Archive for the ‘Daily Life’ Category

I Got 91 Problems

The government announced some months ago that it would be phasing out 91 octane petrol in favour of gasohol, and finally that has come to pass. The petrol pumps are running dry, and soon only gasohol will be available.

The government didn’t consider the growing body of evidence that using gasohol damages car engines, leading to high motor repair costs in the longer term. Instead they dreamt up some sort of rationalisation for getting rid of petrol – something to do with balance of trade or the environment, or something. The cynic in me, however, makes me wonder which person (or persons) of influence is now making vast profits producing bioethanol which is now being thrust down the throats (so to speak) of unwilling consumers.




Back in ye olden days children used to cut out paper figures, colour them in, and attach them to wires and use them as characters in performances dramatic behind a paper proscenium arch with scenic backdrop. Since the very earliest days of the moving picture directors have been trying to replicate the effect. D.W. Griffiths couldn’t manage it, nor could Cecille B. DeMille. Eistenstein tried, but failed, as did Hitchcock. Not until the arrivial of Peter Jackson could the movie-goer be treated to something on a par with those paper puppet theatres of a century and more ago.

Of course, Jackson’s technique is at an early stage of development: the voyeur has to wear special glasses, unlike the viewers of the Victorian spectacle, and today one needs to keep one’s head still to view the spectacle in its full 3-D glory. In the case of The Hobbit one mustn’t move one’s noggin for 2¾ hours. But still, it’s worth it to see the true cinematic majesty harking back to the technique our Victorian forebears.


On Loss

“The things he hadn’t touched or kissed his senses
slowly stripped away
Not like Buddha not like Vishnu
life wouldn’t rise through him again”

– Lou Reed, Dime Store Mystery

A little over a year ago, just before I got Whisky, I visited my sister and nephews in England. My eldest nephew, T. had recently acquired a tiny, black kitten which he named Ivan. The ball of fluff would sit, quite contented, on T’s shoulder. Recently, Ivan didn’t come home. He was found later, dead at the roadside, presumably hit by a passing car. Some kindly soul had covered Ivan’s body with a towel. T. was, quite understandably, distraught.

Baby WhiskyOne of the things that has surprised me about having Whisky is the sense of loss I feel has he grows up. I miss the way his tail no longer curls into a perfect circle; now it’s more of a loose corkscrew. I miss the way his ears no longer flop over. I miss the way he’d jump up on the sofa as soon as my back was turned, and then look at be defiantly has I tried to get him off. I miss the funny, rubbery texture of his then almost hairless tummy. I miss the way he used to hiccough in his sleep. I miss… a lot.

“In the midst of life we are in death”



Demon Eyes

I sit here in the half gloom. Two green demon eyes stare at me from across the room, unflickering, mocking and taunting me. Over the past 24 hours my emotions have been in turmoil. To start with was the disbelief: how could this be happening to me for, is it, the fourth time this year? Then came the anger: I hope the perpetrators rot for all eternity in the lowest circle of hell. But not the “fun” kind of hell with fire and devils with pointy tridents prodding you. Let them be trapped in a cold, featureless hell – a single, silent white room devoid of any decoration or ornament where nobody will hear their tormented sobs and screams. But before then, let us hope there are infested by a plague of boils, savaged by rabid monitor lizards, and finally succumb to the inevitable in the most hideous of demises – whatever that may be. Tickling to death, probably.

Sinéad O’Connor goes on about how it’s been seven days and fifteen hours, and I sympathise with her, but what does she know about real agony and despair? Me, I know the time down to the minute since I lost what is so important to me – not a rough approximately to the nearest hour.

I feel a sliver of hope as I think about bargaining with the Flying Spaghetti Monster for the world to be put back just the way it was, but I realise he has other things to do. I also think about contacting the local telephone company, but that would be equally futile. Life has become a hopeless, bleak mere existence.

For the umpteenth time I think “oh, I’ll just check that on the computer” or “I can look it up on the Internet” or “I just need to check my email” or “I wonder if it’s finished downloading yet”, but am soon plunged back into the deep pit of despair, and cry “Why, FSM? Why? Why do you allow bad things to happen to good people?” But His Noodliness never answers.

So, now I pace around, tortured by a sense of life’s futility, barely daring to hope that soon the stolen copper telephone cable will be replaced and that once more my modem will smile upon me with four flickering green eyes.


Morning is Broken

Things didn’t exactly run smoothly this morning.

I had an early start. A friend, whose car, like tens or hundreds of thousands of others, is parked on high ground to avoid the flooding, asked for a lift to the nearest bus stop. I agreed, and bleary eyed picked him up and took him the kilometre or so to the main road.

I knew then that I couldn’t turn left to get back home because the road is flooded. I needed to do a U-turn, then turn north onto the ring road. However, habit kicked in (since my brain was not yet fully functional), and after the U-turn I turned south as if to go shopping. Realising the error of my (high)ways I got off at the next junction, intending to do a U-turn under the main road. The underpass was flooded and impassable. I drove on for miles passed flooded U-turn after flooded U-turn. Eventually there was a U-turn which was only flooded to 20 cm, or so the sign said. Cars were passing through in both directions, so it seemed (and was) safe.

The road ended in a T-junction. Left or right? I vaguely recalled the layout of the junction, and plumped for right, thinking that I could do a U-turn in the middle of the road if I’d got it wrong. Inevitably I had got it wrong, and furthermore couldn’t get into the U-turn lane. I was forced to turn right … which put me back on the road with all the flooded U-turns. Many miles later, dodging wandering cows and dogs, I eventually made it home; a 15 minutes trip had taken well over an hour. Not that I had been particularly looking forward to getting home. Just as I was leaving I noticed that Whisky’s coat was heavily matted with merde (or coated in caca if you prefer) – pardon my French. He must have been rolling on his back in the garden. And I’d only bathed him a couple of days before!

Morning was well and truly broken.



Earlier today I noticed this little critter in my outside sink.

Lizard in sink

(Whisky, down! It’s not a frog!)

My first thought was that he’d have no problem climbing out. After all, lizards seem perfectly happy climbing up vertical walls, or hanging from the ceiling. But not this little chappy. Even as he tried to run around inside the sink he had no traction and was skidding about.

Needless to say, I lifted him out, and he went on his merry way, perhaps chastened, and perhaps a little wiser.



In the 1990s Masterchef was a rather campy TV cookery competition hosted by a presenter who was perhaps uniquely skilled in torturing vowels as he spoke – American Loyd Grossman. It occasionally passed the time on boring Sunday afternoons, but was hardly compulsive viewing. Then in 2005 the format was radically changed and now versions of the show have spread across the civilised world and America.

One key requirement of the new format is two judges, one bald, one with hair, and both very shouty.

Masterchef UK judges
Masterchef UK judges

Masterchef Australia judges
Masterchef Australia Judges

New Zealand got it a bit wrong with three judges, all of whom have hair – they’re still shouty, though.

Masterchef New Zealand judges
Masterchef New Zealand judges

America surpassed itself with three judges, including the obligatory baldy, and the shoutiest judge of the lot: Gordon Ramsay.

Masterchef USA judges
Masterchef USA judges

Perhaps the weakest version of the show is the American one. The contestants seem to be chosen more for their back stories than their cooking ability or passion for food.

Also quite poor is the British version. Some of the competitors surpass the judges in their knowledge about food, so the judges can't fairly judge or critique.

The New Zealand version is better, but by far the most gripping is the Australian version. In fact, I can hardly believe I've watched 86 episodes over the last 3 months and been kept glued to the screen. (The show is on six days a week at prime time in Australia, but is filmed over 8 months, so is very gruelling for the contestants, separated from their families, including young children, and loved ones.)

The judges are both top-knotch professional chefs, and every Friday edition is a masterclass in which the chefs show how some of the dishes made by the amateurs could have been done much better; no case of the pupils surpassing the masters here.

The contestants do rather seem to have been selected as a selection of stereotypes: there's the blond surfer dude, a plump Irish guy, a ditzy blond, a middle aged housewife, an elderly Sri Lankan, a young man with scary tattoos, a well-padded girl with maquillage and dress sense from the 1950s, a hippy chick (called “Sun”), a gay Asian man, and so on. Seeing them almost every night on TV you feel you get to know them as people as well as sensational cooks.

What has also been sensational has been the guests. There have been some of the world’s leading chefs: Daniel Boulud, Marco Pierre White, David Chang (Momofuku), Heston Blumenthal, Neil Perry. For the final they had the head chef from what has officially been the world's best restaurant for the last two years: René Redzepi of Noma.

There has also been a great selection of TV chefs and cooks: Rick Stein, Kylie Kwong, Curtis Stone, Anthony Bourdain, Chef Wan (a very camp Malaysian celebrity chef) and Nigella Lawson amongst others.

I don't think Maggie Beer's very well known outside the antipodes, but to Australia she's a national treasure, a lovely woman with the demeanor of a kindly grandmother who’s sold more cookery books than you could shake a stick at. Also not so well known is Adriano Zumbo who creates the most incredible, fantastical patisserie. An amazing master craftsman.

The absolutely blow-your-socks off moment for me, however, was when a particular special guest walked through the kitchen doors: His Holiness the Dalai Lama!!! It was enough to have me squirming in my seat and squealing with delight.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama holds the hand of a Masterchef Australia contestant
His Holiness the Dalai Lama holds the hand of a Masterchef contestant as she offers him food

Now how am I going to fill the hours of the day without Masterchef Australia? Perhaps I should look into the Croatian, Greek, German, Indian, Indonesian, Israeli and Malaysian versions.


Impending Storm

I’m not sure whether to quote Dylan or R.E.M..

“It’s a hard rain a-gonna fall”


“It’s the end of the world as we know it”

But here’s the evidence from a few minutes ago.

Impending Storm


On Being Food for the Fishes

I had an hour to kill before the movie started, so I decided to have a pedicure courtesy of Garra rufa, better knows as Doctor fish.

This craze has swept across Thailand. There’s hardly a mall that doesn’t have a concession or two giving the chance to soak your feet in warm water whilst small fishes nibble at any dead skin. At 100 Baht (about £2) for half an hour, I suspect it’s pretty lucrative, too. (That’s more per hour than you might pay for a traditional Thai massage.)

The process started with my washing my feet in a foot basin. I then sat with my feet dangling in a tank of warm water alongside a few strangers. After a few moments the agony started: the fish, a few at first, then more, started nibbling. My face contorted as I struggled to cope with the prolonged, relentless tickling as the toothless Doctor fish gummed away at my feet.

Doctor fish and feet

After about 20 minutes a suitable distraction arrived in the form of a toddler opposite me who was being lowered into the water by his mother. The toddler seemed to have a reflex reaction to kick and splash the moment his feet touched the water. I would get wet. His mother would lift him out, and then lower him in again. He kicked. And so the cycle repeated.

At the end of the day, I was rather disappointed: I’d thought that the fish might tackle the thick layer of dead skin on my heels, but they were much more interested in the more ticklish areas of my sole and around my toes. At least that’s another experience I can cross off the list, never to be repeated.

And if I’m ever interrogated, the torturer can dispense with the rack and thumbscrew. Put my feet in a tank of fishes and I’ll sing like a canary – though they could also try making me stay in the Comfy Chair until lunch time, with only a cup of coffee at eleven. That would work, too.


A Bad Person

Step aside, Hitler; say goodbye, Gengis Khan; au revoir, Pol Pot. There’s a new contender for the most evil person on the planet: me.

Today I needed to go shopping. I put Whisky’s toys and basket in the downstairs shower room. I had to carry him there; enticement didn’t work – not even the special milky treats that the manufacturer claims are irresistable to dogs. No sooner had I shut the door than the whimpering began, shortly followed by loud crying. It reminded me of nothing so much as when my sister and mother went shopping a few years ago leaving a two year old nephew subject to my tender ministrations. The moment his mother was out of sight he started bawling, something he kept up for the full three hours. He also developed a magical ability to both wet and fill his nappies every few minutes. I suspect I hold the world record for frequency of changing stinky, sodden nappies. Looking after my nephew was heart-wrenching: there was nothing I could do to distract him or ease his pain. And today I felt the same way about Whisky. He was frightened, confused and alone – a bad place for any puppy to be.

He was still crying when I got home an hour later.

Of course, he survived the experience. I gave him his lunch. We played a little. And now he’s sleeping on the sofa. Life for him is good again.