Category Archives: Miscellaneous


Check your American Express bill!

I just did mine, and found that I’d been charged for “American Express Card Defence” (one of those services that allow you if your cards are lost or cancel all your cards with one call), despite my having cancelled it in 2008 because the service was so crap.

After 20 minutes waiting without answer on their telephone line, I rang American Express, to learn that “sorry, they have accidentally charged lots of cancelled people – but we will refund your money”.

What would have happened, I wonder, if I hadn’t noticed and hadn’t run up? (This was a charge made on September 30 – so they have had plenty of time to correct it themselves.)



The bounty of nature

Have been having a big autumn garden tidy up and replanting, on my balcony and in the communal pots in our informal community vegetable garden.

Found that a poor, struggling aubergine plant that barely reached 20cm in height had somehow produced a single offspring almost as large as itself (and found cherry tomatoes had insinuated themselves in every crevice and corner).

aubergine and tomato

What I’ve replaced them with is the “mini veggie garden” from this seller, which arrived very greenly wrapped in hay (now forming a “fleece” around the seedlings.

It is quite a selection: broad beans, spinach, red dandelion, a range of winter lettuce, rainbow chard and more … we should be a well-nourished council estate, at least on the nourishment found in leafy greens, if they all flourish!


Buckwheat and coconut cake

A gluten-free recipe of my own devising. (No, this isn’t often a food blog, but this really did work out quite nicely.)

Half cup of sugar
Slurp of vanilla essence
Three-quarters of a cup of butter
1 cup of gluten-free bread flour
1 cup of buckwheat flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
Three-quarters of a cup of dessicated coconut
2 tablespoons (or so) of milk

1. Beat butter, sugar and vanilla (or cheat and half-melt butter in microwave – I do.)
2. Mix flours, coconut and wet mixture, and add enough milk to form soft dropping consistency
3. Bake around 170 (fan-forced) for about 40 minutes in greased tin.

Would be very nice with creamed cheese icing (like carrot cake), although I’m eating it like a pudding with yoghurt.



I’ve been speaking to climate change campaigner Bill McKibben.

And interviewing Stephen Chan, professor of international relations at SOAS.

And reflecting on the 90th anniversary of the first publication of the Guardian Weekly.

Also – and this all amounts to my holiday stories really, so you don’t have to look unless you really want to, I’ve been learning about the La Tene Iron Age site, visiting the Romanesque cathedral of Tournus and checking out the Cro-Magnon site at Solutre


Of figs, mulberries and memories

Memory is a funny thing, and add nostalgia to the mix, then it is really odd. Since soon after I got my little holiday house in France, I’ve planned to plant a fig tree in the front garden. (Just got to paint the wall it will go against first…)
Why? Well I like figs, but they’re generally available in shops – I think the real reason is a sense of nostalgia.

Perhaps the first time I realized that you could grow your own food was visiting my grandmother’s garden in Sydney. She had a magnificent vegetable patch that covered virtually all of the quarter-acre block, but I don’t think it had made any impression on me before I taste a fig – my first I suspect – that she’d just picked from the tree.

In my memory it isn’t a very large fig tree, which since I was probably about five at the time means it must have been pretty small indeed, and it was covered with bird-netting (that was probably grandfather, he was big on bird netting, even though with this garden, and a holiday place stocked with scores of fruit trees, they had far more than they could eat or give away).

But it tasted great – and whenever I eat a fig I flash back to that moment. (Possibly because figs were, in my youth anyway, seldom sold in shops in Australia, so I didn’t eat many.)

Then I was thinking about the tree to shade the patio I’m now installing out the back. It’ll probably be a cherry, since that seems to be an appropriately luxuriant option, and they seem to do well here – mostly almost ripe now.

But suddenly from nowhere popped into my head “I’d love a mulberry tree”. Actually, I’ve never seen one around here, and I suspect that the winters might be too cold, but I realized why that produced warm and fuzzy feelings in me was, when I thought about it, another early memory. I must have been about seven, on our first family farm holiday (which involved staying with a family and participating in farm life).

I was off with the farm kids, about my age. We were all on ponies (they must have given me a very quiet one), and we rode up to a mulberry tree and started picking them. Of course they were soon out of reach, so the other kids started standing on their saddles to reach higher. So did I – then the inevitable happened, the pony walked out from under me, and I ended up sprawled on the rotting mulberries underneath.

I don’t know why this is a good memory – I undoubtedly got into deep trouble for the state of my yellow T-shirt (still remember that – how odd!), since I was supposed to never get mucky (and I think generally didn’t as a child, for lack of opportunity).

But as a result of that memory – possibly because it was a rare occasion when I was mixing with other kids on more or less common ground (they were used to visitors and probably under strict instructions to treat the visitors’ kids like their mates) — I come over all warm and fuzzy at the thought of mulberry trees.


Weekend reading

* A very fine summary of the facts on teenage pregnancy. (One up to the blogosphere for quality of reporting.)

* How bad is the Australian environment getting? very bad.

* But some good news from the Arab world. The first ladies are getting together and cautiously, slowly, tackling some of the big women’s issues.