It was the second white Christmas in five years, if you count hail. Christmas was back at the golf course after three years. A dozen tables sat under shady umbrellas outside the clubhouse, on a rise of lawn overlooking the fairways. That’s where lunch was supposed to be served. But the rain came first. I watched it come. A little earlier, a massive black thing in the sky way out west had grown larger and loomed over the city, and had then started aiming hail at us as we hit the Eastern Freeway. I thought it might overshoot and fade to the southeast. Wrong. I took the exit ramp at Bulleen Road, crossed the freeway, turned right into the Boulevard, and right again back over the freeway along a narrow bridge road that ended at a steel gate. By this time it was a torrent. The gate slid open and we drove through and stopped out the front of the clubhouse. They were huddled under the eave and inside looking out at the storm. It raged. Way below, the fairways were white carpets sweeping
Good King Wenceslaus All my childhood Christmases occured during summer heatwaves in a sunburned land characterised by wildfire, burning northerly winds and dust storms. So all those songs about cold and snow and fir trees and medieval kings fascinated me and took me away into a faraway land. Here is a song written in 1853 in Britain by an Anglican minister about a duke, a thousand years earlier, who gave to the poor in Bohemia - in order to teach children about the virtue of generosity in celebrating the birth of a Jewish child in Bethlehem another thousand years earlier - and listened to by a marvelling child in twentieth century Australia. Like a beautiful woven gown circling the world with goodwill down the ages, this song says something about Christmas. And about goodwill to all men. O Come All Ye Faithful As a child I used to think it was O Calm All Ye Faithful and I would think to myself Why are they telling everybody to relax? Maybe it's because tomorrow is Christmas; a
Wednesday morning, 15 December 1971 It was five in the morning when we slipped out of Eucla under the heavy cover of an oppressive darkness, car headlights blazing. The sultry heat hung over the desert like a wet tent. The landscape fell behind us faster than yesterday because we were back on a real road again and the tyres were humming instead of crunching. At six o’clock, Uncle switched off the lights as the first rays of the sun slowly throttled the long shadows. Black turned to gold. Seven o’clock passed, eight o’clock. If it was hot earlier, now it was like someone had switched on an oven. At twenty minutes past ten, the Valiant rolled to a stop off the road at Madura, a town that was just a fuel stop. We parked in the shade of nothing and climbed out of the sticky car into more heat. You could just about pick it up in your hands. We took refuge in the van where it might have been 95 instead of 100. Aunt pulled a meal out of nowhere as she did the whole journey; simple fare
That's it. Goodbye email. I'm unsubscribing to everything. Tiger Airways, Start to Finish, InfoChoice, Vigor Health and Fitness, Crikey (how on earth did I get onto their list?), LinkedIn Updates, Melbourne Writers and dozens of others. (LinkedIn, by the way, sends me emails saying something to the effect that 'someone who may be connected to you has updated their profile'. Nuts.) That was yesterday. Today I got another email from Tiger Airways. So I unsubscribed again. A message came up: The following error was encountered while processing your request: You are currently not subscribed to our newsletter. Then why did they send it?
Tuesday morning, 14 December 1971 A threatening humidity lurked under a blanket of darkness as we hit the highway out of Ceduna around half past five in the morning, dawn a threatening red streak on the east horizon. You have to start early to make headway before the heat hits. The nearest large towns are Port Augusta, 300 miles to the east and Norseman, about three times that distance to the west. The road west runs along the bottom edge of the Nullabor Desert where it meets the section of Southern Ocean called the Great Australian Bight. Cliffs run along the coast for hundreds of miles and the sea, over millions of years, has gouged tunnels deep into them. These surface as blowholes in the plain and people, straying off the road, have fallen into them. What a horrible fate. Today, we’re aiming to reach Eucla, driving across a red desert with nothing in it except a dirt road. The car has run like a Swiss watch so far, hasn’t missed a beat. It was a steamy, dusty, unforgettable da
Now the old plates are turning up in mosaic-ed numbers for houses as Christmas gifts for relatives, an 'office' sign for the kindergarten, and some other projects. "But why not bone china?" I had asked, continuing a somewhat convoluted conversation of a week or so ago. It does not fracture or chip easily, is the answer. And when it does, its shards are uneven and very, very sharp. Bone china is hard because it is manufactured using bones. I have tested knowledge of this fact on a small research group, and it was not universally known. In fact, there was some surprise expressed. Which raises a question. If you have friends over for dinner, and they are vegetarians, and you cook up some wonderful vegetarian food, and you serve it on your best crockery, which is bone china; should you admit to your friends the awful truth that they are eating their vegetarian meals off plates made from the ground-up bones of dead cows ? Or not? * The oldest bone china item I have
Research* shows that eggplants have the longest storage at home to shelf life ratio. They don't last, but we never get around to using them. There is a scientifically valid reason for this, confirmed by the same research: eggplants are much more attractive than kohlrabi, celeriac or swedes; because they are shiny and have a voluptuous bulbous shape and colour, and no strange hair. Your eyes lock onto them across the greengrocer and it's instant attraction, like at a party. I've bought more eggplants on impulse than any of those others, or beetroots or turnips or even bitter melon, which looks like something off the side of a cigarette pack's government health warning. Go on, image-google it. So when you buy an eggplant, you have to cook it. You can't refrigerate it because they don't like being cold. Here's what I did with my last eggplant. Slice a large eggplant or more smaller ones and bake the slices for twenty minutes. I don't bother with salting
If, like me, you always cook too much rice, don't throw it out. Make a cold rice salad to eat as a side dish in this steamy, hot, stormy weather. Take three cups of leftover basmati rice, one can lentils (drained), half a red onion (diced), juice of one lemon. Combine. Chill. Simple but good. * In the garden, the cos lettuce (plural) have their hands up. "Pick me!" they could be saying. I'll pick them but we might retire the cos next season. Caesar salad must have been invented to use up cos lettuce, because it doesn't seem good for much else. Perhaps I've just had too much, like Peter (or was it Benjamin?) who had to be given chamomile. Any recipes for cos that don't dress it up in bacon and egg? * I came home to find Tracy smashing the crockery. Beautiful old plates, all in shards. "What are you doing?" I asked, redundantly. She grasped the redundancy adroitly and returned: "What does it look like I'm doing, playing t
That’s the end of an era. Two boys at school. Thomas is no longer a pre-schooler; had his school orientation day yesterday, December 6. He doesn’t start officially until February, but he went along for the morning, wearing William’s spare uniform. He had been looking forward to it for weeks. He will be fine at school with the luxury of a brother one class ahead. William was the pioneer, his first weeks at school starting with a huge smile of goodbye at the gate masking wet eyes. We stayed for the principal’s address and walked away and left Thomas around ten o’clock. The morning peak had died and the streets were empty and quiet. Then the church bell tolled, and the sound rumbled across the suburb. Perhaps it was for St Nicholas’ Day. I don’t know. Perhaps they rang it for the new Preps on their orientation morning. Perhaps they were just practising; the bell is being converted to electric operation following restoration of the church after the 2008 fire . * I told the boys th
An old favourite for these warmer nights: Pasta with tomatoes and fresh ricotta You barely need a recipe. The fresh summery ingredients fall into each other’s arms like new lovers. Boil up a pot of pasta. Tagliatelle or fettucine will help take up the wettish sauce. Warm some olive oil in a pan large enough to take the cooked pasta; add a finely chopped onion and a chopped garlic clove. Warm through and cook gently until softened but not browned. Add six chopped vine-ripened tomatoes, and salt and pepper. The tomatoes should be very ripe and juicy. If not juicy enough, add a dash of white wine to the mix. Cook five minutes on gentle heat until the tomatoes break down and cry tears of sweet summertime flavour. Drain pasta when done, add to the pan, fold through sauce. Crumble ricotta and add, fold through lightly. Serve immediately. Dust with parmesan, add torn strips of fresh basil. Mop up sauce with fresh bread dipped in olive oil.
One good thing about having children decades apart is that you can compare practices then and now and bore everyone with your insistence that things were much better then. Things weren't better then. They were just different. Children didn't walk around bristling with electronic devices in the early 1980s; they walked around bristling with hand-held games and Casio watches and Transformers. The telephone was on the wall. Teenagers used it just as much; they just couldn't take it to bed. One thing is different: children's birthday parties. There are more of them. We're averaging one a week for William and Thomas from their friends at school and kindergarten. You can't attend all of them. Occasionally these birthday parties are hosted in the child's actual house, where their mother serves party food and cake. Increasingly, however, people other than parents host the party and it is held off the premises in cavernous places that used to be warehouses or f