Jacinda Ardern: A New Kind of Leader – Book Review

A much shorter post today!

One of the things I did manage to get done during Neko’s recovery was read Madeleine Chapman’s new biography of New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern and I enjoyed it. Chapman writes in an engaging style and it’s a good introduction to the woman, her background and the New Zealand political system.

I’ve started doing occasional reviews for the Tasmanian Times, an independent digital news platform that draws on contributors from across the state and my full review can be found here.

I’d love to know what you think about my review, Ardern or New Zealand in general – it’s a place that fascinates me and is on my bucket list to visit once the Covid-19 shenanigans are over. I’d particularly appreciate input from anyone else who’s read the book.

Take care all, wherever you are ❤

The Worst Month of the Year (So Far…)

This is a long post, for which I make no apologies.

I’ve been very absent from this blog the last few weeks – apologies to regular readers! With the current shenanigans surrounding CV-19 I’d planned to write a regular blog at least four times a week to cover what’s going on in this part of the world (southern Tasmania/Hobart region).

Unfortunately there was a big spanner thrown in the works by the cat that’s been with us a year. We named him Nekomata for one of the Japanese cat demons (good choice!) and being Australians who shorten everything, just call him Neko. You can read about how he came to own us here.

Neko was nowhere to be found one afternoon when we went down to feed him and the rest of the menagerie. I eventually found him perched on a pile of straw mulch that he likes to sun himself on – and he looked terrible. We gently picked him up and took him inside where we examined him quite thoroughly for visible wounds, gently massaged legs, hips, spine and shoulders but nothing seemed out of place or damaged. But he wouldn’t eat and barely made eye contact with us. We put it down to shock.

The next morning we knew something was seriously wrong. Ever since he came into the household, we’ve been slowly encouraging Neko to become an indoor cat and considering he’s 8 years old, we think it’s been a big success to get him to overnight indoors. This means a regular dawn alarm clock of cat opera (often on the pillow, right next to an ear!) but it’s worth it for his improved well being – not to mention the health of the local wildlife! But this morning there was no chorus of “Mother I’m starving, feed me now!”to start the day. I eventually found him under the bed, looking even worse than the previous evening.

His food hadn’t been touched and his litter tray unused, which meant a trip to the vet immediately. As is always the way with these emergencies, this was Easter Sunday and our only option for treatment the after hours clinic. Yes, incredibly expensive but a brilliant service we’d used in the past for sick rabbits. They were run off their feet and with Covid-19 lockdown orders in place, no owners were allowed into the facility with their pets and only one person could hand the animal over to a masked vet nurse in the outdoor car park area.

It was a long wait.

Neko had a lump under his tongue and the vet had given him a shot of antibiotics but it would require further investigation after a course of tablets to ensure no infection. It might be a wound, it might be a cancerous growth but the vet simply couldn’t tell without further testing. In the meantime, we had to give him water via a syringe feeder which he couldn’t swallow – so there was no way we could get him to take the tablets. Again he wouldn’t eat or use his litter box.

Poor Neko was obviously becoming severely dehydrated (a surprisingly rapid path to death for small animals) so it was back to the after hours vet on Easter Monday. This time we insisted he be given hydration via a drip to at least ensure he survived the next couple of days. He seemed a little brighter but still didn’t eat, wasn’t cleaning himself and was obviously losing condition very rapidly.

Finally the following day, we got in to see our regular vet, Dr Moira at The Cat Clinic in Hobart. We came home with emergency care food, some serious feline painkillers, liquid antibiotics and a very stoned and tripped out cat! It seems Neko had been in a fight, and taken a claw in the mouth that ripped gum away from bone along one side of his lower jaw. He was down to 4.2 kg, a loss of around 800 g. She could see no indications of a cancerous lump but there was a possibility that he’d need corrective surgery to reattach the gum. Given his poor condition, we needed to get him through the course of antibiotics and get his condition back up or he wouldn’t survive the trauma of surgery.

It was slow going to start with and various setbacks but the moment we knew we’d turned the corner was when he started to eat and purr again, even if he did drool out of one side of his face in the process. The other big positive was when he began grooming himself again – Neko really was starting to smell like an old man cat and I think even he found it offensive!

Two more visits to Dr Moira and the gum had reattached, so no need for surgery – hooray! His weight is still under 5 kg but only just and he’s back to eating everything that’s put in front of him and demanding more five minutes later. We have to go for another weigh in soon and I’m confident we can have him back up to his optimal weight by then. The other thing that’s been gratifying is that he’s now only outside with me in the mornings, while I feed the other animals and potter around the yard.

Neko’s become a very smoochy house cat who’s trained the humans into looking after him 24/7 and taught them to treasure the love of a little stray cat. I think he chose his humans pretty well, though I don’t want a month like the last one if it’s all the same to you.

And I don’t know if I’ll ever develop a taste for cat opera!

Skinny but on the road to recovery

The Dawns Here Are Quiet – Iso-Posts #8

I’ve been very overtired and surprisingly busy the last couple of days and, rather than ramble on a daily basis, decided to wait until I could form coherent sentences again. There’s been sadness too, with friends in hospital and another sadly dying – I can only presume from COVID-19 complications. Such is life.

It makes this Soviet-era movie all the more relevant, though the title is perfect – the dawns here in Hobart really are very quiet at the moment, and it’s a pleasant change from the usual early morning traffic noise! Hope you’re all well ❤

A zori zdes tikhie (1972)

The Dawns Here Are Quiet (1972)

Written and directed by Stanislav Rostotsky. Based on the novel by Boris Vasilyev.

This is a movie that I’ve been meaning to watch for ages but for one reason or another, just didn’t get to until it popped up on MUBI a few weeks ago. Despite being in self-isolation for weeks, I’ve actually found it hard to settle into a long movie. My concentration starts wandering after a mere 90 minutes and internet drop-outs have been causing more headaches than I could reasonably deal with. Here, the running time of 158 minutes was an issue and I decided to take the filmmaker’s advice and watch it in two parts over a couple of days.

As Russia’s nominee for what was then Best Foreign Language Film at the 1973 Academy Awards, this really is quite a remarkable work. Set in WWII, the story concerns a group of young women who are training to be an anti-aircraft unit, stationed at a remote outpost in Karelia near the Finnish border. Their leader (and the only significant male character in the film) Vaskov helps them adjust to their new lives and the first half of the film deals with them getting to know and appreciate each other as fellow soldiers and as friends. While I know it’s important character building, I did feel this section dragged a little for me. But his cameraderie comes into full play in the second half of the film, when one of the girls sneaks off to a nearby village to visit her mother and spots two German paratroopers. From there it becomes quite a well-paced drama, very Russian and at times, very dour.

Rostotsky was a protege of Sergei Eisenstein and here, it shows. The framing (particularly of the outdoor scenes) is glorious and mention must be made of the cinematography by Vyacheslav Shumsky. Also, great use is made of colour, with the day-to-day life of WWII being in drab (but at times atmospheric) black and white and the girls’ dream-like memories presented in full colour.

Some of the narrative rationale is a little on the nose in 2020, most notably that many of the girls’ dreams center around traditional heteronormative themes (they’re nothing without a good man who’ll look after them) and at times descends into a patriotic sentimentality that falls flat for me. But considering this was made in 1972 under Soviet control and the original book in the late 60s, I imagine it would’ve been considered quite radical at that time.

Filmically however, this is really worth watching if only for the beautifully framed shots around the lake. I understand the original theatrical release is just over three hours long but this cut has 30 minutes removed from its run time and is available on DVD. It was also remade as a feature film in 2015 and then extended to a four-part television series in 2016. This is currently playing on Amazon Prime AU but I haven’t seen this version so can’t comment. The unedited original movie is available on YouTube, Part 1 and Part 2 both with English subtitles.

Look it up and let me know what you think.

 

Overtired – The Iso-Posts #7

A very brief post today from me. I slept poorly last night and we’ve had an almost day-long internet outage and a couple of power outages too. Consequently, I’ve managed to do very little today and found it hard to concentrate on reading or sticking at any task.

Part of the reason I’m sure is a very interrupted night, considerable tossing and turning on my part – and Neko.

I love this little cat more than I ever thought I would or could but he’s like an alarm clock that reliably goes off every morning, but it’s impossible to change the time! It’s pretty amazing to think it’s less than a year since we first had him inside the house. It took him no time to toilet train and we’re able to easily keep him indoors from dusk until dawn now – much to the relief I’m sure of the local wildlife and other cats in the neighbourhood!

Neko’s a very affectionate little chap and although he’s had a lot of anxiety issues, he’s become an intrinsic part of the household, I honestly can’t imagine life without him now. It’s like a cross between having a toddler and a teenager in the house. Apart from food, he loves nothing better than climbing onto the bed at dawn and purring so much, he drools on me – what a great alarm clock!!!

It’s a full moon tonight so I’m heading off to bed early to beat the early alarm. I’ll leave you with him resting after a busy morning, demanding to be let out, demanding to be fed, eating, following me around the garden while I fed everyone else, getting bored and then falling asleep on a bale of straw among my empty pots ❤

 

 

Office Tetris – The Iso-Posts #5

The simplest of dinners – sourdough rye, home grown salad and fresh home made sausages

As promised in yesterday’s post, here’s a pic of the finished meal and it was delicious. I was really pleased with the sausages – flavour and texture were perfect!

Today has been a day of choices, discoveries and some sadness.

I’d only realised last week I was out of seed of my favourite endive “Bionda a curore pieno” and ordered a packet online from The Italian Gardener along with Lettuce Leaf Basil for next spring/summer. That prompted me to check stocks of other seed and do a top up with my local suppliers, Seed Freaks. They specialise in open-pollinated and heirloom varieties and I’ve had tremendous success with their seeds.

Anyway, after my morning feeding of the beasts and chili/basil check, I was picking veggies for tonight’s dinner and weeding the silverbeet. There I discovered a clump of self seeded endives pushing up through the straw and I imagine there’s a few Bionda in there. This is one of my favourites – it’s tangy flavour and great texture add so much depth to winter salads. The extra seeds coming in the post won’t go astray, I’ll just plant a few more 🙂

Later in the morning, I decided to tackle the shoe-box that is my office. It’s served as my music rehearsal space and teaching area, sewing room, writing den and main library for over a decade – effectively three rooms crammed into a tiny space barely big enough to swing a cat! It was high time to rearrange things so I can add more bookcases and start making some hard choices about how to both make the best use of the space and discard bits and pieces I’ve had boxed up in there for what seems like forever.

I found photographs of friends, some of whom are no longer alive, cables (so many cables!), old guitar strings, jars of beads that I meant to restring, demo recordings, little cards from my son when he was small and festival programs going back years. I started to feel a sadness that life is never really going to be the same again, and uncertain about what the future might hold for people like me in the creative industries.

It was more that a little overwhelming. But I also acknowledge there’s nothing at all I can do about it but reorganise my space – internally and externally – keep going and make the best of what I have and what I’m capable of doing. It was wonderful to fit in the new/old bookcase, and realising I could fit a box of my fabric stash on top was a bonus. Certainly like playing Tetris, moving things from one room to another, but incredibly satisfying that it fitted (just!) and made me feel like I’d achieved something important by getting it all to work.

From the crammed shelves of my main film library to the wide open spaces of that empty bookshelf – with a box of fabric for good measure!

Despite my generally upbeat nature, I think it’s important and healthy to acknowledge when I feel down or sad. Sometimes in the past I’ve repressed those feelings with spectacularly awful results – I think it’s like that for most of us. So please don’t be afraid to talk about your fears or sadness with people who matter – and I believe we all matter!

It’s definitely colder today but I’ll leave you with this little image, one I see every morning – the silhouette of a small, grey cat who likes to sun himself on our east-facing doorstep while I’m getting ready to feed him breakfast ❤

 

Sausages! – The Iso-Posts #4

Despite everything that’s going on right now, I personally feel I have a lot to be grateful for. I have a secure roof over my head, plenty of food, the most practical person on the planet to be in isolation with (aka He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Listened-To), a rich life of the mind, animals and gardening to keep me active, comparatively good health and a swag of friends and family around the world who like to check in with me via social media. In many ways I feel I’m doing this pretty easy.

Here in Hobart, the days are getting shorter and Daylight Saving finished today. This is traditionally the end of summer and the start of autumn proper – and today didn’t disappoint! It was much colder, and this morning there was even a dusting of snow on kunanyi/Mt Wellington but it was good to run around outside and feel the crisp air of proper autumn again. But with the onset of cooler weather comes less light and I for one, struggle with shorter days. We can all get through this, but only if we do it together. If you’re struggling, please say so. Reach out to family, friends and let them know you need to talk!

A few days ago a farming friend put out the call that he had fresh organic beef for sale and was prepared to make a delivery run to those of us in the greater Hobart area. We very gratefully said yes, it’s topped up the freezers and meant I don’t have to worry about shopping again for a while. So with a load of meat in the fridge, today we got creative and made sausages!

There was some venison I’d put aside for this plus a bag of pork back fat and a pouch of salted sausage casings that I bought some time ago for just such an occasion. (They will keep for up to two years in the refrigerator). After taking a guesstimate of how much of the casings we’d need, I cut a length off, soaked them in warm water for a couple of hours and trekked off into the garden to gather some fresh herbs. Returning with this lovely bouquet, I peeled some fresh Tasmanian Purple garlic, thoroughly rinsed the skins and set up the mincer that attaches to the front of my stand mixer.

When I used to make sausages years ago, I did the whole thing with a hand mincer and stuffed skins with an old caulking gun frame I’d rigged with a special food grade plastic tube. Living in the bush was peaceful but hard work – things like this used to take me the best part of a day. Today’s effort was relatively small (only a couple of kilos of meat in total) but took only about an hour to mince and stuff the casings. We opted for a fairly simple sage & garlic mix with the venison but went a little bit further with the beef, with lots of oregano, chili, garlic and smoked paprika for a more chorizo-style but without the traditional fermenting and curing.

The end product looks and smells great and I discovered that I haven’t forgotten how to do links! The test will be how they taste tonight with some home grown salad and a slice of rye sourdough.

And on cleaning out the mincer attachment, it looks like there’s enough for me to make a large sausage roll that’ll make a very nice lunch 🙂

Meanwhile, there was a very disgruntled grey cat, who was quite upset he wasn’t invited in to taste test the sausage meat. Eventually though, all was forgiven and Neko curled up on a favourite chair with me to catch some afternoon sun.

Stay well everyone, and keep talking to each other over social media, text and phone calls – we can do this ❤

PS: Dinner was fabulous, the beef chorizo-style was suitably spicy and the venison sausages had all the warmth and depth without tasting gamey – I’ll put up a photo tomorrow 🙂

Lazy Saturday – The Iso-Posts #3

I love Saturdays.

It doesn’t matter if they’re sunny and I’m in the garden or wet and miserable and I’m curled up on the couch, I just love Saturday at home.

Given our current circumstances, there’s no other place to be – and today’s been what my late father would’ve called a “pearler”. That is, a beautiful example of what a Saturday should be.

It’s been very grey and wet most of today, so this morning’s feeding of the animals was fairly rapid and required a heavy duty raincoat and my trusty steel capped gumboots. No planting for me today and I didn’t see my new friend over the back fence, but I did stop off in the greenhouse to do my daily basil and chili inspection. Pictured below is a most unusual fruit on a chili plant I grew from seed. Looking back through my notes, it’s named as a multicoloured Bishop’s Crown (Capsicum baccatum). It’s supposed to have a more blocky base and finish up a fresh orange red, but I’m not sure if it’s been mixed with something else.

Chilies are notorious for cross pollinating and serious seed collection means hand pollinating with a brush and enclosing flowers in mesh to avoid contamination. I’m never usually that fussy as I don’t sell plants or seed anymore but I’m very curious to see what this becomes as it ripens and (most importantly) what it tastes like!

Speaking of taste, we decided to do a full Super Saturday roast, and as I type, the rich, delicious aroma of roasting venison is wafting through the house. It’s been in the slow cooker since this morning with half a bottle of shiraz, a head of garlic, some dried chili from last year, a handful of button mushrooms and a bouquet of fresh thyme, sage and oregano. The joint is sitting above the rich liquid on a trivet of halved onion and carrot and it’s almost time to go and prepare some potatoes and carrots for roasting and finishing the meat off in the oven, while I make a sauce from the slow cooker. The smell is intoxicating!

This afternoon I indulged myself in some of my favourite Saturday things. I bought some books (online of course) from my local independent bookstore, Cracked & Spineless. I love this place so much and besides going to the cinema, I miss visiting Richard and the overflowing shelves and stacks, but he’s going to do a delivery for me sometime soon. Definitely an essential service in these strange days!

I depleted the bank account further when I discovered a heavy duty KitchenAid stick blender on special. It’ll be perfect for winter soups, making single smoothies, small batches of salsa, wet spice mixes and sauces – and far easier to clean up than my big food processor.

Finally, I started reading the new biography of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and it’s pretty good so far. Ardern has certainly shown herself to be a compassionate and caring leader since she came to office! I’ll be reviewing it shortly for The Tasmanian Times and will put a link here when it’s published.

So, a lazy day of unusual plants, buying books and things for the kitchen, happily indoors out of the rain, reading a new book while anticipating a spectacular dinner. A pearler of a Saturday! The only thing that could’ve made today better is if there was proper Australian rules football on the radio or television. I miss my footy too.

What are you missing most? And what’s the first thing you’re going to do when things get back to normal?

Late afternoon and clearing skies

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