January 2009


Donald does have a few inheritances from his grandad… But they are not particularly meaningful.

Instead, Donald inherited something else, something that he would regard as much deeper and more meaningful than a mere set of objects… Donald inherited from his family his relationship to work, a relationship that he could and did constantly build on, and expand and make part of himself. His was a family that involved itself very deeply in what they did, and it didn’t matter much if this was formal paid labour or the informal work of domestic life. Whether as builders or in cooking, they threw themselves into the activity, and in large measure what they did was what they became.

For Donald, this is the key to his relationship with both his job and his home… He loves his work and sees it as a craft…

No-one would consider a buyer for a retail chain as a craftsman. Yet I have no hesitation in using this term to describe what Donald is.

Daniel Miller. Portrait Twelve, “Making a Living”, in The Comfort of Things. Polity Press. 2008

Now that I’m a responsible adult I’m no longer drinking to excess ever, and drinking at all rarely. It’s been a good transition into a new lifestyle for me. I’m more wealthy and a lot healthier for starters. The extra energy is of course getting channelled towards the ever-growing bundle of joy we have around here.

And no, this isn’t a baby blog.

What I’ve ben thinking about lately is Deborah’s series on work-life balance. It’s an interesting piece of thought underway, and I recommend you go and read it. This post isn’t a reply hers, but is, rather, prompted by it.

I’ve also spent the day caring for the youngster while Second Chef has been out hanging with friends, so I’m enjoying a beer to spoil myself. And it’s making me want to wax lyrical.

The thing that irks me about Western societies is this constant want to convert more and more time to relaxation. Like the fabled grasshopper, we demand to be able to relax and enjoy the sun. And personally I’m all for it. There’s nothing I like better that personal time away from the stresses of work. If my work was stressful that is. While I can be extremely busy, stress is a state of mind. No-one dies in my line of work. If a deadline isn’t reached, children won’t go hungry. I might not get that big bonus next year, but… who gives a stuff. It’s only money, right?

This also means I won’t work for people who are stress-causing, or who treat their employees or colleagues as vehicles to the aforementioned bonus.

However, I work pretty much non-stop all day, every day. When I’m not at paid employment I’m working at home with chores like cooking (and sometimes cleaning. I hate cleaning… I’d rather pay a maid, despite my frugal ways). I also pursue hobbies like blogging.

Then, at the end of the night, I take time to myself, and read for an hour or so (sometimes more if the day allows).

What’s important about this rest time though, is that it is something I can enjoy for two reasons.

The first is mechanisation. Lots of little jobs that used to have to be done by hand can now be done automatically, like dishwashing. And, lots of big jobs that used to be done by hand, like harvesting food, are also mechanised. This means we’ve changed the sort of work I do from harvesting, to “organising”.

The second is international commerce. Half of the stuff I can enjoy, and which makes my life easier, is produced by someone in a country somewhere who earns substantially less than I do. This means that I can, if I chose, work less hours than all those god gave, and still be comfortable.

And that’s what annoys me about the Western demand for more time off in relaxation. You and I can afford to be idle from time to time because a lot of our work has been sent to someone else, who we pay a pittance to work for us. While some of the time off we take is just salary-sacrifice, a lot of our relaxation is actually a form of exploitation. Furthermore, much of our time off is time we could be using productively, potentially for the benefit of everyone.

Now I’m not one to question this. It has delivered a great standard of living for us, after all. But, I’m acutely aware that my holiday time has a cost greater than what I outlay in petrol or dining out. But I do wonder about people who want to not make the most of their productive time and years, and often I arrive at laziness.

The speciman who might be White Mans Last Great Hope

Kyle Chapman: The specimen who might be the Last Great Hope for the worlds white men (from Stuff)

With 100 Word Blog gone I thought I’d best take the baton on Kyle Chapman, darling of the right wing’s, latest idea.

The latest idea from this gifted thinker is a gated community somewhere in the South Island, for “like-minded Europeans”.

Now we can only imagine that Kyle has finally discovered the love in his roots, and has decided to resurrect those ideas lost by the Hippies in the 60s: Safe communities, where like-minded people can remove themselves from the greed and violence of modern society, to bring their children up with their loving ideas, and even sometimes, loving them themselves.

And what an idea! Troops of bald and jack-booted guys in camo, living together in a like-minded way. A social club where they can drink and share their ideas about what it means to be a white man, and maybe, become one. For this is what “unity” means, no?

And a large vegetable garden. Probably filled with a whole lot of cabbages.

Well, in the history of Historical Epics, this has got to be a doozy. Many nations have tales like this one, but not all of them are as much of a ripping yarn. You’ve got your Ramayana‘s and your Iliad‘s, but this one is a little closer to the heart because it is a Western tale of knights, chivalry, honour, love, betrayal, pitched battles, desperation and lofty ideals of nationhood.

It’s also 1000 pages long and is obviously what Michener looked to when drafting his tomes.

The novel is set during the C17th of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, at which time the dreaded Cossacks have revolted, and are butchering or selling the peasantry into Tartar slavery. Evil damn Cossacks… Our protagonists are knights of the Commonwealth, and they become ever-deeply embroiled in the uprising, attempting to retain their virtue in a world rapidly going to hell.

The background to the novel is a series of changes sweeping Poland in the late C19th. The author was attempting to write a nationalistic novel that ‘stirred the blood’ and drew the people together. And in doing so, he has reputed captured the character of Polish nationality identity, and many of the mores and morals of the gentry of his time (including a very interesting abhorrence of the mistreatment of Jews). Consequently, other than the laddish depiction of “war as hell” we’re given a great fictional snapshot of late-Renaissance Poland.

So, if you can stomach all that, then you have a fun, enjoyable read. There are great and loveable characters, truly evil bad guys, witches, saints, and more. There’s also a love interest.

Was having an interesting conversation with a mate today about, well, “fitting into your own skin”. It’s a great idea that goes, you should do what you feel is right.

The impetous for the conversation was free time, and a shared outlook on how people we’ve both known over the last twenty years have planned out and conducted their lives.

What’ve we’ve both noticed is that all too many have followed “the formula”, and woken up to find themselves extremely unhappy. An example? Some who is a creative, but hasn’t been among the few who’ve made it big doing creative things. They end up depressed, and wonder why in the hell their career in writing/art/music/dance/whateverthefucktheydo hasn’t turned into fame and big dollars. And frankly? Tough shit… Not every career is going to make everyone great, and if you’re still battling for that big break in music since you were 18 and you’re now 35 then… bad news. Your playing might just be, to use that popular Wellington phrase, a bit shit.

Many people simply can’t see that though. They end up in these mid/early-life crises because the life they imagined and the shit they ended up with do not marry. They might be in a loveless marriage. A stressful but ultimately meaningless job. An endless cycle of creativity and rejection.

Now I recognise that some become famous after they’re dead, and some take the SeaChange option and get the hell out of the rat-race. Many don’t though, and they eek out their miserable lives, making themselves and others around them miserable as well. Working in the public service certainly exposes you to a lot of them.

“The formula” is a version of this where you:

  1. Leave school and go on a gap year
  2. Go to University (or maybe uni then the gap year), or start a career/trade
  3. Meet someone special
  4. Move in together
  5. Get the joint account
  6. Get engaged
  7. Get married, and buy a house (or vice versa)
  8. Breed.

Let me state right now that there is nothing wrong with living according to the formula. It is a tried and tested way to live. Especially in the 1950s. And not everyone this conservative and limited are complete tossers.

Thing is though, the formula isn’t for everyone, and if you’re living according to it because you think you have to, then experience has taught both the mate and I that you will end up completely miserable. But if you are conscious of what you’re buying into, and you actively chose this path, because it is right for you, then you will be happy.

That’s the clincher we decided. You need to decide that peeling on the skin that is the formula really is you. And if you’re a cliched range of different types of people – gays, geeks, weird creatives – then you might just find that this isn’t for you.

So what’s the way out? Choosing. If you want to live by the formula, just chose it. Say, “I want to live my life this way”, and whatever that way is will make you happy. But, you have to actually believe it. And if you’re lying to yourself, then you will never, ever be happy.

Even when you buy that Porsche.

PS. I realised last night that I have a better example of “the forumla”.When Second Chef and I first told people about Chef Du Plunge there were three, maybe four questions that almost everyone asked. These were:

  1. Are you going to get married? – Ans. WTF? We’re a happy, stable and committed relationship. How is a ceremony going to change or improve that?
  2. I suppose you’ll be moving to some place with “some land”? – Ans. Why is this important? There’s only, maybe, a billion people who grow up in cities? Why do we have to start commuting from the back of beyond to be living somewhere “normal”?
  3. I guess you’ll be needing a car then? – Ans. No. The car is only necessary if you’ve been dumb enough to go making work by getting a big garden and lawn. i.e. so that you can escape the hell and social isolation that is suburbia. It’s like making choices to spend more money, just for the sake of it…
  4. Are you ready for the responsibility/lifestyle change? It’s pretty big… – Ans. Weeeelll… if we we’re grown-ups who chose to have a child because we were ready and comfortable with the idea, then… maybe.

I’ve heard that one of the reasons New Zealand is that a lot of people of low skills have entered the workforce over the past 5 or  6 years. Things have been pretty good, so all kinds of dopes have been getting jobs when they may well have been unemployable before. But, they get hired on lower wages. When thousands are employed like this, it drags one measure of productivity down.*

This is my only rational explanation for the idiot who likes to use a leaf-blower outside our place early on the weekends.

Now, leaf-blowers by themselves can be a fairly effective means of street-cleaning. I’ve used them myself to tidy up gardens and the like. The trick though, and you can probably guess this one, is that there are a couple of situations where they don’t work particularly well.

The first is when the leaves are really wet. They stick to the ground, and no amount of cold air being blasted at them will move them.

The second is when it’s really windy. All you’re doing is moving the leaves out into the wind to be blown christknowswhere.

This leaves me wondering then what kind of idiot the Wellington City Council is contracting to street clean? This moron is out there, on a number of occasions, with a leaf-blower, at FIVE AM, in a half-gale?

WTF.

I’ve taken to calling noise control. One day he was out there after a howling storm, and I’d seen paper and assorted crap all over the street when I’d walked home the previous night. So after working on the street for about an hour, you’d think he’d tidied it real sweet.

Nope. Worse than the night before.

Again, where the hell the City Council finds these munters is beyond me. So I say, BRING BACK BRUSHES AND SHOVELS!!

*No economics arguments in comments… this explanation will do.

Is God punishing a certain Pacific Island regime?

You decide.

It is a strange thing that I can only write these pages after midnight. Perhaps it’s the silence. Or perhaps it’s that the night itself carries all clichés of our secrets, sequestered in shadows, seeping out to remind us of the past, its interwoven layers, each thread binding us to a forgotten moment, a yesterday, a chosen past we’ve fabricated.

Fabrication is after all the manner of histories. We each make our past lives out to be something that conforms to our present. We find comfort that the line from then to now suits the present we imagine ourselves to deserve, a present that can be explained with ease.

But unease is what midnight is made of. I’m certain I’m far from alone in finding the midnight to be the space in which those comfortable illusions slip away, in which realities creep back into their own, and in which the comfortable clothes of my now are sloughed off, my true self exposed to the chill air.

People call these things concern. Worry. Anxiety. It is more likely that these things are actually cold truths, unsullied by the middle layers we pad out our hopefully comfortable lives. Exposed, they bring us back to what we are, or were, and remind us both gently and persistently that there are always deeper truths.

And so it is with this history. I find myself in a coddled life. One in which I have cossetted myself away from the harsher, more brutal layers of of who I’ve been, and in which I can protect myself, and those about me, from the worst of which the past has to offer. Because as I’ve stated, in tear-filled nights where the past has welled up to be confronted, recognised, welcomed, and laid back to rest; we are each a river in which time flows, and in which there can be no hiding from what it is that makes us who we are. Fate awaits us as inevitably as the sea, and as assuredly as death itself.

And the night welcomes me again, and it opens a corridor to the past, one lined with a golden, moody, stained tapestry of days, endless.

FFLP

I got an special request from Idiot/Savant the other day to post a recipe for semi-dried tomatoes. Luckily this is something I saw in the restaurants, and I know it’s easy as. It’s also extremely Frugal.

If you want a particular recipe shown in a step-by-step, just give me a yell and I’ll see what I can do. Within reason. Par-boiled yak might exceed by meagre skills…

In this case I used about 2ish kilos of tomatoes costing about $4, and 1kg of Rock Salt costing $1.50 (I used the rock salt twice, in two “shifts”). The real expense was probably running the oven for four or five hours. So all up we can assume this cost us about $6 or $7?

What I got from this was several hundred grams of semi-dried tomatoes. Considering that the “gourmet” tomatoes in the supermarket cost $7 for a smallish cryo-vac of 250g, this is a good deal.

Here’s what you’ll need.

  • A kilo of Roma tomatoes. You can use any tomatoes, but Roma are the best because of their low acidity. They’ll end up sweeter and generally just, plain, extremely delicious.
  • A matching weight of rock salt. This is generally pretty cheap.
  • Fresh herbs, especially Thyme.
  • A decent sized, sterilised jar to store them in.
  • A large amount of oil, vegetable oil is ok, olive oil is best.

And that’s it. We’ve been tucking into these on bread, with cheese. But you can eat them in a myriad of dishes. (more…)

I was looking for the book to which Escapement is a sequel, and found this on the shelf. After briefly reading the cover I thought it might be worth a read.

And… once I got used to the idea of s@do-m@chistic dwarves, the rise of Old Gods, and a gothic metropolis called The City Imperishable I thought… this wasn’t actually just a copy of Ambergris. And in fact, is something very different, and very interesting, and something I should share.

Trial of Flowers is an ‘urban fantasy’ of three protagonists who find themselves in a city rapidly falling into chaos. Old Gods are returning, terror stalks the streets at night, and there is no-one to defend the citizens. You see, the last Imperator left with the army centuries before, and will not return.

As I say, the predilections of the some of the characters where actually rather surprising, but I found them actually contributing to the plot by the end pages, and a plot it is. Like Ambergris The City Imperishable is written with a dark, dark history, and untold gothic roots.

Enjoyable.

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