?) swelter in traffic jams on their way to marathon shopping trips at plazas the size of suburbs and emerge hours if not days later laden with iPods and DVD players and home theatre systems and other necessities of life for anyone older than six; and then when the day arrives they sit down at midday in forty degree heat (but that's OK, the air conditioner's on; just don't tell anyone we voted for the Green Party) to a table of roasted turkey, glazed ham, ro

Christmas party.

I have an invitation to a Christmas party, the theme for which is 'Las Vegas'. Why? I've got no idea, but I do know I can't stand parties with themes. They get in the way of the conversation, like loud music. I went to a party once that had a Hollywood theme. You had to go as a movie. Fortuitously, my next-door-neighbour at the time, an actor with Polyglot Theatre, had a full size shark suit in her shed, and I went as Jaws. No-one knew who I was and I didn't get a thing to eat. Yes, I know Las Vegas is a city in the United States and I think of gambling and Wayne Newton and flashy buildings. But do I go dressed as the punter or the floor show? Or one of the buildings?

Once upon a time.

I should never have started it. I volunteered. Why? Because I didn't want someone else to make a hash of it. And now I am in the middle of it, lost and adrift and wishing to be shipwrecked on the shores of a wild inhospitable island where who-knows-what lives; a fate at least less harrowing than washing about on the waves just waiting to drown. At least there might be coconuts on the island. And fresh water when it rains. And a tree for shelter. And maybe a Girl Friday with wild hair and wild eyes and a gently swaying walk ... I woke up. It was three in the morning; exactly the time - for every writer who ever lived - when the book seems further away and less likely than at any other time of day or night. With a far closer deadline. In fact, the book is impossible at three o'clock in the morning. By seven a.m. the book's chances have improved and the deadline seems to have loosened a little. Must be the sunshine, warm and caring and nurturing and strength-giving. I should c

Pasta for a hot night.

The taste of summer is salt and brine and the faint indistinct tang of the sea coming in from a hidden bay, way down off the cliffs, or the gently roaring ocean somewhere beyond, over the other side of the peninsula. It seems like a stretch, but you can taste that in a bowl of pasta on a hot night when the sun has almost gone except for a last tinge of gold in the tops of the trees. Spaghetti with vongole. Cook a scored clove of garlic in a little oil, add a dash of white wine, two cups of diced tomatoes, some torn basil and salt and pepper. When simmering nicely, add 500g of clams. Most clams from the market are grit-free, but if not, first soak in a bucket of water for at least half an hour. They will expel the grit. They must know. Cook for a minute or two until the clams open up. Toss out any unopened ones. Cook 250g of pasta. I use my favourite bavette - or linguine - and when cooked to your liking, drain and combine with the sauce. More torn basil over the top (right now, ours is

First day of summer. Let's make a curry.

The product ranges at the two major supermarket chains, Safeway and Coles, continue to dwindle in favour of their own house brands of doubtful provenance; in fact of unknown provenance as far as the consumer is concerned. The smaller IGA chain of independents allows its member stores to stock product according to local need, something Safeway and Coles can't or won't do. IGA deserves support. A huge number of small businesses have been cut out of representation on Coles and Safeway shelves across Australia by the two majors, in favour of cheap imports. If that's globalisation, I'm not buying. Give me quality and the hell with China. Example: Margaret Rowland Authentic Indian has been manufacturing genuine high quality curry products for more than forty years; but, as far as I am aware, has never been stocked by Safeway and Coles. Margaret Rowland probably can't manufacture in sufficient quantities for their vast supply chains. All the more reason to support Margare