Thursday, November 30, 2006

Pizzodyssey #3

Point of origin: Scoozi, Rundle Street
Topping: vegetarian (char-grilled mushrooms, eggplant, roasted capsicum, artichokes, diced fresh tomato and basil, plus bocconcini as an extra)

Pizzoddyssey looked like languishing for a while. I even had pizza and couldn’t be bothered reviewing it because it was it was so boring. There really wasn’t much to say about it, except that it was too salty. If pizzas were shops, this one would have been Harvey Norman. Yawn.

Finally, though, I’ve had Good Pizza. Woot! Angels sing, sun shines down from heaven, etc., etc. My Scoozi vegetarian was fresh out of their wood oven and had a perfect base. It was crisp and thin and had just the right amount of brown. The topping was spread out to the edges, leaving exactly enough crust as a handle. The tomato sauce base was good, too – not too sweet, not too acidic and a goodly lump of garlic.

As for the toppings, often if you want eggplant on pizza, it's salty. I know this, but I’m devoted to eggplant, so I’m always optimistic (with pizza, if nothing else) and continue to order it. It’s a relatively simple concept, but so few people seem to understand the need to rinse off the damned salt. Thank Ford, Scoozi understands.

The roasted capsicum was sweet, the bocconcini was mild and creamy and the whole thing had been sprinkled with fresh, shredded basil after it came out of the oven. But the real highlight of this pizza was its mushrooms. After salty eggplant, my pet pizza hate is lousy mushrooms, especially the canned variety. Scoozi used whole button mushrooms that had been marinated in something tasty before being char-grilled. I couldn’t finish the pizza, but I did pick off all the mushrooms. In fact, I probably would have been happy with an all-mushroom pizza.

Rating: 4 and a half stars.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Short and sour

I'm declaring war on shorts. I'm not quite sure how to go about it, though. Does it have to be done in writing through the UN? Do I have to make some sort of grand gesture, like Hitler did when he invaded Poland? Or could it be as simple as walking up to Bec Hewitt and slapping her face with a glove?

Shorts: just say no

I'm not suggesting all shorts are bad - just most of them. Shorts have their place and that's called the beach. And if you're exercising or involved in some sort of sporting activity, then by all means wear shorts. I don't want anyone to be deprived of the sight of nice fit young AFL boys in their shorts, nor do I wish anyone to die of heat exhaustion because they've been forced to run a marathon in sweat pants.

Similarly, I don't care what you do at home. Wear your shorts, if you like. Hell, you can wear a Star Trek uniform, full Klingon make-up and a pair of legwarmers, for all I care. However, if you are going to leave the house, please, please spare a thought for other people.

There were shorts around in autumn and spring, much to my disgust, but now the first flush of summer is here, there's an absolute rash of them. It's not a pretty sight. Hot pants, athletic shorts, formal shorts, cargo shorts, severely abbreviated trousers - each is worthy of a fashion crash tackle in its own right. Take tailored formal shorts, like those egregious white things Bec wore on Cup Day. As far as I'm concerned, it will never, ever be appropriate to wear shorts to the office unless you've been called in from a day off and have been forced to come straight from the beach. Neverthless, girls all over the place are wearing shorts to work with high-heeled pumps. Or, even worse, with boots. The horror! The horror!

Even comparatively inoffensive items such as drill shorts can become lethal weapons in the wrong hands. A few days ago, I saw a girl wearing a pair of black drill shorts that would have been perfectly appropriate for a day hiking. They had cuffs and tabs and pockets and metal buttons and suchlike, but had she teamed them with a Bonds T-shirt, a pair of hiking boots and a nice shady hat? No. She was wearing a pair of what could only be described as lace bicycle shorts underneath the drill shorts. The only thing I can think of is that she must have had some sort of psychotic break when she got out of bed that morning.

In addition to the fashion horror, there's the arse factor. It's a sad fact, but in these days of chips with everything, very few people's bums are worthy of being seen in shorts. If you're my size or larger, I don't want to see you in shorts. I want nothing to do with your cellulite, your thigh dimples or any rolls of jubbly fat that you may have decided to show to the world. Of course, if you're thinner than I am and/or have a bum like Kylie Minogue, I don't want to see you in shorts either. You'll make me feel like a barge-arse, so bugger you.

Then, of course, we have boys and shorts. Sigh. One of the chief offenders is the tradey shorts that ride far, far too low. (Speaking of which, ever read Douglas Adams's marvellous little book, The Deeper Meaning of Liff? Adams and his pals used to play an after-dinner game with an atlas. You let it fall open at random, close your eyes and put your finger on the map, then try to think of an appropriate meaning for the place name. For example, Ravenna: the poetic term for the crack of a workman's bottom that is visible above his trousers. But I digress.) Tradey shorts are bad, but who could forget those enormous baggy abominations that come past the knee, are available in a wide variety of camouflage patterns and come with sufficient pockets to carry an entire slab of beer? Are they long shorts? Short longs? Whatever they are, it's a sad fact that they make most men look like dwarves. They also seem to be the sort favoured by guys over 40 who wear Crocs and labour under the misapprehension that their young attire makes them look hip and cool.

So please, for everyone's sake, think before you short.


Saturday, November 25, 2006


It's amazing how a small thing can put a dent in your morning. For example, a cockroach in the washing machine can really bugger things up.

It was very, very dead when I found it, and presumably it was now very clean, too, because I'd just done two loads of washing. It appeared to have all its legs, but for some reason, the thought of essence of roach all over my sheets, towels and smalls didn't do it for me and I had to wash everything again. That's close to being a criminal offence, in these water restricted times.

What I'd really like to know is what sort of dumb-arse cockroach gets in a washing machine? There was a veritable cockycopia of kitty fodder not a metre away, but no, it had to get in the damned washing machine. I would have to get the retarded cockroaches.

Labels: , ,

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ex libris redcap

Things have become a little dire chez Hack and Bloke. We have well and truly run out of bookshelf space. Look!

That's the least of it - that's just the little bookcase in my study. It gets worse. This is the largest bookcase in the house, and it's stacked two deep:

But it gets worse still. The dining room mantelpiece has been swamped, too:

Soon we won't even be able to see the cheap-arse Monet print over the fireplace. If there's a mild earth tremor, or possibly even a thunder storm with a bit of feeling behind it, it's all going to turn to pudding.

Random piles of books are developing in odd places. The bedside tables are a given, but when they start forming on the dining room table as well, Houston, we have a problem. Yes, the pile on the dining table is "for review", but that doesn't really make much difference, does it?

I love books. They are my very favourite thing in the world. I love good fiction and history and biography and things that make me think and even the odd bit of enjoyable fluff. Oh, F Scott Fitzgerald, Charlotte Bronte, Mark Twain, Charles Frazier, Christopher Koch, Louis de Bernieres, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Graham Greene, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Augusten Burrows, Margaret Atwood, Janette Turner Hospital, Christina Stead, Robert Drewe, Peter Carey, David Malouf, Emily Dickonson, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Joseph Conrad, JK Rowling and Garth Nix, how I love you all!

I have to admit that I haven't read all of the books on those shelves. I keep buying them and filing them away for future reference and I'm buying at a greater rate than I can read. After all, if you don't buy a book when you see it, it's just as likely that the fickle world of publishing will let it lapse from print and you'll never see it again. And of course, some of them belong to Bloke. I don't mind admitting it now: I'm never going to pick up that thing on optics or any of the electromagneticky stuff. C'mon, I'm an Arts graduate, after all.

And this isn't all of it, either. There are boxes of books still around at mum's: childhood volumes that I can't bear to give up, like Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, The Magic Pudding and The Ghost of Thomas Kemp. Those boxes hold Horton Hatches the Egg, Algernon the Ant, Milly Molly Mandy, the entire Trixie Belden series and The Naughtiest Girl at School. What can I do? Happily, mum has some extra cupboard space. (Thanks mum!)

But I'm afraid the time has come (to paraphrase the walrus very roughly) to speak to carpenters.

I have a lovely vision of an entire wall of bookshelves in my study (which is also the spare room/pissed crash pad - no-one wants anything to do with Bloke's study. He's Not Tidy. Plus, mine has a nicer window.) I'm dreaming of floor-to-ceiling shelves, with a little rail and a sliding ladder so I can get to the top shelf. You know, something that I stand in front of for photographs when I'm A Real And Proper Published Author instead of just a half-hearted hack.



Saturday, November 18, 2006

Puppy fur bog rolls anyone?

Supermarkets are like...

I'll just apologise in advance that this post isn't as profound as the previous one. Sorry, but I just can't profund very often. It makes my head hurt.

This week, I really covered myself in glory in the supermarket. As my regular reader may have noticed, I'm not fond of supermarkets, but this time it really took the cake. As usual, I was prowling around the aisles, snatching at tins of catfood and bottles of Diet Coke and thinking murderous thoughts about my fellow shoppers. Then I did something that even I, with my Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award in the Art of Unco, have never managed to do before, but which is often seen in movies: I knocked down a precariously-balanced display. Some sort of bloody breakfast-muesli-shredded-cardboard bar, if you must know. What sort of brain surgeon puts a tower of blanking boxes in the middle of a blanking aisle in front of a blanking frequently-desired blanking item such as blanking milk? Really? And yes, pretty much the whole damned thing went down with one tap of my crab-wheeled trolley. Needless to say, the aura bubble surrounding me turned a violent blue due to all the filthy words filling it. And yes, I picked them up and restacked them, even though I wanted to hide in the tea bag aisle. Damn my sense of responsibility.

Speaking of supermarkets, Foodland stocks a product that is so wrong I don't even know where to start. It's a multi-pack of ready-to-go hotdogs. Yes, it's the red sausagy bit all ready to go in a roll. I didn't look closely, but I suspect there were six of them, all put on a nice styrofoam tray and covered in plastic wrap. Why? Why would anyone do this? Don't they understand you need to boil the hotdog and toast the roll separately? That's just skin-crawly wrong! What if someone boiled the bun? Or worse, put the whole thing in the microwave? Oh, I feel faint...

And while I'm on the subject of supermarket wrongness, is anyone finding the new Coles home brand marketing as chucklesome as I bave been? Between ramming aisle-cloggers with my trolley, swatting screaming children with random things like packets of stockings and legs of lamb, and throwing my own little tantrums at the check-outs, I'm reading these things with increasing hilarity. In fact, their utter fatuousness is the only thing that makes a visit to the Tenth Circle of Hell vaguely bearable. I'm finding myself picking up stuff I have no intention of buying just to read the ridiculous little personal endorsements on the packaging.

Look, this is Emma. Emma is six and cute as a button and she's hugging India, her adorable little husky pup, while telling the nation how soft and creamy Coles bumfodder is.

As an aside, can anyone tell me why toilet rolls are always marketed using fluffy puppies? Sharpeis, labradors, huskies - what's going on? I know all ad people are inherently evil (and yes, newspaper ad reps, I'm looking very hard at YOU), but are they really so morally bankrupt as to secretly wish that they could buy rolls of puppies to keep beside their thrones? It makes me think of that classic episode of The Goodies where the Minister of Health had a box of disposable Sooties and alternated between talking to them and using them to blow his honker. Or could it be even worse than this? Do ad people secretly want puppy fur toilet paper? Oh, it's just too awful to contemplate. Imagine what it could do to the country's sewerage system! However, there is another variety of Coles loo paper that flouts tradition and sports no puppies. This one has two little girls cuddling fluffy bunnies. Naturally this one made me remember the old joke about the bear and the rabbit walking in the woods together. Hmm, maybe ad people do have a sense of humour... No! No! They're evil!

But it's not just the bog rolls. You'll have to forgive me if the names aren't quite right - if I'd started taking notes (a) I would have had to have spent longer in the supermarket and (b) the Coles security Nazis would probably have dragged me away for questioning and an internal exam. These are harsh times. As another aside, when someone says over the loud speaker, "Security to Section C", am I the only one who immediately thinks that I'm standing in the middle of Section C and looking shifty? I know this is just an anti-shoplifting ploy and there is no Section C, but still...

So, canned tomatoes? Yep, here's Rosa, the Family Menu Planner telling us how rich they make her pasta sauce. Frozen beans? Rob the Farmer is gagging to share his feelings on fresh produce. Hi, Rob! Need a hose fitting? Probably not, since we don't have any water, but just in case, here's Jessica to tell everyone how easy "this quality garden product" makes her life among the patch of dust, desiccated snail shells and tumbleweed that was once her garden. Cornflakes? Alistair, who never, ever skips breakfast, is your man there. Crisps? I think it's some chick who said she loved to party. Does that mean she has loose morals as well as liking crisps? It's not entirely clear from the packaging. But don't worry about that, because now we've got some potato royales (whatever the hell they are), which are great fun to share with the family. They look suspiciously high in animal fats to me and I wouldn't mind guessing that they're only fun if you use them to start a food fight in a nursing home. They're just the right size to fit in a sling-shot. Oh, and oven fries are fun to share with the family too, but while you're watching a video! Hurrah! Best get me some a dem fer vidyo-wartchin'.

What about soda water? Here's one I do actually buy. All soda water tastes the same - it's not like all those myriad versions of Nasty Cola that all seem to taste like melted Icy-Poles because they don't have the magic ingredient that Coke guards so jealously. Ninety-nine cent soda water tastes just like the $1.60 gear. "But who's on the front?" I hear you ask. (Hang on, I'll grab a bottle. Just talk amongst yourself for a second.) It's Bill! Bill, whose raison d'etre (or his reason for being on the soda bottle, at least) is that he "loves to entertain". He has a rather fishy smile on his mug and appears to be skulling a tumbler of soda water that I'm fairly certain has a nice shot of vodka or rum and some fresh lime juice in it. Why, you ask? Because Bill reckons it makes him "feel refreshed and relaxed, ready for the weekend". Soda on its own does not do that for me, Bill, so I don't think I'm far off the mark in guessing you have something harder in that frosty, frosty glass.

There are morons on the milk, eejits on the eggs, twats on the tuna and beyatches on the body wash. It's all assuming a level of intimacy that I'm not really interested in, to tell the truth.

And I just realised something even worse. The ice-cream is more than a little wrong. Vanilla has a nice little white-bread girl banging on about how soft and creamy it is (wait, wasn't that the husky-fur toilet paper?) but right next to it in the freezer is the Neapolitan ice-cream, which - oh, look! - has a little girl who looks like she might have a Mediterranean background, saying that she likes the strawberry best. Yes, I like the strawberry too, but why isn't the cute little Italian girl enthusing about the vanilla ice-cream and the little white-bread girl telling everyone how great the Neapolitan is? Is it because Coles thinks Neapolitan is un-Australian?

Now that I've given this proper thought, I'm a lot less amused. Why haven't I noticed any Asian people carrying on about any of these products? Admittedly, I haven't looked in the Asian foods aisle for the You'll Love Coles Brand (TM) rice noodles, sambal oelek or natto, but that shouldn't be the point. I don't think Coles stocks wattle seeds or bush tomatoes either, but I'm sure the Evil Ad People will find a lovely, clean, smiley Aboriginal person to tell everyone just how great it is when they do.

I've got a radical idea. What about Coles uses someone who isn't (as the police reports say) "of Caucasian appearance" to market one of its perfectly normal product that everyone uses? You know, mix things up and use an Indian person on the canned tomatoes and an Asian person on the meat pies? Wouldn't that be nice?

C'mon, Coles, I'm waiting!

PS By the way, I'm off to the Bland Canyon tomorrow to continue blogsitting for the lovely Petstarr while she is off galivanting, so if you're Idol-inclined, do come and visit me there.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Remember me

Yesterday was Remembrance Day. It might seem a little naff, but I wore my poppy. I like Remembrance Day and Anzac Day because they actually mean something. And more often than not, listening to the Last Post makes me teary. (If it's well-played - the bugler at my local Dawn Service this year should have had his bugle confiscated and been given a kazoo instead.)

Before you let me have it for being pro-war, I'm not. War is a horrible thing, but I can't deny that it interests me. Mainly, I'm interested in the effect it has on the people who see the meatgrinder up close: how they cope with going to war, seeing and doing terrible things and then just stopping it all and returning to ordinary life. In so many cases, they just don't cope.

I've done a few interviews with old diggers and they are always moving. I made a Rat of Tobruk cry once, and I ended up crying along with him. If you're in the mood, I'd like to tell you about some of the old diggers I've met. If you're not, that's fine. On the whole, though, they're humble men and they're far from being pro-war. They're your dad or your granddad or your great-granddad and they just did what they had to do at the time. And one day soon, they'll all be gone and we'll have lost something important.

The first war veteran I met was Gordon, and he was the one who affected me the most. He was a lovely old bloke who'd been a Rat of Tobruk and who'd fought at El Alamein. One of his mates called me to say he was about to turn 90 and he'd make a great story. I met them both down at the RSL one afternoon and we settled in for a drink. Gordon warned me not to call him "mister", even in the story. "I'm just Gordon," he said.

We had a bit of a chat about various things and he showed me his medals - and there were a lot of them. But when I got around to asking him whether he'd like to tell me about Tobruk, he said, "Oh, I don't talk about the war."

At the time, I was a miserable, green little hack and I thought, "That's something that could have been brought to my attention earlier!" but now that I've talked to more vets, I understand.

"In a soldier's life," Gordon said, "there are good times and there are bad, bad times." And those bad, bad times are just not for discussion with people who weren't there.

Gordon was happy to chat in the RSL, but he really wanted me to come back to his place and look at his old photos and memorabilia, so I went around a couple of days later. He and his wife lived in a little retirement village unit. He pulled out his old photo album and some framed pictures of himself as a young soldier. He showed me some black-and-whites taken while he was on R&R in Egypt and he looked like Lawrence of Arabia, sitting astride a camel with a larrikin grin on his face.

"Oh, I bet you broke some hearts in your day," I said, meaning it, and he laughed.

Seven months we were under seige in Tobruk, he said. The German Afrika Corps, commanded by the Desert Fox, Erwin Rommel, were on the other side of the barricades and things were looking grim. At one stage, the attackers tried to break down morale by flying overhead and dropping pamphlets that read, "You cannot escape! Surrender!" The Germans didn't realise just how happy the 14,000 Australians and 6,000 other soldiers inside were to have those pamphlets. They'd run out of toilet paper.

We chatted for a while and I looked through all of his souvenirs. "Can you pick me in that picture?" he'd ask. "What about this one?"

But as I left his little unit, Gordon grasped me by the elbow and fixed me with his faded blue eyes. "You just can't understand. Until you look into another man's eyes and see the fear of death in him, you just can't understand."

"And don't you make me out to be a hero," he called as I walked down the path with my eyes full of tears. "Because I'm not. I'm just an old soldier."

Next I met Bill. Bill served in Africa and on the Kokoda Track in World War II and he had won a French Croix de Guerre, but do you think he would say what it was for? "I don't know that I did anything different from anyone else," he said. "You only do what you're told and what you have to do."

The Croix de Guerre is one of France's highest military honours. Bill looked in his letterbox one day as he was on his way into town and found a little package. He put it in his pocket and hurried off the catch the train. Opening the box on the train, he found the medal - and nothing else.

"When I opened it, I knew what it was but I just thought, 'So I've got one then,'" he said. "Not many of them were given away, especially to Australians."

He was right, too. Australian general Sir John Monash got one in WWI and Australian spy Nancy Wake got one in WWII. Bill had been part of an Australian battalion that fought in Syria with the Free French forces. They were fighting against Vichy French allied with the Germans and their aim was to prevent Syria from becoming a Middle East base for Germany.

The local RSL tried to arrange a proper French Embassy presentation of the Croix de Guerre, but Bill's health went downhill and was too crook to go.

When Anzac Day rolled around, I spoke to John. John was a Rat of Tobruk who grew up proud of his miner dad, Jack, who had been at Gallipoli as one of the "Fighting 10th". John was a gentleman. He'd put on a freshly-ironed white shirt and a tie for his interview and photograph and he offered me a cup of tea.

"I thought the 10th must have been the most wonderful war unit of all," he said. When he enlisted in 1940, he was happy to find that he was to be a part of the new incarnation of his dad's old regiment, the 2/10th. He found himself thrown into the dying days of Tobruk and then sent to Palestine and from there to New Guinea to fight the Japanese.

"The noise of the battleground, the constant firing of artillery and mortars, the rifle fire and machine gun fire - it was neverending. If you hadn't grown up before then, you grew up very, very quickly," he said.

John was the Rat of Tobruk who I made cry and I still feel guilty.

"We're all scarred up in here," he said, tapping his forehead, "and it will never go away. I'm at a stage now where if I go to a service, I get terribly, terribly upset when the bugle plays the Last Post."

A few months later, I went down to talk to veterans of the "Forgotten War": Korea. I know M*A*S*H is still playing in re-run (and I still have a crush on Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pearce), but not many people remember the Australians who were part of that war. And some people still say it wasn't a war at all.

Betty was a nurse in Korea and as she left for her tour of duty, her WWII veteran father gave her a grim farewell. "If a bullet has your name on it, you will get it whatever you do," he told her. "Just do your duty." And Betty did do her duty, but when she came home in 1953, it was to a cold reception.

"They told us it was not a real war," she said. "They said it was just a 'police conflict'. For people to say that it was not a war...!"

Betty is a sturdy octagenarian with a bright smile, but even now you can see that she must have been a formidable nurse. She tells stories of using bedpans as toboggans to skate down snow-covered hills in the same breath as tales of surgery done during bombardments, just like those shown on M*A*S*H.

Ken was sitting with Betty as we chatted in the little Korea and South East Asian Forces Association hut. He was a "Nasho" - a National Serviceman - sent to war on a navy aircraft carrier when he was just 18.

"We were all afraid," he said. "We all have flashbacks." Not, of course, that they knew what was going on at the time. "I only know what was going on now because I read about it afterwards," he said. "At the time, you were only concerned with the man on your right and the man on your left."

In August last year, I met Len to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII. Len could still fit into his old regimental jacket and still had his slouch hat, so he put them on for the photographer. When the war ended, he was a POW working in an Ohama coal mine. From his barracks, he could see into the Japanese guardroom and knew something was afoot when he saw the sergeant of the guard with tears running down his face.

"I mean, to see a Japanese officer crying," he said. "Then later on, came those four Japanese words that I shall never forget: 'No work. The war's over.'"

Len had been captured on Java in 1942 and had been a prisoner for just over three years when the war ended. Eighteen months of that time was spent with famed Australian army doctor Edward "Weary" Dunlop. "I still maintain that if it hadn't been for Weary Dunlop, we would not be here," he said. "Of course, there are only a few of us left now..."

Len's an old soldier who doesn't care for people who tell him he's obsessed because he can't forget the war. "I say, 'Have you had someone die? Do you forget them?' Of course you don't."

Then there was Jim. Jim stepped ashore in Hiroshima shortly after the surrender was signed.

"There was absolutely nothing," he said. "It was just flattened. I was looking around and imagining what Adelaide would look like if it were to be hit by an atomic bomb."

Jim was aboard the HMAS Nizam, part of the fleet surrounding MacArthur's ship, the USS Missouri, when the Japanese signed the surrender.

"We didn't know what they had done (when they dropped the atomic bomb)", he said. "A bomb was a bomb, we thought. We had no idea when we got there what it would be like." And what it was like was a few slabs of concrete bristling with reinforcing rod and surrounded by rubble.

But Jim still had a bottle of Hiroshima Bitter while he was there. "They were back making it two weeks after the bomb was dropped. It tasted OK - beer's beer, I guess. I'm just amazed we were never treated for radiation sickness."

Next there was Arthur. Arthur was a POW as well and he knew there was something afoot in August 1945 when the Japanese told them there would be no work for two days in a row. On the third day, their own officers told them the war was over.

Arthur was a member of the 2/3rd and had spent three-and-a-half years on what old soldiers call "the Line": the Burma Railway. They had all been made to wear wooden dog-tags to identify them during their captivity and when they were told the war was over, they all took the tags off and threw them in the air.

"The Japs saw the war was over and that was the end of it," he said. "They more or less disappeared and got out of our way. We were just delighted to get out of there alive."

Bert, on the other hand, was not a prisoner, but he still couldn't have a drink to celebrate the end of the war. "We were out among the orang-utangs, you see, in the jungle," he said. Instead of shouting for joy when they were told the war was over, Bert and his fellow soldiers walked quietly back to their barracks, sat down on their bunks and stared at each other. "Finally somebody said, 'I wonder how long until we go home?'"

For Bert, the real party didn't come until 50 years later, when the Adelaide veterans got together in the city for a commemorative march.

"A few tears dropped from my eyes that day," he said. "People were shouting and patting us on the back and children were running alongside and patting us. I ended up with streamers around my neck. That was a wonderful day."

Then there was Robert. Robert was a Vietnam vet and his was an Apocalypse Now war. He spent his war aboard an army supply boat, travelling down densely-jungled rivers. The boat was called the Clive Steele and it was one of what has become known as the Forgotten Fleet.

"I was one of the gun crew," Robert said. "It was only line of sight up the river and what you could see on the bank. We were just sitting ducks, really."

Robert spent just three months on the Clive Steele before he was hospitalised in Vung Tau with glandular fever and pneumonia. By the time he was released, his boat had moved on without him and he had nothing but his pyjamas. "I felt a bit abandoned then," he said.

After a refit at the army supply store, he was stationed in Saigon, a city full of lost souls and refugees. He returned home in 1973 when Australia pulled out of Vietnam. "My personal view was that we should never have got involved in the internal politics of another nation," he said. "I think that was proved when we just walked away and left them."

Jean wasn't a soldier, or a nurse. She was a journalist and the Vietnam War was the story of her gernation, but Australian newspapers weren't sending female correspondents. She wanted to go, so she signed up as a Red Cross volunteer to try to help the Australian soldiers.

Jean knew she was in trouble when she saw a soldier's shattered body and felt nothing. "I thought he looked like a piece of meat in a butcher's shop window," she said. "I suddenly realised I had become totally devoid of emotion. I had grown immune to our daily reality, which was the appalling mutiliation and waste of young men's lives."

She ended up spending nearly a year "in country" and was one of just two women among 5000 soldiers. Always a little removed from the battles, she still saw the aftermath when the wounded were brought back to be patched up. Her job was to look after the welfare of the sick and the wounded, and she wrote letters for the soldiers, read to them and played cards with them to help pass the hours. She ended up with a nickname that was mildly embarrassing at the time, but that she now wears as a badge of honour: "Jean, Jean the Sex Machine". She wasn't one - it just rhymed.

She describes her time in Vietnam as the best year of her life. "I was so enriched by the experience, by seeing mankind at its finest," she said. "I have the highest regard for the Australian soldier - I've never seen such selflessness."

And then there was "Ike". Ike stood in the cemetery at Gona in PNG in 1943 and counted off the graves of friends who had died on the Kokoda Track. "I counted those crosses," he said. "There were 86 of my good mates there and there were another 15 missing presumed dead." And one of those crosses could just has easily have borne his name.

Ike had been second-in-command of his battalion, so it was only a chance decision of the brass that saw him left behind as the rest of his men marched away up the track. The day the first half of his battalion started the long march through the mountains, he was told he was leaving to take command of another unit. "I wasn't very happy about being separated from my mates, but what could I do?" he said.

The next time he saw his old unit, there were just 70 left alive.

And what about Jack? Jack was a code-breaker who carried cyanide pills in his pocket in case he was captured by the Japanese. He showed an aptitude for Morse code when he signed up in 1942, so the RAAF sent him to learn kana, the Japanese code. He wanted to be a pilot, but instead he became an Eavesdropper.

"If we got caught, we were to put the capsules in our mouths and crunch them and we would be dead," he said. "We were told to take our own lives so our secrets would not be revealed under torture."

The Allies broke the Japanese code early in WWII and men like Jack saved the lives of thousands of Australian and US soldiers, but killed thousands of Japanese. A single message that Jack intercepted resulted in the destruction of a 17-ship convoy carrying more than 10,000 Japanese troops.

"The only survivors were a few that managed to swim to shore," he said. "I sunk those ships and I had no feelings about it all at the time. I looked at it from the point of view that they went there to kill Americans."

And finally there's Ian. Ian spent 28 years in the Australian Army and served in what was then Malaya and later in Vietnam. As a part of the Australian Army Training Team, he spent most of his nine months in Vietnam out in the field with South Vietnamese army units.

Ian doesn't like to talk about the war either. "Battle's another part of your life," he said. "Why do you need to talk about it?" When he goes into his local RSL, it's not to talk war but to remember old friends.

"I haven't heard anyone tell a warrie in years," he said. "Why do you need to talk about it? I know pretty much what that bloke did and he knows what I did."

I'm not suggesting that war is right and obviously I'm not saying that the current war in Iraq is right, because it's not. I'm also not suggesting that we should lionese everyone who went to war and call them heroes just because they were in uniform.

All I'm saying is that we shouldn't forget.

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 11, 2006

You dirty rat!

There's a corpse on the back verandah.

It's a gift of love from Mr Furpants, of course: a medium-sized rat with a brown back and a cream tummy. I'm telling myself that it's just having a little nap in the shade, so who am I to disturb its rest? So what if its feet are stuck in the air and its ropey little tail is as stiff as a chopstick? It's not chewed or otherwise mutilated - Mr F doesn't deign to eat rats. It's probaby very, very tired. It might be having a nap.

I know that sooner or later, I'm going to have to dig a hole and bury it, but I'm trying to put that off. Bloke has gone fishing with Number One Brother, so I can't make him do it, even though corpse disposal is clearly in his job description.

I might just go and check whether it's still there. It could have blown away. Just talk amongst yourself for a minute.

Back again. Oh holy God, the ants have found it. This is not good. I really am going to have to get the spade and dig it a shallow grave. The bin's only just been emptied and it's rather warm, so the old bag-and-bin trick isn't advisable. A rat in the bin is worth... well, something exceptionally pongy. And large. Dead rats really punch above their weight in the stinky stakes. The problem with burying it is that I'm bound to dig up other victims of our vicious little hunter. We always tend to bury the dead near the fences, so every time a new grave is sunk, older skeletons surface. It's quite macabre, really. I suppose it's lucky we don't live on an ancient Indian burial ground, or we'd be under siege from zombie rats and mouses.

Christ, I suppose I'd better go and do it. I bet Bloke comes home just as I'm patting down the last shovelful of earth. He'd better have caught some damned fish.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Tea and bongs

You are travelling to another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. You are entering The Twilight Zone. A place where Coles bar cake is a lovely snack and everyone is happy because they are growing tomatoes.

How and why did we enter this other dimension? Well, I found something in my letterbox the other day that reminded me of my last visit to the Twilight Zone, so I thought we’d just step across the threshold together. Another crapalogue? Local government election material? Someone filled my letterbox with sauce? No. It was an invitation to a local meeting of Nosy Bastards Anonymous, aka, Neighbourhood Watch.

The invitation made me think of the meeting I was forced to attend a few months ago. No, I didn’t have to sit down and say, “Hi, I’m Redcap and I’m an alcoholic.” It wasn’t that type of meeting - I go to those on Tuesdays. This was a Watch meeting, but it was all special-like - this wasn't the usual angry clutch of five people pissed off by finding used condoms and empty Bacardi Breezer bottles in their violas. No, this would be nearly as good as CSI because there would be Senior Policemen talking about Important Things. Hurrah!

For those of you who are not blessed with Neighbourhood Watch, it's not really made up of concerned citizens, as you might think. Most of the members are just plain old curtain-twitchers. You know the type. You’ve staggered out to get the paper, weighed down by a four-star hangover (complete with the shakes), wearing your jammies and with bedhead that makes that dude from A Flock of Seagulls look pretty darned sleek. You see the lace curtain across the road twitch and you know they’re there: people with nothing better to do than keep an eye on their neighbours. I realise this is probably a sign of social disintegration, but I just don’t care what my neighbours are doing. Unless they’re mowing the lawn at 7am on a Sunday. Then I care and I want to kill them. But the rest of the time, I don’t want anything to do with them. (This probably explains why we didn't get trick-or-treaters this year. Oh, and there aren't any Mars Bars left, by the way.)

Anyway, this is why it’s called Neighbourhood Watch: because they do. I like to imagine a few pissed coppers sitting in a pub one night, coming up with the idea. “Hey, you bastards, let’s get all the nosy bastards everywhere to work for us. For no pay! It’ll be a bloody great joke.” But, as bloody usual, I digress.

The meeting I went to was doubly blessed because the Police Woodwind Quintet was performing. They were lovely, really: very woodwind, definitely a quintet and rather good musicians. I’m just not quite sure why they work for the police force. Do they call them in to quieten down unpleasant siege situations by playing the Brahms Lullaby? By the time they'd Mozarted up the stage a bit, there were three people in the audience. Including me. There was dead silence at the end of the first song, followed by me clapping extremely loudly to compensate because I felt bad for them. A few more people drifted in every few minutes and the process was repeated, with me continuing to lead the applause out of embarrassment.

By the time the room was three-quarters full, I’d realised I was going to be the only person there under the age of 55. At least I didn't have to lead the applause anymore, though. Between songs, one of the coppers called, “We’ve put the billy on and there’s cake in the other room!” I got all excited for a moment, thinking that John McCrea and the boys were waiting to take over from the woodwind quintet and we were in for a bit of Sheep go to Heaven. Hurrah! It was worth my while coming here after all! Sadly, I realised my mistake when the assembled throng murmured, “Ooh, cake! How lovely!” and trundled off, returning with Styrofoam cups and slices of a particularly grim variety of Coles bar cake. “Oh, it’s lovely cake,” they said, slurping milky tea and hoovering crumbs.

By then, I was hoping for it to start raining vodka and for the ceiling to spring a leak above my chair. I was also seriously considering poking myself in the head with a pencil and saying, “Oh, goodness, I’m bleeding. Blood rule! Best go then!”

Finally, the band scarpered (probably to the pub, the lucky bastards). Cake still didn’t appear, dashing my hopes for once and for all. Instead, a copper stepped up to the stage and welcomed everyone before starting on the fertile subject of grow houses.

Bloke and I know all about grow houses, having lived next door to one. It was a bit of a running joke, actually. All the signs were there: two people living in a four-bedroom rented house; newly-installed, locked gates; an enormous yet sweet-tempered malamute for scaring trespassers and a Staffy for biting them; tenants who looked a little on the rough side, yet never, ever had noisy parties; and the clincher, a huge trailer-load of hydroponic gear in the driveway one day that was gone the next. Despite all these signs, we never smelled anything, so we just kept joking about it. Then the people disappeared and the owners’ parents came to clean up. Having removed six garbage bags of dog poo, they leaned over the fence to ask whether we’d ever seen anything funny going on in the house. They thought the tenants had been “growing mara-joo-ana in there” and had destroyed the electrics in an effort to get around the meter. Oops. Obviously our collective sense of smell was on the fritz for nearly a year.

“Now keep an eye out for drug houses,” the copper told the gathered Watchers. “You’ll know something funny’s going on from the people coming and going at odd hours, the blinds always being down, perhaps things being stolen in the area. And of course, there’s the smell.”

“But what does marijuana is smell like?” one old guy piped up. “Rotten eggs?”

“Ahhh, no,” the copper said, completely straight-faced. They must teach them the art of the poker face at the academy. They certainly don’t teach it at Hack School, because I nearly choked.

“The closest smell I can suggest is burning rope,” he said.

Burning rope? I thought. That guy’s snotter must be out of action too. Is there some sort of nose-disabling virus going around? Are we all doomed to die from gas leaks because we can't smell them?

After some guff about drug testing and evil, evil hoon drivers, another policeman decided to get a bit of audience participation happening by asking some questions. As you do.

“Who knows what equipment is used for smoking marijuana?” he asked cheerfully.

(Pause) “Bongs!” piped up about 15 oldies, all at once. (It was almost as though they'd rehearsed it. One, two, three - BONGS! But for the true effect, you’ll need to imagine this said in nanna voice. If you're a guy and can’t produce nanna voice for yourself, just ask the nearest girlie. Every woman has nanna voice inside her, waiting to get out.) There was another slight pause and a few more people chipped in rather hestitantly with, “And pi-ipes.” (Also said in nanna voice.)

Needless to say, I nearly choked again. After all, I now had a licence to kill: what else could give me the excuse to walk up to my workmates at odd moments for the next three weeks and shriek, “Bongs!” in a nanna voice? Gold, Jerry, gold!

Since there was obviously a knowledge gap in the room, the policeman must have thought a quick lesson in bong-making was warranted. After all, you never know when you’ll need one. So he explained a bit about the different types, concentrating on the bucket and the Coke bottle models. When a copper starts talking to 100 senior citizens about how to make a bong, you know you're in bat country. Or at least bong country.

“But whatever sort of bong you make, you need a bit of hose,” he said. “So if your hose doesn’t seem to reach the petunias anymore, perhaps you should be looking hard at the grandchildren.”

“Ooohhhh,” tutted the old people in front of me, exchanging “young folk these days!” looks.

The same bloke who’d wanted to know what the green gear smelled like also wanted to know what a plant looked like. Is this guy writing a book? I think he's going to have to get a bit more gonzo than just going to a Neighbourhood Watch meeting.

“Oh, it looks rather like a tomato plant,” the copper said. “But the main difference is that you can put all the water in the world on a marijuana plant, but you’ll never get a tomato off it.” Ba dum tish. Obviously the coppers who aren’t in the woodwind quintet are all hoping to get into the Boys in Blue Comedy Review.

So, I’ve thought about it, but I don’t think I’ll go to my local Neighbourhood Watch meeting. After all, I don’t like Styrofoam tea or dirt cake, I’ve already been told how to make a bong and I know that I should be looking for tomato plants if I want to get high. What more could they teach me?

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 03, 2006

Saucy chocolaty goodness

I have to work tomorrow, and Miss Petstarr has asked me to screw up... ahem... look after the Idol wrap-up over at Bland Canyon this Sunday, so I thought I'd best chocolate things up tonight so you can bake something yummy on the weekend. How about pudding? I like pudding. But only if yeh've eaten yeh dinner. How can yeh have any pudding if yeh haven't eaten yeh meat??

Chocolate uber pudding

1 cup SR flour
1/4 cup cocoa
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup milk
45g butter, melted

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 1/4 cups hot water

Sift flour and cocoa into a bowl. Add caster sugar and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre and add milk and butter. Stir well to combine. Grease a 1 litre ovenproof dish and pour in the batter.

To make the sauce, combine the brown sugar and cocoa in a small bowl. Add the hot water and stir until smooth. Pour the sauce mixture over the back of a spoon onto the batter. Bake at 180 degrees C for 40 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer.

Serves six. Stand pudding for five minutes before serving. Dust pudding with icing sugar and serve warm with cream or ice-cream. Mmm, pudding. (Yes, it microwaves.)

Labels: ,

Failure City

Jeez, I've had an arse day. I just don't seem to be able to get a damned thing right.

(1) I'm a news-free zone. I'm doing a bit of news instead of my usual fluff, but news has escaped me. The prospect of a return to the Real Thing excited me for about a day, but then the wheels fell off, as they were bound to. I've called my old contacts, stirred my usual pots, but nada, nyet, fuck all. Even for a half-hearted hack, this is really pathetic. Every idea I've had has crashed and burned or been worthy of nothing more than a five sentence brief. Yes, I'm a failure. Bartender! Double vodka and soda on the rocks, hold the soda, hold the rocks. But bring some crisps, OK? I like crisps.

(2) Trick-or-treaters continue to shun me. I realise it's about four days past Hallowe'en, but the kiddles in my street have finally decided to go trick-or-treating. I suspect this is because their parents are stupid and don't realise you are supposed to knock on doors on 31 October rather than 4 November. But halle-bloody-lujah anyway, eh? I made the effort to buy the chocolate, after all. So, I wandered in from the pub and found four witches, a pantomime horse and a couple of ghosts pootling up and down my street along with a couple of parents (one of whom was wheeling a pusher - was the baby dressed as Beelzebub?) "Yay!" I thought. "I won't have to eat all of the fun-sized Mars Bars myself!" I turned on my front light, put the Mars Bars on the hall table and thought about my doorbell some more, but STILL no-one rang it. I've now been rejected by six-year-olds in manky costumes. Fine, you little shits. I'm having a Mars Bar RIGHT NOW. Do you think it's because they can sense that I don't like children?

(3) I made myself a lazy-arse pizza margherita. "Nuffin' wrong wiv a lazy-arse margheri'a," I 'ear you say (in your fake Cockney accent). Yes, yes, there is. If you drop the fucking thing on the floor, there's a world of misery associated with it. I have no idea how this happened. Toast falls butter-side down. Bread falls peanut butter-side down. This is a well-understood phenomenon - it's just gravity, yeah? Peanut butter is heavier than toast. I'm an Arts graduate, but I can understand that. It happens all the time. How, then, did my pitta-bread-with-tomato-puree-and-oregano-and-grated-cheese-put-under-the-griller-and-toasted-nicely manage to fall PITTA-side down on the kitchen floor? And how the hell did I manage to drop it in the first place? One minute I was unsticking the slightly crusty (and therefore yummy) bits of cheese from the baking tray and the next, hey presto! Floor pizza. Sigh. Somehow it's worse if it looks perfectly normal apart from the fact it's sitting on the floorboards instead of a plate. After all, if it fell cheese-side down, you'd never even contemplate eating it.

And no, I didn't. I'm not that desperate. I've got Mars Bars, remember?

Labels: , ,