Saturday, August 21, 2010

Neoprene.

Today our town had its Big Show! (County Fair.) Hot Cinnamon Donuts and Fairy Floss on sticks and Rides painstakingly designed to bring your stomach up through your nose and Big Agricultural Halls full of prize-winning Chickens and Pigeons and 9-patch Quilts and Fruit Cakes.
            Tomorrow Mr Tabubil and I, with our friends Sarah and Peter, are going snorkling with the cuttlefish.  Between May and August, Australian giant cuttlefish breed along our coast in the seagrass beds.  Most of our coast is sand flats half a kilometer wide, but about 20 minutes out of town there is a steep rocky coast where the seagrass starts right along the shore.  You walk into the water, and when you're about 4 meters out, you put your head underneath and find herds of cuttlefish swimming and mating all around you. It's one of those natural phenomenons, David Attenborough-style.
            We went to the dive shop this morning and got kitted out.  We expected to need wetsuits and flippers, but Diver Tony and his wife take cuttlefish viewing very seriously.  The water temperature is only 12 degrees C, so we got neoprene boots and neoprene socks, and neoprene under-suits and enormously thick and heavy neoprene wetsuits and hoods and gloves, all of which had to be fitted to a very precise degree of fit, with no excess space at all for water to slosh around in!
            The tightness of the fit caused a few complications.  The first suit I tried on was a size too small.  It felt even tighter than it should have been because I put it on backward.  I had to be dragged out by main force.
            We all thought that was pretty funny, then we turned around and saw that Sarah had managed to get the arm of her suit all the way up her leg to her hip.  It was impressively tight- she had seen me trying to squeeze on the too-small suit and thought a circulation-pinching fit was customary, and while I was being poured out of mine, she was wheezing and huffing that neoprene sleeve all the way up over her thigh.
            It took three of us to get it off her.  One to pin her into a chair, another  with a firm grip on her leg, and Diver Tony's very strong wife, who has arms like sides of beef, to haul that neoprene sleeve back down to her ankle.
            We reckon we've already gotten our moneys worth of entertainment out of those suits and we haven't been near the water yet.

We also had our federal elections today.  Mark your preferred option firmly with a large 1, or list every single one of the forty-two parties in preferential order. At least we're not Queensland.  Up there, they've got sixty.

Friday, August 20, 2010

My Sister and Orthopedics

My sister is in her final year of medical school.  She is doing her Orthopedics rotation.  She is not terribly thrilled by it.
            “Nope.” She lay back on her bed and shrugging with elaborate casualness. "Surgery doesn't do much for me.  It’s just glorified butchery.  Change that – no glory.  Just butchery.”
            “Skilled butchery, surely?” I said.
            We were skyping, and she wrinkled her nose at me in the video.
            "You’d be surprised.”  She said darkly.  “And Orthopedic surgeons are the worst.  They’re such snobs. They’re boy doctors and they're all built like brick houses because they have to be strong enough to re-align someone’s leg.  It’s a club made up of all the boys who used to play rugby in university.  Enough said, right?”  She sniffed.  “And I have to be with them for eight whole weeks.  So no, in answer to your question, I’m not particularly thrilled about it at all.”

She called me after her first day with a rather superior look on her face.
            “There was a gorgeous registrar at the orientation today.  You can tell he used to play rugby, but he was so handsome that the extra muscle looked really good on him.  They were sorting out who was going to teach whom and I was staring at him and praying ‘Please be my teacher, please be my teacher!  And while you're at it - let it be ethical to date my teacher!!”
            “And is he your teacher?”
            “No. But it doesn't matter.  He gave a talk and when he opened his mouth – Tabubilgirl, he was a total orthopedist. It was so disappointing. He’d looked like such a normal person.”
            “Seven weeks and four days, babe.”
            “Huh.” She looked depressed and rung off.

On day two, she called me again.  In the video window she was laid out across her bed like a load of damp laundry.
            “Big day?” I said.
She laughed weakly without opening her eyes.
            “I assisted on a complete knee replacement, watched an arthroscopic surgery and assisted on a hip replacement review.”
            “What do you mean by assisting?”
            “Standing by, handing instruments, handling retractors and pulling back big chunks of flesh… everything.”
            “How do you do a knee replacement?”
            She sighed and said “I’m too tired to explain it properly” then sat up and explained, with hand gestures (the pulling and hammering ones were rather disturbing) for almost forty-five minutes.
            “You take a knife and slice down through the thigh and knee and calf, and then you retract all the flesh and hold it out and away.  That’s the part I did.  Then you carefully lift off the patella and the ligaments and sort of slide them around to the side.  Then you go in and isolate the tibia and the fibula, and you take out the electric saw and slice off the ends of the bones and it makes the most disturbing sound.”
            “How much do they take off the ends?”
            “Not much.  Half a centimeter maybe?  Just enough to make it even and flat.  Do you know what Orthos wear in surgery?
            “A Welding shield?!?”
            “Just about!  There’s this construction helmet type thing that comes down into a big face shield that sits, like, six inches out from your face.  You put that on first, and then you put on your scrubs over the top.  That movie Outbreak?  Just like that. And there’s an air supply; it’s hooked up to a battery pack that you wear on your back and air comes out of a set of vents all along the top of the shield and aims downward to keep away condensation and blow away any bits of things that stick to the front of the mask.”
            “Bits of things?”
            “OH yeah.  When the doctor pulled out the circular saw I squinched up my mouth and closed my eyes -and then I realized: Hey! – all the flying bits of bone and flesh and blood were landing on my shield!  Not all over my face! “
            “Urgh.”
            “Yeah… It’s pretty messy.   They have tables and tables of hammers and guides and templates and they keep checking for size and swapping them out and everything gets covered in blood. And when it’s all sawed and grinded they pick an artificial joint and match it up with the tibia.  Then they do it with the femur.  Then they fill the bone with cement and stick pins in everything and slide the patella back around and sew it all up. It takes about an hour, tops.
            And then I went and watched an arthroscopic knee exploration which was very soothing after all that blood.   Yet still, somehow, entirely gross.
            In the afternoon I assisted on a hip replacement review, which I signed up for because I naively thought it meant a post-operative interview, but what it actually meant was that the patient had had a hip replacement and it kept dislocating, so they had to redo it.
            After this morning, which went really well, I had started to think that orthopedics might be pretty interesting and something I could totally do, but then that hip replacement happened. And it was….. messy.
            The knee replacement was okay because you can place a tourniquet on the thigh and actually see what you’re working on, but there’s nowhere to put a tourniquet on a hip.  My gloves were soaked in blood.  I had blood up to my elbows and blood on my mask and down my gown and all over my little fabric booties.  It was brutal.
            It was also a mess– the patient had had the original surgery done somewhere else, and there weren’t any notes.  The scar showed that the original insertion had been done in the wrong place and even after the doctors opened her up and rummaged around, they couldn't figure out what size replacement had been used the first time.  So in the end they just picked a new size and shoved it in and waved it around to see if it fit – and then did it again until they found one that worked.
            The leg part of the hip replacement is a pin with a ball on the end– they just chop off the end of the femur and pipe it full of cement and stick the pin in.   But the really really horrible part?  First they had to get the old cement out.  And there was a lot of it.  And do you know how they did it?
            Before he started, the senior consultant said ‘She’s got pretty bad arthritis, so we’ll have to go really gently here.’  Then he picked up a hammer and started bashing at the chopped-off end of her femur.
            I thought ‘That’s supposed to be gentle?’ Only I said it out loud because he looked at me and went “Yea-ah...” and looked at me like I was a total baby.
            My God.   He just hammered and hammered and all sorts of things were flying all over the place and then” -my sister's voice became very low and quiet- “there were times when I had to turn away and go away to my happy place.  I didn’t need to faint or anything, honestly.  I just couldn’t LOOK.”
            “Where’s your happy place?” I asked, fascinated.
            “Anywhere but there.  At one point I even had to sing my happy song.  I’m standing there, holding back half of the poor woman's thigh with a retractor, and singing the Carpenters under my breath.  “E-very sha na na na, every oh oh oh oh….”
            And then they put her back together.  Like - that’s it. The cute registrar said “Give us some tension?” And the other doctor said “Right-oh” and they both went “Uuuhhhhrrrr” and pulled her leg really hard and then let it all sort of …. squish back together.”
            “Uuuurrrrghggggghhhh.”
            “Yeah.”
            There was a brief reflective silence. Then she sighed.
            "I’m going to go have dinner now.  Are you hungry?  I'm hungry."
            “You do that.” I said weakly, and she pushed herself up from the bed and logged off, while I sat in front of my computer, contemplating the possibility not eating anything at all - not for a while, anyway.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Antiques Roadshow



I love British Victoriana - all that extremely starched clothing and fatuous middle-brow artwork.
            Paintings of beggar children with painfully clean feet, hands clasped in humble gratitude, accepting single pennies from virginal young women with clean kid gloves and bovine smiles.
            Etchings of bowing, scraping Irish peasants in soup kitchens (tickets sold separately to the gentry for entrĂ©e to the spectators booth). 
            Nudes in the National Gallery, sinuous and golden-tressed - but eyes modestly downcast or they wouldn't be in the National Gallery - painted in front of vaguely eastern arcades to lend a cultural veneer to the leers and heavy breathing.
            Shell boxes.
            Embroidered draft excluders.
            Fir-cone hedgehogs.
            Crocheted antimacassars.
            Fire-screens worked with cherubs and wreaths of roses and - in pink - the words "Bless this House."
            Elephant-foot umbrella holders.
            Chrysanthemum Pen-wipers.             It's one short step from all that stuff to the Pre-Raphaelites, who soaked themselves in opium and velvet waistcoats and howled rebellion and fell insensible at their easels. Victorian culture was so self-anesthetized, the worstest those bad boys could wreak was to paint even more lascivious long-haired nudes than the Good Boys painted - theirs with swollen, heavy-lidded eyes staring right at the viewer - she's not a pliant slave onto which you can stamp your own private imperial fantasies, she's an Evil Temptress, see? Her hair all symbolic and allegorical of the coils and snares in which she entraps Man! How's that for soft-core? This one's got meaning, dude!             Any society so starched and powdered it can give rise to the urban myth of the piano skirt can only stretch so far before you trip over a bobble-trimmed ottoman in your glazed opium haze and can't get back up again. Poor boys.             Ahem.
            Last night I vegetated on the sofa underneath my new crocheted afghan (thrift-store pseudo-Victoriana. Say what you will about their full-frontal assault on home decoration, the Victorian's stiff-upper-lip approach to building insulation lent them genius when it came to designing Things to Keep You Warm) and watched an old episode of Antiques Roadshow.  A genteel matron from the Isle of Wight had brought along an extremely ambiguous objet d'art that she'd been given as a present twenty years ago, and for all of those years she'd been completely bamboozled as to what in hell it was supposed to be.  The confusion was reasonable - the thing looked like a wrought-silver fishing boat - sans mast - being buffeted about on a choppy wrought-silver sea. The back half of the deck lifted up on hinges to show a hollow hull.  The giver must have been a very good or very important friend, or the thing would have landed itself in a shoebox at the bottom of the hall cupboard and been forgotten about for ever and ever fifteen minutes after the giver had gone home.             But the Roadshow Expert grasped the thing enthusiastically in both hands and shouted "Aha!"
            And burbled at the woman happily.  "You know what this is, of course?"
            No, the woman indicated with eloquence of eyebrows, she certainly didn't.
            "Well"  the Expert said (employing that very specific antiquarian "Well" that expresses volumes about the speaker's superior grade of cultural appreciation, your lamentable lack of same, and the high probability that you're going to get a lecture in deeply specialized academical trivialities in a minute)  
            "What it is, is a Genuine Electroplated Victorian Silver Water-Activated Spoon Warmer."
            The owner looked as bemused as I felt. With exclamation points.
            "What you do with it, of course, is fill it with hot water, lift up the lid, and insert the business half of your serving spoon to warm until you need it at the dining table. I would suggest, if you'd take my advice, to have it insured for somewhere around the value of fifteen hundred pounds."

My word!

Bless the Victorians. That same uncritical imperial egotism that painted pictures of the Deserving Poor to sanctify the parsimonious middle-class soul (beggar children with dirty feet presumably both undeserving and irredeemable) gave them the confidence that these fifteen-minute gimcrack marvels would be cherished and appreciated by their owners - down unto the generations.  Electroplating indeed.
            The breed of man that built the better mousetrap (steam powered), that ran an entire empire to the clockwork precision of railway time - this, my dears, THIS is why the sun never set 'on em!             And the proud possessor of a Genuine Victorian Electroplated Silver Water-Activated Spoon warmer looked upon it with a new appreciation.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen hundred pounds, eh?  Now there was an excuse to wrap it in paper, lay it carefully in a shoebox and keep it safe and far from harm - and out of sight.  For ever and ever and ever.

Playing to the Crowd

Now that we know they are out there, Mr Tabubil and I see the dolphins all the time. At mid-afternoon, they're gliding through the water underneath the fishing jetty, or running time trials up and down the rock wall of the breakwater. In the early evening we go down to watch them follow the fishing boats in and skulk around the pontoon jetty while the sailors haul the boats out of the water.
            A few weeks ago we took Mr and Mrs Tabubil-in-law down to the boat ramp to meet the dolphins. The whole pod was there that evening - three grown ups, one half-grown teenager and the brand new baby. There was a big crowd of humans on the pontoon and we watched the adult dolphins playing in the water for the children. We grown ups they ignored. But for the children, the dolphins were jumping and curvetting and rolling and standing on their tails - they were practically doing somersaults. The children screamed in excitement and the louder they howled the higher the dolphins leaped and the tighter they rolled. They were - there was no other word for it - showing off.




And the baby dolphin was everywhere. Upside down and sideways, practicing its own swoops and dives and somersaults, swooping up through the water and losing momentum halfway through an upstroke. It simply wasn't long enough for a proper porpoise and stalled half-under, half-above the water it would flap, hugely, with its whole body to drive down below the water. And its concentration was simply terrible; half-way through a high speed run along the dock it would forget where it was going and decide - abruptly - to do something else and do a little flop in the water and dash off - sideways and upside down again.
            There was also a predatory pelican in the party, stomping flat-footed around the pontoon and calculating that anything in your hand was a fish (one fisherman had fed him a small leftover whiting, which was probably a mistake) and tried to eat Mr Tabubil's camera. It took a beak-ful of arm instead - and spat out the nasty plastic jacket. Mr Tabubil matched it stare for nasty glare.
            Pelicans have a mad animal intelligence. They look hard at you and you flinch to look back. You see the hook of their beak in their eyes. Dolphins meet your eyes and examine you while you examine them. Looking a dolphin in the eye is like looking at a man from a far-away country - a familiar, if foreign, intelligence. You have no conversation or common conventions - should you smile? Shrug? Avert your eyes? Put your hand out boldly for a shake? Do any of these things mean to him any of the things you mean them to? And when he gets bored and walk away - you don't know what it was you did or what you didn't or if you didn't meet his hopes or if you presented yourself exactly has he expected that you would. They are kin to us, but they speak ocean, not land.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Recipe: Pumpkin Soup (and a Taxi Full of Grandma)

Last week it was Mr Tabubil's turn to bring something edible to his friday morning meeting, and everyone in his office voted, as they should have done, for the Best Chocolate Brownies Ever.
            I seemed to owe everybody chocolate last week - Mr Tabubil's office, my students, my supervisors, my sewing circle -
            What with a kitchen full of racks of cooling brownies I ran late for work.  The bus only comes past once an hour, so I called a taxi -
          And swung inside, with a knapsack full of tupperware tubs full of baked heaven.
The driver took a long, deep breath -
            "Oh my."   She sighed.  Long and deep and rapturous.  "Oh MY.  You smell - "
            "I do?"  I said, chagrined.  "I've had a shower, I've changed my clothes - I can't possibly still smell of cooking!"
            "Oh you do." She said emphatically.  "You smell like -oh, I shouldn't say it."
            "Like what?"  I said, intrigued.
            "Oh, you smell like my grandmother.  Like you remember your grandmother smelling from when you're small, after she's been baking good things all day."
            I gave her a brownie.
            And she gave me a recipe for pumpkin soup, and talked about the importance of not forgetting to add the bacon at the end all the way to the school.  I'd never contemplated bacon in a pumpkin soup.  Can't imagine why.  Bacon goes with everything.

Yesterday I caught another taxi (honestly, when the bus runs  through town once an hour in each direction, unless you have a lot of spare time on your hands, you tend to take a lot of taxis.) and the soup-lady was my driver.  
As soon as we were rolling:
            "Did you make the soup?"
            "The soup was fantastic."
            "Really? You really liked it?"
            "It was amazing."  I said.  "I made it on the weekend, when I boiled up a new pot of chicken stock."
            "I'm so glad."  She said, gazing at me in the rear view mirror.  "You wouldn't happen to have any more of those chocolate brownies on you, would you?"
            I laughed and said no, and she sighed and looked back to the road and was the model of silent chauffeurial service until we arrived at my destination.
            At which point she snapped the locks shut and turned around in her seat and said that if I liked the recipe for Pumpkin Soup I was going to love her pasta salad.  And her Backyard BBQ Hawaiian Coleslaw.

Pumpkin Soup:
1 Liter home-made chicken stock (the store bought stuff is insipid. Pre-packaged mediocrity.)
1 butternut squash
3 medium sized potatoes
4 carrots
3 cm of peeled ginger -diced
2-3 cloves garlic - crushed (only add garlic and ginger if you haven't used any in your stock.)
1 pack of English bacon (the sort with a minimum of fat)
A little sour cream
Fresh mint

Peel the vegetables.  Dice them and boil them, along with the ginger and garlic, in the stock till soft.  (20 minutes or so.) Mash with a potato masher.  Finely dice the bacon and toss into the soup.  then pull out the hand-held mixer (or the blender) and blend till you have a soft puree.   Stir in two or three spoons of sour cream to give it a kick. 
Dice a handful of mint.
Serve the soup with a spoonful of sour cream on top, and a side of diced mint to stir into it as you eat.

Hawaiian Coleslaw:
One packet of supermarket coleslaw mix from the fresh veg. section.
Half a bottle of mayonnaise.
One can of crushed pineapple (with juices.)
Tip everything into a bowl and stir until everything is coated with everything else.

I confess I haven't tried this one.  It's a little intimidating.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Recipe: The Best Chocolate Brownies EVER

Victorian Wisdom:
To ascertain whether a woman is passionate or not...
take a muddy dog into her parlor.

Or make her brownies and see if she swoons.

My second-all-time-favorite Goodwill find is a copy of 'Death By Chocolate' by Marcel Desaulniers - director emeritus of the Culinary Institute of America, and a man who has devoted many years of his life to a great and consuming passion - theobroma cacoa.
            This love song to the chocolate bean is choked with gorgeously lit photographs of lush, glistening, dark and fiendishly complicated desserts so deathly rich (calorie counts by slice helpfully provided on the opposing pages) that merely carrying a copy of this book through a cardiovascular ward would have a significant effect on Australian mortality statistics.
            But between recipes for Chocolate Wedlock (chocolate sponge cake, chocolate raspberry mousse, white chocolate butter cream and white chocolate ganache) and Chocolate Devastation (Chocolate whiskey-soaked raisin ice cream, mocha meringue and bittersweet ganache) and the awe-inspiring Chocolate Transportation (Cocoa meringue, chocolate mousse, chocolate brownie, chocolate ganache, mocha mousse and mocha rum sauce) we found a simple, unpretentious little recipe for chocolate brownies.
            Holy Cats!  What a brownie recipe - we were in love before they even went into the oven!  In fact, we weren't even convinced that they needed to be cooked.  We mixed, stirred, whisked, tasting at every step, and when the last spoon of  sour cream dissolved into the thick chocolate brew, we tasted one more time and sighed, our eyes glazing over and our smiles growing dreamy, and cordially invited each other to pull up a spoon.
            And if you don't stockpile the ingredients for this recipe away against the nearest rainy day, then your heart is stone and your taste buds atrophied and your sense of the fitness of things that of a small and timid dormouse.


Simply The Best Chocolate Brownie Ever

2 oz (56g) plus one teaspoon unsalted butter
1 ½  oz (42g) plus one teaspoon plain flour
1 oz (28g) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
5 oz (142g) semisweet chocolate, broken up for melting (if in Australia, use Old Gold brand chocolate - the two bean strength.  If semisweet chocolate is not available, use half dark chocolate and half milk chocolate)
3 eggs
8 oz (227g) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 oz (56g) sour cream
8 oz (227g) semi-sweet chocolate, broken into chunks
I personally believe that brownies are incomplete  with walnuts or pecans inside.  Mr. Tabubil claims the opposite.  If you side with me, add 8 oz chopped pecans or walnuts when you add the semisweet chocolate chunks.

Preheat the oven to 325 F (170C)

Lightly coat a 9x12 inch (or comparable) cake tin (we used a pyrex baking dish) with butter, then flour the tin with 1tsp flour, shaking out the excess.

Sift together the remaining flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.



Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a balloon whisk.  Mix on high until thick and white and fluffy.  If you're not worried about salmonella, at this point you can chuck the rest of the ingredients and pull out a spoon and eat sweet heaven all afternoon.  If you're determined to continue, add the melted chocolate mixture and beat until well blended.  Add the sifted ingredients, and beat until well blended.  Add the sour cream and beat until there are no streaks of white visible.

Melt the chocolate.  (If melting chocolate in a microwave, and if using both light and dark chocolate, make sure to melt them separately, and not unite them until they are completely melted.) and add to the mixer.  Mix on medium setting until combined.

Melt the butter and add it to the mixer.  Mix on medium until well combined. 
Take your time!  Mix till it's light and fluffy. Patience will be rewarded!

Add the sour cream.  Mix on medium until well combined.  

Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to mix in the chocolate chunks (and nuts, if you decide to add them.)

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, spreading evenly, including the corners.

Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (about 40 minutes  with an extra 10 minutes if you are adding nuts.  Keep an eye on this yourself, however.  (Trust the oven, not a recipe you found on the internet.)

Remove the brownies from the oven and allow to cool in the tin at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes.  Cut into equitable portions.

Note:
Brownies are wonderful when warm, but even better when cooled and eaten a day later.  Once cooled to room temperature, these brownies can be stored in the fridge for several days before serving. Allow to come to room temperature before serving.  Because of the chocolate chunks, the brownies will probably not come out clean no matter how long you bake the brownies.  It is suggested that you pull them from the oven after 50 minutes baking time.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sparkles in our Boots

This weekend we followed signs for a Sunday Market and found ourselves at an old OneSteel mining camp.  Tanderra Craft Village has taken the place over, the bedrooms turned into shops, and common rooms into the headquarters for the local Wood-turning and Machine Knitting Guilds.
           It was a busy market. The competition between charities peddling Sausages 'n Onions was fierce, and one local woman with a genius for business had a little chicken wire enclosure full of kittens, ducklings, baby rabbits, and cocker spaniel pupies and was renting them out to children at "thirty minutes of cuddling for $4".  She planned to retire to a life of luxury at the end of the day.  
            Out in front of the Wilderness Rehabilitation Center Plant Nursery there was a small stage and a rasta man with a pair of bongo drums.  Solemnly billing himself as "The Nigerian Drum Master" he chanted weed-fueled wisdom with a Jamaican accent thick as toffee and banged his drums, mostly with the rhythm.
            "You can be good or you can be smart or you can be both.  This next song is called - Be good and be smart. Be-ee GOOD! (Pam Pam)  Be-e SMART (Pam Pam)  Be-ee GOOD and SMART, YAH!"
The man is something of a local institution.  A row of kids with kid-size bongo drums sat at his feet and bongo'd along with him and parents clapped and cheered and the leader of the Cape Eyre belly dancing troupe (her costume mixed kente cloth with Hindi spangles AND jangly scarves dripping with gold coins) played backup with a tambourine.
            Next on the bill was the local Ballet Academy and the aforementioned Belly Dancing Troupe (a score of kids in harem pants and spangled belts tinkled their way through the crowd) but we were busy investigating the wood-turning workshops and watching races at a meet of the local Model Car club.  Voom!  Vroom!
            The wood-turners club was making extremely intricate model ships in bottles. The Quilting Guild was demonstrating nine-patches. The Machine Knitting club we passed through with a shudder. When I was at fashion school, knitting was the one class I never ever got a handle on.  Week after week, threads snarled and tore and wrapped around posts, and the sliding thingie sprang loose and knotted threads from here to Christendom, and the weight fell off the comb, and when it bounced across the floor, upper-year students would walked past me and gave me looks that said as strongly as if they'd spoken aloud: "do they really allow people like that loose in this place?" and I'd crawl under my machine to join the four-or-so miles of yarn puddled there in a shameful little bundle of failure.
            Some people have an instinctive aptitude for certain tasks.  The concepts they grasp almost at once; intuition tells them all they need to know about when and where and why to make the tiniest fiddliest adjustment, and they grow in understanding by leaps and joyous bounds.
            I don't have that.
            The way Mozart played the piano is how I don't do knitting.
            Almost precisely how I don't do it.
            So we scuttled past and because we weren't paying attention, we landed in the craft shop.  My word, country women tat an awful lot of tea towels! There was a terrible selection of knitted beanies and beaded necklaces. Tatted orange tablecloths and scented clothes hangers. Rusted spoons twisted into rusty bracelets. It is perfectly acceptable for beginning potters to make formless pottery horrors; it is not acceptable anywhere in the multiverse for the said potters to slather them in pearlescent glaze and attempt to sell them for real money.  There were chamber pots.  Prolapsed ewers and leaky basins.  Anguished clay swans with adenoids. Tinkly-wee dolphins and fairies and dragons all tipping sideways into puddles of pink neon paint. The glitter got up our noses and, giggling madly, we almost bought a sparkly purple ewer and basin for my in-laws' wedding anniversary but they threatened never to visit us ever again if we did, so we went and explored the Tuck Shop instead.
            There I was really torn - should I buy Mr Tabubil a handful of White Christmas or a very large Chocolate Freckle? An impossible dilemma.  I settled on a toffee cup sprinkled with hundreds and thousands.  He'd squinted dubiously during my deliberations, and at the toffee cup he looked very askance, but I told him severely that home-made toffee with sprinkles was a very traditional Australian school-fete treat and he needed to learn about my culture.  So he walked about the place with his face all puckered up, sucking on the toffee and asking periodically for tic-tacs and breath mints.  Wasn't my fault he hadn't noticed that I hadn't bought one for myself.             
           We'd wrung the place dry, we reckoned.  We dodged the home-made tomato chutney and the Dutch man selling painted maracas and bongo drums ("Of great hereditary importance to the Nigerian Drum Master" he told us solemnly.  "The deep tones of the bongo are the only sound that will pass from one end of the Equatorial jungle to the other") and the junior ballet dancers performing aerobics to Middle-American power ballads - and we went home and read a book about Danish Modern - just to cool our brains. 
            And shook sparkles out of our boots.