Mellow Yellow

Lately we are constantly being warned that we will die if we sit too long at our desks. Fifteen minutes is tops otherwise our organs will all collapse and our cholesterol will overtake the national debt. We are advised to set a kitchen timer and leap up the moment it goes off. I don’t have a kitchen timer and who remembers to check until the kitchen is on fire.

But when I do remember I force myself to get up and take a walk outside.

Whacking pecans off the tree is a good break with the added reward of one of the world’s best nuts, soft enough to crack open with your teeth. I stand in the orchard and swipe at the tree with a branch that’s fallen off a next door Jackfruit tree.

Jackfruit are really disgusting – great swollen things that hang there like Shrek’s testicles. They are the largest tree-borne fruit in the world, grow on the trunks as well as branches and can reach one hundred pounds. Although they are being touted as a new miracle food they stink of rot. No one around here eats them so they drop and decay on the ground turning black and even more attractive.   

JJackfruit or Jack Tree (Artocarpus heterophyllus), fruit growing on the tree, India

Waving at them from across the lawn are the beautiful yellow bananas – great bunches of them hanging there shaded by enormous leaves which are terrific for baking fish in. We ate them by the ton despite those really annoying warnings that keep appearing on screen screaming that you must NEVER eat one -.or you will forever remain a fat pig.

Right now after a whole summer of profusion we are all a bit sick of the bounteous banana. At the height of the season people were hanging them from the rafters and storing them in the bath tub.

I was offered a plastic carrier bag in a fruit and vegetable store recently. Not very exciting by most folk’s standards – but up here quite a rare event. There is a major campaign underway to eliminate the evil plastic bag totally from the world. Given that the amount of plastic being washed up and choking wildlife it’s perfectly understandable that we need to be mindful.

But some people panic at the thought of no bag at the cash out.

“Do you seriously expect me to carry my undies out of the store not in a bag???” asked one girl on an internet forum raging against Target’s bag-free policy (since rescinded) 

corset girl

And some people get really carried away.

“You’ve got to be real careful who you offer a bag to,” the girl on the checkout told me. “A guy came in here last week. When I offered him one he thrust a banana in my face and started yelling ‘See this banana! It doesn’t need a bag. It’s got its own packaging! It’s called a SKIN!’ I thought he was going to attack me with it.”

Even in these tranquil climes where it’s all pretty mellow and cruisey there is road rage – an infuriated driver recently attacked someone with a spear-gun. There is even surf-rage. This evidently erupts when someone has the bad taste to drop in on another surfer’s wave – the ultimate surfing crime and something the Beach Boys never sang about. 

I doubt if anyone has ever been killed by a banana but banana rage is getting serious. Clearly her assailant had been sitting at his desk for far too long and needed to get outside and take it out on a pecan tree. Or a Jackfruit. At last we may have found a use for the big stinky scrotum blighting the landscape.      

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Dancing with Koalas

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When I moved back to Australia from the USA some years ago I brought my two dogs. This involved fulfilling a list of requirements that made the departure of the First Fleet and its convicts seem like the launch of rubber duckie in the bathtub.

Among the three thousand rules I had to follow was the purchase of two crates for the actual flight from Dallas to Sydney. They had to be large enough for the animal to be able to comfortably turn around during the voyage if the urge took him.

As one was a rather long Basset Hound and the other a not-tiny Springer Spaniel I forked out a whopping sum for two extra large cages. With the help of a company who transports pets around the world the whole thing went off beautifully smoothly and the boys looked well rested on arrival – although the Basset’s loud booming made the luggage arrivals guys jump.

But still, I had no great desire to repeat the experience. Too much bloody red tape.So I was left in possession of two very fine metal crates.

Some time later a local macadamia nut farmer asked if his daughter could have them for her koala rescue group. These tireless saints trek throughout the Northern Rivers rescuing orphaned, injured and other luckless koala bears. Eventually, if they survive, they are released back into the wild. hence the need for the cages.

The orphans are taken to the homes of foster carers who pop them into cozy blanket-lined baskets with a teddy bear for a mum substitute. They are often in the same nursery – aka the kitchen – alongside other orphaned joeys – little kangaroos who are housed in home-made pouches hanging off the back of chairs. Injured baby flying foxes in their own little beds with a dummy to suck on sometimes complete the menagerie. It is tireless, heart rending work for the carers.

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When the baby koalas are old enough they sometimes head off to a koala kindergarten – possibly the cutest thing on the planet – to hang out with other littlies and learn social skills. They have to learn how to walk along a branch and pass another kola coming the other way, for example. Out in the big wide world these animals are actually solitary, coming together only to mate, but presumably they occasionally will pass on a branch to somewhere.  

orphaned flying foxes

Apart from a former Australian Tourism Minister who once told the press that the country’s national symbol was a horrible little bugger that stank (they actually smell like nice cough drops) and pissed on you, most Australians are very fond of the cuddly marsupial.

So I was delighted to be heading down the driveway home one day when a large male wandered casually across the path in front of me and leisurely climbed a big gum tree. As I watched he settled himself on a branch, gripped it with both hands and turned his head in a classic koala pose. It was pretty funny.

It was also pretty unusual to see one in broad daylight. They are of course nocturnal and usually spend between 18 and 22 hours sleeping. This is to conserve energy as their diet requires vigorous digestion of rough and toxic eucalyptus leaves.

Since then I’ve seen a few others on the property but it really takes practice to be able to spot them as they are usually incredibly high up.

Romain my neighbour is great at spotting them. He has also heard them fornicating at night.

“What does it sound like?” I asked him.

“Loud,” he said. “He grunts and she screams.”

Hmmm. Maybe it was just the neighbours.   

But all the breeding in the world can’t keep pace with the calamity befalling this beloved species. Galloping urban expansion into koala habitat has forced them into smaller areas where they are under attack by dogs, disease and cars. 

In the Ballina area of Northern NSW a major road project is entering its final stages of completion. The dreaded remodeled Pacific Highway is finally about to see the light of day. But unless the agency overseeing the project agrees to a last minute change of course – a very minor one – the local koalas may not be seeing much light at the end of any tunnels. 

Literally just hanging on by the nails they will then have nothing left to cling onto at all. 

 As the old gag goes, how much can a koala bear?

 Friends of the Koala http://www.friendsofthekoala.org

Up a Tree

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The first “long” book I ever read was “The Faraway Tree” by Enid Blyton. Up I climbed at every chance I got to find another magical world and its very un-suburban characters at the top. Moonface and Silkie, Dame Washalot and the Saucepan Man were my choice for favourite dinner party guests from history.  The Angry Pixie who was always throwing things at irritating people was someone I wanted as my next door neighbour.

You never knew what magical world you were going to find up there in the clouds at the top of the tree. The Land of Take-What-You-Want, the Land of Dame Slap, the Land of Topsy-Turvy, the Land of Spells, the Land of Goodies, the Land of Dreams and the Land of Birthdays all seemed like a much better way to spend the day than going to school.

My older brother and sister who are twins were precociously reading the classics by the time they were six. When I was still banging on about the Faraway Tree at eleven worried glances were exchanged. I had, after all been run over by a post office truck one Christmas.  Was I simple in the head?

Quite likely!

Today I live right beside the Faraway Tree. It looms next to my little sandstone cottage.  This gigantic ancient Morton Bay Fig with its swirling necklaces of twisted strangler Tarzan vines sits at the centre of an enchanted grove. Red succulents, twisting ginger plants, huge bird nest ferns and dozens of bright green palms and tropical lilies decorate its base. Great roots stretch out like giant’s fingers. Within its trunk and branches hundreds of animals and insects make their home.

At night the flying foxes come to feed on the figs. They make a hideous screeching noise but are very cute up close. Their little furry faces look just like a fox terrier. Some locals say that the faeries ride them by the light of the moon. I don’t believe in faeries although plenty of otherwise sane people do. Arthur Conan Doyle was a believer and so is most of Ireland today.

In her entertaining book “Castles, Follies and Four-Leaf Clovers: Adventures along Ireland’s St Declan’s Way,” Rosamund Burton came across whole roadwork projects being reconfigured in the west of Eire to accommodate the gathering places of the wee folk. 

So too in Iceland where a strong national belief in faeries has recently halted a major roads project near Reykjavik. The problem is the elves who live among the rocks and would be disturbed.  And who could sleep in their beds at night knowing that? More than half of the country’s population it seems.  The matter will be decided by the Supreme Court of Iceland in a case a case brought by a group known as Friends of Lava. Their concern about disruption to both the lava and the elves has been successfully mobilizing hundreds of citizens to stop the bulldozers.

It would be like the US Supremes ruling on Bigfoot’s right to live a peaceful and wholesome life in outer Dallas.

As journalist Rose Eveleth concluded, “Perhaps if they give the elves their own tiny carpool lane, everybody will be happy.” 

I like to sit and read under the big tree in the garden. Most of its inhabitants, like the possum and owl are nocturnal. Apart from the odd cane toad and visiting cockatoos I pretty much have it to myself during the day. Gazing up into its dancing foliage I see huge stag ferns clamped to its trunk and branches. It’s a perfect reading spot even in the rain.

I’ve moved on a bit now from Enid Blyton – although an opportunity to have a squiz at a “Secret Seven” novel bought for a god-child is never passed up. Even for the hardest-hearted cynic this is a magical spot. The world would be a much better place if more people could spend some time in my chair. And I can think of quite a few who could only be improved by a bucket of slop tipped onto their head by the Angry Pixie.  

 

 

CASANOVA RISES AGAIN

Congratulations to my dear friend Greg Michaels in Seattle on winning the prestigious Nancy Pearl Book Award for his novel THE SECRETS OF CASANOVA! I have followed this terrific read since inception and wrote this Amazon review of it a while back. 

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CASANOVA RISES AGAIN

Casanova has become one of those hackneyed names that generally make me yawn. After watching Heath Ledger do a passable job of bringing the fellow to the screen yet again, I felt I was well and truly over the original Italian playboy. Then I picked up “The Secrets of Casanova” by Greg Michaels, intending to have a flick through. To my amazement I was still reading by page 80. This re-telling of the Jacques Casanova story is in a class of its own. Greg Michaels’ background as a very fine Shakespearean actor – and sword-fighter – has stood him in excellent stead for his first novel. The language is wonderful and unlike many historical novels, very authentic to the ear. But although the dialogue and luscious descriptions of 18th century Europe draw you into the scene in the same way as an old masterpiece the novel has an engagingly modern feel to it. Jacques’ insights into the workings of a woman’s mind – let alone her body – bring a sort of hipness to the story that adds layers to the plot. So may male authors fail miserably at breathing life into their female characters.Michaels has succeeded and soared above the pack. He has also succeeded in writing a very horny tale.

The Donald

One of the miracles in our neighborhood is a sensational little world-class Japanese restaurant in the middle of nowhere. The food is all locally sourced – organic of course – and unbelievably delicious.

Apart from one table inside all the others are on the grass surrounded by bush and rainforest.   The owners are young and hip and sport stunning head wear. The kitchen is microscopic and the wait can be longish.

But there’s always plenty to entertain while you salivate.  On weekends there is a band and the rest of the time there is the Brush Turkey, a weird prehistoric-looking thing that is indeed some remnant dinosaur, dashing past on his way to presumably meeting another brush turkey.

But she’s gotta be hot! Literally.

That is to say the nest – or mound – he builds for her must be a perfect temperature or she will soon find herself a better man.  His mound must be bigger and more impressive than anyone else’s.

He is the Donald Trump of turkeys.  Only better looking.

The MacMansion he spends his waking hours constructing can be up to 13 feet across and 3 feet high. It is made from leafy stuff which he will keep adding or removing plants from until he has achieved a constant 95 degree temperature.  Only then will he bring his date home.

Once she lays her eggs in a hole a couple of feet down Donald will guard them and then leave them to hatch on their own and scramble their way to the surface.

You aren’t allowed to eat these turkeys. They’re protected. Unlike the poor old kangaroos which are available vacuum packed in the market. Despite its ultra-lean and healthy reputation this red meat hasn’t really caught on. The old TV show SKIPPY – THE BUSH KANGAROO about a problem-solving roo which we all grew up on has made it seem a bit indecent. You wouldn’t eat Rin Tin Tin after all.

The turkey, once almost hunted to extinction, became a very shy lad. Now protected, their numbers have gone ballistic and their brazenness knows no bounds. Any old backyard garden will serve nicely for a mound made from whatever happens to be lying around. Your bikini. The tent.

Urban ecologist Darryl Jones, an authority on the bizarre bird says that once a turkey has chosen your garden for his nest “it’s just about impossible to get rid of the guy. He has decided that’s where he’s going to put his precious mound, which is the most important thing in his world, and nothing will dissuade him. It happens all the time. People say ‘I’m sick to death of that bloody bird’, so they spend back-breaking hours spreading it all back out again. Next morning they wake from their exhausted sleep to find it all back in place.”

Yeah, Fuck You.

Among the new arrivals for lunch is a man on a horse.  I expect him to tether it to the rope that surrounds the dining area but instead he rides it right in among the tables and ties it to a chair. The Japanese owners come out at this strange sight and stand watching it from the steps. They may well have never seen a horse in a sushi bar before.

I expect them to ask the rider to please take it out. But when they approach him they are carrying a plate of food – for the horse.

All very well – but hey, we were here first!    mound turkey

Swimming With Jane

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Theo Westenberger

 

A young man is stretched out on the beach lapping up the winter sun absorbed in a book. When he puts it down to hike into the ocean I take a peek.

Emma by Jane Austin. Whaa?

Having been force fed Jane at school and fantasized about sticking Emma with a toasting fork this fascination with the enduring English author has never gripped me. I alone seem to have resisted the world’s explosive love affair with both Ms. Austen and her Regency world.

Mr Darcy has never done anything for me, even when Colin Firth pulled on the breeches. The silent type is not my go. Nor polite society. Back in Jane’s day, the untamed Celts north of the border would have been more to my liking.

The young man is swimming to China so I don’t stick around to quiz him about his reading tastes. But I am curious enough to Google “Men who read Jane Austin” (the alternative was to get a life) and discovered that my young beach goer was far from alone.

Jane has always had an adoring following of male fans. The literary scholar George Sainsbury coined the name Janeites for them in the late 1800s.

Rudyard Kipling was a Janeite. He wrote a wonderful poem about her. It’s called Jane’s Marriage.

JANE went to Paradise:

That was only fair.

Good Sir Walter met her first,

And led her up the stair.

Henry and Tobias,

And Miguel of Spain,

Stood with Shakespeare at the top

To welcome Jane —

Then the Three Archangels

Offered out of hand,

Anything in Heaven’s gift

That she might command.

Azrael’s eyes upon her,

Raphael’s wings above,

Michael’s sword against her heart,

Jane said: “Love.”

Instantly the under-

standing Seraphim

Laid their fingers on their lips

And went to look for him.

Stole across the Zodiac,

Harnessed Charles’s Wain,

And whispered round the Nebulae

“Who loved Jane?”

In a private limbo

Where none had thought to look,

Sat a Hampshire gentleman

Reading of a book.

It was called Persuasion,

And it told the plain

Story of the love between

Him and Jane.

He heard the question

Circle Heaven through —

Closed the book and answered:

“I did — and do!”

Quietly but speedily

(As Captain Wentworth moved)

Entered into Paradise

The man Jane loved!

 

If any woman deserved love it was Jane who brought solace to so many troubled hearts. While awaiting news of his missing son, Jack, in the First World War, Kipling would read and re read her novels to comfort his wife and daughter.

He later wrote an article about the soldiers in the trenches who read Jane’s stories to transport them from the horrors of the mud and gore back to the gentle drawing rooms of England.

Winston Churchill, another devotee, claimed that antibiotics and Pride and Prejudice had cured him of some ghastly fever, although the IV drip of Johnny Walker Red couldn’t have hurt either.

I can bore the next man I see clutching a copy of Pride and Prejudice with all this information. Maybe even recite the poem if I learn it. It will be an opportunity I have passed up for other beach-reading, such as Dan Brown.

Although, no doubt, there are Danites out there and somebody composing a well-deserved poem about Dan himself as I write.

It’s Show Time

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LITTLE FILM SOCIETIES THRIVE IN THE BUSH. ON A WET FRIDAY NIGHT I MEET FRIENDS IN AN OLD VILLAGE CHURCH HALL TO WATCH ‘THE THIRD MAN’ – FOR THE SIXTH TIME. IT COSTS $3 TO GET IN. THERE’S NO HEATING SO WE RUG UP, WRAPPED IN BLANKETS. I EVEN BROUGHT MY OWN FLUFFY PINK HOT WATER BOTTLE LAST WINTER WHICH EVERYONE THOUGHT WAS A BIT DORKY – SO I HID IT UNDER MY WOOL THROW.

FIRST THERE IS A SHORT – HAROLD LLOYD OR A MARX BROTHERS FOLLOWED BY INTERVAL. PEOPLE HAVE COOKED DELICIOUS CAKES AND COOKIES AND THESE ARE SERVED WITH TEA AND COFFEE FROM BIG URNS. IT’S LIKE A CHURCH SOCIAL WITHOUT THE PREACHER, ALTHOUGH THESE ARE SOME PRETTY DIEHARD MOVIE BUFFS SO MUCH JOY AND ADORATION ABOUNDS.

MY FRIENDS KATHERINE AND GEORGIA WHO LOVE ANY EXCUSE TO DRESS UP IN FANCY COSTUME ARE DELIGHTED WHEN INDIAN DIRECTOR SATYAJIT RAY’S BELOVED FILM ‘PATHER PANCHALI’ IS GOING TO BE SHOWN AND WE ARE ALL ENCOURAGED TO DRESS IN THEME. THEY ARRIVE IN SWIRLING SARIS AND SALMA KAMEEZ WITH MUCH KOHL AND RED BINDIS PAINTED BETWEEN THEIR EYES. NO ONE ELSE INCLUDING MYSELF HAS BOTHERED AND THEY LOOK A BIT BONKERS BEING THE ONLY FAKE INDIANS IN THE ROOM. FAR FROM DISCOURAGED THEY HAPPILY FLASH THEIR BLING AND CONSIDER THE DRESS-UP POSSIBILITIES FOR THE UP-COMING ‘NINOTCHKA’ STARRING GRETA GARBO.

SUNDAY NIGHT IS RUSSIAN MOVIE NIGHT. ORGANIZED BY A LOVELY RUSSIAN GIRL RECENTLY MOVED HERE AND KEEN TO SHARE HER CULTURAL HERITAGE IT IS HELD IN AN UPSCALE ART GALLERY IN BYRON BAY. WE ARE GREETED BY OXANA BUSY AT WORK ON HER SMALL PORTABLE STOVE COOKING BLINIS AND BORSCHT.

I FEEL LIKE AN ENEMY OF THE STATE WHEN I ANNOUNCE TO THE ASSEMBLED RUSSIANS THAT I HATE BORSCHT. THEY LOOK AT ME AS IF I HAD THROWN UP IN FRONT OF THE QUEEN. BUT IT’S GOOD TO AIR SUCH BLASPHEMIES UPFRONT. OTHERWISE YOU COULD END UP HAVING TO EAT THE HORRIBLE STUFF.

EVERYONE APART FROM ME LOVES BEETROOT WHICH IS BEING REDISCOVERED AS A NEW HEALTH FOOD GUARANTEED TO DETOX YOUR LIVER FASTER THAN YOU CAN FIND IT WITH BOTH HANDS.  I ONCE SAW A MINI DOCUMENTARY IN THE US SHOWING PEOPLE STOPPED RANDOMLY IN THE STREET AND ASKED IF THEY KNEW WHERE THEIR LIVERS WERE.  NO ONE HAD A CLUE.

I THINK OFF THIS AS I AM HANDED ONE OF OXANA’S SCRUMPTIOUS PANCAKES THAT ARE OUT OF THIS WORLD AND PUT YOU IN THE PERFECT FRAME OF MIND FOR SETTLING INTO THE 6TH EPISODE OF ‘THE IDIOT.’

AS THE BBC HAS DONE WITH ALL THE BEST ENGLISH CLASSICS STARRING THEIR REPERTORY OF TOP DRAWER TALENT THE RUSSIANS HAVE SIMILARLY BEEN BUSY FILMING THEIR OWN CLASSIC LITERATURE. ‘THE MASTER AND MARGARITA’ – BULGAKOV’S MASTERPIECE – WHICH EVERYONE READ AT ONE TIME HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STUNNING 10 PART SERIES. IT IS HANDS DOWN ONE OF THE FINEST THINGS I HAVE EVER SEEN.

MIKHAIL BULGAKOV’S NOVEL FEATURES THE DEVIL, HIS TALKING CAT AND MARGARITA WHO TRAVELS THE SKIES NAKED ON A BROOMSTICK – DEFINITELY SOMETHING ON MY BUCKET LIST.

IT’S CONSIDERED ONE OF THE MASTERPIECES OF 20TH CENTURY LITERATURE. THE ROLLING STONES BASED THEIR HIT ‘SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL’ ON IT. THIS SAVAGELY SATIRICAL ANTI SOVIET WORK WAS NEVER PUBLISHED DURING THE AUTHOR’S LIFETIME. IT WAS HIDDEN AWAY TO PROTECT HIM FROM STALIN’S POLICE. NEARLY THREE DECADES AFTER HIS DEATH HIS WIDOW SUCCEEDED IN GETTING IT PUBLISHED – AND THEN IT WAS BANNED.

AT ONE STAGE HE EVEN BURNT THE MANUSCRIPT AND HAD TO REWRITE IT FROM MEMORY. IMAGINE THAT.WHERE WOULD YOU START? AT THE END? IT WOULD BE FRESHEST IN YOUR MIND – WHAT WAS LEFT OF IT ONCE YOU REALIZED WHAT YOU’D DONE.

“ARE YOU MAD?” MY PARISIAN NEIGHBOUR ROMAIN ASKS WHEN I SAY I COULD SIT THROUGH THE SERIES A SECOND TIME WHICH WOULD MAKE IT 20 PLUS HOURS OF RUSSIAN DRAMA WITH SUBTITLES. “WHY DON’T YOU JUST WATCH A GOOD FRENCH FILM?”

WHAT A GOOD IDEA. A FRENCH FILM SOCIETY. WE CAN WATCH UNBEATABLE OLD JEAN-PAUL BELMONDO AND ALAIN DELON MOVIES IN HIS LIVING ROOM. I CAN DRESS UP IN MY PAJAMAS BECAUSE ONE JUMP OVER THE FENCE AND I’M HOME. I’LL HAVE TO GET HIM ONTO IT. BUT ONLY IF HE CAN KNOCK UP A GOOD FRENCH ONION SOUP WITH HIS CREPES.