Good Living, Good Eating

June 29, 2007 at 5:44 am (Uncategorized)

All this grim political stuff has really been getting me down this week, so I’m going to sign off this sunny and surprisingly warm Friday on a much lighter note. I think we could all do with some cheering up, and very few things cheer me up quite as much as talking about and eating FOOD.

For those of you who didn’t see it, Tuesday’s Good Living section of The Sydney Morning Herald dedicated the issue to looking at 25 years of Sydney dining. Of course, in many ways that quarter of a century dictated not only what Sydney was eating but also what was happening in the food revolution elsewhere in the country. I never stop being amazed and amused to find I can buy a latte these days even in a town with just a top pub, a bottom pub, a butcher and a BP to its name. Is that progress? Well, I don’t drink instant coffee, so yes, damn it, it is.

Anyway, I got so much joy out of Good Living‘s fad retrospective that i just have to share some of my favourites with you. Sydney is a fad town, no doubt about it, and GL compiled a really classic list of the big fad food items of the last 25 years. Man, when they got it right they were so on the money I found myself laughing out loud at the (many fond) memories. Get a load of this stuff. It’s almost as potent a memory trigger as 80s music (Life in a Northern Town, anyone?)….

Okay, where to start? They put raspberry vinegar down as the fad of 1982. That’s too early for me. It didn’t enter my consciousness for another 9 years, but then it dominated my homemade salad dressings throughout my undergraduate years. It was the not-so-secret ingredient par excellence, and I felt terribly gourmet having it in the cupboard. 1983 they have fruit as the garnish on main courses. Yeah, that rings a bell. Grandma and Granddad used to take us grandkids for dinner at the (original, pre-glitz) Bondi Icebergs and the Bondi Diggers club for dinner, and I distinctly recall orange segments lurking around the rim of my prawn cocktail. Classy.

1984 – sticky date pudding. Again, I’d have to say this fad enjoyed a revival in the early 90s when I started eating out in earnest. I wasn’t eating sticky date pudding when I was 12, but I was eating hazelnut yoghurt and lemon gelato, both of which I think qualify me for some kind of way-before-their-time award.

1985 – they say King Island double cream, I say see above. Some of this stuff either arrived and stayed or went away for 10 years and returned with a vengeance. What I do know is that in the early 90s, I was eating a lot of sticky date puddings with King Island double cream.

1986 – sundried tomatoes. There was a time when I was never, and I mean never without a jar of sundried tomatoes in the house. They were as essential as bog roll. But it didn’t happen until 1992 for me. In 1986 I had a perm and ate beef stroganoff.

1987 – Tiramisu. I was one of those lucky, lucky kids who was dragged around Sydney in the late 70s and early 80s by a parent at least as obsessed with real pizza then as I am today. She went on to become the world’s worst mother, but the pizza and tiramisu outings back before anyone knew the latter wasn’t a cocktail make up some of my best childhood memories. How do you think I was eating all that lemon gelato and cassata?

1988 – Pesto. You see the thread, don’t you? This is where the Sydney palate abandoned MSG-style Chinese en masse and embraced everything Italian. Happy days.

1989 – Goat’s cheese. Okay, I leave Sydney for two years in 1989 and move to an international college on Vancouver Island, Canada. Whilst Sydney was apparently being introduced to the many delights of goat’s cheese, I was being served institution food from a menu originally devised for a Californian nursing home. Celery featured frequently. But my Norwegian friend Elisabeth did, in 1989, introduce me to the Scandi version of goat’s cheese, which is hard and light brown and has an almost caramel edge. I still love it on dark rye toast. Yum.

1990 – Caesar salad. Oh my GOD – Sydney and the city of Victoria, BC, were on this Caesar jag at the SAME TIME!!! I ordered a Caesar practically every single time I ate out of the college, which, as you might have gathered from the above, was as often as I could afford. Oh the MEMORIES! And when I moved back to Australia in the middle of 1991, the Caesar salad was still a-go-go, so much so that 10 years later, returning from 2 years in London in 2001, I devised my ‘Caesar Salad Index’ to mark changes in Sydney’s rocketing food and beverage prices, post-Olympics and post-GST. This Caesar continued to rule.

1991 – Tall food. Yeah. Boring as bat shit, moving right along…

1992 – Cajun blackened everything. Yep, rings a bell; they started putting Cajun chicken in Caesar salad…Oh and I moved to Canberra during these next few years to attend the ANU, but it turned out to be a foodie mecca so let’s see how it kept up with Sydney…

1993 – Pizza with BBQ lamb and rocket. Shit yes. My absolute favourite cafe when I was at uni was called Caffe Della Piazza, and they were all over the BBQ lamb and rocket thing.

1994 – Coffin Bay Scallops. Really? Lucky bastards. I was at uni, so scallops remained well out of my budget until around 1996.

1995 – Chargrilled octopus. Caffe Della Piazza. My life, my trattoria, my meal, my time. My friends and I were so well-acquainted with this joint that it lovingly became known simply as Della. The rush of nosh nostalgia is almost enough to knock me right off my feet.

1996 – Aioli with everything. Yes, but now it’s back. Big time. Nobody in this town eats their fries with tomato sauce anymore. Now we have them with aioli. Oh, and at the end of 1996, I moved home to the big smoke.

1997 – Bruschetta. I think there’s a time lag here – bruschetta was on the menu at Caffe Della Piazza years before this. Maybe it was a slow year and they were grasping.

1998 – Harissa, chermoula, Middle Eastern everything. Cous Cous is what I remember. Cous cous everywhere, taking over the world. Which reminds me: how could they neglect to mention the FOCCACCIA insanity of the mid 90s? My God, I thought I’d scream if I was forced to eat another toasted foccaccia with something, something else, and sundried tomatoes…I still can’t eat it.

1999 – Mushroom risotto. That’s hilarious. I ate heaps of mushroom risotto in 1999, even though I wasn’t now living in Sydney. I even had it in Italy. And then on my North American trip on the way back to Australia from London in 2001, I was making it for everyone, everywhere I stayed. I lived on it.

2000 – Caramelised everything. London I don’t really recall having this fad at the same time, but I do remember caramelised onions dominating the scene upon my return.

2001 – Truffled olive oil. Right on the money. Just as I remember my first year home. Truffle oil spilling out all over the foodie highway to hell.

2002 – Seafood carpaccio. Yes, and wasn’t it great? Still one of the best things on any menu when the fish is fresh. If you dig raw fish, Zushi in Darlinghurst does THE most sublime tuna tataki. How do I love thee, Zushi? Let me count the ways.

2003 – Confit duck, then confit everything. Oh yeah, baby. I remember Bistro Balzac leading the way here. And that cute little restaurant tucked up the back of Bronte…what’s it called?? I think it’s named after something edible, like Aubergine, but I don’t think that’s right. [I looked it up. Not so edible after all: the restaurant is called Wet Paint and it’s on Macpherson St, Bronte. Lovely little neighbourhood joint. Funnily enough, its signature dish is Cajun-spiced chicken…another dish redux].

2004 – Affogato. That must have been a dud foodie year because affogato’s been around for aaaaaages.

2005 – Pork belly and scallops. When they’re right, they’re right.

2006 – Foam everything. That would explain those desperate McDonald’s and Harry’s Cafe de Wheels stops on the cab ride home from all those restaurants last year… Foam, my friends, does not feed.

2007 – Organic everything. Yeah, but does it taste better? My jury’s out.

Such a fond trip down calorie lane. Ah, food, glorious food. Hey, a massive omission has just struck me: where’s the reference to the Thai takeover of this country’s cuisine??? Okay, it wasn’t a fad, but gee, Good Living guys, Thai food changed everything about eating in Sydney and elsewhere in Australia. I also think it’s weird the humble sushi roll didn’t make the list. This entire city eats Sushi rolls for lunch now the same way we all used to eat Vegemite sandwiches in primary school, like it’s a given. Twenty years ago, that would have been unthinkable.

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Taking Myself Back to Basics.

June 28, 2007 at 2:32 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve been part of a group email exchange the past few days about Howard’s plan for the Indigenous people of the Northern Territory. I’m now feeling extremely glum, as well as extremely inadequate. There are many reasons for this, not least being the fact that there is a serious humanitarian crisis in this country, and scores of little children are being systematically sexually abused. I am sitting here literally choking up at the thought of it. But I haven’t done anything either, have I? As much as I loathe John Howard’s grossly belated, paternal and self-serving agenda, in the end I am really no better. I just have conversations and exchange emails with people with whom I generally already agree. Preaching to the converted, in other words, which is a rather ineffectual way, in the end, to harness opposition. We’re all just safely corralled off in our little pen of like-minded small ‘l’ liberals, and last time I checked almost everyone I know in Sydney (although not elsewhere) is lily white. What the hell do we really know about the indigenous condition? I can only speak for myself, but I can tell you in no uncertain terms: very little.

Have I been to the Northern Territory? No.
Do I have any Aboriginal friends? No.
Have I studied Aboriginal History? No.
Do I have a better than basic understanding of different mobs, their customs and beliefs? No.
Have I ever lived in an area with an established Indigenous community? No.

Would I like the answer to any and all of the above to be yes? Absolutely. I would. So I need to do something, something practical to address my own ignorance. I’m Australian, and I really want to start participating in everything that means. Perhaps, then, I must start at the very beginning, and start educating myself about the country’s original inhabitants. And then hopefully, in time, I’ll be able to develop a dialogue with their descendants, because – let’s be honest – right now, we don’t often speak.

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Howard’s Record Speaks Volumes

June 27, 2007 at 1:15 am (Uncategorized)

Further to my post last week (John Howard’s Breathtaking, Boundless Cynicism), I’d like to say thanks to Warwick for providing the following:

Some good background on Howard’s previous handling of indigenous affairs.

Also, for those who haven’t seen it already, the following link is the official summary of the Children are Sacred Report.

W.

Thanks, Warwick. As a point of interest, I’ve met members of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA), including its 2006 President, Dr Mark Wenitong, and I’ve interviewed this country’s first Indigenous surgeon, Dr Kelvin Kong. Yes, you read that right: our FIRST Indigenous surgeon. Kelvin, an inspirational person in general and a really terrific Indigenous mentor specifically, was just finishing his qualifications when I met him this time last year. So this country welcomed its first Indigenous surgeon in 2006. I think that fact speaks volumes, as does the additional fact that AIDA hasn’t even been consulted by the Howard Government…well, no surprises there. Ten years, John Howard. Ten years. The problems faced by the Indigenous population of Australia are problems every single Australian needs to acknowledge, understand, and address. This is a bipartisan issue, and Howard’s preparedness to make something like child abuse a political tool makes me sick to the very core of my being. It’s disgusting.

Thanks to Bronwyn, too, for passing on this opinion piece from the Crikey website:

Long-serving Sydney political journalist Alex Mitchell writes:

This is the last throw of the dice for John Howard. He is doing one big favour for the mining industry which he has faithfully served in public life for the past 30 years by rolling back Aboriginal ownership of their tribal lands. Cynically, cruelly but utterly predictably, he’s doing it under the hypocritical colours of humanitarianism. (Very similar to the invasion and occupation of Iraq sold as “spreading democracy”). In his four terms as PM, he has starved indigenous health, education and housing of funds, abolished ATSIC and pointedly marginalised the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio. This particular pre-election pitch is aimed at Lateline viewers, readers of The Age and The SMH and ABC stalwarts, the demographic that constitutes Australian (small “l”) liberalism. These are the feeble-brained, hand-wringers who are congenitally incapable of separating the wood from the trees. They are types currently heard sobbing: “I’m no fan of Mr Howard, but at least he’s DOING SOMETHING!” Yes, he is: he’s giving the mining giants the leg-up they need to start exploring, digging and quarrying in indigenous lands in the Northern Territory and then elsewhere. He is being aided and abetted by Kevin Rudd’s craven behaviour. Instead of falling into line with Howard’s agenda, he should have demanded complete details of the plan, the highest-level briefing, sought face-to-face meetings with Aboriginal leaders, state premiers, police and army officers and taken the lead in a national debate. Instead, he mouthed pieties such as “I’m taking Mr Howard at his word” and “I believe the Prime Minister when he says he is responding to a national crisis” etc etc. Has anyone realised that these are almost the same words used by Kim Beazley when he backed Howard during the Tampa scam? By his pusillanimous approach, Rudd has vacated leadership on the tragic issue of rescuing Aboriginal communities and given Howard the opportunity to play his sickening Father of the Nation role. Paul Keating, you were right about the Rudd team of fixers, hucksters, flyweights and spineless opportunists.

[Back to me now. This is clearly not a flattering portrait of Kevin Rudd, either, but it’s probably about right as far as his fairly impotent response to Howard’s latest goes. “Taking Mr Howard at his word” (which is MUD pretty much everywhere, isn’t it?) has been a very disappointing move on Rudd’s part for those of us hopeful of a change of government not just to get away from Howard but also to get away from what he stands for. Someone in the Labor party really needs to start showing some balls (see Keating, Paul).]

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Come Back, Keating!

June 27, 2007 at 12:51 am (Uncategorized)

As you know, I am hoping Kevin Rudd will be the next Prime Minister of Australia. I think he’ll be a good one. He’s an intelligent and decent human being, and I think he’ll work with incredible tenacity and spirit to make this country a better place for all who call it home. I really do believe that. But I think it’s such a shame we can’t have Paul Keating again. In many ways, I think Keating was just too far ahead of the general population at the time he came to power. We weren’t ready for his bravado, his insouciance. Perhaps he was too smart, too confident, and too cool when Australia was still feeling like a bit of an ugly duckling at the funky-smelling end of the pond. He’s such a renaissance man that it’s a genuine, crying shame we can’t cash in our Keating chips now and get him back on stage for another number.

Get a load of this, Keating’s smack-down, knockout, “We have a winner” rebuttal to Costello and Howard’s joint attempt (safety in numbers: all the better for Howard to hide) to discredit his comments on Lateline a fortnight ago. He’s just too good. What a legend. Very few politicians make me laugh and think so hard at the same time – how oh how can we get him back for an encore?

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Time Flies When You’re Having Fun…

June 26, 2007 at 6:49 am (Uncategorized)

I can’t believe it’s already a quarter past four. I’ve been working all day on the beginnings of a second MS and, yes, I am clearly some kind of deeply disturbed masochist. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you I’m at it again, especially with the first one lying dormant, unread and unpublished, over there by the window. I had a look at it yesterday, actually, which was awful, and I’ve decided the only way I can get over the encroaching horror is to start writing something else and forget all about the first one.

Actually, let’s be straight. I’m calling it the first one, but really it’s the second one. Since I’m telling the truth, you might as well know I tried drafting a novel when I was living in London a number of years ago. That manuscript too is unpublished and unread. It doesn’t even have the entirely dubious honour of being known as my first failed attempt anymore. I’ve stripped it of the title and pushed it into a hidden box at the top of a cupboard no one ever opens. Now I’m calling this second MS my first go, because it’s my first “real” go. Did I imagine that first effort? No, but I’d very much like to forget it.

I know it’s abysmal. Really, really dire. So I’m not counting it because it doesn’t really count. Neat logic, don’t you agree? I’m perfectly serious, too. I think in order for me to count it, I would have to believe it attained some kind of even wobbly standard (arbitrary and self-monitored, true, but still), whereas I’m in no doubt whatsoever about its complete and utter lack of merit. The only thing overwhelmingly in its and my favour is that I didn’t subject a great many people to the chore of reading it.

Now the second MS draft is done, I really do think of it as my first try. It’s not strictly speaking true, as I’ve just said, but on another level it’s absolutely right. And what does it matter? First, second, sixth, tenth – I could keep going for the next twenty years like this. If I keep producing manuscripts and they keep getting precisely nowhere, then it seems to me the order in which they come is something of an irrelevancy.

But the past two days have flashed by, they really have, and I’d like to think it’s because of No. 2 (a.k.a No. 3, but not really) giving me so much in the way of hard and satisfying graft that I just can’t keep track of the hours ticking by. Is that the time? Amazing. Yesterday I wrote 5,000 new words. Today, nearly 3,000 so far. And yes, don’t I know it, perhaps it’s all just so much wet, loose crap, but I’m only ever going to get better if I keep trying to firm up these bothersome and unpleasant stools, aren’t I? A bit more fibre in the diet, so to speak, and maybe one day Bob really will be your uncle.

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I admit it. I can’t help wonder what’s in it for me.

June 25, 2007 at 6:50 am (Uncategorized)

Llew has this (I think very astute) theory that no gift comes unencumbered. That even if the only thing the gift-giver desires in return is the well-being that comes of giving a well-received gift, they are still looking for something back. A thank you. A display of affection. A note, a card, a gift of their own, whatever. And the more I think about it, the more I agree with him.

I currently have one very one-sided relationship in my life. I’d prefer not to tell you with whom I have this relationship, but suffice it to say I don’t get a lot out of it. In fact, I’m not sure I get anything out of it except constant guilt trips and unbroken streams of reproach. I can’t bear it. When I spoke to this person this morning, and copped the usual wounded tone, I honestly wanted to hurl my phone straight into the Pacific. Oh yes, and I wanted to scream “FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARK” down the line first. I could feel myself clenching my fists – my entire body tensed. All I wanted to do was be rid of that voice on the other end of the phone.

I’ve been stewing over the call all day. For a start, this person has a very limited pool of conversation on which to draw. I hear the same thing over and over again every time we speak, and believe me when I say I wasn’t on the edge of my seat the first time. Then, for another thing, this person does not give a D-A-M-N about anything that’s happening in my life. Not one damn. I say anything about my life – anything (and that includes things like “I submitted my PhD thesis,” “I have typhoid,” “We bought a flat,” “We’re getting married,” and any other significant life event you can think of) – and this person responds by resolutely ignoring what I have said. Here’s an example:

“My thesis has been passed. I’m being awarded a doctorate.”
“I bought a new brooch the other day. The man in the shop said it’s always lovely to see me.”

I wish I were kidding/exaggerating/wholly inventing, but I’m not. Sometimes, because I am such a perverse wretch, I actually throw little tests out there to see how far it will go. I haven’t reached the limit yet. And these aren’t conversations – how could they be? I engage with what this person is saying even though I have heard it a hundred times before, and in return anything I say – unless it flatters or relates to her – is almost always completely ignored.

Why do I keep bothering? I am asking myself that very question. I suppose there’s a sense of obligation there, be it self-imposed and/or societal. I feel obligated to keep up this farce of a relationship (if you asked this person whose work I spent 4.5 years analysing, they would not be able to tell you). There is a sense of doing one’s duty that I find very hard to discard. And I tell myself, too, that in such cases it’s just the right thing to do. It’s beyond give and take. It’s an ethical thing, a conscience vote. And it’s true that guilt eats away at me whenever this person comes to mind because I feel that on some level I should be doing more. When I look at the history of the relationship, when I lay it all out rationally and I start to reflect upon the nature of it, I stop feeling so guilty and, in fact, start to feel quite indignant and resentful that I ever felt guilty at all. And the reason I feel indignant and resentful is that it’s just unfair.

And here comes the bit that’s hard to say: I wonder on days like today what’s in it for me. I was so angry when I got off the phone, and I’m still so tense I just don’t want to speak to, let alone see, this person ever again. I know that’s the opposite of the effect they were going for. The efforts of today’s wounded voice were directed toward my being utterly guilt-tripped into rushing my whole life onto a back-burner so that I might better avail myself to the on-going task of ensuring this person’s greater comfort and amusement. To that end, I would say the plan backfired quite spectacularly.

I think Llew’s right. I don’t think any gift is entirely unencumbered. Not even love comes free. Even if the only thing you want is love in return, you still want that, don’t you? I would be able to tolerate this situation much better if I were able to believe this person actually loves me. But I don’t believe that. I don’t believe they know me at all. So it makes it hard to keep up the charade of a conventional relationship. It wears me down. I honestly think that all this person really wants is to keep me in their service until they die. And I’m not doing it. For a start, I am not the help. For another thing, the help at least gets paid. I can’t get this person to express one single word of interest in my life, so yes, I admit it. I’d want at least that in return.

No gift is unencumbered, says Llew, and I agree. The kind of servitude that’s being sought by this person strikes me as a gift of very significant proportions indeed, and it’s not a gift I am of a mind to give. Judge me by all means – I too can see I am no saint – but even charity tends to make its bearer feel pretty damn good, and this relationship just keeps making me feel lousy.

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John Howard’s Breathtaking, Boundless Cynicism

June 22, 2007 at 3:04 am (Uncategorized)

Here’s a quote from the final two paragraphs of the Sydney Morning Herald‘s online article about John Howard’s proposed radical changes to managing Indigenous affairs in the Northern Territory:

‘A leading academic on indigenous policy, Jon Altman, the director of the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at the Australian National University, said the Federal Government had failed to deal with underlying problems in Aboriginal communities, such as unemployment.

“Rather than addressing those underlying issues, and they are complex and will take years to address, we are seeing a knee-jerk reaction and blame-shifting onto the Northern Territory Government,” Professor Altman said.’

Now, have a look at the whole article.

Of course John Howard’s belated interest in the welfare of this country’s Indigenous population is knee-jerk and blame-shifting: it’s an election year!

COME OFF IT, Johnny. Now you care? Please.

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Going Cold Turkey

June 22, 2007 at 2:25 am (Uncategorized)

In January, as a kind of resolution, I started weaning myself off certain reading material. I stopped buying celebrity weeklies. Actually, I’d only ever bought one weekly (in addition to a monthly), but I bought it regularly for a looong time, more than a decade, and I even freelanced for this same publication for a fifteen week stretch this time last year. I was, and had been for a long time, hooked. Reading it was my version of blobbing in front of the TV and tuning out. Because we don’t have a TV, reading this magazine was my way of doing something pleasurably mindless. I liked reading all the latest celeb goss (and, unlike all the other ones, which I could never bring myself to buy, the mag in question never, ever makes stuff up. I can vouch for that – I know from working there that they just don’t do it), and I enjoyed looking at the photos of stars on the red carpet. It was great for a short flight, great for a hangover, and great for a night at home alone with a box of BBQ Shapes.

Somewhere along the line, the magazine changed, and so did I. The world has changed, the culture has changed, the times have changed, so the fact that my magazine and I have grown apart shouldn’t come as any great surprise. But having been so loyal for so long, it wasn’t easy breaking the habit. Up until a few months ago, I’d cut back drastically, and was only buying special issues or on weeks when a certain cover seduced me in the supermarket queue. A profound hangover was also a good primer for sneaking a copy back into the house under cover of darkness. I was making real progress – down from one a week to one every month or 6 weeks. And then the last time I bought it, it was because I noticed a redesign of the cover. I don’t know if I noticed this because I used to work there or because I’ve been reading the mag for so long, but I thought the new look was an improvement on what they’d been doing – which was chase after the look of a bigger-selling but much tackier rag – and so I bought one.

It just didn’t satisfy in the way it used to. It is like having a cigarette for the first time in months – suddenly it leaves such a bad taste in your mouth that you just want to puke. And that’s kind of how reading my long-beloved mag made me feel. A little sick. I feel bad about this for all sorts of reasons, not the least being my incredibly fond memories of working there, and the respect I have for the friends and colleagues who continue to put that mag out each week. But then I realised that this change of heart wasn’t about them. It wasn’t even about the magazine. It was about me.

I think I’ve just glutted myself on this whole celebrity obsessed culture for too long. It’s all a bit grotesque and warped to me now, and I don’t think I can stomach it anymore. I have been buying into it for years; I’m definitely not saying this at any kind of remove from the addiction itself nor its seductive powers. I thought flicking a magazine’s pages and checking out who was going out with whom was all perfectly innocent and harmless, but now I don’t really think it is. Now I think it’s all a bit peculiar. I think it’s fetishistic. I think it’s part of a bigger problem in my culture in general, which is increasingly OBSESSED with surface and less and less inclined to even bother with substance. Not only that, but there’s a whole world of image creation and management going on behind all the gloss on the page, and it’s a little unsettling, a little unseemly, once you start to reflect on how filtered and sycophantic and manipulative and profit-mad that world really is.

So after I recycled that last issue, I decided to go cold turkey. And I know that I’ve come a long way, because they published one of their annual special issues last week, the kind of issue I’ve always just had to buy, and I didn’t even pick it up whilst I was standing in line. I just don’t think I have the time to spare on that kind of thing anymore. The worst of the withdrawal has passed, and it gets easier every day to pay no attention whatsoever to who’s doing what with whom. It occurs to me that I really, finally, couldn’t care less.

And if you’re suffering from a similar addiction, help is at hand. If you’re looking for the means to address your own malaise, have a look at this SLATE article.

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Taking My Mind for a Brisk Walk Around the Park…

June 21, 2007 at 7:48 am (Uncategorized)

Today’s one of those days when I find it difficult to concentrate on any one task or thought for too long. I made scones this morning for some friends who dropped in for an early morning tea, and I think the simplicity of that little burst in the kitchen is a good indication of what I’m up for this Thursday. My too-hard basket is brimming over today with all the things I just can’t tick off my list of things to do.

So I thought I’d tell you some of the random things that have been going through my mind. One is that I’m still really, really jealous of Amanda Vanstone’s new and cushy gig as our Ambassador to Italy. She’s currently learning Italian in a quaint village in the Tuscan countryside (would that I were, Mandy Vans, would that I were…).

Another is that I simply can’t believe people in Lahore burnt the Union Jack and effigies of Queen Lizzy and poor old Salman Rushdie because he was offered a knighthood in recognition of his contribution to English Literature. Apparently some Pakistani government minister suggested that Rushdie’s receipt of this honour justifies suicide bombings…Que? How’s that again? Sorry, what?

And then there’s the Texan crowd who beat a man to death…He wasn’t even driving the car that hit the child, he was with the guy who hit the child. Driver drives off (“Thanks, buddy: you stay here and create a diversion whilst I make my getaway…”), child goes to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and crowd beats driver’s friend to death. Again, I can only say what? It’s crazy stuff, this whole news thing. I’m not sure I want to know.

Oh yeah, and I love a wedding, so it was very nice of the SMH website to provide some paparazzi shots of Erica Baxter and James Packer’s wedding in Antibes, France today. Go ahead, helicopter, get right in close…Invade their privacy and drown out their vows, if you will, because I want to get a load of what the bride’s wearing and what $100,000 will buy in a dress…Oh and look, there’s Sarah and Lachlan Murdoch lounging pool-side the day before the wedding…My, don’t they look lovely and tanned and relaxed and…loaded. What was that saying again…? Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it upscales misery so nicely. And then there’s Dorothy Parker’s quote, which goes something like “I’ve never tried being a millionaire, but I bet I’d be just darling at it.” Me too, Dottie, me too.

Then there’s the question of how I go about procuring more freelance work. I’m also wondering whether or not it’s time to throw in the creative towel and get a full-time paying job like the rest of the world. Then I wonder how my MS is going out there in the big wide world of that big bad competition, and I wonder about how my dream agency is going over there on the other side of town, and I wonder if that publication will reject my short story tomorrow or next week or maybe the week after… And then I’m wondering how much time I’ve got left, how much blissful ignorance I’ve got in reserve, before those damned inevitable rejections start littering my mailbox and ravaging my morale. I wonder how many there will be, and I wonder how many I can handle. And I’m thinking about the new idea I had on the weekend. I’m thinking about the start I made on it yesterday. I’m wondering about the details, and the structure, and I’m trying to get it all a little clearer in my mind.

Then I’m wondering how everybody else is doing today. People I haven’t seen in a while. People I never hear from unless I contact them first. People I do see and do hear from – on days like today, I think about practically everybody. It’s a big reunion in my head.

It’s been one of those days where I’ve had to let my mind bound on ahead – sometimes it’s just no use trying to yank it back hard on that leash. Sometimes I’m better off letting it go for a big mad galloping run until it wears itself out.

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Thinking About Our Duty of Care

June 20, 2007 at 4:29 am (Uncategorized)

When I was an undergraduate in the early 1990s, I remember reading something about America’s ‘Good Samaritan’ law. From memory, the law was introduced in response to a woman’s cries for help going unheeded. Nobody came to her rescue. Nobody tried to intervene. Neighbours ignored her screams.

It’s a horrible thought. The idea of being a victim of violent crime, of a potentially fatal violent crime, is bad enough. The idea of being within hearing distance of other members of the community whilst the crime is being committed, and having that community come over all deaf, dumb and blind, is really a good deal worse. I remember when I was little, I was taught never to yell “HELP!” because people were less likely to get involved in anything perceived to be a personal dispute. I was taught to yell “FIRE!” because people might be more inclined to listen if they thought they or their property were also under threat. As crazy as it might seem now, it’s one of those lessons from childhood I have never forgotten, like looking both ways before crossing the road. It was drummed into me that often, and I think if push ever came to shove, and boy I hope it never does, I’d probably still, to this day, yell “FIRE!”

But can we really legislate and then police a law that says people, perfect strangers and law-abiding citizens minding their own affair, have to get involved? I just don’t know. I’ve always had mixed feelings about this area of ethics. I think it’s a really tough call. I would certainly call the police if I heard something scary. I would like to think I would do something quickly and to the best of my ability to help anyone in trouble. I would like to think I would get help (I don’t carry a weapon of any kind, and I have pretty limited upper-body strength, so I don’t think I’d be much help physically trying to break up a fight) in those situations where I was not equipped to directly provide that assistance myself.

Brendan Keilar, 43, a married father of three, was on his way to work in Melbourne Monday morning when he happened across a man and a woman engaged in some kind of aggressive dispute. Mr Keilar, a solicitor, tried to intervene in order to help the woman, a perfect stranger, and the other man shot him dead. Another passerby, a 25 year old male Dutch tourist, was also shot whilst trying to help, as was the woman herself.

What should they have done? What should they have done? Mr Keilar did a brave and honorable thing. I’m sure his family is rightly very proud of him. He came to a woman’s aid without a thought for his personal safety. In that split second, he made a decision that it was the right thing to do. It’s grossly unfair that it cost him his life, but unfortunately it doesn’t change the awful fact that it did. Had he kept walking…but he didn’t. He stopped to help.

I always get frightened when Llew and I are out and someone starts abusing us as we walk by. I get frightened because I don’t know that person, and I don’t know whether or not they’re armed, or whether or not they’re dangerous, or whether or not they’re in full possession of their faculties. I find it really scary. But I also find Llew’s reaction scary. I can practically FEEL the adrenaline surge through his shirt. I can feel his inability to do as I do, which is meekly cower and drop my gaze in the hope of being allowed to safely pass. Llew, meanwhile, seems to grow in stature by my side, swelling with an instinctive readiness to defend us both if necessary. You would think this would all make me feel safe and secure. It doesn’t. It makes me afraid. I’m always afraid he will stop and say something to the wrong person. And I’m always afraid he might do it when I’m not there to pull him away by the arm, saying “Just ignore him, let’s keep walking, come on, just ignore him” all the while.

We do have a duty of care to our fellow citizens. I do believe that. But how far does that duty go? Would Mr Keilar have fulfilled his duty of care to that woman on Monday if he had used his mobile phone to call the police instead of entering the argument himself? I think so. I do think so. After all, we also all have a duty of care to our families and loved ones. But I’ve seen men react in similar situations, and I think it is a lot less natural for them to hang back than it is for them to get in there and try to break it up. And it’s a split second thing. Nobody knows how they will react in that kind of situation until is thrust upon them. I think it’s utterly terrible that Mr Keilar died, it’s a lousy, very depressing result for a good deed, and I guess all I’m really saying is be careful, and be careful even or especially when you’re being good.

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