Way out in the Gibson desert, not far from Lake MacKay, at the end of a long day crossing the desert at an average speed of 20kph, I came upon an old man sitting by a campfire . His back leaned against the tyre of an ancient troopy. He was cooking something that smelled good. It was kangaroo stew and damper.
He introduced himself as Pete, and invited me to join him for a meal, which I accepted cheerfully, bringing out some canned fruit and creamed rice from my stock as a dessert offering.
His stew was really good. His damper was unexpectedly extraordinary. It tasted like the best sourdough bread I’ve ever had. Damper is usually made from self raising flour or using baking powder. I complimented Pete on the bread, and he told me he used raisins to make a starter dough. It seems the yeasts naturally found on the dried fruit were perfect for making bread. The starter fermented all day in the hot car as he travelled and was ready to bake in the camp oven at the end of every day.
He showed me how it was done. He opened an old pack, pulled out a bag of raisins, mixed some with flour and water in an old Tupperware container, and put it on the bonnet of his Troopy ready for the next day. Then he put the raisins beside the container on the bonnet. We sat down to share dessert.
As we ate, there was a whir of wings and a large crow landed on the car. Without hesitation, it grabbed the bag of dried fruit and flew away with it.
Pete watched the bird fly away with the resigned acceptance of one who is used to the vagaries and tragedies of life. “Ah.” he said philosophically. “There goes my raisins for leavening”.
There’s water in the scuppers and the sea is cutting rough The bilge pumps are not working and if that’s not bad enough There’s salt water in the rum lads, there will be no getting drunk We’ll all drown stone cold sober when the fucking ship has sunk
The skipper’s drinking brandy, for he has a private store He says he’ll go down with his ship and what can he do more? He ordered the abandon ship, we cut the lifeboats free Not one of them would stay afloat. They sank into the sea
The life jackets are useless. They are soggy wet kapok We tossed them in the ocean and they went down like a rock The first mate said to swim for it, we’ve minutes to get clear Before the old girl founders, and drags us down with her
The bosun said there was no point for where then would we go? Unless there is an island near and that, he did not know So even if we swam and swam, and then we swam some more The bloody sharks would take us all before we reached a shore
I’ll take me chances here said he, and go down quick and clean Just then a huge wave swamped us. The biggest we had seen The old ship groaned and foundered, then settled on a reef The water’s really shallow here, to everyone’s relief. .
I do not like you little fly And I shall surely tell you why You walk on shyte and things that die And then you land upon my pie.
Don’t come here with your shitty feet And walk across the things I eat I just want pastry, gravy, meat, Not hours upon a toilet seat
So shoo fly, do not bother me Fly far away and let me be I only want to eat my tea Not Campylobacter jejeuni.
The poet has used several literary devices to consolidate his theme. Firstly he has chosen to write only three quatrains with a simple aaaa bbbb cccc rhyme scheme. This sets out the poem in a deceptive, child-like simplicity, almost as if the it were a nursery rhyme, seemingly concealing rather than accentuating the depth and significance of the tragic theme.
He uses internal rhymes, assonance and alliteration to establish a rhythm that seems to support the nursery rhyme theme, belying once again the significance, indeed, the very the depths of despair and desolation plumbed in the work. For it is important to know that this opus was written during the great pandemic of 2020, when people around the world sat isolated in in their homes, afraid of death, and talking to flies. And dying.
He hauntingly starts the first and third verses with clever literary references to great literary works written before; one an ancient Latin tale of distrust*, translated and extemporised, it is said, by Tom Brown himself during his schooldays, and the other a song now considered racist, by Brigham Bishop. It was ostensibly about a fly and a negro soldier in Company B during the American civil war. It may have deeper, darker meaning. He was not the boogie woogie bugle boy.
Both references reflect and project the anxiety and stress of the poet’s own times.
It is known the poet suffered a serious bout of Campylobacter diarrhoea shortly before he wrote this poem. It was severe, and lasted eight days, at the end of which he was beginning to fear he might not just pass more crap than should really be in one man at any one time, but actually pass away.
The poem ends with both a bit of scientific erudition, and poetic licence with the pronunciation of jejeuni.
So this poem can be seen not as simple doggerel, but a deep and meaningful metaphor describing the poet’s state of mind, and the state of the world around him, in which the pie represents a life full of happiness and fulfilment (meat and gravy), the fly a wandering traveller, unknowingly infected – or perhaps a thoughtless fucking food vendor who made a ham and egg burger after not washing his hands after using the toilet on Friday the 20th of last month at about 06:30 just after I picked up Lyn at the airport – (sorry!) – thus unintentionally bringing chaos and pain with him.
The brevity of the poem mirrors the brevity of life itself. The three verses represent the three stages of life; childhood, maturity and decrepitude, also known in literary circles as beginning, middle and end. The poet pulls no punches here.
In the poem, the toilet seat is a subtle metaphor for social isolation enforced as Lockdown, that leaves people sitting alone and lonely at home, unable to leave. Unable to be in company.
“Eat my tea” is a metaphor for “live my life”.
Campylobacter jejeuni is clearly also a metaphor, and a clever one at that, for the dread COVID 19 coronavirus that threatens the enjoyment of life itself.
By cleverly not mentioning toilet paper, a necessity when one has the trots, the poet brings it to mind by carefully not juxtaposing shitty and toilet seat in the same verse. This reminds us of the vast amounts of paper (read money) that the pandemic is costing society.
My word this guy packs a lot of meaning between a few lines.
You didn’t know I could be so bloody deceptively deep.
My new RAC membership card arrived in the mail on Friday. I have been upgraded to Gold status, having been a member for twenty five years. That is including my New Zealand AA membership of course. It would actually be forty five years had I not let my AA membership lapse for a year when I was in Solomon Islands.
It reminded me that I failed my first drivers test only a few days after my fifteenth birthday. Fifty three years ago. I remember that Ted Saunders, the Henderson traffic cop, asked me who had taught me. I told him my Dad. He said to tell my dad to teach me how to park. I learned later that he failed every kid on their first try.
A few weeks later I passed and for three hundred dollars bought my first car. A Morris Oxford, made only a year or two after I was born. Column change, dipswitch on the floor, as solid as a tank, and probably just as dangerous if it could have got up to any speed.
I remember we had a standard joke coming up the hill from Piha beach where the thirty mile per hour sign was placed. everyone yelled “thirty! Speed up!”
She could barely do twenty up that hill in second gear, and inevitably boiled over at the top.
Even so, with a roof rack loaded with surfboards, we rode that old girl everywhere from the Bay of Islands in the north, to Coromandel and Tauranga in the south and East, to Raglan and Muriwai in the West. often we would drive to Hamilton merely to have the best burger ever from one of the Uncle’s franchise burger bars, better than all the rest. Or to Coromandel for the best ever fish and chips, or to Hikurangi for the best ever pies.
And in Mission Bay one could obtain the best ever pizza from Mimmo’s. Fungi, Quatro Stagione, Marinara, Margherita, All authentic. I’ve never since had a pizza to compare. Better still, one could buy a half bottle of red wine from the shop next door and take it with the pizza across the road to eat and drink by the fountain. Magic memories. Our lives were based on beaches and food.
The Morris had a cracked head. After an attempt to have it welded, and a day spent just doing a valve grind, and continual problems of overheating, I eventually got rid of it. I never again had a car that smelled like old leather and exhaust fumes. Ah the nostrilalgia.
I can’t find a picture of her.
My second car was a beach buggy. Probably the most fun vehicle ever until the Landcruiser. Certainly better than the two Land Rovers that followed. We had discovered SCUBA diving by then. All our previous surfing trips were replaced by dive trips. Often to the same areas. In those days a three hour drive was a long way. I hadn’t discovered Australia yet.
Queensland has announced a state of emergency, and along with enforcing the two-person limit, residents are now only allowed to leave their home for one of eight essential reasons. These are:
Obtaining food or other essential goods or services
Obtaining medical treatment or other healthcare services
Engaging in physical exercise, either alone or in the company of no more than one other person; or in the company of a family group who ordinarily live in the same household
Performing work on behalf of an employer that is engaged in essential business, activity or undertaking, and the work to be performed is of a nature that cannot reasonably be performed from the person’s principal place of residence
Visiting a terminally ill relative or to attend a funeral
Providing assistance, care or support to an immediate member of the person’s family
Attending any court of Australia or to comply with or give effect to orders of the court
Attending a childcare facility, school, university or other educational institution, to the extent care or instruction cannot reasonably be obtained in the person’s principal place of residence
Queensland now restricts gatherings of more than two people. This applies in public areas but exempts members of the same household.
This means if someone leaves their house for an essential reason, such as exercise, they can be joined by only one other person or the members of their household.
On Thursday the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said that inside a person’s home they were allowed to have all the members of the household and two guests.AdvertisementHide
Palaszczuk said this amendment is intended to help families who may not all live in the same home to stay connected. She also clarified that those who live alone are allowed to have one or two social guests.
Queensland police officers will be able to issue on-the-spot fines of $1,334.50 for individuals and $6,672.50 for corporations, who breach these laws. The maximum penalties available through the courts will be 10 times those amounts.
From 3 April, Queensland borders will be closed to everyone except residents and essential workers, including freight carriers and emergency workers. This includes erecting barriers in the Gold Coast suburb of Coolangatta, which straddles both Queensland and NSW.
There are some exemptions for those who regularly cross the Queensland-NSW border for work.
After a week of the trots, I was pretty run down. I thought I had it beaten on Monday, but on Tuesday it returned. That same morning my medical app relayed to me an invitation to make an appointment with my GP to discuss the pathology results of the specimens submitted on Friday. All appointments not requiring face to face contact, are now to be telephone consultations. This suited me fine. The earliest I could get was midday yesterday. Fair enough.
Over the phone, Mehdi told me I had a dose of Campylobacter. It hadn’t been a reaction to the Cephalexin prophylaxis. I had concluded that if it was not that, I probably had a dose of Bacillus cereus so this was a bit of a surprise. It had not after all been caused by the antibiotic nor by me leaving my fried rice unrefrigerated too long, but by direct faecal contamination. This got me off the hook and pretty surely put the blame on whoever assembled the ham and egg burger I had for.breakfast after picking up Lyn at the airport the previous week. The incubation time fit perfectly. Exonerated. Though I may have miscalculated the lag time on cooling rice, I am pretty fastidious in my personal hygiene and food handling.
The diagnosis was a relief for another reason. When the symptoms had persisted beyond the usual two or three days, I had begun to fear my kidneys had failed at last.
Treatment is not usually required, but since I’d had the runs over a week Mehdi prescribed three doses of Azithromycin. I had assumed he would be able to fax/email the script through to my pharmacy here in Woorim, but it seems such is not permissible under Queensland law.
So I had to drive all the way to Woodford to collect the prescription. Time and travel saved by a phone consultation: nil.
Bribie Island Caravan Park is closed to people wishing to camp or who want to rent a cabin. Only we permanent residents remain. The pool, kitchen, tennis court and common room are closed, as are half the ablution blocks. Visitors are discouraged. Social distancing is encouraged. It has been suggested we have a “social period” now and then in which we sit outside our own homes and talk to our neighbours.
The doctors at my practice are now doing consultations by phone in all cases when the patient does not need to be physically present. My next consultation, to discuss my last pathology lab test results, will not require me to make the usual two hour round trip.
Federal Police are confining international travellers in motel rooms and standing guard. The first person has been jailed for breaching self-quarantine requirements three times in less than a week.
Body bags have been delivered to remote communities in anticipation of an outbreak there, which, if it happened, is expected to be far more devastating than among the general population. Some see it as sinister that resources for body bags are more easily found than for sending free supplies of soap and sanitising chemicals and cleaning equipment.
Unemployment has spiked since so many businesses must close.
The cost of food has spiralled out of control. Especially in the outback. Drought, fire and flood have no doubt contributed to this.
Grey nomads have been requested to forego travelling to remote areas. Their response so far has been selfish, along the lines of “But we want to visit the Argyll diamond mine before it closes down”.
The public pools￼ are closed. Hotels, clubs and restaurants, also. Only takeaway fast foods are open. Gatherings of more than two non-family members are forbidden.
Sales of duct tape have skyrocketed as shops and banks and pharmacies mark out queuing areas and 1.5 metre spaces with lines and crosses.
More and more old people are appearing in public wearing masks. No one makes a fuss as they did over niqabs and hijabs. Yet these folk terrorise supermarket checkout staff in a manner unprecedented over matters completely beyond their control.
Google’s St. Patrick’s Day Doodle for 2020 features the famous Cliffs of Moher.
I am celebrating St Patrick’s Day with Guinness and Jameson’s.
I used my Woolworths Rewards points to get a good price on a dozen cans of stout and a bottle of whiskey. I’m not planning on drinking it all at once. However I may just be getting myself gargled. And to be sure, why not?
When sorrows are many, and pleasures are few
Tis fine to be drinking the rare Mountain Dew.
I first learned the wonderful word gargled when I visited Lios Dúin Bhearna, in September 2008. Lisdoonvarna has an annual matchmaking fair every September and I just happened to arrive on that day. There was, of course, no accommodation available and I had to drive on to Ballyvaughan, in Irish, Baile Uí Bheacháin. Seeing that and realising the two were pronounced the same, was when I decided I had to learn irish. A task I still struggle at with little success.
But I digress.
In Lisdoonvarna I noticed that almost everyone I saw was either intoxicated or were selling something to the intoxicated. There was definitely some sort of festival happening. I went into a shop, where I bought a fine pie and a bottle of some soft drink I’d never heard of before. Orangina, from France.
I asked the shopkeeper what was going on. He told me it was the day of the annual matchmaking fair, and as usual, everyone in the town was pretty much gargled by ten o’clock. I love that word. To me it such a descriptive irish term. Especially when said in a soft West coast accent.
As with all new words, once heard, I heard it soon again. Just the next day, at the Cliffs of Moher. A group of people had just walked out onto the cliff top past the “Do Not Proceed Past This Point” sign.
“They’re probably gargled”.
Around 50 people had fallen from the cliffs by that time. The score is 66 only 12 years later.
So here’s to getting gargled and not falling down.