Saturday, 15 November 2014

I wish I could sing

Miss 14 and I went to a Katy Perry concert last night, a stadium show. Huge. Around 15,000 people. And she has sold out eight shows. What a spectacle. Imagine a massively amplified Alice in Wonderland married Cirque du Soleil and gave birth to some irresistible songs. Awesome.

I have deep reverence for great performers, especially singers. Deep reverence and total envy. I wish I could sing. Not just carry a tune, I can do that all right. No, I mean I wish I had the sort of voice that other people actually want to listen to, that others enjoy. I wish I could disappear into a song and take my listeners with me. I wish I could fill a stadium or a theatre with a voice that teleports an audience to another time or to an alternate universe where the only thing that matters is the song.

That moment in a concert when the vocalist stops to let the crowd continue for her never fails to exhilarate me. All those people knew Firework. And we were all delighted to demonstrate it. How must that feel? To know that all those people adore and respect your work. All those people have been touched by your music, by your voice. Is it humbling or inspiring? Or both.

A passion for music has always been an integral part of who I am. I’ve never been able to fight the compulsion to sing. But I’m not a sing for. I’m a sing along.   
I wish I was a sing for. 
Like Katy.

Friday, 14 November 2014

It's almost summer holidays

Yesterday was hot. It was the kind of day that has me hunting at the back of the bathroom cupboard for the lady-shaver and the fake tan. Yesterday gave me the first real hint that the school year will really truly soon be over and the Christmas season will be upon us.

The Rock is a popular summer holiday spot. Our usual population is somewhere around 9000. In summer that number swells to around to 50,000.

We have patrolled surf beaches, kid-friendly beaches, dog-friendly beaches, rugged hard-to-get-to beaches, beaches where you can fish, beaches for motor boats — we even have a beach that belongs to the local penguins. We have bike tracks and walking tracks. We have bird-watching places aplenty and we cohabit with all manner of native animals. I can see why people would want to come here for their summer break. Let’s face it; we did it ourselves for about a decade. I’m not complaining. We need all those droppers-by to sustain us through the bleak wintery months.

So yesterday’s glorious warmth was a reminder for me to take note of the key indicators that it’s almost summer holidays here on The Rock.

1: Roadworks begin. This usually involves:

(a) an increase in the number of speed limit signs along the principal roadways so that the legal speed changes every few hundred metres in order to trap unwary visitors and increase the number of speeding fines that can be issued

(b) a decrease in the speed limit at random illogical points on the roadways in order to trap unwary locals and increase the number of speeding fines that can be issued

(c) the appearance of fresh bright pink paint around the perimeters of the tyre-eating axel-snappingly large holes in the roads over the top of the faded bright pink paint from last summer’s marking of the tyre-eating axel-snappingly large holes in the roads.

2: The number of traffic police and parking inspectors increases.

3: The number of locals on the streets decreases.

4: Lurid floatation devices that will spontaneously combust if left in direct sunlight and fluoro bucket/spade sets with flimsy handles guaranteed to snap right off as soon as any enterprising child attempts to fill said bucket with water or sand or any combination of both water and sand fill the display of every shop window — supermarket, pharmacy, ice-cream parlour, fish ’n chippery, newsagency, bike store, hair-dresser, frock shop, real estate agent, undertaker… every last one of them.

But yesterday also set me to thinking that there may be a better way for we Rock Dwellers to manage the onslaught of summer guests. You see, there’s only one way on to The Rock. So, I’m wondering if we should set up a tollbooth and allocate visas to all those who wish to gain passage to our little piece of paradise.

I’m considering issuing them along these lines:

Long- term visa: Well hello and welcome — you look like a lovely family who  respect the environment and have plenty of money to pump into our restaurants, wineries and book store. Enjoy your summer.

Medium-term visa:  As your boat/surf board/ jetski is clearly brand-spanking shiny new, you have permission to stay long enough for it to become salt –encrusted, for you to get your nose sunburned and to see a real live wallaby. Then home you go. And don’t forget to take your rubbish with you.

Short-term visa: Are you kidding? This car has air-horns. You have permission only to visit the go-karts and/or the brewery, get your fish ’n chips and buggar off back to wherever you came from.


That should just about cover it.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

...don't keep me hanging on the telephone

This may be a confession that puts me in the category of people who drive you crazy, but I don’t always answer my phone. There. I admitted it. Sometimes I let it go right on ringing until the message system kicks in, and sometimes I just push the little button so the damn thing shuts up. Yes. I’m a non-answerer.

It drives my kids crazy — not me failing to answer their calls, I always answer if it’s one of them. No, they’re utterly mystified that I am not completely consumed with curiosity about who and what and why my phone is ringing. They just look at me. Incredulous.

‘Say what?’ their expressions scream at me. ‘ Seriously, Mum? Really? Do you actually think you have enough BFFs to risk pissing one off by not jumping to their call?”

Hmwmph…  They’re right. I don’t have a great many friends, but if the ones I do have really truly desperately want to tell me something important, they’ll leave a message. Or call back. Or send a text. Or an email.

Sometimes my non-answering is because I’m otherwise occupied with simultaneously preparing dinner, helping with homework, singing to my fave song of the moment and having a glass of wine (I always cook better with a glass or wine… or two… I sing better too.) At other times, it’s because I’m happily ensconced in a mind-numbing trash tv session, and finding out which Dance Mom is going to get the Botox kicked out of her has top priority.

But it’s not always because I cannot stop whatever it is I’m doing and chat to whoever it may be. Occasionally, I just don’t feel like talking.

I don’t always feel like pretending I’m happy to hear from someone. It may be that I’d really rather be left alone. And trust me. Trying to have a conversation with a cranky me is not going to brighten anyone’s day. It’s kind of a safety issue, really.

Text me. Email me. I’ll never ignore you then. Even if Abby Lee Miller is giving Cathy wet-willies with a perfectly varnished acrylic talon. Written words will always get my attention. Almost immediately. But voice calls just don’t have the same propinquity. 
Not for me anyway.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Her Imperial Fluffiness

Last night, Her Imperial Fluffiness deigned to spend a not insignificant portion of her time in my company. I was, of course, appropriately appreciative and expressed my deep resounding gratitude for her presence as she generously aided my naturally inept attempts to sew together the squares of the latest blanket I’ve been knitting by testing both its comfort and the effectiveness of my stitching endeavours with her not insignificant body weight. Ever so helpful.

As her paws absently gripped then released… gripped then released… gripped then released… those ridiculously loopy threads of  my inexpert handiwork, her engine slipped into overdrive, the revving just loud enough to blur the dialogue of the movie she clearly knew was of no interest to me. Why else would I have put the remote control ever so slightly out of my reach?

Later, when the rest of the population of The Rock was foolishly squandering those annoyingly quiet small hours, she used her remarkable 7th sense to determine that, with Dr Dad away in London, a little company and conversation would cheer me up. Who could fail to be delighted by the pad pad prod…pad pad prod… of Her Highness on their flaccid cheek?  Or the stomp stomple stomp that accompanies the wafting of a splendidly feathery appendage beneath their nose as Her Majesty makes her way to the bedside table to commence deftly swatting anything smaller and lighter than a house brick onto the floor? 
Not I.
In daylight hours, she is often equally as generous with her assistance. When I write, she offers valuable criticism.

And her contribution to my household chores is incalculable.   

But oh, how honoured I am when she graces me with her presence in the evenings. 
I know my place. 
I remain ever her humble servant.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Bulgogi for beginners: Korean BBQ beef 101

Until recently, Korean food was a bit of mystery to most Australians. Probably the nearest thing was the occasional Mongolian BBQ restaurant where you’d cook your own meat on a smelly kerosene-fuelled hotplate in the middle of the table. Remember those? Well, lately Korean restaurants have been popping up all over the place and to my amazement (and to be honest, just a weeny bit of horror) I discovered pre-packaged bulgogi beef in the meat section of our supermarket. Not imported authentic pre-packed bulgogi, mind you, locally prepared try-hard-wannabe stuff.

So, as our home is a bit of a bastion of bulgogi ( well, for a pack of Aussies it is anyway), I thought I’d share the secrets of this popular Korean dish. Unlike other Asian cuisines, Korean does not use a great many spices: garlic and chilli—that’s about it — with soy and sesame coming in close behind. Koreans use their spiciest mix with chicken and squid. Beef is treated with respect for the flavour and so bulgogi has no chilli, making it popular with even the fussiest of eaters. And because you often eat it rolled in lettuce leaves, bulgogi makes a great picnic treat too, no cutlery or plates required.

 Here’s what you’ll need:

600 g scotch fillet, porterhouse or rump steak 

4 chopped spring onions (both the white and the green parts)

1 finely grated medium-sized carrot

1 lettuce washed and separated into leaves (Cos lettuce work well for this but a good-old iceberg will do.)


1 nashi pear – peeled and mashed or grated finely (a kiwi-fruit will do if there are no nashis)

1 tablespoon sugar

6 tablespoons soy sauce

6 cloves garlic (more if you like)

¼ teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon roasted sesame seeds

1 tablespoon sesame oil

Here's how to do it:

1.     Slice the beef against the grain of the meat as finely as possible. The easiest way to do this evenly and without trimming your fingernails at the same time is to slice the steak when it is par-frozen.

2.     Mix the mashed pear/kiwi and sugar in a bowl with the sliced beef . It’s best if you squash it all together a little with your fingers, as your body heat will help start the tenderising process. Yes, that’s what the fruit is for: the acid is a natural tenderiser. Set this aside while you prepare the rest of the marinade. The longer the better. If you can be bothered, leave it for half an hour, but really a couple of minutes will be enough. Korean cooking’s an ancient art, not a precise science.

3.     Pound/grind the sesame seeds and pepper, then add the garlic and pound it all together.

4.     Transfer the garlic paste to a large bowl and combine with soy sauce and sesame oil.

5.       Add the chopped spring onion, grated carrot and meat mix to the marinade, combine well, cover and leave to stand at room temperature for at least an hour. If you want to make this up ahead of time, just put it in the fridge overnight.

6.     Remove the meat from the marinade and bbq on a preheated hotplate for two or three minutes.

7.     Spoon into lettuce cups and tuck in!

Once you’ve tried this basic recipe, you can make it your own by adjusting the amount of sesame/garlic that your family prefers. Some people like to add a bit of crushed ginger to their marinade, others increase the vegetable content with finely chopped green capsicum and/or bean shoots, while some go for the straight carnivore version, ditching the veggies completely.

Of course, if you want to serve it with rice instead of lettuce cups, go right ahead. There’s no rule preventing that. And if you want to spice it up, add a sauce made of red chilli and soybean paste that can be spooned on to the beef by anyone who likes things hot.

Koreans would always always serve bulgogi with kimchi — the national dish of pickled, chillied vegetable (usually cabbage). It’s pungent to say the least, and most definitely an acquired taste for most Aussies. Kimchi became a staple in Korea as they could preserve the veggies in huge ceramic pots which they buried in the earth or under the snow for when green vegetables were scarce as a way to prevent scurvy. The rooves of modern apartment blocks in Korea are still dotted with kimchi pots over the long freezing winter months, and a great many homes have a separate kimchi fridge.

Koreans also always serve a range of little side-dishes to pick at with chopsticks during every meal: things like seaweed, spinach, cucumber or mung bean salad; blanched zucchini strips; steamed eggplant; pickled white radish; honeyed sweet-potato or tiny potato pancakes. And of course there's rice.

 So maybe next time you have friends over for a bar-be, you can switch things up a little bit and serve bulgogi and sausages. We do!

Monday, 10 November 2014

I didn't love 'The Rosie Project'

I didn’t love The Rosie Project.

I was in conversation with Bernadette, the wife I’d never met of a man I know a little from work. I don’t remember how we even got onto the topic of what we’d been reading, but everything was going swimmingly until I uttered those few words.

I didn’t love it.

In less than an instant, her expression dropped from animated smile, through vague surprise, to blank stare. Like she couldn’t imagine what kind of humourless bitch wouldn’t love The Rosie Project.

I don’t usually do that. Disagree with people I don’t know, I mean. Normally, I return the smile and utter something that mirrors their point of view, that will make them feel comfortable. Maybe even fool them into thinking I’m a nice person. So I’m not sure why this time I just blurted without first pouring my words through the be-nice-filter.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t looking for an argument, or trying to stop the conversation. I wasn’t being un-nice. I guess perhaps it was just a view that I wasn’t prepared to set aside. I really didn’t love The Rosie Project. I didn’t dislike it, either. In fact, I enjoyed it. I found it diverting and amusing —a pleasant holiday read. But I didn’t love it. 

Mostly, that’s because I DO love The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

I think the protagonist/narrator, Christopher John Francis Boone, is far more engaging than Don Tillman as a representation of someone who is ‘on the spectrum’, and I believe Mark Haddon’s structure and plotting is superior to Graeme Simsion’s.

Haddon’s work is clever and funny and heart-breaking and thought-provoking and whimsical and logical all at the same time. It’s so adeptly crafted that the crafting goes unnoticed. The interplay of what Christopher sees with what we as readers see is genius. Even the gaps and silences in Haddon’s novel have an authentic voice. I adore it. I can read it over and over and it hangs together so tightly that I love it even more.

So, while I am all-too-willing to wear the badge that says Picky Bitch, Humourless Bitch I am not. I’m sorry, Bernadette, because I didn’t intend to upset you or shut you down. But I don’t have any passion for The Rosie Project. Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps when I’m truly passionate about something, I simply cannot apply the be-nice-filter.

Is that so wrong?

The Rosie Project was published by The Text Publishing Company, Australia, 2013

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was published by Random House, United Kingdom, 2003.

Sunday, 9 November 2014's in the detail

Not so long ago, I was lucky enough to tick African Safari off my bucket list. It was a life-changing trip for many reasons. Somehow, on the Mara and in the Serengeti, brutality, majesty, drama, beauty and enormity conspired to make me notice the tiny and the specific. Accumulation of detail overwhelmed me.

...elephants have coarse straight eyelashes

...there is no Swahili word for willy-willy
...a hippopotamus really does smile
...a lion's paw looks just like a house cat's

... giraffes wear skin of batik

... weaver bird nests hang like Christmas decorations.

The splendour was humbling. Amazing took on new meaning — days spent inside a wildlife documentary. And of all the dazzling images and memories I brought back, this is perhaps my favourite:

This moment speaks to me of home, of Europeans in a foreign land, of family, friendship, sharing, of stillness amidst the flurry. 
Whole continents on a single blade of grass.