Thursday, October 30, 2008

Daylight Savings

On Sunday I woke unsure of the time. We had guests coming 'round for lunch and most of it was ready: a big pot of pho had been bubbling away all day Saturday. My partner had woken earlier than me as I could hear him downstairs. I walked to the bathroom and switched on the light. A spark shot out, and then all went dark. To let in light, I opened some blinds and performed my morning ablutions in a grey dimness.

Later, as I pottered in the kitchen making breakfast, my partner wandered in. I told him about the bathroom light blowing, and asked him to switch on the kitchen light for me, as not much sunlight was seeping in this overcast autumn morning. He did and nothing happened. He wandered into the living room to switch on the living room light, and nothing happened there either.

We had to switch off all electricity to fix the fuse, and then resumed our lazy lunch preparations. I needed to reset the timer on our cooker, because, for some unfathomable reason, it refuses to work unless the time is set.

As I sat on the cold kitchen tiles, mobile phone in one hand, cooker manual spread out on the floor, I realised I have a tenuous grasp on time. Were we going one hour backwards or forwards? Did I have more time or less? What time was it now, anyway, other than shortly-after-breakfast? I wondered whether our guests would arrive on daylight savings time or GMT. I wondered whether we would have time to make dessert. Had I failed to husband my time correctly to take account of dessert?

It was all too much and I retired to the sofa for a wee lie down. We re-jigged our plans and decided to make brownies for dessert: fast, easy and a perennial favourite.

The idea of time, like the idea of money, is mostly arbitrary, theoretical. It is what it is because we say it is what it is. Out there, there is a credit crunch, but I don't really know what that means. In my life, there is a time crunch.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gardening with the Seasons (Part II)

or: How (& why) I planted bulbs (I'll try not to digress this time)

Gardening in the northern hemisphere, with seasons is completely unlike gardening in tropical Brisbane. (Such riveting news, I thought I should repeat it).

In Brissie, I just planted whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And watered. Just like my dad told me to.

Like my dad, I did other things too, which I, like him, seem less inclined to tell people about: preparing the soil, digging in compost, turning the soil over, etc. I did not really do much of that. My partner did the bulk of it, when I decided it was time to do it. He'd watch me struggling with the spade, digging ineffectual holes and then take over.

It just took me longer to dig holes. In the far-away time before my partner, I dug my own holes. I would strike at the earth with the spade a few times experimentally. Then plunge the spade in. Then again. Then, with spade left in, wiggle it about a bit. Then plunge again. Then sit down for a rest. Then go get a drink. Then return to try again. It took me a while to dig a hole, but I always succeeded. I'm persistent.

Oh dear, I'm digressing again.

After we moved from the Little Flat to the Little House, I was most excited about the idea of having a garden again. I dug a hole (I did this myself, while my partner was away. It took three times as long as it would have done if he was present as he would have taken the spade away from me after my first few experimental strikes at the clay-y patch of earth I had decided would be our veggie patch). Into the hole, I buried the Bokashi contents from our flat. I mixed it all in and left it alone.

A few weeks later, we bought seeds of things we wanted to plant: beans, spinach, lettuce, silverbeet; and some flowers: nasturtiums, poppies, foxglove, honeysuckle, passionflower, jasmine.

A few weeks later again, we had some time to actually plant. On reading the labels of the seeds we'd bought, I realised we'd missed our window of opportunity for planting most of the flowers. The poppies and foxgloves should have gone in shortly after we bought them (should have realised this from the fact that I was now seeing foxgloves and poppies in the woodlands and other people's gardens ... probably therefore past their sowing time). We planted everything else, plus some of the basil that was outgrowing its pot.

That's just not how it works in Brisbane. Stuff grows year round. You can plant it year round. And if you can't, then it's only because it's too hot. Don't plant in December, January or February. In those months, you won't know if the sun will wither your plant to a burnt crisp of its former self, or if a torrential downpour will relocate your seedling or seeds, somewhere else, entirely out of your control. Or both. On the same day.

In England, the slugs got almost everything. They destroyed the basil in one night. Seedlings would disappear as soon as they emerged from the earth. We tried everything organic: eggshells, coffee grinds, hair. The only thing that worked was a plastic pot (formerly containing yoghurt) half buried in the ground, half filled with beer. The slugs would go for it, instead of the emergent seedlings. But, by then, we only had a very few seeds left. All that grew was a lone stand of silverbeet. It was much too late in the year to plant any more seeds.

Flower-wise, most things grew fine. The slugs did not like nasturtiums one bit, so we planted more of them round the edge of our veggie patch as a barrier. They make our garden look productive, rather than bare. But it is bare. It is bare of vegetables. We were demoralised. So demoralised, we even forgot to eat the silverbeet, so it is now unpalatably bitter.

Quite a few weeks ago, I was flipping through the weekend paper and read about planting bulbs. I adore the bright flowers that pop up at the end of winter, heralding spring. I bear much affection for them, as they first greeted me in this new land. It was so exciting to see white and purple crocuses, daffodils and snowdrops, growing like weeds. They symbolise England for me. They are so very different to what you can get in Brisbane: delicate blooms, thriving on cold, redolent of the changing of the seasons. And they epitomise English gardening: you have to sow them many months before anything happens. You have to PLAN.

So, I sent off for some bulbs: 100 crocuses, 70 daffodils, 50 tulips. I have grand visions of my front garden being a field of English flowers, in miniature: in February, crocuses; March, daffodils; April, tulips; and then, it will be time to plant foxgloves and poppies, ready to bloom for summer.

We planted the bulbs last weekend. My partner lifted the grass / lawn (an aggravating operation that the word 'lift' belies); I mixed potting mix with the soil and placed the bulbs in their randomly appointed spots; we finished by walking over the lawn, stomping the grass back into place.

Now, we wait.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gardening with the Seasons (Part I)

Gardening in the northern hemisphere, with seasons is completely unlike gardening in tropical Brisbane. Yes, you read right here, breaking news, paradigm shift, etc.

I have a very laissez faire approach to gardening. This is because (1) I grew up in Brisbane and (2) my father is the most amazing gardener ever and his approach always seemed very ... at ease.

Whenever I asked my father for gardening tips, he would look at me, shrug and say something helpful like, Are you watering it?

My mother spent her time discouraging me from gardening. On my visits home after I moved out, I would occassionally take cuttings of plants or uproot seedlings for my own garden. My mother would follow me around the garden telling me not to bother, that if I wanted whatever plant it was I was collecting (usually herbs), I could just come get them from her house. She also used to berate me if I went to the store to buy herbs (especially mint), when they grew in such lush abandon in my parents' garden. I often found myself trapped into giving answers that would permit my mother to berate me for one reason or another:

Um: What do you cook to eat?

Me: [shrug] Lots of things, pasta, rice, noodles.

Um: Do you cook Viet food?

[Here, it becomes a choose your own adventure]

Option 1: Say yes and demonstrate your goodness

Me: Yes, I made goi cuon just the other day.

Um: Oh. Where did you get the rau cai*? (*A miscellany of green - lettuce and herbs etc)

Me: I bought them from Hong Lan (local Asian grocery store).

Um: Why did you do that? What a waste of money! You could have come here for them.

Me: [splutter.]

Option 2: Say no and demonstrate your badness

Me: No, I just come home.

Um: Then you must not miss Viet food very much because you don't come here very much.

Me: Sometimes I go to my sister's house.

Um: She never calls me when you go there. I never see you.

Me: Yes you do.

Um: You could just move home again if you miss Viet food so much you have to visit your sister for it.

Me: [splutter.]

Option 3: Demonstrate how downright evil you truly are.

Me: No, I just come home.

Um: Then you must not miss Viet food very much because you don't come here very much.

Me: Sometimes I go to my sister's house. Or a restaurant.

Um: What?

Me: Er, sometimes I go to a restaurant.

Um: Why? What a waste of money! Just come here.

Me: Sometimes it's too late to come here. (My parents go to bed very early)

Um: What do you mean? What time are you eating?

Me: Er. Sometimes, quite late.

Um: How late?

Me: Er. 8. 9. (I do not have the faculty of lying to my mother to make my life easier.)

Um: That's not very good for you. What time do you go to sleep then?

Me: Um. 11. 12. Depends. (Well, I can lie a little)

Um: [splutter.]

That was a bit of a tangent. I miss my mum. I even miss her nagging that I used to find so aggravating. Now she's just sweet as all-get-out to me on the phone, because I am so far away. Wish she'd just nag me again.

I intended to tell you about how I planted bulbs. Next post, then.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thoughts of Cycling in the Fall

Summer is gone.

I sat in my office today, my poor katoosh frozen. Our central heating is yet to be turned on, even though temperatures outside are less than 10 degrees. I can barely feel my fingers and I certainly cannot feel my toes.

Autumn is here.

My cycle to work now involves the sunlight glaring in my eyes, occassionally through mist. There are just as many cyclists now as there were in summer, but more of them are brand new (uni) students, taking up the whole of MY cycle path.

I grumble, grouch and ding-ding my bell, to no avail. Especially the young women: they hold their position as they come towards me, archly ignoring my presence in front of them. I'm on the left. You're on the right. We are about to have a collision if you don't move. Sometimes I jump onto the grass, and they give me a surprised innocent look, and I hate them quietly. Sometimes, I peddle onwards, aggressively bowing my head like a bull ready to charge, and wait for them to skid sideways, making affronted noises and giving me upset glares. I'm in the right, sweety, and I have years of practise in judgemental self-righteousness on my side.

Really, I am quite a considerate cyclist. Honest. I cycle kindly with pedestrians, rarely dinging my bell; more often, just calling out or taking a wide detour, especially around dogs and children, for whom I slow down to near-walking pace. I'm less nice to the 'Boot Camp' groups who inexplicably drop onto the middle of the path to do sit-ups and push-ups, or start running backwards without looking behind them. To them, I ding-ding away. I glare at their instructor, dressed in camo gear. I want to shout to the participants: Buy a bike, guys! Why are you paying these sadistic, demi-military men to shout abuse at you? Cycle to work - it's actually rather fun!

I cycle defensively with cars and only aggressive, dangerous drivers cause me to display my anger, by means of rude gestures or shouted obscenities. I have tapped on a car window, after the driver sped up to use the left lane to overtake me who was coasting down the middle of the right lane, set to do a right turn. They had to stop at the light, so I tapped-tapped on their window and said, "That was dangerous and stupid", and to which their reply was a sheepish look. Usually, though, I just swallow my annoyance or think mean thoughts, but do nothing. A car is lots-of-tonnes of metal, and a bike is not. If you're going to be aggressive and dangerous, I'd rather let you then hold my own and be dead or injured, because that's not really that much fun. And anyway, it will make me even later for work than I already am.

But I really have no patience for inconsiderate cyclists. None at all.

I can't wait until winter, when only the committed cyclists will still be peddling away. These rubbish cyclists, with no sense of cylcing etiquette, will have wimped their way onto buses to get to uni. The cycle path will be mine, all mine. [herein insert maniacal cackle.]

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Old Age

Everyone my age is bemoaning their age. I teeter ever closer towards being thirty. I'm not worried about how old I am but sometimes, something jolts me and I think about age, about time passing, about memory, and, as ever, about me.

My eldest nephew is 18. I did not do anything for his 18th. Did not send him a card nor even an email. Oops. In my defence, I thought he was turning 17 this year. Obviously, I am wrong. He finishes high school soon. He has a girlfriend. He's probably, you know, doing the dirty. We are friends on Facebook and I am loving how proud and subversive he is about his Asianness. He tags 'FOB' rolls (banh mi thit aka pork salad rolls; FOB stands for Fresh Off the Boat. I only learnt that a few years ago, from Sume). He is surrounded by Asian faces in his photos; I wonder, if I had as many close Asian friends when I was in high school as he has, would I have been as comfortable with my Asianness as he appears to be with his?

This does not make me feel old. It makes me feel the passing of time. Although, perhaps, I am just playing with words there. I don't feel any negativity, is all I am saying. When people say they feel old, they are using old as a perjorative. Yes, I feel my age (though I don't often behave it, so I am told). But I don't feel it as a bad thing. I feel the weight of history, when I discover my nephew is 18. Eighteen!?

I remember his birth, quite clearly. I remember the first few photos of him sent to me by his proud parents. I am astounded 18 years could have passed. I have to resist doing things such as sighing about what a cute baby he was (and he was) and remarking on how he was as small as a teddy bear, once (I have the photograph to prove it).

I lived with him and his parents for a short period of time when I was the age he is now: the age of asserting adulthood. That time feels both far away and not so long ago.

When I was his age, a newly discovered older cousin told me, sighingly, how he remembered me when I was as long as his forearm. My tart, witty response? I don't remember you from then.

When I was his age, I threatened his father, my eldest brother, that I would jump out of his moving car and then telephone our father if he took me to a function and left me there on my own. I did not want to go. My brother promised to remain at the function with me.

When I was his age, I lied to my parents about not crying when I phoned them on Tet to say hi and chuc mung nam moi and what are you doing and do you miss me and yes, it's cold in Melbourne.

Things have not changed so much. I still resort to snarky comments when I cannot think of how to make conversation with someone because they say something to which there is no response (and to pre-empt you: no, polite but ambiguous silence is just not an option (for me)). I still use guerilla tactics on my siblings when I don't want to do something they want me to do. And I still lie to my parents, partially through pride, partially through not wanting to let them know I'm sad or struggling or sick or ... anything negative, really. Ha. I ain't so grown up. But I must have, right, because ...

He's 18. Can you believe it?

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