Monday, 16 May 2011

Wherein I turn out to be a terrible ingrate traveller

Oh blog, I've missed you. I've been in fearsome book-writing mode for months; fearsome, because I had plans to have finished a whole draft of a whole book, this book, by now. Of course, it turns out I have more to do. Lots more to do. Every day, new little mushrooms of you-still-have-this-to-do sprout out of yesterday's smooth soil. There are - a fact that shoots a hard sliver of ice through my veins - whole chapters still to write. I am going to bed most nights and wrestling myself to sleep amidst the tangles of what I haven't done. By day, it's a pleasure. I'm loving pottering through my stuff and sticking it together, realising the joys of the contradictions, moving away from the generalisations I'd been planning to draw.

I'm in Canadia this week, at a pretty darn thrilling conference, if you're thrilled by what I'm thrilled by. The papers have been a mix of right-up-my-alley and centred on eighteenth-century German natural philosophers I haven't read. Who knew north America had so many Schelling experts on its books? Schelling and I have studiously avoided each other for 32 years. Apparently this has to change. You think you're all safely on top of a history of ideas, and it turns out you forgot the protagonist. Gah.

Though I'm surrounded by clever interesting people, and green sprouting Canadiack spring, squirrels of many stripes, woodchucks and swans and frogs and swollen rivers, and though I've only been away a week, and though I am a grown-up independent person with an internet connection who's traveled before and for longer, I've been finding myself pining for home. I had an unexpected moment of joy at the Australian accent of the international reverse charges telephone operator, and felt my heart snap when I heard Beatrice Cat meow somewhere on the other side of my phone call.

Am missing her and Harriet extremely. I can be in touch with my humans, know that they're well, know that they know that I'm well, know that they know that I know that they know that I'm well, but I wasn't able to explain to Harriet and Beatrice I'd only be gone two weeks. Maybe they're not worried about me (I hope so), but I can imagine them trying to work it all out, trying to decide how many days they give it before they figure I'm not coming back. It'll be glorious to see them again. I expect they'll ignore me furiously for a day or two. Can't wait.

And at the same time, I'm plotting my return voyage to Vancouver, which is trees as thick as houses and jagged mountains and laburnum and raspberries growing like weeds. I like me a good mountain range.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Edvard Munch tribute tomato

Fig. 1. Collaboration between Tomato Plant and Unknown Grub. The Scream. 2011.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Various, with snail erotica

I've just whipped up (and et) this spankingly wholesome quinoa rogan josh curry thing, and am glowing mystically with the goodness (blah) of quinoa sourced from the snow-spangled mountains of Bolivia, plump Black Russian tomatoes plucked from One of My Very Own Plants, and silverbeet snipped fresh from our front garden silverbeet plantation all of forty minutes ago. Also with the goodness of half a caterpillar, whose demise I attribute to my cavalier approach to silverbeet washing. And there we have the end of Vegan March.

One of the consequences of husbanding my own personal incipient vegetable forest is that I have become less and less kind-hearted towards snails. Snails are lovely people: romantic, resistant to patriarchal gender constructs, skilled in the consumption of bills left in slightly damp letterboxes. I have long recognised their virtues. And yet, as hordes of snails have chomped their way through my beans-cosmos-honesty-rocket-silverbeet-etc, romanced each other willy-nilly on beds of lucerne mulch, and spawned an irresponsibly large progeny,

Snails romancing each other willy-nilly on a bed of lucerne mulch.

I have lost all compunction about displacing them onto the oval, and indeed, in my less empathic moments, have actually administered a swift and firm mollusc-murdering stomp. It occurs to me that if I, who am philosophically committed to the principle that humans are - but should not be - self-serving psychopathic chauvinists in their relations with other animal species, can flounce about the garden spiflicating wholly innocent gastropods, then it's entirely likely that the Bolivian quinoa farmer would do likewise, only more so. Am not actually sure whether there are snails in the Andes, or whether they'd go for quinoa, but you understand my point: no agriculturalist whose livelihood is at stake is going to exercise herself too much about the rights of snails. Or about the rights of rabbits, starlings, mice or kangaroos. And probably not very much about the myriad animal species that are displaced by monoculture cropping, and displaced and displaced until there is no place for them. Which is say, just because I'm veganising, doesn't mean that the production of my food doesn't require the suffering of animals. It's just that, instead of eating them, I'm competing with them.

Having once again depressingly aborted my quest to exempt myself from the exploiter class, I will add, in defence of herbivorism, that pastoralists are just as unkind to animals that compete for their flock's food supply AND of course send almost every member of their flock to the slaughterhouse. (Even commercial freerange egg-laying chooks are packed off to the chicken stock factory at the age of eighteen months or so, because it ain't worth spending money on chicken feed for a lady who lays less.)

Okay. I really have to go now. Am starting to think embittered thoughts about injustice to chickens, when all I wanted to do was report on the presence of half a caterpillar in my curry.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Stylish blogger wotsit

The very kind Elephant's Child has conferred upon me a Stylish Blogger Award. She doesn't say why, but I think we all know that it's because of my inimitable dress sense. Or possibly my über hipsterish habit of checking out what's going down in ye Oxforde Englisshe Dictionarie.

So, what is going down in ye Oxforde Englisshe Dictionarie? This: the number-one entry for style offers it as a synonym for "stylus", viz., v. pointy writing instrument, useful for the engraving of wax tablets. The style/stylus is used as a "weapon of offence, for stabbing, etc", and figuratively, "as a symbol for literary composition". I conclude from all this that Stylish Blogger Awards are to be dispensed to persons whose writing utensils are mighty mighty.

These Stylish Blogger Awards aren't just all beer and no skittles (where "beer" denotes "fun" and "skittles" denotes "responsibility"). No. Being a Stylish Blogger is like being Miss Universe. You thought an occasional appearance in sequins would suffice, but in fact you have sole custodianship of the cosmos, which means that the people of Venezuela will hold you personally to account if a meteorite interferes with their Foxtel. That is to say, I have some tasks with which I am tasked.

Task One: Make a post linking back to the person who gave you the award.

Done. Ha. Easy.


Task Two: Share seven random things about yourself.

Righto. Bearing in mind that it is impossible for the seven things about myself that come to mind in the next five minutes to be random, here goes.

1. I have a bit of a thing for looking at pictures of turquoise sofas on the internet.

2. I recently saw the person who had been profiled in our local paper as the winner of the shire sustainability award loading her vegetables into plastic bags. I had snooty thoughts (despite the strong probability that she planned to use those plastic bags as nappies for orphaned koalas).

3. When I saw that the Wikipedia entry for Delphinium explained the word's derivation under the heading "Entomology", I immediately enlisted as a Wikipedia editor, and, with intense smugness, corrected "Entomology" to "Etymology".

4. I haven't eaten any animal products all year, and I haven't eaten any animals since December 1993, but (or perhaps therefore) sometimes when I'm digging I look lasciviously at the fat white curl grubs.

5. But what I actually do with them, and the snails, is put them in a bucket and take them on a holiday to the middle of the public oval. Sorry, public oval.

6. I've been on four televised game shows: Sale of the New Century (2000), Wheel of Fortune (2004), Temptation (2007), and Letters and Numbers (2010). The best prize I've won was a telescope, but the 50-inch telly of doom that I sold on ebay was pretty good too.

7. When I was about seven, I hatched a plan to have a hundred children, name them all after flowers, and spend my afternoons making industrial quantities of toffee apples. Fortunately, no part of this plan seems likely to come to pass, though some of the flower names were pretty special. Ranunculus Harlot has a certain je ne sais quoi.

Task Three: Award 15 recently discovered bloggers with this award.

Recently schmecently. Some of the stylishest bloggers I know are:

Livebird
: for excellent ruminations on stick insects, all-round goodness, and for posting me sweetpea and cos lettuce seeds. (Oh - forgot to mention that I am open to bribes regarding this extremely remunerative award.)

Twisty Faster: has been educating my socks off for years now. Changed my life and all.

KateO: I'm totally into her lunchbox. She takes good photos. And is wry.

The Alone with Cats Blogger
: I would send her money if it made her write more. And I had spare money.

Lucy Tartan: see above.

Pavlov's Cat: super-thinky. V. inspiring.

Dale Slamma: if I needed advice about haircuts, or being fey and whimsical yet intelligent and well-acquainted with the place I put my feet, I would dial 0409 DALE SLAMMA.

Ampersand Duck: ridiculously lovely person; makes things.

Mitzi G. Burger
: punstrelsy.

Progressive Dinner Partiers: have tomatoes, will party.

Sterne: has a majillion gabillion different on-again, off-again blogs and such, all grand.

Ann O'Dyne: for blog citizenship and wisdom.

Copperwitch: somewhere between the Swarovski and volcanoes.

Voracious Ex-Vegan: with thanks for the provocaterie.

TimT: international award-winning pantoum-writer, with lovely beard, baking skillz, unstaunchable generosity, and vast repertoire of home-made jokes. (Disclosure clause: is sleeping with judge.)

Task Four: notify award recipients.

Argh. Too hard. Dear recipients, if you're reading this, you have been notified. Otherwise, thank youse all for being grouse.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Plots

Vegetable patch of oppression. Spiky white border tiles are relics of previous owners' bathroom renovation. Seedlings disarrayed by cat who mistook freshly turned earth for nice loamy loo.

Peggy Orenstein's essay, "The Femivore's Dilemma", has been unnerving me for almost a year now, and I am going to tell you why. If you don't want to know why, but you 'd like to see further illustrations of the bathroom tiles we here at Lalor have used as garden bed edging, skip ahead and leave a penny in the honesty box at the back gate.

Right. So. Reasons for my unnerving. Firstly, there were the visions of indecisive cannibals suggested by that title. Femivore's Dilemma: "Shall I have the char-grilled lady, or – perhaps just a salad?" ("Femivore", let's clarify this from the get-go, is a lousy neologism. It's supposed to denote something to do with feminist eating practices, rather than, as its cognate terms, "omnivore", "carnivore", "herbivore", suggest, the eating of feminists. I'm being curmudeonly here, but that's because I'm all for curmudgeonliness in these matters, taking my lead from finickety fin-de-siècle sexologist, Havelock Ellis, who objected to the word "homosexual" on the grounds that it conjoined words of Greek and Latin origin.)

While the visions of cannibals have faded, "The Femivore's Dilemma" has kept on troubling me, on account of its actual (gosh) content. Orenstein's thesis, for those of you who can't come at reading the whole article, is this: the discourse of radicalism that has attached to concepts like "eating local", "growing your own", "dishing up homespun spelt spaghetti with a side serve of freshly fermented tempeh from your own cellar", has permitted women who seek to identify as progressive to forsake paid employment in exchange for unpaid weeding, hoeing, zucchini-tending, and the recycling of baby poo, all without compromising their progressive credentials. I.e., there is a new (old) form of domestic labour, and those who practise it can see themselves as revolutionaries, rather than dish-washers to the patriarchy, because not only are they washing dishes, but they are Saving the Planet, which activity is endorsed by the Kyoto Protocol and Al Gore. Or in Orenstein's own words: "these gals — these chicks with chicks — are stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin. I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper."


Omnivores requesting free-range dilemma with raspberry coulis

The "chicks with chicks" line might suggest to you (as it does to me) a certain lack of sympathy for this alleged movement of chicken-nurturing American PhD-Program-alumnae-cum-homemakers. Or, as it turns out, a gleeful (?certainly jauntily articulated) conviction that Women With Gardens are DOOMED. "[I]f a woman is not careful," runs the final sentence, "chicken wire can coop her up as surely as any gilded cage." As in, you thought you would achieve apotheosis through bee-keeping, but in fact you're just lugging hives around on the back of a ute. Well, sure - but if that's what I want?

Enter Orenstein's disconcerting deployment of the "Women think they want X, but their preference for X has been engineered by the patriarchy/media/capitalist complex and is in fact against their truest interests" manoeuvre. It's a familiar line (B claims that she truly, freely, for her own sake, wants her forehead botoxed, but in fact she "wants" it because her society has created a whole buncha malevolent stories about what an acceptable body looks like, and she - probably rightly - believes that if she doesn't measure up then she has no status). It's a line that appeals immediately to someone like me who believes both that many (most? all?) of our desires are socially constructed and that there are at least some individuals who try to shape others' desires for their own ends. So, I'm all ready to accept that the desire to grow turnips in the backyard is socially constructed. I'm ready to accept that part of how it's constructed is through stories about the role of local turnip production in alleviating world hunger, and the notion that a person who participates in such a project believes she thereby gets to be identified as a provider, nurturer, food radical, eco-warrior, blah blah. Just as, you might say, B hopes to be ranked amongst women not-to-be-spurned when she has Botulinum toxin syringed into her face. But is an implicit parallel between the intelligent adult with alternatives who takes up backyard vegetable gardening and the person who forks out half her week's wage on wrinkle-be-gone warranted?

No. Growing zucchinis and receiving injections of neurotoxins are on whole different planets of fun, utility, and healthfulness, and as a person herself not averse to a home-grown zucchini, I am strongly irked by Orenstein's suggestion that I might be in the malign thrall of a patriarchal delusion. (Or rather, I readily admit that I'm in the malign thrall of several patriarchal delusions – perhaps more on this when I'm feeling brave enough – but none of them pertain to zucchinis.) I'm not in a position, nor do I want, to throw in the dayjob I'm lucky enough to love and take up full-time brassica husbandry, but if I were in such a position, and it was what I wanted, then the last thing I would need, amidst the hubbub of "Don't go out at night - you'll get yourself raped", and "Don't stay inside - that would be capitulating to the people who tell you not to walk alone at night", and "Pluck your oxters", and "But don't!", etc, etc, is the spectre of oppression by vegetable patch. Because while many (most? all?) of our desires are socially constructed, sometimes we can stand back and inspect them from every available angle, and see that they're not so bad.

Which brings me to this portrait of a tomato

– green at the tippy end of Summer (thanks a bunch, La Nina) –

and the excellent sunflowers that grew from seed in no time flat (no, really, thank you, La Nina)

and this mess of sage, roses, thyme and chives which has been flavouring my dinner for a couple of weeks now

and the rooftiles assisting with Project Lawn-No-More

and this young person who has discovered new pleasures in hiding behind dwarf beans.

That is all. I'm off to work on some proper dilemmas now.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Sitzfleisch

The word for today is Sitzfleisch. If, like me, you immediately inferred from this word's German components - sitzen, to sit, and Fleisch, flesh - that it referred to the additional padding of the bottomular region arising from one's deskjob, you would be, like me, wrong. In fact it means something like "staying power". Sitzfleisch is the stuff that keeps you resolute in your chair when all others have run off into the gloaming to chase butterflies.

P.S., while considering synonyms for "bottomular region" (dismissing "derrière" - too frou-frou - and "sit-upon" - too Girl Guides-ish), I googled "the fundament", and happened upon this essential information: the ancient Athenian punishment for adultery was the insertion of a radish "up the fundament" (quoth my source), a sentence so regularly meted out that the verb for "I insert a radish up the fundament" was ραφανιδοω (rhapanidoô), from the Greek for radish, ραφανος (rhaphanos). People pay big money for that kind of treatment these days. And radishes aren't cheap since the floods either.

So there you go. Lexicon Harlot, Demonstrating that You Can Chase Butterflies without Leaving Your Deskchair since 2006.

P.P.S., I just realised that I have made light of state-mandated sexual assault. If you are reading this and you are a legislator, please be advised that the radish manoeuvre described above constitutes a violation of a person's human rights according to international law, and furthermore that radishes are only nutritionally valuable if taken orally and consensually.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Live (prerecorded) Harlot! Uses actual syllables!

Nothing could induce me to misuse my employers' webcam facilities except the direst necessity. Recording this, for example.



Which I had to do because there are people, actual people, who want to know how I pronounce things. As in, words. And syllables. In fact, Kate O, who is one of the best internetians everrrrr, went so far as to write, "It would please me to NO END if you and [some other person – doesn't matter who] made an accent video!!" Two exclamation marks. That's her way of saying that if I don't expose y'all (her locution) to my pronunciation of the word "pecan" she will probably die of phonological curiosity. And I couldn't have that on my conscience.

So, here's the deal. People in on this global Anglophone accent game are required to:

1. disclose their regional identity (like, I live in la la Lalor, but I used to live in Preston, but my cats come from Coburg, and that's probably influenced my accent in certain indefinite ways);

2. record their pronunciation of Aunt, Route, Wash, Oil, Theater (that's "theatre" to you, Mr U.S. Originated Word List), Iron, Salmon, Caramel, Fire, Water, Sure, Data, Ruin, Crayon, Toilet, New Orleans, Pecan, Both, Again, Probably, Spitting image, Alabama, Lawyer, Coupon, Mayonnaise, Syrup, Pajamas, Caught;

3. attempt answers to these
• What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house? (Your honour! Leading question, your honour! Falsely incriminates the defendant!)
• What is the bug that when you touch it, it curls into a ball?
• What is the bubbly carbonated drink called?
• What do you call gym shoes?
• What do you say to address a group of people?
• What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body and extremely long legs?
• What do you call your grandparents?
• What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
• What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?
• What is the thing you change the TV channel with?

I don't know about my accent, but my oral sentence structure is one of the seven wonders of the post-Apocalypse. (Also, I think I look rather world-weary and ho-hum-isn't-this-nerdy, in my own surpassingly nerdy sort of way, whereas I'm not weary of the world (I love you, world) and I was delighted to be doing this, so I can only attribute any arch eyebrow raises and fatigued vocal intonations to the fact that it was Something Late O'Clock in the House of my Employers.)

And here's my question for you, gentle reader, on a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means "Can't I just go to bed already?" and 10 means "Hot Dawg! Yes! My word!", how much do you think I sound like a person raised in Sydley and migrated to the 'Bourne? And what do you call gym shoes?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Dad

Our Dad died on the 14th February last year. The last few weeks have been shadowed, day by day by day, by what they were a year ago. Today was the day when, and yesterday was the day when, and that was the day he mistook the whistle of his oxygen mask for Lutheran choristers. Aching and blessed days.

Here is some of who I miss:

1. crinkly grizzly bear eyes,
2. the bald expanse from his ear to his other ear, which he referred to as his "wide part",
3. and when he saw another bald man, he would say "There's a man who goes to my barber",
4. and when he saw an unambiguously pregnant person, would say, "I know her little secret" (which was funny, even if it doesn't sound it right here)
5. and when he saw a grown man of impressive girth (which he was, mostly, himself), would say, "He'll be a big chap when he grows up",
6. and when he saw a terrier or a poodle the size of his shoe, would say, "That's a ferocious looking beastie",
7. and on long drives he'd sing the 23rd Psalm to the tune of "Advance Australia Fair"
8. and "A poor bird, take thy flight, far above the so-o-rrows of this sad night", jauntily,
9. and he used to refer to the "Te Deum" as the "Tedium"
10. and he seemed to become increasingly involved in our birthday presents as he got older
11. and took us as often as he could to the sea, crammed his shirt pocket with the flotsam I found on the beach, let the week leach out of him in the salt warm surf, bought irresponsible quantities of ice-cream for his children,
12. and watched consecutive news broadcasts on three different television channels
13. and was weak in the presence of cream,
14. staaaaaaaaaaaarrrving beagles,
15. plant nurseries,
16. and gradually grew out of reading the real estate pages out loud over breakfast (phonetically, i.e., "three bdrm, two bthrm, one-eighty-thou ono")
17. and invented toast with vegemite and marmalade
18. and was enthusiastic, at various times, about such things as yurts, no-dig vegetable gardening, potato sexing, curry making, liquid manure in fibreglass vats, torulosa pine windbreaks, MG convertibles, pineapple plantations, refugee activism, mud bricks, punning,
19. and he gave me, he and Mum, this feeling of completely belonging,
20. even though I was their "little mistake afterthought".

Death can seem so blunt and stupid.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Knickers

You'll never believe this, but I was a bit of a booky two-shoes at school. My worst ever mark was awarded in year 7, in a subject then referred to as "Craft", but which, I'm almost certain, was shortly thereafter rebadged as "Listening to Mrs Hanlon Tell You How Her Son Developed Pubic Pimples As A Result of Wearing Tight Lycra Underpants". I quite enjoyed "Craft": the lack of homework, the dermatological advice, the forty or so dress-making pins I collected from behind the sewing machines. If there'd been extra points for the thrifty acquisition of other peoples' poorly husbanded pins, "Craft" would never have become my own personal toothy bête noir of scholastic failure.

I didn't technically fail "Craft". I scored 55%, a pass, which enabled me to leave year 7 and permanently avoid any further insights from Mrs Hanlon upon synthetic fibres. It felt like a fail, though, dripping and oily with condemnation. Mrs H had noticed that I'd spent the entire term collecting pins and stitching a single pants pocket with such rigour that I'd virtually sewn it shut. I'd done nothing but sew that pocket - unpick it and sew it again, trim it with lace, embroider it with daisy stitch – because in week 3 I had lost all the other pieces of my shorts project. "Lost", I say, but when I think of my own depredations upon the pins, it seems more likely that they were stolen. For the brisk underground trade in unsewn pants pieces. Probably exchanged for cocaine or chocolate buttons or whatever it was my hardened criminal schoolmates were into back then.

So I get a bit of a "Ha! I've shown you, Mrs Hanlon!" moment every time I sew something and it turns out sort of okay. Which more and more of my sewing projects are required to do, because I recently pioneered Project Never Buy Clothing Again.

There is no proper rationale behind Project Never Buy Clothing Again. It's a bit to do with this situation:

Wardrobe of Doom

And a bit to do with underpaid garment workers, and a bit to do with saving money, but mostly it's about exorcising the demon called 55%. Get thee behind me, 55%.

On the weekend, in between not writing the conference paper I'm giving on Friday, and the book chapter that I scheduled for completion in January, I figured out how to make underpants.

My underpants!

And so now I present to you the Lexicon Harlot Quick & Easy Guide to Making Your Own Underpants at Home:

1. Cut out an underpantoid bit of fabric. Do not use lycra.

Click on image to enlarge (what fun!)

2. Hem the leg-holes, taking care to press the seams at every opportunity.

3. Sew up the side seams.

4. Make elastic casing.

5. Thread elastic through elastic casing.

6. Embroider with your initials, or "I heart Andrea Dworkin", or whatever.

7. And now, having girt your loins with this serviceable and comfy undergarment, write your conference paper. There is no no no no no excuse not to.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

They don't do science like this anymore; or, Darwin keeps making me cry

"The second case was that of a Hindustani man, who from illness and poverty was compelled to sell his favourite goat. After receiving the money, he repeatedly looked at the money in his hand and then at the goat, as if doubting whether he would not return it. He went to the goat, which was tied up ready to be led away, and the animal reared up and licked his hands. His eyes then wavered from side to side; his mouth was partially closed, with the corners very decidedly depressed. At last the poor man seemed to make up his mind that he must part with this goat, and then, as Mr Scott saw, the eyebrows became slightly oblique, with the characteristic puckering or swelling at the inner ends, but the wrinkles on the forehead were not present. The man stood thus for a minute, then heaving a deep sigh, burst into tears, raised up his two hands, blessed the goat, turned round, and without looking again, went away."

- Charles Darwin, The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals

Monday, 31 January 2011

About this weather

They promised 40 degrees for yesterday, and it only reached 38, for which I was pathetically thankful. They promised 39 degrees for today, and it only reached 37 before plummeting rapidly to 27, and I was grateful again. Right now the sun is slipping behind the airconditioning unit on the roof of the house across the road and it is stiiilllllll 27 degrees but so humid I feel like I've just finished my shift in the dumpling kitchen, crossed the laneway to my nightjob in the Korean bathhouse, and been asked to steam some towels above a big steamy towel-steaming vat. No dumplings, though, and not many laneways or Korean bathhouses. The humidity was my point. It's the sort of weather about which I'll cheerfully whinge.

I've been buttonholing wedding guests everywhere I go this Summer and telling them how cool and glorious this water-water-everywhere Summer has been. The floods are awful (I've said), in the awesome way of nature going slam and killing people and ripping animals out of their paddocks and ruining crops and sinking houses and giving rise to locust plagues, but (let us speak not of these matters, or of what it means that the Pacific ocean is evaporating a thousand swimming pools a second, or of the cyclone bearing down on Queensland right now) the rain! the rain! Melbourne's reservoirs are now 53.9% full (pathetically grateful), and, here at the Lalorium, we have planted peaches and a nectarine, an apple, tomatoes, beans, corn, mint, oregano, lemon balm, lemon grass, a lemon tree, a lime, roses, and honesty, chives, nasturtiums, lamb's ear, rosemary, garlics, and echium, cat mint, harebells, cosmos, a persimmon, a wee little Adriatic white fig, daisies, English box, a buddleja, pinks, lychnis, statice, lavender, kangaroo paws, gaura, pineapple guavas, sunflowers, brachycome, a bilbergia, rhubarb, crepe myrtle, thyme, sea holly, Vietnamese mint, and cotinas, and everything has survived, on rain and the odd slosh of pre-loved bathwater. Even the stupid grass, which hasn't had the luxury of sloshes of pre-loved bathwater, is green and sproingy like the grasses of my childhood oop north. The only things that have died - an alpine daisy, a fifteen centimetre high giant feather grass and a $5 flea market rose of uncertain parentage - died of too much water and/or of being sat on by cats.

So, as I say, I'm whinging cheerfully, because everything's coming up dandelions (here), and this sudden onset of swimming-around-in-a-big-pond-of-warm-elderberry-soup is nothing to the hot-and-deathly of two years ago.

I've gone a little potty over being able to grow things. Saw a giant fat thistle on my walk to the shops the other week, and managed, with the assistance of ye google, to diagnose it as a cardoon. My resourceful mum pointed me to a two fat ladies' recipe for cardoons, and I promptly inveigled the sidekick to accompany me on a cardoon-pilfering expedition by dark of night. We severed a few roots trying to dig it up, and it's now hovering on the brink of existence, between two slowly decomposing piles of horse poo, which poo is further evidence of my garden pottiness. There's a personage 30km up the road giving out free faeces, see. She's struck up a monthly appointment with me and I'm now her official manure-remover. I look forward to many conversations like this one:

Fellow garden enthusiast: Duuuude. This is seriously good shit, dude.
Me: Totally, dude. Like, shit.

Which is to say, got any spare poo, or veggie seeds, or raspberry canes, I'm your man.

But what does a pig do with a warm shawl?

"Kittens, puppies, young pigs and probably many other animals, alternately push their fore-feet against the mammary glands of their mothers, to excite a freer secretion of milk, or to make it flow. Now it is very common with young cats, and not at all rare with old cats of the common and Persian breeds (believed by some naturalists to be specifically distinct), when comfortably lying on a warm shawl or other soft substance, to pound it quietly and alternately with their fore-feet; their toes being spread out and claws slightly protruded, precisely as when sucking their mother. That it is the same movement is clearly shown by their often at the same time taking a bit of the shawl into their mouths and sucking it; generally closing their eyes and purring from delight."

- Charles Darwin, The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Sloth/human hybrid

It's 2.10pm and I have just parted ways with my pyjamas, after a morning of eXtreme sloth, executed with military zeal from the middle of my bed. The sloth was in honour of last night's kitten vigil, as we waited for Harriet and Beatrice to come inside from their romp-athlon about town.

If H & B don't get a couple of hours of daily al fresco exercise, they spend the night bouncing on human pancreases and attacking human toes in the manner of hyperactive carnivorous lemurs. The trouble with their taking their constitutionals, however, is that Beatrice is a pinky, and though her preference is to lounge about in the sun in the manner of Brigitte Bardot, the result would be great hideous tragic skin cancers, possibly (google seems not be working, so I can't check) also in the manner of Brigitte Bardot's. To butter her in sun-screen would comprise a violation of civil liberties tantamount to bathing her, and so we wait til the sun is two-thirds dropped, make sure her bird-alarm-system is at full tintinnabulation, and tell her to go play in the shade. This she and Harriet have generally done, and with a few notable and anxiogenic exceptions, they've generally brought themselves back inside two or three hours later, romped out enough to make pleasant bedfellows.

But we're not in Kansas anymore. Here, up in not-Kansas, where there are exciting things like hedges!, unmown lawns (ours)!, ways of getting onto the shed roof!, Harriet and Beatrice have turned into feline delinquents, staying out til all hours and not even texting. In further evidence of their delinquency, when Harriet does come home, she is bearing an unripe apple from nextdoor's apple tree.

Harriet Cat's stolen apples

This is one hundred per cent true and not a lie. You can see them in the picture above. She brings them home and drops them next to the dining table. Also an apricot from next door's apricot tree, but as it was ripe on one side I ate half of it before I thought to take the photo. I'm not sure if the reason she's bringing home apples rather than mice or locusts or caterpillars is because she knows this is Vegan January, or because the apples are easier to catch. Either way, I'm impressed by her criminal audacity, and hoping that it continues when the apples get bigger and tastier.

What I'm also impressed by (this is how to contrive an elegant segue, kids), is the neighbours' commitment to food gardening. No. 10 has not only this cat-pleasing apple and fantastically fructiferous apricot, but also a lemon and a giant beautiful fig tree. No. 6 is all mulberries and stone fruit, with a neat line of shallots marching along in front of their zinnias. In the midst of this edible paradise, all that was growing in our brand new garden was a concrete gum tree stump and a vigorous colony of dandelions (no, I lie: also a golden diosma, an ornamental bookleaf conifer, and a variegated pittosporum), but we're gradually stirring up the clay and finding places for nectarines and peaches and feijoas and beans (and tomatoes, which are flowering but refusing to fruit - which is their choice of course, and I respect it) and a fancy little lemon tree my sister bequeathed us for Christmas. There will be produce, dognammit, and I will be documenting it with unseemly pride.

For now, though, Beatrice and Harriet are leading the way by sleeping their socks off, and I think getting dressed constitutes sufficient hard labour for today.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Another post

This is the story of how I came to forsake the rosy loo and greeny walls of my once and former spinster pad for la-la-la-la-la Lalor!, Peoples' Republic Thereof, and one of the finest (you know) three-bedroom 1968 brick venereals in town. Now, well may you ask why me and mah posse couldn't find something more interesting to do with our future earnings than pay il Banquo a squillion bajillion dollars in interest, why we couldn't have - I dunno - started up a commercial spanakopita kitchen, why the national obsession with indenturing oneself to Westpac needed us too. Yes, well may you ask.

There is an answer to your questions, and it is twofold.

Fold, the first: when I first moved into my spinster pad, high density housing suited me right down to my faux floorboards. Fifty square metres? Felt more like fifty acres. I could have installed a couple of ponies in the bathroom-cum-laundry. Nosebags in the wardrobe? No problem. But then, instead of ponies, these young people moved in:


They were happy living in the drawer for a while, but soon Harriet took possession of the one comfy chair.


And Beatrice was forced to establish herself in the bathtub.


And then I plighted my trough to this character


who immediately started making biscuits

and before we knew it we were having to stack excess biscuits in the bathtub-cum-storage-trough in the bathroom-cum-storage-space and Beatrice was forced to live behind the kettle. This was untenable.

Fold the second is this rather astonishing letter-box and newspaper receptacle log, made out of genuine concrete eucalyptus stump. I'd say it added a good $15000 to the purchase price of the Lalor quarter-acreage, and worth every penny.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Toodles, Two Thousand and Ten

Happy new year, commarades. It took the onset of a whole nother decade to remind me that I have a blog, and then it took tonight's spanakopita de resistance to fill me with typistly zeal - but! - here I am, having thrown my own personal gauntlet at my own personal self, having brushed the withered internetian laurels (such as they were) from my posterior, and declaring before you all (Mum), that 2011 will be a year of less infrequent blogging, more frequent eating of spanakopita, and of adherence to a swag of lesser resolutions (i.e., write doggammed book,* grow feijoa hedge out front of new house,** buy no clothes all year, except possibly brassiere,*** and so forth).

January, meanwhile, is the month of being vegan, which brings me to the rather tasty subject of tonight's spanakopita. Or the less tasty subject of why January is the month of being vegan. This business with the dairy industry, the one where the calves get shunted off prematurely away from their mothers, the little bulls turned into mince meat, the cows kept in a state of prolonged aching lactation: it's not good, is it? And neither is the fate of your typical chook. I've been thinking these thoughts for almost two decades now, and making sporadic, invariably unsuccessful runs at not eating eggs and milk. Unsuccessful, sporadic, I suppose, because I don't figure my personal abstinence constitutes much of a chip off the great groaning megalith that is our day-to-day exploitation of animals. And because I don't feel as implicated in that exploitation when I'm eating the biscuit that's made from the butter that comes from the cow whose male calf was killed, as I do when my teeth tear at the calf himself. And because I know that even if I stop eating butter-eggs-dollops-of-marscapone myself, I'm still of the exploiter class. I pour the catfood (that euphemism) into the two white bowls. I take it for granted that any medicine, shampoo, dishwashing liquid I might use will be safe for me to use, or unsafe in known ways, because thoroughly tested - on whom, I prefer not to think. I read a poem that was first written down with a feather plucked from the rump of a live goose. I look at a photograph first printed with egg white. On my wall is a painting of a chemist's laboratory, painted with - a brush - made of? I admire human ingenuity without thinking too hard about humanity's ingenuity for cruelty.

January is the month of being vegan, not for the sake of the captive farm animal - because if it was for her sake, I'd do something bigger, something real, something that would really help her, like going to the butchers' shops tonight, right now, and plastering her picture on their windows. It's in hope of some kind of absolution, even as I know that I can't be absolved, because my not eating cheese doesn't change the fact that I'm of the master species, a thriving beneficiary of this culture built out of fine bone china and calfskin and catgut. But, but, but: it seems right, to try at least, to take that tiny chip from the monolith, or more right than not doing so. (You will see my ethical bankruptcy - or confusion, anyway - when you hear that at 11.50pm on New Year's Eve, I guzzled as much of the Christmas Lindt as I could, in anticipation of January, the month of being vegan. Or when you note that I am speaking of a month, rather than a lifetime - though that, I should say, is in the spirit of beginning with measurable distances, and to defuse the anxieties of a beloved who knows no higher compliment than "buttery", and cannot think of a mushroom without sauteing it in something from a cow's teat.)

So, to the far pleasanter matter of vegan spanakopita, brought to you by the eternal excellence of filo pastry, by the enormous bunch of silverbeet procured for $1 at the local vegetablarium, and by a viable substitute for ricotta (stay with me here) made out of mashed tofu, pepper, lemon juice, basil and nutmeg. Chuck ye this into yon oven, with liberal sloshes of olive oil, and serve with a brown lentil, thyme, tomato, basil, green bean, rocket, balsamissimo salad, and Bob thine uncle shall be. See how I deprive myself?

* subject of another post
** subject of another other post
*** subject of another other other post