Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Revenge Of The Platypus and A Menu

We had another visitor. This time it was a friend of Natalie's, named Sharon. Apparently they met each other on the folk festival scene in Canberra, and got along. Well, okay.

I agreed to cook something a little nifty to help make Natalie's friend feel welcome. Unfortunately, when I went shopping, I had young Genghis with me and in short order, the menu got out of hand.

When Sharon arrived, I'd just finished hacking my way through a chapter on the novel, and I was doing some research on Regency England that was boring me shitless. I decided it was a good time to run the pump, so I took Sharon down to the pond, in the hopes of introducing her to the platypus.

I should point out here that Natalie has never actually seen the platypus. I think it hides from her. Why that would be is open to debate, but the fact is that within two minutes of Sharon and I quietly sauntering up to the pond's edge... there was the platypus. He/she/it swam around on the surface, dived to the bottom, came up again, blew bubbles, floated gently and regarded us, and in general, behaved like a perfect little tourist icon. Meanwhile, hundreds of bees hummed away, gathering water from the edge of the pond, and the spring sun shone down, and really, I must hang out down there more often. Pretty!

But the menu. Ahhh, yes.

I thought I'd try something interesting with prawns. We've been getting some big Carpentaria King prawns lately, and even though they're frozen for delivery, it's worth using them once in a while. I thought that if I grabbed some of that soft rice papery stuff used in Vietnamese type spring rolls, and then made a decent mix of herbs and spices, I could roll up the prawns with the spice mix and deep-fry them into a delicious, crispy treat. It seemed like an interesting idea, anyhow.

But while I was picking up the prawns, young Genghis noticed that there were fresh oysters in. And Genghis absolutely loves him some Oysters Kilpatrick. Oh, yes. So... I got a dozen oysters as well as the prawns.

Once you're on that kind of a roll, it's hard to stop. Next I spotted fresh Bass Strait scallops, and I remembered that I had some dumpling wrappers, and that we've been getting decent avocadoes at the supermarket for a while. Hmmm. Yep. Better get some scallops, too. And what about some smoked salmon, to round it all up?

The menu eventually went like this:

Smoked salmon roulades: thin slices of smoked salmon, spread with a mixture of cream cheese, pickled capers, fresh dill, black pepper and lemon juice. Roll the slices up, then slice them into little rounds. Serve with freshest, crusty bread - and a nice Brook Eden Pinot gris

Chilled Avocado Soup With Scallops: Blend four or five good, ripe avocadoes with two cups of fine, home-made Chinese-style chicken or fish stock. Add a half-cup of dry white wine. Once the mixture is smooth and thick, chill. Meanwhile, sautee a handful of fresh scallops with minced ginger and chili. Serve the soup in ramekin-sized dishes, with a couple of scallops atop each. Garnish with fresh coriander, spring onion slices, and a dollop of sour cream. We matched this with a Clover Hill bubbly. (Yeah, the same one they stuck in front of the Queen last week. I've been saying for years it's one of the best wines in Australia.)

Oysters Kilpatrick: A dozen fresh Tasmanian oysters, liberally sprinkled with diced bacon. Add a teaspoon of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce and just a touch of Tabasco pepper sauce. Grill them quickly under reasonable heat, then serve. The remnants of the Clover Hill went over nicely here, and we also opened a Devil's Corner Sauvignon Blanc.

Steamed Scallop Dumplings: Mince fresh ginger, coriander, and spring onion, and a little salt. Toss your scallops through the mixture. Spoon scallops into simple won-ton wrappers, close, and steam. Serve with a sweet Japanese mayonnaise suitable for sushi, and a touch of Tabasco pepper sauce.

Crispy Prawn Dumplings: Mince chili, spring onion and fresh coriander. Toss your shelled prawns through the mixture. Now soften rice-paper Vietnamese spring-roll wrappers in hot water. Carefully wrap each prawn, ensuring a generous portion of the spices as well. Fry quickly in small batches in very hot vegetable oil, removing when the prawn (visible through the translucent wrapper) turns appropriately pink. Serve with a classic Vietnamese dipping sauce.

Of course, you can't do something like this without dessert. So I made:

Double-cream French Vanilla ice cream: with King Island cream, eggs from our own chickens and vanilla pod and brown sugar. The ice cream got served with home-made blueberry conserve... and finished everybody off nicely, along with a little of the fine Pinot port that Smileyfish left here the other day.

The meal took a long time, and all the portions were small. That was the only rational way to do it. I'm happy to say that nobody had to lie around clutching their bellies and moaning afterwards, and the conversation moved along nicely throughout.

All right, yes. I know. I'm bragging.

Wouldn't you?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Minor Miscalculation

Weekend again.

I took a punt, a while back. I ordered Mel Brooks Silent Movie online, drawing on the impressions and memories of my much younger self. I hadn't seen the film since it came out, so very long ago, but I recall that when I was about ten or so, I thought it was hilarious. I figured at the very least, my young sons would probably respond likewise, so I put it on for the family on Friday night.

That was a pleasant surprise. Mostly, I'm not too impressed by Brooks' stuff. His work often strikes me as a kind of American "Carry On" series -- full of cheap sight gags, oo-er double entendres, and randomly exposed women. Sometimes he gets it right, though. Blazing Saddles has all those things in it... but it also tackled a bunch of American taboos in a very front-on, no-prisoners fashion, and there was a lot of cleverness to the film as well.

Silent Movie doesn't have the same political or racial charge that Blazing Saddles did, but it's still a very funny movie. It works on two levels: in one, it's simply a slapstick silent film, with all the ridiculous qualities that implies. (Yes. It's actually silent. Oh, except for just one word, spoken by the least likely person in the film. See it for yourself if you want to know.) On that level, it's pretty good. Marty Feldman, for example, is at his absolute best here: all goggle-eyed, sweet-natured innocence wrapped up in a Bruce Lee jumpsuit and a Flying Ace leather helmet. Graves' Disease is a bastard of a thing, and Feldman suffered for it - but he really knew how to work his unusual appearance, and in Silent Movie, he's so funny at times it's actually painful.

At this basic slapstick comedy level, Silent Movie is great. The plotline is simple: alcohol-damaged director Mel Funn (Brooks) approaches his old studios with a plan for a silent movie. The head of the studios (American comedy veteran Sid Caesar) is desperate for a hit to keep vicious corporate bastards Engulf & Devour from taking over his beloved studio, so he greenlights the movie. Funn and his comrades (Eggs and Bell, played by Feldman and Dom DeLuise) decide they have to get an all-star line-up for the cast in order to guarantee a big hit... and so they set out across Hollywood, trying to recruit the big names of the day.

The sequences in which the various stars are wooed are lovely. It's wonderful to watch people like Paul Newman, James Caan, Marcel Marceau (yep. Even he.) and Lisa Minelli take the piss out of themselves - but the standout scenes are the recruitment of Burt Reynolds in a hilarious shower sequence, and a great dance number with Anne Bancroft. Reynolds and Bancroft in particular show no fear at all of parodying their own public images, and the results are lovely.

On another level, though, the movie is an affectionate tribute to the great era of silent comedies. You can feel Brooks' childhood coming through -- Saturday afternoons in darkened cinemas, flickering black-and-white images, and an abiding love for the marvellous clowns of a bygone time. Brooks and his companions don't deliberately recreate classic routines from the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and others - but if you know your cinema history, you can certainly see where various scenes in Silent Movie clearly represent an homage to these, and to others.

It's not highbrow, no. But the boys laughed until they cried, and the Mau-Mau fell about the place laughing, and Natale laughed even though she kept knitting, and yes, I laughed too - more than I have at pretty much any comedy I've seen in the last decade. If you've never seen Silent Movie, I think you've missed what may be Brooks' funniest work. And if, like me, you haven't seen it since you sat in the cinema and watched it on the big screen, you should consider revisiting it. The effort will pay off.

Obviously, that wasn't my minor miscalculation. No - the miscalculation turned up yesterday afternoon, in the form of my friend Smileyfish. I got my dates mixed up... thought she was visiting next weekend, not this one.

Happily, it didn't really matter. The weather had turned to the best of Tasmanian spring - all warm and sunny and green and alive with bumblebees and apple blossoms - and I'd already planned an evening cookout. We had skewers of beef, seasoned with pepper and salt and paprika and cumin, and there was twice-cooked pork, and green salad, and even a few bags of plain marshmallows. All I needed to do was spruce up the guest room briefly, lay in some Royal Swan rum, and pick up a few corn tortillas for the gluten-intolerant Smileyfish, and we were good to go.

That firepit really is working a treat. The boys built the fire, and we fed it for a while, then let it die back so we could cook on it. Meanwhile, Smileyfish discovered that rum and lime is a Very Good Thing on a warm spring afternoon, and the children ran about and climbed and played and shouted.

The marshmallows were a bit disappointing, though. We thought we'd scored, when we found them in 'Chickenfeed' - a Tasmanian overflow store. I mean - they were plain! White! No nasty pink or yellow or swirly shit. What could go wrong?

Ah. Artificial vanillin. That's what could go wrong.

Tastes almost but not quite entirely unlike vanilla, to paraphrase the great Douglas Adams. Marshmallows shouldn't leave a bitter aftertaste, should they? Nor should they burn in quite the fashion these did. They were unnervingly like unto marshmallow, without actually being marshmallow, and even the kids gave up on them in short order.

Happily, we had some decent lengths of PVC tubing about. I took the opportunity to deliver a lesson in the use of the blowgun, using my children as moving targets, and rather nasty half-marshmallows as projectiles. The kids took to the idea with alacrity. They climbed the big swing-fort, and blatted marshmallows back at me. Meanwhile, Smileyfish grabbed a blowgun for herself, and ran around shooting at either side as the opportunity arose.

The whole situation was made more ludicrous by the marshmallows. They didn't quite fit. We had to tear them in half, and sometimes they still didn't fit, and sometimes they got sticky as hell. You never knew if you were going to successfully blast a marshmallow at your opponent, or perhaps blow up your own sinuses with back-pressure, or simply just make a sort of flubby, farting noise while a half-marshmallow vibrated its sticky way down your blowpipe and fell out the end with a pathetic sort of flup.

A good time was, therefore, had by all.

We finished up the evening by watching Hayao Miyazaki's Laputa up in the Cinema Shed. Smileyfish brought that one along for the kids - but I have to say I enjoyed it too. Good clean storytelling, fine animation, engaging characters.... yep. That was fun.

And in the morning, Ms Fish arose, had breakfast, and bid us farewell. The Mau-Mau went to the beach with her best friend. I got into the garden (and the cooking, and the laundry). Natalie was on call. The boys practised their instruments, and their Swedish... and we had a fine, quiet Sunday which ended in a charcoal-grill pork roast.

That was a pretty good weekend.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dire Movie Review And Other Stuff

I got to hang out with the Cool Shite lads last night. It's been a while since I've been able to do that regularly... just too damned busy, or screwed on the schedule, to take that one evening in a week to do something for my own enjoyment.

It's always good watching films with them. Even if the films are awful, it's fun to take the piss out of them - and frequently, I get to see really nifty films I'd otherwise have missed. The Fall, Sauna, and The Brothers Bloom are three in the latter category, just off the top of my head. There are plenty more.

Still, last night was a cinematic failure. While I enjoyed the conversation and the mickey-taking, the movie was so disappointing I'm actually going to review it... like this:

Bruce dug out a pile of DVD's still in their wrappers. There must have been two dozen of 'em. He started going through, eliminating all the rom-coms and chick-flicks and documentaries about Eastern European armpit-hair growing customs. Quinny and I, meanwhile, made helpful comments about the films we thought might actually be interesting.

Of course, Quinny rejected Bloody Malory, a French monster-hunter film in which the Pope gets kidnapped and has to be rescued from demons before the world is annihilated... apparently it was too schlocky for Mr "I Teach Film, You Know" Q-Dog David Quinn. Pay close attention here. That's an important point.

A few more films went past. Several of them sounded interesting. Bruce put them aside for future weeks. But then we got to a thing called Chanbara Beauty. The cover depicted a Japanese lass in a red bikini and cowboy hat, holding a couple of katana. The blurb declared that she was Aya, and the movie was about her exploits slaughtering zombies in a post-apocalyptic setting.

Apparently, this isn't too schlocky for Mr Quinn, because he got all enthusiastic at this point. Yep. The mix of bikinis, samurai swords, cowboy hats, zombies and post-apocalyptic settings is obviously a weak point in his film-critic armour. Mind you, I'm not claiming to be innocent here. I liked the idea just as much. But of course, I'd also quite happily have watched Bloody Malory. I have no illusions about my cinematic tastes.

Tiarne got kind of excitable too. She decided she'd seen the character before, perhaps in a computer game. Tiarne's Google-fu is strong: within minutes, she had summoned up an Internet image of a computer-game character dressed very similarly to the lass on the front of the Chanbara Beauty DVD case. So... was this a game derived from a movie? Or was the movie derived from a game?

Neither. Apparently both were developed from one of those inevitable Manga series. Okay. Fine.

So, Bruce stuck the DVD in the player. The credits came up... and that was the last good thing that happened for the next eighty-six minutes, as far as cinema was concerned anyhow. (There were some pretty good lime-chili potato crisps. And some funny conversation. But neither of those reflects on the film itself.)

Chanbara Beauty... This movie is the cinematic equivalent of a cold coffee enema. If you're stupid enough to plan on watching it after you read this, please: remove ALL sharp objects from your person and your immediate vicinity, because the urge to gouge out your own eyes to protect your brain may be overwhelming.

How can a movie with a samurai-sword wielding, bikini and cowboy-hat wearing, zombie-slaughtering heroine have such an utter lack of fun? Was it the shitty SFX? Was it the fact that the lead actress had clearly been instructed to appear stone-bored and insomniac tired through the whole film? Was it the bleach-blonde Japanese fat bastard with a head like an animated bowling ball who supposedly supplied comedy relief? Was it the mechanistic, perfunctory, largely incomprehensible fight-scenes that rolled on endlessly, despite their shitty lack of anything like coherent choreography?

The film had all the ingredients to be entertaining. It sure as hell took itself seriously. Usually when a film aims to be serious and fails on this spectacular a level, it gains a life of its own, and becomes one of those movies you remember for years because of the lingering cramps in your belly caused by near-fatal attacks of hilarity.

But not Chanbara Beauty. Nope. Not even the random breasts of a female character introduced about twenty minutes into the piece solely to endure a single sex scene and then be slaughtered by unconvincing zombies were sufficiently interesting to make this film anything other than a brain-grinding, arse-numbing chore. By the end of the flick, Bruce was working on his i-Pad, Quinny was reading some sort of shit on his MacBook, and I was watching Tiarne play a peculiar computer game. Every now and again we'd look up, and beg the characters onscreen to die. Horribly. And quickly.

Mostly they did. But not quickly enough.

All copies of Chanbara Beauty should be rounded up in the name of humanity, and buried in that same landfill somewhere in New Mexico which contains all those copies of that infamously bad ET video game... Then the director, the producers, and the writers should be hunted down and publically executed. Only then can we truly feel safe about going back to the cinema.

And in other news:

Genghis has hit the zoom function with his reading. He didn't take off as early as his brother, but at eight years old, he's just discovered the Skullduggery Pleasant books by Derek Landy. These are young-adult fantasy, and they run to about three hundred pages each. Genghis is literally burning through these things at the rate of a book a day or so. At least, on weekends. On school days, he only gets through half a book.

It's great to see him discover something like this. He's not as narrative/fiction oriented as Jake. More typically blokey, he likes reading histories and factual stuff. He adores his books on the Darwin Awards, for example. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or not, but I figure it's good cautionary reading, at least. Anyway, he's well into the most current book in the SP series, so he's about to run out. We're going to point him to Artemis Fowl next, and probably Pratchett and the Discworld. Thirty books of fantasy/comedy should keep him occupied for a couple months.

Meanwhile, Jake has learned to make popcorn. He takes it seriously, and does it properly. No microwave bullshit for him: he's been raised right, and his few encounters with the awful shit that comes out of those prepackaged bags have taught him that popcorn has to be cooked in oil, and if butter is to be involved it must be real butter, not crappy yellow powdered toxin.

He's good. He gets down the beat-up old aluminium saucepan (because the thin layer of near-enough sapphire on the inner surface is smooth and strong, and you can scrub it clean. But if you burn popcorn into steel, for example, the carbon will enter the fine pores of the metal, and that pan will always burn things forever after, no matter how carefully you clean it.) and adds the oil and the popcorn. Then he fires up the stove, cooks the stuff, and pours it into the big serving bowls. He melts butter in the hot pan, and meanwhile, he adds salt and seasonings of choice -- citric acid, powdered beef stock, cayenne pepper, powdered chicken stock, parmesan cheese... there are flavours for every occasion -- and then tosses the lot together.

I have mixed feelings about this. I'm glad to see him learn, and I like the idea that he's taking this task onto himself. But it's kind of odd watching him do what has been the "dad thing" with our movie nights. I always figured there was a kind of gemutlichkeit comfort in watching movies or TV with your family, munching down on a big bowl of dad's special popcorn...

Still, he's very proud of himself, which is good. And it saves me the job. And I still step in from time to time, so I guess he'll keep associating all those memories of dad and family and stuff. I hope so, anyway. I want my kids to look back on their collective childhood, and be able to pick out things that made them feel like a family: close, and together. Movies and popcorn and rare late nights have those associations for me - so why not?

All right. It's a green and gorgeous spring day outside. I have stuff to write, more stuff to read, and stuff to cook. I also have a bunch of potatoes to plant, and an evening of martial arts to plan and then carry out.

I'm outta here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What Day Is It?


Okay. The weekend was large-ish. Three extra kids, because the Double-Bangers weekended at Chez Flinthart. Their situation is complicated: mum and dad aren't really doing so well as a couple. Mum D-B works too damned hard, and her weekends are something of a nightmare, so the three kids were running short on a parent, what with Dad D-B being somewhere in NSW studying up on permaculture, or something. Anyway: Amazing Viking Neighbour Anna stepped in to make sure the D-B kids were okay on weekends... and Clan Flinthart provide the backup when Viking Neighbour Anna needs a break.

They're good kids, all three. Two boys, one girl: much like Clan Flinthart. However, when you get six kids under one roof on a rainy weekend, you have to expect things to run large.

Genghis and I started with the Saturday routine. He came to my sword class and watched, and then I took him to his double bass lesson. We picked up some stuff, had lunch, came home. And after that, it was a free-for-all. I'd planned to have a cook-out around the new(ish) fire pit, but the rain put the zap on that one big-time.

It didn't help that the DB middle child had a birthday on Monday. Remarkable Viking Neighbour Anna is fiercely protective of children of all varieties - so on Sunday, we had a proper birthday party. With cake, and presents, and vast chaos. Meanwhile, Natalie was packing: she's spending this week in Queensland, on the Medical Educator gig.

Which means, of course, that following the Weekend of Many Children, I am now doing Sole Parent Duty until Saturday. Or so.

Yesterday was Monday. That was the Day of the Wardrobes. It rained again, very heavily, and the temperatures plummeted. Somebody cancelled Spring, I think. I want my money back. Anyway, the guy put in a big built-in wardrobe in the Mau-Mau's room, and an even bigger one in the boy's room.

Oddly, it turns out that gigantic fucking mirrors for doors are actually cheaper than standard particle-board, or whatever they use. We spent the money for non-mirrored doors in the Mau-Mau's room... but the boys got mirrors. Big fuckin' mirrors. We're talking about 2.5m high, by nearly 2m wide.

Shit, that's a lot of mirror. I guess we wanted the wrestling matches in the boys' room to stop anyhow...

Today? Today was Cello Lesson day. Drive Jake into Launceston. Normally, we'd be doing Swedish, but apparently Natalie is trying to shift all musical lessons to Tuesday morning. Maybe we can do Swedish in the afternoon? I don't know. Pissed off, though. I'm enjoying learning Swedish, and I think a second language is easily as important as music.

Meanwhile, I've been catching up with bills, building a gate for one of the fenced vege garden beds, handling laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping, writing. I'm apparently supposed to put together some kind of paper/presentation related to my MA for sometime in November. That would be somewhere between a martial class for the school, preparation for the Xmas parade, the Ringarooma show, the work on the online programme for creative writing, the editing on two stories, visitors on a couple of weekends, a concert (for the boys) late in October, a trip to Melbourne to catch up with Prof Boylan, the work on the novel, and every other fucking thing.

Tomorrow... tomorrow I throw the kids on the bus. But I have to be down in Scottsdale by 1200, because somehow Jake managed to flake a chunk off one of his juvenile pre-molars on Sunday. How? Eating a fucking Cheezel. How the fuck do you flake a piece of tooth enamel on a Cheezel? He and the other two have only recently been past the dentist for a very clean bill of health. They have a good diet, and we drill dental hygiene into them. So... how the FUCK does he manage to flake a piece probably 5mm by 5mm off the outside vertical surface of a premolar?

This is what we will be trying to discover, of course. Is he lacking calcium? If so - how? He gets cheese, milk, and dark, leafy vegetables. Maybe not as much as I'd like of any of the three - but probably more than the vast majority of kids with non-flaking teeth out there. So... what the fuck?

You get the picture, though. If I have to be there by 1200 for his 1210 appointment at the hospital (where they have a nice dental clinic) then... let me see... probably not done until 1230. Which means that if I turned around and went home immediately, I might get back by, say, 1245. Unfortunately, I'll have to turn around and go back down the hill at 1430 so I can collect a gang of kids from the school, get some food into 'em, and then run the ju-jitsu classes from 1600 to 1830 or thereabouts.

At that point, I'll drive home. I'll have my two boys in the car, and probably two, maybe three of Viking Neighbour Anna's lads. I think I'll pick up some pizza, because I'm damned if I feel like trying to cook a meal after teaching two and a half hours of ju-jitsu.

Thursday... what's going on Thursday? Not sure. Must be something. Friday is orchestra. I know that. Oh... I have to get to the mechanic, apologise for the fact that Natalie completely forgot her appointment last week, and pay the bill for the tyres on the Mighty Earth King. Gotta fit that in somewhere. Ooh - better finish bracing the steps I built for the Movie Shed. They're not ready for use until they're braced. And shit - when was the last time I checked my university email? I haven't finished reading Spenser yet, let alone Ariosto and Milton. Fuck!

I totally fucking hate this time of year.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Head Down. Arse Up. Trying To Keep Up.

The pointy end of the year approaches. So much shit, so little time.

I took a morning off today. Necessary after the weekend. I took Genghis in on Saturday morning. His bass lesson was at 1015, and I went to sword training at 0900. I hope they keep the Saturday morning class. Genghis didn't mind hanging around the dojo... he even got the chance to learn a little, with a bokken, well out of the way from everything else. He thought that was pretty damned cool, and according to the sensei who was giving him tips, he learned fast, and well.

Sunday was more or less about music. The Mau-Mau and Jake both took part in a music competition under the aegis of the St Cecelia school, of which their teacher is a part. They did well - each got a second place and a 'highly commended' in their instrument class. The Mau-mau was tickled, and took her second place medal to school today. Jake tried not to let it show, but he was surprised and pleased as well. Good thing, really. He needed a bit of a boost with the music. His commitment has been flagging a bit.

Gardening: I put in tomatoes. The wallabies ate them, down to the soil. I looked around, and realised the gate wasn't fully closed. I closed the gate. I put in more tomatoes. The wallabies ate them down to the soil. Okay. So, the big enclosure is no longer wallaby-safe. So I banged in a bunch of star-pickets, and today I picked up 25m of heavy chickenwire. Now I'll enclose the raised garden beds, and put in a gate. Soon I can put in more tomatoes. In the meantime, the potted radishes are coming on, the rhubarb is picking up, the cabbage seedlings are going to need to be planted out soon, and the herb garden needs to be completely weeded. But I've given all the fruit trees a nice dose of blood and bone... and bugger, there's a lot of fruit trees these days.

Writing: behind on everything. Not stuck, just overrun. Gotta edit two short stories, finish the MS for ROR, put together a proposal to start an online extension class in English for the local high school, and work up the outline of my MA. Among other things. And of course, Jake and I are continuing to enjoy creating The Amazing Adventures of That Suave Guy. We just finished his first outing, and we're at work on the second.

Study: had a useful meeting a week or two back with my prof. We've reshaped the MA once again. Now I'm reading Spenser and Ariosto, and looking into some of the more interesting critical writing on modern fantasy.

Martial Arts: graded the junior blue belts last week. They did pretty well, all told. I need to see more focus from all of them, but little Genghis' commitment surprised hell out of me (and his grading partner!). Most interesting was the fact that where he didn't flat-out know certain techniques, he improvised... and his improv was generally on the money, utilising the principles of the art. He's only eight. He'll be nine in late December. If his interest continues, he's going to be a very effective, very dangerous person by the time he's fifteen. Meanwhile, I got halfway through grading all the wee ones and the newcomers: a bunch of youngsters at the yellow and orange level. Again, I'm pretty pleased with them so far, but it's a real handful putting them through this. On Wednesday, we have to do all the self-defense material, which will really try them (and me!) out. Also graded a couple of senior orange belts, both female. Very good work from both of them. No... correction. I didn't grade them. I made my senior student - a young brown belt - handle the grading, because he needs to be more confident with his communication and teaching. He did it well, and I'm happy with all three of them.

Music: teaching young Mister D the flute and Irish whistle. He's discovered Irish folk, and he's delighted. He even puts in enough practice that I can spot the improvements in his technique. I'm not qualified to put him through musical exams, but I play flute well enough to get him to a decent standard, such that if this town ever gets a flute instructor, he'll do well. In the meantime, it's nice to brush off my own technique. We're working on a duet (Danny Boy) for wooden flute and Irish whistle (I'll play the flute!) and I'm trying to arrange a duet score for the Barcarolle by Offenbach, to be played on cello (Jake) and flute (Mister D). I haven't done a lot of musical arranging, but there are enough clues available online that I think I can manage it.

Language: Swedish continues to be much easier, and more fun, than Spanish. Sure, the extra vowels can do your head in, and the umlauts are just all kinds of wrong... but the grammar and vocab and the syntax are so much easier that it's a doddle. We've found a satisfactory book full of readings and lessons, and we get down to Viking Neighbour Anna's place of a Tuesday morning to read all about the life and times of Erik Lindkvist, en ung Svensk student. At the moment, we suspect Erik may be gay. He lives in a flat in a fashionable part of the Old City, and he likes to throw parties and dance. Unfortunately, he only has about five friends, and they tend to bring just one gramophone record (!) between them... but Erik dances keenly anyway. The text says the neighbours are very forgiving. One would bloody hope so. Dancing to one single gramophone record would be extremely irritating after the ninth or tenth play-through.

House: spring cleaning. Among other things. We're getting some wardrobes put in, which should make keeping the kids' rooms tidy a little easier. Meanwhile, I've built some removable steps for the cinema shed, landscaped around the new firepit, made gates for various garden enclosures, and tomorrow I go up on the roof with (of all things!) a chimney brush. I didn't even know we had one until last week - found it under the top shed. It's warming up nicely, but there will probably be a few more nights where it would be nice to have a fire... and the chimney really isn't drawing all that well. Of course, it hasn't been swept since we got here, so this will probably be an epically filthy job. Oh goody.

Enough procrastination. I've got work to do.