How Did You Know?

At the local post office I fell into conversation with the lady behind the counter as she clerked through a power bill. We have arrangements here in Australia to pay a lot of our things through the local Post Office and it’s a real time-saver, I can tell you.

Well, being the 2nd of January at the time, we wished each other a Happy New Year and agreed that we had survived the holiday season. We both looked tired. But then I told her not to get too comfortable, as Chinese New Year was coming at the end of the month – the 25th.

She is of Chinese ancestry so I reminded her that it’ll be two more weeks of family celebrations, preparations, food, expense, parties, having to stay up late wishing that everyone would just go home…while smiling brightly. And that she doesn’t qualify for the red envelopes any more because she’s too old – now she has to hand them out…

She laughed, but then looked concerned. How did I know all this? I’m not even vaguely Chinese…

Kid, we all have this sort  of thing – no matter what our ethnicity or culture. 8 days of Hanukkah, 10 days of Rosh Hoshanah, 12 days of Christmas, Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Christmas and New Years slightly offset from all the rest of the country…The poor old Mussies have to go hungry all day for a month and the Hindus and Buddhists probably have something similar somewhere in their own calendars. We all get a season to be ever so jolly and I suspect we all enjoy the first couple of days but then sit smiling grimly until the thing finishes.

One thing to brighten our day, though. You might be sleep-deprived at the end of the fortnight here in Australia, but you’re not stuck on the platform of a Chinese railway station waiting to get home after it.

Can’st Thou Wok A Straight Line, Sirrah?

Or art thou condemned to boil thy food?

We are undergoing  bit of an experimental revolution in our kitchen. My wife has decided to cut down on carbohydrates as a health matter, and we are exploring the possibilities with our limited cooking skills.

I say we, but I mean me. I do most of the cooking, and happily. It is a skill that I find rewarding, if only in avoiding starvation and stomach-ache. I carry a few recipes on through the family and from my own bachelor existence and then wing it from there.

So far we have cut down on the potatoes, baked beans, and rice that accompanies many dishes. Also breads and cakes. This is either good or bad, but it’s not the morals we’re looking at – it’s the taste.

Some recipes are fine – we now steam broccoli ( despite George Bush Snr ) and cauliflower and have found out how to make white or cheese sauces for it. We toss cabbage and bok choy in the wok and then try to flavour it up with various oriental spices. Sometimes works, sometimes fails. We eat it either way and just mark the scorecard accordingly. I must say that I am becoming enamoured of the wok  – since we got a heavy-bottomed one from IKEA the action inside it seems to be working pretty well. I appreciate the fast cooking, though there is a lot of chopping up to do beforehand.

I don’t think I’m wokking as well as other people who have  a longer cultural association with it because they know the flavours and the timing of the additions better than I. I also don’t think that the wok is anywhere near the big restaurant ones that sit in a tub of gas flame and have such a range of temperature zones within the bowl. Our stove is electric.

But we try -There is a peculiar fast-food that the frozen vegetable people put out – cauliflower rice – that I am experimenting with. It ain’t rice, just chopped vegetable, but if you sauté it it can give a good texture to other dishes. I suspect other veggies would do the same. Time to resurrect the food processor and go to the greengrocers and the Asian food shops -the tinned Singaporean curry gravy is great.

Repeat After Me

Chili.

Rhubarb.

Soda water.

Any movie that has made money in the last 50 years.

Because they all do, and there is nothing short of Gaviscon or a sordid sex scandal that will stop the cycle. If you survey the number of James Bond film, the Rocky films, the Batman or other superhero films…you become quite despondent for the species. The fact that they succeeded the first time and have succeeded for so many times afterwards indicates the basic intelligence of the audience – the fact that the price has risen each time lets you know that P.T. Barnum was right.

I am personally stunned at the amount of money that changes hands in after-market spinoffs and merchandising for these things. I walk through stores dedicated to movie goods and look at price tags in amazement. The fact that there are actual stores full of the stuff is frightening. Of course the religious supply stores are also nerve-wracking, and sometimes for the same reasons.

For myself, I treasure entertainments that are self-contained. If they are not perfect, that is just the luck of the game. The fact that they play out in 60 to 90 minutes and need never be seen again is part of the appeal. I never seek a sequel or prequel. I am content now with Sleeping Beauty or The Sting just as it was.

 

Piracy On The High Seas

I love pirates. From Johny Depp as Jack Sparrow to Errol Flynn as Captain Blood they have swashed buckles and shivered timbers from Tortuga to Tahiti. Even Aardman had wonderful pirates as animated characters.

I’m even more impressed with the ones off the Horn of Africa who try to zoom aboard passing merchant ships and rob the crews. And I just loooove the way the US, Britain, France, and the Russians treat them – from opening up on their tin can boats with autocannon to boarding them and blowing them up with satchel charges.

I note that the Iranian floating terrorists are now entering the game and stepping up the pace with ship captures and mines.

Please, let us return to the days of the Caribbean and the Royal Navy sinking pirates on sight. And Wapping Stairs, please. In chains.

Rules of engagement for countering pirates: There’s one, open fire.

PS: Let the air squadrons play too. If they can’t get a Warthog that far out from the coast, surely someone has a spare gun pack in the stores they could clap onto a Hornet.

Pirates are ALWAYS freie Vögel…whether they have a mullah or a mad king at their back. And eventually you get to storm their pirate nest and burn it to the ground. It took care of Port Royal and Cartagena…and Bandar-e Abbas is no different.

Be Careful Who You Curse

Note: For the North American market – curse here doesn’t mean foul language or swearing – it means actually drawing the wrath of whatever down upon your enemies. You can swear all you like.

The business of cursing someone is a serious one. You should not do it lightly nor wantonly. You must reserve it for occasions when it is really necessary. This is not because your curses will lose potency if they become too common – it is because they may very well precipitate disaster for the victim.

Calling down the wrath of Heaven ( or raising a similar affliction from Hell ) should never be a matter of petulance or smart aleck behaviour. Both Heaven and Hell have more important things to do than act as your minions. Do not invoke them unless it is a serious matter indeed. They are not patient.

Consider before you curse whether there is another, milder, way to resolve the problem – a fist fight or stabbing or somesuch. If you have access to anti-tank artillery, use that. It is far kinder to put a 17-pounder round through someone’s door than to spit on a coin and throw it across their threshold. The AT shell will only make a big hole – the coin will destroy anything it touches – lives, reputations, businesses, etc.

Do not curse if a blessing would prove more helpful. Or damaging. Blessings are generally more acceptable to Heaven, though they may not be acted upon. It is the optional nature of the thing that lets them be racked up on a spike and attended to whenever there is enough spare time. Curses need answering right now.

Of course, the right now may be in galactic terms. Many of them take generations to come to fruition and people who are eventually sitting there covered in dung do not connect the actions of their ancestors to their fate. This may not seem to be rewarding to the cursor ( or is that curser? I can never tell. ) but if you take time to see far enough into the future you can get some inkling of the effect. The first American Indians who let tobacco loose upon mankind  probably never saw a lung cancer case in their short lives – but they can look down from the Happy Hunting Ground now and see what a curse they unleashed.

The reader of this essay who is skeptical about it will not draw a curse from me. They are free to think for themselves. But they are directed to enquire about the fate of the Han’s Café business.

 

Another New Year Dawns

Is this one the Ukrainians? Or the Doukhobors? Or the Irish?

No, wait – this one’s the Chinese. Apparently we are about to hit the Year Of The Pig.

Ah, good old Chinese. They have the right idea. Declare a new year that is named after something you can eat. Pig, rabbit, rooster, snake, etc. Not so sure I fancy rat or dragon, but someone somewhere is tossing them in flour and heating a wok. In any case it makes a very practical way to characterise a celebration.

Not so the various UN and other intellectual organisations who declare Years Of The Fashionably Oppressed or Years Of The Ousted Government. If they were to declare the Year Of Paying Their Rent or Year Of Removing Tribal Leaders As Presidents For Life it might lead to more celebrations. If they could persuade the Chinese to declare a Year Of Eating The Presidents For Life they might get somewhere…but you’d need an awful lot of hoi sin sauce…

I shall avoid the dragons and the drums this year, but not the buffet. I may not be a good chopstick eater but I can manage some dishes without flinging chunks past the other diners or stabbing myself in the eye. I shall throw salad at the ceiling, however…

 

The Torch And Pitchfork Club

With the current culture of witch hunting proving such so successful for lawyers, publicity agents, and television stations, I have decided that the Backstabbers Guild Of Australia can benefit from it – we are going to start an on-line Torch and Pitchfork Club.

It will be an opportunity for Guild members to savage public figures and personal enemies without fear of reprisal. I have negotiated a free pass from the Commonwealth Director of Prosecutions that will allow personal defamation and lewd slander without fear of reprisal. The major networks have come on board upon the promise that they can be seen to be virtuous and moral.

Of course this is not without danger. Some of the people who we attack may turn out to be innocent, despite our best efforts. We can strive but we may not succeed. The only comfort in these cases will be to remember the general fallibility of Man and hope that our victims will do something bad eventually. Even if we do not see it, there will be a Higher Power that can mete out punishment upon our behalf. I mean, we spend a fortune on candles and incense – we should at least get some return for the money, eh? Else what’s a temple for?

The Torch and Pitchfork will also be a chance for a social outing for Guild members. Who doesn’t like marching and chanting? You get few enough chances to get out of an evening, and if you can go out with like-minded friends, storm a bastille or burn down a castle, and home again in time for a nice cup of tea, well—it’s got to do you good, innit?

I plan to rage against Aldi supermarkets and Chinese people. And then go out for a good pint and a chicken fried rice at the Golden Dragon.