Brazil’s awesomely sensible ten suggestions about eating well.

Brazil’s Ministry of Health have issued new dietary guidelines that are simply awesome. They can be found in full here (PDF).

The guidelines can summarised as follows:

1.    Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
2.    Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations
3.    Limit consumption of processed foods
4.    Avoid consumption of ultra-processed products
5.    Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
6.    Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods
7.    Develop, exercise and share culinary skills
8.    Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
9.    Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
10.   Be wary of food advertising and marketing

Light sabre

Ever been sunburned? Gone to bed with that awful, sweaty, stinging feeling of hot regret? Had little blisters form then pop? We pretty much all have haven’t we. Stupid bastards that we are! “Stupid” because that ol’ friend of ours, our nearest star, our planet’s parent and orbital centre, The Sun, puts out a lot of energy. Just how much; well obviously enough to broil your shoulders at some point!

As this picture clearly shows, you can work out the energy received at any given point using this simple formula:

\overline{Q}^{\mathrm{day}}, the theoretical daily-average insolation at the top of the atmosphere, where θ is the polar angle of the Earth’s orbit, and θ = 0 at the vernal equinox, and θ = 90° at the summer solstice; φ is the latitude of the Earth. The calculation assumed conditions appropriate for 2000 A.D.: a solar constant of S0 = 1367 W m−2, obliquity of ε = 23.4398°, longitude of perihelion of ϖ = 282.895°, eccentricity e = 0.016704. Contour labels (green) are in units of W m−2.”

Got that? Clearly though this formula doesn’t account for the various ways that the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs and scatters the energy as it travels from the outer edge of the atmosphere to ground level. That varies depending on cloud cover and other suspended moisture, suspended particulates, vegetation and so on. So lets just sum it all up and say that the sun puts out a lot of energy and on a hot, clear day you could fry an egg very, very quickly using just the sun’s heat.

Which brings us to this little conundrum; what do you do with an old satellite (internet) dish that has been superseded with a newer, faster model?

IMG_0623Do you;

  1. Give it to the dish-installer man to take away and dispose of?
  2. Turn it into a very large birdbath?
  3. Leave it forever behind the garage until the Missus yells “Clean that shitpile up!”
  4. Use it to make mischief (in a fun, harmless way of course)?

Guess which numbered box the money is in….you betcha….Number 4!

There are quite a few YouTube videos of people making reflector dishes out of old sat’ dishes. Many of them use the little, square mirrors, like off a disco mirror ball. All I can say is that they must be richer than me, or at least more willing to throw money at a simple, fun project. At the cheapest price I could find those mirror squares for sale the total cost for enough of them would have been $400-$500. No way José!!

Reflective Mylar film is another matter – a roll of that comes in about $40-$50. The overall reflective properties probably aren’t quite as good as a set of glass mirrors (Mylar film comes in at about 92-97% reflectivity, not too different than mirrors as the actual reflective material in a mirror is basically the same stuff; however the Mylar film is impossible to adhere to the dish without some imperfections resulting, such as ripples, bubbles and some areas of glue overspray) and of course the film won’t be weatherproof so the dish will have to be stored indoors. However these cons just pale into insignificance against the cost savings.

The film was cut into (roughly) triangular shapes to allow us to better shape it into the dish. To glue the film to the dish we used a spray adhesive, masking off each previously glued section to prevent (OK…minimise) overspray.

Here is the completed dish, mounted on the post, leg spars and roof brackets that were intended to actually put the original dish on a roof, and are here slightly modified to provide a stable, free-standing base.

IMG_0635It all looks very innocent. Looks can however be deceiving…

More mayhem….errrr….I mean “Scientific Experiments of an Educational Nature” videos to come. The video above was our first “experiment” which was performed at around 2:30pm mid September. Can’t wait for mid-Summer at between 11am and 1pm (solar time).

Warning – try this at home.

The Coffee Table Book (Part 3a) – A thumbs up for customer service

If you recall dear readers, at the end of Part 3 there was an unfortunate crossing of the beams, or rather the drum of the power planer and a piece of cloth. We’re digressing here for a moment to tell a story that follows the classic narrative arc:

  • stasis
  • trigger
  • quest
  • surprise
  • critical choice
  • climax
  • reversal
  • resolution

Once upon a time I started making a  table out of reclaimed timbers. This project involves the trimming of gnarly old, hardwood deck timbers with saw and power plane. The power plane is a hugely important character in this tale, without whom we would altogether be at a loss. His name is RYOBI, and he is a fetching shade of bright green, and is about fifteen months old. One day RYOBI accidentally swallowed some cloth, which wrapped itself around the drum before his operator could stop him spinning.

IMG_0462His operator (after unplugging RYOBI) unscrewed his side plate and tried to flip off RYOBI’s toothed drive belt so that the blade drum could be turned in a reverse direction so as to free the cloth. Sadly, the belt broke during this exercise. “No problem…drive belts on such power planers are user replaceable items,” thought RYOBI’s operator, “I’ll just get a new belt.”

And so to the store where RYOBI was originally purchased; the local Bunnings Hardware. Here the friendly Tool Section man, Luke, advised that belts could only be ordered via the Special Orders Desk in the store. “Bah-Humbug to that” thought RYOBI’s operator, and he promptly went home to order one online instead.

Here our story takes a dark and frustrating turn, as it turns out that the sole merchant for RYOBI products, including spare parts is in fact Bunnings. In fact the “Spare parts” page of the RYOBI Australia website is simply a store locator to allow you to find the nearest Bunnings outlet. Rather than head out the door again, RYOBI’s operator let his fingers do the walking and with a quick phone call later an order was placed for a new drive belt. All seemed OK in the world, and RYOBI would soon be happily spinning again and helping with the job of making the coffee table.

Hope was crushed however when a couple of days later a young lady by the name of Ali’ rang from the local Bunnings to advise that the RYOBI company had discontinued the supply of the needed drive belt. “But how can that be!?!?!” RYOBI’s operator exclaimed “They are still advertising that model planer on the website as being a current model, and you’re still selling the planers in the store!” Ali’, being only the messenger of the bad news in this saga was not held to blame however, and she offered our heroes redemption in form of a warranty claim “If you’ve had the planer for twelve months or less, and have the sales receipt just come into the store and we’ll replace it for you.”

Alas, RYOBI was already fifteen months old, and the sales receipt had not been kept. Drat! Double Drat!! And furthermore…Botheration!! However a few days later, after much seething about the Wasteful, Throw-Away Society in which we live and the expense of having to buy a new planer in order to replace a perfectly good one RYOBI’s operator noticed that RYOBI’s original box documented that he came with a TWO YEAR warranty. Still no sales receipt, however usually such a store as Bunnings will do a product swap or similar on supply of the credit/debit card used for purchase.

RYOBI’s operator tucked him all up neatly and snugly in his box, along with all his accessories and headed off therefore to the local Bunnings outlet. Now this Bunnings is not actually the same Bunnings where our hero was purchased, as that outlet has subsequently been closed and the store reopened to larger premises just a throw of a hammer distance away. Presenting himself, RYOBI nestled in his box, his tale of woe and his card at the service counter RYOBI’s operator was told “We can’t actually look up card purchase history from that other (now closed) store as in our IT systems that is officially a different store than this one and we don’t have access to that store’s records. Nevertheless, go and see Luke in Tools and we’ll sort it out somehow.”

Off to see Luke, to again tell the story, point out the illogic of the fact that Bunnings is still selling the same model of planer that the manufacturer is no longer stocking parts for even though its only fifteen months old and advise that the lovely lady over at the Service Counter has promised a happy ending. “But we can look up the purchase.” says Luke “We can’t in-store but our central IT department can do a search if you can tell me roughly when you made the purchase. I’ll need your card details and a rough idea when you made the purchase, and if you give me your mobile number and wait a while I’ll see what we can do.”

RYOBI and his operator thus went on an extended browse around the BBQ section, the plant nursery, a toilet stop (Note to Bunnings – you need more than one hand drier in the men’s toilet) and then back to the tool section to ogle the selection of Dremel fittings…until….some 45 minutes later….bbrrrnngg bbrrrngg goes the mobile with Luke on the line to say “Come and find me again and we’ll sort you out.”

It transpires that the IT department was still doing whatever Central Bunnings IT Departments do to try and locate a purchase in their records, but that Luke had decided to Do the Right Thing and process it all as a product warranty swap, and worry about the paperwork later. Sad, not-really-broken-but-needs-a-new-drive-belt RYOBI was thus left with the lovely lady at the service counter and replaced with a brand, spanking new replacement model.

Our Beautiful Assistant Shwoing off the NEW planer.Our story ends mostly happily then. The RYOBI company remains in the bad books for discontinuing a simple, user-replaceable part for a model of power tool that is still current and still being sold, and during the warranty period! Bunnings however demonstrated good customer service and sorted out the problem.

I now have a brand new planer, with a two year warranty starting now, and a new sales receipt that I will file away for a rainy day. However I am still annoyed that what is basically a perfectly good tool chock full of metal and plastic and the embedded energy and other resources used to manufacture it is no doubt destined for landfill. Totally and avoidably wasteful! Grrr!

<-Go to Part 3 …. Go to Part 4->

Horsing around

Annie’s down for a visit to the ‘ahem’ pasture. Sadly she ate everything green before Elevenses on the first day, and since then its been hay, just hay two times a day is all she’s got to eat. However the grass IS always greener on the other side of the fence, in this case OUR side of the fence – in the orchard to be exact where it grows long and lush due to the higher watering and nutrient runoff from the composted gardens.

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It seems only fair to share a little of all that nice, green grass. After all, there’s only so much grass a vegan can eat.

Coal Seam Gas

Amazingly even this little, quiet corner of the world is under the watchful eye of the petro’ industry. AGL holds a Petroleum Exploration License that extends from the Northern End of Murrays Run, South West to Camden. In and around Camden AGL is currently operating somewhere between 40 and 80 active wells (it seems more difficult than it should be to pin down the exact number).

While the possibility of AGL or indeed any other gas company coming sniffing around Bucketty seems remote on the surface, this document published in March 2013 by the NSW Planning Department indicates that the peace and quiet might just be a piece of quiet before the storm.

Screenshot of Page 35 of the documentRecently a community action group has formed, under the convening hand of John Edye. There are fourteen of us all up on the committee, and we are in the process of organising a community wide survey to gauge the community’s feelings towards the idea of their collective backyard being turned into a gas field. I’ve written more about what I think here.

We are well underway to performing the community survey, having held a fantastically powerful community meeting on June 19th. From basically a walking start only three months ago we have built amazing momentum and it is wonderful to be able to contribute to the community this way. Most of the reporting of this journey will be on the website we’ve set up. Stay tuned.

Stairway to heaven (or at least the garage)

At the South Western corner of the house there is a bank rising about a metre and a half or so, sloped outward at 45 degrees. Its a natural shortcut when heading to the garage, though perhaps not when carrying things as the ground can be slippery when damp. A few metres to the right there are some rough stone steps, constructed I guess when the house was built some 30 years ago. The shortcut was so much used it had clearly proved worthy of being formalised and honoured with some steps of its own.

Steps need to be solid, and solid means big rocks, and big rocks means “bloody hell…that’s heavy <insert sound here of the sound of the kurfuffle valve rupturing>”. The bottom step forms the base for all the others and of course needs to be biggest, heaviest, kurfuffle-valve-blowingest stone of all. Here it is weighting* to be placed in position.
IMG_0132
So you can appreciate it better here is another view. To get this stone to this point required dragging it with a chain on a steel drag sheet, using the Scooby Doo. Even it called for a plate of fresh Scooby Snacks afterwards.

Another view of what will be the bottom step - she's a monster

Another view of what will be the bottom step – she’s a monster

Getting the first stone into place basically involved two careful stages: firstly dig out a stone shaped hole; and secondly roll the stone off the slope and hope the best it landed roughly in the right place. Fortunately it did, and after just a little bit of juggling we were ready for the next.

IMG_0135

This photo is a bit blurry. I think my kurfuffle valve was still erupting at this point.

 

IMG_0137

IMG_0138

IMG_0139And we’re done. Phew. Just a bit of tidying up to do and we’re ready to take the next step. **

* Can you see what I’ve done there? Can you? Or did you think I made an accidental spelling error?

** Can you see what I’ve done there? Golly I’m funny.

 

Powerless

Last year I camped overnight in the bush, just off a logging trail in Olney State Forest during a climbing weekend with the Shrek Man. Far down below us from the valley floor the sounds of cattle lowing came, any sight of the vocalisers lost to us under the layer of morning mist. We headed off after breakfast to poke around the cliffs we had first spied from the other side of the valley on some previous adventure, before our exploration was unexpectedly cut short by the failure of a battery powered drill, required to affix climbing bolts to the cliff face.

It was in search of this makeshift camp site that I set out this morning, alone in the Scooby Doo as everyone else slept in. We hope to revisit it again soon, and before heading there with friends in tow it seemed sensible to make sure I could find it once more, without the guiding wisdom of my climbing buddy. With a camera to document my trip, and two water bottles ready to refresh me as the day’s expected heat built I wound my way through the valley, passing through the still awakening town of Wollombi. A few kilometres on the far side of the town I stopped to pick up a hitcher, standing on the side of the road with a 5 litre container each of water an oil. “Only going as far as Millfield” I warned as he got in. “Fine by me mate, f*ckin’ truck’s broke down there and that’s where I’m headed now to get the f*ckin’ thing back”. Billy was his name, and he talked a storm the whole way through a toothless mouth, with breath tinged with the morning tobacco; telling the story of his wife’s broken starter motor, her boot full of groceries wilting on a hot day in her stranded car, his trip to retrieve her and his truck’s subsequent breakdown. “To cap off the whole f*ckin’ thing I got a call from the taxation department Monday this week to say that they’re gonna audit me for the last six f*ckin’ years”. Life throws f*ckin’ challenges at us all at times and this was Billy’s f*ckin’ time apparently.

Millfield is a small town South of Cessnock named after the timber mill which processes timber sawn and drawn from the surrounding State Forests. The mill marked the point at which I swung right, off the sealed road and began to climb out of the bowl of the valley into the high hills. A thin snake of dust trailed behind me as the tyres chunked on hard packed clay and sharp gravel. Signs warned of logging trucks on the road, and occasionally bare areas of logged trees stood forlornly bereft of life. Halfway up the mountain I paused to allow two horse riders to pass me, rather than me passing them and risking skittering their rides. We exchanged words and wisdom of the road ahead in our respective paths. Allowing them to draw some distance behind me I continued on, taking always the left, uphill fork whenever a choice presented itself on the road.

Eventually I reached Flat Rock Lookout, a cliff-face immediately on the side of the road and high above the valley floor. At this point I knew I was close and stopped to take in the view. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFlat Rock Lookout provides a fine view from the rim of the plateau, farms dotted amongst the cleared grassland in the Congewai valley, and the furthest sides of the plateau bowl lost in the blue oil haze of the eucalypt forests growing thickly up the slopes. The lookout is unfenced, save for a single section of rusted old cyclone fencing standing uselessly ahead of my parked vehicle. With the camera hanging by its strap around my neck I took a deliberate and careful step further out on the ledge, though here it began to slope down before dropping off precipitously some 4 metres ahead of me. In a moment my feet began to lose traction on the sharply sloping, dry, moss covered rock and all too quickly I found myself, alone in the midst of the forest, spread eagled on the rock and a metre further down and closer to the edge than safety called for. One hand clung to a small indentation above me, one foot with tentative purchase on the rock, one slowly slipping on the moss. For what seemed a long, long time I felt powerless to stop my continued slide to the edge and I considered the very real possibility that I would die here, today, probably before anyone else in the family was even awake. I stabilised myself for a moment, swore and thought frantically how to prevent myself sliding the remaining three metres or so down across the 35-40 degree slope of mossy rock to the edge – flipping uncontrollably and irrevocably over. In a short, unexpected moment I had slipped from the normal to the thin lipped edge of life itself. Slowly, gingerly, with great deliberation, transferring of weighting and adjustment of grip and balance I managed to make my way back up the half a body length that represented the long journey between this life and a bloodied ending below. One short crawl measured in heartbeats and breaths, punctuated with the desperate longing to have the time to properly berate myself for my stupidity.

Later, back in the car and with just a small graze on my arm as a souvenir,  I continued on, and soon afterwards found the track to the camp site. Alighting from the parked vehicle a rapid rustle of leaves ahead of me announced the presence of a goanna, startled by my arrival it climbed in a furious scrabble up a nearby tree and remained, clinging there until I left some time later. Given my recent experience I envied it’s long, sharply curved claws.goanna up a tree

Having surveyed the campsite I headed back down the 13 some kilometres of dirt road until I eventually rejoined the tarmac at Millfield. By now the nascent heat of the day was at full bore and the black top of the road shimmered ahead of me. I pulled over at Wollombi to have a coffee and read some pages of Kerouac’s On the road. On the timbered balcony of the Wollombi Cafe I drank strong, black coffee, it’s thick beany aroma an affirmation of the life I had almost seen the end of just an hour or so before. A small skink clambered unconcerned across the square timber hand rail. Two tables ahead of me a local couple negotiated the guest list for their upcoming wedding and reception. Behind me a family of four tourists discussed the idea of a future “big family holiday” to Europe or the Americas. They described to their children the various places they could visit, many of them a revisit for the parents to those favoured locations they had seen together on their honeymoon years earlier. They settled on England and Europe over the USA, and before leaving I gave up the guilty secret of my eavesdropping by suggesting to them that they add Norway to their list, and that they  break from the roadtrip with a few days spent on a narrow boat on England’s canals. Buying a bunch of dried rosemary from the small shop at the cafe, I headed home. Normality had again asserted itself after the drama of earlier.

The road from Wollombi is a popular one for Sunday drivers and particularly bikers. The Wollombi Tavern regularly hosts several dozen bikes out front, a mix of Harley chrome, Ducati red and yellow, and a wide selection of Japanese road bikes. Near to ridgesong there is a notorious bend called Lemmings Corner which all too regularly finds a wannabe racer running out of talent and road and smearing him or herself along the tar, leaving shards of glass and fibreglass in a litter of violence along the edge. Approaching Lemmings an oncoming car flashed me a headlit warning, and soon enough a trio of bikers waved me to a halt. “There’s been an accident ahead – go slow and watch out. It isn’t pretty.” I fully expected that Lemmings had claimed another namesake. Instead however a falling branch had dropped the power line across the road, and soon after a pair of bikers had rounded the bend heading South. The lead bike had hit the fallen, live wire and the electrocuted rider had immediately dropped his bike. His companion paced the road in grief. I carefully and respectfully sidled past the fallen rider’s body, lying still in the middle of the road, his sightless eyes shrouded with a small blanket provided by a stopped motorist. Emergency services had already been called, and before I could reach the Bucketty RFS depot to dispatch a crew for traffic control an RFS Cat-9 approached, siren off and lights turning a grim red and blue salute to the rider’s demise.

At home the power was off, the supply cut by the fallen wire. My morning had been one of unexpected twists and turns. My own stupidity had nearly cost me my own life. I had later listened in on the hopeful plannings for lives ahead; a marriage and life together and a family vacation. Another man’s life had reached a sudden end through no fault of his own. I had come close to death twice today. The corners we see coming are those we prepare for and take in our stride, it is those that thrust themselves surprisingly into our path that cause us to lose our hold on the firmament and skid uncontrollably off, powerless to save ourselves. In one short morning I had been reminded of the tenuous grip we each have on this world and to the lives of those we love and live with. What had started with a light, unconcerned step into the morning in exploration now seemed a vastly different day. The hot sun baked the leaves dry on the ground, but somewhere today someone’s tears will dampen the earth.

 

 

Mercury rising

Screenshot from 2013-01-08 10:47:54

The colour palette on the RFS’s Current Fire Danger page is looking dangerously red today. Ridgesong is in area 3, in the Cessnock council local government area, though we are near to the border of area 4. Our area is classified as being at Severe fire danger rating today, with the more dangerous rating of Extreme being applied to the areas to our West and South. Our Fire Plan calls for some preparation during Severe conditions, to allow for faster response time in the event we need to evacuate (first option) or defend against a fire (second choice option). In the first hours after dawn, before the full heat of the sun baked the metal roof of the house and the garage to a breath sucking furnace, I cleared the roof and the gutters of fallen leaves. “Davey”, the trusty, yellow fire pump is parked by the side of the house, near to the main water control and supply manifold. The Scooby Doo is tucked into the garage to keep it from turning into a mobile sauna as the day progresses. The fire fighting apparel is to hand, and the browser has the RFS’s Current Incidents page open. The NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has stated that today is the worst day for fire danger across NSW in the State’s history. On some TV channel you can guarantee that a solemn faced announcer is saying “The State is a tinderbox today, as firefighters battle blazes across many areas”. If one starts nearby, we’re outta here and heading to the coast, though ironically that will take us into the Extreme rated Area 4. So far…so good. But it’s best to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Resolute

On New Year’s Eve the tavern at Wollombi plays host to a sparky farewell to the old and a hearty welcome to the new with a bang, boom, and fzzzzzzzzpop flash of fireworks. A large crowd of locals and some not so locals come together around the bar, fill the balconies and stand in groups amongst the tables on the large, grassy lawn to ooh and ahh and gaze, faces tilted upward admiring the show. It is the sort of event where children dart around the legs of the bevie drinkers standing on the grass whilst their parents, for the most part, do not keep a specific track on where their kids are; trusting instead to the collective responsibility and care of the community to ensure safety. It works. So the kids, adorned with glow sticks, roll down the slope of the small hill upon which the pub stands, and try to slide down it on cardboard they have retrieved from the tavern’s recycling pile. The glowsticks are whirled in multi-coloured whips, and the colour combinations provide a reference point for identifying children – “Mine have orange sticks, with red and blue wrist bands.” Later, a sugar glider sat on the power line above us watching, probably wondering what the hell all that noise, smoke and odd light was about. Slowly the crowd dispersed, having exchanged good wishes, renewed acquaintances, met new people and shared a moment of community celebration.

In between sharing news, gossip and banter, some of the talk between the partygoers touched upon resolutions, whether real or joking. We tend to be prompted by the ending of each year’s calendar cycle to review our life’s progress. To find weaknesses and to resolve to address them. To identify opportunities and to promise ourselves we will make a better effort to exploit them. To realise that we have missed the chance to tell someone something important and to commit to ensuring we share how we feel with those closest to us. Somewhere today, more than a few people woke up having broke off a relationship last night having decided Enough!, or they entered into a new one sealed with a midnight kiss and probably fuelled with a big glass of suppressed inhibitions. Some will regret. Some will rejoice. Some will just be nursing a sore head and trying to remember how they got home. Some haven’t got home yet. Some never will.

Almost certainly though, most of the New Year’s resolutions that are made will not be kept. Various studies indicate that somewhere between 70 and 80% of resolutions will fail (the interweb told me so it must be true). A search on google for the phrase “how many new years resolutions are kept” yields a surprisingly precise 39,800,000 hits, which if nothing else demonstrates that the author of site’s search and display algorithm made and kept a resolution to code some fancy number rounding subroutine at some point. Well, at least someone keeps their promises.

Perhaps all those resolutions failed because the person making them was pissed at the time and just couldn’t remember afterward. Perhaps the resolution was made and voiced just to please someone else, rather than being one that the maker held as being personally important. Perhaps a genuine effort was made to live up to the promise but in the end “life just got in the way”. More than a few though I think will fail because as a rule we have the attention span of gnats, whilst the execution of our promises require effort expended over a year, which is three to four gnat life spans (which goes to show by the way that the phrase ought to be attention span of a gastrotich). The problem isn’t so much our adherence to the promises we keep, its the overly long interval between review periods.

Taking the opportunity to reflect on how we’re travelling through life, how we are treating ourselves, others, and the planet on which we live is a wonderful thing to do. However doing so once a year is something unlikely to ever yield real meaning or result. Too much baggage builds up over all that time – making the task of effecting change all that harder. Habits have become all that more ingrained, and words spoken in haste and emotion have over time become deeply imbedded in the listener’s and the speaker’s psyche; sharp splinters of sourness too deeply ingrained to be easily removed and healed over. If we are to succeed in bettering ourselves through thoughtful self analysis perhaps the answer lies in finding the time and courage to do so at the end of each day, rather than at the end of the calendar year. To be better tomorrow, in the next conversation, at the next meal, in the next deed performed and word spoken. To be resolute in one’s purpose; in striving to be a better person at every moment. To say thankyou, to offer a sorry, to remember to smile and to say please. To correct mistakes and to learn. To recognise what we each do well and what we can do better at. To walk with pride and grace and with a light tread.

The sun came up today on this first day of 2013, as it did yesterday on the last day of 2012. The timbre of its light is different, though you’d not know it – we don’t perceive the day by day change in the sun’s energy production. Every day seems the same and we have not any power over the course of the sun during each one; it is only within us that we can make a difference to the light.

What’s not to like?

On the train recently returning from Sydney, my quiet reading was interrupted by a conversation between two twenty-something women who had just sat themselves three rows behind. I found it almost impossible to concentrate on the page, as not only did they have no apparent need to pause for breath, their conversation was also punctuated by the endless repetition of a four letter word. No…not the F word, nor the C word. Worse still, the dreadful L word.

Like, I can hear in my head like, that song from like a few years back. Like Pauline Pantsdown, singing “I don’t like it”, like. And I was like, you know.

But unlike Pauline, they liked a lot, those girls; all the way from Macquarie Park to somewhere mercifully short of Hornsby. What was most interesting to me however, as they generously shared their conversation at full volume with all and sundry in the carriage, was to realise that the use of the word ‘like’ wasn’t just a verbal tic, similar to an “umm”, it was actually the foundation upon which they expressed themselves. Moreover, that foundation was an entirely different one than used by my own generational peers in terms of how they expressed their feelings, and their reactions to everyday events.

Whereas I might use descriptive words to express to someone how a situation affected me, they simply gave direct quotations of their own reactions. I might say “I was speaking with Bob the other day, and he was being quite aggressive and said something that really upset me. I just had to walk away eventually.” In contrast, the likers would say “I was like, talking with Bob and he was going off like, and I was like I’m not listening to you anymore.” I might tell a friend “It was so hot last weekend that we just couldn’t face cooking anything for dinner, so we just sat in the pool to cool off and had a salad later.” They might say “Like the other day, I was like I’m SO hot and sweaty, and I was like I’m not going to cook, and like Let’s go for a swim.”

It occurred to me that amongst the LOLs, the lazy swearing and the Americanisms, we are also in the midst of the extinction of descriptive vocabulary. It is no longer necessary apparently to use verbs; it is only necessary to quote one’s own immediate reactions to any given event. Another example perhaps of the “It’s all about me” point of view that seems ever more pervasive.

Eventually they got off the train and peace descended again on the carriage. I liked that. I liked it a lot.

Of bird calls and shopping trolleys

Outside the bell birds are calling through the forest of Rumbalara to the lorikeets, who in turn are whistling to the crows. There is an occasional restrained croak from a sulphur crested cockatoo, set against a chorus of bird voices as familiar to me as they are unnamed in my vocabulary. I speak not their many languages, but the words are clear nonetheless.
“Dawn. Night’s dangers survived. Breakfast.”

Yesterday afternoon a tawny frogmouth mother sat on a nearby branch with her young, perhaps awakening through gesture and exchanged thought the latent knowledge wired in by instinct of the skills of hunting, flight, mating behaviour and survival. Minds uncluttered by the manufactured distraction we call civilization and thus singularly focused on achieving cooperative survival.

While the frogmouths taught the next generation I wandered the aisles of the local supermarket, accompanying Naomi in our own weekly hunt for food. It is rare that I have the time, and am granted the permission to share in the experience of these foraging trips, but to do so is to me an opportunity to immerse myself in an experience that I know is as burdensome to her as it is regular. I am no stranger to supermarkets of course, but the “weekly shop” is far more intense consumer activity than I am used to, made even more so at this time of year by the uptick in foot traffic down the aisles and in between the stores brought about by the looming approach of Christmas. The relative novelty of my visit to the supermarket and my role as “Chief Trolley Pusher” affords me the opportunity to observe the environment of the supermarket in a way that I do not on those occasions when I duck in and out on solo I-need-a-loaf-and-two-avocados missions.

As I leant on the handle of the trolley, parked in close to the shelves so as not to be in anyone’s way I people watched. Young mothers trailing loinfruits and trying to navigate their way passed the brightly coloured temptations deliberately set at toddler height. The widowers, hesitant and a little overwhelmed by the unfamiliar task of providing for themselves. The retired couples, invariably of a similar behavioural set – she who shopped, and he who pushed the trolley and wore an expression that said “I was an important executive once, and now I am reduced to pushing a shopping trolley, following my wife around, and meekly accepting her condescending explanation whenever I venture that perhaps those baked beans might be a better buy than our usual.”

Meanwhile I looked around me and saw a grand proof of the inevitable downfall of mankind. An entire aisle devoted to cleaning products, half of which do nothing more than a bottle of white vinegar would do, and the other half being of an advanced chemical formula guaranteed to eliminate all life from the planet. A multitude of packaged poison poured into the oceans, over the soils and into the air we breathe and the bloodstreams of us all via our drains and lungs. Another entire aisle dedicated to feeding dogs and cats. It is indeed a miracle that our four legged companions have any stomach room left to fit in a single native bird given the endless variety of organic, fairtrade, gourmet, balanced diet treats all promising shiny coats and fresh doggy breath. Another aisle filled with stuff the purpose of which I cannot truly fathom a useful purpose for. I cannot help but wonder just how much energy and raw resource goes into building stuff, versus that which goes into building and growing that which we really need. I contemplated that we would have a far smaller footprint on the world, and have much more to go around if we only built that which we need to survive rather than all this glossly packaged kitty nibbles and nuclear powered fat-free kitchen bench scrub.

In the forest the birds are digesting their morning meals, preening feathers and planning their flight plans. Its time for me to do the same.

A very special guest for dinner

When I was living in Ol’ Blighty I had the glorious pleasure of spending time regularly with a friend Tim. Together with other mates we’d go sailing on Tim’s yacht, Moody Blue, around the Solent; we did the Palace to Palace bike ride, drank beers, laughed at the sometime silliness of office life, watched each other’s kids grow up and generally shared many good times together. I miss Tim (amongst other good people too).

A little while back Tim emailed to say that he was in the midst of a career change, and that during the gap-month he had the opportunity to sail from Fiji to Auckland on his friend’s 58 footer. An opportunity not to be missed, clearly. Which just left the question; “So Tim, are you flying back to England directly from Auckland, or are you coming via Sydney?”

Well, faster than you can sunburn an Englishman at midday it was all arranged and soon enough the day came around when Tim would here for dinner. It was surreal to say the least to speak to the man at 7:00am on the phone and to utter the words “See you this afternoon”, after not having seen each other for three years, and on the other side of the planet. On the train down to Central to meet Tim it was interesting to have a holidaying English couple sit immediately behind me, and hear their various exclamations as the train journeyed through the suburbs; a timely and very relevant insight into what an English visitor would find notable.

“Oh, look a those blue trees, they really stand out don’t they” – hhmmm, yes they do but Jacarandas are generally recognised as being of purple bloom.

“Look, an Olympic sized outdoor swimming pool” – yes, and it doesn’t freeze over during Winter like it would in England.

“Did you see that kangaroo hopping down the middle of the road?” – OK…I made this one up.

After winding our way back North again Tim soon had a Resch’s in his hand watching the lorikeets flit through the trees in Rumbalara. Entree (spicy grated eggplant on a bed of lettuce, along with hommous and flatbread), Shiraz, Butter bean tagine with cous-cous, Shiraz and no room for dessert soon followed (and to honest, I never offered one). Just to make sure that we properly solved the problems of the world, we lubricated our minds with a cheeky glass of VET Antivirus commemorative port which has been lying in the bottle rack for at least ten years. It had more sediment floating in it than the dam at ridgesong, but we checked for tadpoles first and sucked it through clenched teeth so all was good. It was this latter technique I think that rendered our conversation difficult to follow and so SheWhoMustBeFed took herself off to bed to leave us fools to stay up until Stupid O’Clock talking bollocks and nodding wisely. For the benefit of all I must say here that VET put their name to better software than to port.

As Tim could stay only overnight before heading back to England again, the next day brought the challenge of what to include on a lightening tour of the Central Coast, a problem solved by a tour through Woy Woy, Ettalong, a visit to the rock platform in Boudhi National Park overlooking Maitland Bay, then through Terrigal for a coffee, a postcard, and a marvel at the concept of beach volleyball being played for afternoon school sport. Oh…and the sight of lots of those pretty, blue Jacarandas.

The train took Tim away far too soon as he headed off to the airport, but we remember him still – not least because we can still get a whiff of his aftershave every time we use the bathroom. They say that the olfactory sense is the one most closely associated with the recollection of the memories, and so he lingers still in our thoughts and our nostrils. And long may he remain there.

 

 

Journey’s end

One journey’s end is another’s beginning.

It’s hard not to look back at the last eleven years and wonder how else it might have all been if we had not flown out of this wide, red land to foreign shores. What fortunes we might have made and lost? What friendships deepened by eleven years of shared experiences in this adopted land I choose again as my home? What tears shed and soaked into the dry soil and what laughter might have shaken our bellies and wet our eyes around a campfire amongst the gum trees.

We are formed by the hammering and grind of life’s forge. Polished and shaped by the delicate brush of unexpected friendships, wherever we find them.We know not what we choose each instance, only what each turn we make leaves within us afterward.

It is only within the laugh lines etched around our eyes, the small scars of adventure left cut into our hands, and the conversations and half remembered voices from around the fires in campsites and backyards half a world away that we can begin to chart the course we have taken on the way to what we each are at this moment.

I don’t remember each detail in crystal clarity, but the overall impression is an artwork that I would not go back and recommission. It is as perfect as it could have been made, whether we like the end result or not.

Perhaps the last eleven years are my own personal Blue Poles. A wide expanse of many hues, expensive yet rich in all its colourful and splattered wealth. Sometimes we are unsure if we ought to have made the decision to “go for it”, but the decision made together some yesterday long ago it hangs there now iconically influencing what we represent today.

On the final miles to this journey’s end there lies behind us not a closing of a chapter nor a turning of a new page. There lies ahead only the continuation of the building of the final person we will each be when we take our last breath.

Behind us is only fluffy, white clouds. Ahead lies one more step in the next excellent adventure.

Purple Hearts beyond Adelaide

Beyond the spectacular folds of the Flinders Ranges lies some charming old, sleepy country towns, set amongst fields of purple that stretch to the horizon.

A rare radio signal found us listening to The Herd’s remix of Redgum’s I Was Only 19, the iconic and powerful song about the Vietnam war. As the signal blew behind us to static we swapped to the iPod and listened to a long ago recorded podcast that told the story of the original version by John Schuman, together with the story of The Herd’s revisiting and reworking of the lyrics.

Redgum was a soundtrack to many roadtrips back when I was nineteen or so. Now I’m not. The nineteen year old soldiers are still dying though for conflicted, confused and constructed reasons in lands they would have struggled to find on a High School geography lesson map. The whump of the Huey’s blades have been replaced by the thunderous scream of an F-16, and the ladders of falling explosives by laser guided missiles. Agent Orange might not be needed in the already defoliated hills of Afghanistan and the sands of Iraq, but we are still blowing up wedding parties and creating one legged orphans.

In the back the kids are bored and have lost interest for now in looking out the window. May they remain so, with all their limbs attached.


Outside this small circle of quiet there is a purple bloom for each spill of unnecessary blood. Lest we forget.

Observations of Australia

Arriving back in Australia after 11 years living overseas, I can’t help but make some observations about the country that is again to be my home. The intervening decade-plus have brought some changes both in Australia, and to be fair – in the observer. One thing that strikes me so far though is how expensive Australia has become. For the Aussies reading this I have a message – “My fellow Australians – someone is having a lend of you!”

Aubergines – $9.90 a kilo
Baby courgettes – $14.00 a kilo
Bananas – $7.99 a kilo
A small jar of cashew butter – $7.99

And the vegetables are grown locally!

Blooming heck.

The power of the internet

Musing today on the difference the internet has made to everyday life.

This trip for instance. We hit upon the idea of flying into Perth, buying a car, and driving to Sydney just about 4 weeks ago. In the span of 4 weeks we’d researched what car were available at various car dealers around Perth. We’d found an apartment to stay in whilst in Perth, we’d learned of a little place just south of Margaret River called Hamelin Bay, and found a house to rent for a week.

And we’d researched the logistics of driving the 4600 or so kilometers from Western Australia to Sydney, including figuring out where to stay each night, what accommodation was available (often a choice of one small motel, or nothing in the more remote parts of the crossing), and booked rooms for every night between WA and the Eastern NSW border.

Its even more amazing to think that when we left Oz 11 years ago, much of the information we looked up would not have been available via the web. Neither car dealers or the small business operators who own and run the house we’re in in Hamelin Bay, or the motels across the Nullabor would have had a web presence. It is a sobering thought as to the pernicious presence of the interwebbynet.

Not enough words to go around

The VegHead’s day job involves a fair degree of writing. Not Tolstoyesque in proportions you understand, just more than the average peak hour train full of commuters. The volume of articles, blogs, reports, papers and the like tends to vary up and down to the tune of twenty thousand words plus or minus a week, all set against the background noise of emails and hum of actual conversations.

Words feed our minds, and are the fruits and the gristle of our everyday social interactions. Our minds are also the larders, within which are the spicey imaginings, sweet whispers, wholeseome advice and raw opinions that pepper our conversations.

But our cupboards can all too frequently run bare. Thursday night dinners for instance in the VegHead’s kitchen is also known as “Whatever is left by now as Friday’s are shopping day”. Especially those weeks when we’ve all eaten so well that the worms in the compost bin have been given only the peelings and the offcuts and never a wholly uneaten bag of greens. Everything used productively until there’s nothing left save the jars of pressure cooked beans.

The larder however has been restocked again – all those words that were used up in the hearty meals of day-job utterances renewed by a few days of home cooking. SheWhoMustBeFed must be fed after all, as did The Kennedy’s when they came for dinner….but that is another story.

Not eating out of Cannes

Cannes is a crap place to visit if you are seeking a gastronomic vegan experience. The VegHead spent the majority of last week there as a public service to any and all of herbivorous persuasion. Getting there and back involved trains, trains and automobiles.

First Great Western to Paddington, Tube to St. Pancras, Eurostar to Gard Nord, TGV from Gard Lyon. Four trains and a thousand miles from The VegHead’s kitchen and the raging appetities of SheWhoMustBeFed. According to Googlemaps, if you walked from here to there it would take nine days and twenty minutes to cover the 824 miles. It is not clear if that time and distance includes toilet stops, detours to the nearest ATM, or sleeps. How do they work that stuff out? Its a mystery…

Cannes is a vegetarian desert. Like a real desert, I am sure that if uou know where to dig you’ll find hidden oases of plenty. However, all that appears to the view is an endles vista, empty of sustenance and full of the irritatting grit of disatisfaction. Eat out of Cannes? I’ll take a home cooked meal anyday.

Food for the mind

This is meant to be a blog about the goings on in The VegHead’s kitchen. OK…..with the occasional foray to feed the compost and to observe the wonders and worries of buying local, organic, fresh, glorious food.

However our stomachs aren’t all that need feeding. Our minds too need to be stretched with new ideas. To be nourished with the richness of a poetic tumble of words. To feed our appetite for change within ourselves and within the world through the truth and strength of the story of another. To curl on a comfortable chair on a cold day, a cuppa to hand as some quiet music plays. Reading. Reading something that will change us, rather than crap Hollywood gossip.

Someone asked The VegHead just a few days ago “When was the last time you cried?”.

A question most timely perhaps as those rare, hot tears have been flowing most profuse this last week. The onions (for a change) are not to blame. Instead the catalyst for The VegHead’s expression of emotion has simply been the most extraordinary story.

The.
Most.
Extraordinary.
Story.

“Three cups of tea” – The story of Greg Mortenson’s life; building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Living better than we do involves treating those around us in a fashion that recognises the fundamental truths of the problems we face. My words fail to capture the simple complexity and honesty of Greg Mortenson’s life so I will leave it there.

If you feed your mind nothing else this year, feed it this.

Really.

I do not like my credit crunchy

Old Batman cartoons had “Whammo!” and “Biff!” and “Chop, Smack, Pow!!” in bold, coloured text to indicate a particularly violent triumph of good over evil. Unless it was Batman and Robin getting Biffed and Powed, in which case it was evil triumphing over good – temporarily of course.

Over the last two weeks The VegHead’s local source of fairtrade, organic, and fresh ground coffee has closed down. The local Whittards has been one of the 47 stores shutting down due to the company hitting hard times. An extra package of Guatemalan Elephant lies in the freezer to tide me through.

On the High Street of the village The VegHead and SheWhoMustBeFed call home, there’s a little independent butcher. Been there forever, and the old man who ran it looked like he was born in the back room. As they were independent, and as they also sold fruit and veg’, they also got a slice of The VegHead’s wallet. Alas…the butcher closed up shop six days ago. Weakened by years of supermarkets sucking out every pence from the consumer’s pockets, they succumbed at last to a slow death.

Then on Friday, the mobile bleeped with a text from Ballsy Dave suggesting a beer in the bar of the local seafood restaurant. Now neither Ballsy Dave or The VegHead eat seafood, but this little local restaurant happens to welcome Ballsy Dave, The VegHead and The Spinner in for a pint or two before the dinner rush. It has been our habit for the last five years or so to have a quiet beer as we reflect on the week’s highs and lows, and perhaps a bowl of fresh hot chips along with it. Indeed, this little seafood restaurant had earned itself the moniker of “The Chippy”. Ballsy and the The VegHead arrived at The Chippy at the same time, only to find the lights off and the sign on the door reading…

“We regret to inform you that Mulligans is closed until further notice”

My Whittards has been Whammo’d!
My local supply of fruit and veg’; the High Street butcher has been Biffed!!
And now The Chippy has been Chop, Smack, Powed!!!

I do not like this Credit Crunch.

Not one little bit.