Monday, January 15, 2007

A trip to Woolworths

So this morning I decided to make casserole amandine, because the kids don't get enough protein and I thought I might try them with almonds (although of course they will not try it; they will stick a spoon in it and go yuk, maybe even throw it on the floor). A scan of the cupboard revealed that it was bare. Not completely bare, of course. It's chockers with tins of beans (mostly cannellini), instant noodles (my current fad in food) and other stuff that you buy in bulk but eat only occasionally. But bare of anything that I could put in casserole amandine, bar almond meal and potatoes.

(This is a footnote. Yes, I know, but I can't be bothered with the coding so I'm putting it here. I'm going to explain how you make casserole amandine. Fry two diced onions in oil for a few minutes in a heavy pan, until they go translucent. Don't brown them. Add a pound of new potatoes, or in my case, cubes of red potatoes because they're in season, and a pound of diced carrots. Cover and cook for five minutes. You don't need to stir. Add a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley, about a quarter of a bottle of white wine, six cloves of garlic (or in my case a couple of heaped spoons of minced garlic) and about half a pint of water. Cover and cook on a fairly high heat for ten minutes. Meanwhile, mash together about three ounces of almond meal, two hardboiled egg yolks and half a teaspoon of turmeric until they form a heavy paste. Add a few spoons of the cooking liquid to thin that down and add it to the pot, stirring it in until it's all added and thoroughly mixed in. Add about four ounces of peas, cover and simmer fairly gently for ten more minutes or until the veggies are soft. Voila.)

So I was lacking carrots, turmeric, garlic, white wine, eggs. Given that I knew I was going to make it, I probably could have done better in my weekly grocery shop. Still, it gave me an excuse for visiting one of the local malls.

We have shopping centres in the UK, but they are not particularly common. I remember one in Wimbledon, Whiteley's, Brent Cross, one in Croydon, but you don't have them in every suburb. Here, they are everywhere. I have three close to my home. One is at Carindale, and serves as the "town centre" for that suburb -- if you don't live in urban sprawl, you cannot conceive what this means, and if you do, you know exactly what it means, another is Garden City at Upper Mount Gravatt, which is a similar, large mall, and again a civic centre. Garden City has a better selection of shops, a bigger library, but uglier patrons, so it's pretty much swings and roundabouts. There are a couple of smaller plaza malls (similar to what Americans call strip malls, I think). The mall I went to today is somewhere between the two. I don't know its official name because it is universally known as "Target Plaza" because of its feature store, the horrible Target. (I believe this was once an American company -- or rather that it is an American company in the US, but is not here in Australia, having been bought by Coles Myer -- but that is not why it is horrible. It is horrible because the stuff it sells is of poor quality but is not very cheap. My understanding of American big-box retailers is that they are astonishingly cheap, but ours are not so much.) Target Plaza is in Mt Gravatt (confusingly, several suburbs are called Mt Gravatt something or other and all are often referred to when describing where you live as "Mt Gravatt". If I describe where I live to someone who is somewhat familiar with Brisbane, I might say that I live near or even in Mt Gravatt. The suburbs are named after a hill ("Mount" is very generously used here for hills that would barely even merit a name back home), which you can see from most elevated spots in the district.

I took Mrs Z's car. (I think I have mentioned that we are a two-car family. I am an ecosinner, I accept that, but you cannot live in this place without a car. Not being mobile was killing me. My car, the Smegma, was the only car we had before we had the twins. Mrs Z bought it seven years ago (although I actually paid for it -- long story) and it was already 20 years old then. It goes okay but it's beginning to suffer from mechanical faults that are increasingly costly to fix. At the moment, the automatic choke is on the verge of collapse. I know this because it was having problems accelerating a few months back and I took it to Mark, the guy who we use to fix cars -- an excellent guy who does a thoroughly honest job and will never pad a bill or bullshit you about what your car needs; if you ever need repairs in Brissy, get his number from me, hey? -- and he reconditioned the choke. That cost a couple of hundred; replacing it would be 1200 and he didn't think I should bother. So that was a fix for a few months while I thought about whether I wanted to pay out the big bucks to get it fixed, which maybe I will, because I love my car in a way I didn't think I was capable of when I was a diehard passenger.) I enjoy driving much more than I would usually let on, because it seems a bit, I don't know, wankerish. I'd enjoy it more if the other people on the road weren't such fuckheads. I was for some reason or another reading about the narcissist (the psychological diagnosis, not the suggestion that you fancy yourself a bit too much). It noted that narcissists tend to be selfish drivers. Hello! I thought. That's what we have here. Maybe the narcissist gene was carried by one of the convicts sent to this place (a lot of people here are clearly related in some way, because there are a few common face types that you see all the time -- I wonder whether anyone has ever done a study). It would explain a lot. Brisbaneites are incredibly self-absorbed (yes, I know, look who's talking, but I do sometimes take an interest in others). They tend not to remember that they have told you an anecdote, and will repeat it weekly, while you nod politely (at least, Zenella's tennis coach will; I have heard his suggestions for fixing our water problems so often I could probably do the spiel for him, and juggle at the same time.)

(This is another footnote. I can juggle. I probably should do it as a party trick. Do you think people would find me more interesting if I did? Only kidding. They would think I am a knobend. I'm planning to go to a meetup in a week or so; maybe I should take my balls as an icebreaker. I'm quite excited about it actually (although I'll probably end up not going for the obvious reason). It's very hard to meet people here, particularly if you do not have an office to go to.

Anyway, I used to be able to juggle five things. Now, I could only do three. I don't even need the balls. I could juggle just about anything. The things don't even need to be the same size or shape. I'm out of practice though, so don't go turning up at the Pig and Whistle and embarrassing me -- an easy enough task as it is -- by demanding that I juggle a pint glass, your car keys and the barmaid's knickers.)

I have taken to driving too fast. I speed everywhere. I realised that the state doesn't really care about speeding and the measures it takes are nearly arbitrary. There are a few cops on patrol, and a couple of cameras, but the programme is patchy and uncared-for. Why do I do it, given how irresponsible it is?

I started thinking about the hoons, who screech around the roads here, burning rubber and screaming brakes. At first, of course I was just thinking, fuckwits, morons, but then I realised, they were not so different from me. Sold a fantasy life by TV and advertising, they have realised they are shortchanged. They won't be living the life depicted in car ads. They are too underqualified, too dim, too hopeless. Their lives are pointless, not even filled with the pursuit of material goods like those of most good citizens. So they have decided they don't mind dying. And I have, in the scaled-down manner that typifies me, decided that I don't mind being nicked. Okay, the fine will hurt but it's worth it to feel just slightly transgressive. It's that or performance art. You know it makes sense. It's a concern though because you begin with not bothering to brake when you go downhill, to taking corners a smidgen too fast, to getting close to the limit whenever you can. Luckily, in both my cars, the limit is not very dangerous because neither is powerful enough to entice really scary driving out of me.

Parking is less fun. The population of Brisbane has grown rapidly, so there is never enough space (which is a curious thing to say about an Australian city, given how empty Australia mostly is, but the space is never where you want it to be). The carpark looks full and I'm resigned to sharking around for ten minutes, hoping to be first to spot a park in a reasonable spot. But I'm lucky. A prime park near the entrance is empty and I slide into it. I say slide: imagine a rhino sliding and you're close to how I actually park.

(Another footnote. I realised that I indulged in an Australianism. I don't correct them when I do because, well, that's how I talk. I don't have an Australian accent -- heaven forbid -- but I do have a flavour of it and I use Australian idioms and dialect words (there aren't many but if you want to be understood it's best to use them). I generally say "proh-ject" and "dah-tabase" too. So I say "park" when I mean "parking place" or "parking spot", not just when I mean somewhere you can fly a kite.)

The shopping centre is far too cold. The aircon is set for summer, but summer has mostly not arrived. January is usually sweltering here (a similar climate to Miami's, for those of you who think in American, except six months later, of course), with long, hot, humid and heavy days followed by enormous electrical storms. This year we have had little heat and only one or two storms. It's been rather like an English summer. Which is a vast improvement. I feel like writing to God and asking him to send us this every year.

The curious thing about Woolworths is how large a place it is in which to offer so little choice. It's a big supermarket, the size of a full-sized Tesco back home, but it carries nothing like the range of a Tesco or Sainsburys. It has as much shelf space but that space is taken up with many brands of the same thing, or many varieties of the same thing. Of course, it tends to stock what sells, and things that I might like don't sell. There isn't much veggie stuff, because Aussies are on the whole carnivorous. Sometimes a rare tidbit will pass through, here this week, gone the next, something delicious (usually English, sometimes Asian) but unwanted by Aussies, who seem to exist on steak, tuna and preprepared noodles. I realise my impression is soured by its not having Quorn.

(Another footnote. To understand why missing Quorn is so painful, it's necessary to understand how easy it is for a vegetarian to slip into a diet that has very little to enjoy in it. Taste can be the missing ingredient. Like most people, particularly those with kids, I eat convenience food a great deal. I'm too lazy to cook properly, even though I'm quite good at it. It hardly seems worth bothering with veggie food, particularly when veggies need so much preparing. So something as fundamentally tasty and versatile as Quorn can quickly become a staple for a veggie. It's the little things, not the big, that make you really want to go home.)

I quite enjoy the routine of buying food. Usually, I wear my iPod to shut out the world, and trudge round the aisles, picking off what I need. Today, I bought some fruit, as always focusing on what's in season (plums, peaches and other stone fruit; melons; mangoes). How odd that is. In the UK, everything is in season, because so much is imported. Fruit prices don't fluctuate there anything like they do here (although I remember that they used to when I was a kid, so that we would have certain things at certain times).

The only frustrations for me are that people move so slowly. Brisbane is slow, agonisingly slow, and its citizens plod round supermarkets, hogging the whole of the always too narrow aisles. In a British supermarket, there would at least be women to check out, but here women are like sides of beef, red and veiny, not like anything you'd ever consider fucking. Except the checkout chick, whose tits strained in a blouse a size too small. They had a life of their own.

Stop that! She is a child, possibly not even legally fuckable, and you are a father, you disgusting man. Yeah yeah. But let's face it. She may be sixteen but the tits are a good 21 and it's only a pity I'm not attractive to young women, or I'd be fucking her in a path at the side of Mt Gravatt and not sitting here, writing this, boring.


At 10:19 pm, Blogger Sour Grapes said...

Okay, point taken.

At 6:19 pm, Anonymous I Am that I Am said...

I feel like writing to God and asking him to send us this every year.

Dear DRZen:

Thank you so much for your pleasant and well-edited letter. I'm pleased that you are delighted with the weather I've sent your way. You see, weather patterns bore me a bit, and I thought I'd shuffle them around a bit. I was simply certain there would be one bloke who would enjoy the change, and here you even take the time to write. You should see what I've done in America. Froze California and I've got the New Yorkers parading about in shorts. Boy, that's been good for laughs.

I'll admit that I am somewhat surprised to get a letter from you, considering your deep reservations regarding my existence. Yet at the same time I'm touched that you took the time to contact me to thank me for something good. Most people, even the ones who have no doubts about me, seem to contact me only when things have gotten rough. Either that or they blame me.

Anyway, I appreciate the thought. Try not to take it too hard when it does hot up, though. I do have to get you the rest of the way around the sun, you know.

Take care, and do keep writing.



PS: I didn't know you were a doctor. Good show ;-)

At 11:53 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not attractive to young women

Perhaps if you made better use of that juggling thing.

At 11:56 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

"Perhaps if you made better use of that juggling thing."

Well, perhaps some sort of conjuring?

At 12:06 pm, Blogger Listen Taylor said...

I actually live in Brisbane and on the whole I think you're being way too harsh. Fair enough, it's your blog and you can say whatever you want, but if you hate it here so much, no one asked you to move and no one's forcing you to stay!
Brisbane is like any city - it has its good points and its bad in equal share, and just because you come from the UK doesn't give you the right to label all Australians as 'convicts' or say we've all interbred.
My best friend is from the UK and she's always thrilled when she comes to visit me, she says Brisbane is a great place precisely because it's so different. I know that most people from the UK kind of have this aversion or condescension of all things Australian like it's some crippled younger cousin or something, but Australia's a beautiful country unlike any other.
And a last point about your 'fuckable' checkout chicks - I am one at Woolies and I just hope not every guy that comes through the checkouts thinks quite as explicitly as you do.

At 7:04 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

Brisbane is not like "any other city". It might be like any other hick town, I'll give you that. Maybe you should go look at other cities and see what you think. I'm guessing you haven't, because you have in common with most people here that your opinion is uninformed, but you don't mind spewing it all the same. Most people from the UK have that view of Brisbane (not so much all of Australia) because it reminds us of the hick towns we grew up in twenty, thirty years ago: backward, insular and full of ugly, slow-witted yokels.

And trust me, men are disgusting and if you're fit, every last one of them is imagining what you would look like riding their cock.


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