30 November 2012


I find myself today, suddenly and without warning, with nothing to do. I finished my course assignments for the week; my November project got done ahead of today's deadline; we have food in the house, clean clothes to wear, and the dust bunnies haven't yet taken on gargantuan proportions; I have no appointments to keep and no places I must go or else get in deep or even just shallow trouble. Nothing to do.

Well, nothing I have to do. There's always something one could be doing, ought to be doing, it-would-be-a-good-idea-to be doing. I could work ahead on my course assignments for next week. My NaNoWriMo novel was not actually finished - I just quickly slapped a 350-word wrap-up paragraph on the end of the 50,000 words so I could call it done; but there is quite a bit more writing that needs to go into that story. I could go to town and pick up groceries; I'm out of rooibos tea and rosewater. (What do I need rosewater for? Nothing, really. I just like having some around 'cause it smells so pretty.) The laundry hampers are full enough that I could run a load or two; and as for the dust bunnies - well, let's not talk about the dust bunnies. And then there's the fact that tomorrow is December 1st, so it's time to take out the Christmas decorations; and it would be a really good idea to clean the mantelpiece first so I'm not sticking my lovely embroidered Christmas runner on top of a layer of three-months-old dust. And of course, I could be doing some crafty stuff for Christmas gifts, or finally get started on Christmas shopping, or bake some muffins or cookies or gingerbread houses or pottery mugs or plum puddings (which nobody but me ever eats, anyway).

But you know what? I think I'm not going to do any of those things today. Tomorrow, I have places to go, things to do. Today, I think I'll do some nothinging. And when I stopped, and thought about doing just that, all of a sudden a wave rolled over me. A yearning for nothinging, for just sitting still, for not accomplishing or completing or finishing, for not keeping deadlines or appointments, not meeting goals or expectations, not getting things done or starting things or even being in the middle of them.

I think that's just what I'm going to do today.

26 November 2012

More Words

POLONIUS: What do you read, my Lord?
HAMLET: Words, words, words.

POLONIUS: Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.
(Hamlet, II. ii. 191-192, 205-206)

Life, the Universe, and ... Words. Don't be scared, it's only language.

18 November 2012


I was watching "Mamma Mia" the other day. Yes, that movie with Meryl Streep and Colin Firth and a host of others doing song-and-dance numbers to ABBA tunes. And it got me thinking. (And that's how much of an overthinker I am - a musical based on ABBA songs makes me think. Sad, but true.)

What got me going, in this particular instance, was the movie rating. It's labelled PG; and apparently it got the "P" for "nudity" (that would be the guy wearing a thong with tattoos on his butt cheeks) and "language [that] may offend". Uh-huh, okay. Fine. No problem. (I guess the guidance that parents are supposed to provide to their eight-year-olds goes somewhere along the lines of "Now, darling, having a pair of eyes tattooed on your butt cheeks is in bad taste, you shouldn't be doing it.") Never mind the fact that throughout the film, there are some very suggestive dance scenes, one of them between a 50-something woman and a 20-ish young man who is openly panting after her (and gets the brush-off, quite hilariously, to the tune "Does Your Mother Know You're Out"). Never mind that Meryl Streep's character Donna has a conversation with her girlfriends which starts with the question "Are you getting any?" and progresses from there through some fairly heavy innuendo; and that the whole storyline of the musical revolves around the fact that Donna does not know who her daughter's father is - yes, for exactly the reason you would suppose. But all those things are not deemed to be worthy of parental guidance - it's "nudity" and "language" that does it.

Which brings me to my other point, "The King's Speech" - yet another Colin Firth film which took movie audiences by storm, and rightfully so. It was rated R. Restricted. And why? Because Colin Firth's character, King George VI, receives speech therapy for his debilitating stammer, and in the course of the therapy he says "fuck". That's it. That's all. That one word insured that children, even 17-year-old young adults, could not see this movie without an "adult" in attendance. Okay, fine - the word is repeated multiple times at high volumes, and it might even be accompanied by "damn" and "bugger"; I can't exactly remember. But the thing is that in the scene in the movie, there is a point to the therapist's making the King say this - he needs to get over his crippling inhibitions. And that's all he does, say it (or shout it, out the open window, as it were), and it, along with all the rest of the therapy, does its job. "The King's Speech" is a story of the triumph of the human spirit over fear and shame. But it was "restricted" from being shown freely because of a word.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Americans are afraid of words. Not of images, of sounds, or of actions - just of words. I wonder what has the movie ratings people in such a flap about it. Perhaps, when they were young, they were taught that "Sticks and Stones may break my bones / but words may never hurt me," and then they found out that that's nothing but a big fat lie. So now they're mortally afraid of words, and ban them from being heard by young audiences in movie theaters. Or can you think of another reason?

Incidentally, don't get me wrong - this is not meant to be bashing "Mamma Mia". I enjoyed myself watching it the other day, and will probably watch it again soon. It's an engaging, feel-good piece of fluff with gorgeous visuals, toe-tapping tunes, and marvellous actors strutting their stuff. Great fun for a dreary afternoon. I just wish that the movie raters would get off their obsession with "language", and start thinking about content for a change. The ratings would perhaps, then, start meaning something again.

Life, the Universe, and Words. Don't be afraid of Language.

11 November 2012

Brother Mine

I remember this book I read when I was a kid. No, that's not quite correct: I remember one scene out of this particular book. I don't remember what the book's title was, or any of the rest of the story but this one scene which burned itself on my memory.

The story is about a girl, I think her name is Elsbeth or Lisbeth (it's quite possible that the author was Elisabeth Dreisbach, and the story was somewhat autobiographical. She wrote quite a bit for the publisher who put out the book - and I can't remember the publisher's name either. We just had a lot of their kids' books in the house; they were small and had a yellow back cover.).

Elsbeth is around 11, or maybe 13, and lives on a farm outside of Düsseldorf - no, I think it was Wuppertal. It's wartime. Elsbeth, her father, and her little brother set out on a few days' visit to relatives in the city. Mother is worried - what if there's a bombing raid while they're there? Father reassures her: nobody is going to bomb Wuppertal; the enemy is not interested in that small city. So they go.

No sooner do they arrive at their aunt's flat in town, that Elsbeth's little brother throws a big tantrum: he wants to go home, he hates it here! Father is not impressed, and won't give in. He's come to visit with his family, and visit he will. Elsbeth enjoys her cousin, and her uncle, but she is particularly taken with her aunt, her father's cheerful, charming younger sister.

In the evening, father and aunt sit down at the piano together, and sing a duet, a beautiful, melancholy folk song:

"Sister mine, sister mine, when shall we go home?"
"When the cocks crow early in the morn,
Then shall we two go home,

Brother mine, Brother mine, then we shall go home."

In the night, Elsbeth has a dreadful nightmare of fire and flame and her mother calling to them. She runs to her father, she begs him to please, please take them home that day, not to stay over another night as they had planned. "Oh, not you too! I thought better of you!" Finally, extremely reluctantly, father gives in, angry and disappointed at having his time with his sister cut short by his children's caprice, and takes them back to the farm.

That night, they hear the drone of the bombers flying overhead, and watch from their farm on the hillside as fire rains down on Wuppertal, destroying everything. Their aunt, uncle, cousin - all dead.

"Sister mine, sister mine, you step grows so weak."
"Seek out my chamber door,
My bed beneath the floor,
Brother mine, slumber fine shall I evermore."

Wars kill.

Lest We Forget.

The bombed-out interior of the Stiftskirche in Stuttgart, 1945 (from a photo in the foyer of the church)

08 November 2012

Jack-o-Lantern Pies

Let me introduce you to the fine art of Jack-o-Lantern Pie Baking. Despite what Lynn Johnston, she of "For Better or for Worse", says (check the footnote of this particular comic strip), jack-o-lanterns can, and indeed do, make fine pies. You just have to make sure to not include any of the wax drippings from the candle.

So here's this year's jack-o-lanterns (and a couple of jack-o-nothings in their whole uncarved glory):

The one on the left did, alas, end up on the compost; it looked kind of mouldy on the inside. It came that way; not sure what went on there. But the one on the right, one of our homegrown pumplings, became pie fodder.

In order to turn a jack-o-lantern into a pie, you first examine it carefully for wax drips and scorch marks. This one, being of the wide and squat persuasion, was totally blackened on the underside of the lid (there was only a couple of inches between the lid and the flame of the candle). So the lid hit the compost, too. But then, I just hacked up what was left, stuffed it in a large pot, added some water, and cooked it for, umm, until-it-was-done. Maybe forty-five minutes or so? Then drain it, peel off the rind, and Bob's your uncle (or cousin, or kittycat).

Enter the fail-safe and idiot-proof recipe:

1 single unbaked 10" pie crust (I use the recipe from the inside of the lard box. Yes, I make my pie crust with lard. It's makes the flakiest crust.)
2 c cooked, mashed pumpkin
2 eggs
3/4 c brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 c cream (or less, or more, or 1/4 c milk and some butter, or whatever)
(c = cups or 250ml, tsp = teaspoon or 5ml)

Whiz all and sundry in food processor, dump into crust, stick pie into preheated 400°F (200°C) oven, bake for 45-55 minutes or until filling puffs evenly all the way to the center.
Remove from oven, cool on rack, serve with whipped cream.
Observe minute of silence for memory of jack-o-lantern.

And there  you have it. I got two whole pies out of it this year, and yummy they were indeed. See?

Life, the Universe, and Jack-o-Lantern Pies. There's nothing like acquired tastes.

03 November 2012

The Problem With Stuff

My man and I were talking with some other people today, and the conversation turned, as it sometimes does, to how so often we don't do what we really want to do. So often, we'll say to each other: "We really should get together with (Insert Name Here)," but we never do.

That poor Insert-Name-Here, he's one neglected friend. Well, him and his missus, Mrs Insert-Name-Here. Actually, to be precise, him, his missus, and all the Little Insert-Name-Heres, not to mention their grannies, uncles and aunties. We keep wanting to meet with them, because they're such great friends and we miss talking to them, but then we don't. And for why? Because we're busy. We're busy, and when we're not busy, we're tired from being busy.

Steve the Stuffed Bear buried under Stuff
And it's all because of our stuff. You see, there's six people in our family. Six largish people. And people need food. And they need space to live in, and clothes to wear, and transportation to get from here to there, and roofs over their heads and floors under their feet and windows to look out of and a grassy space out back to bounce on a trampoline on and have boxes full of dirt to grow carrots in. Because they like carrots, which is all to the good. We want them to like carrots.

But all this carrot-growing takes time, and energy. And so does looking after all that other stuff that comes with having roofs and floors and windows and clothes and toys and cars and trampolines. So much stuff. So much time and energy that goes into that stuff. And if it's not looking after the stuff, it's acquiring the stuff, and in order to acquire the stuff, you need money, and that requires enormous amount of time and energy to earn it. And even if you're tired of all this stuff-acquisition-and-maintenance and want to reverse the process by just getting rid of some of the stuff - well, have you ever tried cleaning out a twelve-year-old's bedroom? I rest my case (but not my weary head).

Sometimes, I almost wish something drastic would happen and rid me of all those stuff obligations. Something like, I don't know, a forest fire that wipes out our house so we could collect the insurance money and live on it happily ever after (with no stuff). Well, yeah - of course I know that I'd be horribly traumatised and would have a nervous breakdown long before I'd see a dime of the insurance money; I know this wouldn't be a great solution - so quit intruding common sense on my extremist fantasies, will you? My point is that sometimes I wish all the stuff would just go away. Because I'm tired. I'm tired of looking after stuff, of buying more stuff, of getting rid of broken stuff, of buying and cooking foodstuff and then disposing of uneaten and rotten foodstuff, of cleaning stuff and mending stuff and moving stuff from here to there because it's occupying the space of other stuff. And then, finally, I just hide my head inside a computer screen or a lovely Austen movie to forget about my stuffy obligations. I'm tired, you know?

So if you're one of those friends, a member of the numerous clan of Insert-Name-Heres, please forgive me for not having spent any time with you lately. I really miss you.

Life, the Universe, and the Problem With Stuff. I think I'll have a nap now.