Saturday, February 26, 2011

Music on the Wind

Every morning a woman with long brown hair drags a harp out onto the balcony across from ours, and practices for an hour, wearing a little yellow baby doll neglige and black g-string underwear - all made of lace. 
I've never heard her music.  It gets lost in the wind.
Just watched her hair, and yellow lace, flying.

Recipe: Mum Bakes Comfort Scones

The Australian sort.  None of your solid, sour, North American biscuits here.

1 3/4 cup self raising flour
1/3 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
80 grams butter - diced
3/4 cup buttermilk*
extra flour to dust ledge

Jam (Strawberry is classic.  Apricot is good.)
Cream (Gippsland double cream is thick and fabulous.)
Vanilla and sugar if you're feeling decadent.

Essential Equipment
Flour sifter
Small scone cutter (>2 inches diameter)

*If you can't obtain buttermilk, use the same amount of regular milk, stirred with 2 teaspoons white vinegar.

Pre-heat oven to 220 degrees C.

Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the dry ingredients.  Cut the butter into the flour with a knife, and use your fingertips to work the butter into the flour, working quickly until you have a bowl of fine crumbs, without any loose unmixed flour at the bottom of the bowl.

Add the buttermilk and stir gently with a spoon until the mixture is just congealed and no further.

Note: There is no yeast or extra baking powder in this recipe - scones require a delicate touch to preserve the springiness of the dough, otherwise they will come out of the oven like rocks and knives will not avail you.

Accordingly, turn the scone mixture onto a lightly floured surface and with your hands, form the dough into a mound and knead lightly.  Bring the dough together, flatten it down, turn it over - for no more than a minute perhaps, until the dough is springy and one defined mass.

Spread a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray.  Press dough gently until about an inch in thickness.  Starting at the edge, wasting none of the dough (the less re-kneading and reforming of scraps you do, the better!) cut small scones.  One by one, cut and lay on the tray.

Bake at 220C for 9-12 minutes, until they are risen and lightly golden on top, but not scorched.

See?  Perfect.

Remove tray from the oven and cool the scones until they're cool enough that they won't burn your mouth, then split them with a knife and spread with jam and cream, or jam and vanilla cream*, if you're feeling really decadent. Which I do.  Every time, if I can.

If the scones come out of the oven tough as boots, worry not - they're cheap in time and ingredients.  Try again and don't knead so hard, until you get 'em right.

*Vanilla cream
half a punnet of cream
3-4 tsp of sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Stir, taste, adjust till satisfied.

Friday, February 25, 2011


At three o'clock this afternoon the horizon turned a livid purple. Twenty minutes ago I started hearing the thunder, and the sharp staccato of rain against the windows.
Then the rain stopped and the sky turned black - and then the wind began.

An electrician was here, talking with Mum on the balcony. He made a fast run for the elevator to get his car undercover before the hail started - and mum dragged the iron chairs inside off of the balcony while the wind whipped her skirts up around her waist and the iron chairs rattled across the tiled balcony floor.
90kph, they're expecting.
We don't know if it will do an end run around us or hit us broadside - if it hits us head on, it could be like the day Dr Tabubil looked out of her study window and saw an iron table fly past her at eye height.

Later this evening:

We had a STORM this evening - my gods and garters we had a storm! The worst of it hit north of us, so we saw no flying furniture or hail, but if we missed the center of it, sweet mother of mercy on roller skates -!
The weather held off till almost real-dusk. I jotted down a few brief notes while it was going on:

A potted palm on the balcony blows over - the ceramic tub swinging wildly around in a half circle, dumping soil - turning the balcony to mud in the pounding rain.
Dr Tabubil tries to go out but too damn windy - will throw her into the balcony rail. Over it, even.
No it won't! Let me go!
You can't!
Yes I can - YEOW!
Lightning like strobe lights. The world is white, then ultraviolet.
Rain flaring horizontally across the balcony - watch it sweeping and sluicing across the roofs of the buildings below, blowing horizontally in rivers and snakes through open air. River invisible in the haze. Thunder rolls around the sky, booming and rattling - shaking the windows.
Mum yells and runs for towels - the rain is coming in thru the window above the TV - it's bursting in through the top.
Dr Tabubil tries to open balcony door - a blast of wind throws her back inside - she lands heavily -
Wind and rain taper off slightly- Dr Tabubil creeps-crawls out to drag the palm toward the door, cringing when the lightning strikes.
I am sitting on the sofa, no excitement, minding my nose, as per doctor-spec, and not getting excited, not at all, don't mind me - WOOOOOOW!!!!!!!!
World is violet and white and ultraviolet and shuddering.
Dr Tabubil darts back inside between lightning flashes and we stand against the window, watching.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cake After General Anaesthetic

On Day Three-post-surgery:

This poor prolapsed spice cake is what happens when a highly-tranked individual decides to do a bit of comfort baking and her mother is brave enough not to stop her.

It tasted pretty good, actually!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I floated through the week on codeine. Codeine and sofa cushions. With a no-go zone of blood and mystery in the middle of my face - the… distancing perspective of narcotics was not entirely unwelcome.
And the flowers helped. Lots of flowers.

Mr Tabubil sent me roses. Late in the evening on the day of the surgery, around eight, the florist called. She was trying to deliver them to my sister's flat, and had gotten lost.
I gave her Dr Tabubil's number and went back to staring out-of-focus at a paperback book. Dr Tabubil didn't call back, so eventually I called her.
            "What flowers?"
I explained.
            "But I never got a call." She said. "Maybe she left them downstairs in the lobby? Oh wait.  The lobby door is locked. Maybe she left them outside the building? Ohhh… I'm going to get off the phone RIGHT NOW and go find them. I'll call you back!"
Only she didn't call back. I waited, and waited, lying in my bed, sinking in and out of clouds and thinking "Feckless florist!" and, eventually - "Right. That's it. I'm calling the woman BACK." (Ooooh. We get extra tough and nasty when we're on morphine!)

And in bustled Mum, her arms full of red roses and chocolates.
            "I can't stay." she laughed.  "Dr Tabubil is double-parked downstairs. We were half way here in the car with them when you called!"

I called Mr Tabubil to say thank you. He was astonished.
            "I didn't order flowers for Valentine's Day! They were supposed to be delivered tomorrow afternoon, when you were back at your sister's place and off the hard stuff!"
            "I don't care." I said dreamily.  "They're LOVELY.  A dozen red roses-"
            "ROSES?" Mr Tabubil yelped. "I didn't order roses!  Roses don't last long enough! I ordered a lovely floral bouquet filled with flowers that'd last at least a full WEEK!"
He sighed heavily. "I hate to even THINK" he said "but what does the card say? IS there a card?"
            "A card?" I said. "Yes, right here among the roses." I unfolded the bit of paper and squinted at the writing.
            "Lots of Tabubilgirl. Love Mr Tabubil."
There was a pause on the line.
            "You sure that's not just the morphine talking?"
            "Look on the bright side." I giggled. "She made a late night run with roses - waaay after business hours- to get those flowers to me on Valentines Day. I think it's sweet!"

The next morning, Mr Tabubil called the florist.
            "Did you have a particularly busy Valentines Day yesterday?" He asked.
            "HUGE." The florist sighed enormously. "Why do you ask?"
            "Well" Mr Tabubil said "You sent the wrong flowers to my wife, delivered them on the wrong day, wrote the card incorrectly and this morning - you billed me twice."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Nose Job

Doctors brag about the weirdest things.
            "My sister had a nose job." Dr Tabubil said to another intern.
            "Oh yeah?"
            "OH yeah. She had her inferior turbinates removed."
            "Technically, that's not what -"
            "And she had her septum straightened. It was like this." She crooked her finger into a hairpin bend and held it up for him to stare at.  And sauntered off, hips swinging.

Last Monday was Valentines Day. Mr Tabubil was spared liver 'n 'onions this year - I went into hospital so that my sister could have bragging rights up on the Obs and Gobs floor.
It's all very organized. I arrived at the hospital at 6:30 in the morning, part of a stream of morning surgical slots - all of us with carefully composed faces and overnight bags.
             A volunteer with a smile and an outstretched hand. A waiting room and enough time to choose a magazine, then a meeting with the anesthetist in a closet, then another meeting behind a curtain with a nurse - medical history, ID tags and allergy flags, then a change room for surgical suit, dressing gown and blue paper booties to walk you from the change room to another box, where they are swapped for compression hose pulled tight up to your thighs.
             A pill to make you fly, because you hate the lonely, emptied-out feel of going under, then the walls are reeling, you're sliding between them, herky-jerk, hurdy-gurdy, stop, freeze-frame, a woman at your head, a man at your feet, the rumble of rubber wheels on the corridor floor vibrating up through your spine into the wide open spaces they shake loose all through the inside your head.
The man at your feet is wonderful. The walls slide by like snakes.
            "Do you know," you try "that you are handsome? The most handsome man I have ever seen?"
The rackety clatter of rubber wheels on linoleum booms loudly in your ears. The man is smiling over you.  He doesn't hear.
Another room, a swinging double door, and you're in a room where nurses smile warmly - at you, this time. They are not beautiful. You smile back.
            "Do you know your name?"
Of course I do. How fun, how silly, this is. A game. I know my name - it's written down on my wrist tag, of course!
            "Do you know that man there?"
It's the anesthetist. He smiles warmly. We all smile. It's jolly, it’s a game -
            "I can't quite remember right now, but he's a Very Kind Gentleman-"
The nurses laugh uproariously. "A very kind gentleman - hear that?"
He laughs.
I laugh.
            "I'm going to put something in now" he  giggles. A canula is slid into my arm, gently, so gently, like water sliding through silk -
            "You're going to feel it." He says. "Sparkles going up your arm."
            "I'm going to give you a little oxygen." Another nurse looms over me with a mask.
             Something is missing - wait - I look around, suddenly frantic. There he is, on the edge of the room, on a stool, by the wall. My surgeon is staring at a magazine. He looks down, drawn, disinterested - There's a pencil in his hand - is that a crossword? He doesn’t see me. He doesn't know me. I look at him, stare at him, desperate- willing him to look up at me, see me just once before he -
The mask comes down. The taste is bitter, acrid.
            "This isn't oxyg-" I say.

Blood. A nurse in the darkness.
            "I'm putting your pajamas on you now."
Go away. Comfortable down here.
More blood.
             The darkness clears, briefly. My mother is there, in a chair. There's a fat wad of gauze taped to my face under my nose. The world becomes clearer as the nurses come and go, taking blood pressures, changing the gauze, small, irritating intrusions designed to drag you out of the clouds, jolt by jolt.
             Ice packs and more blood. Mum sits in a chair, hemming a skirt, tucking a pin into the fabric of her shoulder ever time a nurse comes by to change the blood-soaked pad. Too many pins. Pain on nurses faces.

Mum climbs up onto the bed next to me and lies there, holding me tight around my shoulders and we float through the afternoon like that.
I'm copacetic.
I'm flying, tinted pink.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The CityCat!

This morning, while we were reading the Sunday paper and eating muesli, a flotilla of boats came round the bend of the river - every single CityCat Ferry, traveling in formation, back on the river for the first time since the flood.
Fifteen catamarans, and eight little tubs, with a small one bringing up the rear  - the caboose always comes last.
It was a ceremonial, processional, triumphant, victorious march up the Brisbane River.

We hung off our balcony and waved and all along the river, windows and doors opened and people shouted and hollered and hugged each other.  The river is open again. The ferries are BACK!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Photographs of Brisbane After the Flood, Part II

These photographs of Brisbane in the immediate aftermath of the flood were buried in my camera memory.

A view of the Brisbane River from the bluff at Kangaroo Point:

The shattered end of the Brisbane Riverwalk:

Two views of the Sydney Street Ferry Terminal:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Crane on the River, Part II

This morning at high tide the barge was sailed around into our marina and over the course of the morning, its crew raised the stranded sailboat in front of Dr Tabubil's building from the riverbank boardwalk.

One barge, one crane, two tugboats, two lighters, and a boat full of safety men seconded from the city. All for a sailboat.

There was quite a crowd to watch her go up - residents from the riverfront buildings, men in suits ducking out of offices to watch the show, the city workers still mopping up simply stopped shoveling - they had more interesting things to do today than unplug storm drains.
It was a long, slow, salvage in the heat. The men working in the sun had water bottles down over the side of the barge on long strings. They stopped often - and as the morning limped on, more often - to collapse in patches of shade and haul up the cool bottles and drink.

The crowd melted away between the flagstones in puddles of grease and sweat. I watched in bits and snatches from the shadow of a large frangipani tree, my clothes sodden, sticking damply to my belly and my legs, and going inside and upstairs between times.

First they slung a set of harnesses around the belly of the boat.

Then they raised her to a semi-vertical position and pumped out her two hulls.

They lifted her up and swung her around into a marina berth - where she promptly tried to sink again, and continued pumping.

Then, while the men manning the pump from the lighter scrambled to start their motor and get out of her way, the crane operator swung her up into the air and set her down on the deck of the barge.

Not lightly. Nose first. You could hear the crunching. The boat's owner stood on the riverbank and gripped the rail, red faced. As the hull twisted and groaned against the metal deck his face turned redder and his knuckles ground whitely and when the operator let go the slack in the sling too soon and the mast gave out a splintering crack and shivered in its place - he leaped at the river and screamed.
"Bloody fool! Go on, why don't you?!?! Break the rest of it while you're at it!!!!"

The crane operator didn't take him up on it. Which may have saved his life.

The sailboat settled limply to the deck of the barge, and the men untied the slings from her belly and went off to find air-conditioning and waited out the hours of low tide. And at high tide, the barge and her fleet of escorts sailed away.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Crane on the River part I

I have joined the 21st century and inherited an iphone (the high-minded Mr Tabubil having moved on to Android and gleefully jettisoned his apple object in my direction) and I am having rather more fun than I ought to be having.
There are lots of lovely, gimmicky camera-type apps out there, and I'm trying them all.
Isn't it amazing how the right sort of retro styling can make the most banal photograph look a little artsy?
Example - Riverbank at Low Tide:

How spiffy is that?

A crane on a barge came steaming up the river this evening, with a tug pushing it and another one riding postillion, and anchored just upstream of our marina.

"D'you reckon it's here to salvage the boat on the boardwalk?"
Mum and I walked down to the riverbank to have a look. We met a man emptying a shopping cart full of sandbags into a garden bed.
            "Ahem." Mum cleared her throat tentatively and spoke to him. "Is that SAND you're placing on top of those bushes?"
            "Yep. The beds lost all their topsoil in the flood. Got washed out."
            "And you're sure" she said delicately, "that sterile sand is the best replacement for topsoil?"
The man shrugged. 
            "I was told to dump all of my bags in here. Presumably the city knows what it's doing. I’M not a gardener."
Mum met my eyes and shrugged expressively.
            "We were wondering if you'd know what the barge and crane were here for." She said. "We thought it might be here for the boat that's beached just down in front of our place."

"Could be." He said. He put down his shovel and propped a leg up on the edge of a planter bed. "I'm in one of these ground floor units. One at the end. Water came within fifty centimeters of our front door -
            "My god! Were you worried?"
He shrugged. "I was pretty philosophical about it, tell the truth. I'd emptied the unit before the floods got here. I mean I took EVERYTHING, down to the carpets -"
            "How did you have the time to do all that?!"
            "We had about 36 hours notice before it hit. And we had help." He looked out at the water, shaking his head. "People I'd never met, people I'd never seen in my life - they just showed up and they carried things. All I had to do was organize, but when you're in a situation like that, you can't stop. The adrenalin is so strong. Think I went for forty hours before I dropped and slept."
            "Where'd you store your belongings, then?"
            "With friends who lived above the floodline. They brought trailers and took it away with them. The stuff we couldn't carry away we took upstairs and piled in the back rooms of apartments on the second and third floors."
            "They filled up their houses for you."
He smiled quietly. "They did. And then the water came up to fifty centimeters from our front door and it stopped."
            "Thanks. I sat there in our empty living room and watched that river rise up. I must have seen five hundred boats come past - upside down, half wrecked, half sunk, all smashed together - the sound of it - did you know that rivers that flood have a sound?"
            "I've seen rivers in flood."
            "Then you know. It roared. The river today -" he waved his hand at it, "it's…still. Nothing there. That river sounded like a freight train. A storm. A terrible storm. And it carried all those boats with it and smashed them into the pilings of the jetty. Some must have gone down here. That's what I reckon the barge is for. They're going to haul up the sunken boats. "

We looked at the barge, impressed.

"2011 is going to be a big year for Australia, I reckon." The man said to us. "Floods, bushfires, cyclones, weather changing everywhere - I don't know where you stand on this global warming thing-"
I put on an American accent. "Why, sir, it was so cold last week I actually had to run my heater in the evening. Obviously, there ain't no such THING as global warming!"
            "Exactly!" He said forcibly. "It's a CROCK! It's all about making MONEY, not about the planet. What's wrong with the planet? Did you know that it takes 200 YEARS to change the weather? It's a fact! We can't be doing anything because if we were, it wouldn't show up for two centuries! Tell me, what were we doing 200 years ago?"
I blinked.  "Er, the steam engi -"
            "Weather changes. That's all. Cycle of nature. The glaciers are melting - that's normal. Because it's ONLY happening in the northern hemisphere! And so what? It's getting colder down here in the southern hemisphere, that's what - did you know that Antarctic sea ice is INCREASING? They don't tell you THAT, do they? They leave that out!"
            "Um." I said carefully. "I'd understood that the ice was increasing because the hold in the ozone layer has grown? That can't be good. And we did do that, didn't we?"
He snorted. "CFCs - LIES. Green light bulbs, catalytic converters - they've got NOTHING to do with the environment! It's about making money!"

Mum was appalled. "But even if you don't believe in global climate change, don't you care about quality of life? Isn't it NICER to have clean water? Even if you don't think the climate is changing, isn't it NICE to have air you can breathe, instead of full of car fumes?"
            "There's no science there." He glowered at her. And then, like fundamentalists of all stripes, he tracked invention and prejudice into a diatribe so far removed from conversation that we…. left.

I've always been bemused by global conspiracy types. In my experience, it's impossible to get ten unrelated people to sit down for coffee and cough up the right amount of change when the bill arrives, or agree who ate the larger portion of the cream-puffs. God (speaking metaphorically, I'm sure) knows how the putative OWG is supposed to be coaxing a planet full of bloody minded scientist types into toeing a line they know to be untenable. Occam's razor and all that; I merely note that our recognized terrestrial governments have not, historically speaking, had any more success keeping a lid on special interest groups than I have had coordinating morning tea.
Others know best, I'm sure. It's probably a deep-cover cover-up.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Daisy Dukes and Buckets (teaser)

Today was stinking hot. Sticky, humid heat that left us lying limp and gasping on the floor like piles of damp laundry. So mum and I went downstairs and washed the car.
            Washing cars involves lots of water. And you don't even have to feel guilty about it when the dams are filling faster then they can dump the stuff. Cold water on a blazing hot day... mmmmm. Lots of gratuitous splashing.
            If I understand the protocol, we should have been wearing Daisy Dukes and bikini tops while we did the job. But we stuck to old t-shirts and grubby shorts instead, and settled for pouting lasciviously every time we sluiced down the car roof with a bucket. Just to keep the tropes running.
            More seriously, the hospital where Dr Tabubil is an intern has called a Code Brown: cancel all elective surgeries and clear all available beds and wards; the hospitals in Cairns are being evacuated tonight.
            You lovely Cyclone Yasi, you.