Wednesday, 9 October 2019

brexit and wartime austerity ...

We watch quite a lot of imported history docos, most of which come from the UK.

Recently I've noticed an increasing emphasis on being 'British' (whatever that is), and have put that down to a reaction to the psychodrama that is Brexit.

I've also noticed an increasing number of articles in UK online newspapers about what to do with all these cans people are hoarding - something that interests me given that I spent a large part of my life as a trainee adult living on vegetables, grains, beans both canned and dried, and the inevitable canned tomatoes. (Margaret Thatcher's economic downturn and being a penniless graduate student had a lot to do with it - that and having a girlfriend at the time studying the ethnobotany of the late neolithic and early bronze age diet)

But anyway, back to the docos. Last night we watched Britain's most historic towns, and last night's episode was about Dover in the second world war, and inevitably there was a section on wartime austerity and rationing.

As always in these sequences, one item was tasted and pronounced 'quite good' and something else that looked like a cross between a fatberg and an elephant turd studiously avoided.

But this did get me thinking - during the Greek economic crisis people returned to a postwar austerity diet to save money - will the Brits do so in the event of  shortages and chaos during Brexit?

And equally, given our dependence on having food trucked all over the country (raspberries in mid-winter? really?) is there something we too can learn from British wartime austerity to eat more sensibly and frugally ?

Monday, 30 September 2019


The street we live in, and the surrounding streets are pretty well treed, but on the whole they're deciduous non-native trees, but in our yard we have a big gum tree, like an island of Australianess surrounded by all these alien interlopers.

Thursday evening, after he'd been fed, the cat went out for his usual foray. A few minutes later I went out to water some plants we have in pots and close up the coldframe for the night, and I noticed the cat was staring hard, really hard, at the gum.

I followed his gaze, and there it was, a koala sitting in the tree feeding.

We took some photos, watched the koala for a bit and then brought the cat inside to let the koala make his or her escape in peace.

Koalas are not that unusual in Beechworth. Shortly after we moved here there was one in plain day sitting in one of the ornamental street trees outside of the old post office, and a year or so ago I had to perform an emergency stop going down the hill to put in one of my volunteer days documenting artefacts for Dow's Pharmacy, when a koala came out of the bush next the road and proceeded to amble across the road in front of my car.

I am guessing that the Beechworth Historic park - basically the area of old gold diggings that surrounds the town, and which has now gone back to scrubby native bush, has provided a refuge for the local koala population ...

Sunday, 23 June 2019

5527 already


we've had the solstice, and it's been cold - minus 4 overnight and only just touching double figures during the day. Pleasant enough to sit outside with a coffee after lunch but already too cold to be pleasant by mid afternoon.

Previously we've had a run of wet weather, but on Tuesday evening the temperature dropped and we had a pelting shower of sleet with a little wet snow mixed into it, which fortunately turned back to sleety rain.

Wednesday was simply cold and overcast, and Thursday was not much better.

Friday brought freezing fog and it was so cold working on the documentation project, not only did I have my standard winter clothing - St Andrews University beanie, fleece outdoor shirt, fleece ski necklet (one of these infinity scarves that's basically a short loop of polar fleece), fingerless gloves - that I ended up keeping my puffer jacket on most of the day - truly Dickensian, and probably appropriately so, given the building dates from the 1860's.

The worst thing of course is that when we've freezing fog, the solar panels are really only good as perches for the local parrots - at least when the sun shines we still get a couple of kilowatts out of them in the middle of the day, despite the sun being low in the sky.

But as I said it's 5527, the Inca new year, and from now on the days will start to get imperceptibly longer and hopefully a little warmer, and in time the soil will warm and it will be time to plant ...

Friday, 31 May 2019

Jane Austen and exercise

The weather the last few days has been bloody awful - we've been catapulted from a relatively mild autumn to something redolent of the first days of Ragnorok.

Rain, fog, more rain, and the only decent day we had in the middle of it was cold and windy, all of  which means of no exercise, or certainly no going outside, and somehow on a cold damp day I couldn't face going to J's studio for an early morning half an hour on the cross trainer, even though I know I should.

Cycling is out, as is any serious walking. Too wet, too cold.

But it's not as if I've done nothing.

Like many people, I have a fitness tracker on my phone and it records the number of steps taken (more or less).

Like many such programs the app has selected 10,000 steps as a daily target even though the desirability of 10,000 steps is built on poor science. In fact there's been another study that suggests that in some cases 4500 steps could be enough to confer some benefit. But the benefit of the fitness tracker app is that it can give you a sense of scale as to how much, or how little exercise you're taking.

And what has this to do with Jane Austen?

Earlier this month there was a slightly silly piece on Radio National about how some writer became fit by living like a Jane Austen character for two years.

It wasn't a great revelation - basically walk everywhere and eat a good diet of fresh vegetables and meat - no packaged or prepared meals - but it did contain a germ of sense.

Eating a good diet is a no brainer - we buy fresh as much as possible, and where possible buy local.

This involves a certain amount of planning - our local supermarket doesn't get a delivery of fresh fruit and veg every day, and sometimes things stay on the shelves so long, so sometimes we end up driving to a local Coles (60km round trip) or Woolworths (75km round trip) to stock up, but then we try and buy all the extras we need - clotheswash, cat food, toilet paper in megapacks to minimise the total number of kilometres driven - in fact despite having two cars and living in the country we've done less than 8000 km since Christmas.

The rest of the time we walk. It's 1400 steps to the supermarket and back from our house, 2000 if I go via the post office to collect our mail, or 4000 if we combine collecting our mail with a half hour walk to the lake and along the creek.

And that I think is the key to exercise. By all means go to the gym a couple of times a week, or go for substantial bushwalk at the weekend, but to support healthier lifestyle walk or cycle as much as possible - to the shops, to the post office, and that way it becomes part of your life, rather than being something special that involves lycra.

It's not always practical I know - having to wear business clothes does not always work well with cycling, and sometimes your shopping is too bulky to carry home.

Well, we're lucky, we're retired and we live in a small village where it is perfectly possible to walk up to the shops and buy stuff as we need, but we also have invested in a cheap shopping trolley to carry home heavy or bulky items - after all no one really wants to carry a load of shopping and a couple of bottles of wine.

And I'm sure that if you're busy mum with kids to pick up, or on your way back from work, driving and stopping off at the local shopping centre can seem to make sense - I know, we've been there, but equally, by making some small adjustments in your routine, you can make some big changes in your health and fitness regime ...

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Election day ...

Yesterday was election day.

We'd been out the night before at a community theatre even so we had a slow start, scrambled eggs, toast, coffee, that sort of thing and then strolled up to the polling station to vote, chatted to a few other people we knew, cast our votes, and because it was such a nice day we went up to our favourite cafe for a danish and a coffee.

We were quietly confident that the day would bring a change of government, and one that would do something about climate change, the abuse of refugees and the rest.

So confident were we we watched the Freddie Mercury retrospective instead of watching the election results as they came in.

We were shocked when we eventually watched the election news. In fact so surprised were we we thought that they must have got the exit polls wrong.

But no, we were condemned to another three years of being governed by pudgy men with a penchant for ill fitting suits and dodgy real estate deals.

A hundred thoughts flickered through my mind - Vicxit? a Victorian republic unshackled by right wing evangelicals from Queensland suddenly seemed like a good idea, but no, I was being silly.

People had voted honestly and fairly, and this was what we had got. We might not like it but this is what democracy has delivered.

We'll just have to keep on protesting and hope that next time around it's not too late to do something about climate change and human rights, and the growing inequality in society ...

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

The Eta-Aqurid meteor shower of 2019

Well, we got kind of excited about seeing the Eta-Aquarid meteor shower.

There had been a report about it on SBS news last night as well as coverage in the SMH and the Age.

So this morning, at around 5am, when the temperature was hovering about zero we got up, put on our warmest down jackets and ugg boots and went out into the yard,

It was pretty dark, streetlighting in our street consists of a dim globe or two at the intersections of the cross streets, so we stood there facing eastish and let our eyes adjust.

Well we saw a couple of satellites, a plane flying north, and a single meteor, which was cool, but not quite what we expected - the tv news and the papers had oversold the event.

After we'd retreated inside I found a blog that was a little more realistic about what we were likely to see, which kind of matched our experience. If we'd started earlier and set ourselves up for sitting out with blankets and coffee we might have seen more.

We probably won't have a repeat tomorrow - the forecast is for cloud and showers tomorrow, so I guess that's it for the Eta-Aquarid shower until next year ...

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Storms (again) ...

Back at the end of March I posted about our storm preparedness (or lack thereof).

Well, it was a good thing we had a dry (?) run in March because we had an absolute humdinger of a storm on Thursday night.

It started with spectacular sheet lightning to the south of us, lighting up the evening sky like in old film of bombardments on the western front in World War I, and with great rumbling peals of thunder, which was  followed by torrential rain - what I describe as being like God flushing the toilet, so massive was the downpour and the speed of its onset.

This happened at around half past six. after the sun had gone down, and when we getting dinner ready, an Italian style chicken stew.

We were doing normal thinks, cooking, half listening to the evening news on the tv, and enjoyimg a welcome glass of pinot noir - we'd been out all day in Albury -our nearest approximation to a city - dashing to dentists (cancelled at the last minute), getting flu shots, picking up stuff ordered via click and collect, and a host of other tasks. All in all a pretty normal weekday evening.

And then the lights went out, came back on, and went out again. And stayed out. Leaving us in a very dark house.

Fortunately we always leave a torch on the kitchen bench, so we flipped into our storm routine:

  • go collect the camping head torches and camping lantern from the study
  • brave the elements and get the camping stove from the shed
  • find the AM radio and tune to the local ABC station - totally useless on this occasion as there were just too many lightning strikes
  • grab the 4G modem and an ipad and check the power company outage tracker which gave us an expected fix time of eleven that night.
All the time the storm was battering down. 

I was a little worried by the ferocity of the storm as we've had  problems with an intermittent leak - really just a very slight drip - in the roof when we get heavy rain, but this time, mercifully, no leak.

Given the power company's time to fix of several hours we finished cooking our stew on the camping stove, and sat and talked.

About half past eight the power came back for about ten minutes, went off, came back, and went off again, and then just before ten it came back, and this time it stayed on.

Once the internet came back, I ran round restarting the internet tv boxes - three of them, all different brands just to make my life more complex than it need be - fixing clocks and resetting the internet radio.

We waited about half an hour, guessed that the power was staying on, put the dishwasher on, and went to bed, being careful to take camping head torches with us just in case we woke up to a dark, silent house.

In the event we needn't have worried. The power stayed on all night. The rain finally stopped about four in the morning.

Daylight brought a wet and soggy morning, leaves stripped from the trees, but no real damage, except to my Asian green seedlings in their cold frame - the wind had got in and flipped it open, and the rain had flooded the seed trays, but enough seem to have survived that the loss was annoying, nothing more.

On the way down to Chiltern to my documentation project  I half expected the road to be flooded, or blocked by downed trees, but no, while there had been a bit of flooding the road was more or less clear, and while there were branches lying about you could get through without difficulty - I'm guessing the roads people had been round at first light to do a preliminary clean up, unblock flooded culverts and so on.

Being prepared meant that something that was a bit of drama, never got close to being a crisis ...

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Green Tomato Chutney time

Despite the fact that  winter seemed to arrive at the end of March, it was only playing with us - we've had a long drawn out autumn with cold mornings and nights, but reasonably warm days, days when you think about getting out on the bike.

But as can be seen from the photograph I tweeted ten or so days ago, we had a late abundance of tomatoes:

all of which ripened on the kitchen window sill. The yellow ones were a bit boring, but the big red ones were really good tasting tomatoes.

We' ve been eating a lot of tomato and feta salad these last few days, and have finally got close to the tomato even horizon, but even so we still had a problem.

A few days ago we had an almost frost - it didn't quite freeze but it did get down to 0.5C, and the tomato plants didn't like that one bit, which meant a rescue operation to strip the plants of the remaining tomatoes - those that showed signs of ripening went on the kitchen window sill - but the rest ?

Well the rest came to about 5kg, so we selected the biggest and put them to one side to make fried green tomatoes next time we treat ourselves to a big breakfast, and the rest went into chutney.

I think I've probably made enough to feed the street, but for what it's worth here's my recipe

  • 2kg green tomatoes roughly chopped into ~2cm chunks
  • 2 green chillies roughly chopped
  • 2-3 shallots (pickling onions) peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic roughly chopped
  • 250g sultanas
  • 1 finely chopped apple - red or green, your choice
  • thumb sized bit of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 4 tsp Keen's curry powder
  • 350g  white sugar
  • 300ml good quality malt vinegar
Keen's curry powder is a traditional nineteenth century blend, and a little different from the 'proper' more authentic kinds - if you can't get Keen's, try for a traditional aromatic blend - it doesn't have to be hot, but you need aroma.

Likewise I used Cornwells Malt Vinegar, as it was the only genuine malt vinegar our local supermarket had in stock yesterday - any good malt vinegar will do, but avoid anything that's not been brewed traditionally.

Put the lot in a big pot - the big 3 litre pot we use for pasta is fine. Bring to the boil while stirring to blend together. Once blended and boiling, turn down to a simmer. Stir every ten to fifteen minutes. After about two and half hours you should end up with about a litre to a litre and a half of delicous sticky chutney - the actual quantity will depend on how juicy your original tomatoes were.

Bottle in jars that have previously been sterilised by being put through the dishwasher on the thermo nuclear setting - ours is around 75C, but anything over 60C is fine.

Leave in the cupboard to mature, and enjoy with a decent cheddar and a glass of shiraz ...

Sunday, 31 March 2019

And suddenly it's winter

Well, not quite, but definitely autumnal.

Autumn has arrived with a crash and a bang this year. After last week's big storm, we had a series of calm days with chilly mornings and warm afternoons, but this weekend the wind has swung round to the south, bringing with it heavy and very cold rain from the southern ocean and gusty winds making the yard look like a painting inspired by Shelley's West wind.

Today though, the wind has dropped and while it's still cold and damp it's more like a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, a time I always think makes this part of Victoria look like an attempt to reimagine Herefordshire with church bells ringing through the mist and damp apple orchards.

However, unlike Herefordshire at an equivalent time of year we still have tomatoes and chillies trying to ripen, and I've only just pulled out the last of the zucchinnis.

Hopefully we'll get a little bit of sun during the week to help them along, otherwise we'll being making green tomato chutney again this year ...

Friday, 22 March 2019

Storms ...

Yesterday we had a sticky 31C, not bad for the autumnal equinox.

But overnight that all changed.

When my phone played it's irritatingly cheerful wakeup music this morning the house was dark, and quiet. No bedside clock, no powerlights on the bedroom tv and internet decoder, and the study was equally dark, no printer or status lights. Only my windows laptop showed any life, and that was only because it was asleep but using its internal battery.

In fact the only thing showing any signs of life was the cat, and that's because he's learned that my phone going off means a tin of Whiskas for breakfast is in the offing.

So, feed the cat by the light of a led emergency torch we keep in the laundry. Take the tin to the bin and check that none of the neighbours had any lights.

In fact its was quite atmospheric with lightning crashing and crackling through scudding clouds and the occasional spatter of ice cold rain.

So we had no power. No power means no internet.

Fortunately our Huawei 4G travel modem includes a backup battery. Checking my phone I could see that we had a signal, meaning the backup generator had started at the cellphone tower. So out with my ipad to connect to the internet, and onto Ausnet's outages webpage.

Ausnet, the company that manages the power network has this really good outage tracker that shows you where the fault is, more or less, and lets you know an approximate time to fix. The only problem is that the display is designed for an ipad or a laptop and not the smaller screen size of a phone.

Hence the travel modem and ipad routine.

Once I connected, it was obviously a bad one - the whole of Beechworth was out, as were quite a few other neighbouring communities and the website was showing a fault location right in the middle of an area of rough hilly bush. Either a tree had come down or lightning had taken out a transmission pylon.

Anyway, the bad news was Ausnet gave a estimated fix time of 1100.

Now we're all electric. No gas at all. We did use to have a bottled gas stove, but chucked that out in favour of an energy efficient induction cooktop.

So if we wanted coffee, and we did want coffee, it was out with the old gas camping stove. Nipping up to Project 49 or Peddlar for a takeout coffee was not an option.

I knew where the stove was - it was in my gardening shed, but finding it took some time as it had got pushed behind some plantpots and seed trays - but once found it was out with the old stovetop coffee maker, and soon we had a brew on the way.

We of course had no radio, but we do keep an old AM radio pretuned to the local ABC station in the kitchen drawer for emergencies, and you guessed it, the batteries were dead. Fortunately I did have some spare batteries, so a couple of minutes later we had the breakfast show telling us of trees down, road closures, power outages and the like.

In the event the power came back just before 1000, and we were able to rejoin the 21st century. What it did show was our woeful preparedness for winter, so before the next one we need to

  • make sure we have spare batteries for the AM Radio always on hand
  • keep a spare gas cartridge (or two) for the old camping stove in the shed
  • buy a couple of small battery led torches
  • buy and keep a couple of cans of soup in the pantry
  • get a small camping kettle for making tea and instant soup 
  • keep the travel modem and ipads reasonably charged
  • ditto for our phones

and of course there's the knock on - the supermarket didn't have fresh baked bread this morning, and the local servo had had to close - no power for the petrol pumps - and of course no one could do eftpos or tap'n'go transactions this morning - it was all cash, so I guess we need to keep some small notes and change handy ...