Friday, April 10, 2020

And the good...

There is some good that is coming out of this isolation lark.

I'm just back after a mercy run out to Blarney and Barneys. Cakes and pasta sauce deposited. A glass of red was imbibed on the front verandah while we had a chat. Blarney is doing okay - it will take some time, but she's looking well.

Social distance was maintained. Maow Maow was cuddled, a much required element of the trip. I've been cuddling that cat for over ten years, just because I have my own doesn't mean I'll stop giving him a cuddle now. We had a chat for a bit. I offered to do some chores. Everything was under control. It was lovely to see my friends. The only people I've spent any time with (at a socially acceptable distance) is Jay and Cleo for exercise - with the odd encounter with the neighbours.

I took stock of the many blessings that showed through as I drove home. There are lots of them.

1) The run out to Blarney's normally takes 30-40 minutes. Without the traffic I was there in 20 and home in 23 minutes. Got caught at the lights of Punt Road. That slowed me up.

2) The air is noticably clearer.

3) Air traffic noise is all but gone.

4) You don't get snarled up in all the regular horrible traffic spots - MacRobertson's Bridge, City Road and Southbank Boulevard, Punt Road and Swan Street - hell, even getting down Church Street is great. You don't have to wait three sets of lights to turn the corner of any major intersection.

5) Changing lanes on the Westgate is a dream.

6) The only place you see a crowd is outside the fish and chip shop (There was a socially distanced crowd outside the chippy on Swan Street.)

7) You can get parking on main roads. This almost never happens.

8) Nobody appears to be in a rush any more.

9) You really, really appreciate when you do get to spend more than ten minutes outside. Like really, really appreciated it.

10) The low grade road rage is gone.

11) People do seem a bit friendlier - even from a distance.

12) You're saving money because you're not eating out anywhere near as much.

13) Same goes for drinking.

14) And you're looking forward to the day you can actually kiss and hug your friends. Really looking forward to that.

15) Strangely, I'm looking forward to getting back on a plane.

I don't want to take this time for granted.

Anyway, I am in enforced lock down now. Outside my door is the mother of all huntsmen. The downstairs neighbour, who normally does my bidding is too stoned to sort out the situation. I've emptied a can of bug spray onto the screen door to keep the fucker out.

So, as I'm basically a captive here in the flat with the cat, I can get on with writing that chapter of my book - which I have to put in tomorrow night for critique and feedback.

Oh what fun.

Today's song:

Thursday, April 9, 2020

How to make a chocolate cake

I need to make a chocolate cake.

Okay, I don't need to make a chocolate cake, but I want to make a chocolate cake.

You see, Blarney has just got out of hospital after spending last weekend and part of this week waiting for an operation. Thankfully it was nothing critical, but it did need to be dealt with then and there. Not great timing to be in hospital. She's had the operation, she's now home, but she's very sore and not moving too well.

So in comes the mate who helps out at times like these. (I've sprung Blarney from hospital on numerous occassions now - delivered care packages, babysat etc, etc) It's what friends do.

Besides, Barney rang and asked that I bring cake. How can you say no to a bloke who's stuck by himself with two nine-year-old miscreants?

Being in a lockdown state, we're not supposed to move very much - but there is a concession in the rules for people caring for others to make trips out of their home. Delivering chocolate cake and a fresh batch of pasta sauce to Barney and the Units, Chance and Lance, now aged nine, is allowable. You keep your distance, drop stuff in (I can get my book back for book group) maybe do some chores of cook dinner. I also get to make sure Blarney is okay. And most importantly, see the Maow Maow.

It's now twenty to ten. The cakes are in the oven. I'm thankful I've been making chocolate cake since I was a chile. The recipe is ingrained in my psyche. It always works out - it's very hard to stuff up.

Lucifer also helped. He's very good at helping. It always makes things better when you have a cat checking out everything you do. They're like fluffy quality control.

Oh, I only ever bake from scratch

So without further ado, here is my foolproof chocolate cake recipe.

You need:

1 cup Self Raising Flour
1/2/-3/4 cup of white sugar
2 heaped tablespoons of Bourneville Cocoa (I've only ever used this stuff)
1/2 cup of milk (I used macadamia milk this time round - seems to have changed nothing)
125g of melted butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
Pinch of salt


1) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade
2) Grease and line a cake tin (or two log cake tins as I have done tonight)
3) Sift flour and cocoa into a mixing bowl or food processor.
4) Add sugar and salt. Mix well.
5) Add eggs, melted butter, milk and vanilla in stages mixing well until the batter is smooth.
6) Place batter in lined cake tin.
7) Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out cleanly.
8) Cool cakes.
9) Ice as desired.

Don't ask me for my chocolate icing recipe - I make that from scratch out of icing sugar, cocoa, butter and a bit of milk. I can't give you amounts - it's made by feel.

These cakes will have smarties on top of them - as all good celebration cakes need smarties. Call them Easter / glad you're out of hospital cakes.

For me, it's also a good excuse to get out of the house when we really need to be home.

I'll still be within the law. We'll keep our distance in the house.

I'm just glad my friend is well and I get to see my other cat, even if only for a few minutes.

Today's song:

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

30 Words

I'm knackered. Didn't get a great sleep last night, have had a strange day, and I've spent some time working on my novel tonight. But that leaves the daily blog.

(Oh before I start on this, do you know how absolutely magic it is to have a cat which jumps up onto your shoulder and demands a cuddle? It is very magic)

Anyway, one of my challenges this month is to do the daily Writer's Victoria Flash fiction challenge.

At 9 AM every morning, on Twitter, he day's theme is set. You have until 9 PM to  get your 30 word story in.

You think telling a story in 30 words can't be done. Well Hemingway demonstrated it could be done in six ('For sale. Baby's shoes. Never worn.').

It's a good way to hone your writing skills.

Here are my entries for the last week. And yes, I have a different Twitter handle.

All words are my own. The word of the day is found in the hashtag.

Will try write something better tomorrow.

Today's Song

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

School Report

I'm sitting here with a large Negroni in front of me. There's a bit too much Hendricks in this one, but the muted nature of Hendricks means the Campari and Vermouth aren't overtaken. The ice clinks against the side of the glass, the condensation heavy against the rim, it's medicinal nature is comforting. The Hendricks gives a softer edge to the drink. I've been using Four Pillars Regular (though I really want to go up to Healesville and get a bottle of their Spiced Negroni Gin, because it is AWESOME - and I'd love to try it in an actual Negroni).

It's 9.16 in the evening. Not the morning. I'm not a day drinker - well not unless I'm out at lunch with friends.

The Negroni is a mandatory Tuesday night companion. I've just got off school. I need a Negroni to calm myself.

And it's not that school is bad. Far from it. School is wonderful.

School has fried my brain, assaulted the senses, made me think, made me feel, made me look at things completely differently and generally blown my mind.

We're being taught by two successful and accaimed novelists.

I'm in a class with eight other amazing writers, who are all great people. Fun, funny, interesting people with great ideas. People who challenge you, encourage you and have your back.

And I thank the universe for allowing me to get onto this course. I am learning so much. I'm hoping it will help me be a better writer.

But after a day at work, at the same desk where I work all day, an hour's break to get some dinner,  then another two hour of class - I'm buggered.

Class makes me think I might have something to say. It's like I want to yell my story to the world, while altering my perspectives all withing a half an hour lecture.

This is learning online at its best (though I'd still rather be sitting in the offices of Allen and Unwin in East Melbourne - I used to skip to school on Tuesday night.

But now, it is time to relax, and the medicinal Negroni is a required, along with the square of Whittakers Dark Chocolate with Ginger and Mandarin (YUM - but one square does the trick).

I am so lucky.

Bottoms up!

Today's Song

Monday, April 6, 2020

Check in / Book Review

First up - How I did with my weekend list:

1) A substantial amount of novel writing - 2000 words written. It's okay, got something done.

2) Attack the ironing pile - Complete

3) The floors - half done. Hoovered, but didn't feel like mopping.

4) Finish my book - It got finished this morning before work.

5) Complete April's Furious Fiction - I got something in for this. I wasn't great. I'll be writing more of it an putting it in the novel

6) Go for some walks - Two walks done - one lap of the Tan (in the rain) and a lap of the Yarra from Anderson Street to Princes Bridge and back. It was just so good to be outside.

7) Find the other half of the couch. Not done. Didn't get to it.

However, it's still not too bad an effort.

On the really good side of things, I got an honorable mention on the daily Writer's Victoria Flash Fiction competition for this gem:

I love writing these 30 word stories on a daily theme. There is a bit of kudos when you get called out. 

Now, for a quick book review as I want to go to bed now.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings. 

I haven't been conflicted like this about a book for a long time. 

The premise is fairly simple. Lydia runs a book shop in Acapulco. She is a law abiding citizen. She loves her son, Luca, and her husband. But Lydia's life changes when her husband falls foul of the local cartel and the whole of her family is gunned down.

From here, Lydia will do anything to keep her son and herself safe. Literally anything. The bulk of the book shows Lydia and Luca, on the run from the cartel attempting to get across the border to the United States. 

I have to clarify something. This book is a work of fiction - and needs to be read as such. It's very good popular fiction. The book gathers pace from the first page and you want to know what happens to the characters as fortune, for the most part deserts them. There's a cast of characters you begin to love too - and some you really hate. Everything is explained and all the loose ends a are tied up. It's eminiently readable.

So why am I conflicted? Well, it's a book about the migrant experience in middle/central America. For as much as we all know Mexico is a dire place to be a journalist - more journalists are killed per capita than any other country in the world.

We are all aware that the cartels can be very scary things. Anybody who'd watched Breaking Bad knows about this. 

The controversy lies in the fact that this was written by a Caucasian Woman, but it goes into intimate details about the migrant experience. And I get this. Some have called the book racist. I wouldn't go that far, but I do get where they are coming from. She had done her reseach. She's done an extraordinary amount of research. In the acknowledgements she spoke of wanting to write about the migrant condition - which has changed a lot in the last three years with Trump and his cronies. 

Some have called this The Grapes of Wrath of our time. I wouldn't go that far. 

But for me, when reading it, as long a I remembered this was a work of fiction, I was fine. Things  that happen in the book do happen in real life. I'm just not sure a white, educated woman is the best person to write about this. (And Latinos are VERY proud people - which is where a lot of the noise has come from)

This is a great read. It's not perfect, but it's highly entertaining. 

I just had to keep my reservations at bay and keep telling myself it's fiction. 

Today's song:

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Gratitude Questions

The day has only just begun. I'm about to go get a walk in before a heavy day of writing takes place. The joy of these semi-lockdown conditions - you really do appreciate the little things.

Questions, as always, from Bev at Sunday Stealing.

1. Name a highlight of your day

I've only been up properly for about half an hour. So far the highlight of my day has been having a cuddle with Lucifer and the two hot cross buns I have just eaten for breakfast. Now that it's Palm Sunday, I can start having hot cross buns more regularly. I hope Baker's Delight brings back the Mocha ones - they are like crack.

2. What made you smile today?

Lucifer, my second-hnd cat, trying to get under the covers with me this morning was very cute. After two weeks, we're ticking on quite nicely. He's staying.

3. What made you laugh today?

I've only been up an hour, I haven't had a laugh yet.

4. Recall a time when you needed encouragement.

When I started running - oh boy did I need encouragement. Thankfully my friend Reindert helped me to break through the psychological barriers that come with running. Once you break the twenty minute barrier, you're on your way. Running, as I have found, is all in the mind.

5. What is a luxury you are thankful for

Lots of them. Great moisturiser. Hot cross buns. NARS lipstick. Theatre subscriptions. The second hand panther.

6. Favorite childhood memory

I don't have many of these, but I did like hanging out with the calves after we had fed them as kids. Poddy calves are very cuddly.

7. Favorite song–and why?

Reckless by Australian Crawl. It's been my favourite song for 35 years. All the big events in my life have been peppered with this song. It's very Australian and just lovely.

8. Where is your favorite place?  Why?

Do I have to pick just one? Okay, that would be the tomb of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey. It's a very spiritual place in the centre of a very busy city. It is just wonderful.

9. What is your favorite scent

This is a bit strange, but it's the smell of dogs's paws early in the morning. It's an earthy, musky smell - and I find it very comforting.

10. What is your favorite topic to talk about?

Books and writing. Followed by film. Followed by politics. Next.

11. What do you like doing so much that you lose track of time?

Reading. I get lost in books far too easily.

12. If you had 5 minutes and the whole world was forced to listen, what would you say?

Listen to nature and be kind to each other. It's as simple as that. We have to start being really good to the earth and really good to each other.

13. Whose life do you envy the most, and why?

I don't really envy anybody's life at the moment. We're all in the same boat at the moment.

14. What would you different with your education if you got a chance to start over?

There are a couple of things. Given my time over, I'd repeat Year 12 at a better school and maybe hopt to get into Law. I'd also have done my Masters earlier (but then I wouldn't have made the great mates I've made - or just made different great mates.)

15. What would you do with your life if you had no fear?

I'd probably be married if I had no fear. Being somewhat scared of committment I wonder what life would be like if this was not the case. Generally I'm known as being pretty fearless.

Today's song:

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Ten Albums

I'm not going to tell you about the awesome walk I went on this afternoon. A lap of the Tan in the cold rain. The Tan track was nearly empty. It was brilliant.

Instead, I'm going to reflect on some albums which have formed me, made me, and sit very deeply in my soul. As somebody who has eclectic music tastes and a tendency to listen to compliations and play lists, it was fun to look at the albums I love and some memories attached to the said albums.

I pity the milennials who don't know the joys of waiting for the cover art, or having to turn over a record / cassette or CD before going on. Or knowing that your favourite song is three songs in on the second side. Ah, they were the days.

Anyway, in no real order, some of my favourite albums.

Stoneage Romeos - Hoodoo Gurus (1984)

1984. Year Eleven. The school camp to Mount Hotham which put me off INXS for life because they played the The Swing album end to end over that week. I've never been able to stomach INXS since. But about the same time, Dolly Magazine had a guy called Stuart Coupe do their music reviews. He used to rave about this album. Okay, he manaaged the band - but they're awesome. The Hoodoo Gurus are one of the best things to come out of Aussie Rock in the 80s. This album is all about the dance, and the fun and the humour. Songs like, I was a Kamikaze Pilot, Leilani and I Want You Back. Guitars and drums. I tried to introduce the Hoodoo Gurus to friends in London. They thought I was mad. I still think they're wonderful.

Surfer Rosa / Come on Pilgrim - The Pixies (1988)

The Pixies are God! But this was not the first album I bought of theirs. I got Doolittle first - which is their next best album, but there is something just wonderful about the howls, the screaming guitars and the Loud/Soft/Loud of Surfer Rosa.

Having seen them three times in concert, they never disappoint. Surfer Rosa is my rainy day album. I like to dance around the kitchen cleaning up to this. It makes me happy. Where is my Mind?, Levitate Me and Nimrod's Son just get inside you. This is full of great memories over three decades - and still, people have to ask who they are.

Ten Summoner's Tales - Sting (1993)

London. My second year there. Two very inappropriate men, of very different natures (though strangely, both were Irish) were into this album. Both had favorite songs off the album. One loved, "It's Probably Me." The other loved "Fields of Gold." So many good songs on this.

For me, my theme song comes this album. "Shape of my Heart" is a glorious little ballad. Give it a listen. You'll understand. Good memories every time I play this, even if the memories aren't always sanctioned.

An Awesome Wave - Alt-J (2012)

I'd never heard of Alt-J when I found this album . It was a bit of a fluke. It was in November 2013.  I was in Wellington, New Zealand visiting a friend. My friend Geetangeli, who lives in Christchurch, told me to go to her favourite cafe in Wellington down Cuba Street. This album was playing in that cafe. It struck me then and there. I asked the barista about the album. It was bought and downloaded there and then. I adore the song Breezeblocks. Rarely does a month go past when this doesn't get played.

Stop Making Sense - Talking Heads (1984)

Stop Making Sense - Talking Heads.jpg

Another seminal album from 1984. Ask my step-sister what she remembers of me at high school, she will say it's listening to Talking Heads as we drove around Myponga. David Byrne is a showman. The songs are up there and out there. Their cover of Take Me to the River one of the best there is. Psycho Killer, Life during Wartime, Once in a Lifetime... it's all great stuff. The re-release has a couple of extra tracks. It's an album I can dance to, work to, relax to and just enjoy. It's New York and the 1980s at its very best.

Urban Hymns - The Verve (1997)

The Verve, Urban Hymns.png

London, 1998. My 30th birthday. My cousin was over and staying with me. She was good at drinking all the milk during the night, only finding there wasn't enough to make a cup of tea with in the morning. It was great to bond with my cousin, but I don't think either of us can listen to  this album without remembering those carefree times, her job in a City bar and how offensively drunk we got on the eve of my 30th birthday (My cousin's birthday is the day before mine - her boss, who we were out with that night, was born the day after - it was a reason to really celebrate hard)

And it's still a lovely listen.

So - Peter Gabriel (1985)

So (album).png

Year 12. Required listening if you weren't into AC/DC, Chisel and INXS. Interesting and melodic. It's not an album to dance to - more to list to on winter evenings in front of the fire. I gave this a spin a few weeks ago. The remaster has an extra track which fits with the mood. It's a perfect ending. Very much an eighties soundtrack, but it still stands up to scrutiny. I miss Peter Gabriel.

Rum, Sodomy and the Lash - The Pogues (1985)

Rum sodomy and the lash.jpg

Another late find. Another bloke in London introduced me to this album. And it is awesome. This is my angry driving music. It's great for letting off a bit of steam, particularly down the Monash at 100 clicks late at night. There is a lot to ponder on this album. How is Shane McGowan still alive? How have they done the best version of "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" that is as good as the original. Why, when you meet up with certain friends, as you leave, you start singing, "I'm sad to say, I must be on my way...". Few know about this album. It's a well kept secret amongt Gen-Xers.

Nevermind - Nirvana (1991)

A nude infant swimming in blue tinted water toward a dollar bill which is attached to a string.

Surely this is THE album of the 90s. The Pixies influence, with the loud/soft/loud verse/chorus sequencing, Kurt Cobain's edgy vocals, the hard edge drums and the whole Grunge effect is just incredible. So many good songs on this - so many tunes ingrained in our psyches. I think you'd be had pressed to find a person in their late 40s /early 50s who doesn't have a copy of this floating around in a shoe box.

Back to Black - Amy Winehouse (2006)

Amy Winehouse - Back to Black (album).png

Oh Amy, Amy, Amy. Why did you have to go join the 27 Club. Good Jewish girl from North London with the voice of a whisky soaked angel. Rehab defined a generation. The rest of the album is just sublime.

Some say she died too soon. To me, sometimes you reach near perfection, then what do you have to go on for. She was incredible. This is testment to this. Soul at its greatest.

Noted others that nearly made the list:
  • Hello, I Must be Going - Phil Collins
  • Bookends / Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon and Garfunkel
  • The White Album - The Beatles
  • Whatever People Say, That's What I'm Not - The Arctic Monkeys
  • Transformer - Lou Reed
  • The B'52s - The B'52s
  • The Violent Femmes - The Violent Femmes
  • Searching for Sugarman - Rodriguez
  • Human Frailty - Hunters and Collectors
  • Sidewalk - Icehouse
  • Love Stuff - Elle King

Today's Song: