Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ah cut daan trees, Ah eat ma lunch

Today was an interesting excercise in moving the impossible - James out of bed and down to the water's edge to pump burrowing prawn prawns. Clare had got Paddy out of bed (a feat amost beyond belief) so they came down too.

Then we went across to Patriarchs inlet, to collect some clams. As you can see it was positively toasty.

While B and Pads and Clare froze their fingers off, James and I stayed nice and warm

The success rate wasn't too high, as we needed to go and cut some wood and head home.
James got about a dozen small mullet, unlike last time when the australian salmon were there too. Anyway, it was fun. We cut off a number of pieces of dead tree - keep us burning for a while, and went home to cut them smaller and let Clare loose at the blockbuster.

As I said to Pads, I would avoid annoying a determined woman of this caliber, EVER:-). She's capable with a chainsaw too.

We had hoped to use the burrowing prawn fishing for flathead (we ate the last of my freezer stock - kids appetites!) but we got visitors (I think I was relieved) and Pads and J baked us a couple of batches buscuits (cookies = buscuits, America). Paddy with extra ginger, natch. (my sons and Clare appear to be ginger addicts. They may need to go for ginger rehab).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The lesson for today

A saving disposition is of course essential to any drive toward self-suffiency. One re-uses all these disposable objects. Net-bags for oranges make good prawn nets. My garden has a serious crop of cut off milk bottles milk bottles doing mini-greenhouse duty. B has been using them too, to make and store broth for the dogs, made from scraps. Fish, chicken, muttonbird... We really, really need that milk-cow. Too many milk bottles and the stuff is expensive.

The key here is of course NOT to be of too saving a disposition. For example not putting on the light while boiling the kettle to make coffee in the still-dark wee hours of morning, but instead using the dim light of the full moon is a mistake.

Or maybe one just shouldn't store fish-and-muttonbird broth in a milk bottle in the 'fridge door.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Clare is here!

Now our whole family is complete, as Paddy's girlfriend Clare arrived this afternoon. All 4 of us were giving her advice and instructions all the way from the airport home. As this is a 2km drive, we all felt we must get the best info over early. Clare had flown from the UK and was naturally feeling tired, so how many of our pearls she will remember is the next question. But we can always claim to have shared the important info on that trip.

Earlier in the afternoon James went for a short 40km cycle, up hill and down dale being all the same, he says, as he cycles 'within himself', still he seemed to really enjoy it. And I think a break from his loving family is probably a good thing.

While collecting Clare's luggage, we saw the carpet we had ordered in the store room, so we fetched that and saved a trip tomorrow. We are hoping to keep the dogs totally off our landlord's fitted carpet by adding another one on top. He is not a 'dog in the house' kind of guy, so we are trying to show that they will not do any damage to his belongings at all.

Dave did us pizza for supper, 'tea', with cheese, tomato and mince for all of us, and seafood, including squid, for all except Paddy. Clare enjoyed the squid, which was good, but she then had to listen to the most amazing stories on how to catch them. I think our first trip to the jetty is going to be either a total let down, or a huge relief!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hey, chill, dude...

We had our first frost this morning, but the day was clear and so, by lunch time, it was shirtsleeve warm in wind-shelter patch behind the house. Which led James to "Well, you finished the book, and it's nice weather..."
B and I were agreeable - nice weather here in mid-winter should be seized and used. Paddy is frantically trying to finish something before Clare gets in - and as rain is forecast and we don't want Roland wet later than 9.30 AM (he is not one of your fast drying dogs) so Paddy dog-sat and we went beachward - which as this James's idea I ought to have guessed involved diving (he's obsessed with the hand-spear which for the record is like going after antelope with an assegai.
Possible but not very probable. But it is a harmless ambition... well except it means I have to get in the water too.
And get my beard in the zipper.

B- very sensibly went to go fishing instead. We'd decided on Sawyer's Bay - an area we've never explored. (There are about 200 kilometers of coastline. Add another 50 for convolutions, islands etc. There are bits, just little ones, I have not seen yet...;-)

The first thing we learned - after the experience of mind-numbing (and toe and finger numbing) temperature of the water - was that we'd made a small error of judgement - like 300 metres, which on a global scale is tiny thing... when you have to swim it through very shallow water in the cold, seeing nary a fish nor abalone nor crayfish - it's a long swim. Eventually I did see a fish. A big flathead. Unfortunately it didn't stay to be speared. We found a Nautilus shell, and then a handful of possibly bream... or something else. Anyway a change from the usual flathead-flathead-flathead or wrasse. And to hades with James and the handspear - I wanted them. So I pulled the rubber on the elderly spear gun (which has never been one of my big success stories, but compared to the hand-spear...

The elderly rubber promptly broke. I wacked myself in the chest, but that was that. And by the time James and the hand-spear got there - there was nary a fish to be seen. Ah well. We swam on to B, who had caught nothing. And so, as there were lots of those nothing available back where we'd come from, I tried to talk to her only my mouth was numb... and then six or seven yards past James (about 15 yards out, standing up, waist deep)

A dolphin (sorry no camera in the water)

B shouts points and waves - and James decides it's a grey nasty she's telling him about and bolts towards us -not looking back. By the time we managed 'Dolphin'it slipped away again. We stood on the rocks and watched two of them, possibly the reason we'd seen so few fish. Anyway, as they say back in South Africa, 'lelik is niks, maar stupid' so we got in and swam after them. Didn't of course get anywhere near them. Got to the next rocky point, which was slightly deeper and rougher, and had the inevitable wrasse, and a few abelone (Poor B had caught nothing, and had slipped and fallen hard) and some stripy fish that nearly gave me a heart attack - or at least James vanishing after them around a rock did(which I thought was pomonitory, but was actually an island with a narrow channel to landward - with a high wall - in which he chased fish).
We always keep tabs on the other diver... and I lost him. I hauled out onto the rock to look and couldn't see him behind me or to seaward(he must have been just in the lee of the rock I was standing on) and yelled (yes, even underwater it works - and we're not diving with tanks - free diving with snorkles - come up to breathe.) I yell frantically and B starts running from 100 yards off, waving her arms about. I'm trying to work out WHAT she's waving about - whether I need to dive in, and just where she's pointing - when James appears to LANDWARD behind me - out of his channel. So all was well. James found a couple of abalone, and we walked back. The boy had already passed the stop shivering point, young idiot. Anyway, all was well except B is sore from slipping and the deep freezer didn't benefit a lot. Oh and I saw a wombat, walking back. We were walking back, not the wombat, he was standing shaking his head at us, saying 'morons'.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

You mean... someone doesn't like fermented shark meat?

Hákarl - an icelandic 'delicacy'(Why do you think I made one of the main heroes in the Heirs of Alexandria series an Icelandic warrior... The book, by the way, is finished, finally today.) AKA - fermented raw basking shark, which is just plain toxic fresh, and smells like it is supposed to be used for industrial floor-cleaning is perhaps one of the extreme examples of cultural food acclimatisation (and eating it is supposed to be sign of manliness! (hur, gung ho. I c'n drink ammonia.) and like many things (Surströmming and Kusaya spring to mind - yes I have come across both. I'm a foodie who worked with fish) it's one of those love it or hate it things. And people get very very heated about them...

While not, thank heavens, in quite the same league as Hákarl, muttonbird tends to have the same reputation. For islanders who have grown up with it, well, it's a delicacy. Many incomers - and some islanders - won't even have it cooked in their kitchens swearing the smell lasts for six months or so.

Let's be frank(incence) it's... fairly powerful. smoky-fishy. Um well, very fishy. Okay since you press me VERY VERY pungent. And, er, enduring. I'm not willing to give it 6 months, but outside cooking is prolly not a badly thought-out idea, because you will smell it in bed. Tomorrow, unless you have a good air-extractor.

Curiously, the meat itself is not too fishy. Just the fat, and there is a lot of it. Very full of all those omega three fatty acids. The best answer is to barbeque it. And as the book was finished I decided the time had come to test how Islander my family were. Of course the downside of this is that Australia is very like South Africa in many cultural ways, but some ass introduced the idea of cooking on gas barbeques instead of a 'braai'. For a South African he-man to admit that he cooks on gas... well he's more likely to have one of those little handbag-purse things the French seem to consider manly, and to tell all his friends he loves going for a pedicure and facial as they talk over the Rugby. Or as likely as an Icelandic skald to tell you hates Hákarl. Even the likes of me who stopped worrying about what his fellow men thought of his masculinity thirty years back, wouldn't touch one except to fry eggs and bacon on... because, frankly, they fail at the basic reason for cooking over a fire - which naturally is the cremated bits and flavours from the wood-smoke or even charcoal ( I cheat and mix the two, but purists swear by various woods. I might too, if I was that pissy, or had the option, maybe). You might as well cook inside on a stove as on gas.Yes, there is a fire risk. And there is taste disaster. They're convenient IMO, but nothing like as nice as the real thing. But I think I have found the closet reason for this use of gas. A lot of products in Oz lead SA by a country mile, but every now and again you find something they screwed up here... and lead contender outside of Telstra (with a special mention for exceptional achievement to the Eastlands Mall Telstra shop in Hobart as the single worst shopping experience I have ever had) has to be these things called 'heat beads' which are to a good briquette what the hardness of a marshmellow is to steel bar. Okay, grumble, maybe just what we got on the island and they're just wonderful everywhere else. I lit these. And then I lit them again. Then I 'phoned the Fireys and told them not to panic, Victoria wasn't on fire, just 30 heat beads in a safe stainless steel container on concrete with 5 yards of wet grass around them... were doing the smoke-dance of a Chinese brown coal fired power-plant... each. It took a good 40 minutes to put out the same amount of heat as a car cigarette-lighter - by which stage the average pyromanic South African would be singing his eyebrows off with a douse of meths or petrol (adds that je ne se quoi to your cremated meat.)

But I have the answer. There is help at hand


The muttonbird.

Bloody 'eck. If there ever was a good reason for cooking over a gas grill it's got be the effect of muttonbird fat on heat beads. The flames got about 3 feet high. There is NO WAY I am cooking these things inside a house on a gas stove for 'elf an safety reasons -- and you all know how I deeply approve these nanny things. Anyone who is dumb enough to cook these near naked lights indoors deserves the house to catch. And the happy South African habit of beer marianade-fire douse would have lots of sour faces and empty beer bottles. You could run a truck on muttonbird fat I reckon (I'm tempted. The delight of driving the exhaust scent down a city street... or stopping next to your friendly traffic policeman would almost be worth it.)

There is of course one dire danger cooking them outdoors. It is the so called 'hot dog' AKA Roland who decided that muttonbird fat was just the most decious thing in the entire universe and was so frantic to get at the splatter that I was terrified the droplets on his back might combust.

The dogs LOVE muttonbird. They cleaned the concrete. They got a broth made from the bones and scraps on their blocks and voted it wolfed down, and the braai - flames and all - had to be guarded. They sat and drooled at us cooking.

The cats feel that anything that combines their best food - fish, with their second best - fowl, has to be a win. But please do not cook it!

James had an uncertain start, and then got into it, and ate one and a half, and Paddy ate ?4 well, lots.

For the record, it's MUCH nicer over charcoal - even these rubbish heat beads - than it was over gas. More of a flambeaux hassle to cook, but worth it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nearing the book end

Let's keep it short because I am just two short chapters (and some edits) from the end of this book. And yes, I've just written another DRAGON'S RING style piece which - althought this story ends, will have readers demanding the next. It wasn't entirely planned that way... The characters did by themselves.

It's been raining and been good weather for it, and I got enough sleep to have the brain running well, and now all we need is to get back to Odessa (aka Hacibey) and Venice.

More real adventures tomorrow... promise

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Is the adventure over?

B and I were talking last night about how the following for Flinders Family Freer has slowly grown. B was saying well, it would taper off now. The beloved beasts are here, adventure was over, no one would be that interested any more.

I profoundly disagree about the adventure being over (not sure about the growing interest not tapering). There are so many more things still to learn about the growing and foraging our own food. Then we'll eventually have the scary adventure of trying to buy ourselves a home of our own. This is going to be tricky as I'm a author - mediocre to rotten and very erratic income - which tends to make bank managers turn pale. Yes, we make church mice seem profligate wastrels in living carefully, and we do have some money from the sale of Finnegan's Wake left. But dogs and cats took a lot of that, and moving (us and our rock and furniture) a lot too. The Island is a delight in many ways, but transport to here adds a premium. It's not something that can't be beaten, but at fifty I'm back where where we were at thirty, only marginally wiser and a lot more creaky. Not planning to let it stop us -- as long as I can keep writing and selling, we'll make forward progress. And who knows - the big one might be next (maybe even the book of how we came to Flinders). With books there is always a chance. Story over? I don't think so. Besides... I am a sort of chaos magnet, and even in a bucholic idyll - if I'm there... there will be storms, disasters and misadventures, strange creatures from the depths, stranger meals, beasts behaving badly and me learning ineptly how to do all things from pickling olives to making mead, or keeping a milk-cow to how deal with possums. And of course B to keep me semi-sane and sensible, and the beasties to love us and throw spanners in the works.

So what do you think?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tired but here

Well, the settling process has inevitably been a little hard. The Animals I will say are all universally pleased to be here, and delighted to be with us. And I think understandably a little insecure, although despite all the horror stories they seem to be OKay so far (and I was told by several people that cats just don't do quarantine - ours seems to remember us and quite frankly be less traumatised than the dogs. They all do need a lot of attention, but are straight back into their old ways... well, all needing a scratch or notice on average every thirty seconds, which I hope will slack off soon. Last night was restless in the extreme with Roly just not settling. I've had about 2 hours sleep which hasn't helped the book finish. And we've had sets of dog-and-cat visitors all day. We went to the winter Solstice Scottish dancing/ singing do last night (not the night I would have chosen. Can't these celestial bodies show ANY consideration?), which was... energetic (just to watch!) Fun too. James stayed in and fire/cat/dog sat, and shortly after we got in, we discovered Robin-cat was missing. Frantic inside and out search ensued.
HUH. Madamoiselle had decided to sleep INSIDE the cupboard and now that she was comfortable, was not coming when called (that seems to be the main difference - which won't last - the cats now come when called. The right cat to right name. Bizarre!).

Little Robin-cat was admittedly so appreciative of liberty and people and above all CARPET she was actually doing the tail quiver. Bat (once he'd punished us - about 2 hours) was doing the leg-weave, and climbing up your legs. La Duchesse was rising up and head butting. All she wants to do is sleep ON people, Barbs being first prize. Poor B had all 3 on top of her this evening. I am of course a bad man, because I won't have them on the table while I am cooking.

Dogs... well Pugsley says it is really time he was boss dog and he hasn't had to share space with anyone for a while. Wednesday is being smarmy goody-two-shoes (as if I could be fooled). And Roly, is well, Roly. Happiest when sitting on you.

Poor baby, he is very thin. But they're all so obviously happy to be home, to be loved

Oh and they are determined NOT to be left behind ever again. Paddy was trying to lift James's bicycle out of the truck - and 3 dogs and bicycle was probably even funnier than 3 men and boat.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

woof, miaaaw - our story in pictures.

in cages in the plane

Duchess was the first cat out.

There is FISH here!

finally OUT!!!

run, bounce.

It's been a long road home. But we're here

Monday, June 21, 2010

It's EARLY tomorrow

We have had an update. Our 3 cats, and one of our dogs, Wednesday, are in Tasmania. The other 2 dogs are in Melbourne. By tonight, all of them will be in Launceston, Tasmania. Tomorrow morning between 8 and 8.30am they will all arrive on the island in the mail plane! I am so excited, I really can't wait to see them all again.

I spoke to the wonderful man who collected them from kennels in Sydney and put them on the plane there. He said the cats all appeared well, and the dogs had enjoyed a long walk with him, and they were all very bouncy and lively.

The mail plane's take off time is heavily dependant on the weather, high winds or mist and it doesn't so the trip. So please will you all send really good weather thoughts this way until 11am tomorrow our time, after that it can snow for all I care.

Dave and the boys are out in the dark with headlamps getting the fence ready to keep the dogs from getting at the cows on one side of us, or the sheep on the other. Yes, I know, we have had 5 months to get it sorted, but somehow we kept thinking there was plenty of time. Also I was being a bit superstitious, as in, 'if I prepare for them too long in advance they won't get here' which was really silly. But what can I say, I am female!

So I am currently 'alone at home' and 'keeping the home fires burning' literally, I am making sure they have a warm house to come back to.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

If this comes out of your nose...

you'll need more than kleenex.

James and his battle-mother - very inky. 1.5Kg - not quite as big as his mum's one. They went fishing while I stayed and wrote and cooked supper. Poor me.

The poles for the piece of fence for the dogs are up. Tomorrow we wire it. Tomorrow is their last day in quarantine, and they are being collected in Sydney to fly here. Will post as soon as we know their arrival times.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Is the ice still in the river?

This seems appropriate as I have just been writing about the frozen Dnieper River in the Ukraine (of course it's the territory controlled by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the book, not Ukraine).

Despite gale warnings and rain forecast James and I took the galleon in persuit of adventure to Pat's river for an hour or so in what was theoretically the hottest part of the day.

The joy of being very close to all of this sort of thing, and quite organised is that from get up from my desk to get into the water or throwing a line takes 15-20 minutes. Unlike my good friend Chris back in SA who would get up at two AM, to faff about, and fiddle pack everything and check it... and be lucky to be launching by seven (and he lived a few hundred metres from the slip) we're a good team, and quite practiced at chaos theory packing. Hey, it does mean some interesting things get left behind, which has been responsible for quite a lot of fiendish contrivance and ingenuity over the years, but most of it has residence in the dive box or squid box or flounder crate etc.

The ditch next to Galleon would have been a better target... warmer for a start. We took the big kayak which has a 180Kg capacity - and James I don't weigh much more than 130Kg. We got the boat down to the river - low tide and it was the color of tea. Black, stand-your-spoon-in-it-tea with a reddish tinge, overhung with ti-trees and she-oaks. It's quite a pretty estuary, and the vessel was perfectly designed for those with piles - with lovely soothing icy water coming up through the drainage in floor, and soaking my sit-upon. It's a sit-on Kayak designed not sink even if a wave breaks right over the top of it, with drainage holes. Someone needs to explain to the water that it needs to go OUT not come seeping in, and through the rubber of my wetsuit. We paddled upriver first (for the Google Earth-curious - it's the little river next to the airport. We got in off Boyes road, next to a bunch of guinea fowl - I'm not sure if they show up on google earth, but I was very excited to see them. Good eating!) There is a mile of estuary that is tidal. It's about 40-50 feet wide at the best down to about 20 at the upper bridge - where there is a little weir with a dead wallaby in it. And a huge fish that dived away from us... so there are fish in there. We'll investigate at higher tide, sometime.

On the way back down, we established that the fish living in it are entirely mad, as our tandem paddling or vast skill tipped us into the drink (it's not very stable with two on it) and that water is around 8 degrees Celcius - a LOT colder than the sea at 12-14. Anyway, we paddled down to sea, and met the gale (delightful when you are wet) and passed a dead ray in the 6 foot wide range. Sorry - no pic - just as well as the camera would have got wet. Hmm. Dead critter at the top, dead critter at the bottom... maybe that system needs a good heavy flood before we forage there.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The red flag flying there.

No, before you even ask. THERE ARE NO PHOTOGRAPHS. I'm not that tired of life. When, like me you've been married for a long time to a woman of strong will (she has to be, she's still married to me) and arm (she has to have. She has a strong will and she's married to me, and I do daft things. 'Anything I can do she can do better (I can do better than you :-))'. This includes use a chainsaw - do you understand 'respect and no photographs' fully now? Do you understand my favourite character in Rats, Bats an Vats better now? If you haven't read it, you should. It's available at the Baen Free Library.)

What's all this about then? Well, it's our dogs and cats, but mostly the dogs. We suddenly realised this morning that 1)Paddy is as sick as a horse, and needed to go to the doctor (done and on antibiotics) -- he's got his mother's AND my obstinacy. getting this done was no small feat. 2) The Doggins get out of quarantine on Monday. And we haven't sorted out the fence yet. I've been too busy with the book. So B and I went on a very expensive mission to Elders to buy a gate and wire and posts (there is a 20 foot section that needs fencing and a gate, where the driveway comes in.)The one downside is our double-cab ute does not have a very long bin, and we wanted a 12 foot gate - which protruded. We tied it in place safely. So the youngster at Elders says 'have you got something to tie on the back? Which of course we didn't have. And our local police have been stopping cars at the intersection going out of town.

But B is wearing red trousers. So she says "Is there a law that says you have to wear pants when driving?"

The youngster's jaw gets gravel rash. I think he'd never quite dealt with luntatics like these South Africans anyway... "Er. No."

"Good," says B, and gets into the cab. The youth gets the picture... well the idea anyway, and disappears with terrifying speed. I know better than to argue, collect bright red cords and give B my jacket as a sort of skirt. Attach trousers firmly to the gate, and we trundle the couple of klicks home in the blue slug (a nudibranch for those of you who get Zoological jokes), not meeting any black-and-white uniformed folk, unless you count the Magpies. They always make that laughing noise.

And B and her trousers are re-united and James and I dig the new hole to the centre of the earth - or close anyway. Little fellows in red pyjamas kept climbing out of the hole. If they'd showed up earlier we could have hung them on the gate.

Some small fiendish part of me does however have this mental image of the large cop from Lady Barron first leaning into the driver's window, and then saying "would you mind getting out of the car?"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rain, sun, rain

A typical Flinders day - it should have been blowing a gale and raining. It alternated between all 4 seasons. Bucketing this morning - then 11 o'clock I was stuck so I went and planted out a punnet of red onions that have been waiting a week - in a t-shirt. It was windless and hot enough for the local gecko to put his head out and ask if it was my shout. By 12 the onions and the gecko were getting a good soaking. Then the sun was out enough for B to put the washing out again. I needed some veggies for the stirfry tonight, and went out in the gooti (new word especially for Dirk Flinthart)(thin sticky, mizzly rain - it's Shona, I think. Like sussuration it sounds like what it is.) and picked some spinach, a jalapeno, carrots, and some fresh Italian Parsley and thyme. This is the first of our Jalepenos (we used the ones Lisa gave us up to now - which were so mild.) These - having planted late and struggled along since January and ripening very slowly and temp stressed are toilet roll in the freezer stuff - which may be just as well as Pads is down with flu/cold and B and I are feeling Inge's 'crook'. Chili could burn it out. Anyway, we still wait. The boys for exam results, B for her test result. Me for my brain to tie up the last threads. It's not going easy, but we'll get there.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Home... is in your chest

The boys were listening to Dr Horrible's Sing-a-long, which includes a song by the typical noxious super-hero about the homeless - Problem neatly solved because 'Home is where the heart is, so your home is inside your chest'... which of course immediately had me thinking human snail thoughts. It's not always easy being a science fiction writer with an over-active imagination. Imagine how much worse it is for my dear family! It got me thinking about a few comments on Baen's Bar (my US publisher's forum, where I echo these posts)about this lot.

Yeah. We've been frightened. It's a long step into the unknown, leaving our comfort zone, our old home where we owned outright the house Murphy built (with 15 roof pitches and a sinstral spiral design) in an area of South Africa famous for its beauty, with our own stream and fruit trees and some acres, our safety net of friends and family far behind. There were no paths trodden by other migrants to do what we had done - how I earn my living, the visa we got, and where we have chosen to live are all new ground that we could ask no-one else about. Taking our dogs and cats most people reckoned as close to financial insanity. Deciding to stay would have been far less effort, and cheaper and much, much simpler.

I'm glad we did it. It was anything but easy, but I've never been good at doing the easy or taking the path everyone else travels just because they have. Yet, it's actually not that different or that unique. Humans have done just this... well, since the human race existed. Humans move, explore adapt to their environment, and adapt the evironment to themselves, just like termites build termite mounds. It's what we are. We're intelligent enough to start trying to minimise our damage and do some custodian work... but we always do move, explore, find new things to eat and places and ways to live. The culture I come from - which has more in common with that of the US, Australia, Canada or New Zealand than the 'source countries' in Europe would find Flinders, and what we are doing, very like going back 50 years or more... in all the good aspects too. Community. Yeah, gossip and all the other small place things... but the support too. We know our neighbors. People drop in (and we've only been here 5 months). Yet we have good medicine available and good internet access.

And you can make home anywhere you can take your heart. We have our rock, our piece of an African frontier farm -- proof that it can be done. It's only one stone toward building a new home of own, and not just a rented place (which still is a big improvement on the tent or caravan we thought we'd be in), but it's a start. A root, if you like, that we grow from. Soon the dogs and cats will be here. There are days and events which will still be bleak. Unlike 'refugees' who get humanitarian visas there are no free rides for us. We're not bludgers, we don't expect them. Rock, dogs, cats, our boys and most especially Barbs... I can handle it. And although I am less than sure about eating sea-weed, enjoy a lot of it.

Flinders Island might have been a long way to come to plant that root, but I believe it's good soil for it. I think if I had listened to the voice of reason and left the dogs and cats... we might have had more of a financial security blanket, but I would not have been me, and I would have struggled to come to terms with myself. I'd rather be poor and feel at peace with that aspect of my concience anyway.

The island has had its share of sadness and hardship. Shipwrecks, brutality and heartbreak. But it has also been a refuge, beautiful, lonely and quiet, yet friendly and warm, a balm for the soul, and place that has been much loved. You can feel that here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Minced fish and other dark delights

If you're a cat, that is. As a human I am less convinced. Of course the hairy hound from Budapest AKA Roland is also very partial to fish. Nothing like a big fishy slobber to make you feel loved.
We turned some of the wrasse from yesterday into preparatory pet food in the freezer through one of the old fashioned hand mincers - it actually worked really well as the bones either get minced or stay behind. We must have 3 weeks of catfood ready. Yesterday I got to 100K in the book, and we celebrated the lovely weather and that and the Queen's birthday by a trip to 'the docks' which is a remote cliff completely without any docks/dogs/docs in sight. It was a lovely family outing as B said - James and I dived for a bit. Despite the rubber layers the water was serious sinus burn cold - only bit not rubber-coated. It was cold but crystal clear and barely a ripple in sight. We swam into a huge shoal of Australian Salmon and failed utterly to spear any fish with the hand-spear (I didn't take the gun, which I regretted). I speared a leather-jacket (triggerfish) in my determination to spear something... only they're... well, the skin is so tough I didn't penetrate! So we swam on, looking for Abalone, and utterly failing to call B and Pads to come catch these blessed Salmon (B and Pads were catching wrasse, which are now kitty-nubbins, barring the two we had in a green Thai curry tonight. Paddy who doesn't really do curry loved until he had a mouthful of wine - an error of judgement - which burned all the way down.) Anyway we eventually got 2 abalone - could have tried harder I guess, but we'd been swimming around for two hours and I was fairly cold. James decided to check on the Aussie Salmon, before we fished for them... and met a large grey something (probably a shark feeding on them) and got out very rapidly onto the little island and water-walked across to the shore. We tried fishing there anyway, but all I got was a big a big blue-head wrasse. I left James and B to go on fishing and went climbing with Pads. Ergo - the dwarf picture. I've done a lot more trad leading than the boys so I somehow got talked into onsighting a route next to the described one. The climb started delightfully - gentle gradient, pinch-grips and high friction and got steadily steeper, and ended some 30 metres on, with a water-etched granite groove - a little arpeggio of moves on crystals and tiny pinches. Eissh... not much in the way of runners. I ended up in a very wide straddle trying to place a wedge and got cramp. Newton was right, but experience with runner-placement stopped any tragedy beyond a scraped elbow. I had to go up twice more, fiddling out runners in very dodgey micro cracks before trying the thrutch and wobble to the top, and reached up and found a glorious hidden jug-handled hold, big enough to tie the Queen Mary to. So all was well that ended well. The climb is relatively easy and will do well as beginner route, now I know that the roundness at the top hides a wonderful hold.

There is nothing like the absence of dying in the meeting of man and cliff to leave you feeling uplifted...

or lifted up anyway. My arms and hands are still stiff, but it was good to feel alive and doing things.

Paddy went to Sing Australia in the evening, and it was a windless night and we hoped for some floundering - but were played false by James's tum. So we came home and I did some work.

Monday, June 14, 2010

We did it together!

Today was really bright and sunshiny early on, so we got all packed up and drove 40kms north to a beach called 'The Docks' that has rock climbing.

First Dave and James went off snorkeling while Paddy and I fished. We caught 5 Wrasse that were big enough to keep, and must have put back about 20 that were too small. I swear we were catching the same fish again and again. Dave and James came back with 2 abalone and we had a lunch break, which I was needing by then.

Then Dave had a quick fish, just to prove he could catch a bigger Wrasse than we could, and then he and Paddy had a climb, using 'trad' gear. Dave led, and we heard their triumphant yells as they topped out echoing across the bay.

They both returned to the car safely where James and I, having caught a fish each, were resting.

It was a day of sun, cloud and then more sun, with a spectacular sunset to finish it off. But it was fantastic to be out and about with the boys again, and I certainly enjoyed the day. We sang all the way home, so the wallaby were scared off the road, and we got back without hitting any. (Touch wood, we haven't hit one yet!)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Have Geeks, will travel

Well, the boys are in demand for more than their now famous Saveloy boiling skills, (tested to near destruction at the market), now being called to sort out DVDs and computers. In theory they were going to fish Emita and stop and do some geek-work at some friends up there, while I continued to deal with Hekate and Constantinople. However in the fashion of such things the trip to the beach never quite got there. I fed them on bangers and mash with my home-made rollmops and the gerkins made of my cucumbers. It appears I can do that again, but the roll-mops are rather hard. Any bright ideas on how to stop vinegar making fish chewy appreciated. I need to do another batch.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pat's river mouth

Found another little gem of a spot about two km away, at edge of the airfield for those looking on Google earth. I'd had enough of spending another beautiful day at my desk slowly making progress so we went to look at another potential flounder place - which has fantastic views of the mountain.

James spotted the clams - in thick exposed beds mostly tiny, but we picked out the better ones for having with pasta.

And sundown over the flats was stunning.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Well B's been Wheeling-and-Mealing (meals-on-wheels) to some of our more senior citizens, and John and his son have been around for 'tea' and we've sampled the Lark single malt, (which was really excellent, with hints of apple - appropriate to the apple Isle - but may have more to do with the wood used. Very good though! And we were so warmed we had some of the liquer on ice-cream which was truly scrumptious. I've pushed the book on to 95K. The boys are still a bit Jet-lagged and have collapsed. Tomorrow they go to work on a stall at the fair/market thing. Island life continues...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Up with the Lark

Well, after a brief (I hope) re-run of the Saveloy-lurgy-from-hell (really opens the sluices at both ends - to put it in Monty-Python speak) I'm back - on a diet of rice and chicken breast and yuk yoghurt for a few days... I got some anti-nausea stuff and a charming little sample bottle from the Doc. Anyway, enough of these delights. Everyone else seems OK which is a relief.

We go another postal surprise welcome to Australia gift today which will warm the cockles of my cold hard heart. Whiskey does that to me. And single malt does it better, and this to be truly original is Tassie-made Whiskey from Lark Distillery. Despite me being on baby-food and fragility we tasted the Slainte liquer. B and James pronounced it superb, and picked up hints of aniseed and honey. I'm not a sweet drink person but I did like it. When I feel slightly less like death warmed over I'm going to taste the single malt. An incentive to recovery!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

All together now...

We're all here. B is quite sore but back home. We won't know the results for some time but the haematologist was competent and re-assuring. I was underslept with zero focus (surprise) and the lads jetlagged so we took a long walk.

All the way to the little river that comes in next to airport, and past some very tasty looking turkeys (I love fish. Love seafood. but I want a little more bird and meat in our diet. B and I have been talking about the need for some form of firearm, because it seems that they are not really jumping into the cooking-pot all by themselves. In SOuth Africa that involved a million hurdles, and there really was little opportunity unless you were rich or well-connected or a large landowner... none of which described us too well. So we never bothered. Here it is different. I'm a forager. I will do what is necessary. I thought we'd probably trade stuff 9as we did back in SA - It's early days yet of course, and we're still building networks of people to swap things with.)

Then we went down to the point where the black swans were gliding on the water. See those dirty marks on the lens? Those are elegant swans on the calm sea. I really need a slightly better camera to get those sort of pics - on that list of things we need someday. Ah well. We got this far.

And then we walked back with strange grinding noises - aka Paddy's back-bone and belly-button rubbing on each other. The pic of the boys in a windcut arch on the sandy track next to the beach, where we saw the oystercatchers (I am trying to teach Pads all the few birds I know so that if a certain august personage gets here he can point knowledgably at birds and say 'Green swan. Black rosella. Oystercatcher pie...')

Paddy spent the afternoon writing a programme to calculate the minimum number of moves 'Knights'(a little chess-type logic boardgame) can be done in. Other people might just try and do it in the fewest and count moves... (the programme is fiendishly complex, and James crashed and snoozed, and I spent the intervening time trying to stay awake and work, to fetch B when she flew in, failing, and then racing the plane to the airfield.
I won.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chimney Sweeps

Having taken on board the warning from Quilly and Silverdrake I got a local in to do the chimney today. What a racket!

By the time he flew out of the stove he was spotty young starling doing the sooty crashlanding into windows curtains and furniture... but I believe he was a snow white dove at the top of the chimney before he fell from grace, or the chimney top.

As you may gather I had bird down the chimney today. Much chaos and excitement trying to get the silly noisy bastard out of there squawk, scratch, scrabble flutter, squawk, shower of debris... I finally gave up trying to reach around the baffleplate into the chimney - like cray hole but warmer (the fire was long out, so not warm enough to be a problem) and was trying to work out if I could get a gaff or something down to what I was convinced was going to be a chimney-block dead bird, when it found its own out into the fireplace of the burner itself - fortunately the door was now open, and a manic, very scared and very pissed-off sooty starling was trying to find his way out of the house... I got him out of the door.

Anyway, the boys are home, full of flathead and chips.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Well, the boys are safe in an Airport hotel in Melbourne. Getting them there has been well, shall we say rather like Sleepless in Seattle only not involving Seattle, or RomComs or large cities. Actually I suspect it'd take a fair amount of effort to get as far away as Flinders Island from Seattle with our 0.6 people per square km and gum trees and wallabies... but the sleepless part is about spot on.

You see we asked the boys to drop us an SMS to say safely ready to board. A simple cheap excercise... we were worried because James had a late Maths exam, and had to fly on a later plane to Johannesburg giving him very little time to check in and board. And Paddy had his cell-phone stolen a few weeks ago. I hate close run things, especially with ropey communication. So - figuring they couldn't call before 3AM we went to bed around 10 ish. Me- I wake and look at the clock, and a tissue I put on the table obscures the 3 of 23.57... so I wake up. See the time. Go check my computer. Put more wood on the fire in slow combustion heater. go back to bed... not sleeping. 3.30 AM get up. Check computer -find Paddy tried to skype at 1. What do I do about Visa?

Now Australia in its wisdom issues a small (very small) number of visas to people of creative and intellectual and sporting ability that they think will add avalue to their country. It's a clever policy and one other countries might start taking exception to. Ok, every now and again even clever ideas may be applied less-than-cleverly because we were granted one of these. (They're unusual to the point that the very large bank in Hobart had never heard of them, and very politely asked us to wait while they checked... and came back and were very nice to us. The same was repeated when we registered for tax and medicare - "I've never seen one of these," telephone...) It's a generous visa allowing 5 years of unlimited entry for me, B and and our two boys despite their being over 18. And here is the real kicker - it's a label-free visa. It does not appear on your passport - your passport number is linked to it and the immigration guys scans it gives you a smile and say "welcome to Australia."

Which means, de facto, that the source country doesn't actually know you've been poached... and some can be nasty, and I think it is merely a matter of time before South Africa - bleeding skills and education fleeing its corruption and crime - starts to get nasty too (easier than fixing the problem, persecute the symptoms...)

There is just ONE downside. The airlines don't like transporting people back because they don't have visas. And they too don't know much about visa class 124. So they ask for your ticket and passport at check in... and check to see if you have a valid visa.

I of course (when we left SA) had the visa grant letter with me. I still have it in electronic form and of course in several copies on paper.

Oh dear... you see the problem. Anyway, Paddy is a child of infinite-sagacity-and-resource - or at least determination, goes to see the Australian ambassador (I quote - I assume he means the office and consular rep) and gets a clearance (which he is entitled to) and finds out for his brother.

I am sending copies frantically over skype and e-mail and sms. NO REPLY.

Now... somewhere in all this the geniuses (and they are, both of them) decide that an e-mail to their mum's gmail account will do just fine. Why SMS and wake us...

My sister Skyped me at about 5 AM to say she'd heard a few hours earlier that they were going through passport control... at which point my knotted stomach untangles a little... not enough to sleep, but I had bath and made porridge.

At about 11.30 this morning B checks her post (on her computer)... 'We're in the departures lounge, no major hassles.'

Anyway... they're in Melbourne, in their hotel.

B flies out tomorrow morning to Launceston for her bone marrow biopsy (which we've been avoiding mentioning because they read the blog sometimes, and well, they were writing exams and could do nothing except worry. And I am doing that well enough for all of us.) And they will find her at Launceston Airport.
Our lives are never just simple.
After a 2 hour sleep my writing has been bloody awful, and I ended up cutting most of it, but the end is louring.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Borer beetle in wooden fence

Now for the next question. But thank goodness it is not our problem.

Our landlord's mother has become our most frequent visitor, and she is a real honey. She lives in 'town' and so shares a fence with her neighbour. They put up a new wooden fence about 6 years ago, and now at least 3 of the planks are disintergrating into white powder. I think she has borer beetle, and I am convinced there is something simple that you can paint onto it, to kill the beetle. Methylated spirits, or paraffin or something like that.

I learned it at school, in my 8th year, when we did a subject called "Household and hygiene" or domestic science. We learned what to use to get bubblegum off clothes etc, and I am sure borer was in there, but I just cannot bring it to mind.

Probably because the boys get here in less than 2 days, and the whole of my small mind is taken up with them, and hoping that all goes smoothly for their flights, 3, and their overnight accommodation.

Friday, June 4, 2010

What goes down...

Must sometimes come up, as was the case -for me, of the saveloy that B had brought back from the cattle auction. It was 4 AM this morning befor the last of parted with me, and I got some sleep. Until first light when I was up as usual. Very annoying to be a light sensitive sleeper. Anyway, it's been a tea and toast day and the book has not moved very much.

The tiny little art gallery had a show this evening, and we went to show solidarity. One of the things on display was a number of paper-thin lathed bowls - made a friend of John's - delicately shaped and drawn out of the grain and sometimes bark.

That's the artist herding cows. You don't want to judge people quickly.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cattle la lowing!

Today was the island stock sale. I was part of the team who were selling tea, juices, sandwiches, cake and hot dogs to the 'crowd'. As it is school holidays there were quite a few children out for the day, as well as the farmers who had come to sell, or hoping the price was right, to buy. We were a little bit removed from the actual pens, in our old army style tent, but were the only refreshments available, so we did a brisk trade for most of the day.

So there we were, 4 women stuck in a small sheltered area, with a small gas stove to heat the saveloys and the coffee water, an esky (what we would call a coolbox) to keep the juice cold and several tables for cake and money etc. Unfortunately someone had herded their cows over our piece of ground before the tent went up, but we had a piece of red plastic over the biggest pats, and having labelled that the 'red carpet' the fun began. I have not laughed so much for so long in years, and I think my cheeks will be stiff tomorrow.

The 'A' team, who usually do the work, were not available, so we were apprentices without guidance, and we muddled through, and I hope made some money, but it was more by good luck than good judgement in the beginning, before we learned the ropes, and how to make the leaky gas stove cook faster. Do you know that if you put saveloys in water and begin to heat them, and then take some of the water out of the pot, it will have become a really girlie pink??

I think every customer left with a smile, but whether they were laughing with us, or at us, is anyones guess.

I thought that the saveloys were tastier this time, but I am not sure if that was hunger adding sauce, or whether I am becoming more accustomed to island tastes. I could smell coffee all day, but dared not have a cup, as there are no bathroom facilities at all at the saleyards. Which I found really strange.

A cow got its leg over one of the wooden struts that make up the sides of the pens, and immediately our landlord and a 'mate' of his jumped into action. One running to the ute to fetch the chainsaw, and the other getting into position ready to use it. The commotion even attracted our attention, so we popped out of the tent, in time to see the burly farmer pull the chainsaw into action on the run. Except that it didn't start, first, second or third pull. He handed it over to the owner, who also failed to start it for a few pulls. Then finally, just as I was going to jog over to ask sweetly if I could help, it started with a roar, and the cow was saved. If it had broken a leg, it would have had to be put down immediately, and as we have no abbattoir on the island it would have been a total write off. I asked the landlord later if I should have come to help, but he just muttered that his 'mate' had flooded the engine, normally she starts first pull.

Still it was great to get home, and over a delicious cup of coffee, tell Dave all about it. What did we laugh at? I think it was mass hysteria, at how many things can go wrong in setting up a stall, when we found we had no water, or matches, and the first customer used one of those 100 dollar notes to pay 3 dollars for his coffee. One of the ladies car's had overheated on the way in, and she had discovered there was a hole in her radiator, and her husband was worried she had cooked the engine, which just added to the need to laugh away the tension.

It was certainly a day to remember, the company, the sights and the smells. I really hope they invite me to help again.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sweeping the house

Now it's been said that the sort of South Africans who emigrate legally (the ones other countries want - who are generally well-educated, skilled and, well, at least used to a South African middle-class lifestyle and income) really battle with the simple domestic chores the rest of the Western World's people accept as part of life (once I would have said white South Africans, but these days it is more a case of income than skin colour). Many of them have never cooked or washed up or cleaned their homes. They can be found in many foreign countries looking in puzzlement at a vacuum cleaner or trying to wash up in pure dishwashing liquid, and weeping noisily for Miriam that they never appreciated over the iron...

Of course we're different, as we seem to have spent most of our adult lives too broke to pay a fair wage and therefore not employing anyone. We know how to cook, clean etc.

And to prove it here is a picture of B sweeping the house.
(wait for it)

(actually dealing with spiders but it looked good ;-))

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

paper nautilus

I took an early walk down to the beach this morning, and found the this rather broken paper nautilus shell, in among the seaweed and the p-plater crabs. A bit symbolic I suppose - a fragile thing travelled across thousands of miles of sea to fetch up on a lonely beach on a remote island. I had several miles of sand-curve beach to myself... well, as the only human. The sky was slate fragments and the low-tide flats, full of the broken reflections seemed to go right on to the horizon. Across it a scattering of oystercatchers - looking for all the world like slightly disdainful matrons in widow's weeds (with red stockings!) at a bargain-basement sale stalking the sand-bar aisles. Sometimes I get so caught up in surviving, working, cooking, working, waiting, worrying that I lose sight of the sheer granduer of it.

And this time next week my boys will be here. My Roly-poly-puddin'-n-pie- kissed the girls an got a black eye Old English got his smellogram and has been eating like a horse... or a labrador. has put on 1.5kg. All of them, Dats and cog babies, will be out of quarantine on the 21st.
Family all together again, soon.