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Showing posts from February, 2010

Peanuts.

I was talking to Clyde at the track last night. Clyde is retired and was complaining that he didn't have the time to be retired, because of children's activities. He feels a little cheated, like a horse that discovers the carrot is plastic after galloping five miles for it. "One has piano Tuesday nights, tennis Wednesdays and something else on Fridays," he told me. I forget what the something else was; some kind of martial art thing in which they wear white clothes and throw their limbs about. "Two has violin two days a week and basketball on weekends," he went on, "and three - the youngest at six - has swimming and little athletics. Little athletics at six! And the parents coach from the sidelines." Clyde, a veteran runner, was shocked at the idea of 'coaching' a six-year-old. I said something about the workhouses in Britain in the nineteenth century. "Children don't have time to play in the mud any more, or collect snails,

"Sometimes you've got to take the hardest line ... "

The first one came to the door and knocked loudly and, when I opened it, he announced "I'm from the government," and without waiting for a reply, demanded "Where's your manhole?" "No, you're not," I replied, "and none of your business." These people have a verbal foot-in-the-door technique. "We are authorised to check your ceiling," he insisted. "No, you're not," I replied, warming to the conversation. "But I'm authorised to throw you off the property." The next one tried a similar technique. "The government has to put insulation in your ceiling," he informed me, "otherwise global warming will cause the earth to overheat." That bizarre non sequitur is verbatim. I am not making it up. This second one had appeared at the door in about October last year when hysteria was at its highest point just prior to the Copenhagen bureaucratic jet-fest. My friend Theo, gullible a

What does wine taste like?

"Peach. Melon. A touch of vanilla. Citrus, of course. There's always citrus. But what citrus? A medium body and a complex palate and a long finish. Goes nicely with fish or chicken or pasta. Drink in moderation. Dispose of the bottle thoughtfully." Why is it always peaches and melons? To me, chardonnay never tasted like a peach. Nor did the last peach I ate taste like chardonnay. The best chardonnay I ever drank tasted like a book. Or I should say, it tasted like a book smelled. It had the aroma of faint print on the fine paper of a new book fresh from the printer's. Throughout childhood, the first thing I did in a new school year was to open up my new books - fresh from Campion or Hall's - and smell the pages. These smells were indefinable, but wonderful. A Form Three social studies book had creamy matte paper printed with red chapter headings and 75% black type and line drawings and exuded a rich, creamy aroma; something like slowly-evaporating vanilla e

Boarders.

Sunday lunch at mother’s house. “Just a sandwich, Mum,” I had called down the telephone, but she continues to replicate the customary hot Sunday lunch – then called dinner – of the 1950s. Not quite the full roast mutton and the overboiled vegetables and the chocolate pudding with whipped cream, but even on a forty degree day you’ll be offered something hot and a lot of it. These days it’s usually a series of casseroles, unrelated in both design and contents, and always enough to feed an army. Just when you think the table is full, she hauls another scorching baking dish out of the lower depths of the blazing oven. She announces each dish in an increasingly eccentric manner, as if we had no idea what a tuna casserole looked like. “This is lasagne,” she announces, “with meat in it!” Mother sounds like a lepidopterist describing a newly discovered exotic butterfly to an audience of amateurs. We sat down. Sure enough: “This is a corn and zucchini slice I made yesterday for the boys,” she

On a downtown train.

Saturday sporting pursuits were out of the way early in the afternoon and that left the rest of the day free for idle recreation, such as reading the newspaper on a chair under a tree in the back garden. But how did idle recreation square with two small boys bursting with energy that came from having devoured large bowls of spaghetti and meatballs for lunch followed by an energising nap? It didn’t, was the short answer, and there was no long answer. So I took them to the city by train. Boys love trains. And I could read the newspaper while they looked out the window. We blinked out of the darkness of Flinders Street station mid-afternoon, into hot sunshine, and against a tide of humanity surging up the steps. The city is busy all the time now, and the tide stretched along Swanston Street. We dodged down Collins Street and into an arcade and rode an escalator to a basement bookstore that has a toy corner. The boys played with small trains on a wooden track while I read the dust jack

Something else to do with young Tom Hudson's poireaux.

So that was Islands in the Stream , about which an anecdote: I was standing by the counter at the bookstore and the attendant said Can I help you by raising one eyebrow at me and not speaking. So I saved some words as well and said " Islands in the Stream ?" with a questioning upward inflection at the end. He disappeared for a little while and came back and held out a CD with a lopsided smile. "Track four." "Ah yes," I said, "I liked Kenny Rogers but I did find Dolly Parton's ..." Now he was raising his other eyebrow. "I found Dolly Parton’s voice a little unexpected," I went on, "Kind of like Neil Sedaka's voice coming out of Pavarotti." That left him flat-footed. So I bored on. "Actually, it wasn’t the CD I was looking for. It was the book. You can’t get it anywhere. Hemingway. Dymock’s didn’t have a single Hemingway title on the shelves. They had about a million Gordon Ramsay cookbooks and a whole

Fictional food quiz: first in a series.

These series of mine have a pattern of not running very long . Let’s see with this one. Recognise the extract? ‘Papa, tell us some more about when you and Tommy’s mother were poor. How poor did you ever get?’ ‘They were pretty poor,’ Roger said. ‘I can remember when your father used to make up all young Tom’s bottles in the morning and go to the market to buy the best and the cheapest vegetables. I’d meet him coming back from the market when I was going out for breakfast.’ ‘I was the finest judge of poireaux in the sixth arrondissement,’ Thomas Hudson told the boys. ‘What’s poireaux ?’ ‘Leeks.’ ‘It looks like long, green, quite big onions,’ young Tom said. ‘Only it’s not bright shiny like onions. It’s dull shiny. The leaves are green and the ends are white. You boil it and eat it cold with olive oil and vinegar mixed with salt and pepper. You eat the whole thing, top and all. It’s delicious. I believe I’ve eaten as much of it as maybe anybody in the world.’ I believe you’re wro

The barramundi.

High Street runs north forever. If you keep going it eventually joins the Hume Highway so you could end up in Sydney if you kept driving, or Brisbane for that matter, but I stopped in Preston where cheap cafes, two-dollar junk shops and hot bread stores glare at each other across the busy narrow road. A taxi was trying to nose out from the kerb, so I waved it on and pulled in behind it and parked. We got out into the hot dusty street, walked twenty metres, pushed open a glass door and entered a dim, cool, quiet place. It was just on midday, a late-summer Tuesday. We sat right next to the fish tanks. We always sit next to the fish tanks. It amuses the children and sometimes I think it amuses the fish. In one tank, two barramundi were making lazy right-angle turns around each other, and in the other several lobsters were piled up like a train wreck in a corner, but they were just having a group hug, antennae waving about like gladioli in the front row of a Dame Edna Everage performan

Six dry gum leaves.

Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach ... Except me and two boys and a book that I was not reading. Late in the afternoon, almost evening. It was overcast and humid and a northerly had crossed the water and brought with it a deep rumble from a ship working up the bay into Melbourne. The rumble sounded like an old refrigerator heard from another room. It is the week after the annual exodus from the peninsula, and it is quiet again and slow, and no-one is parking his car on the no-standing sign painted on the road where the ramp allows pedestrians to cross without tripping, and the council cleaners have removed the whiskey and cola cans from the beaches. The boys were throwing tennis balls into the water and retrieving them, over and over. Thomas Brian has a good throwing arm; William John is more athletic. I watched them and, beyond them, the ship as it slid across the horizon. The ship was bright red below deck and white above, and it had a bright red funnel. It looked like a

Death of a novelist.

It wasn’t J.D. Salinger’s fault they made The Catcher in the Rye required reading for forty years. He only wrote it. No wonder he refused interviews. They conscripted his novel into a sub-culture. I had to read it one year in the early 1970s. I didn't like it; but I didn't particularly like anything that year. Alongside Salinger's novel, the jokesters on the curriculum committee at the Education Department had prescribed Albert Camus' nihilistic The Outsider , alarmist jargoneer Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and a volume of poetry to slash your wrists by, entitled Voices . If you could call it poetry. It was like reading sharp knives. They threw in Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night for a little light relief; and then they whacked us like a punchdrunk boxer with The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner , a book so tedious I became one just to escape reading it. There are always buzzwords and the buzzword that year was alienation. Storylines had cha

Cool change.

In the midnight silence, the soft flutter of a million calendar pages turning could almost be heard, like the rapidly-beating wings of an otherwise-silent lethal nocturnal bird swooping on some small brown rodent; or else the sound effect used over that clich├ęd sequence in black-and-white sci-fi movies in which freshly-printed newspapers flap off the presses to reveal a shocking headline such as Martians Invade . Sorry. Just practising for the Bulwer-Lytton awards. I could have just said: Suddenly, it was February. And so quiet. The summer holiday is over, Tracy is back at work two days a week, and today William returned to kindergarten. There were tears: Thomas wanted to stay at the kindergarten. Three-year-old kindergarten is tomorrow. Today is for four-year-olds. And here we were in the echoing house, just Thomas and me and a thousand things to do. But which first? Deadhead the second flush of summer roses. Empty the compost bin. Flatten out seventeen cardboard boxes to be r