Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Who Was That Masked Man?

“Ugh,” he groaned. “What happened?”

“Take it easy,” she replied, staring intently into his eyes.. “You’ve been dead. High-speed crash.”

“Dead!” His mouth worked, but no words came.

She stroked his forehead. “You’re okay now. A guerilla medic found you in time. One of the last holdouts from the Gene Wars. He rescued your neurochip and grew you a new body. He had all this military-grade medware in the back of his hover. It -- actually, it tool less than fifteen minutes. It was amazing!”

He sat up carefully, exploring his body with his soft, pink hands. “Unbelievable. And he didn’t even stay around so I could thank him?”

“That’s not his style,” she said, and opened her hand, showing him a silver hypodermic needle.

His eyes widened. “You mean that was —”

“Yes,” she said, rolling her eyes to the heavens. “Thank God for the Clone Arranger.”


(Wrote it years ago as part of a little in-house competition at the VISION writer's group. I just found it, lurking in my notes. It made me laugh, so I thought I'd post it here.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Preview of the Opera - Work In Progress

Well. I've been hanging out to be able to show this one off. You bet.

This link here: Outcast Opera Bedlam Video take you to the YouTube version of the video that Outcast have made for purposes of engendering interest in the project. I'm listening to it right now... and I've got chills.

You'll note it incorporates a lot of dance. In general, Opera doesn't - but this one is different, because the people behind it are different. And frankly, I think the movement, costumes and choreography will add a wonderful extra dimension to the whole opera concept.

For what it's worth, the basic plotline is relatively simple. It's set in the infamous Bedlam asylum, circa 1815 or thereabouts, at the height of the very dodgy doings of Dr Thomas Monro -- the boss doc of the place. Somewhere deep in the heart of the asylum is a prisoner with a terrible secret: the mad queen mentioned in the clip.

I'm not sure how much I should divulge here. The clip says the queen is out of time, which is correct in more than one sense, I should say. It also says one will try to claim her, and one will try to save her. So we've got the classic triangle thing going on, naturally.

But of course, this is a Steampunk fantasy piece, so the men trying to claim her or save her are not exactly as they seem, and neither is she... and so, good readers, there will be anguish and bloodshed, plenty of tears, doomed heroism, Victorian science gone mad (and in a madhouse!) and all wrapped up with gorgeous dancers in even more gorgeous costumes plus the marvellous music of David Lazar.

I know. Most of you aren't opera people. Well, heck - who is? But actually being involved in the creation of a marvellous collaboration like this is just fantastic. Watching your ideas as they evolve through dozens of other artists... it's amazing. And then to see a piece like this, polished, beautiful, ready to go, and to hear one's own words floating ethereally on that elegant soprano, over the top of all that dark, lovely, dangerous-looking choreography -

- yeah. It makes up for a lot.

Friday, October 22, 2010

First Spam

Better weekend this time.

Last weekend was... challenging. Natalie set us up in a nice holiday place, to have a weekend away. Unfortunately, she wasn't exactly prepared for the kids' response. It was, by and large, okay -- we went to a really groovy little restaurant in Launceston, played mini golf, and veged out -- but the kids are kids, and they weren't always pollyanna positive, and they clashed with their mum.

That's always difficult. I tend to stay out of it as far as possible. But it got a little over the top this time, and I think all of us were thankful to get home.

This weekend - well, so far I've spent roughly six hours putting a new doorframe and a new door on the chicken coop. Then I set up the barbecue so I could char-grill two lovely free-range chooks, stuffed full of tarragon and mushroom and chorizo. And I've been throwing fresh bay leaves and branches onto the charcoal, creating clouds of amazingly fragrant smoke. This chicken is gonna be Da Bomb.

I can't say I really enjoy fragging around with chook-coop doors and fencing and stuff. But it's spring, and the weather is gorgeous, and Younger Son insisted on helping, so we had a really good time. And I'm gonna have a couple more beers, and then the barbecue chicken will be done, along with twice-cooked baby taters and fresh green salad.

Meanwhile: the photo above depicts the children's response to their very first tin of Spam. Yes, they have discovered Hormel's claim to fame.

It all started with Monty Python - as many things do. The kids laughed themselves sick at a DVD of some of Python's better efforts, including the infamous Singing Vikings - who sing about Spam, naturally. And so, they wanted to know what 'Spam' might be.

I did my best to explain, but I don't think they believed me. So this morning, when I went shopping, I got a tin of the stuff.

They weren't impressed. About fifteen minutes ago, they were outside in the afternoon sun with that floggin' great magnifying glass, trying to set fire to a spoonful of Spam...

...this can only end well, right?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Every year, just before the school year commences, I get the job of going down to the school, signing the kids in, collecting all the books, paying for everything in sight, and making sure we're all duly accoutred for another wonderful year of education. And every year, after I've gone through all the other tables with books on them and signed stuff, and agreed that my kids will be doing this, that or the other, I'm shepherded towards a table with a cheerful, hopeful chap who says something like:

"And are you going to sign the kids into C.R.E?"

And every year, I smile. And I say: "C.R.E? Does that stand for Comparitive Religious Education?"

And the cheerful, hopeful chap duly smiles back and says, with a note of surprise, "Why, no! It's Christian Religious Education."

And then I say something like "Oh, what a pity. I would dearly like the kids to be able to study a range of religious beliefs. Well, never mind. No, they won't be taking part this year, thanks."

Now, I would in fact be extremely happy if the kids got an introduction to the world's major religions, placed on an equal footing, as belief-systems to study. Religions have played a huge influence on the history and on the cultural development of the world, and it's valuable to learn the basics. Especially if you live in a world shared with many different cultures and religions, yes indeed. But that opportunity seems to be lost on the education system.

However, I'm very pleased to note that in NSW, at least, they're doing something progressive:

Labor to defy churches: ethics classes likely to start next year

I think this is brilliant. I'm very tired of hearing all about how atheism cannot possibly offer a moral or ethical basis for behaviour, and I'm delighted to see that finally, finally, someone has had the courage to follow through on this. Ethics and religious beliefs are not the same thing, nor ever have been. If this programme comes to Tasmania, I will be very happy indeed to finally change the tired dialogue at that last table.

"You'll be signing the kids up for C.R.E, right?"

"Is that still Christian Religious Education?"

"Uhhh... yes."

"In that case, no. My children are going to study ethics instead. But if you do decide to teach a comparitive course, please let me know."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Wrongs Of Spring

  • The grass is growing like a bastard. The dog vanished yesterday. The children are putting up rope-lines like they use in the Antarctic to navigate from hut to hut in blizzard conditions. I'm pretty sure a tribe of headhunters has set up camp somewhere under the bay tree. Unfortunately, every time I try to get out the lawnmower, it rains again.
  • Wattles are wonderful. Their golden inflorescence paints the mountainsides with living sunlight. And makes me sneeze until my head inflates like a cheap party favour.
  • The cats are freaky. Both neutered males, one getting up for eight or nine years of age... but come springtime, they start bolting through the house in pursuit of random phantoms. They lurk in corners and leap out, tag your leg, then lay their ears back and sprint like hell for the cat-flap.
  • The rabbits are breeding. I can hear them. It's like a gigantic hillside of rabbit porn out there. Make them stop!
  • The daffodils have pretty much finished blooming. So now we have masses of tall, skinny clumps of grassy stuff hanging around, looking embarrassed for itself. And I can't mow 'em because there's some irises lurking in there that haven't bloomed yet. And besides, it rains every time I get out the lawnmower.
  • I feel like a dickhead every time I put damp laundry in the dryer. But every time I decide to hang the stuff out to catch some of that glorious spring sunshine, the rain comes back.
  • The sun gets up way before I want to join it. And it's getting noisier and more bolshy every day.
  • Am I cold? Why is it so dark? Oh shit, it's raining. Better get the electronic dog-bark defeater inside!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Awww, Crap! How Much Worse Can It Get?

Guess what, folks? Everybody's favourite piece of moronic middle-american non-comedy is about to go Hollywood. Yes indeedy: not content with trying to kill the braincells of every living being on the planet by making a 'Marmaduke' movie, it turns out that the Moguls of Mediocrity are about to bring 'The Family Circus' to the screen. Somehow.

Naturally, it had to be Fox, didn't it? Please, Great Cthulhu: let Rupert Murdoch NEVER, EVER discover 'Fred Basset.'

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Afternoon Cooking Project

Toffee apples, yes indeed. With Natalie being called out a lot, extended sessions in the garden, out of earshot of the house, didn't seem such a good idea. I got most of what I wanted done, but it became clear that the remainder of the job would have to happen another day.

And so we decided to answer Younger Son's curiosity regarding the tray of Toffee Apples he spotted in Woolworth's this morning. The tray was empty, so I tried to explain - but then I thought: no, how difficult can a stupid toffee apple be?

Not very, would be the answer. Sugar, water, a little cream of tartar for flavour, a dash of colour, a heap of boiling, and periodic drops into a bowl of icewater. When you hear the syrup make crackling noises as it hits the water, turn off the heat. Dip your apples (this stick goes in first!) and swirl until coated. Leave stickside-up on greased baking paper. Done.

Note: probably wasn't clever of me to refrigerate the apples. Those beautiful specimens do NOT have a delicate, crumbly toffee coating. They have about two millimetres of sugary armour. Eating the bastards is a hell of a job that has taken all three children outside, with a small hammer...

Something Of A Blur

Healthwise, things aren't so great around here. Oh it isn't me. Nor Natalie. No, it's the three kids, with their persistent, deep, wet, racking coughs that send them into spasms so violent that on a couple of occasions they've vomited.

Wouldn't be so bad if it came and went. But Elder Son has now been coughing like this for more than two weeks. Younger Son has something like asthma, and we had to aggressively up his meds to bring his cough under control. And the Mau-Mau... when she coughs, it sounds like there's a small, elderly truck somewhere in her lungs, attempting to start after a long, cold winter. And so it has been for two weeks.

Naturally, this doesn't do much for sleep. The chorus of strangulating, rattling coughs drifts up the stairwell, and keeps a couple of parents on edge pretty much all night.

They are getting better, definitely. Younger Son is mostly over his dose. Elder Son is clearly better than he was a week ago, when we even had to keep him back from school. And even the Mau-Mau, whose case is the youngest, is getting no worse and certainly shows improvement during daytime.

What's the cause? Who knows? They're not really 'sick'. They have plenty of energy, and their appetites are undiminished. They do not have fevers. They just have a filthy goddam cough. So it's most likely viral.

So that's the backdrop, for the last couple weeks, to everything I've been doing. Very entertaining indeed.

Wednesday was a bit excessive. I dropped the boys at school, then shopped like crazy because we had a going-away party in the evening for a young, visiting doctor much liked by the surgery staff and the community - as well as me. (Hi, Rob! You gonna drop by and finish that absinthe, or what?) But being Wednesday, it was problematic. I ran up a couple of salads, a bunch of khofta, and some roulades of smoked salmon with cream cheese/lemon/black pepper/capers/dill as filling. I also prepped some spiced chicken kebabs, and set up the barbecue because of course I had to be gone from 1430 to 1900 at ju-jitsu training.

The plan was that the sixteen or so visitors would bring bits of stuff of their own to put onto the barbecue, plus maybe a few salads, etc. No drama, right?


The ju-jitsu training went well. Couple of newcomers for the older group (yay!) who were smart and motivated. Hopefully they'll return, because it's always good to have more people to train with. However, the real problem with The Plan cropped up halfway through the second training session: lightning, distant thunder, and rain.

Whoops. Really doesn't work for a barbecue, does it? Damn.

I made it home around seven, after dropping the Viking Boys (who attend the martial classes, naturally) at home. And then it was cooking and eating and drinking until the wee hours. Yep.

Thursday was a public holiday. Naturally, I'd made the foolish promise to the lads that we could have a day of gaming in Shattered Worlds. So much for most of Thursday.

Friday was unallocated, so I took the Mau-Mau and the trailer, and I went to Launceston. I bought $50 of spent mushroom compost and grabbed some framing timber, came home, and put some more work on the strawberry patch. I do believe that today I should be able to actually put plants in the ground, after I'm done here... but of course, yesterday was all about hauling wheelbarrows of mulch down from the big mulchpile to the strawberry patch, to build a nice slug-repellent and weed-reducing barrier on the inside of the (wallaby-proof, rabbit-proof, field-mouse deterrent, locust-deterrent, bird-proof) fence.

And of course, Natalie's on call all weekend, so I'm mostly Parent In Charge too.

Today I dig in a couple of uprights to make the frame for a gate to the strawberry patch. And I put the last of the fencing in place. Later, I head down to the Viking House and collect a bunch of strawberry runners (theirs are acting like triffids: overrunning the place aggressively. I like that in a strawberry plant, myself.) then set them nicely into the newly mushroom-composted secure zone, water them in, and heave a sigh of relief. After that, I only have to add the gate, put a light frame around the top of the uprights and sling bird-netting over the lot... the meantime, I've got an MS to read and assess. Beer money. Usually it takes me about eight hours work to read an MS and prepare from five to eight thousand words for the author. That makes it a reasonable rate of return, but it's still beer money. Or computer-upgrade money. Or whatever. Still, I like doing it and I'm good at it, so why not?

Signing off... got another vast day to get through. At least spring is here, in all its green and gorgeous glories. Of course, that means the lawnmower needs an overhaul, and the whippersnipper has to come out of hibernation. And also, that stupid birds begin to fly into the glass of the sunroom once more. The last one was some kind of cuckoo/thrush thing (I'd identify it positively, but the bird-identification books have long since subsided into the morass of printed matter in this house. Bugger.) that the Mau-Mau found on the verandah on Friday.

It didn't show any real signs of damage, but it had clearly knocked itself into a kind of stupidity excessive even for feather-brains of that sort. The Mau-Mau promptly gathered a lot of grass and built a 'nest' for it on the deck, surrounding the 'nest' with a motley wall of ... stuff... including a watering can, a plastic tub, and a child's bicycle. This was supposed to keep the dog at bay.

I gathered up the bird (and young Jake just brought me the birdbook -- it was a Fan-Tailed Cuckoo) and brought it inside to rest in a warm, dark place. A couple hours later, it still wasn't showing signs of flight - it just sat, blinking stupidly.

Eventually, I made a perch for it high up in the kitchen, where it rested for the entire night. In the morning, Natalie took it outside - and it flew away! Score one for the goodguys, eh?

Hmm. That last sign-off failed, didn't it? I'll try again.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Well, At Least The Car Is Back On The Road

Today really sorta started last night. All three kids have varying degrees of bronchitis at the moment. Younger Son is getting over it, but it's triggering his asthma, and he has the most exciting coughing spasms... vomited all over the Viking Neighbours trampoline on Sunday afternoon, what with all the sheer joy of bouncing around with his friends.

Elder Son, meanwhile, simply spends most of the night coughing, waking up, coughing, drifting off, coughing. And the Mau-Mau? Oh, you don't wanna know. Wet, rattly, lumpy stuff. Horrible.

None of 'em really seems very sick. They're all energetic and perky. They just have this filthy fucking cough. And it's not easy for a parent to sleep through that kind of thing. (As a matter of fact, when I finish typing this, I'm gonna go into the Mau-Mau's room and... just check, you know? 'Cos she hasn't coughed in a while, and that sort of worries me, though I know it shouldn't.)

So: it was a sad, tired and sorry family this morning. Nevertheless, we packed luncheons and girded loins, and I coaxed the stupid frikkin' Terracan into going down to the school in time for us to do our Von Trapp impression.

What am I talking about? Ah. The school has ramped up its music classes lately. And the Mau-Mau's teacher has heard that Nat and I play a bit. Oh, and so do both boys. So there was nothing for it but that we must turn up with all our instruments to do a bit of a demo for a few kids.

Okay. 'A few kids' turned out to be three classes of twenty or so. But to be fair, we didn't actually bring all our instruments. I forgot to bring down my orchestral flute, for example, so all I had was the Chinese dizi, the Apache flute, the Irish flute, the low whistle, the pennywhistle, the harp and the bodhran. Natalie, meanwhile, brought her fiddle, a mandolin, a ukelele(!) and a few spare fiddles. Younger Son had his violin, and Elder Son had his cello.

The boys aren't so schmick yet, so we played 'Frere Jacques' as a round, to show off all four of us playing together. Then Elder Son played one of his exam pieces, and Younger Son played something... then Natalie cranked out a couple of Irish pieces and I brought out the bodhran to keep time. And then, of course, I had to go through the whistles and the flutes and the harps, and frankly, they really should have given us more than half an hour, because the kids were fascinated, and hardly any of them really got to mess around with the instruments.

Anyway, once we were packed, I spent about twenty minutes swearing at the car before it started again. Then the Mau-Mau and I went home and had lunch. I let the car cool down in the driveway, but I positioned it nose-down, because I was tired of all the fucking around with the not-starting bullshit, and when it came time to leave, I just roll-started the sonofabitch. Wasn't entirely sure you could do that with a CRD fuel-injected turbo diesel engine - but it turns out it was no problem at all. And naturally, I didn't stop the fucker again until we were at the mechanics, in Launceston.

They kept the car for a few hours. Apparently changing a sensor is a bit of a production. In the meantime, the Mau-Mau and I did some shopping, went to a bookstore, picked up some T-shirt ink, had a bite to eat, priced some LED lighting for the kitchen, and then hung out at a playground in a park. By the time they gave us back the car, I calculated there was no way I could get home with the Mau-Mau and then back to sword training in time, so I dropped by my instructor's house to deliver my apologies. I feel like a bit of an idiot: I haven't actually been able to make more than the one session since we got back from Borneo -- but what are you gonna do?

Anyway, the moment I got home it was time to fire up the dinner cooking: 'Pepper Beef Soup', I'm calling tonight's effort. Super-thin sliced beef marinated in lime, fish sauce, palm sugar and oodles of black pepper; placed into large soup bowls with plenty of sliced veges and a splash of sesame oil. Pour boiling stock and noodles over the top to cook the meat, and serve. Yeah!

That's my Monday, right there. Oh - I also negotiated a change for Elder Son's education, much to the relief of his poor teacher. His story-writing and narrative English skills have come along at a rate which has sort of left her behind. Truthfully? The stories he's writing now are better than quite a few of the pieces I slush for Andromeda Spaceways, which is a bit of a worry.

I'm a bit dismayed that he enjoys writing so much. I mean - it's great, but it's a mug's game. The percentages are against you in a big way, and you lead a weird-ass, isolated life. But he's got the bug truly, and badly, and there's no fixing it. I know that for a fact, so the best I can do is help him develop it as far as his talent will let him go.

Which is where we're going. His school English will now consist of grammar, Greek and Latin derivations, and projects in expository or persuasive writing. Narrative, storytelling, poetry - the expressive and arty side of English - will be happening under the guidance of yours truly.

It isn't contrary to his public education. He's already so far ahead of the curriculum with that aspect of his work that they won't catch up with him for at least another six or seven years - probably longer. All that's happening is that he's getting specialist tuition in a particular aspect of English studies wherein he excels.

His teacher's very happy. She's truly excellent, but she was out of her depth on this particular topic, and - being an excellent teacher - only too happy to admit it.

So. There's something else I have to chase up, eh?

Never mind. Sleep is for the weak!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Why Did I Not Know About This Stuff Earlier?

The awesomeness that is home-use iron-on transfer paper, that is. See that T-shirt above? the adorable little butterfly-fairy with the face of my daughter? What you can't see is the excitement my daughter exhibited when I gave her said shirt.

Printed it up via my inkjet printer, by the way. But apparently I could have just drawn on the transfer paper with felt-pen, if I wanted. How did I not know of this stuff before? $12.50 (plus a little postage) gets you five A4 sheets to play with -- from once again, of course. I am more impressed with that mob every time I deal with them.

Right. Hey, I got some down time today! For real! The kids got snaffled by the Mad Viking Neighbours for a few hours. Natalie wanted to go do her Big Exercise thing. I decided I'd take a bit of time to watch "Black Dynamite", because I'd heard that it was an extremely clever parody of all those horrid old '70s Blaxplo flicks.

So there I was, stretched out on the bed, watching my dopey movie, when Natalie came up, gave me a bottle of cider and a bowl of spiced popcorn. How cool is that? Not only did I get to watch a movie, but I got snackage too!

(Yeah, I know. It's pathetic what cheers me up these days. But trust me: an afternoon free of kids, watching a dodgy movie with tasty snacks - that's pretty fraggin' good, right there.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Where The Fork Did My Week Go?


Let's see. The car spat the dummy on Monday, big-time. Wouldn't start any more. We still figured it to be the engine immobiliser, but a call to the service people disabused us of that: apparently when the engine immobiliser is running, even the starter motor does nothing. And that was definitely not the case here.

After any amount of screwing about down in Scottsdale with a dead car, I managed to get it going long enough to take it to Jeff French, our local miracle worker. Of course, with the car being under warranty, he couldn't actually work any miracles. But he could and did hook up a diagnostic computer, which confirmed what one of the savvier service-people had said on the phone: sensor troubles.

Shiny new cars run on computers. Computers need information. Information comes from sensors. If your sensors go to shit, your car computer gets shitty information, and the car stops running. Thus, because a cam-shaft sensor has become heat-sensitive, the car will no longer start when it is warm. You have to wait an hour or so for the engine to cool down before it will actually start again -- and it's getting sketchier about that, too.

Some time ago, I had a long and growly online argument with the eejits who profess themselves to be in love with fuel-injection at the expense of the carburettor. They told me at length how wonderful fuel-injection is: how efficient, how clean, how it would tuck me in at night and blow me to sleep.

At that time, I said: I'm sure fuel injection is very fucking shiny, yes. But the thing about carburettors is that they keep on working. And if they fuck up, you can fix them. Right there. By the roadside. Because they are simple, elegant, functional, effective technology. They may not run perfectly. They may not produce world-beating crepes. They may not write home to their parents. But they run. And they keep on running.

Unlike my present, fuel-injected vehicle. And so, some four years after that discussion, I hereby conclude my case with a raised middle finger and a gentle 'screw you!' to the crowd who dissed my simple, screwdriver-and-spanner approach.

Of course, that fucked up Thursday for me, because I had to drive the car in to Launceston to the service people, then wait about four hours while they fritzed around with it. And of course, at the end of that time, the car was not fixed. Why? Because they don't have the parts. They're coming, naturally. Should be in by Monday, yep.

Now, this is a very big dealership. And when I described the problem over the phone, the competent service-blokes were quite excitable: textbook case of sensor failure, no mistaking it. This implies, of course, that sensor failure is not an uncommon situation. Which begs the question: why doesn't this large dealership have spares for something which is a known failure issue?

Who the hell knows? Not me.

I killed the time by trekking out to the university and putting in the paperwork on my Master's degree application. Slow, weary process, but it's almost entirely in place. Then I made it back to Launceston, and ran a bunch of errands for Natalie. Finally, I went to the library, grabbed a computer, and did some writing for a couple hours. Not anything useful, mind you: a simple script for Younger Son to read and record.

And why was I doing this? Because quid pro quo hath raised its head. The children were allowed to take a couple weeks off school to go to Borneo. This isn't kosher by Dept Ed standards, but of course, the kids learned more in those few weeks than they have done in an entire year of school -- and the school people know that, so they didn't put up a fuss. However, it's only reasonable that we now put back a little of that goodwill, right?

Thus, yesterday I found myself cooking chili tamarind chicken with turmeric rice (followed by a very passable ais kacang, or ABC dessert) for twenty kids of Younger Son's grade. But before that, we viewed a seven minute video on "Malaysian Food", narrated by Younger Son.

And of course, in order to create this seven minute miracle, yours truly spent four hours the previous night figuring the ins and outs of a video editing software suite.

Since Windows 7 has (wisely!) abandoned 'Moviemaker', I'm using MAGIX Movie Edit Pro. I'm sure everyone has their own favourite bit of gear for this sort of thing, but I have to say: once I got past the totally fucking crap instructions and worked out that pretty much everything you want to do is done in the 'edit' screen, it worked quite well. Nice things: you can control sound levels on video clips, allowing you to add extra soundtracks, music, narration, etc, and you can mix them nicely.

My only real problem: I wish to fuck I could find a simple 'fade' transition. It does every kind of jackass home-movie wipe you could want: all those Batman scene-spinning changes, all those 'page turns', 'doors opening'... wipes to the left, the right, up and down; fades through Venetian Blinds blah blah blah - but can I get it simply to fade to black?

The fuck I can.

Never mind. So, yeah: four hours work to create a wonky seven minute DVD. Happily, the class enjoyed it - probably because of the footage of Younger Son trying a couple of really dodgy tropical fruits (including a close relative of the dreaded Durian. His impression of vomiting afterwards was dangerously close to the real thing...)

The actual cooking and feeding went surprisingly well. The kids responded far better than I had expected to spicy, unusually flavoured food. Admittedly, I kept the chili to a barely-detectable minimum, but I should point out that not one of them had ever even heard of tamarind; that they were almost all terrified by chili; that they were amazed by garam masala, and that (naturally) I incorporated a whole bunch of very lightly cooked vegetables in the dish -- pak choy, green beans, capsicum, and bean sprouts.

They went bughouse berserk. Ate their way through the entire metric shitload. Most of 'em even finished their vegetables. I had to encourage a couple of 'em to try vegetables they normally claimed to dislike - but the sweet-sour tamarind/kecap manis flavour, with the depth from the fish sauce (couldn't get shrimp paste!) and the zing from the chili, garlic, ginger, onion and garam masala got their enthusiasm pumped up, and in most cases, once they wrapped their heads around the fact that they were eating vegetables but the veges were crunchy and tasted really good, they didn't look back for an instant.

The shaved-ice thing didn't do so well, but I didn't expect it to. If you know Ais Kacang or ABC, so much the better. If you don't -- well, get shaved ice. Add bunches of weird bits of jelly in a range of demented colours. Include spoonfuls of red beans and sweet corn, maybe some green coconut flesh. Now pour red-coloured, hypersweet palm sugar syrup over the lot, and add a generous splash of evaporated milk. Eat with a spoon and considerable trepidation...

The kids liked the palm sugar syrup. And the ice. And... some of the jelly. (But not the blue coconut cream jelly. No.) The corn and beans kinda freaked 'em out - but that was the point, really. That 'authentic Malay experience' thing.

It took about two hours, all told. Two hours of face time with the littlies, that is. Actual cooking, even on a rather dodgy cast-iron camp stove I bought for the wok, was only about twenty minutes. There was a lot of preparation, of course -- I had jelly to make, and stuff. And lots of carrying and setting up. But on the whole, it was remarkably successful -- if exceptionally tiring.

Of course, I had to risk using the Terracan for the job. Couldn't pack all the shite into Nat's Honda. Happily, I started it okay when it came time to leave the school, but I had quite a scare about an hour later, when I tried to start it again outside the supermarket. Bastard thing. I just hope it will start Monday morning. I'm having nothing to do with it again until then...

And how did I finish my day? Cooking again, sure. Polenta-crusted salmon on a bed of crispy-fried potato shavings with a green salad. Popcorn. A movie with the kids. And rum and lime, dammit, because I fucking earned it...