Great Expectations

For some reason, I go into Charles Dickens thinking I dislike him and it will be a chore. This is not logical because A Christmas Carol is my most read book (every year). I quite enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities, despite early confusion. I think the ill-conceived notion was born of the fact that as a child I despised the movie Oliver Twist, and due to vivid history lessons in year 4, the Dickensian era evoked images of children having their fingers hacked off in machinery, and bitter cold.

I am glad I overcame this aversion, as Great Expectations is certainly worth it’s place on the shelf. I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy it, knowing the ending. However, there was a lot I didn’t know, and so there were several plot twists that caught me by surprise. (This might be because the renditions I recall seeing consisted of the Gwyneth Paltrow film, a South Park episode satirising of the story, and accumulated general knowledge from goodness knows where).

I love how multi-layered the characters are, and how they are allowed to stray from their original beliefs and behaviours in reaction to their experiences, like real people. I strongly disliked Pip, and thought him incredibly insolent, and was not convinced he  truely learned his lesson.

The scenery created in my mind was always terribly foggy (literal fog) and tinged with mossy green. While certain scenes were described this way, I think it was also quite symbolic of the mystery, and gradual emergence of truths throughout the novel. Overall, a good read, and I look forward to my next Dickens adventure.

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Interior Painting

Blizzard blue

As you may know, I recently bought a house of my very own (well the bank’s, but that neither here nor there). Part of the privilege of home ownership is the right to paint the walls. Among the original colours on our humble abode were apple green, blizzard blue, burgundy, asparagus, dandelion and, my favourite, an orange which resembles the filling of an Arnott’s Orange Slice biscuit.

We thought we’d go with something neutral but modern. After contemplating a myriad of nearly identical swatches, a situation I have been told which can be described as Buridan’s ass*, we settled on a blue-grey, named by Taubman’s as “Oyster Grey”. It looks very chic with white trims.   Painting can be a surprisingly cerebrate activity. I had done a lot of reading and research on how to paint, what paint to use, and various preparations before embarking, but disregarded all of the advice because I had the flu at the time and couldn’t be bothered. The only thing that worked was using a sponge and paint scraper to remove the wallpaper.

A few lessons:

Taubman's Oyster Grey with white trims

Taubman's Oyster Grey with white trims

You really should put down a drop sheet

You really should tape everything up first

You really should get all the furniture out to give you room to work

You really should wash the brushes quickly, or wrap them in glad wrap immediately.

Given the mess I had made, I braced myself for some philippic comments from the boy, however, much to my delight, his man-look (the kind where they can’t find the vegemite next to the toaster) found no faults.

* Imagine a hungry donkey standing equidistant from two identical piles of hay. The donkey tries to decide which pile he should eat first and finding no reason to choose one over another, starves to death. Explanation courtesy wordsmith.org.

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On The Road

On The Road, by Jack Kerouac, is infamous for causing a stir in the 1950s. It follows the philandering of a young man into the underground of America. I loved Catcher In The Rye and the in-depth insights it gave into the main character’s psyche, while he broke away from the expectations of his conservative society. On The Road doesn’t linger long enough to even express whether the narrator was happy or sad. It’s made up of one page events filled with a cacophony of interchangeable characters, each less developed and less memorable than the next. You don’t know their motivation for anything, only that they “go with it” and like to “dig” things. Now I am from a notoriously apathetic generation, but even I can’t relate to these layabouts; even the dullest adolescents have reasons for sitting around in car parks and lacking drive. There is no sense of the atmosphere of the American highway, or the cultural idiosyncrasies of the Hispanic neighborhoods. There’s little insight into the characters’ interaction with, or opinion of, the society in which they exist, beyond a superficial level. Kerouac’s language can only be described as jazz, in that it is unstructured, goes in all directions, runs on and on without form or adequate punctuation, jumps backwards and forwards with no reference point, uses unnecessarily obscure and inconsistent language – at times you need the Oxford dictionary, at others urbandictionary.com – and if you think this has been a long sentence and bulky paragraph, just wait until you read the book, because this collection of the meaningless gibberish drugged beatniks say goes on for 300 pages. I think there is a particular breed of Hipster that would enjoy this book, however, I did not.

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Coca-cola Cake

Are you sick of stale cake? Need some pep in your patty pans? Have I got the recipe for you!

I have travelled quite a bit, and I collect as coke bottle from every country I visit; they are different in every country. I have visited the coke factory in Atlanta, and collect other paraphernalia such as clocks, advertisements, and Christmas ornaments. Having said that, I only drink Diet Coke, as it isn’t as syrupy-sweet as original, and it contains that phenylalanine I find so addictive. Mmm…

A few years back, a friend asked me to make her a coca-cola cake. I found a recipe after some quick googling and have made it every year for her since. It is moist but fluffy, and never goes stale and remains sweet, no doubt thanks to chemicals such as Merchandise 7X, sodium benzoate, E211, and phosphoric acid to name a few. So it’s a great cake if you live alone as you can take a month to eat it.

Find my tweaked recipe below (not for the health conscious):

2 cups SR flour
2 cups sugar
3 tbs cocoa
1 cup coca-cola
1 cup butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
3/4tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla essence

In a large bowl, combine sugar and SR flour.
In saucepan mix coca-cola, cocoa, and butter, and bring to a boil then take it off right away.
Mix into dry ingredients.
In small bowl mix eggs, milk, soda and vanilla.
Mix it all together swiftly so eggs don’t go weird. It will be quite liquid.
Pour into tightly sealed tin – I found out the hard way that spring form tins are a no go.
Bake for 45 minutes to an hour in 140’C or 350’F oven until usual tests show it’s done.

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Beyond the Black Stump

 Beyond The Black Stump is by my sister’s favourite author, Nevil Shute. If you like Steinbeck, you’ll probably like Shute. He is best known for On The Beach and A Town Like Alice, which were both made into film, the former notably featuring with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardener.

This author, who started life out as an engineer, writes books about foreigners and their interactions with Australians and Australia around the 1950s. As a English immigrant to Australia at the time, he has a talent for capturing the sensibilities and curiosities of Australia of the time, and expresses a true fondness for his new country, often in comparison to an England he saw as deteriorating.

The Australia Shute writes about no longer exists in many parts, due to immigration, adoption of multiculturalism and globalisation, however the characters in Beyond the Black Stump are quite close to my ancestry. They are an assortment of people whose family arrived in Australia generations ago, who worked to overcome the hardships of the land, and pioneer a young nation. In better words, the second and third verses of “I Am Australian” (lyrics at the bottom of this post).

The arrival of American oil prospectors stirs up the small community, and is quite an imposition on the slow and simple way of life they are accustomed. The storyline centres around the American, but examines internal changes of those around him. There is a slight predictability to the end, is but it is enjoyable to see the characters get there. The last line is particularly beautiful.

extract from I Am Australian

Lyrics by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton

I came upon the prison ship, bowed down by iron chains.
I cleared the land, endured the lash and waited for the rains.
I’m a settler, I’m a farmer’s wife on a dry and barren run
A convict then a free man, I became Australian.

I’m the daughter of a digger who sought the mother lode
The girl became a woman on the long and dusty road
I’m a child of the depression, I saw the good times come
I’m a bushy, I’m a battler, I am Australian

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Inventory

Moving house has given me the opportunity to do an inventory of all the craft stuff I have accumulated over the past few years. An uncrafty onlooker (ahem, my mum and the boy) would say I have far too much craft stuff, and have a serious case of affluenza, but really, most was purchased over 2 years ago and I still use occasionally.

1 box scrapbooking supplies: purchased two or more years ago when I was doing a lot of travel. I am gradually using this up with each trip, but could probably afford to do a cull of all the bits and bobs I’ve saved.

1 large box fabric: purchased within the last two years, this is quite shameful. I have over-purchased for projects which I am getting better at not doing. I must try to use up all the fabric I have before buying more. I have given away many smaller pieces to the quilter I know.

1 box paints and brushes: bought well over 4 years ago, being acrylic, most are still usable. I only paint about once a year, but no use buying more each time. After a quick test, I throw out a few dried up or separated ones, but keep the rest.

1 box misc items: I throw away magazine cutouts, unimpressive sketches, old half-used note books (recycled) and the like. I keep rulers, stencils, Derwent coloured pencils and other such things I can use occasionally. I donated items such as coloured hair spray, scoobies and safety pins to the Girl Guide district I volunteer with.

1 box sewing items: this includes my sewing box so not too bad really. There are also a lot of random ribbons, buttons and threads, which again, I vow to use up before buying more.

1 box wrapping paper: This is a steady amount and I use and keep wrapping from presents received and given.

As I unpack and find a new home for everything I will endeavour to think of ‘Hoarders’ and ask myself, “Will you honestly use this?”

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Out of Africa

I’ve been reading Out of Africa by Karen Blixen for about a month now. It’s only 350 pages, so why’s it taking my so long?
 

 1. I keep forgetting to get a book mark so re-read entire chapters at a time.

2. I’ve only been reading it on the train to work, and with all the public holidays, that hasn’t been often

3. It’s not a story-plot book. It’s just 350 pages of description, so I’m not in a rush to get to the next pages. Its flow is that of someone passing time on an isolated homestead, and I believe that’s how it should be read: in a relaxed and haphazard fashion.

 Having said all that, I am loving it! I am a sucker for books with little to no plot that are just about the way things are everyday. I find her descriptions of characters that step in and out of her world incredibly moving and interesting.

 As I travelled to Africa (albeit the West, not East) in 2009, I am enjoying reminiscing about the landscapes, and the sense of space and isolation which in many countries exists as much now with super highways, as it did earlier in the century with dirt roads.

(Wikimedia)

 Most Australians, I think, can relate to the African landscape when vistiting, or reading about it. The main difference is all the imposing, powerful animals, which are a far cry from ours which are either tiny and deadly, or larger and fragile.

 Her descriptions of the various nationalities present in her region at the time is fascinating. Her descriptions of their cultures, mannerisms and idiosyncrasies are observant and capture a sense of the respect she seemed to have for even those behaviours she did not understand. It is not wonder she seems to melancholic at the loss of this great land.

 I am glad this book was originally written in English, and not a translation, as I can now give full compliments to Blixen for her beautiful grasp of the language. Many an Englishman cannot write so creatively.

Once I have finished this book I’ll put in another post of my favourite quotes, if I can find them again! This book is way up there with another new favourite of mine, A Passage to India.

Victory! I have found a female author I enjoy!

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