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The common mango

There’s this guy who lives in my street. Called Dutch. Rides a motorbike. Looks like the type of cat who’s already gone through a few of his nine lives. Lives in the front half of a rented place at the bottom of the hill.

Dutch, of course, is not his actual name. I don’t know what name he was given at birth. I asked him once; he laughed at me. I don’t know how long he’s lived in this street: longer than us, probably quite a long time. He’s good for a chat.

Out the front of Dutch’s place was a magnificent gnarly old tree: one of those old-school no-nonsense common mangoes. The kind whose fruit is good for Asian salads and daiquiris, but too stringy to eat straight up, compared to designer mango brands trucked down from FNQ. This tree, a densely canopied beauty whose blossoms cranked the birds, its leaves threw the coolest shade. Dutch, you could tell, Dutch was proud of “his” tree. (It seemed quaintly contra-character, the way he called it “my tree”. Un-tough.) It’s how I met him, originally – I think it’s how half the neighbourhood met him – when one summer I picked my way through the bike parts decorating his front path to ask if I could please pick some of the green fruit to make a salad? It became a summer ritual, picking Dutch’s green mangoes. Heaps of the neighbourhood did it. I made salads (Dutch’s mangoes were always in a salad on our Christmas table); some made pickles. Standing on the footpath outside, I once watched a cheeky Vietnamese woman drive up, park underneath, and unload the branches from the bonnet of her car. Last year, Dutch’s neighbour stood on his own car bonnet to pick late-season fruit for me.

It was Dutch’s conduit to the community. A sweet crack in tough-guy exterior.

And mangoes for all. This year promised to be the best yet: just last month, the tree was so fecund with blossom I stuck a picture of it on Instagram (it wasn’t very good). We were excited. The common mango blossom

Then this week, walking down the street, I become muddled in my bearings. One of those shaky virtual-reality moments slows my feet, and I stop outside a house I can’t quite recognize. The massive old mango has vanished.

Later, I see Dutch, ask what happened. He looks sad. He says he has no idea. Woke one morning and “a couple of tree guys” were on his front lawn. Someone had complained about the tree to his landlord. He didn’t know what sort of complaint. Blossom dropping? Says if they’d just spoken to him, he would have taken some branches off the front if they were in anyone’s way (they weren’t) – it’s what he did each year, just hadn’t got around to it this year. Says he wishes his landlord had spoken to him about it. Says he’s not sure what to plant in its place.

Says, “Why didn’t they just speak to me?”

Says he thinks it might get a bit hot, his house, this summer.

We discuss the tree’s unprecedented blossom this year. Shake our heads. I say I have a frangipani in a pot, if he wants it. The November sun, glaring across his bare front yard, hurts my eyes.

Crafty

It’s happening. I may be turning into a semi-hipster.

 

It's a craft thing.

It’s a craft thing.

It’s the craft thing, see.

It started with an innocent workshop at the local library.

Crochet your own granny square. I always wanted to do that. There was one space left. And so, braced as I was against an earth-shattering hangover one Saturday, I learned how to crochet (a granny square).

A year later, I have over 60 and I’m still crocheting.

Granny squares

Next, I caught myself planting succulent cuttings in shells.

Shells with succulents

For a while, there was also some baking happening in my life. But we won’t talk about that.

I got craftier.

I bound banksia pods in aged old bamboo steamers, then attached orchids.

Banksia garden art

I hung shell strands from trees. Sketched stuff. Contemplated pom pom pictures.

Then, I found myself googling “How to make a rag rug”.

I may need help.

 

The beeman cometh

 

Tim knows bees

Tim knows bees

 

If West End has the highest occurrence of native bee hives in the country, it’s probably due to Dr Tim Heard.

Tim’s an entomological original: one of the pioneer native bee-keepers who’s been dabbling since the 1980s. He wrote an early article about them in Nature magazine in the 1990s. He’s done time on Gardening Australia.

He’s also keeping an eye on the hives he installs around the neighbourhood. Every year or so, Tim’s “hive crawl” sees amateur bee-people* crowding each other’s verandahs and gardens while Tim demonstrates hive splitting and honey extraction.

Stormtrooper beekeeper

Stormtrooper beekeeper

Last weekend, we were fortunate to have Tim attend to our back deck hive, with a swathe of spectators in tow. (We’d amassed a dozen or so curious kids from around the neighbourhood, too.) Stingless bees don’t sting, but they do give you a little nip if they’re really testy. As soon as the hive was disturbed, the little blighters started swarming. You could tell the blokes who’d done this before. They were the ones wearing hats.

The kids hanging around soon dispersed. Many took souvenir bee pets away in their hair. My youngest found a creative way to stay bee-free, while indulging his Star Wars thing.

*I’m trying to avoid the terms “apiary” and “apiarist”. These terms are derived from “Apis”, which is the scientific term for the honeybee species. “Trigona” and “Austroplebiea” are the genera that Australian stingless bees fall under. In case you were wondering.

 

Robbing the hive

We started with the honey. Tim prised the top layer off the three-tiered hive. This is where the bees have constructed their honeycomb: it’s food storage for the hive.

Bees store honey "pods" in this top layer.

Bees store honeycomb in this top layer.

In our case, sadly, the bees had also added a bit too much pollen, so our honey was deemed “not ideal”.

Pricking the honeycomb

Pricking the honeycomb

The honeycomb — the wax pots holding the honey — was pricked with a sinister-looking device: it’s like a scrubbing brush whose bristles have been replaced by nails. The whole layer was then inverted over a wide container so that the honey could drain out, while we focussed on splitting the hive.

Pollen tastes ok when it’s first been smashed, but too much doesn’t make  lovely honey. It’s chewy. The honey resting around the edges of the hive is nicer. You lick that stuff up on your fingers for hours.

When the honey had drained from this first honeycomb pressing, Tim strained it again into a container. (When he’d left, I passed it through butter muslin, twice.) It’s not too sweet, tasting a little smoky, a little fruity. I’ve left it a couple more days, and have noticed pollen has risen to the top. I’ll separate it again, to get really pure honey, but this is probably overkill.

We ended up with about half a kilo of honey, which Tim said was not much.

 

Splittsville

Our hive was nearly 2 years old, and heavy, man. It was ready to split.

First, the middle layer was carefully removed. Usually, the advancing front (the top layer of the brood’s spiralling structure) would have filled up into this section, and the hive could be split across these two sections. However, our brood was still mainly in the bottom section, surrounded by pollen and honey structures. Tim had to slice a section out, and physically rest it into the new hive box. This box was then placed upside down (so the brood didn’t collapse) in the old hive’s position. We’ll turn it over in about three months, when the bees have created enough structure to support it.

The other hive sat on a chair for a day while we figured out where to put it. (We probably should have planned ahead.) The next night, we put it in the front garden. We did this after sunset, when the bees were inside.

Since the split, we’ve had what the kids call bee wars around the hive on the back deck. This is when another swarm comes and fights your swarm. I’m not sure why; I’ll email the bee man and ask.

Bee swarm

Bee wars

 

Check out Tim’s videos on hive architecture, splitting hives, and extracting honey.

You can also find Tim at his website.

For the reading list

A visit to the local secondhand bookstore over the holidays wasn’t enough (bagging Malouf, Lessing, Armanno, Lewycka, Modjeska, Murakami, Astley); we fell into the Lifeline Bookfest on the weekend.

Some goodies

Some goodies

I think we came home with about 100 books. The joy was in stumbling into titles that have always been on the “to-read” list: Silent Spring. Cry, The Beloved Country. Slaughterhouse 5. Rabbit, Run. Tender is the Night. My Brother Jack. Gathering some more of latest lit-obsession, Doris Lessing. And Atwood, Steinbeck, Proulx, Scott Fitzgerald, Frame, Waugh, Somerset Maugham, Irving. Replacing my lost copy of Bonjour Tristesse.

Now, for some time to read, perhaps?

Fraud?

It will be the year of structure.

I will make time to write, corral little chunks of hours. Things will be produced*. (*I will find an alternative to the passive voice to avoid that overexposed personal pronoun.)

I have been guilty of calling myself a writer with little to back it up. Let’s be honest.

The latest edition of Island contains an essay, Public Writers, Private Lives, that resonates. Island editor, Matthew Lamb, sniffs “there are a lot of talkers out there”. Lamb will not call himself a writer until he has three books published. Good for him. Guess I am a talker. Also, a mother, event producer, communication consultant, freelancer, critic, gardener, publicist, social media gnat, school volunteer, environmental campaigner, friend, and corporate writer/editor. But writer? Underpublished, unpaid. Fraud. How dare I use this undeserved label, “writer”?

To the library

Recently, for the sake of conversational amusement over the party season, I heard myself describing my being a writer as “going through my rejection phase”. Ha ha, snort. 2013 was a year of occasional literary rejection. Good for the spirit.

Must a writer be published to a predetermined level before earning her name? For me, a writer is one who simply must write. Hell, it’s not for the dosh. (According to this report, the average income for Australian writers is $11,000.) Writing is surrendering to the compulsion to deliver these chains of words somewhere. This screen, that notebook, that toilet wall. Even if (like this blog!!!) very few people even read it. Does the audience even count?

Does the audience count? With this in mind, I release below a piece I’ve sent off as a writing sample to two of last years rejecters. Perhaps it’s rubbish. Perhaps I come across as quite a wanker. It’s part of a series of flash writing that my mentor, Ros Petelin, suggested I play around with: stuff that I use as a writing exercise.

Decadent boredom

Decadent boredom

The night they freed Nelson Mandela

 
The night they freed Nelson Mandela we threw a party. The strange thing about this party was that it didn’t take place at our house on Honour Avenue in Chelmer, because that was the house of impromptu parties. Living with someone in a band meant you ended up living with most of the band. Initially JC, Jacinta, and I moved into the Honour Ave house. Jamie moved in later, after a sojourn in Aspen. (He was preppy to our grunge.) Jacinta’s boyfriend Bish lived with us on weekends, when he was down from studying in Gatton. Ian may as well have lived there. Missy, too. It was awesome.
 
 Most of us decamped to my friend Mez’s place the night they freed Nelson Mandela, because her parents were away, of course. We played drinking games and danced and skinnydipped. After all, we were 19. We woke in the morning to find JC asleep in a baby’s travel cot. Can’t remember who put him in there.
…want more? Here’s the full piece.
 
 

The Esplanade

 

Oh, there are no photographs, as we were enjoying the moment far too much to bother recording. As usual.

But here’s a recipe for a cocktail we created last weekend.

Get invited to two of your dearest mates’ place for a kind of housewarming on a Saturday night. Go to the Yandina farmers’ markets in the morning (or, as we like to call them, the Good Markets) and buy a lovely pineapple and a bag of limes. Ask your dad if you can have a handful of mint from the garden (which, sadly, you forget. Mint would have made this drink even more awesome.)

Grab a bottle of Stoli, for old times’ sake, and hope that your friends have coconut cream in the cupboard after you forget to pick some up at the IGA. Throw in some mixers.

Deposit the lot on the kitchen counter and have a few glasses of Champagne. Hug old friends. Share some jokes.

Later, grab some accomplices. Gather ice. Chop half the pineapple into chunks. Add these to the bowlful of ice in Lindy’s big thermo thing that presides over the kitchen bench. Ask Justin how much alcohol. He’ll add about ¼ bottle of vodka and 1/3 bottle bacardi to the ice. That sounds about right. While Justin and Lou are trying to talk over the noise of the ice-and-pineapple-smashing machine, muddle a few massive teaspoons of sugar and limes (3? 4? Something like that) with a mortar and pestle. Wish you’d remembered the mint. Steal a can of coconut cream from the cupboard. Grab the ginger beer from the fridge.

When it’s smooth, pour the mashed ice/pine/vodka/bacardi into 2 jugs (it won’t fit in one). Into each, add: 1/2 can coconut cream, half the juice from the muddled sugared limes, and a good slosh of ginger beer. Stir.

Roll the rim of whatever glass you choose in the lime and pineapple juices which are probably still drenching your chopping board, then dump into leftover sugar for super sugarrimmed glamour.

Gently lower a chunk of pineapple to the bottom of the glass. Try to balance a slice of lime on the rim, fail, and drop that into the bottom as well. Fill with the blended goodness of pineapple, ice, vodka, white rum, lime, sugar, ginger beer, and coconut cream.

While glasses are being filled, take a baking tray and fill to about 2cm deep with the Esplanade mix. Secrete it into the freezer. In a few hours, you’ll remember that you did this, and you’ll be delighted to find you’ve got the beginnings of a delightful vodka granita. Or you’ll forget, but it will be perfect for tomorrow’s hangover.

That is how you create the Esplanade.

Pineapple

 

Too many months have passed without self-indulgent writing, with no wordy rambling save skinny scratchings in a work-related notebook and the occasional sentence plugged into my phone’s orangey notes.

 

Someone has left a whole watermelon on my doorstep.

 

The eyes have been scratched out of a massive poster of Wil Anderson up the road. He looks more interesting, satanic.

 

My beloved rooster is yet to crow and give the whole game up.

 

 

Yesterday, we took the boys to Sea World. There were many tattoos. We left at closing time. The nearly empty carpark suffered random discards: bags and containers stealthed down between parked cars guiltily revealed when their cover drove off. In a straight line to our car, I passed two dirty disposable nappies. People suck.

 

We had stayed at Greenmount, which was a younger sample of the weekend’s generally vintage vibe. I want to save every last faded one of the southern Gold Coast beauties: the random terrazzo floors, proud little skillion roofs, all the asbestos-clad modesty.

Those beaches of the GC’s cooler lower reaches are stunning, and the high-rises grotesque alongside.

Whenever I look north across the sweeping bays towards the silhouetted geometric outline that spreads from north of Surfers Paradise to (where? Broadbeach? or would it have sprawled down to Nobby’s by now?), I can’t help imagining it a smoking ruin. The ocean, sparkling and alive, in front of apocalyptic desolation. An annihilated future.

Autumn, northwards

Autumn, northwards

I must go. Work demands attention, and I also must find out what sort of bird made the nest that landed on the driveway last week.

Anger shackles

Pulling into Yandina, the sweetest station of all.

On the train from Eumundi to Brisbane earlier this week, I’d scored myself some glorious uninterruptable hours to write a piece whose deadline casts a megashadow over the month (and a piece that’s proving a challenge on two fronts). Or so I’d assumed.

Lack of chivalry meets lack of self control, and the bloke who should be painted as a prick to the carriage community gets away with it.

Seat sorted: forward facing, single against window. An older train, so no free wifi to distract. (Important.) It all starts so well. But then, somewhere south of Nambour, around Mooloola, my concentration cracks all Humpty Dumpty.

People trickle into the train along the line until only single seats remain. It’s not yet 7am.

Young battler family, straight from Working Dog’s central casting, push their way pram first up the carriage, needing to park pram and sit. Mum, smiling, holds their young baby, bringing up the rear. They stop across from me, diagonally, next to a baby boomer-esque couple in the seats near the door, the seats usually reserved for the handicapped or the infirm. The seats that a gentleman would vacate for a woman with baby in arms.

Young dad (ponytail, buzz undercut, goatee) stops and exercises his polite voice, asks if the couple sitting would mind swapping sears so his family could please sit together and keep an eye on the pram?

The woman continues to stare out the window. Her partner (60ish, blue business shirt, shiny bald head) looks directly at the little family, and abrupts in a surprisingly velvet voice “Why, have you got another two seats together for us? We’re sitting together.”

“Um,” goatee replies, colouring up. “I don’t know, we’d just like to sit with the baby and the pram please.”

“Did you pay extra? No. We’re not moving. You can leave the pram here and sit elsewhere.”

Prick. This is the point I turn, with my best glare.

Young goatee dad is also offended by a lack of chivalry.

(Queensland Rail itself would also be disappointed. Point 2 in their 15-point guide to transport etiquette states: If you are occupying a Priority Seat, vacate the seat for someone who has a disability, is elderly, pregnant or carrying young children.)

 So far, clear moral script. Villain easily spotted… Until goatee boy’s anger grabs him by the balls and he loses it, telling the selfish prick he is, well, a selfish prick, but using all his favourite words starting with C and F. But mainly C.

After a few rounds of fourth-grade playground vocab, goatee is pretty frustrated. And very, very angry.

“You expect us to leave the pram here and go sit all the way in another carriage, and come back and forth for the baby, c***?.”

I stand, fold my laptop under my arm, and offer the mother my single seat, willing the young dad to calm down and shut up, willing the older man to stop looking so smug (because he is smug now, he’s been sworn at, so he can claim moral superiority). He’s still a prick.

“Thank you, madam (!) that’s very kind of you, but i wouldn’t take your seat when this f***ing C*** dog won’t get off his f***ing selfish a******* to let a lady with a baby sit down.” (Turning to throw another “c***” in the direction of his nemesis.)

Etc. You can imagine. For a lot of the journey’s remaining 90 minutes.

 

This anger breaks my heart. This anger allows the business man (did I mention he was a selfish, unchivalrous prat?) to play the injured part, which he milks, calling for the guard, saying he feels threatened, telling the guard to call the police because a violent man is threatening him in words and actions.

Kids sprawled on seats further down the train stare at their phone screens while elderly people stand in the aisles next to them. Who can expect them to offer their seats, with the example played out at the other end of the carriage?

I stare out the window.

The view from the train

 

Goatee man, because he lost his temper, threw away the moral high ground, and it’s tempting to extrapolate to the rest of his life, sadder, spiralling in anger cycles, because somewhere he missed a life lesson or two. Always recast as villian.

He did come back down the carriage, and apologised to the man and woman (still seated, she staring out the window) for his earlier language. The “couple” hadn’t spoken a word to each other, and didn’t for the entire journey. The businessman kept his eyes closed the entire apology, which riled goatee boy anew. Apology forgotten, a new flock of cursing was released. Businessman still looked smug. I felt disappointed in the pair of them, annoyed for humanity, and am still trying to figure out why this episode has wormed its way around my thoughts all week.

“The anger of the stupid keeps them disenfranchised,” I SMS’ed to my partner. What an unattractive parable.

 

 

A quel age pour a Wes Anderson?

Oh, please see that title for the faux pretension that it holds, for the rest of the post is probably pure pretension. Or whatever.

Oh, I WAS relieved when my sons loved Wes Anderson’s version of The Fantastic Mr Fox. Der. Of course.

And I’ve just come home from seeing Moonrise Kingdom. Loved it. Yes, it’s adorable. As adorable as that sweet little cafe down the road.

Anyway, where was I? Full of wine, I think. But that’s what, not where. Where?

Wes. Mighty mighty Wes.

Bloody awful name.

Anyway.

Moonrise Kingdom. A c0oler version of Stand By Me (at least one Corey!). With a cool girl and everything. I think my boys would love it. But WHEN? When should you let the youngsters in on the Wesness? Interwebz, this is the question. When can I show them a film made by Mr Anderson without potential “issues” arising?

I thought now would be fine, but my dear friend reminded me that, in the last film, a dog did die, violently.

So. Soon?

I wonder if it is ever too s0on to show your sons a movie by Wes Anderson that is not animated. No, bugger it. Now is fine. Tomorrow, Bottle Rocket, Saturday is Zissou town.

 

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