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Showing posts from December, 2009

Kookaburra Christmas.

Each year, someone volunteers to host Christmas and this year it was Tracy’s only sister. House in mid-renovation, two teenage children coming and going between her house and her ex-husband’s, two dogs in the back yard and a crowd of thirty to feed. Brave. So off to the mountains mid-morning, before the heavy Christmas day traffic got started. We pulled up to the house on the high side of a valley that is not quite Selby and not quite somewhere else and there was my mother-in-law sweeping the drive, a Sisyphean task in the Dandenongs where it rains eucalypt bark. A kookaburra also welcomed us, sitting on the telephone wire that crosses the unmade road from one side of the valley to the other. He didn’t laugh but had his beak apart as if smiling widely. He was fat and jolly like Father Christmas. He hung around most of the day, perching himself on various trees, stumps and fences. Lunch cranked into action around 2 p.m., in an informal buffet style so you could move around in betwee

From the Chiloé Archipelago to the world.

The potato is the workhorse of the vegetable family. Never really fashionable, let alone faddish, the potato remains eternally popular thanks to its endless applications, of which the following two have graced our table in the past week. Buttered potato chips. I do this for the boys, who adore potato chips. It’s a cross between a hot potato salad and traditional potato chips and it’s dead easy. Slice several potatoes into chip size; two inches long with centimetre sides, if we can mix imperial and metric. Boil until not soft, but getting there. Drain. Toss in a little butter, salt and a little pepper; place on a baking tray. Bake until almost crisp, scattering the pile over once or twice. Tip the whole mess into a large bowl, add more butter if desired. I served these at our barbecue* the other night, omitting the oven stage. I placed them in a heavy cast iron frypan after parboiling instead, and sat this on the grill over very hot coals. I gave the pan a shake every now and

Christmas music.

It was the week before Christmas. The wave of humanity surfed the street in search of something it couldn't quite find, probably a shop in which to trade in unwanted money. It's the spirit of Christmas. Tracy paused for a hundredth of a second to bend down and adjust William's hat, causing a woman behind to check her speed. She glared and tutted and overtook at race walk pace and disappeared into the throng. Compliments of the season, ma'am. It was eleven on a Saturday morning. Once upon a time, before we were civilised, shops closed at midday on Saturdays. Then they let them open all day, in order to stop the late-morning rush. Now they just rush all day. William and Thomas's much older sister rang me from Northland the other day. The background noise sounded like eighty thousand elephants stampeding, but it was just the food mall and it wasn't even lunch time. Looking for a career? Forget restaurants. Get into fast food. There's money in it. Earlier I

Conversation on a plane.

KEVIN RUDD, PRIME MINISTER (WAKES, YAWNS): What day is it? ADVISOR: Tuesday. KEVIN RUDD: So we must be … where are we? ADVISOR: Several miles above quite a lot of water on a very fast aeroplane. KEVIN RUDD: On our way to what? ADVISOR: Denmark, Kevin. The climate change conference. Remember? Like your ‘best and brightest’ conference in 2008. Except this one’s about the weather. KEVIN RUDD: Weather? That’s all we discussed at that one as well. The rest was all bullshit. Christ, what a bunch of rubbish actresses talk about. Can’t imagine why I invited them. ADVISOR: You didn’t. I did. If you don’t have actresses at conventions, the media and the photographers don’t turn up. And if the photographers don’t turn up, you don’t get your face in the paper next morning. KEVIN RUDD: Is that why I had to cosy up to Cate Blanchett every five minutes? ADVISOR: Yes. Don't complain. Better than cosying up to Barry Jones. KEVIN RUDD (LAUGHS): He was there, still trying to flog

Extreme bureaucrat danger.

They decided, after due deliberation, to scrap the old perfectly functional fire danger indicators outside country towns. In a brilliant exposition of the internal workings of a bureaucrat's mind, the new signs do not actually tell you the day's fire danger rating . Instead, they direct you to a website. I'm driving through the country and I want to know if I'm going to get fried or not. Great. Where's the internet cafe? Today is the season's first fire danger day, with an expected top of 39 celsius. The website crashed .

Language cannibalises itself.

On page three in the Aldi catalogue that fell out of my letterbox on Saturday morning: Beef Rump Steak, $9.99kg. These rump steaks are the perfect cut to throw on the barbecue with friends ... I’ll stick with chilli sauce, thanks. (I really must cut back that pelargonium. It is covering the No Junk Mail sign.)

The bulldog clip.

The bulldog clip hangs on the right side of the tall cupboard in my mother's 1950s kitchen. It's a big bulldog clip, and it has to be. It has hung on grimly for many years, quietly performing the job it was designed and built to do. It is an engineering marvel. Two pieces of chromed metal and a spring that would hold up the front corner of a truck. That's the problem with things that are well built. People take them for granted. Think they will never fail. I did warn her. Many times. But did she listen? No. She never does. Headstrong. It took many years and the bulldog clip yawned wider and wider but she never noticed, like you don't notice someone growing when you see them all the time. But I noticed. I didn't see it every day like she did. It's her 'desktop' recipe file. The one where you store recipes you've ripped out of the paper, intending to later file them away properly in the appropriate folder or drawer. But she never did. How

Seeing the trees.

It rained hard this afternoon and the jacaranda down the street shed some of its shimmering flowers and the flowers made purple pools under the tree. * This house was built in 1948. It is an ‘L’ shape, a plan favoured by post-war architects as being practical while making best use of materials then in short supply. The design is austere; by name, not necessarily by nature. I like simple lines and a clean design in any case. The style was enhanced by the original owner who treated the interior window surrounds, architraves, skirting and doors in a deep wood grain finish, and walls in soft greens. Afternoon light through the west-facing glass paneled front door makes the timber and the green walls glow with suffused light. It’s a pleasant house, but a hot one in summer. The lap of the ‘L’ faces north west and catches the sun at its most intense, in the afternoon; the morning sun gets the heat off to a good start by bouncing off the tall brick building to the west of the house. Air

Smell the coffee.

Does Melbourne have more cafés per head of population than any other city in the world? They are everywhere. There are cafés in old milk bars, greengrocers, real estate offices and butcher shops. (I like it when they retain the old butcher-shop decor - return window, exterior blue-striped awning with leather tie-down straps, recessed door and 1950s blue tiled walls with a cow tile here and there to break up the blue.) There are coffee shops in nurseries, hospitals, skyscraper foyers, hotel lobbies, building sites and indoor swimming pool centres. There are cafés in churches that are not churches any more. Hell, they are even in churches that are still churches. There’s a drive-through coffee outlet in Sydney Road north of Gaffney Street and I’m sure there are more. The place is awash with coffee, which is fine as long as the coffee is good. The coffee is mainly good, but it’s all espresso. (There used to be a saying that you couldn’t get a decent coffee east of Hoddle Street. That wa

Agapanthus wary of heat.

Early November rain preceded the two-week heatwave, then there was more heavy rain. No wonder the new agapanthus shoots are confused. Several drooped mid-shoot (heatwave) and then shot up again (rain). They are out there right now in the December breeze waving their misshapen spikes like cursive 'n' s. The droop point on several spikes has borne a floweret. I'll keep an eye on them. They are obviously paying close attention to the weather following last year's heat - the first time I recall agapanthus being severely scorched.

After Many a Summer.

William looks like a runner. He has stayed lean; Thomas is stockier. William trots along while Tom has the luxury of a ride. That won’t last. Enjoy it while you can, Tommy. The three-wheel stroller won’t hold you much longer. William was happy to trot the two kilometres to the beach. * It was another warm day. We had a hot November a few years ago. 2005? William’s first summer. This past November was hotter again. Then again, there was hail in the same month of 2007. No-one talks about the weather in the old way any more. Now, they just argue about whether it means the world is getting hotter or not. Point-scoring. Look! Out the window! See? I was right and you were wrong! The weather is a competitive sport. I’ll tell you the winner in ten thousand years. It could be a long game. Like a Test cricket match, just not quite as boring. * It’s little hills all the way. The road is paved over ancient sand hills. Then up and down one last larger one and when you crest that, you see

The aerogram.

Tuesday. My twice-weekly check on my mother. She’s doing well, already started her walking again. Keilor Road once a day, sometimes twice. Three kilometres return. Sometimes she gets the bus home. I usually stay for lunch on these visits; make hers as well. I parked the car in the hot bright driveway, got out, went to the letterbox, emptied it, threw five handbills (Woolworths, Priceline, Chemist Warehouse and two pizza places) in the bin near the side gate, and went inside. I gave her the mail. There were Christmas cards, and bills, and one or two of those appeal letters with blackmail lines on the front of the envelope. Donate $20 or this dog dies . An aerogram floated out of the bunch of letters and drifted down to the floor. I picked it up. I recognised the handwriting on the front. She’s been getting these for years, longer than I’ve been around. The return address is - always has been - a small West Midlands town in England. Do they still call them aerograms? You write on f