Monday, April 25, 2011

Why We Don't Want Men to Vote

On the 25th of April, 1894, South Australia became the first modern state to grant women the right to vote.
In honor of this grand step in the march toward universal sufferage, I offer up this gentle squib:

Why We Don't Want Men to Vote

                     
                                   -Alice Duer Miller, 1915

1. Because man's place is in the army.
2. Because no really manly man wants to settle any question otherwise than by fighting about it.
3. Because if men should adopt peaceable methods women will no longer look up to them.
4. Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other   matters than feats of arms, uniforms, and drums.
5. Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them unfit for government.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Recipe: Fabulous Ginger Cookies, at last and so there.

Well, after one perfect inaugural performance and several subsequent months of reading the recipe completely arse-backward (too much butter, then too much flour, then not enough flour, then absolutely no idea but they came out of the oven as ginger-scented puddles) and overcompensating in all the wrong directions, I have finally figured out how to make really good ginger cookies.
            It's not actually that hard.
            All you have to do is follow the recipe.
            These cookies are a slightly modified, Antipodean friendly version of a recipe from Epicurious for those of us who don't want to- or don't have the ingredients to - play with shortening or molasses.  They are dense, moist, chewy, gingery, and very very moreish.  This afternoon I made dozens.  I have plans.

Behold!

Ingredients

2 cups plain flour
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced crystallized ginger (slice it really fine or an unwary bite could take your mouth off)

1 cup (packed) brown sugar
227g unsalted butter
1 egg
1/4 cup golden syrup (or molasses, if you're being all northern hemisphere about things)
Granualted sugar for rolling cookies (blonde is best!)

What to do with the Ingredients

Combine first seven ingredients in a bowl and whisk to blend 'em in.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add egg and golden syrup and beat until blended.
Stir in the flour mixture until you have a smooth dough.
Lay the dough on a sheet of clingwrap, wrap it and refrigerate it until cold.  (minimum one hour)

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.  Line two baking sheets with baking paper.
Fill a shallow bowl with granulated sugar.  Using wet hands, break off dough and roll into 1 inch balls.  Roll in sugar and place on prepared baking sheets. 
Bake cookies until cracked on top but still soft to touch - about 12 minutes.  Cool on baking sheets for 3 minutes, then transfer to racks and cool.

(Cookies keep -airtight -  up to 5 days at room temperature.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Elegy

Horse was a cat
            She trilled.  She sang at you. "Please pet me?  Stroke my fur - it's soft!" She fixed me with her golden eyes.  Raised a front paw appealingly.  Hopped up to the back of the sofa, so that she could transfix me from closer to.
            I of course, was hardened.  I am allergic.  I ignored.
            She twined lasciviously, between my legs, laying a tail up my thigh, singing.
            I was resolute.  I sat on the sofa, looking firmly in the other direction.
            She chirruped softly, standing up on her hind legs so that she could rest her chin, appealingly, on my knee.
            "No."  I said.  Very firmly.
            She vented a short huff of exasperation.  I was one thick human.  Two soft thumps and she was next to me on the sofa.  Two delicate footfalls and she was on my lap.  She sat down solidly, shot me a firm look, and closed her eyes and commenced to purr.
            The Architect wandered in, looking for a protractor and burst out laughing.  Scooping her out of my lap, he said "Looks like she's decided that you pass the test."
            "Has anyone failed to pass it, Sir?"
            "Not yet!"
            Horse was enormously fat.  Her belly swung back and forth above the ground as she walked.  When she sat on her backside to wash herself, a delicate tongue extended to a fine, delicate leg that extended from a wide spreading puddle of black and white fur.  She ooozed.
            I would have liked a cat exactly like Horse.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Twilight, the Feel-Good Movie Fix

Dr Tabubil called me on the way home from work this evening.
            "I have" she sighed dreamily "an overwhelming compulsion to watch Twilight tonight."
            "Please."  I said.  "I know you're under a lot of pressure, but there are other ways to end it all.  Is there anything you need to talk about?"
            "Have you even SEEN Twilight?"
            "I am perfectly capable of being a snob without having had that pleasure."  I said, with dignity.
            She sighed again.  "It's such a feel-good movie."
            "Uh?"
            "When I saw it the first time in the theatre- "
            "Whoah.  Unpack.  You've seen it more than once?"
            "When I saw it the first time in the theatre, I went with Abby Conroy.  You remember her, right?  She teaches middle school.  And we were SURROUNDED by her students.  All her female students, anyway.  And we couldn't hear anything anyone said on the screen because for the ENTIRE movie her students were squealing 'EeeeEEEE!  PATTINSON!'  And when they weren't squealing 'EeeeEEE!  PATTINSON!'  They were squealing  'Miss Conroy likes Twilight!  She is soooooo cool!!!!!!'  Tell me, Tabubilgirl.  HOW does that not make a fabulous feel-good film?"
            "So she went for the street cred.  Why'd you go?"
            "When I went to see New Moon in the theatre" She said, ignoring me, "It was me and a friend from med school, about three hundred thirteen year old girls, and one boy.  He was there on a date.  All the girls were squealing 'EeeeEEE!  PATTINSON!', and halfway through the movie, the boy spoke.  Just once.  He spoke when the audience actually silent, for, like, five seconds, and he said, right into the silence: ' But you said that there'd be werewolves!' 
            He sounded Sooooooo betrayed.  So wounded.   How can you NOT love a movie that does that?!  It's, like, pure warm fuzzies.  And feel-good pleasure.  I am going to watch Twilight, and then I'm going to watch New Moon, and I am going to cuddle the memory of that poor betrayed boy to my breast and I am going to laugh.  Mwahahaha.  Like that, evil-ly.  And I need that tonight after today.  So there.  Goodbye."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Homestead and Smithies - and Blacksmiths who don't have it, quite.


The weather here is rainy-on-and-off.  It's not raining, and then suddenly it is - sideways.  Yesterday the rain bursts were explosive- the world would be sun and smiles, then suddenly the sky would be pink or purple or, once, yellow-orange, and it would rain.  And then it wouldn't.
            Yesterday afternoon between squalls we went and paid our first visit to the Mt Laura Homestead Museum, because Mr Tabubil had remembered that on Sunday they were going to run their farm engines all afternoon.  
            The Homestead is Whyalla's local living history museum.  At the beginning of the 20th century, when our town was the brand new settlement of Hummock Hill -an optimistic collection of tents and cottages down on the beach, Mt Laura was the pastoral homestead for a sheep farm, six miles out of town.  By the sixties the town had crept up and past it, and the house was turned over to the national trust.  These days Mt Laura sort-of-museum,  a dusty and indifferently-run collection of barns and farmhouses full of  faintly aimless old-time-y things. 
            There's an engine barn, a relocated 1920s cottage done up 1920s style (and full of dust, cobwebs and pictures knocked off kilter that the original housewife would never have tolerated back in the day), a harness barn full of rotting carriages and decayed halters, a telecommunications museum that held a section of the original overland telegraph line (that was impressive), a smithy, and the original homestead, now the principal stuff-repository of the place.  One room is full of photographs, another has been turned into a ye-olde school room, another into a hybrid 1930s dental office cum 1970s hair salon (the juxtaposition of a pedal-powered dental drill and a wall of Vidal Sassoon posters was mind-bending in the best possible way - LSD meets happy gas!) cum general store with a row of antique bubble gum machines. 
            The engines in the mechanical shed were burping out an unbelievable mixture of dark brown fumes; the oil they were running on was too foul to sustain even Mr Tabubil's level of interest, so between rain squalls we ran to the homestead and soaked up the history. 
            The room full of photographs was tremendous fun - endless rows of Edwardian Hats and Sunday school classes in white muslin dresses!  It was terribly entertaining imagining how they'd kept them that way in the red desert before modern laundry systems.  Below the photographs were shelves of scrapbooks (lamentably, badly water damaged) and a bank of glass cases below the shelves was  full of family portrait groups and much more exciting-looking albums, bound in leather, and latched with complicated brass locks.  Unfortunately the cases were full of drifting red dust, which rather obscured the pictures.
            While we were in there, an elderly lady moved slowly through the room dusting at thing with an ancient feather duster - a sort of desultory poke poke poke - which explained the general state of the place.  The place is entirely volunteer-run on what seems to be a bit of an ad-hoc basis.  If they had a real curator - even for a week or two on loan, the place could be quite fabulous - they certainly have the stuff to make it so, but as it is they do the minimum, I would say.  Most local people are a bit ashamed, but nobody offers to help out - and so it goes.
            We left the museum via the blacksmiths forge, and the blacksmiths forge was fun.   There is a large wire safety screen mounted across the open frontage to stop the populace getting in the way of flying bits of red-hot metal, and clinging to the outside of the screen was a ten year old boy on a bicycle.  His mouth was open and his eyes were fixed and intent and inside the screen, a grizzled  old bloke in a leather apron was showing him how to make a horseshoe.
            On the far side of the forge an apprentice blacksmith was trying to make a hammer head - we think.  There was much puffing and blowing and banging and what we think was meant to be a hammer head was rather bent into a red-hot boomerang.  The man took up a wedge and attempted to bang a hole through the middle of the neck of the alleged hammerhead, and managed to get the wedge thoroughly stuck halfway though.  He banged and banged and swore and banged and the red-hot hammerhead-and-wedge shot out of the grip of his pliers and hit the floor.  He ran after it and picked it up and jammed it into a vise mounted on a table and began to bang again, and the hammerhead-and-wedge shot up and sideways and landed on a leather apron.   Which caused much hopping and a blistering round of "Aargh!  Off Off Off!" while the leather started to smoke.  The man snatched it up with his pliers and placed it grimly onto the anvil - the wedge still firmly married to the hammerhead. We hid our grins and melted diplomatically away.  It can't be easy learning blacksmithing with an audience!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Obs and Gobs for Real

In Febuary my sister Dr Tabubil started as an intern at one of Brisbane's big city hospitals.  Her first rotation is in Obs and Gobs - Obstetrics and Gynecology to those of us without that delicate Australian turn of phrase. 
            It's been rather full-on, and even after four years of Med School, O'nG has required something of a mental adjustment.  The first day or two, she came home at night tired - but exultant.
            "I assisted on two births - and I stitched up an episotomy tear!  By myself!  And it stayed closed!  I am greatI am a doctor!" 
            Soon she was coming come home pale and exhausted - and silent, and when pressed, would mutter hair raising fragments of thought like:
            "the blood the blood/nobody/ should lose that much blood/ and still have a uterus - nine liters/ if they'd had a drip pan we could have recycled/ it was coming back out as fast as we piped it in."
Or:
            "he told me to rip her open! We/ were doing a C-section and the registrar made a cut and put his hands into her belly/ he made me put my hands in there and PULL/ 'TEAR, Doctor Tabubil!' / I didn't have enough leverage and he shouted 'RIP IT!  TEAR it! PULL it!  HARDER!'  I wasn't strong enough/ he put his hands underneath mine and he-PULLED and RIPPED and TORE."
            She splits her days between the birth suite, the OR and the ward, where she's learning to be an instant authority - the thumb of god - over a corps of nurses who need signatures Now! to dispense  medications she she'd never worked with for conditions she's only read about.  She's become familiar with the symptoms of preeclampsia and placenta previa and HELLP syndrome, which really frightened her.  She's learned how to work with expectant mothers who talk around  the issues that frighten them, and to steel herself to read  the charts of the patients who come in as "anonymous" - and to pray to a higher level of god than herself that the baby will grow up to survive the environment that the mother is hiding from.  She's seen her first baby die - and her first expectant mother die.  She's seen residents weeping over stillborn babies, and nurses squaring up to threaten the men who've bribed or broken into Centerlink computers to find out where their pregnant women are giving birth. 
            And there are the babies.  She's learned to do a full physical exam with one hand, because the other is cuddling a baby.  She does more ward rounds than she needs to, because the babies need cuddling.  The mothers love her because she adores their babies, and she loves them right back, because they let her come in and cuddle a dozen times a day. 
            And at some point along the way, her joy in the babies spilled over into her increasing fascination with the surgeries and two weeks ago she found herself vociferously refusing to swap a surgical slot for a ward shift because "I only get one day in the OR this week and I'm not swapping it for anything!   I love doing C-sections  - opening up a mum and bringing out a healthy bub!  It's real doctoring! "
            But she's not having one of her own - nuh huh. Nothing doing. She's seen too much too fast. She waxes enthusiastic over adoption. And surrogacy. 
            "Both are viable options.  I'm willing to explore both when I get around to it. But I'm sure you'll be fine." (she said with spectacular condescension.)  "You haven't seen the real front lines like I have.  Ignorance is totally bliss."

And last night I had a phone call from her:
            "You and Mr Tabubil and Miles and Sarah are driving up to Uluru for Easter right?  Uh huh. There isn't much out there between you and Uluru, is there?"
            "Not much."
            "And HOW pregnant is Sarah going to be when you do this?"
            "Seven and a half months."
            There was a big sigh down the phone line. "That's what I was worrying about.  Do I need to give you a few tutorials just in case?"
            "How to deliver a baby while Miles drives hell for leather toward somewhere with a cell phone signal?"
            "Yup.  I'll start with the short version.  We'll work up from there."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Butterflies

This blog entry was going to be about something else but the town's been invaded by butterflies.  
            Invaded, possessed, flooded, drowned - take your pick of the metaphors, but the reality is sufficiently surreal - clouds of small, tattered, mis-addressed, mis-directed butterflies.
            I first noticed it at noon, when I was walking to the downtown bus stop.  I passed by a vacant lot  - a flat pan of concrete that was once a service station, and the chain of cracks in the old concrete were full of  lavender bushes.  And only lavender bushes - all across the whole lot.  That, in this town of salt scrub and mulga bush, was strange enough to grab my attention, but it was how I was seeing the bushes that made me blink - I was seeing them blurred, through a cloud of small white butterflies.  
             They floated beside me as I walked past the lavender garden and into main street - no trees, no grass, no lavender bushes, but dozens of butterflies falling lopsided through the air past brick walls and plate-glass windows.  When I got off the bus on the other side of town they'd arrived there before me - hundreds of them, flapping haphazardly in and out of hedges and flowerbeds.  When I stopped by the small supermarket near our house the butterflies had kept pace with me, small white bodies lay crushed and broken inside the supermarket doors - trodden, rolled on casualties of hapless, helpless flight.
            Hundreds of thousands of small white butterflies, their wings blinking open and closed with ad-hoc, clockwork precision, falling in and out of the sky without the least hope of purpose or direction, batting the air and sifting the sunlight between their wings.  It falls in shards.  
          Clouds of them. Millions of them.  And I have better things to do than sit inside and write.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Squid that...farted.



Over the weekend we drove down the coast to a pretty, curved beach, watched over by a tall thin lighthouse. The tide was high and the wind was still.  The shore was flat sandstone broken into thin plates and sea-washed into soft, round edges - perfect conditions for skipping rocks.
            Mr Tabubil is very good at it - he can get a stone dish the size of a dinner plate all the way across the little bay and out into the gulf.  His skips seem to pick up speed as they go - great shovels of rock bouncing and rolling across the water.
            I'm no good at it.   I  bring my wrist out and down instead of swinging from the elbow  and my little rocks cartwheel straight out sideways and sink without a ripple.



We met a dog that chased them into the water.  And ate them.  Which worried us, but her owner smiled at us and didn't seem concerned, and we decided not to worry until she did. 
            A little girl fishing with her grandparents came streaking across the rocks toward us.
            "Do you want to see what we caught?!"
            "You bet we would!"
            "We have these two fish here and they're really slimy.  It comes off in strings.  Do you want to touch them?"
            "Eeeeeewww."  We said appreciatively, and wiped our hands discreetly on our trouser legs.
            The little girl grinned up at us.  "And there's this littler fish.  Only there's only half of it.  A squid ate the rest.  And we almost caught a cuttlefish, but it farted and it got away."

Amen.



Friday, April 1, 2011

The Longest Jetty in Australia?




We drove home from Booleroo  through Port Germein - a small port-town, half-way between Port Pirie and Port Augusta left-over from the Great Age of Wheat.  We drove that way because of it's big jetty, and because we were told we could find ice-cream there. Ice-cream is a big draw at the end of a Sunday afternoon. 
            At the end of the 19th Century, Port Germein was a major wheat port, with a population of almost four hundred people, most of them, we surmised cynically, looking around us at the endless spread of empty salt bush, in the hospitality industries.  Booze and freelance female companionship at a premium.  Average!
            Today Port Germein is two or three streets of small houses, a children's playground, and a meticulously kept caravan park on the edge of a long tidal basin.
There wasn't any ice-cream.  The manager of the caravan park laughed at us and told us about Sunday closing hours, so we ate apples from Sarah's apple tree and walked the jetty instead.

Port Germein's tidal basin makes our own sand-flat look like a narrow strip of shingle on the edge of a canal.



The jetty is 1532 meters long (!!) and only just manages to peep over the edge of the sand-flat into the deeper sea-grass beds.



The local geography has led to the development of a some rather clever technology.  We were there at low tide.  Miles and I had come down from the jetty onto the sand-flat for half a kilometer or so, and ahead of us in the distance, over the shimmer of heat-haze and blowing strands of seagrass, we saw something mechanical and very tall.
            "I think it's a car."  Miles said disbelievingly.  "A car on stilts."
It was racing towards us at rally speed, and as it flashed past we saw that that was exactly what it was - a cart with an engine and a steering wheel, mounted on stilt legs six feet high.



A few minutes later it raced back past us in the other direction, heading out to the water towing a boat-trailer. The driver was wearing hip-waders.
            "Did you see that concrete block mounted between the rear wheels?"  Miles said.  "That'd give it a negative buoyancy.  You can't bring a boat up to the shore in this place - so they drive out to get it!"




Further out, we saw that this was exactly what was happening. There was our little cart, and its trailer, next to a man with a small boat, and in the shallow water on the edge of the sea grass bed, the cart driver and the sailor were trying to winch the boat up onto the trailer so they could bring it in to shore.
            The boat wasn't having any of it.  A stiff wind was blowing the boat broadside to the trailer, and the driver of the cart didn't seem to have the wit to swing around and line the cart up to match the way the boat was pointing.  Instead, he climbed down into the water and with the help of the boat owner, tried to physically shove the boat around into the trailer against the wind.  With the full force of the wind coming broadside, the boat blew onto the sand and grounded there. The men hauled and bullied and pushed till their faces were red and swollen, but the boat was solidly stuck.
            The driver of the cart climbed back up and drove around in a circle to meet the boat at right angles - almost precisely the worst way to do it.  The fisherman hooked the boat up and they both hauled - and the winch line snapped with a crack.  The driver climbed down, retied the line, climbed back up, and hauled again.  This time he snapped the winch.
            It must have been exhausting out there, battling the boat, and the wind, with a rising tide slapping hard against their legs. They were angry and tired and frustrated and the peanut gallery of engineers up on the jetty couldn't have helped any. They were growing rather redder in the face than bullying a boat called for, in fact, so we thought we had better leave them to it.
            Which turned out to be a successful strategy, actually, because as soon as the engineers in our party had exhausted their private wit and headed back down the jetty toward dry land, the driver abandoned his shipmate and buzzed back to shore in his cart and came back with a fresh trailer - and then lifted the whole process into Keystone Kops territory by re-aligning the thing at 90 degrees to the boat - just as the first unsuccessful time round - and starting the whole rigmarole all over again.  


We left them to it.




Back on the shore, we took a spin around the playground.  The swings were extra-swingy and the rumbley suspension bridges were hair-raising.  It was terrific fun, but we wondered how on earth the play equipment had passed muster with the regional council - I'm 5'6" and I was too terrified to come off the monkey bars by myself, and Miles almost broke an ankle falling off a set of swirling standing stones.   Mr Tabubil, despite being twice the recommended maximum height, went down the helical slide on his stomach and came out the bottom with a severely pulled muscle in his upper back.  He didn't feel very well at all.  But you can't blame that on the council.



Yes, that helical slide.  He is a clever one, isn't he?
            Sarah is a physical rehabilitation therapist, and she was able to confirm that there would be no permanent damage worse than a broken ego. 
            Later, going home in the car, Mr Tabubil looked up at me and offered a wan smile.  "I've got friction burns on my elbows."  He said. "And gravel stuck in my shoes.  And I spun around so fast I almost threw up.  All in all, that's a pretty satisfactory visit to a playground, isn't it?  Isn't it?"

Yes, Dear.