Friday, 6 January 2017

(Some) Earth as a player's stage

Sharing your New Year’s resolutions publicly increases your chances of sticking by them. That, at least, is the claim made in an article I skimmed in the Otago Daily Times early this year, just after having made my resolution to read more carefully. So here goes. And on the off-chance any of you are on good terms with Rongo yourself, put in a word for me.

When we moved to our house in early Autumn last year there was a beautifully ordered vegetable garden at the back prepared and left ready from the previous owners. It was sleek, full of the produce of the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and an inspiration. I stood looking at it on the day we took possession, inspired. And then I spent the rest of the year neglecting it – and the rest of the garden, for that matter – until the weeds and the bolting and the general going to seed (the garden; myself, dear reader…) all took off. A stray – and self-seeded – new potato discovered perfectly-formed quite by accident just before Christmas last year made me feel guilty – and inclined to resolutions – around all of this neglect. Hence what’s to follow.

If any of you are gardeners yourselves please read on with a generous eye – too self-centred ever to help my own father in the garden when I was a child, and much too priggish ever to learn from my many talented gardener friends now I’m a man, I’m starting this with nothing but three decades’ accumulated ignorance and a new copy of the Yate’s guide as my companions.

Here’s what’s to come:

This has been sown with green onion (ishikura) seeds.

This patch has been sown with carrots, with two stray potatoes (?) I’m not sure what to do with yet.

Here’s where the courgettes went.

There are buckets that have – no doubt planted much too closely together – bean seeds in them, but they're too ugly to photograph.

And here – the coward’s option – are seedlings even I ought not to be able to mangle.


My other resolutions are the same as every other year: to try to contribute usefully (more usefully) to the socialist movement in Aotearoa; to be a better and more patient father; to write well; to get somewhere with my language studies.

All this resolving, weeding and planting in the open air fills one with energy and liveliness. But has anyone asked Summer how they feel? Thomas Nashe did:

Adieu, farewell earth’s bliss,
This world uncertain is;
Fond are life’s lustful joys,
Death proves them all but toys,
None from his darts can fly.
I am sick, I must die.
            Lord have mercy on us!

Rich men, trust not in wealth,
Gold cannot buy you health;
Physic himself must fade,
All things to end are made.
The plague full swift goes by;
I am sick, I must die.
            Lord have mercy on us!

Beauty is but a flower
Which wrinkles will devour;
Brightness falls from the air,
Queens have died young and fair,
Dust hath closed Helen’s eye.
I am sick, I must die.
            Lord have mercy on us!

Strength stoops unto the grave,
Worms feed on Hector brave,
Swords may not fight with fate.
Earth still holds ope her gate;
Come! come! the bells do cry.
I am sick, I must die.
            Lord have mercy on us!

Wit with his wantonness
Tasteth death’s bitterness;
Hell’s executioner
Hath no ears for to hear
What vain art can reply.
I am sick, I must die.
            Lord have mercy on us!

Haste, therefore, each degree,
To welcome destiny.
Heaven is our heritage,
Earth but a player’s stage;
Mount we unto the sky;
I am sick, I must die.
            Lord have mercy on us!

(This fellow was as uninterested in the English Renaissance as most of my bird friends seem to be).


Wednesday, 31 July 2013

시드니 !

Two fabulous Sydney food experiences.

Last Thursday I went to Xage, a Vietnamese restaurant in the Surry Hills. The regular clientele must be a fairly ghastly bunch: the waiter warned us that the pork shoulder was fatty, and sounded as if she’d apologized over this before. It was fatty, and gloriously slow: Caramelised slow-cooked berkshire pork shoulder thit kho.

And Koreatown! Did you know 시드니 has one? It’s a part of Pitt Street. I had lunch at a all-day and all-night outfit. (I would call it cheap and cheerful, but they made food good enough there was no need for them to waste time being cheerful; we queued up and begged to be treated with a suitable contempt). If I’d had friends with me I’d have ordered one of the massive piles of fried chicken everyone else was enjoying. Alone, the banchan were pleasure enough.

Thursday, 30 June 2011


Hard to think that a year ago we - and it was just the two of us! - were in London.

Friends there today will be striking, others will be going from their union rallies to Marxism 2011. Doesn’t it look grand?

The morning after we arrived I went to the London Review Bookshop to stock up on Tom Paulin, but ended up staying for the cakes.

Just look at this brownie!

This marvelous piece involved olive oil somewhere, but was sweet. And almost perfect. I’d had this same piece a year before, on an earlier trip, and it was as nice as memory promised.

Serious work later de-programming all those prejudices hardened from a childhood reading Asterix comics. There’s nothing wrong with warm beer. In fact - there’s no denying this in the end - it’s better than the gassy cold lager we Antipodeans call beer.

And this one was drunk in no less a pub than the one Marx went to after knocking off from a hard day’s work in the British Library!

No photographs of the Brick Lane Beigels for some reason, or of the Pimm’s (who knew these things existed?) we drank that afternoon somewhere nearby.

I’ve loved London each time I’ve been. Everything that is good about it stands as a reminder of what is hateful and anti-social about the Tories, the EDL, and all those other forces that hate the diversity and strength of Britain’s contemporary working class.

I hope the weather for the strikes today is nice. It can be fabulous

Sunday, 31 October 2010

沢庵 / 단무지

Two fabulous takuan-related blog posts: Shizuoka Gourmet and Washoku Food.

Don't believe those rude things that get said about sodium.

Monday, 26 April 2010

From the Ancient Garden

Deprivation fires the culinary imagination:

How about rice with mixed vegetables in a hot pot? Thinly slice carrots and sauté them with sesame oil and salt; blanch bean sprouts and season them with sesame oil, sesame seeds, and salt. Also thinly slice meat and season it with spices and soy sauce and sauté; halved and thinly sliced zucchinis are also sautéed with salt and sesame oil. Put oil in a pan and sauté the minced meat, then add hot pepper paste and water and sugar, and let it bubble away before adding pine nuts. This is the sauce. In a stone pot, put a layer of cooked rice and top it with the cooked vegetables and meat and cracked egg. Heat the stone pot until everything is hot, mix everything together with hot pepper sauce, and dig in. (345-6)

(One of many lovingly rendered food fantasies from Hwang Sok-Yong’s The Ancient Garden, Picador 2010, trans Jay Oh).

Friday, 22 January 2010

A Piece of Cake

It's only mid-way through the afternoon, I've got a pile of essays sitting in front of me crying out to be marked and signifying, in all their dreary fatness, that they'll be my weekend companions.

If granted a wish round about now, then, it'd be that I get to teleport to that depachika between Shinjuku and Yoyogi (I can never work out where Takashimaya ends and Kinokuniya begins, but no matter). The cake store and coffee counter half way through is where I took these photos a few months back.

I've been only twice (at Y600 a piece the wee things aren't cheap), and both times when showing guests around Tokyo. But the memories!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Accentuate the Negi-tive

If a separate series of ramen files started things would be bound to get out of hand, so let’s keep this brief.

This is a shot from the first ramen store you pass when leaving Ichigaya Station walking away from the station and down the main street towards Yasukuni Jinja (a destination, I hasten to assure you all, I never reach). The shop’s up a flight of stairs and has a nice Showa-era theme.

And, yes, if you must ask, maybe we were there re-creating scenes from Hikaru no Go. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, OK? And maybe we went to the National Go centre. Give it a break, will you?