Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Storm and a teacup

Agents Orange - Sue, Michael and Terry

Yet another tedious tempest ravaged docile Larrikin’s End all last weekend. This time around Seat of Pants copped a more serious trouncing. Two trees toppled, including the one I thought was dead. Well it is now. Fortunately for me, they fell into the front fence. Not so lucky for the fence, obviously. I slept through the whole thing, but then I slept through the great London maelstrom of 1987 which uprooted most of the city’s stately old trees. I’m quite a heavy sleeper and there’s only so much fascination to be drawn from the furious elements waving their meteorological arms about before one gets bored and throws on a Lara Croft DVD to nod off to.

About halfway through Sunday morning it occurred to me that I ought to check out the state of the Pantation. It’s what you do when you have a house and it’s no one else’s job to worry about whether or not bits of it have blown off and sliced someone’s Schnauzer in half. At first I just stood there fascinated by the jumble of leaves, gnarly branches and splinters of fence decorating the road. It slowly occurred to me that I would have to do something about this but I had no idea what that course of action could possibly be. Then I remembered that I had a fridge magnet with the number of the State Emergency Service on it. Unsure if the situation before me constituted a genuine emergency but at a complete loss as to who else to call, I dialled the number. I nervously explained the predicament, anxious that I might get into trouble and receive some kind of fine or demerit for misuse of officialdom. I am quite jumpy since I discovered that demands for money can come in the post if you have driven your car at the wrong speed.

I needn’t have worried. Within the hour, the three wonderful orange-clad angels pictured above had chopped the fallen foliage into cartable pieces. Until I came to live in the countryside, I had never really understood why there are men on the planet. I now totally get it. They go on the other end of a chainsaw and chainsaws seem to feature quite prominently in daily life here in Larrikin’s End. While Michael chomped and Sue and Terry stacked my troublesome dead wood, I slipped up to the kitchen to make them a much-deserved cup of tea. In an emergency, one should stick to what one knows.

So, I have now spent an entirely unscheduled two days breaking up branches into kindling and stacking logs in the shed but at least I won’t be short of firewood next winter. The fence is covered by insurance and the claim was relatively easy to initiate. As with everything financial, I simply went down to the marvellous Commonwealth Bank, looked helpless and handed over the little card they give you that contains all the details they need to sort out whatever mess you’ve got yourself into. It remained then to find yet another man, one who could fix the fence. Man, I have discovered, is not simply an all-purpose term for one who either mends or demolishes and removes broken things. It is actually much more complex than that. They have distinct specialisms. I phoned Newton, the fire alarm-taming man who doesn’t do electrics. He also doesn’t do fences. He suggested I try Mitre 10, our local hardware shop.

Mitre 10 and I have a somewhat fractious relationship as I keep trying to buy a particular type of sun lounge there that they continually advertise but flatly refuse to sell. I’ll admit I don’t know much about the vagaries of retail but this does seem a strange phenomenon. They deposit catalogues in the Seat of Pants letterbox. I go down there and they make a grand pretence of checking their official-looking database and then they tell me that the sun lounge I want is ‘not available’. Actually what they say is, ‘it’s showing negative eight,’ which appears sort of plausible until you think it through and then it just sounds like a politician’s explanation for why the world economy is in freefall. I thought shops were supposed to be profit-driven so where’s the payoff in creating a demand you don’t intend to fill? This happens about twice a week. It’s probably just as well as the sun is nearly always unavailable too. I don’t wish to malign the people at Mitre 10 as they’re very nice and they can’t really help it if they don’t have what people want to buy. I dare say if I asked them for a Sara Lee Cheesecake or a Jackson Pollock they probably wouldn’t be able to help me there either. Anyway, they successfully hooked me up with a fencing contractor who helpfully dropped around today to give me a quote. I also bought a NO JUNK MAIL sign for my letterbox. In the future, I think it would be better all round if I didn’t know what I couldn’t have. That just brings me down…

Friday, December 05, 2008

Shell Shock

Oh no, I've been reincarnated as Fat Boy Slim

Here’s something I never imagined ever saying – I love having a dishwasher. I wouldn’t have conceived of buying one. My mind just doesn’t work that way. Potato peeler yes, dishwasher no. However, having had the good sense to buy a house with a dishwasher already installed, I can only say I approve.

A dishwasher suits the way I have always lived which is to wash up when the store of dishes, pans, glasses and pots runs out and I realise that I’ll eventually want to eat or drink something. I wash up to enable that eventuality. Any other way of doing it is anathema to my natural sense of what’s important. With a dishwasher – (please feel free to skip this bit if you are a fully paid up member of the adult world and have had a dishwasher, pantry, DLUG, ensuite bathroom and coiffed shrubbery for the last twenty years) – this strategy works so much more effectively. Dishwashing still occupies the same lowly priority in the grand scheme of things it always has but, instead of demonstrating its paltry position in the domestic pecking order by strewing your kitchen with stacks of greasy Le Creuset, the offending items are all neatly tucked away in under-sink storage until you pop in a tablet and push a button. This is the best part of all - doing the washing up is no longer the onerous task undertaken when one finally tires of moped-delivered pizza and drinking out of bottles. It simply entails remembering to activate the dishwasher before going to bed. I had no idea life could be so serene.

While we’re on the rarely explored subject of white goods… All the time I lived in London I had a student fridge. The first one I inherited from a house of actual students who lived in Leytonstone and used hubcaps for ashtrays. The freezing compartment had no door and you needed to prop a brick against the thing to keep it shut but it had a lovely Formica decorative strip across the top of the door and kept things moderately cold for getting on for fifteen years. When it finally expired, I marched confidently into John Lewis in Oxford Street with a favourite fridge magnet and explained to a dapper man in a bow tie that I would like a fridge to match. Maintaining an admirably straight face throughout, he sold me a small, relatively expensive Bosch and I was able to access ice without a hammer and chisel for the first time in years. Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised to find that food did not of necessity smell like curds and whey after it had been refrigerated. That fridge served me well for many years but, unlike the Zanussi washing machine, did not make the final immigration cull. Apparently fridges don’t travel all that well. Since the Zanussi arrived coated in half a ton of mould, I’m well satisfied with the decision to relocate the Bosch to a good home in Essex.

For the first time in my adult life I have an adult fridge. It’s the smallest two-door fridge-freezer it’s possible to buy but it has separate compartments for every conceivable perishable and not only does it make very commendable ice, at the twist of a knob, it drops it into a little tray for you. If I’d known being a grown-up was going to be this much fun, I would have tried it sooner. Although, having said that, there are negative aspects to this whole block of land and big house thing. I keep forgetting I have a garden so consequently rarely remember to go there. I’ve also discovered I have grass which at some point will need mowing and one or two trees which may just be sleeping but I think are more likely dead. I’ve realised that I have become dangerously cosseted by a generation of flat-dwelling and know virtually nothing about how to manage the outdoors.

My state of mind, always in delicate balance, is not aided by the terrifying level of regulation on individual responsibility that exists in Australia. Much of it manifests as absurd perversions of basically sound social principles. Take water for example. In London we all had a jolly good laugh at old Ken Livingstone for suggesting we cut back on our toilet flushing to conserve water. The only folk who weren’t choking on their own delicious sense of irony were the low-paid immigrant workers whose job it is to clean out the lavatories in the Hedgehog (City Hall). With London’s 150 year-old water pipes leaking about eighty per cent of the domestic supply, it seemed a bit daft to be risking a cholera outbreak for the sake of rescuing the odd bucketful.

Australia does have serious water issues of which I wouldn’t dream of making light. I generally regard it as irresponsible to waste any resources. I have, after all, only just got my first dishwasher which I can assure is full to bursting when it’s initiated. However, I can’t resist commenting on the water conservation strategy of my adopted region. The welcome pack they sent contained a fridge magnet (thank you!) and a substantial glossy brochure informing me that there are ‘rules’ about water usage. Just as well I read this brochure as I discover these ‘rules’ are in fact ‘laws’ as opposed to the polite British ‘suggested guidelines’ I have become accustomed to scoffing at before ignoring completely. I further discovered these ‘rules’ carry stiff penalties for non-compliance. Oh yes, folks. I could be faced with a minimum $1,000 fine for having the wrong nozzle on my hose. I could be sent to prison for ‘deliberately causing or negligently allowing water to be wasted, misused or excessively consumed’. Mark McGowan be warned – don’t move here.

No wonder all my trees are dying – the previous incumbent was clearly too scared to water them. How’s this for a prescription? I ‘must’ have a ‘trigger’ nozzle on my hose rather than a ‘traditional twist’ nozzle. Traditional? There is a tradition for hose fittings? Whatever. And the reason I must have this very particular type of nozzle? I quote – well of course it’s a quote. Not even I could have made up something this silly,

‘Nozzles that must be twisted to turn the flow of the water on or off cannot be used. This is because they do not shut water on and off immediately, and therefore have a higher potential to waste water.’

Well there’s something twisted here and methinks it ain’t the nozzle. Surely, if one is holding the nozzle over the object to be watered when one twists, the water finds its mark. Equally surely, if one concentrates really hard – and one would because the fate of a nation’s water supply hangs in the balance – one could begin shutting down the nozzle three seconds before the object is satiated. Although not an exact science in the truest sense, I’m reasonably sure I could get my plants watered with a ‘traditional’ nozzle without squandering the viability of the planet. In any case, the point is moot as I have neither type of nozzle nor do I have plans to alter that state. Who wants to spend the extra time they’ve inherited by acquiring a dishwasher on shopping for gardening equipment? Not moi. The garden can look after itself. I so rarely remember I have one anyway...