Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Social pages

Scott, Simon and Kev share a joke at a gig in London's East End.
Photo by DJ Prolix

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Recollections of a Foreign Minister

Reproduced from Crikey!

by Alexander Downer (11 April 2006, to the Cole Inquiry*)

It could have been It may have been I don't specifically recall I can't precisely remember I don't recall I don't recall I couldn't rule out It is possible I don't know I'm not sure I have only a very distant recollection I don't recall I don't think I did I'm pretty sure I didn't make a note I don't recall I could have done I don't recall it I don't recall I simply do not recall

I would have made a note of it and been quite focused I might have turned out to be wrong I don't recall I don't recall I don't recall I don't recall I wouldn't use that language I don't remember precisely It didn't mean anything to me It doesn't mean anything to me I wouldn't recognise him Nothing at all I don't read the summaries unless I'm stuck on a plane I have no idea I have no idea I can't recall I gave no such direction I don't recall I didn't make any notes I just don't recall I can't answer that question I can't recall my state of mind

I don't recall I simply do not recall I do not recall I can't quite find the place I don't recall I simply do not recall I don't recall I don't recall I don't recall I'd have to reflect on that

I don't recall I don't recall I'm not sure I don't know I don't recall It is sketchy very sketchy I can't tell you I wasn't aware There is so much intelligence It's a very major challenge to deal with intelligence I have no recollection of it I just can't recall it at all I have no recollection I have no recollection Information flows appear to be very imperfect I was not aware

I don't know I don't know I can't recall I'm not aware I can't recall I don't know I don't recall I assumed I don't recall We had no knowledge I can't specifically recall I can't recall

I just can't specifically recall It's very difficult to recall I'm not sure that I'm not sure I wasn't sure I can't specifically recall I don't recall I don't know I can't say I just don't know

I don't have any specific recollection I'm not aware I wasn't aware I had no knowledge I wasn't aware I wasn't aware I wasn't aware I just can't recall.

* Quotes compiled by Hal Judge and listed in the order in which they were uttered.

A day at the (dog) races

Katie, Lorraine and Scott recently had a day in the baking sunshine of Walthamstow, at the dog racing stadium. Seems we collectively came out in front. Missed out on a visit to the Charlie Chan nightclub beneath the stadium Shame. Not.

There's some pix of our canine adventures here.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The ignorance of Mr Howard

The Guardian's editorial has a bit of a go at The Rodent, his government and their "grubby" behaviour in relation to the AWB scandal.

The ignorance of Mr Howard
Saturday April 15, 2006


There was no more steadfast ally of George Bush and Tony Blair in the invasion of Iraq than John Howard, the prime minister of Australia. Mr Blair, in particular, was full of praise for his "strength and leadership" and his willingness to "get stuck in". Just a month before the war began, the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, informed Mr Howard that Britain was "in exactly the same position as the Australian government in respect to Iraq".

Not quite, we hope. Mr Howard has now become the first Australian prime minister in 23 years to be called to account before a judicial commission after it emerged that a company exporting wheat to Iraq under the UN's oil-for-food programme had been paying huge kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime right up to the start of the invasion. It is by no means inconceivable that some of this money paid for weapons that were then used to fight Australian troops.

The company, AWB (formerly known as the Australian Wheat Board), has exclusive marketing rights for bulk wheat exports from Australia. It was Iraq's largest single supplier under the oil-for-food programme and also, it now emerges, Saddam's largest supplier of bribes - to the tune of £125m.

Although a series of 21 diplomatic cables dating back almost three years before the war had warned the Australian government that AWB was suspected of paying bribes, Mr Howard denies that he received or read any of them. Even though he made a speech just a week before the war accusing Saddam Hussein of cynically exploiting the oil-for-food programme in order to buy weapons, it apparently never occurred to him that AWB might be involved. "I always believed the best of that company," he told the judicial commission. Mr Howard's foreign minister and his trade minister have also succumbed to ignorance and/or amnesia as far as the warning cables are concerned. Foreign minister Alexander Downer told the commission that had "no specific recollection" of the crucial messages, and that he gets so many cables he tends not to read them all unless "I'm stuck on a plane and I've run out of reading material".

Not surprisingly, this is stretching the tolerance of voters and has caused a sharp dip for Mr Howard in the opinion polls. It may not bring down his government, but it does make his principled stand against Saddam's dictatorship look distinctly grubby and will do little for the morale of Australian troops still risking their lives in Iraq.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Harry Plimpton on the spot

There were huge seas on the Derwent River in Hobart over the weekend. Having memories of my local beach losing all its sand in similar conditions when I was at infant school, I was quite interested in finding some pictures of what had gone down on Saturday. I very quickly became quite frustrated by the lack of pix on various news sites, and eventually gave up. Was speaking to my parents on Monday morning, and mentioned the storms. Dad replied "yeah, we were down there. I've got some photos, and had one published in the Sunday paper." I should have known in the first place.

Click here for a full size version. You'll see some more photos from Sandy Bay here.

Thanks to Becher & Raelene @ Beyond PR for the page scans.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Bliar's recent visit to Australia

In a novel light

April 1, 2006

Dugald Jellie takes a literary tour of Hobart.

'PARDON the stench." It's Tom Gilling's introduction to a Hobart Town of 1812 - a clipped first sentence to a magical first novel, The Sooterkin, with rancid whale blubber, oil and piles of guts spilled on flooded, dark-muddied, stinking streets. "Last week a squid was found swimming in the harbourmaster's basement."

Enough to make you squeal. So richly Dickensian, so ripe, this picture of the former whaling port, our second-oldest city, written up with such vital pungency it ensures I pack a handkerchief. Who knows what colonial odours linger, what's encountered when stepping back into the fiction of Van Diemen's Land.

For two days in Hobart - a place Thomas Wood in Cobbers (1934) says "has the air of an English country town which has shed its old houses and wandered down to the sea for a rest" - I wish to discover this southernmost capital through the eyes of its writers. I want to be lost in the true travel of literature. Visit what others have observed, from Bryce Courtenay, to Patrick White's A Fringe of Leaves, as a journey through books and streets.

Beginning in a jam factory. "The jam factory on the Hobart wharves," in Richard Flanagan's Death of a River Guide, where the protagonists' mother sticks labels on pineapple and melon jam tins. They say the aroma was so strong locals knew when apricots or plums were being boiled up.

Henry Jones & Co was the firm, the famed IXL brand-name derived from Henry's quip: "I excel at the products I make". A household label in the British Empire during World War I, it was processed in the 1820s Georgian sandstone warehouses on the Old Wharf, wherefrom the city's earliest immigrants arrived, tea was imported from China, spices from India, nails from England, and jams, jellies and canned fruit dispatched to the world.

Melbourne businessman John Elliott in 1972 gutted the headquarters, the factory dormant until redeveloped recently into Hobart's newest cultural precinct. It's easy spending an entire morning here drinking coffee, reading newspapers, eating, looking at huon, sassafras and myrtle furnishings, buying art and admiring old jam labels.

Near Victoria Dock is the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, with an important John Glover collection and an affecting installation on the Tasmania tiger - the subject of Julia Leigh's taut debut novel, The Hunter.

A TV monitor within a chicken-wire cage screens the only known moving footage of the thylacine, the last known of which died in Hobart Zoo on September 7, 1936. Grainy film shows a distressed animal in a woefully small run. It's saddening how poorly the welfare of this species was regarded. Our largest native predatory marsupial, driven to extinction and now reduced to the State's coat-of-arms, used on official government merchandising, or to sell beer.

Patrick White's fictional characters Austin and Ellen Roxburgh arrived in Hobart Town in 1835 to find "a shrouded mountain looming over all". The town was "buffeted by wind, between the mountain which presided over man's presumptuous attempt at a town, and the shirred waters of the grey river rushing toward its fate, the sea".

Soft rain falls as I leave the gallery. A scrim of mist blurs Mount Wellington. Already I see its moods, its mouldy weather. I seek refuge in bookshops.

Fullers in Collins Street has the city's richest history. Novelist Christopher Koch had his first job here, writing it into his 1985 work The Doubleman as "Varley's", where "the basement was a gloomy place, yet I rather liked it; I welcomed excuses to escape down here from serving the customers: Darcy and I lurked here like trolls, and furtively read the books".

It's a fine bookshop, with the upstairs Afterword Cafe serving delicious snacks. But Astrolabe Booksellers at Salamanca Place is suited better to my escape, with rare volumes such as the cumbrously-titled A Geographical, Historical and Topographical Description of Van Diemen's Land - with important hints to immigrants and useful information respecting the application for grants of land (1822). The island's earliest travel guide, perhaps.

Proprietor Michael Sprod points me to the 1846 Shipwright's Arms Hotel in nearby Battery Point, for which I am grateful. It's dinnertime and the bangers'n'mash are just the ticket, washed down with a Cascade (they've five on tap: lager, light, pale ale, draught and stout). A rainbow spans the Derwent in saffron light. Oh, my goodness, Hobart is beautiful.

Next morning I'm on the first bus to Fern Tree and stride up Mount Wellington in double-time. A thick pea-soup fog - or maybe leek and potato - pulls in as I approach the flat-topped summit.

My view from the top is reliant entirely on memory of Glover's 1831 oil-on-canvas landscape, The Derwent River and Hobart Town.

There's no time to call at the Female Factory near the Cascade Brewery in South Hobart, written into Courtenay's best-selling The Potato Factory. The Mercury Print Museum in Macquarie Street awaits, chronicling a paper first published in 1854, described later by novelist Roy Bridges (once a cub reporter) as a "rotten sweatrag".

I return afterward to the deep-water wharf on the "neat flat river", as poet Vivian Smith wrote, for a seafood lunch at Mures, a local favourite. Seagulls quarrel outside among trawlers and spiralled tea-tree craypots. Blue eye and farmed Atlantic salmon are on the menu. I order pink ling.

Much of the afternoon is spent following Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish, inspired by William Gould's circa 1832 convict Sketchbook of Fishes in Macquarie Harbour, housed at the Allport Library. The book is in Canberra when I visit, loaned to a touring exhibition and at other times mostly put away. But four Gould watercolours of plants, all bought at Sotheby's recently, are hung in a botanical art exhibition until April 21.

Time's running out. The Theatre Royal is a must-see, opened in 1837 among tanneries, abattoirs, a soap factory; Australia's oldest, where Sir Laurence Olivier in 1948 acted in The School for Scandal and later reminisced: "The audiences were warm and wonderful and the ovations staggering." The building was thankfully saved from demolition in the early 1950s by, among others, Hal Porter. It remains a 750-seat monument to high Victorian make-believe.

From Campbell Street's dip it's a long walk up to North Hobart. Thank goodness for the Republic Bar. At first I miss it, walk straight passed, doubling-back in hot mid-afternoon sun. Inside is a haven; funky, smoke-free, and with seven beers on tap. A sign says it was licensed in 1831 as the Rose, rebuilt in 1921 as the Empire, and known from 1997 as the Republic, which everyone seems happy about.

The barman shouts me a beer and tells a story. He says he's in Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish as a character, that the author lives nearby and drinks here often. Certainly the pub's in the novel, where Sid Hammer loses his mystical book after leaving it on the bar.

Now it's last drinks and in honeydew light I neck a pint of Boag's lying on lush grass in Salamanca Square. It's Friday night and I think if I found a woman who'd join me I'd move here in a flash. Catch the first boat down.

Soon after I meet a river guide who once took me down the Franklin and join him in a courtyard where musicians play to a full house. It's a carnival, everybody unwinding at week's end. In the crowd I'm introduced to a man I'd tried to interview before my arrival and whose writings for two days I have followed. Richard Flanagan. He is pleased to meet up. I show him a painting I had bought from a student artist. We talk of his brother. He wants to take me to an authentic Hobart pub, get me on the turps. It's too bad I've a bus to catch to the airport.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The chilli so hot you need gloves

The Times, April 1 2006

THE world’s hottest chilli pepper does not come from a tropical hot spot where the locals are impervious to its fiery heat but a smallholding in deepest Dorset.

Some chillis are fierce enough to make your eyes water. Anyone foolhardy enough to eat a whole Dorset Naga would almost certainly require hospital treatment.

The pepper, almost twice as hot as the previous record- holder, was grown by Joy and Michael Michaud in a poly- tunnel at their market garden. The couple run a business called Peppers by Post and spent four years developing the Dorset Naga.

They knew the 2cm-long specimens were hot because they had to wear gloves and remove the seeds outdoors when preparing them for drying, but had no idea they had grown a record-breaker.

Some customers complained the peppers were so fiery that even half a small one would make a curry too hot to eat. Others loved them and the Michauds sold a quarter of a million Dorset Nagas last year. At the end of last season Mrs Michaud sent a sample to a laboratory in America out of curiosity. The owner had never tested anything like it.

According to Mrs Michaud, the hottest habaƱero peppers popular in chilli-eating competitions in the US generally measure about 100,000 units on the standard Scoville scale, named after its inventor, Wilbur Scoville, who developed it in 1912. At first the scale was a subjective taste test but it later developed into the measure of capsaicinoids present. The hottest chilli pepper in The Guinness Book of Records is a Red Savina habaƱero with a rating of 570,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).

Mrs Michaud was stunned when the Dorset Naga gave a reading of nearly 900,000SHU. A fresh sample was sent to a lab in New York used by the American Spice Trade Association and recorded a mouth-numbing 923,000SHUs.

Mrs Michaud said: “The man in the first lab was so excited — he’d never had one even half as hot as that. The second lab took a long time because they were checking it carefully as it was so outrageously high.”

The Dorset Naga was grown from a plant that originated in Bangladesh. The Michauds bought their original plant in an oriental store in Bournemouth. Mrs Michaud said: “We weren’t even selecting the peppers for hotness but for shape and flavour. There is an element of machismo in peppers that we aren’t really interested in. When the results of the heat tests came back I was gobsmacked.”

The couple are now seeking Plant Variety Protection from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which will mean that no one else can sell the seeds.

Mrs Michaud, 48, has run the company with her husband at West Bexington, near Dorchester, for ten years. Mr Michaud, 56, has been a regular on the television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage series, advising on vegetable growing.

Anyone wanting to try the Dorset Naga will have to be patient as chillis are harvested only from July on. In Bangladesh the chillies grow in temperatures of well over 100F (38C) but in Dorset they thrive in polytunnels.

Aktar Miha, from the Indus Bangladeshi restaurant in Bournemouth, said that even in its home country the naga chilli was treated with respect. “It is used in some cooking, mainly with fish curries, but most people don’t cook with it. They hold it by the stalk and just touch their food with it,” he said.

“It has a refreshing smell and a very good taste but you don’t want too much of it. It is a killer chilli and you have to be careful and wash your hands and the cutting board. If you don’t know what you are doing it could blow your head off.”


Scoville Heat Units

Pure capsaicin: 15m to 16m

US Police-grade pepper spray: 5m

Dorset Naga: 923,000

Red Savina habanero: 577,000

Scotch bonnet: 100,000-325,000

Jamaican hot pepper: 100,000-200,000

Cayenne pepper: 30,000-50,000

Jalapeno pepper: 2,500-8,000

Tabasco sauce: 2,500

Pimento: 100 to 500

Bell pepper: 0

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Katie got a new bike

Hey all,

Katie's picked up her new bike, compliments of the Rumble/Askins closing down sale. As well, we took a trip out to the Kew Bridge Steam Museum. There's photos, and a couple of other assorted snaps on my new SMUGMUG photo page (if you wanna join, quote my email address!) right here.