Carob

19th-century British chemists sold carob pods to singers. Chewing on carob pods helped singers maintain healthy vocal cords and soothe and cleanse their throat.

Carob was valued as a cheaper substitute for cocoa, as it came from the Mediterranean rather than all the way from South America. In the great cocoa shortage of 1887 demand for carob soared. Fleets of ships were sent to Greece and neighbouring countries to fill their holds with the now increasingly valuable commodity. Demand was so high that corsairs from Algiers set out to intercept the ships and steal their cargo, which they sold in Spain.

These were the first Pirates of the Carob Bean.

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Cragh

The Crow was reading poems aloud

From an ancient vellum manuscript

I strained to hear but could not parse,

Because of his strange accent, the words

– Which all sounded like “cragh!” –

I figured he was Irish.

Health Update

I don’t have dementia. I don’t have diabetes. My kidney function is actually improving slightly. It had dropped from 47% to 33, and now it’s working its way back to 40%. I am losing weight;

6.8 kg in 70 days. It is working. The MyFitnessPal app is very helpful in monitoring my energy intake. I recommend it. I can work out in advance what I want to have and how much of it fits in my energy budget. So nothing need be off the menu. Portion control.

My mobility is not yet improving and pain constrains the amount of exercise I can do walking or standing. I am building up my upper body strength with my rubber band gym, which is a surprisingly effective way to work out sitting down.

My mental health remains stable thanks, in no small part, to fluoxetine.

I have my hobbies, books, Netflix and Spotify. I’ve done a bit of exploring, but the weather has not been particularly conducive to swimming, fishing, drone flying or bird and reptile photography. I do miss the stimulation of intelligent conversation, and I am acutely aware of how far away I am from family and friends. Much of my support system is now with Facebook friends, many of whom I have never met. .

My finances are, if not precarious, in need of scrutiny. I can’t afford to eat into my nest egg any longer, and must try to manage on the pension. Fortunately I have all the tools, appliances, appurtenances and clothes I need for now, so there is just rent, medications, food, fuel and entertainment, Insurance and registrations – and that bloody albatross of a lockup in NZ that is costing me $1,500 a year. I’ve spent more on it than the contents are worth.

This month marks nine years since I was Dear Johned. It seems like a lifetime.

So that is the story so far.

The Difference.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost.

This is my favourite of Frost’s poems.

Tuhua

The trail leads up a bush-clad mountainside
Singing with birds, redolent with earthy attar
Rustling with hidden afternoon activity.
I catch an occasional glimpse
Of furtive feathered ground dwellers
And fleeing lizards.

The path is rough; rock and root-strewn
I need my stick to steady my steps
The summit touches the sky, above the highest trees
Which are shrouded in evening mist that washes
In slow floating waves as on a time lapse shore
Branches reaching out like dark coral rock.

Above the washing white tide
Here at sunset, I made my camp
With one desire;
To sleep, and awake at dawn
To the bellbirds’ famed chorus.

The morning came bright
The birdsong, sublime under a clear sky, echoed.
The island below me a taonga of poenamo
Set in lapiz: Around my camp
Came curious weka
Enquiring after crumbs from breakfast.

On my descent I followed no path.
I had set my course on line of sight
Towards the green and black lakes
And beyond, to the obsidian cliffs
My second objective.
Though taking the obsidian is forbidden
I had set my heart on finding a piece
Suitable to nap a knife.

The going was slow. The bush impeding.
I came upon a place of silence
No birdsong, no rustling in the undergrowth
Eerie. The nape of my neck tingled
I fell into a hole
Unhurt I climbed out
And saw the overgrown hole was regular, square
And there were more; many more, man made
It was a place where people had once dwelt.
Lived and died.
I moved on as swiftly as I could

One lake was black, one algal green
I cooled myself but did not drink
I had a feeling Lethe might live within
At the foot of the cliffs I found
Tumbled shards of shining atramentous
The volcanic glass I coveted.
I took some; perhaps there and then
Began the curse that follows me yet.

I cannot return the tuhua; I no longer have it
I left it somewhere, some time, I don’t recall.
It is lost. It does not matter.

 
© 2019 ARF

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Home

Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near the Hoboken waterfront, or even, possibly, for those of a less demanding sensibility, the world to be seen from a comfortable apartment high in the tender, velvety smog of Manhattan, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Rio or Rome — there’s no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment. Theologians, sky pilots, astronauts have even felt the appeal of home calling to them from up above, in the cold black outback of interstellar space.

Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire.

Where I am now does not feel like home. I hoped it would, but it doesn’t. It is the place where I currently live. I live in a caravan, which is an object. The caravan is in a park on Bribie Island, which is a location. Neither the domicile nor the location is home. I’m not even sure these days what, or where, home might be for me. Or even where it was.

Every place I’ve ever considered to be home has been taken from me or I have had to leave it behind. Every place I’ve been happy, I’ve had to abandon. As child I moved with my parents wherever their aspirations led. As a young man I followed employment opportunities and my own romantic hopes. For the last eleven years I’ve gone again where necessity sent me, albeit of my own free will. I have found the occasional Happy Place, where I can enjoy being alive and communing with the natural world in some positive heart-lightening way, but I have had no home in that time. No place where I could look around me and say “This is where I belong. This is where I shall stay”.

Looking back I realise I have been searching for such a place since I was a child exploring the hills and fields and streams of the Manawatu, and as a young man exploring the bush and beaches and under the seas around New Zealand

Also, of course, as I explored the possibilities of a shared life, relationships, offering and seeking love.

Home is more than a house, more than a place. It is people in familial and social relationships. Relationships which are enduring and settled. It turns out I’m not so good at maintaining relationships. Two failed marriages, other failed relationships, and very little constant contact or intercourse with family.

I’m not sure if this is caused by, or is what causes, depression.

Fortunately, or perhaps otherwise, I am comfortable and content in my own company. I don’t get lonely when I am alone. Even so, social interaction comes easily enough to me. I don’t have the difficulties that, for example, an autistic person might. I can be amusing, empathetic, and supportive. Caring. Nonetheless I cannot seem to get right the combination of interaction that will lead me to have constancy of companionship and the stability of location that feeling at home requires. Others move on. Or I must.

So here I am ageing, separated from friends and family, with my social interaction limited to a few short term acquaintances and virtual friends whom I no longer see in person or have never even met in the first place.

All I can do now is seek out a new Happy Place. One where I can stay. I have no idea what, or where it might be, though I have an inkling it must be somewhere on or near the sea. Most of my Happy Places have been. I find peace and contentment by the sea, or by water, more than anywhere else.

Does this introspective essay mean I am, after all, becoming lonely?

I have to think about that.

A Modest Proposal

At University, so very long ago, we learned about the PTC taste test. We all took test papers home and charted our families’ ability or inability to taste the bitter chemical, which is apparently not found in nature, though the story circulating at the time was that it was derived from horse piss.

PTC stands for phenylthiocarbamide. Also known as phenylthiourea, the chemical structure of PTC resembles toxic alkaloids found in some poisonous plants. The ability to taste it would be an evolutionary advantage. Roughly 25% of the population cannot taste it.

Informally, amongst ourselves, we also discovered there was a small proportion of people who actually liked the taste. Most of us didn’t. I was reminded of this many years later when my younger daughter developed pica, and was prescribed a nasty tasting iron solution to be dispensed only a drop at a time due to its toxicity. I was expecting to have trouble getting her to take it. To me, it tasted Nasty. Very Nasty. On the contrary, she begged for more.

What I am leading up to, is that people are Different. And Different is not necessarily Wrong.

There is a huge difference between liking pineapple on pizza or being gay, and being a paedophilic cannibalistic serial killer. The line is crossed, to my mind, only when someone is harmed.

The problem is that too many people draw the line in ridiculously arbitrary ways. Religion and other erroneous beliefs, such as those held by believers of feng shui and by antivaxxers are only of importance when someone is harmed as a result of those beliefs.

Increasingly, the failure to accept ANY difference of opinion or of lifestyle is becoming a serious problem in society. The line is becoming so blurred that it is now my opinion that it should be firmly placed by law, at the place it should be; where beliefs and practices cause harm to others. Intolerance of racism, paedophilia and homicidal behaviour must be encouraged. Intolerance of sexual identity, the telling of Irish jokes, or belittling those with a fondness for pineapple on pizza should be considered as hate speech and acted upon accordingly.