Sunday, September 27, 2009

Supper in the souk

This entire week has been consumed by Project Dinner Party. The Chair-folk were going to hold a dinner party at a friend's house and do all the cooking. Juanique, exuberant South African and ex-neighbour, has an apartment in the lovely Ardoch complex. Ardoch includes a lovely 1850s Italianate villa, Dulquhurn, that was converted to flats in the 1920s. Other apartments and bungalows grew up around it in the Arts and Crafts style. In keeping with the Garden Suburb movement of the time the complex is built around a pretty central green. It has a pool. And a gym. As you may guess, I think quite a bit of Ardoch. In fact, we would like to live there. So it was kinda fun to play house in Juanique's apartment, where we were joined by English Sal and her new beau.

I want to live here.

Cooking in someone else's kitchen is a bit of a challenge and when someone says to you 'Oh I don't really have anything kitcheny' it is a good idea to take this sort of statement at face value. Don't go thinking they just mean that they don't have anything fancy or else you will rock up on the evening with a tight cooking schedule in front of you and find that your friend DOESN'T HAVE ANY SAUCEPANS. Or a chopping board. Or dishwashing liquid. Or a stove that has a decent flame and doesn't take 35 minutes to boil a kettle. Still it was quite an adventure and as I spent most of the evening cooking with a glass of champagne in my hand it was rather enjoyable. The bulk of the work fell to Mr C who struggled manfully on and, quite frankly, cooked up a storm.

The menu? To start with: beetroot and feta dip, tzatziki and broad bean dip, served with warm garlicky Turkish bread and a chickpea and silverbeet stew. On to the main: lamb shank and prune tagine with saffron and ginger served with almond and raisin cous cous. Desert = disaster because I tried to get all fancy with a Turkish delight ice cream that wasn't all I hoped it to be (thanks for being so calm during my emergency how-do-I-do-this phone call Lil! and no thanks to you Mr Greg Malouf for your rather terse recipe. Really, it was like haiku. I need a little more than three sentences). Still, it was a lovely candy floss pink and I counted on the goodwill of the guests and figured after all the other yummy food they'd over look a few lumpy bits in desert. Mr C had made a backup plan so the ice cream was served with nutty toasted sesame biscuits, strawberries and Turkish delight, all piled high on a cake stand.

I was very pleased with the evening - food all super yum and the company warm and chatty. The only problem with not cooking in your own home - NO LEFT OVERS!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A cautionary tale

I was on the phone to my mum last night (she's just back from Broome). I was also playing with a new hair styling tool: a very unfamiliar and very hot marcel iron. In the future, I would probably not attempt to do these two things at the same time. A girl can not talk about mud crabs and set her hair in waves. Ladies! If you choose to go down this path you are likely to burn!
Do not do as I have done! Your forehead will be burnt to a crisp! The marcel iron, you see, has three barrels. This leads to a very stylish art deco zig zag of a burn. I look like Harry Potter. Or Hester Pryne. I had to wear my hair down today, artfully arranging a sweep of locks across my forehead. Which meant that I had absolutely no peripheral vision. And my second - mud crab conversation free - attempt at waving my hair left it looking no different than my own exuberant curls. It just smelled a bit singed. Oy vey!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I was the first person at work yesterday so had the joy of putting on some Tommy Dorsey and shimmying round the library in the dark. Got so jazzed I decided to go back to dance classes with the fabulous Swing Patrol. During the day my enthusiasm ebbed a little and I started to fret that I'd forgotten how to dance, that my hair would look funny (or worse - fall down!) or my hands would go all sweaty and I'd be the partner the leads would long to avoid. Mr Chairman got all stern and shooed me out of the house so I got to class with just enough time to spare for a fresh round of fretting. Was feeling a bit lonesome because I didn't see anyone that I knew, even the teachers were unfamiliar. Once the music started all was perfectly swell. We did a forties Charleston, which I don't love as much as the early crazy style but things are getting all bouncy and big and loose and it's a great deal of fun. Now, I'm not the fanciest dancer out there but I do think I can be trusted to put one foot in front of the other, which was more than some of the dear fellows could do last night. Truth be told I found the class a little simple: we didn't learn many steps and there was a great deal of phaffing around that may have been awesome fun for the twenty-something class but left this old hoofer getting a bit impatient. And of course, when I start getting impatient I'm apt to get all hoity toity I-know-what-I'm-doing-don't-mess-me-around: which is pure balderdash! For one glorious moment I thought I might attain the heady heights of joining a level 2 class instead! Oh glory! But I realise that this is just a wee bit ambitious. Nothing for it but to do the long slog through Charleston through to the six beat Lindy Hop and dream of the day I make it to eight beat Lindy heaven. I used to be in awe of those bold class mates who'd adventurously plonk themselves into the higher level classes. I guess I'm waiting for the day someone will tap me on the shoulder and say 'Move along sister, it's level 2 for you!'

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Surprise presents

Birthday joy continues with a tea party at my dear friends Donna and Ray's in Footscray. Egg ribbon sandwiches (no crusts!), little savoury tarts and, glory of glories, saveloys! Pretty china, endless cups of tea and a fabulous chocolate birthday cake. AND a surprise present! Donna's mother in law, Margaret, is a wonderful seamstress and came upon an old pattern for a forties tea dress that she thought I might like. So began a global conspiracy to make me a frock. My measurements were casually obtained, fabric bought (in my favourite colour, green) and seams stitched. The result? A beautiful green floral tea dress that fits me perfectly. I feel like a complete girly girl in it - like a six year old in a party frock. So thank you Margaret, thank you Donna and Ray and thank you sneaky Mr Chairman. I LOVE IT.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What will happen? When will Germany strike? WHO KNOWS?

My little foray into the history of the thriller novel has run into a hitch: a hitch called Mr William le Queux. When researching early thrillers le Queux's name featured large. Naturally, I added him to my list. Nobody actually mentioned quite how dreadful he was - and he is insanely, awe-inspiringly awful. Quite how gloriously awful is captured in this parody of his style:

'Tell us the whole facts, Ray,' urged Vera Vallance, the pretty fair-haired daughter of Admiral Sir Charles Vallance, to whom he was engaged.

'Well dear, they are briefly as follows,' he replied, with an affectionate glance at her... 'Last Tuesday a man with his moustache brushed up the wrong way alighted at Basingstoke station and inquired for the refreshment-room. This leads me to believe that a dastardly attempt is about to be made to wrest the supremacy of the air from our grasp.'

'And even in the face of this the Government denies the activity of German spies in England!' I exclaimed bitterly.

'Jacox,' said my old friend, 'as a patriot it is none the less my duty to expose these miscreants. Tomorrow we go to Basingstoke.'

Le Queux's work was usually serialised and he had such trouble remembering his characters names he had to give them outrageously alliterative labels. In the Spies of the Kaiser we follow the adventures of Vera Vallance (the pretty fair-haired daughter of the Admiral), the hero Ray Raymond and staid sidekick John James Jacox, as well as German masterspy Hermann Hartmann and the spiritual Reverend Richard Raven. Not that this helped le Queux remember their names: halfway through the Spies of the Kaiser le Queux seems to have forgotten the name of his hero and the meek and mild John James Jacox becomes a thrilling man of action for two chapters before reverting back to his role as dense sidekick. The parody above (written by A.A. Milne of all people) is hideously accurate. Imagine a book in which such a scene occurs at least once every three pages and you are well on the way to conceiving exactly how dreadful an experience it is to plow through the Spies of the Kaiser.

Wikipedia describes le Queux's novels as fantasies and that's pretty accurate - le Queux comes across as a paranoid conspiracy theorist, convinced that English society was thoroughly infiltrated by a 'vast army' of German spies. In some ways this reflected the temper of the times. Le Queux was writing in the years following the Boer War, when it took a British army of 450 000 to quell a rebellion of 40 000 Dutch farmers. The future of the British Empire was at stake and the citizenry was not looking up to the challenge: in some poor areas nearly two thirds of the young men who tried to enlist were rejected as being unfit for service. With the signing of the 1904 Entente Cordial, France was no longer an enemy and people were looking suspiciously towards Germany. Le Queux always insisted that his novels had been based on real people and actual events and he does seem to fervently believed his own nonsense - at one stage calling for police protection as German spies were sure to target him for 'rumbling their schemes'.

These fantasies however, did have curious outcomes. The pre-publicity for Spies of the Kaiser insisted that the novel contained more truth than fiction, it promised startling revelations of the extent of German infiltration and booksellers were assured that the book was based on serious facts. Publication was preceded by a campaign headline: FOREIGN SPIES IN BRITAIN 10 Pounds given for information. Have you seen a spy? The result seems to have been an avalanche of nonsense but nonsense on a scale that supported the call by MO5 head Lt.-Col. James Edmonds for a national enquiry into German espionage. Naturally, le Queux was one of his informants. As is noted by Nicholas Hiley in the introduction to Spies of the Kaiser, 'Edmonds was compiling an index of public nervousness, not a record of German espionage'. The very lack of real evidence was taken as proof of just how cunning and all pervasive the German spy network was. In 1909, in a climate of hysteria, the British Government accepted the plan for the creation of the Secret Service Bureau to 'ascertain the nature and scope of the espionage being carried on by foreign agents'. This organisation was to become MI5. Modern histories of the organisation are pretty clear about le Queux being one of the chief contributors to the prevailing atmosphere of paranoia.

So, to quote Hiley's introduction again, 'poorly imagined and badly written' but bizarrely influential.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Happy birthday to me!

Hip hooray for me and my birthday yesterday!

In accordance with the Pyjama Rule I took the day off work and lounged around with the cats, a box of chocolates and Betty Grable. Had such a swell time! Headed out for a cup of tea then back home to watch a documentary about entertaining the troops in the 40s. Later in the evening my young man took me out to dinner at my favourite restaurant (Kamel in Albert Park). I ate far far too much and was very very happy. Thank you to everyone for their birthday wishes. At work, the cake celebrations continue...

Monday, September 7, 2009

How to make a million

Last Sunday I was invited to help neighbour Fleur with a stall at the Camberwell markets. I happened to have a bag full of clothes that I no longer wear so it was all looking good: have a bit of fun with a friend, get rid of some stuff I had in storage and, hopefully, make a bit o cash. Mr Chairman made me some spiffy swing tags and I labelled all my stuff, feeling awfully daring for asking $15 for wool skirts made by some pretty fancy local designers. With the car packed to the roof, a thermos of tea and the stunned appreciation that I had managed to get ready by 5.30am we set off. I always find it exciting driving the empty pre-dawn streets and I was looking forward to the day ahead. The thing was it had been some ten years since I last visited the market and well, things ain't what they used to be...

I remember when the Camberwell markets were the place to go for a uni student who wanted to pick up some cheap interesting clothing. These were the people who would recognise the quality of my stuff! They'd know just what an ASTOUNDING bargain they were getting and could live a happy and stylish life thanks to me. And I'd make enough money to finally buy myself some new clothes. Everybody wins! But the way the day panned out, there wasn't too much happiness and joy for anybody.

You see, the secret to making your fortune at the Camberwell market is to find the crappest item you have in your house - and I'm talking half tube of frosted pink lipstick type crap - and sell it to an Asian housewife for $2. And you better not even think of asking $3 because you will not survive the howls of abuse heaped upon you. That unused set of Sheridan cotton sheets, complete with doona cover - how dare you ask $30! Really, the amount of bitching and moaning that went on, I was happy to sell them for $25 to a nice quiet lady who seemed really pleased to have snaffled a bargain because I never wanted to talk about them ever again. Fleur made an absolute killing with her extensive collection of half finished frosted lipsticks, used false eyelashes and stained pillow cases. And no one even looked at my lovely things except to hassle me into selling them for $1 and shrieking at me when I said no. In all, it was a very very trying day and then the tea in the thermos was tainted by the distinct whiff of licorice left over from stomach settling tisane it had last housed. Grim. Very grim. There was also the little matter of Fleur not being able to put the car in reverse and we were really parked awfully close to a plane tree and if a lovely little man hadn't come to our rescue I think I may well have died at the Camberwell market (though I did worry he would drive off in our car and I'm not sure how I would have explained that to Mr C.)

This woman wants your soul... for 50 cents

Instead of a well deserved nervous breakdown Mr Chairman and I then choofed off to the city for a baby shower (though I never know if the shower is a pre or a post baby thingie - anyway, this one featured a two week old child). One of Mr C's best friends, truly the ugliest man I have ever seen and a good example of why the Jewish people should consider putting an end to inbreeding, somehow this man has snaffled an absolute stunner of a partner and their little girl Gala is one of the prettiest babies I have ever seen thank god. We got fed extremely well at a Korean restaurant down Southbank. One thing I noticed, the largely Jewish crowd were not shy about loading up their plates with goodies - no demure denials here - I felt quite at home . There were lots of short little men, thick East European accents, shoulder shrugging and the odd 'what's not to like?' and 'whatchou gonna do?'

We got home, I had a bath and a cry and decided that ebay is my new best friend.