Reason No 25: How did Aboriginals manage with no clothes!!!

Tis the season where city folks put their central heating on, and country folks stoke their 24 hour wood fires and keep the doors shut.

But I don’t have the time to be stoking my wood fire 24/7 – and so it takes me just a little bit longer to get up the courage to throw the blankets off in the morning and dive into slippers and dressing gown and snuggle under a rug in the arctic climes of the living room with my coffee mug clasped like a bottle of brandy between my icy palms.

Actually, it’s not quite that bad but it is cold.  Which would explain the Fire Service’s noble but futile attempt to keep the outdoors warm and cosy by lighting bushfires all around the hills – on the same principle as those restaurants which put braziers outside so their customers can dine al fresco when it’s al freezing.  The haze is kinda picturesque in the evenings – but it hasn’t done anything for the ambient temperature.

I notice that living down on the farm, my attitude to everything has got a lot more Scottish. Basically, when you can SEE the water disappearing from your tank with every bathful, and the log pile getting smaller with every cosy evening indoors – you start to think carefully about what you use.  So I might stick one log on the fire every hour, and wait till it sinks to Smaug-like embers, before I shove another one in.  The Man has prepared many logs for my comfort – but there’s a limit to even his industry.  It’s very tempting to have baths, because they warm you up so you think it’s actually balmier than it is – but no, it hasn’t rained for three weeks now so better not.

Given the wintry temperatures (God, it gets down to, what, 5 degrees Celsius!) I let my old kelpie cross in for the first time overnight, last night.  In the morning I found an involuntary token of her gratitude on the mat in front of the fire.  One dog who routinely piddles on the floor is a trial (but he’s too blind and senile to be left outside).  TWO incontinent dogs is pushing it.  Cools, you have a delightful kennel.  Use it. (As you can see from this picture, Cools is living the dream – at least while the sun shines.)

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While The Man isn’t here, the Cat is loyally standing in as a hot water bottle.  Who says that cats aren’t useful!

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Reason No 24: Dr Doolittle and the thing that goes Ha!

When I was a kid, I used to dream about growing up to live in a burrow in the forest, eating roots and leaves and learning how to talk to the animals, like a combination of Dr Doolittle and Cinderella (you’ll recall how every time Disney Cinders pops outside, mice and birds start singing duets with her).

But how do you entice said animals to come close enough for a chat (or an impromptu comparative linguistics session, whatever)?  For example, the Thing that Goes Ha.  This thing lives in the little wood next to our vegetable garden, and I have no idea what it is – except that sometimes I hear it going, well, ha!  That is, a sort of cross between a grunt and a cough.  Is it a wombat?  Is it a panther escaped from Mogo Zoo (a couple hundred miles away, but still..).  Is it a pig?  If it is a pig, will it charge me one day with fiery red eyes and razor sharp tusks, like the evil beast in Kenneth Cook’s action thriller Pig?

Recently, I was in the kitchen and heard Something loudly rooting around in the wood – so I took my courage in both hands and crept up on it (making sure that there was a big rock in between me and the Thing, plus a tree to climb up if the situation got desperate…yes you get a little unhinged living on your own).  So anyway I stand on tiptoes to see the cause of all this ruffling – and two big brown birds with long legs and startled necks leap out of their burrow like a couple of lovers surprised under the boardwalk.  So – not The Thing, on this occasion.

There are two factors you need to establish a Doolittle-esque relationship with the wildlife, I’ve concluded.  One is food.  I know an old guy whose back doorstep is infested with wagtails, because he strews it with biscuit crumbs.  I’m too greedy for this – if I have a biscuit, I eat it all myself.  The second is stillness.  You have to sit quiet, in the same place, for as long as it takes for the local beasts to think you’re a weird looking tree and get on with their business around you.  Having failed Meditation 101 many times because I can’t bear to sit still in one place for more than five minutes (without a book, that is), this presents difficulties.

I’ve tried naming things.  We have Ferdinand the Skink, Hector the Wombat, Cecil the Black Snake, Melville the Mouse, and Mildred the Rat.  Mildred ate parts of our flyscreen window, which prompted The Man to suggest rat poison…but maybe Mildred was listening, because she’s made herself scarce since then.  We have a frog, still to be christened (any suggestions?).

A colleague complains that when she visits one of her clients, wombats chase her to her car.  My nephew had one take up snarling residence in the kitchen and refuse to leave (except at the end of a broomstick).  So, unlike Doolittle, I want to get close but not too close.

What do black-faced wallabies like to eat for treats?

 

Reason No 23: Nobody fluffs your pillows

Last night – to be more exact, at about five am – I woke to the ominous feeling that something Was Not Right.  After half an hour of trying to convince myself it was, actually, right (well, it was cold, and five am, and the cat was sitting on my head) I got up and spent the next hour on the toilet.  Too much information?

Yes. Well.  As I sat swaddled on my couch (a few hours later) with a hot water bottle on my belly, it crossed my mind that being all by myself, on a rural property, with no friends within yiking distance, is not the best idea if one is really, really sick.

Not that I am really sick – I just ate something I shouldn’t have.  I rarely get sick, and especially now, when I hardly ever meet anyone without my surgical gloves on (ie, anyone but clients).  But if I were sick, I’d have to choose between throwing myself on the mercy of my (admittedly nice) neighbour, calling a $900 ambulance, or ringing The Man – who is three hours drive away.  Hmm. Better stay well then.

Luckily, The Man’s chopped up lots of firewood, so hypothermia isn’t much of a risk. While he was getting it, he also picked up a big tick in an interesting location.  So we’ve been reading up about how to avoid/get rid of ticks.  Apparently they don’t like scabies cream (I still have no idea what scabies is, even though I was always wishing it on my enemies, in times past).  Apparently it’s a sort of tick’s valium – they fall asleep and eventually drop off you with an expression of drowsy bliss.  Meanwhile you have to watch this little crablike thing snoring away in your pubes or whatever – or rip it out untimely and risk it spewing a ton of tick venom into your system in a final act of revenge on its reluctant host.

Or you can kit yourself out in a spacesuit, set up a decontamination chamber in your hallway (like the ones they have in nuclear reactor accidents), and spray your entire property in pyrethrum.  Your choice.

And the recipe for the Lazy Cook? Anything Fritters (Buyer Beware – this is what I ate before I was sick!).

Take any flour, any liquid (milk, water, whatever), and anything that you think might be nice in fritters (banana, apple, canned corn, grated potato/carrot/sweet potato/turnip, herbs, spices, nail filings) and mix it up till it feels roughly like porridge.  It’s got to be thick enough to form a blob rather than a puddle when you chuck it in the frying pan, and have enough flour and liquid to stick the other bits together.

Fry it in butter/oil until it is golden brown on both sides and not too disgustingly gooey in the middle.  If it is gooey, that probably means you’ve made it too thick – idiot!  Can’t you even follow a simple recipe!

For the sauce, open a jar of mayonnaise/honey/cream/maple syrup/jus de worm (sorry).  I’m now off to have some (my choice for the day? banana. And no, there is no discernible difference between fritters and pancakes.  Is there supposed to be?).

Reason No 22: Call yourself a writer? Ha!

Ever noticed that when you tell someone about that great thing you’re going to do, half the time you don’t do it?

Why? Because you’ve already got the glory (‘Wow! Aren’t you kind/brilliant/creative! So you’re doing xyz!’) – so why bother? Apart from the wow factor (which comes of telling other people about your Achievement To Be) you’ve also got the ‘I dreamt it therefore I did it’ factor (which comes of telling yourself).

You thought of it (the novel, the sustainable vege garden, the apple tree seedling), you dressed it up and rounded it out in your head (the accolades, the piles of glowing apples, the smug smile ‘yes we grow all our own food here’) – so is actually DOING really necessary?  (Especially when someone gives you all the curiously dappled apples you need- see above)

Anyway, I cleaned out my studio this week. It looks brilliant!  My keyboard in the corner, my impressively ancient-looking copy of the Compleat Works of Shakespeare in the cabinet, The Man’s unicorns, dragons and antique hat boxes embelllishing his side of the room (for business purposes only – he’s not planning to write a novel, as far as I know).

So now I have to use it.  But I’m not going to start a new novel – instead I’m going to finish all the novels I already started.  I’m going to make a collection ‘Rose’s Anthology of Romance and Vitriol’ (or something like that) which I can sit on the shelf next to the Compleat Works (see above) and gaze at in rapt satisfaction.  My Work.  Finished.  Done.

I am going to do this, just watch me.  I’ve already finished the first step, which is to get a proof of one of my literary works and stick it next to the toilet.  No, not to wipe my bum with.  So I can make corrections while listening to Nature’s call – obviously.

Meanwhile, I wrote a Poem about that most tragic of situations – the demise of our local pub (and the Friday Blues Night).  True story.  Sung to the tune of The Pub with No Beer….

When I was out driving at about six o’clock,

I came on a small town and thought I might stop.

I was thinking a drink, maybe something to eat,

But the pub had turned into a yoga retreat.

So I bought me some nuts at the cute corner shop,

And asked how they liked doing the downward dog.

The look on their faces was answer complete –

What we want is a pub not a yoga retreat!

A town needs a pub like a man needs a shed

It’s no good hoping he’ll take to knitting instead.

So bring back our beer and blues music so sweet,

And fuck off to the city with your yoga retreat!

Reason No 21: All That Space

You can only inhabit so much space.  Here I am sitting at my back door, looking out over 52 acres of mixed pasture and bushland, and out to the infinite-seeming grey-green of the national park, and yet I only really inhabit a few square metres of it, on a daily basis.

By inhabit, I mean live in.  There’s my house. I’m in that all the time, but mostly in the kitchen or the bedroom.  When I’m outside it, I’m on my porch (usually the back, gazing out at the hills).  From there, I might wander to my Frida Kahlo Room (the carport, so-called because I saw a film about Frida and thought I’d like to have a place like hers, full of cacti and primary colours.).  Or I might trek to the woodshed to get wood for the fire – looking very carefully at the ground because Melisandre and Cecil, like all black snakes, love a good woodshed.

Then of course there’s the two minute walk down to the vegetable garden, and the four minute puff back up.  There’s walks around the dam and down to the creek and to the neighbour’s waterfall and just generally around the roo-bedecked paddocks – but I don’t inhabit those.  They’re too big.  I can’t ‘own’ that much territory – I’m like a dog presented with too many trees to piss on.

And then, rising to the moral plane – why SHOULD I have 52 acres while others measure their living space in square metres (of cardboard, in some cases)?  You’re supposed to feel like you’re doing the earth a favour, butting out and living on the land – but if everyone did it, we’d run out of land to live on.  And food to live on (given that we’re ‘lifestyle’ countryfolk, not farmers).

Anyway, if I can’t literally stamp all over my stamping ground – I can put a fence around it and say nobody else is allowed in.  THAT, I can do.  Maybe Trumpo and me have more in common than I thought.

 

Reason No 20: Jus de Worm

Gardening is unspeakably disgusting!

But – I now realise – that’s the secret to its success  That’s why all these ancient rural types with their walking sticks and their loaded-up medicine trays have zucchini the size of planets and tomatoes you can practically see from space.  I discovered this the other day when I spent an hour of my paid cleaning time assisting an elderly friend with her seed planting.

All this time, I’ve been trying to grow stuff in dirt, more or less, thinking that’s what plants like.  But vegetables are the primping, flouncing prima donnas of flora – they demand no less than the plant equivalent of champagne and caviar for breakfast.  No wonder mine have been refusing to grow up.

My friend has an old bathtub filled to the brim with rotted vegetable bits and clippings, covered with old carpet.  This fetid heaven is inhabited by hundreds of slimy brown things. When she wants to plant stuff, she grabs half a bucket of this and fills the other half with potting mix (with her bare hands, I might add), and lays it down in the garden like a bear skin rug for spoilt seedlings to luxuriate upon.

This ‘garden’ consists of the shell of an old tin water tank (which is what pretty much everyone uses down here – it brings the soil level up to waist height, just where you want it when you can’t bend over).  There is no actual dirt in it, as such – it’s all compost and cow manure.

Finally, the watering.  You think these plants drink water?  Oh no, these green-coiffed Mariah Careys are too good for mere water – what they demand is Jus de Worm.  This – a yellowish liquid –  is harvested from a bucket under, presumably, what used to be the plughole of the bath tub.  I have no idea if it’s worm pee, liquefied worm, or something worse – but Mariah loves it.

So now I know what I’ve been doing wrong.  Trying to grow my own vegetables. From now on, I”ll just steal hers.  Ha ha.

On a more positive note, I’ve been completely self-sufficient in green beans this last 3 weeks.  Also, my garden is teeming with things that look edible – but I have no idea what they are.  For instance this thing with the three-pronged leaves…

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and the yellow-flowered trollop pictured in the header?????

Finally, the recipe of the week, Anything Loaf.  Not to be confused with bread, which is temperamental, time-consuming and arduous (and therefore NOT included in my forthcoming book Recipes for People Who Are Lazy and Hate Cooking).

To make Anything Loaf, mix Any Sort of the following: sugar (amount depending how sweet your tooth is), self-raising flour, butter/substitute, milk/pretend milk, and one to three eggs.

To this mix, add something you like – raisins, nuts, dried fruit, squashed banana, grated apple, viagra, etc.

The trick is to end up with something that’s roughly like porridge, or scrambled eggs – kinda wet, but not so wet you’d drink it out of a cocktail glass. Sludge the mixture into a greased loaf tin, bake at 180 degrees, and it’s ready when it smells ready and you can do the old ‘stake the vampire’ trick.  That is, stick a knife in and it comes out clean.

Reason No 19: Killing Things?

Don’t name your steak.  But you’ve got to live, right?

I used to hate (meat) farmers, because they’re heartless.  It comes with the territory.  The guy we bought this place off used to lease a paddock to a farmer who ‘grew’ calves for veal. Eventually the grief-stricken bellowing of the mother cows left without their little ones got to him, and he ended the lease arrangement.  But I guess the farmer with the calves had no objection.  That’s farmers for you.

And yet, they’ll tenderly nurse a newborn lamb beside the hearth, bottle-feeding through the night till it’s big enough to…what? Eat, that’s what. They care, and yet – they don’t care. So in our family discussion about how to make this place pay, eventually, one thing is resolutely crossed off the list – livestock for meat or milk.

So what does that leave?  Nut trees, for one.  Last week I went to a jazz evening (everyone there was over 75) and whaddya know – I ended up at the same table as the couple who first turned this property from bush-block to pasture, and planted the (now moribund) hazelnuts. Serendipity, thy name is Turnips!

‘I’m sorry to have to tell you,’ says me, guiltily, ‘they’re not doing very well.’

‘That’s because they haven’t been watered,’ says the old guy. ‘We set up this magnificent irrigation system, but nobody’s used it!’

‘That’s because we can’t work out how,’ says me. ‘How about you come down and show us!’

So I take their phone number and promise to invite them over sometime soon, so they can see what their precious property’s come to in the hands of city know-nothings, and tell us how to do it right.  I’m looking forward to this very much – as I have no pride.

Anyway, apart from nuts, there are things like alpacas and goats, who give their fleece but not their lives to the cause of making us slightly more affluent.  So I’m thinking this is the way to go, long term.  I will become a goat-herd.

Angora goats are extremely cute – but they need the equivalent of Alcatraz to keep them from running off in search of greener pastures.  They also stop you from going on holidays, unless you’ve lined up a goat-sitter.

So the plan is holiday, then fences, then goats. The gorgeous model pictured is Griselda, who belongs to one of my farming clients.

So, how do you feel about the carnivore business?

Reason No 18: For chrissake, just chuck it out now!

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” (Mr Micawber, Dickens)

Yes, kind of.  But it’s more complicated than that.

There are two kinds of people who live in the Country.  They are called Rich Countryfolk and Poor Countryfolk.

Rich Countryfolk live in mansions with acres of polished ash flooring, antique armoires (whatever they are) and expensive twisty things known as ‘sculpture’. They don’t call the local tradesmen when they strike a household problem or need to renovate – they run a tender process.

Poor Countryfolk enjoy disintegrating bed linen, cracked toilets, rotting verandahs, stained china and plastic ware that’s been around so long it’s almost part of the ecology.

What they share is the two constants of country life: dirt and isolation.  BUT…

When you’re cleaning for rich countryfolk, you better not leave a dust mite prancing on the marble benchtops, or a stray thread on the Axminster.  And yes, if you’re rich you can pay for company.

When you’re cleaning for poor countryfolk, the word ‘clean’ is relative.  If you scrub too much of the mould off, the floor will probably come with it.  As for company, visitors tend to shrink from the general odor of rotting food scraps and wildlife-infested weatherboard.

Poor Countryfolk, in my line of work, are usually Old Countryfolk., and if you’re poor when you’re old, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.  You are not going to make it big with an internet startup.  You’re not going to pay your credit card off with next month’s bonus salary check.   When I see someone in their eighties sticking it out at some shack in the bush that’s falling down around their ears, with rumoured invisible children who live on the other side of the country/world, eking out the potato stew they made a week ago and wearing clothes that are held together by dirt and holes…I admire their bravery and pity their situation.

Although maybe I shouldn’t.  There is a sort of twisted pleasure in poverty.  I’ve recently developed an unnatural interest in the (mainly downwards) fluctuations of our bank account.  We’re what you call asset rich but cash poor, so I’ve taken to scrooging on my weekly shop- do we REALLY need more butter?…oh look, there’s toilet paper for $5.99 a dozen!  When I get to the register and they say ‘that’ll be $59 please’ I just about have an orgasm.  I’ve beaten last week’s record ($67.52)!  Oh yes, yes!!!

This is known as an STD (Shopping Tightfistedness Disorder.  Far from suffering, I get a perverted thrill from using up the last cruddy vegetable in the fridge, or sticking the discarded ends of stuff in the garden to see if it makes more stuff (yes, it sometimes does).  Using ripped bedsheets as mulch (oh yes!), foam boxes as planters (more, more!), cheap spray paint as instant glamour for old plastic garden furniture (don’t stop!).  I like being in straitened circumstances, as other people might enjoy handcuffs. It’s a sort of challenge.  Make those ends meet, baby!  How low can I go!

Course, as STD junkies go, I’m a newbie.  There are some people out there that make me look Trumpishly extravagant – see http://www.smh.com.au/money/planning/meet-the-extreme-budgeters-who-save-nearly-everything-they-earn-20160608-gpefoe.html!

Are you a budgeter? What do YOU do to shrink our national economy?

Reason No 17: Woman’s Work?

This weekend, The Man came down to visit, bringing boxes of much-needed extra pottery, lentil pies and – most importantly – his Man Skills.

While he fixed the shower rail, sorted the shed, dug, sawed and lugged things about, I cleaned up and made stuff to eat.  He sweated a lot.  I proffered insincere offers of help.  Over a cup of tea, we discussed the division of labour.

Well, says The Man, I guess it’s fair if I do Man’s Work and you do Women’s Work, isn’t it.

Er…are you saying I have to do Women’s Work?  And here I was thinking all I had to do was look cute and do arty things up in the studio!

I know, this is not so much reinforcing gender stereotypes as buttressing them with solid concrete blocks, but…Even I (as a feminist) have to admit that The Man makes himself extremely useful, from his mystic knowledge of the habits of fruit trees to his winning ways with PVC pipe, ancient manual gearboxes and recalcitrant firewood.  He combines a talent (almost equalling my own) for thrift-shop interior design with the muscular development of a gay pin-up.  If I didn’t love him for his own sweet self, I would probably marry him for these manly attributes (making me not so much a gold digger as a sweat digger…or something).

To be honest, I don’t like physical labour, much.  Man’s Work, Woman’s Work – any work that makes you perspire.  If I have to put my book down and actually do something, I would rather make muffins than dig trenches.  This doesn’t mean that I’m a girly girl, figuratively spitting in the eye of a century of women’s liberation.  Instead, I’m using the nut I was born with.  I CAN do this stuff (I spose).  I just don’t want to.

Whereas my colleague Barb can do anything The Man can do – plus cook, clean and do one-handed push ups (probably).  Which makes her a 21st century feminist role model, and me, a bit pathetic. I had to laugh when I confided recently to a client’s husband that I hadn’t ironed anything since about 1990. ‘Yes,’ says he, ‘The last lot you did, my wife said you wouldn’t win any awards.’

How very dare you! I said, and flounced out.  I’m kidding – actually their punishment was me spending the entire session making sure his pants had creases down the middle, never mind the rest of the housework.

But, on the bright side, I have turned our carport into a ‘Frieda Kahlo’ room (see cactus), and learned to rope dance (see rope) – so nobody can say I’m entirely useless on a farm.

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Recipe for Anything Muffins: Take some self raising flour, melted butter, and 2 eggs. Mix into it Anything You Like – dried fruit, fresh fruit, spices, cheese, sand – and add enough liquid (milk, pretend milk, vegan milk, water, petrol) to make it stirrable but only just. Stick it in a muffin tray and ten minutes later, Anything Muffins!

Petrol and sand not recommended ingredients but hey, whatever floats your boat (or powers your mower).

 

Reason No 16 : In the country, no one can hear you scream.

I don’t remember the last time I was lonely.

That is, I have a vague memory of restless Friday nights, about fifteen years ago, when the kids were with their dad for the weekend and I hadn’t lined up a hot date.  But since then, being alone is, like, a luxury.  Because it hardly ever happens.

Well, now The Girl is in England, doing what 19 year olds must do (ie get as far away from their parents’ civilising influence as possible) – and so I find myself alone.

Not just ‘alone’ in the way that you are in the city – where you can hear the neighbours having a great time next door (but they didn’t invite you!) or  go to a bar and get drunk in the company of strangers, or form a temporary mutual admiration society with a woman  walking her hideous dog down your street (‘What a lovely dog! Oh no yours is much cuter – can I pat him?  Which end is which?’.

I mean really alone.  If the neighbour’s home, you wouldn’t know it – she’s half a kilometre away.  Staring out the back door, there’s just me and uncountable hectares of national park.  I can’t even turn the tv on – we don’t get reception. Come sundown, outside, it is really, really, dark.

So I sit at my table, in the candlelight, listening to the whispered pillow talk of birds and the squeaks of assorted bush thingummies, thinking, so this is what it’s like to be All By Myself.  Course, work is kinda social – I usually chat with the elderly farming couples while I’m doing their dishes – but when darkness falls and I’m back home, that’s when I really feel it.  Alone.

It’s one of those things, like the first weeks after breaking up, that you have to push through.  I just need to wait it out.  I’m not going to go rushing out to check my Facebook, or ringing up random relatives just to hear a voice (or worse, listening to the news just for the company).  I’m alright, alone.

Actually I kinda enjoy it.  Also, I’ve developed a new inner strength – the ability to watch vampire films (True Blood, on my laptop) without staring fixedly at the window all night afterwards in case a vampire presses his pale nose up against the glass.  In any case, before I get too sorry for myself, The Man is planning on moving down to the country retreat quite soon – then we’ll both be Alone.  Even better.