"As she skidded to a standstill a sound ripped free and rolled down through the living trees behind her, a hoarse, bloated, saw-like roar flushed from deep in something terrible and newborn, taken up by others until the gorge thrummed, charged with its nauseous harmonic..."
"As she skidded to a standstill a sound ripped free and rolled down through the living trees behind her, a hoarse, bloated, saw-like roar flushed from deep in something terrible and newborn, taken up by others until the gorge thrummed, charged with its nauseous harmonic..."
On considering this picture I ask myself; is there anything stranger than a chicken?
- Why wattles, in a sane world?
- When one rooster crows, does another's dreams die?
- Do they always recognize their own feet?
- When does confidence become arrogance, in a rooster?
T H I N G S W E C A N L E A R N F R O M G A L L I F O R M S
- It could be argued that either one of these random birds is more beautiful than the most attractive person you can think of. The person you are sighing for, arranging your life around.
- The chicken that walks is probably perfectly capable of flight.
- They cross the road while the passive observer jokes about it.
- A chicken with a full crop and a clean perch requires little else and knows it in their heart.
- Chickens take their irrational dislike of one another to murderous extremes, wasting tremendous amounts of energy and personal resources pursuing vendettas to the point where they endanger their own wellbeing. A chicken's brain will fit easily on a 20c coin and weighs about 2 grams. A human brain is seven hundred times larger.
Seven hundred times.
Hills Near Ranfurly (R Scott)
If New Zealand music was a can that had lost its label, The Bats and The Clean would lie like the very best kind of sardine, gleaming in close proximity as you peeled back the lid as a reward for your intrepidity. Scott, as a member of both bands and Flying Nun veterano, has been purveying devil music to nigh-on two generations of impressionable young people, earning himself a handy degree of infamy as the two bands' cultish followings spanned the known world. What Mr Scott doesn't know about being in a bloody band probably isn't worth knowing and we were well pleased to be able to seize him before he popped off to the States on tour, ply him with cake and question him at some length.
So why music?
My mum played piano in church and dad played saxophone in a dance band in the sixties in Scotland, so they were often playing and singing Scottish folk songs right from when I was young. It was very much just... music was all around, the piano was in the house so we all learned that and my sister had a guitar, so we played along on that to the Beatles, Neil Young, Bob Dylan records, working out how the songs were constructed, playing the root notes, learning the chords, and that just sort of grounded me in the sort of folky stuff mum and dad were doing. Then there was the radio, Slade and Abba, a lot of disco stuff, which I really liked. So that was my musical upbringing, then I went to a gig that happened to be the Enemy and the Clean in the Beneficiaries Hall, and that was an introduction to punk, and the fact that anyone could get up and make a noise and not have to be proficient. After that I met David at art school and just… joined the Clean.
When you think about music, if it was a colour of a texture or a shape, what would it be?
That sounds like something I watched about synesthesia…
You don't have synesthetic experiences around music?
No, no… if you possibly thought about a song, you could say that was spiky, or that was mellow or whatever, but I couldn't put a label on it and say it was one thing.
You do visual art as well… how much crossover is there?
Quite a bit in some ways… I know when I'm painting, I hear music in a different way… when you're in painting mode, you're not consciously listening to it so your brain's very open and you analyze it in another way. Other people have said they can see similarities, listening to what I do and then seeing what I paint.
So if you hadn't been exposed to music at a young age would you have gone off toward art, or do you think music was that specific thing for you?
I think theoretically yes, I would have found it in some way, only because its such a strong thing within me that I can't imagine not doing it… so yes, I would have found it.
What do you prefer… writing or performing?
Probably writing. When you're writing a song, it's a completely blank canvas and whatever direction you're taking it in, you're heading off a wee journey and at any stage you're able to change it…
It's still in your hands.
Yeah. Often the first idea will determine it, a very basic riff, a couple of notes, and if they're strong enough to hold my interest, then you start thinking about vocals. Usually it's a series of chords and a melody.
Do you wake up with those three great notes in your head?
Sometimes… usually it's picking up the guitar and doodling. If there's something good there, you put the guitar down, go and wash the dishes, and if it's still good the pen and paper comes out... I don't always know what every chord is called so I just... (write out the tab). Then I'll write out the melody, make a recording and come back to it in a few days.
Ever written something that was just... the total acme of that expression, then gotten on stage and thought… tumbleweeds... shit, this isn't working?
Pretty much by the time you've gotten it onto stage, especially with it being vetted by the band and them saying yeah, that's um, not your best work… if it doesn't get past them, it doesn't end up on stage. But having said that, solo wise, you can choose a song, think it's good and think you've played it really well and just… you get this… smattering of applause…
So do you actually enjoy performance?
Yeah… but there's a lot of angst to it, a lot of trepidation… nervousness, fear of gear failure… doing justice to the song. Sometimes you'll get into the middle of something and think hey, I'm just doing G and C (chords) here really and I'm not a very good guitarist but they seem to be okay with it… (lol). But what I do is very song-based, so it's more about the song than about the virtuosity. With the Bats, we're very danceable, so you're delivering a song but it's a physical process for the people in the crowd… there's quite a few things going on at the one time.
Rob Falconer on drums, the Green House album sessions
What's the biggest difference between peoples' perception of performance and having to stand there and look at the crowd and deliver a song?
There's a big gap between the two. If you go and see a band, you're taking in what they're giving out and you're processing and liking it, but when you're doing it, there's a big difference, and I guess everyone interprets it a different way… it's quite fluid really; at any one stage if you froze that process, everyone would be thinking something different. You can be concentrating heavily on the song if it's difficult or new, hoping the audience is enjoying the performance even if you're staring at the floor and er, standing stock still. But that's just what you get with this song. As opposed to a band that's all showy and like has their foot on the monitor… screaming lead solo….
Lol. Can you remember a particularly spectacular performance? When you thought this is what performing is all about?
When the crowd's good, they carry you a lot…a big crowd, right up the front… that makes a huge difference, because of the energy you're getting back off them… it makes the performing…
Like you're doing it in your sleep. You're concentrating on their energy and the playing is almost secondary… you're enjoying it but you're almost outside your own body and part of the crowd, in a way… if you know the song well, *cough*.
Are NZ crowds different to those overseas?
Was that impolitic? *Wink*
No no… everywhere is different. NZ crowds are pretty good but they can be a bit sort of… jaded. Because it's like, blah, we can see you anytime. When they're really into it it's fun, but it can also be lots of people just sitting in the back of a room and you're wondering why am I doing this? Overseas they're all like ooh, we've been waiting five years to hear you, so for them it's a bit more special. That's more fun, a bit extra. At home you can be ohh, playing this pub again, same people, except they look older... I wonder if I look like that?
What about the fan experience? Do you have F A N S? Self-described, a little bit scary?
Yeah, there's a bit of that… mostly they're pretty good. I don't get weird mail or anything…
Ever? You've never had something weird through the post?
No… that's not true, lol. A few strange letters about how much your music meant to them. There was this one guy and his wife left him, got sick or something and he was like this album was the only thing that got him through a year of extreme trauma…
That's awesome and scary at the same time.
Yeah, when you realize how much emphasis and weight they've put on what you've done… then you get the more frivolous fan that will make you whats supposed to be a map of NZ out of bits of material or…
As long as it's not pubic hair.
There was one who made a pencil case out of zips joined together, and for the keyring there was a wooden cutout of the north and south island of NZ.
And now with Facebook, you get all the 'your work means so much to me' messages and you're like ohhhh, thank you… trying not to burst their bubble.
How much responsibility do you feel toward that?
Errrm… not much. But positive feedback does empower you to make an effort. If you're getting a bit negative, you remind yourself that some people have liked it a lot and that can gee you up.
If no one ever heard another one of your songs, would you still write?
Yeah, I would. There's a sense of competition with other artists as well… that's something that drives you. Someone else would put something out and it'll get a good review and you'll think…
Hey, that was complete shit!
Yeah! Why did they get a prize for that or blah blah, and that spurs you on and you think right, I'm going to show them something equally as good if not better, so there's that element too. That's definitely a factor.
So whats the most rock and roll thing you've ever done?
We threw someone in a swimming pool once.
They'd come to pay us… it was at Palmerston North university and we decided to throw him in the pool.
After you got paid or before?
After. But it was sad because he had this special watch that his dad had given him and it got ruined. That was a bit naughty. Most of the funny ones are accidental, like destroying a shower cubical or something. Just from opening the door or something. Not on purpose.
Robert & Kaye Woodward
That negates the whole darn process.
I know. And then there's coming up to a border in Europe and you might have something in the van thats not supposed to be there… throwing it out the window…
Now that's rock and roll.
Theres been a few of those incidents. Being in Germany with this heavy metal band and you go out backstage there's a huge pile of like, steak tartare, raw mince, and we all go ewww and the metal band is scooping it up with their hands and actually shoving it down their throats. That's where I had 600 deutchmarks stolen out of my coat backstage. Ever since then, I carry everything on stage with me. I've learnt my lesson.
How do you deal with the publishing and management and stay sane?
I try not to deal with it. Flying Nun are great, and the publisher I've got does a lot of stuff for me, doing all the online paperwork.
What's your position on the internet copyright issue drama?
I feel like if you produce something and someone consumes it, they should pay for that. Everyone thinks iTunes is great, but you end up getting like, half a cent a song. So it's pretty naff. Everyone shares files, you get ripped off, but it's nothing you can control so I don't worry about it.
So the internet's a positive or negative for working artists?
Positive. On the whole, the positives outweigh the negatives. A lot of younger people are able to find our music just through people talking about it online, whereas all that dissemination was a lot slower before. Everyone's constantly introduced to new music, some of them will buy... you can hear more, sell more.
How was South by Southwest?
We went in 06… it was great. Austin was like… every second doorway was a bar with a horrible band playing in it. We had a deal in the states so it was just good for the American label for us to play there and get people to come and see us.
What's the atmosphere like? It always looks so tense to me whenever I see coverage.
It's pretty crazy like with one block with 20 bands playing at once. It's pretty full on. Its not too tense, being all indie stuff… you've got your wrist band and your program and your bag of goodies… walk two blocks get to this bar, go in, get your one free beer, look at the band, go to another… we played three shows, then got interviewed by Radio NZ under a bridge full of actual bats.
Austin's famous for its bats. We got interviewed, someone clapped their hands and all the bats took off. And BBQ is very big in Texas so theres a lot of…
A lot, so if you're a vegetarian, it's not much fun playing on the back of a truck with all these BBQs around you. But it has a certain atmosphere. You have to be okay with crowds. Sometimes you've got to wade through hundreds of people and say excuse me a thousand times just to get to the stage, you get there and you realize there's no beer. And you have to go back through the crowd to find beer and thats when the prima donna comes out and you're like…
No beer no show.
Last question. What's your worst touring experience?
In Germany, we went up and put the bags in the room, went to soundcheck, came back and everything was gone, bags, plane tickets… no one warned us there were junkies living in the corridors.
Everyone complains about Germany.
Usually Germany's good… that was the only bad thing, apart from getting stopped in the carpark by the cops, people we were with having certain substances on them and us having to wait to do the next gig till they were processed etc. Landing in New York the night before 9/11… if we'd landed a day later we couldn't have done the gigs but… it was very weird being there with all that carnage, the buildings going down… you had to walk around wearing a mask, not knowing what you were breathing in; you had to have your passport with you at all time for the police checks. We had to walk miles with our guitars to go practice… that would probably go in the bad basket. Then there was Chernobyl…
That happened just before we went to mainland Europe and we were like how bad's the cloud going to be? We just won't eat any leafy green vegetables… Then there was one time in America when we were going along at 100 ks on the highway and bang, a wheel came flying off, Hamish was driving and somehow kept the van straight in the shower of sparks and we pulled over okay. I think I've got some sort of lucky thing sitting on my shoulder because we've never come to any real grief. It's sort of like a big crazy adventure really.
I feel we need some sort of bitchy anecdote at this point.
Our last tour of Europe with the Bats; we thought the promoter was okay, until at each successive venue they were all 'oh, we've already forwarded your money to your promoter…' and we were actually thinking that we were supposed to be getting it, and this went on and on… I can't remember his name. We did chase him but never saw the money… several thousand euros, which made getting through France and Spain a bit of a frugal thing. We've been trying to dirty his name ever since.
I was lying about that being the last question. Who's the most famous person you've met? Lots of people say David Bowie for some reason.
Different people have different ideas of famous… Alex Chilton, who was very famous to me, being in Big Star… we played with him in Germany and that was really cool. He was really down to earth and nice. Then there was (Margarita) Pracatan… she used to be on the Clive James show…
YES! Oh my god.
She was on after us at a friend's wedding once. We met her. David Byrne… famous people turn up in the crowd and you hear someone say ooh such and such is here but you never meet them. It is fun meeting people who are in the same sphere, but that many levels above you, getting their approval… that's cool.
Do you think of yourself as a rock star?
Come on. You must have had that moment by yourself in the shower when you thought, damn, I'm a rock star.
Nah. Never. A rock star is like… Steve Tyler. Someone dumb like that. It's got bad connotations. I see myself as a semisuccessful songwriter musician. Rock star just doesn't sound right.
Never? Not when you were younger, trying to pull? You plug the pedal in….
Hit that certain chord and the crowd goes woo and like… er yeah, for a split millisecond you are a rock star. I suppose.
You totally are right then.
But it's very fleeting because you're brought back down to earth by the fact that you've stood on your lead and your guitar's cut out and you look like…
Rock star... plonker….
It's a very fine line between the two.
If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?
Something in the arts, hopefully. Not digging roads. I was a picture framer for a while. I did tech drawing at school thinking I was going to be an architect but no one knows what they're doing at school. I had no idea.
So what would you tell a young person staring at a guitar and thinking about music as a vocation?
Don't expect too much and take every small achievement as something really good. If you've got the energy and passion to get even five percent down the path, that's great, because theres nothing worse than someone sitting at home thinking if only I'd tried something. If you've got love for something, have a go.
I agree. Thanks Robert.
What's that white crap on the hills this morning?
Snow down to sea level?
Only last night we were rubbishing the chances of it turning up so early in the season. We don't usually get it like this until really late winter/spring.
Nothing substantial but lovely to look at, because we don't ever have to shovel it, hurrah.
little bit of
HOUSE Sonoma Scent Studio (I've decided to abandon the star-rating system; it's too blunt a tool and personal preference isn't a measurable quantity anyway.)
DATE OF ISSUE March 2010
LISTED NOTES frankincense CO2, myrrh EO, labdanum absolute, cistus oil, natural oakmoss absolute, aged Indian patchouli heartnote fraction, sandalwood, cedar, ambergris, orris, angelica root absolute, elemi EO, vanilla absolute.
ENVIRONMENTAL & ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS Recycled packaging elements, synthetic instead of animal musks/civet/castoreum, no sunscreens, preservatives, colourants, parabens. Sources sustainably grown ingredients where possible. Close attention to batch freshness.
My beloved is unto me as a bundle of myrrh, that lieth between my breasts.
(The Song of Solomon)
No one would have trouble perceiving the fact that I use incense almost daily upon walking into our house, but it's always seemed strange to me how few of us can name the components of this most evocative aroma. Smoke? Prayer? It's a whole lot of wood, when you think about it, but why are ligneous essences so closely associated with the divine across so many cultures and practices? I had never really questioned the ancient conventions surrounding incense until I began exploring scent in a concerted manner.
In the process I've been endlessly frustrated in my search for a true or even adequate rendition of the substance in wearable form. It's always, always a timid little dash of smoke or spice and then a giant whack of P E R F U M E, the two often diametrically opposed but chained together for some ungodly purpose, pleasing devotees of neither. I'd hear rumours of success and in their innovative Series, Commes de Garçons came so achingly close; I disliked the dull, flat choke of Avignon and thought Kyoto cheap and cheerless, but Jaisalmer and Ouarzazate transported me in two very welcome directions and I would have loved them unreservedly if they had stayed beyond an hour. Tragically, they do not and after that I did despair. I scowled down at my little Sonoma Scents vial and thought you're lying to me, Incense Pure... you're just like all the others.
I was wrong about that. Incense Pure is, at long last, pure incense. No flowery excuses, no concessions to the uninitiated, just smooth and bronzy goodness for those of us who like to see a thin blue haze.
The first thing to strike you about I P is the hit of white, curling wood, the kind of punch that rises from a handful of dry timber shavings and hovers in the air over a nip of Islay single malt. Almost-but-neither iodine or alcohol. Perhaps it is the cedar and the highest notes within the elemi, a pungent resin, that flap past us in this moment but it's gone almost before you can name it, swept out of the way by a broad guard of more central components. If IP was a shape, or more importantly a texture, to me it would be something like shagreen, the enlisted notes overlapped so closely that they almost disguise each other on their way to becoming the greater whole. Frankincense, tart but generous as ever, forms the spine. Around this note wind two darker strains; laconic myrrh and damp, slightly oily oakmoss, the latter pushing through in the first hour to make this quite a dark rendition of the theme for me, suggesting the pitchy black deposits on the inside of an antique censer. It is flanked by a chorus of recessed woods; a classic sandal, knotty labdanum and then a very austere patchouli, cousin to that found in Luten's Borneo with its distant, desiccated green. More distant still is a suggestion of vanilla, though it is mellow and fractional, the temptation to offset the literal nature of the composition at this point thankfully resisted.
While my initial impressions suggested a very dense and lineal scent, so much so that I'd wondered if I could weigh or even discern the individual components, there is definitely space and progression, on a personal scale especially, its twists and reveals held close to the skin as the tail glides slowly downward until it loses itself in something soft and grayish. I get the soapy, musky mauve of orris in the dying breaths. With a generous application I expect four hours of moderate, coherent sillage, and perhaps another two in a more private form. Superb.
In considering notes like olibanum and sandal it becomes clear as to why woods and resins are so heavily used in reverential expression; when we still had a meaningful accord with nature these things were the voice of the Grove, the living temple that surrounded and sustained us as it did all other creatures. Incense is the ghost of that regard, coded and remembered in the twining violet smoke.
Incense Pure EDP. Purchase online at Sonoma Scent Studio and at selected retailers within the U.S.
Having 'gotten into' succulent plants some ten or so years ago, the inevitable snowballing of a brief enthusiasm into massive, verging-on pathological preoccupation is now in full flight. I would say for myself that I'm not quite at the stage where I'm remortgaging the house in order to construct some enormous centrally heated winter palace-type arrangement for our plants, as others have done before me, but I will admit to pandering to one hundred or so species of aloes and cacti. Many more have either passed through my hands on their way to a more suitable home, or into a giant composty tomb in the sky, so I feel justified in considering that the training wheels have come off to some extent. The mere fact of admitting that survival is more about your ambient conditions than any supernatural ability on your part is half the battle.
I will be posting about these incredible beings from time to time, as I know I am by no means alone in my insanity and there is often a dearth of people to consult in one's immediate vicinity; having learned a lot from many online sources I feel it behoves to give back a wee bit. It's also our good fortune to have obtained a copy of Aloes the Definitive Guide (Carter, Lavranos, Newton, Walker; Kew) and thus we have an impeccable contemporary source to quote from into the bargain.
Anyhoo, let us begin with one of the many species coming into flower with the cooler weather.
Aloe Gilbertii is a large (to 150cm) shrubby number branching from the base in a more or less upright manner, producing huge, tiered flower stems exceeding a metre high in come cases. I'd say mine is approaching that though it is still a young plant. Leaves are quite deeply recurved with a smooth matte texture, the odd pale spot (sometimes) and I'd call them a medium lizard green with the suggestion of glaucous bloom, especially in a sheltered specimen. Flowers are red and green, almost like a gasteria's whilst in development, ripening to bright crimson.
Hailing from acacia scrub and highland hillsides in Ethiopia at up to 1400m in altitude, I have found it unfussy, at least here, where conditions are probably quite similar to its native clime; I grow it outside
in terracotta using 1/2 proprietary cacti mix + 1/2 large grade pumice with a small yearly dressing of dry blood and bone.Weekly water in summer, monthly heading into winter, then a winter dry rest of around 3 months.
I bring all but my hardiest aloes under cover during wet weather in winter; we don't really get down to fatal temps here, seldom nearing 0C, but cold plus wet is broad-spectrum killer to be avoided if at all possible. I suspect Gilbertii would be perfectly fine if planted out kindly but don't intent to risk it until I have a back up underway. All in all, a very promising plant relatively new to cultivation with some lovely features. Try it if you can find it: I believe suckers and tissue culture pups are becoming available from specialty nurseries.
Taking a dump on clean green New Zealand: the NZ government and Bathurst Mining to open cast the Denniston Plateau.
It's never enough, is it, you shameless arsehats?
To Nick Smith, Bathurst and everyone who lobbied and palm-greased and slithered around in support of this disgusting greedfest, exhibiting their total contempt for democracy and due process, we have this to say- may you die with your gold still upon you.
The New Zealand Bellbird, Anthornis Melanura, Korimako.
Its scientific epithet alludes accidentally and almost onomatopoeically to the fluid, molten beauty of its voice, the silky bell-like tones interspersed with sharp glossal stops and Bushman clicks. The fine young male above collided with our window and sat groggily on our hands and in a nearby shrub while we ensured it would not be bagged by local cats.
They're common and frequently encountered here in Coastal Otago though there are many places around New Zealand where they are still absent, having still not recovered from the waves of disease and predation that accompanied humanity onto these islands. As honeyeaters and insectivores they are, like their relatives the Tui, oddly simian in the way they negotiate the canopies of trees, hopping and climbing like small monkeys in their endless quest for moths and blossom. And like waxeyes we've seen them patiently lift the frilled silver discs of lichen adhering to the bark with their beaks in order to winkle out the invertebrates sheltering underneath. In early summer they desert our burb and return in droves to the surrounding forest and to the local ecosanctuary, Orokonui, where they pair up and breed in a more peaceful, pest-free environment. The odd couple stay to breed around here, possibly because of the preponderance of flowering eucalyptus in the vicinity, but their success is uncertain.
Bellbirds particularly enjoy the nectar of our native tree fuchsia, Fuchsia Excorticata or Kotukutuku, a wizened, twisted, heavy-boled species, the largest in the world, smothered in papery toffee-brown bark and hung with purple-stained flowers that are like a host of tiny jewelled lanterns. Local bellbirds are often glimpsed with their slaty faces completely dusted with the cobalt-blue pollen of this amazing species, as if their beauty needed further embellishment. If you look closely you can see a few grains on the face of this bird collected from the fuchsia in our yard.
As I sit at my desk and stare at the screen I'll sometimes see a furious little shower of water descending past the window, fanned out of the roof guttering by a bathing bellbird.
A beautiful companion.
Horticulturally inclined? Flora fancier? Organically directionated?
Like looking at other peoples' gardens without having to actually do any of the work yourself? Smart choice.
We have half an acre of organic chaos if you fancy an electronic ramble some time. Under construction, but check out the baby garden pages HERE. Perdy.
I acquired this rattan box a while ago from a local collector, and while it's not a major piece in the grand scheme of things, it is a strange and charismatic object.
Of Kenyah or Kayan manufacture, the tiny bead panel is probably from the first quarter of the 20th C or even earlier, and finely tasseled with a seven-legged spider like element. The corner bosses are possibly contemporary with the box itself, which may be a little later than the panel, and are of larger beads, set into tree sap or some sort of organic resin. Although it's difficult to tell because of the lack of scale, (it's 20cm long) the rattan work is extremely fine and my fingers feel skinned and sore just looking at the intricacies of its construction.
I particularly enjoy the three overlapping diamond motifs in the base of the box; they appear and disappear with the movement of your eye, optically melting into one another, extending outward into the weave in infinite association. Such beautiful idiosyncrasies are going to their deaths with the demise of the artisanal traditions practiced in the Indonesian and Malaysian archipelagoes, a region of almost mythical artistic fecundity. Many of the animist tribes of the region have converted to monotheistic faiths and thus the complex, personalized webs of belief that inspired these sophisticated expressions are being lost to us all.
The motifs delineated in yellow in the bead panel are variously described as Naga (serpent or dragon, obviously influenced by the Hindu pantheon) or vegetal/Tree of Life representations; the organic references are obvious. Within Dayak and Orang iconography the involvement of the spiritual in the physical is effortlessly interfluent, energy and form creating and destroying one another in a cycle partitioned by the drama of the tropical seasons and the subtler interplay of friend and enemy within the surrounding forests. This shield-like aspect resembles the Hudoq masks appearing in the bead panels of a Kenyah baby carrier we bought last year, confrontational designs meant to repel the evil in covetous or spiteful glances and the influence of malign entities.
But I don't need to know any explicit designation; like all special things, it is articulate enough to transcend ignorance and satisfy both hand and eye, to speak for itself in the absence of an interpreter. While it was described to me as a betel container and may very well have been used as one, David Said of Tribal Art Brokers suggested it might also have been used to store next year's seed rice; the Kayan practice dry rice cultivation in the forests of Kalimantan, so this is a definite possibility.
We're not scarily competent pastissiers here at the TBO kitchen but we know a good cake when we see and inevitably eat it, and we are concerned with not wasting a damn thing lurking in the fruit bowl, chuckling to itself blackly at the bottom of the crisper drawer or wrested with so much angst and labour from the surrounding soil. So we have tweaked a few peasant staples that have long been a friend to the mediocre baker; today we shall discuss banana cake.
Ah, banana cake. In New Zealand we have a thing called the Edmond's Cookery Book, first issued by a local baking goods manufacturer in 1907 and in print ever since. Virtually every cooking household in the country hosts at least one batter-splattered, butter-greased edition and while it does support a threadbare standard of nonlethal culinary practice, in many ways it is the font of all comestible evil and the bane of every bring-a-plate occasion. It is poorly edited and detectably a product of both colonial stinginess and the eras of economic austerity it has navigated; thus the modern reader is confronted with a puzzling complex of quirks and deficits that can sabotage the naive adventurer.
The veteran is better-equipped to wrest success from its confounding pages. After a mere ten or so years of crap banana cake, we discovered quite by accident that the problem was a dearth of bananas, if not soft fruit of any description, as well as an absence of any flavoring agent whatsoever. We have acted remedially.
THE BLACKTHORN BANANA BLUEBERRY SPECTACULAR CAKE
The trick to this baby is the exotic or opposing fruit; the yin to the banana yang. We like fresh or frozen blueberries but have used raspberries and tinned fruit such as apricots and peaches, really well drained and chopped. Guava or feijoa would probably be delicious too. To avoid turning the cake blue when using frozen berries, we tip a little into the tin, pour over some batter, add more berries and so on to ensure an even distribution. If you're using frozen fruit, cook it 5-10 mins longer than usual but do keep an eye on it. In reality you can add as much fruit as you think the batter will bear, especially if it is a drier variety. As far as sugar goes, you can use all white, but we like the caramelizing effect of a half-brown mix; you could use demerara sugar but I would cut it with some white. We like half white flour, half wholemeal, but that is entirely up to you. And we're sorry, but it really does have to be freshly pounded, high quality cinnamon. Not that nasty brown dust out of a packet.
YOU WILL NEED
¾ to 1 cup of sugar. We use half brown, half white. Adjust according to the sweetness of the fruit.
2 medium-large free range eggs
3 large bananas, overripe. Just ripe will do.
½ to ¾ cup of fruit, other.
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons hot milk
2 cups plain flour, whichever kind you like.
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon freshly-ground or pounded cinnamon or similar.
-Turn oven on to 180 C, set the shelf mid to high if possible.
-Soften butter, add the sugar, cream until at least doubled in volume. Add cinnamon.
-Add eggs one at a time, beat well between each.
-Heat the milk in a saucepan or microwave until steaming, chuck in soda, stir well and mix through batter.
-Squish the bananas in their skins by hand and stir well into batter. (I use a knife for this)
-Dump in flour and baking powder and fold it all together thoroughly.
-At this point, either add your non-staining extra fruit or arrange it in the tin and add batter as discussed above.
We use a bundt tin (the ones with the hole in the middle) because it looks like we knew what we were doing and tends to cook more evenly if you have a shitty old oven like ours.
(I malign our oven, actually; the older, the better as far as cakes are concerned and the curses and admonitions that accompanied our modern F&P range to it's premature grave are best left where they lie. I would have shot it with a gun if I had been given the chance.)
Bake at 180c for anything from half to three quarters of an hour, easing a skewer or knife into the midst to test for doneness. If it comes out sticky, it's not ready.
We tend to bake for around 40 mins with frozen fruit. Let it sit for five mins in the tin, then place cooling rack over the top, pick it up with a teatowel or kitchen mits and turn it out. This cake can be eaten warm and will last two days without becoming noticeably stale if kept well sealed, but who are we kidding? That mofo's gone by the 30 hour mark, all things being equal.
Dust it with icing sugar when it's cold if you like, but we use a fruit syrup like our Elderberry Ink, which we'll share with you when the time comes.
At right- Le Chien Noir: Cake Inspector (First Class).
As promised, I've been out working my little fingers to the bone, cornering interesting members of the community, coring the truth from them in a complex medical procedure and stuffing the remains into an industrial incinerator, all in the name of science. How germane then that my first real victim should have been an actual scientist. They can be slippery little numbers with their modesty and general regard for others, and I get the feeling that if Dr Jo could have distracted me with chocolate and dashed from the room, none of us would have been party to the terrible knowledge she's been concealing for so long, to the detriment of all concerned. Jo's been in the geneticky game for a long time and actually gets to play with a sexy sequencer, lucky sausage that she is, and would never dream of swabbing you at gunpoint, unlike so many of the evil practitioners depicted in oh, say... dark fiction. I consulted her assiduously in the process of writing The Blackthorn Orphans, and yes, I may have twisted her words and perverted her professional advice to an extent. Cough. But you'll agree the science is, of course, sound.
Life Sciences - for more years than I would like to admit.
READING RIGHT NOW-
“Jane Goodall: The woman who redefined man”
“Science Lessons: What being the CEO of Amgen taught me about management”
(or something like that)
WERE YOU BORN DOING THIS OR IS IT SOMETHING YOU PICKED UP ON THE ROAD?
Born to be a scientist. I was carrying out experiments while still in primary school.
IF YOUR WORK WAS A COMPREHENSIVE VISUAL, WHAT SORT OF COLOURS, SHAPES AND TEXTURES WOULD WE SEE?
Blues & greens with flashes of yellow and red. Or grey. Depends on the day. Shapes – it is a labyrinth with smooth rolling-walls, cul-de-sacs and hidden corners but there is a way through.
IF IT WAS A SOUND, WHAT WOULD WE HEAR?
It is silent, very calm.
WHAT DOES IT SMELL LIKE?
HOT OR COLD? ASSIGN A MEAN TEMPERATURE
THREE WORDS TO DESCRIBE HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT WHAT YOU DO
Excitement, Adventure, Discovery
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT IT?
Discovering new knowledge, putting the facts together and seeing how things work. I also really enjoy the teamwork. Having a group of people, each bringing their expertise to bear on a question. The back and forth flow of ideas can be joyful.
WHAT DISMAYS YOU?
Pointless competition and pettiness.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT YOUR WORK, IN YOUR OPINION?
That scientists are mad or absent minded. They are neither, at least they are no worse than the general population. The 20th century’s stereotyped portrayal of white-coat-wearing evil scientists did a lot of harm to the profession and negatively impacted the perception of learning science by the general public. It was kind of a dumb thing to do really. Our whole society is based on understanding the world and then using that knowledge to make life better for all. That’s science, folks! There’s also a misconception that science is ‘too hard’. It isn’t but you have to be interested in it. You have to want to understand the concepts. Science isn’t too hard, its just the people saying this don’t wish to devote themselves to it. There is a difference.
And another misconception – that science is only done by scientists. Everyone is a scientist. It is human nature to test things out, find solutions to problems and understand the things around us.
PROUDEST PROFESSIONAL MOMENT
Publishing my first paper.
ARE COMMERCIAL PRESSURES HURTING OR HELPING?
At the moment in New Zealand, there is strong pressure for research to have an immediate commercial outcome. The rationale for this is hard to argue against. With the science budget the size it is and a public wanting results that immediately translate into an economic return, it
makes sense to focus on outcome-based, targeted projects. So, in a country like New Zealand were industry has a poor record for funding R&D, the government has stepped into a role that in Europe or the US would be the domain of Industry.
Now here’s the tricky bit. Industry knows where commercial opportunity lies. These companies are very good at picking likely commercial successes. However, if a certain idea doesn’t pay off, they are also good at refocusing their resources, both human and financial, to another prospect.
Academic institutions can’t do this so easily. Firstly, they are not involved closely enough with the commercial market to develop a good track record for picking commercial certainties. They do not generally have good links to specialized commercialization expertise or the budgets to bring each potential product to market. And lastly, at the end of a grant that does not meet commercial expectations, their only recourse is to let non-tenured staff go resulting in a loss of institutional continuity and diminishing loyalty to the organization as a whole. You might think it is like this at the end of any grant, except that commercial achievements are
not held in any regard by Academic institutions producing a double-whammy to the CVs of individuals engaged in commercial activities (remember, if its commercial you cannot engage in timely publishing). Taken to extremes, this could lead to degrading research quality within Academic institutes.
Where is this all going? I think over all for NZ science the focused approach will generate quick returns on investment in the short term. It is a great time to be an Applied Scientist. It will not last, however. Like every other human endeavour, there are fashions in the science
industry and a swing away from a commercial focus is bound to happen in the future.
So is it helping or hurting? Neither. But it is imbalanced and it is redistributing the pressures within the system. That always comes with fallout.
HOW IS YOUR FIELD IMPACTED BY THE ETHICAL & CULTURAL CONCERNS OF
Society’s ethical and moral concerns lead to better science. It makes one look at each experiment or project from multiple viewpoints before commencing the work. This process contributes to the intense rigor applied to investigations, making sure findings are correct and complete to the best of one’s ability. Scientists must tell the truth so high ethical standards are part of the job description. There is no quicker way to halt a scientific career than to lie about the data!
It is critically important that laypeople engage with science and scientists. Through that engagement discoveries are translated into culturally relevant outcomes. This leads to new technologies (computers, cars, cures) that meet real needs and go on to grow and mature (e.g. from the spinning-jenny to iPods). Science is the accumulation of facts – it works this way, it’s made of X. Our cultural, ethical and moral framework shapes what is done with this
knowledge and even our interpretation of it. The facts are neutral but the use of them is not. This is guided by society.
YOU'RE A GENETIC SCIENTIST. GO NUTS AND SAY SOMETHING BRAVE/HONEST
What I will say is that G.E. is already happening around the world so as a society we must understand as much about the process, the pros-&-cons and the potential fallout as we can. Head-and-sand scenarios are not an option.
ARE STEREOTYPES HURTING SCIENCE?
See above. Thankfully, the 21st century has seen more scientists being the good guys and we now have mainstream accurate entertainments (thank you David A!). That’s a big improvement. However, a rash of ‘science-based’ crime shows are not the healthiest phenomena.
IF THE GENDER ISSUE IN SCIENCE WAS AN ANIMAL, WHAT SIZE BEAST ARE WE
TALKING ABOUT? CLASSIFY IT.
It’s a small elephant, maybe the size of a cow. There is something going on in the science profession but I haven’t pinned down a cause to my own satisfaction. My observation is that many of the top jobs are held by men, though the imbalance is less than other professions. But is this selection bias towards males, a legacy issue from a previous generation or is it something coming from the women themselves such as a reluctance to step up? I don’t have the data. Given the disproportionately high number of women taking higher degrees, it will be interesting to watch these numbers over the next few years. But if I was to place a bet on the
outcome, I have a sinking feeling that proportionality will not be maintained.
WHY ARE YOU STILL DOING THIS?
Because I still really enjoy what’s at the heart of the job.
Thanks Dr Jo. All that and only one typo. Bloody scientists!
Fairy ring champignons and tricholomas - headed for the pasta sauce.
Mmmm, muuuushrooooms. Tis the season (southern hemisphere autumn) to be once more checking out your various secret fungi patches that you'll never tell anyone about, even if they put you in thumbscrews because mushrooms are that damn important to you. No, we're not talking about gold tops or liberty caps, though the psilocybes are certainly awesome in their own special ways wink but that's a whole other kettle of bananas. Mushrooms can be a chariot for the soul in more ways than one; their colours rival the most glorious textiles in their saturation and subtlety, their textures ranging from suede to silk to rubber and grindstone, their flavours spanning everything from peppermint to peppercorns to venison. They are secretive subterranean informants, telling of their travels amongst the roots of pine and oak through the compressed darkness of the soil and the litter sticking to your shoes. They will not appear on command, but in their own inscrutable fashion, studding the ground and peeping between thickets of grass, velveteen visitants from another realm.
We're reluctant to share the fungal bounty that we glean from here and there; for one, because we are greedy, for two because others are merely being polite as they choke down their plate of Slippery Jacks and Dirty Tricholomas, and thirdly because there is a serious side to this ungenerous sentiment; mushrooms can literally kill your arse, a nasty little fact glossed over far too often by gourmet-zine articles urging us to rush out and forage in case your neighbours don't think you're serious enough about food. There is always the possibility, however remote, that you will serve death cap to your friends and family. I mean unintentionally.
So what does one do? Champignon ou mort? There is a single golden rule that we've observed during the years we've been consuming wild mushrooms; ask yourself-
Is a mouthful of mushroom worth ten years of dialysis?
Do I prefer the liver I was born with?
Pretty much clears it up, doesn't it? Disclaimer- we're not experts by any stretch of the imagination, but we've never poisoned ourselves, touch wood, and it is of course possible to gather safely without doing a freaking degree. Sort of. You just need to put in the hard, boring yards before you fry anything up.
I can't give you an exhaustive list of toxic and suspect species, but there are many excellent books that can, and you should find them and read them cover to cover before even thinking about going out and looking for some. There are roughly one hundred different kinds of poisonous mushrooms, ranging from the ones that will put you on the toilet for a week to the ones that will put you in intensive care for the truncated remainder of your natural life. Mushroom poisoning can affect the brain, blood, nervous system, digestive system, kidneys and liver. It can take anything from six hours to six days to manifest. Feeling lucky, punk?
Do your research. There is no easy way, no shortcuts, no cheat sheets. Everyone's mycelia are different, and several types are alright to eat in one place, iffy somewhere else and downright poisonous at another location. Spend two years just bringing them home and comparing them to the pictures, smelling and touching them and NOT eating the damn things. Yes, that sucks, but you probably need more structure in your life anyway.
-The term 'toadstool' is completely meaningless and bears no relation to toxicity.
-Smell is not a guide to palatability.
-The saucepan is not a magic wand. Cooking destroys some toxic compounds but makes no difference at all to the worst of them.
-Just because insects or wild animals have nibbled it doesn't mean it's okay to eat.
-Just because your mates have eaten it doesn't mean it won't affect you adversely. If you have existing medical conditions or sensitive digestion, leave the damn things alone.
-Alcohol can increase the effect of some toxins.
-Some mushrooms can be rendered poisonous by their pesticide/herbicide loads.
-Never take someone's word for the safety of wild mushrooms. Get the book out and double check; better to offend them than to end up in intensive care together fighting over who gets first shot at that dead stranger's donated organs.
When you're confident about taking the next step, start with the boletes; the cepe family. None are deadly poisonous (to our knowledge) the odd one might give you the pukes and/or shits (but that's a lesson well learned) you can't really mix them up with anything else and most of them are vaguely edible. You might even run into some especially delicious types. Then maybe think about fairy champignons and tricholomas, two more easy-to-ID types from relatively innocent families.
Personally, I cannot recommend field or horse mushrooms to the novice unless you are walked directly to a safe patch of them by someone who knows. I say this because the parasol-type shrooms are very similar to one another, unless you know what to look for, and contain a number of the most deadly and-near deadly species including the Death Cap, Destroying Angel and Brown Roll-Rim. All of these highly-toxic little marvels look perfectly delicious, by the way, and don't smell or taste poisonous, so don't think they can't fool you. Death Caps and Destroying Angels are things of singular, almost arresting beauty, actually, if you've ever come across them in their prime; plush and porcelain at once, almost supernatural amid their homely backdrops of pine needles and pea straw.
Just a quick note on foraging etiquette, BTW. It's really not the done thing to wander onto someone else's land just because those ink-caps are calling your name or stretch over that fence and decimate the neighbour's goodies. That's really rude and also illegal. Even if you got there first/are really hungry/whatever, take no more than a third of anything you're harvesting or they may not regenerate; this about the future and the limitations of entitlement. Secrets really are fine- don't shoot your mouth off indiscriminately about every resource you discover. Keep the knowledge of those special things in the hands of people who will respect them. And if it was free to you, think twice about charging other people money for it. That shit is killing us. Share and share alike.
In conclusion, it's probably not a good idea to send your kids looking for mushrooms, and maybe don't show your stash to impressionable passers-by and assure them they're delicious. I know it's tempting, but a little discretion can go a long way and for some very good reasons.
AN EXCELLENT MUSHROOM BOOK- 'The Great Encyclopedia of Mushrooms', 1998, Lonsange, Könemann.
We've been watching a lot of documentaries lately, largely for want of anything fictional that goosed us in a good way.
Here's two we found worthy-
The Tillman Story (iTunes): First-class examination of the US Military and Political complex's astonishingly depraved exploitation of the personnel it marched into death and their family's reaction. Far more oblique and considered than we'd expected. * * * * *
Buck (iTunes): Disregard the cheesy cover image that does it such a disservice and any eyerolls you might have for the whole horsewhispering thing; this is an insightful, straight-shooting personal account of triumph over adversity, salvaging the broken and the essential nature of our accord with other animals. Touched our tarry hearts. * * * *
The Novice Blogger- A month behind the wheel and no fatalities. Maybe I should take the handbrake off.
What's it like, blogging for the first time and trying to sell a book?
Pretty strange, actually. Sit cross legged with me now while I pick the white chocolate drops off the ganache covering my one month on the internets cake.
The internet looms so large and loud in our estimation that I've always thought of it as noisy. Once you're inside it falls strangely silent, sharing qualities with an abandoned picture theatre and some sort of particle accelerator that fires atoms through your person. People and ideas move all around and often through you but they won't stay to be interrogated; some things whine and nag over your shoulder while objects you are staring and perhaps waving at remain aloof and silent. All very confusing and rather disorientating. If you're contemplating it for yourself, pack a thick skin.
I never imagined it would be this difficult to maintain a consistent opinion of any single process. And quite a few things have startled me. The number of people who troupe through the site, for one; that has been gratifying, but then my expectations had hovered somewhere around zero, so er, yeah. That they seemed actually curious about the book as much as anything was unexpected too, since I'd been warned that was a pretty hard row to hoe. If only they would make the trip to checkoutland more often. But you know, my inner disgraced scientist reminds me that no one can conduct a successful comparison from this scanty basis. I am overanalyzing a sample that does not exist. It's one month, for fuck's sake.
It does remind me of one of the few benefits of making it past twenty five; that golden, wing'd legate, Perspective, and her blessed angel-visits to our bedsides. Perspective and I have chatted for a while, and having looked around I am at least at peace with my work having attained that bare, minimum standard whereby you can expect someone to sit through a paragraph without falling comatose or dry-retching. It is my tendency, however, to find the B in any B&W, and I do fear that the bottomless dross lapping at the very armpits of the epubbing edifice really might have made the public absolutely gun-shy of anything unsupported by a slick campaign or industrial circle-jerking. We shall probably see about that.
A sincere thanks to any constant readers I might have garnered thus far; your support is heartening and deeply appreciated. We're thinking of adding some audio files of excerpts, or something similar.
So, Die Antwoord. Flipping off Lady Ga Ga after she offered a support spot on her last tour (no I can't name it, no I don't care) certainly landed them a few glistening tonnes of global eyeballs but some of us were onto them before that and feel a bit above all the hissy hoo ha.
I love the Antwoord unreasonably because they are the lost twin to the paint-huffing retard taking up far too much square footage in my psyche. They feed it and caress it. I love Yo-landi's boobies and Ninja's chatty penis. Zef Side is the way a large chunk of the Southern Hemisphere looks once you've stepped away from your resort; the twitching remains of colonial experimentation, like Frankenstein's monster smeared across the landscape. I love them for celebrating that. And I take my hat off to their ashtray-licking shtick because that shit takes balls of steel. I personally could not do it and it's not like I've never been refused entry to a nightclub for the way my hair looked. It takes an iron will to bend a pretty brain around a nasty, janky concept and keep it there long enough to make it pay, but I suppose it gets easier as time goes on and the wardrobe builds up. What Tudor-Jones and Du Toit are doing now isn't that far removed from the art-school angularisms of their previous incarnations, despite appearances; it is as cagey and watchful as ever and make no mistake, committing 'Baby's On Fire' to the aching page is going to char your mental electrodes as much as anything will. They are earning every darn cent. Respect.
The divide between people who perceive and appreciate the performance aspect and those who swallow and expect authenticity from their rock stars is an interesting place. Die Antwoord are great at what they do precisely because they aren't really ghetto. The pisstake is intrinsic to the experience; it does not halt its development and the coupling of white-knuckle appropriation and loving embrace becomes a whole other thing- not ghetto, not satire, but Zef, their dirty baby, another Way. Like it or not, socioeconomic distinction has become as much about academic opportunity and exposure as it is about crude income; these days, true ghetto loves Interscope, the label Antwoord scorned, and will bend over for Interscope's money every time. It's hard to be a holdout for art when you may not be able to spell Interscope or exploitation or even art. Still, I was gobsmacked when I saw the first you-tube accusations of fakery by a cohort who obviously bought the whole cow. If I were raised in conditions that prevented me from ever gaining even a modest grasp on abstract thought, I would be the most cynical person on earth. Lol. I'd still probably be a bitch, though. Not that there's anything wrong with being poor but fancy, mind you. We're poor and fancy as hell.
I also love the Antwoord because they say shut instead of shit; they are my southern hemi homies. Gaze now upon the cock-shaped birthday cake that is 'Fatty Boom Boom" and wonder where it has been your whole life.