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