Sunday, 27 November 2011


Thanks to a friend's copious collection of DVDs, I have been watching a tonne of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage series.

Apart from my new-found certainty that I would like to roll about on his hair like a cat in a basket of towels*, I am also becoming more than a little obsessed with the idea of growing my own vegetables and one day having a passing acquaintance with small-scale sustainable farming.

The last time I blogged about gardening, I got super excited, hopefully not in a drunken-toff-getting-maudlin-about-the-romance-of-the-honest-peasant-carving-a-living-from-the-land fashion.

Since then I've managed to keep my parents' front and back yards in fairly good nick** but I haven't made much in the way of progress when it comes to developments or additions.

Some of this is due to having been sick and sorry for myself at the start of the year, then having been paranoid about getting sick again and feeling sorry for myself about that***, then spending a fair amount of the time I did devote to the task raking up dog hair**** and slowly sifting through the dog area.

The dog area is a fenced off portion of the yard that we sectioned off specifically to keep the dogs in when we had company that wasn't used to dogs, when we had to have the garage doors open to the outside world, or when the sheets flapping on the line begin to look too tempting to twitchy doggy brains.

We haven't been able to use the dog area for dog storage for some years now as our back fence neighbour has two tiny dogs who go out of their gourds with excitement if our dogs are that close to their shared fence and will bark until they're hoarse.

As a result the dog area has, over the course of the years, been filled up with trimmings of the lawn and shrub variety.
Tidying that out without being eaten by spiders, coming across any snakes or disturbing any cute but hissy blue-tongued lizards has been slow going but now that it's almost done I've hit a roadblock in my plans.

Given that the now non-dog area is safe from any digging or frolicking damage I had been hoping it may be perfect for growing some of those sweet sweet veg that I've been dreaming about.

Unfortunately I've since discovered that the handful of large Ironbarks growing in the area excrete a jerky selfish chemical that suppresses the growth of anything else in their vicinity.

Fortunately I discovered this before I'd dug out a bed, lavishly fertilised it and started sowing seeds.

So now the challenge is twofold: secure an area of the yard with some kind of futuristic fencing technology and manage to grow something within those confines.

We have an empty garden bed in prime position with lots of sunshine and a modest amount of space for a starter patch and that is where I am fixing my sights, my completely-inexperienced-at-either-building-fences-or-planting-things-that-then-continue-to-live sights.

I think the fence building montage is likely to involve me, some wooden posts, a mallet, some pliers, some chicken wire, a lot of sweat and dirt and will probably be accompanied with a banjo soundtrack that highlights the level of skill and grace with which I will accomplish this task.

Loosening the soil, testing its pH, and digging in the fertiliser and mulch shouldn't be too technical but I'm sure I'll manage to overcomplicate it in my earnest fashion.

And all the way through this planning process the recurring thoughts that keeps bouncing up in my brain are:
  • These will be useful skills to have when the zombies rise.
  • Never hurts to know how to use a mallet and stake in case of vampires.
  • Hugh would be a handy person to know during either apocalypse because he can grow his own food, preserve it, joint his own meat, brew his own booze and I think he'd go at an attacker with a hammer if he had to.

I'm trying to think serious thoughts about nutrients and environmentally friendly bug-deterrents and water schedules but I just keep coming back to how the ability to build fences to keep zombies out and the ability to grow food to feed myself and the band of survivors I fetch up with will be useful and marketable skills.

And how having a bit of practice swinging a mallet and driving a stake into things will not hurt in the event I ever have to waste any vampires.

I guess I should start looking into the shelf-life of seeds and the feasibility of stockpiling them as I don't want to leave it to chance that I'll be able to learn how to collect and preserve my own seeds before The Rising.

I reckon the stakes will stay fresh so I can just pop some of those aside.

In amongst all this secondary planning I hope I manage to remember to plant the vegetables...

*Not in a pervy way, just a purely platonic frolic in his bountiful curls.

**I don't have a garden at the flat and Mum and Dad are more than happy to let me go nuts in theirs.

***I actually didn't spend that much time feeling sorry for myself, it just mysteriously reared its head when I thought about gardening.

****Good GRAVY, Labradors! Where does it all COME from!?

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Farewell Sweetheart

Yesterday we had to say goodbye to my beautiful cat Pickles.

He was 14 years old, he'd had a good long life and he'd just gotten to a point where an age-related health issue went from making him a bit weak and wobbly to seriously impacting on his quality of life.

It was really hard to let him go but it would have been selfish and wrong of us not to give him that peace.

It's going to take a long time for me to get used to the fact he isn't here any more, he's been with me for exactly half of my life and was such a wonderful companion and friend and such a nutter.

He would perch on your shoulder like a parrot and happily sit there all day whilst you walked around doing other things.
If you bent over to put something down or pick something up he would scoot down to lie in the small of your back whilst you were hunched over and would refuse to get off when you tried to stand up again.

He would chase a torch light across the floor and up walls all evening if you let him, only stopping to regain his balance and shoot you a dirty look when he remembered that you were in charge of the maddeningly erratic moving spot.

He would scramble up ladders and loudly proclaim dominion over all he could see from up there. When he scrambled up onto clothes horses he didn't have time to proclaim dominion as he was busy trying to spread his weight out so the whole thing wouldn't tip over.

He would let you hug him like a teddy bear when you were feeling down and the moment you were feeling better he would wash your nose until you let him go so he could reclaim his feline dignity.

He had the loudest purr I have ever heard and he would lie on your chest purring so hard that if you breathed in at the right time it felt like he was purring right into your heart.

If you couldn't find him it was a good bet that he had somehow wormed his way into the linen closet and was industriously shedding hair all over everything during a luxurious nap. No matter how you tried to secure the closet door he managed to wiggle it open, his skills as a door opener applying equally to sliding doors and clasp doors. He had a good try at turn-handle doors but eventually after years of danging from doorknobs by his front paws, he conceded defeat.

If you gave him a cardboard box he would be happy for months. He'd jump on top of it. Fall off it. Roll past it. Scoot around inside it. Disembowel it. Attack people and other pets from within it. And eventually when you took it away because it was falling apart, he would sit where it had been and stare at you until you found him another one.

Goodbye Pickles, I'll miss you.

1998 - 2011

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Joyful Reunion

In the glory days of my library visits when I almost lived there, I one day found an audiobook version of The Long Dark Tea-time Of The Soul by Douglas Adams READ by Douglas Adams.

It took some blinking and some reordering of brain cells to fully appreciate this amazing fact.

A book read by the author who wrote it, in the fashion they intended it to be received.

I borrowed it.

I listened to it.

I fell in love with it.

Douglas Adams' excitable and energetic delivery was eternally engaging*.

I borrowed it over and over again until the cassettes were so badly damaged by the dodgier cassette players of the other people who occasionally managed to borrow them, that the library had to retire them.

Then for years that was it.

I was neither old enough nor internet savvy enough to go searching for them online**, they were no longer available in the stores and I had no other avenues of pursuit.

In recent years I tried the stores again with no result, tried the online retailers for the first time and found the only version readily available was being sold for over $100 and seemed to be a copy that somebody had made from recording their own set of cassettes onto blank CDs which they were the selling online.

I gave up.

And then the other day my brother found not only Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul but also Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency online and downloaded them for me.

For this he was elevated to the rank of Best Brother! Favourite Brother! Amazing Brother!***

For me listening to that audiobook is like stepping into the past. Into quiet hours after midnight when the only person awake was me, listening with the volume turned down low, eating bowls of air-popped popcorn because the smell of hot oil popped popcorn would have woken everyone up.

It gives me a wonderful sense of calm and deja vu.

Listening to it again for the first time in years made me feel wonderfully happy but also somewhat guilty.

I'm not that into downloading things from the internets.
I don't mind watching something once if I've missed it on TV or in order to decide whether I like it or not but if I do like it then I want to own it.
I like to pay money for the things I like and to own them properly in lovely complete formats.

Now as hard as I tried when it came to Douglas Adams and his marvellous reading voice, I couldn't make this a reality, I could not find a legitimate copy anywhere. So I made peace with this by making a donation to Save the Rhino which I'm sure Douglas would have been happy with. I don't know who is in charge of his estate these days but given his passion for conservation I think he'd agree that his executor/heir could do without the royalties if it meant helping rhinos****.

And now with my conscience soothed I can get back to listening to this wonderful, weird man rambling gloriously, letting the chaos of his brain spill out into the world, and regretting all the things he never had time to write but being grateful for the things he did have time to give us.

*Whee! Alliteration!

**Many of the online retailers we rely on today may not have existed or at least existed in their current efficient incarnation at that stage anyway.

***Heh, he's my only brother.

****I would find it wonderfully amusing if the benefactors of his estate were wildlife charities in any case.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Imagination Imbalance

I've never been afraid of thunderstorms.

As children my siblings and I would sit at the window and watch violent electrical storms tear the sky apart with blinding spidery fingers of light and covered our ears to dampen the inevitable deafening thunderclaps that would follow.
When we could hear again we'd give measured and considered scores out of 10 for each display before shrieking with delight at the next one.

I would imagine what our neighbourhood would look like if enough rain fell to turn the streets into canals and allow us to travel about in dinghies, kayaks and speed boats instead of cars and of course we would act this scenario out for whole days at a time.

One day we were running around playing 'what we would do if everything was flooded' and some well-meaning adult decided to give us a firm but kind talk on the realities of flooding - the property destroyed, lives lost, lives ruined - and ask us if maybe we weren't being a bit insensitive?

We stared at them, stared at each other and ran off to keep playing but the fun had been taken out of the game for that day.

The thing is, now that I'm older I know that having water up to your ceiling would not be great for the neighbourhood but we weren't earnestly suggesting it should happen, random Reality McBuzzkillington!

Why not point out to me that the carpet is not really lava and that if a volcano really did erupt, those of us not killed by the superheated cloud of poisonous gases would probably be asphyxiated by the falling ash?

Why not run up to the kids playing sword fights and explain to them that being stabbed with a sword would really not be all that great? Or that the person you say can't stab you any more because their arm has 'fallen off' probably has leprosy and how gross real leprosy would be?

Kids use play to interact with each other, to learn to understand the world and to develop the parts of their brains that will eventually help them to imagine the lives of other people in an empathetic and responsible fashion.

Don't tell them it isn't cool to pretend you've just disemboweled somebody; they're not desensitised to disembowelling, they're just mucking around.

There are some exceptions to this thinking.
For instance, I can see how people in a community who actually have regular access to guns and who treat these weapons with caution and respect would discourage letting kids 'shoot' each other just in case they ever got hold of a real gun and didn't realise that when they shot their friends with that gun they wouldn't be getting up to swap places.

But the kids that pretend that their towns are flooded aren't going to go bust the dam for funsies.

The kids who pretend to chop off people's heads aren't going to start a skull collection.

The kids who pretend to be monsters who are eating you aren't going to become cannibals.

Just let the little nutters play, age brings context but youth is for imagination.