Saturday, November 20, 2010

I Loathe This Time Of Year

I do. I loathe this time of year, because of all the stupid pressures that come with schools trying to wrap everything up, and communities playing pre-Christmas sillybuggers, and orchestras trying to have wayyy too many practices and performances and birthdays and Christmas and, well, yes.

Never enough time to fit it all in. Always something or someone forgotten. And if, Cthulhu forbid, anything actually goes wrong, you have to go to positively Herculean lengths to fix it.

So yesterday, Natalie's car died. She was on her way back from Launceston, having taken the Smaller Son for his double-bass lesson (yes, he's graduated from violin. He looks ludicrous playing an instrument roughly a hundred and forty-five times his own size, but he loves it, and he's good at it.) when somewhere in the boonies past Nunamara, the car -- in her inimitable technical jargon -- went 'phoot'. And stopped.

Of course, there's usually no mobile phone signal out there. But yesterday, perhaps due to her shiny new iphone or perhaps due to remarkably kind weather conditions, she managed to get half a call through to me. Couldn't reach the RACT, no. But she could reach me, and I could reach the RACT.

The operator was really nice. Naturally I didn't have Natalie's RACT membership card or number. And I only had the first two letters of her license plate, because that was all Nat gave me before her phone and Telstra conspired to funk out together. And I couldn't actually remember the model of car... but I knew it was a very dark grey Honda. Yeah. Two-door. Sports. That.

Anyway, the operator dug Nat's details out of the database, and volunteered to try to call her to let her know help was due. (Miraculously, that call went through. Natalie is still marvelling at it.) And I packed up the Mau-Mau, and we drove out to where the afflicted car sat by the roadside, and I collected the two boys, and went back home. Eventually, a tow-truck dropped Natalie off and continued through to Scottsdale. Scratch one family vehicle for an indeterminate period of time.

So this morning, I went down to run the pump. And it started just fine, sure. But as soon as it came under load, it started to cough, labour, and limp. Didn't generate any pressure to speak of, either. I ran through the usual routine (spark, air, fuel-flow) but the fact that the pump was starting so nicely made me think something else was afoot. And indeed: when I opened a backflow stopper, the water that emerged from the actual pump/impeller chamber was disturbingly grey. Not mud-grey, because our mud is brown, but super-fine metal shavings grey.

I think the impellers are fucked, to be honest.

I checked the water level in the tank, and then I cursed. Evidently the failure occurred during the last run of the pump, because we've got maybe a week of very carefully water usage left.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuckity fuck.

So I've disconnected the pump, as one does. And meanwhile, I've picked up Jake's good friend who's visiting for the afternoon, and I've dropped the Mau-Mau at a birthday party. The party-people will return the Mau-Mau, and Jake's friend's dad will come to collect his son (I hope!) sometime this evening. This is all necessary so that Natalie has the chance to go in and play music in Launceston, which is her major relaxation for the week. But it does leave us stranded here, what with her taking the operational vehicle.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow I will arise quite early. I will load Natalie and the boys and the Mau-Mau into the Mighty Earth King, along with the pump. I will drop Natalie at her work. I will drop the boys at school. And then I will do the rounds of hardware places, farming co-op stores and small-motor driven device stores until I can lay hands on an appropriate replacement pump. This one is seven or eight years old, and it's done solid work. It's going to be expensive, but the best strategy is to replace the goddam thing, and have the old one repaired to act as a backup.

And of course, that means that most of tomorrow will be spent connecting the new pump, and running a load of water up to the tank, and collecting kids and wives after they've done their daily stuff, and all this with the Mau-Mau underfoot...

... I really hate this time of year.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Forsooth, Verily!

Lo, it hath come to pass that Jake, the Elder Son, hath discovered ancient Avengers comics, which depict the Mighty Thor. And in these venerable tomes, Thor doth discourse in a much bastardized form of Elizabethan English, full of "thee" and "thou" and "thy" and "verily, forsooth!"

Much smitten is young Jake with this ludicrous patois, and armed with an inflatable hammer of vile chartreuse vinyl, he doth wander the house crying 'Yea, verily!' and smiting all and sundry. And if the son shall speak with the rolling tones of the Thunder God, shall not the father arise and perform alike?

Thus it is that Flinthart the father and Flinthart the son now do berate one another in most excessively elegant language. Indeed, so furious our verbal strivings wax that Younger Son hath himself betrayed a kindred interest. Yet the Younger Son hath not yet the fullest understanding of this older tongue, and for him, 'most everything is 'thy'. Which is not meet, but certes, doth much entertain.

Natheless, Jake and I hath laid a wager slight betwixt our selves, in secret. We dispute the length of days his mother's sanity can withstand our present amusement. Jake holds that she will split asunder within three days, at best, while I maintain she hath easily the stamina for five, perhaps as many as seven.

We shall see!

Friday, November 12, 2010


I hate this time of year. There's always so much that has to be done, and no time to behave in a civilised fashion, get a little rest, whatever.

Yesterday, for example. Student-free day at the school, Scottsdale show-day. I wish I could have dodged the show, but the kids were adamant and Natalie insisted too. Of course, SHE didn't have to take them, did she? (To be fair, she did it last year.)

But before the show, we had haircuts booked. First opportunity I could make for the kids and I. Haven't been that long-haired in a decade or more. So: 1000hrs, haircuts. 1045: sandwiches and fruit from the local store for lunch. 1100: enter the Scottsdale show and meet up with Tiny Viking Neighbour and a few of her brood.

It was still early, so the crowd wasn't. (The Scottsdale show tends to get crowded and... enthusiastic as the night wears on. It's a country town thing.) There was an archery stall that caught the boys' eye, so I ponied up some bucks. The stall-operator was surprised when Younger Son seized the bow and bent it like a pro; she was in the process of offering to help him draw it when he put the first arrow downrange. Can't say he hit any bulls, but he did himself proud. Elder Son put most of his over the top of the targets, so I smiled, bought a few arrows, put three out of four into the bull, and awarded the Mau-Mau a blue velveteen teddy bear which she duly clutched with considerable delight. Something to be said for the calming, meditative shooting of arrows in one's back yard.

The boys decided the dodgems were next. I wish I'd remembered the camera. The expression on Jake's face as he slowly, slowly mastered the art of steering and accelerating... it was gorgeous. His eyes were popping out of his head, he was hunched over the wheel, his teeth were gritted, his knuckles white... give him a Bowls hat and a Volvo and he'd have been a dead ringer for any octogenarian road hazard you care to name.

We mooched around for a while. It was unseasonably hot and humid. The kids got snow cones to compensate. The Mau-Mau spent an unfeasibly long time on a bouncy castle with her best friend - since there was hardly anyone around as yet, the show-folks just smiled and let 'em go on.

Eventually, they ran out of steam, which was good. I took 'em home (with showbags full of lollies, naturally) and after an hour or so of downtime, we packed up and raced into Launceston. Orchestra practice for the boys. And while they were practicing, the Mau-Mau and I found the only store in town which sells white, long-sleeved, cuff-and-collar shirts for boys, and updated their orchestral garb. Post practice, we had dinner at Morty's and headed home.

Meanwhile, the dog has been running off. Natalie took him for a walk to visit our neighbours (they live a kilometre or so away) a while back, and now he thinks it's all part of his territory. He's been running up the highway, down their very long drive, and annoying the shit out of their dog, which in turn annoys our very fine neighbours. So: Sizzle the Dog is now chained.

But that's okay, because part of my job description is Fixing Up After Other People's Miscalculations. So today, I took the boys into Launceston for yet another fucking orchestra practice (prior to tonight's performance.) And while they were sawing away, I went and bought an Invisible Fence -- a shock collar keyed to a radio signal propagated on a very long loop of wire. You set the wire around your designated dogzone. You switch it on. You put the collar on the dog. You go through some training manuevres... but the upshot is that if he gets too close to the goddam wire, it puts the righteous zap on his furry fucking ass. (Okay. He gets some warning beeps. Then a mild static-electricity jolt. But hey: it's the thought that counts.)

I also bought some more timber for gardening bits, and did the grocery shopping, yep. Thus, once we were home (after the practice, and after lunch for the boys) I spent another two hours setting up the shiny new Invisible Fence.

Natalie has now taken the boys in to their concert. They'll be in town until after eleven. Meanwhile, I found a movie -- "The Secret of Moonacre" which is keeping the Mau-Mau entranced ( I'm pretty sure it has unicorns in it. And the cast list is impressive as hell.) so for a couple hours, at least, I get to sit and write, and think, and ruminate.

Oh... here's a thought I sent to the redoubtable Cat Sparks today, while I was listening to the boys practice. I call it:

Flinthart's First Law of Living With The Human Race -- The Smarter You Are, The More Of Your Time Is Spent Compensating For Stupidity. Including Your Own.

So, that's how I spent my day.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Jake Flinthart Has Been Writing Again.

I just received this e-mail from Jake, at his school. He was asked to write an expository piece about the cancellation of the local show. ('Show' = 'local fair' for the overseas readers hereabouts.)

Let me hasten to add that the Scottsdale Show is NOT cancelled. This is just a writing exercise. But frankly, I think he's done a great job, and his piece is funny, so I'm reproducing it here. Remember the kid is ten years old, so don't expect Shakespeare. On the other hand... I think Ben Elton might need to look out.

The Show Must Go On‭!
An exposition starring Thames O’reilly and Dennis‭ ‘‬deny everything‭’ ‬Fletcher

TV PRESENTER:‭ ‬Hi everybody and welcome to another episode of‭ ‬The Debaters and I’m everybody’s favourite presenter‭ ‬Thames O’reilly‭! ‬Today we just got word that the Scottsdale council is‭ ‬going to cancel the Scottsdale Show‭! ‬What we need here is a good debater and here he is:‭ ‬DENNIS‭ ‘‬deny everything‭’ ‬FLETCHER‭!

DENNIS FLETCHER:‭ ‬Yah,‭ ‬zat is me.

THAMES:‭ ‬How do you feel about the council cancelling the Scottsdale Show‭?

DENNIS:‭ ‬What‭?! ‬No‭ ‘‬otdogs on a steeck‭? ‬Ze Scottzdale show is...‭ ‬Well,‭ ‬kind of a‭ ‬cultural theeng in Scottzdale.‭ ‬Peeple save op for it,‭ ‬are exzcited about it,‭ ‬and it only comes once a yeer‭! ‬It's like going to a native tribe of some contry and cancelling an ancient reetual for zere peeple.‭ ‬Ze Scottzdale show is eemportant to a lot of people,‭ ‬and ze blimming council does not have ze right to demolish zis age old tradition‭! ‬It wouldn't be so bad if zey had cancelled it earlier in ze year so people wouldn't have to take down their preparations for it,‭ ‬but no,‭ ‬zey decide to cancel it right when everyone is preparing for it‭!

THAMES:‭ ‬Those are some pretty good arguments,‭ ‬but is there any other reason‭?

DENNIS:‭ ‬Yeh‭! ‬What about ze peeple who make money out of it‭? ‬You’d be steeling dere job‭! ‬All zose peeple who zell zose battered zausages on a steeck rely on ze Scottzdale show for a lot of their money‭! ‬Cancelling ze show would make all zat tedious preparation‭ (‬cooking ze food,‭ ‬zetting up a stall,‭ ‬buying a permeet,‭ ‬zat sort of stuff...‭) ‬go right down ze drain‭! ‬And who is to say zat they’ll get their money back‭? ‬Ze preparation requires lot of money,‭ ‬and eef they don’t get their money back and they don’t get a profit because ze show is cancelled,‭ ‬zey could go bankrupt‭!

THAMES:‭ ‬I hope the council’s watching this right now‭! ‬I don’t know you,‭ ‬folks,‭ ‬but Dennis here is sure convincing me‭! ‬Go on,‭ ‬Dennis...

DENNIS:‭ ‬Zank hyu.‭ ‬Now there’s also ze problem of the animal attractions in ze Scottzdale show.‭ ‬If it’s cancelled,‭ ‬what weel happen to all zat work zey put in to clean their animals and train them‭? ‬It’ll all be for nothing‭! ‬Hyu know,‭ ‬it’s bad eenuf zat we get a holiday for ze‭ ‬Launzeston show but not for ze‭ ‬Scottzdale show,‭ ‬but now they're stopping it altogther‭!

THAMES:‭ ‬You’ve explained all the communtiy and economic problems,‭ ‬but what about the simpler problems‭?

DENNIS:‭ ‬Ah yez,‭ ‬I forgot.‭ ‬Ze children.‭ ‬You can’t deny it:‭ ‬ze children LOVE ze Scottzdale show‭! ‬It’s cheap,‭ ‬fun,‭ ‬local and all ze money goes to people in ze community.‭ ‬Plus zere is lollies‭! ‬Imagine all ze children crying zemselves to sleep because ze council has cancelled it‭! ‬Why should zey suffer‭?

THAMES:‭ ‬Wow,‭ ‬that was great,‭ ‬Dennis.‭ ‬People are definetly getting their money’s worth today.

DENNIS:‭ ‬It’s my job.

THAMES:‭ ‬Too bad they’re still probably going to cancel the show.

DENNIS:‭ ‬I’m not going to theenk about zat.

THAMES:‭ ‬And there you have it,‭ ‬ladies and gentlemen‭! ‬They don’t call him Mr.‭ ‘‬deny everything‭’ ‬for nothing‭! ‬I’m afraid today’s episode is coming to a finish,‭ ‬but next week we’ll be finding out who exactly‭ ‘‬they‭’ ‬is‭! ‬Bye everyone‭!


...must remember to teach him how to spell 'definitely'.

Christmas For The USA Will Be A Lonely Event This Year.

I have an acquaintance in the packaging and posting industry, and apparently yesterday he had a very, very interesting day.

Turns out that the USA has now banned the sending of any personal effects by air, except where accompanied by a traveller. Basically, that means if you were planning to send any Christmas gifts to friends or relations in the USA -- it's tough shit for everybody.

No doubt this is supposed to prevent exploding printer cartridges or other such fiendish al Qaeda ingenuity. But what it's really going to do is turn Christmas, USA into a living hell for the US Customs department.

At this point, I can't find any confirmation of this particular ban. But I trust my source absolutely, and seeing that he's got a serious vested commercial interest in this issue, I believe he's taken the time to get his information right.

My advice to readers: hold off on sending any packages to the USA until you can find out for sure what's the deal here. And to anybody participating in a cross-border Secret Santa or other such exchange, you may wish to notify USAnian participants that your contribution might be (very) slow in arriving.

I'll stay in touch with my buddy in the industry on this, and pass on any information I can. Hopefully, the US will realise that it's made a colossal blunder, and the order will be reversed in the near future, or even better, not even implemented. But I wouldn't count on it.

Meanwhile... so if we can't even send gifts to celebrate the Nativity and all that good stuff, you wanna tell me again how we're winning this 'war on terror'? Because right now, it's starting to look like a 'War on Christmas', with the US government in full Grinch costume.

Edited to add: confirmation is in, courtesy of redditor shortkid422 - check the following two links.
Apparently it's only a 30-day ban at the moment. We'll see how it develops, eh ?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Face Of Evil Is A Mirror

I'm disabling comments on this post. Those of you who agree with what I may have to say are unlikely to have anything more to contribute, as I believe you'll understand by the end of the piece. Those of you who disagree?

You can find your own way out. Thanks.

Nietszche famously said: "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." The quote refers to the danger of being changed by the process of struggling against what you hate into the very thing that you hate.

Since late 2001, by virtue of decisions taken largely by the US government, and to a lesser extent the governments of a group of nations including England and Australia, our society has been involved in a so-called 'war on terror'. We are repeatedly assured that it's for our freedom's sake. That we are the Good Guys. That the Bad Guys are Just Plain Evil.

But what's the real difference between good guys and bad guys? It's not motivation, that's for certain. Some of history's most terrifyingly evil acts have been carried out with what seemed to be the best of motivation.

The difference lies in walking the walk. In the doing. In the actions you take. In the rules you follow. In the limits you place on yourself.

And in this soul-destroying war on a fiction, as a society and as a people, we've crossed the lines. Really. Pay attention to what I'm saying: we aren't the fucking good guys any more. If we ever were.

This isn't some piece of hack lefty moral equivalence. I'm not suggesting that identifiable terrorists and religious extremists have become the 'the good guys'. I'm saying, very loudly, that there are no longer any 'good guys' in this fight.

We set rules for ourselves. We broke them. We created standards of human decency and treatment. We defiled them. We proudly trumpeted ideals of equality, justice, representation and liberty. And we abandoned them.

I've spent nine years of my life, now, calling for a more thoughtful and measured response to the insults put forward by the Taliban and their ilk. I supported the war in Afghanistan because even the Afghan people were being abused by the Taliban, and they needed our help just as much as we needed to take away the safe haven the place offered Al Qaeda. I still support action in Afghanistan to help the Afghans rebuild, and to strengthen their society so it never again needs to slide into theistic totalitarianism.

I never supported the war in Iraq. I opposed it vocally, and at length, in the face of some very nasty personal criticism from people who should have known better. I lost friends over that one - though I'm proud of the friends who argued sanely, rationally, and logically... and eventually had the courage to admit to errors.

And I've screwed up from time to time as well. Who hasn't? This situation is a pile of shit.

But I've never, ever supported some of the measures we've been taking. And I have been distressed, dismayed and horrified to see the descent of the liberal-minded, freedom-loving society of my upbringing brought closer and closer to some sort of Orwellian parody of itself. Invasive searches of children at airports - the alternative being high-dosage X-rays. 'Free Speech Zones'. 'Total Information Awareness'. 'Great Internet Firewalls'. "Extraordinary Rendition". 'Children Overboard' - and concentration camps for desperate refugees in leaky boats.

The worst, I think, is the torture. And the fact that we've never even tried to hold anyone accountable for it.

Torture? Yes. I mean waterboarding. And if you don't know what that is, you're blissfully ignorant. Go and look it up. And if you disagree that it constitutes 'torture', consider that our side convicted several Japanese soldiers of precisely this crime after the second world war. Try this article as a beginning.

Of course, we've known for some time that waterboarding went on in Afghanistan and Iraq. But like any war, more information comes to light over time. It's now clear and public that President Bush authorised the use of waterboarding. And that a depressingly large number of people were complicit.

What is now coming to light is a range of details. Facts. Observations. Things which were done by our people, in the name of our freedom. Terrible, vile things. I direct your attention to this article from

"Self-proclaimed waterboarding fan Dick Cheney called it a no-brainer in a 2006 radio interview: Terror suspects should get a "a dunk in the water." But recently released internal documents reveal the controversial "enhanced interrogation" practice was far more brutal on detainees than Cheney's description sounds, and was administered with meticulous cruelty.

Interrogators pumped detainees full of so much water that the CIA turned to a special saline solution to minimize the risk of death, the documents show. The agency used a gurney "specially designed" to tilt backwards at a perfect angle to maximize the water entering the prisoner's nose and mouth, intensifying the sense of choking – and to be lifted upright quickly in the event that a prisoner stopped breathing."

The remainder of the carefully written and researched article is here, and I urge you to read it, because I want to make three important points which relate to this.

The first point is: I have been unable to find anywhere any evidence to suggest that the use of waterboarding or any of the other so-called 'enhanced interrogation techniques' (because we can't call it 'torture', can we? We're the Good Guys, right? When we do it, it's not 'torture'.) has ever, at any time, yielded information of significant value.

Furthermore, the whole of the literature with which I am familiar in this area suggests that torture does not provide useful information. Time and again, the evidence shows that alternative techniques work far, far more effectively. I'll say it again: torture doesn't work. And if it doesn't work, it is pointless.

The second point is: we claim to live in a democratic, representative society. If that is so, then we the people are ultimately responsible for what is done in our name. You. Me. Our friends and relatives. We may not have poured the water, tilted the boards, held the cloth over the heads of screaming victims -- but the people we put in charge arranged for this to happen. It is our fault. If you choose to disagree with this, the only real alternative that you have is to argue that we do not live in a democratic, representative society... and that would be my case made for me, wouldn't it? Because what I keep saying is: we are not the Good Guys any more.

The final point I want to make is personal: if you can read that article and find it in you to approve of what was done, or if you can make some kind of justification or rationalisation to exonerate the people who did it and the people who authorised it -- go away.

Truly. Really. I don't need you. I don't want to know you. I have nothing to say to you. Go elsewhere. Don't come back to this place until you've had some kind of a change of mind, or a change of heart. I don't care who you are, or how long I've known you. It's not a permanent condemnation, because I believe even the wrong-headed can grow up and change, and I'll be happy to welcome you back when you do. But very simply: I don't have time or space in my life for people who can support this. It is absolutely unacceptable in any society that dares call itself 'civilised'.

I do not support this. Nor ever have. We may not be the Good Guys any more, but I'm hoping like hell, and working as hard as I can, to change that -- for my children, if not for me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Genius, Idiocy, Or Both?

I got an email the other day, and once I took it in, I loved it. Absolutely hilarious. I've reproduced it in full below. I've even left in the email address they cited for contact, in the hopes that ten zillion web-bots read this and spam them into despair. Probably won't happen, but it's nice to think so. The email:




This is to bring to your notice that we are delegated from the United
Nations & Central Bank to pay 150 scam victims US$1,000,000.00 (ONE
MILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS) each. You are listed and approved for
this payment as one of the scammed victims to be paid this amount, get
back to us as soon as possible for the immediate payments of your
US$1,000,000.00 compensations funds.

On this faithful recommendations, we want you to know that during the
last U.N. meetings held at Abuja-Nigeria, it was alarmed so much by the
world in the meetings on the lost of funds by various individuals to the
Nigerian scam artists operating in syndicates all over the world today.
In other to compensate victims, the U.N Body in conjunction with the
Nigerian Government is now paying 150 victims of these operations
US$1,000,000.00 each in accordance with the U.N. recommendations.

Due to the corrupt and inefficient Banking Systems in Nigeria, the
Payments are to be supervised by the 'United Nations' Officials and the
Central Bank of Kenya, as the corresponding paying bank is STANDARD
CHARTERED BANK. Nairobi branch - Kenya. According to the number of
applicants at hand, 114 Beneficiaries has been paid, half of the victims
are from the United States, and we still have more 36 left to be paid
the compensations of US$1,000,000.00 each.

Your particulars was mentioned by one of the Syndicates who was arrested
as one of their victims of the operations, You are hereby warned not to
communicate or duplicate this message to him For any reason what so ever
as the U.S. secret service is already on trace of the other criminals.
So keep it secret till they are all apprehended. Other victims who have
not been contacted can submit their application as well for scrutiny and
possible consideration. If you have already been notified of this
payment programme previously, do proceed with your claim as required.

As directed by the Global Settlement Committee, You can receive your
compensations payments via any of this payment Options you may choose:
shall feed you with further modalities as soon as we hear from you.

NB: To proceed with your claim, write/email the secretary to forward
your payment file to required department for your immediate payment on
below email:

ATTN: Ms. Melissa A. Pascal

On behalf of the board,
Mrs. Rosemary Bandu.

On behalf of the board,
Mrs. Rosemary Bandu.


Now, there are a whole bunch of reasons to like this email. First, I absolutely love the fact that they're trying to get a second bite of the cherry. (This is, of course, yet another Nigerian Email scam. A 419, I believe they're called.) Clearly, they've reasoned that people who were stoopid enough to buy into the original scam will now be incredibly pissed off -- but no less stupid. In fact, the combination of stupid + angry in the world outside the 'Net generally adds up to 'much more stupid than before', so frankly, they're probably onto something with this. Which is just hilarious.

I also love the fact that they've managed to find someone who can actually (mostly) handle the English language, and put capital letters in the appropriate places. Sorta. Every now and again you get a sentence that kinda boggles you a little -- the line about 'feed you with further modalities' makes it sound like the writer already ate too many modalities and is about to regurgitate a dictionary, for example.

The final reason I like this email? Well, it strikes me that if they're now deliberately re-targeting previous idiots, then perhaps the 419 business has been slowing down lately. Maybe enough people have finally heard that mis-spelled emails from Africa promising you a fortune in exchange for a few banking details and maybe just a little money of your own aren't actually a private goldmine. Who knows? Cull the flock long enough, and maybe it does get smarter. We'll see, eh?

...and in other news: the Mau-Mau didn't want to get up this morning. She made her Saddest Face In The World, and told me that she hurt all over, and pointed to many different places on her body by way of illustration. Including her elbows. Then she lay back down.

When Natalie came downstairs, I suggested she should give the kid the medical once-over. Unfortunately, the arrival of Mum in the Mau-Mau's bedroom provoked much undesirable excitement, and Natalie shouted for a bowl. Being well versed in this routine, I seized a large salad bowl and made it into the bedroom in time to keep 'most everything except the top sheet from being covered in very stinky vomit.

So. The Mau-Mau is at home today, on the couch, extremely subdued. The vomit contained pretty much everything she ate last night, undigested -- and horribly reeking -- so there is something astray. And I am thus confined likewise to the house, as nurse.

Oh, goody.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I indulged myself in a bit of a rant a while back; a rant which is likely to turn up in somebody else's blog sooner or later seeing as how I was asked to do it by the delightful and terrifyingly talented Mme Slatter. In said rant, I expounded upon the qualities of the true yeast doughnut, and I spoke disparagingly of the crapulous, battery junk pushed on us in the name of 'doughnut' by a horde of vile purveyors of toxic waste disguised as fast 'food'.

Indeed. And I note with a certain sense of satisfaction that one such purveyor of 'doughnuts' is in deep financial doo-doo here in Australia, which suggests to me that the humble Aussie doughnut-sucker knows a thing or two about dough.

Maybe. Or maybe they just can't eat the damned things fast enough to keep the company in question afloat, seeing as how it originated in the deep south of the US where the doughnut is regarded as one of the essential food groups.

Not that it matters. Because today is Friday, and on Fridays it's me and the Mau-mau, pretty much all day. She stuck out the morning shopping run like a champ. She dealt with the pump-operating part of the day very nicely, even though she knew there might be leeches. (I got leeched down by the spring just last week...) She did her piano practice, and raced the dog up and down the spring-green paddocks for a while. Then she enjoyed her lunch, and took in a Godzilla movie, and finally, I agreed we would cook something together.

She likes her some cooking, does the Mau-mau. 'Specially if it happens to be some sort of sweet.

The end results are visible in the photo above, and I assure you: those are genuine, finest-kind, home-made yeast doughnuts. Twice-risen, hand cut, then fried in peanut oil, and lightly glazed with a mix of milk and icing sugar flavoured with vanilla and cinnamon.

The sprinkles were the Mau-mau's idea. I couldn't convince her to leave 'em off.

Never mind: still the best goddam doughnuts I've had in a looo-ooong time.

Mr Flinthart makes doughnuts as follows:

Ingredients -

1 tb Dry yeast
1/2 c Lukewarm water
1 tsp Sugar
1 lge Egg
1/3 c Sugar
1/2 ts Salt
1/2 c Milk
3 tb butter
3 1/2 c plain flour
Vegetable oil


Put your warmish water in a bowl with the yeast and that first teaspoon of sugar. I used brown sugar. I don't suppose it matters. Whisk the mixture and set it aside until it goes all foamy. That tells you the yeast is ready to rock and roll.

Put the milk and butter together in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring until the butter melts into the milk. Don't boil it. Just melt the butter, and then put the saucepan aside. You want the milk to be no more than pleasant warm to your finger.

Break your egg into a big mixing bowl with your 1/3 cup of sugar, and that sprinkling of salt. Beat the crap out of it with an electric mixer until it's light and thick and fluffy. Now you can beat in the foamy yeasty stuff and the lukewarm milk-and-butter mix.

Put your electro-mixer away and get yourself a wooden spoon. Start gradually beating your flour into the liquid until it becomes a batter too thick for comfortable spoonage. Scrape the spoon into the batter. Put the cleaned spoon in the sink. Get some butter on your hands and prepare to get messy. You have to work the last of that flour in until you have a nice, soft, dough that you will knead for the next five minutes, until it becomes smooth and springy. Now stick the doughball into a buttered bowl. Cover it in plastic, stick it in a warm place, and leave it alone until it doubles in size. (About an hour. Maybe an hour-and-a-half.)

Now: spread out some baking paper. Punch down the dough, and roll it out to a bit less than 1cm in thickness. With an egg-ring (buttered!) cut rounds out of the dough. To cut the centres, you will have to improvise. Or just poke a hole with your finger and stretch your doughnut to shape.

Take all the scraps, reroll'em, and cut out more doughnuts. Keep going until you've got about twenty or so. Take the remaining scraps, and roll 'em into a long snaky tuby thing about 2cm thick. With greased scissors, cut the tube into 2cm lengths. Put all your doughnuts and your doughblobs aside on baking paper to rise for the next hour or so - or until they roughly double in size again.

Get a decent saucepan. Put about 8-10cm of clean vegetable oil in it. Make it hot. Very hot. Grab one of your little dough-blobs and put it in the oil. When it starts to bubble and float, the oil is hot enough. Start frying your doughnuts.

When you drop 'em in the oil, they'll bubble, and rapidly float. Fry them in batches of three (more of the bloblets, obviously!) Turn them once as needed, so both sides go that wonderful golden brown colour. Drain them on paper towels or butcher's paper or newspaper or whatever you like.

While they're cooling, mix a tablespoon of cinnamon powder with a cup and a half of castor sugar, in a sturdy plastic bag. Once the doughnuts are cool enough to handle (but still warm, dammit!) put three or four at a time in your bag, and shake like hell, thus giving your doughnuts the perfect sweet, crunchy-cinnamon coating.

(Or you can just glaze the damned things and cover 'em with sprinkles if you're cooking with your bolshy five-year-old daughter who loves sprinkles as though they are the very Fountain of Youth and Life...)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


So I promised a short story to an anthology a while back. Deadline end October. And I had a lovely idea.

Except it was a complex idea, with about three different themes resonating through it. And really, it coulda, shoulda probably been a novella. So getting it pared back to short story form was a real bastard of a job. A screaming bastard.

By the weekend, I had it mostly in shape, at least in my head. All I wanted to do was write, and get it done. But we had rain, didn't we? Fuckbuckets of rain.

That wouldn't have been so bad, except Natalie was on call for Saturday, and theoretically, not so much on call for Sunday. Which meant she was cranky on Saturday. And then on Sunday, when it really pissed down, she was even crankier because the kids were trapped indoors, and she is totally not adapted to the way the kids fight with each other.

It's a nightmare, really. When the kids start fighting, I just break 'em up and send 'em off with a few sharp words. But Natalie wants them to negotiate, and speak nicely, and so forth... and so she winds up deep in a four-way brawl, with the kids bitching at each other, and herself getting snakier by the moment.

It's not good.

Normally, when that sort of shit starts to rain down, I excuse myself from the study, go out, and quietly redirect some energies. Maybe take the crankiest kid off to the garden. Maybe haul out some forgotten toys. Maybe grab a couple kids and get the shopping done. I do it quietly, and it wasn't until the weekend that I realised: they don't know that I'm doing it.

I realised that because when I STOPPED doing it because I ABSOFUCKINGLUTELY HAD TO WRITE, I put up with most of a day of some of the stupidest, most petty infighting I've listened to in a long time.

It is very, very hard to write anything good with that kind of crap going on just outside your study door. I was up until three in the morning making that thing come together.


Monday was a lot better. We didn't do much, but the sun was out, and I had the story away, and we went into Launceston for the evening and ate at the new Korean Barbecue place. It's just a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant on Elizabeth St, but the food (it turns out) is inexpensive, and delicious, and according to a Korean friend of mine, not too far off what it's supposed to be. (Though the Kim Chi wasn't as spicy-hot as I'd hoped. Not that I've ever had Kim Chi before.)

Tuesday's dinner was good, too. Friend of mine dropped off a big, fat, wild-caught trout, and I baked it over the charcoal gorilla, with lashings of ginger, salt, pepper, lemon and curry-leaf. Woo-hoooo! Mind you, my mashed potatoes were too gooey. I had a brainwave, and made 'em with chicken stock and a little cream in place of the usual milk/butter/whatever. They were totally frakking delicious... but too damned runny. I used too much stock by accident. Ick.

And today? Today I got the job of being Natalie's tech guy for telephony. Which meant I had to go into Launceston with her, and with Younger Son and the Mau-Mau, and while Natalie and the Younger Son went to his first double bass lesson (did I mention Younger Son has now aced his first two violin exams? He did. Really well. But he doesn't enjoy the violin, and we promised him that if he took his music seriously, we'd look into finding an instrument he really enjoyed. So now he has a 1/8th size double bass. Which he loves to death.) I had to negotiate through the minefield of phone plans and smartphonery and so forth.

Natalie now owns an i-phone. Well, phine, that's her problem not mine. I'm sure it's a lovely, shiny toy. And it only took me an hour to set up an appropriate plan, and carve a path through the bureaucratic Telstra bullshit. And now that we're pulling out the old ISDN system (which we don't use any more), what with Natalie's shiny new phone plan and shiny new phone, we're actually... umm... ten dollars a month better off. And she now gets four hundred dollars of calls plus 500mb of data on her new phone every month. Locked in for two years, yeah, but since she was running on the $20 per month plan for the last five years on her old phone, I doubt she'll be too upset.

Of course, now that she's home with it, the fun has started. She's been trying to synch it with i-tunes and her i-pod since... ummm about 1800. It's now 2100. She's just done over a year's worth of updates to the i-tunes software, and finally reinstalled all the drivers for the i-phone, and I think she may actually be coming to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Of course, what would I know? I just use a shoddy cheap-ass MP3 player, a little old Nokia flip-phone... and I organise my own digital music. I'm just a primitive, I guess. But then, my computer is still working, isn't it? Whereas Natalie's had all but locked up under the strain of all the updates. I had to give it the old three-finger salute, dive into task manager and strip out a couple dozen minor functions and stupidities that were eating into memory, etc.

She will keep using Vista, though.