The Prime Minister of Procrastination finally gets his cabinet together.

Despite what my friends would have you believe, that I’m the personification of anarchy, I actually hate chaos.

For the last several years, the lack of storage space in our house has been driving me nuts and in particular the fact that we didn’t have an efficient way of storing and retrieving our CDs and DVDs.

We used to have our TV on a funky but poorly designed cabinet from Indonesia. The old unit looked OK but it didn’t have very much storage space because it’s design was more about style than function. There always seemed to be a large stack of CDs and books with various other bits and pieces strewn all over the top of the old sideboard that was already crowded with electronics.

In short it was a mess.

Another thing that was getting on my wick, is that I’m totally over, dark wooden furniture.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to design and make, to remedy our entertainment storage area. I don’t like the current trend in furniture design with their low storage areas that look great in minimalist showrooms but are impossible to live with. Another thing I don’t like about a lot of “so-called” modern furniture is that it looks so 1960s with their little legs that seem to be designed to make it difficult to sweep or vacuum under. Let’s not even talk about how outrageously expensive and over priced stylish furniture can be.

At first, I thought of making a wall unit but that design concept seemed so 1970s. Plus we have plaster cornices where our ceiling meets the wall  and I don’t like gaps between high furniture and the ceiling because they collect dust; are hard to reach and don’t display items well.

Last month I went to the Sydney woodworking show and it inspired me to get my finger out and do some carpentry. Here’s what I’ve come up with after years of procrastination and three weeks work.

At last I can put all the CDs away

The cabinet is constructed out of 19mm plywood, that has been “V” bookmatch veneered with figured English sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). I used Australian silver ash (Flindersia schottiana) for all the solid wood components except the drawers which were made out of pine and 6mm plywood. The top was veneered in an exploding diamond pattern and inlaid with some commercially produced inlay strips.

mmmmm wood

All the exposed drawers (all dovetailed) for the CDs and DVDs are on runners that allow the drawers to be completely extended so the contents can be easily viewed.

Easy to sort through and get to 

On a side note about procrastination, my wife reckons that I procrastinate because if I put things off, that means it will be longer before I make some errors and mess it all up. I short, Engogirl thinks I’m afraid of failure.

I’m afraid………

 she might be right.

Exporting coal also exports pollution. Newcastle, NSW, Australia

A recent post by Donald Diddams prompted me to put this photo up and expand on my thoughts about it.

On a recent trip to the beautiful city of Newcastle, my wife and I kept noticing how many ships there were waiting to enter the port and load up with coal. Newcastle is the largest coal exporting harbour in the world and coal is loaded there 24 hours a day. One day we counted 37 ships along the horizon waiting for their turn to be loaded.

While I looked at the ships as the sun was going down, I thought about how much coal was going to be burnt and how much greenhouse gasses that will produce. The low, warm afternoon light seemed to be emphasizing the particulates in the sky and made it look as though there was a layer of a dirty looking gas, like bromide, hovering just above the earth’s surface. It was almost like there was a physical demonstration of the pollution the burning of coal creates. Of course this visualization is just a product of my own concerns and imagination. It’s only a trick of the light because greenhouse gases are invisible.

It enrages me when I think about it and how we in Australia contribute way beyond the size of our population to the degradation of the global environment when we have so much sun light that could be harvested for power.

Trouble is that’s it’s not as cheap as burning coal.

All the short term profit grabbing and thinking, by a relatively small group of people is selfishly destroying the only planet we can live on.

A pox on all their houses!

Pterodactyl on a triple! Winter in Sydney, Australia

Today was one of those winter days here in Sydney (13C or 55F) that makes me glad that I live here. Sure, it was a bit on the cool side, but it was also clear and sunny. Winter here in Sydney is a joke by Canadian standards. Many Canadians would kill to have a summer as nice as the winter day we experienced here today.

My wife (Engogirl) and I’s idea of a perfect Saturday is to sit out in the back yard to have breakfast and read the weekend paper. Kicking back and luxuriating, to drink some home made cappuccino, eat some cereal whilst knocking over the sodoku, cryptic crossword and target.

When I first started going out with my wife, we used to go to cafes on Saturday mornings and have leisurely breakfasts of eggs benedict (I don’t eat them any more…. for health reasons, because it’s so loaded with cholesterol) and do the cryptic crosswords together. There’s something quite wonderful about working through a problem with someone you love. There’s nothing like seeing how smart your partner is to engender respect.

As an example of the joy that a simple cryptic crossword can bring, I tender this clue from today’s paper that my wife figured out.

Flower in battle over a bowlers run up

 The answer was “waratah”

I can remember thinking to myself, “wow!” and then enjoying the explanation of how she figured it out.

Of course, to make sure I’m respected in the relationship I have to pull my weight and get a few clues myself, like, “model managed dropping weight in the character of soaps“.

 The answer was “melodramas”

I could never understand why it took women so long to get the vote. What is it with some guys that they feel threatened by smart women?  And for that matter, who would want to live with someone who you thought was stupid or didn’t respect? Of course that’s a rhetorical question, because I know the answer is that some stupid people feel threatened by smart people.

I’ve always thought it was a good strategy to associate with intelligent people, so at the very least I might learn something. Every now and again, I’ve jokingly said to some of my friends that, although I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, that I take it for granted that the people I surround myself with are smart because I need all the help I can get, to lift my game. 

It was so nice today that we sat outside all day and by late afternoon we were on to our second bottle of red wine, enjoying playing scrabble with a little music in the background.

Engogirl kicks back

Words we were unsure of were checked on the laptop (thanks to a wireless internet connection) and logs were thrown into the chiminea when it felt a little cool.

As Omar Khayyam once said:

“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,

A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread – and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness 

O, Wilderness were Paradise enow!”

Life can be so good.

Although my wife usually thrashes me at Scrabble, It was mine turn to shine today, and I won all the games we played, instead of losing them all as I usually do. I have to say, though, the highlight of the games we played was when Engogirl placed her P, T, E, R, O, on my “DACTYL” for a triple word score.

Engogirl gets pterodactyl on a tripple

Geek heaven!

One of the albums that we played today was Pafuera Telarañas by Bebe,

[youtube iTgUm9nSFaI]

Chinese Lunar Festival in Hoi An Vietnam. September 2007

Late September in 2007 my wife and I were in Hoi An in Vietnam during the Chinese Lunar Festival.
 
One night we were looking for a place to eat, and as we were looking at the menu of a restaurant an Englishman who worked for a local scuba diving company came up to us and told us that the restaurant was very good. He also suggested we should go up stairs because there was going to be some festival celebrations, and we would get a good view.
 
From the balcony upstairs, we overlooked an intersection where large crowds were gathering.  After a short time, we could hear drums and gongs as gangs of about 20 young men dressed in parts of dragon costumes came into the intersection.
 
The dragons consisted of a smallish man dressed in decorative colourful trousers and T-shirt operating the head, which had a long train that made up the rest of the dragon’s body.  The man operating their head was lifted on to the shoulders of another man, who then was lifted onto the shoulders of another man, standing on a wooden platform, which was then lifted by about another 10 men into the air as the three-man tall dragon danced to the accompanying beating of drums and gongs.  It looked as though the gangs represented different neighbourhoods and they seemed to be competing with each other to do more spectacular displays.  It was joyously spectacular, and the atmosphere was fantastic. 
 
After the different gangs competed with each other in the middle of the intersection they moved along the streets in their groups, whilst people in the upper storeys of the buildings they passed, held out poles with money tied by string to the ends, to entice the dragons to reach up and get the money. 

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 The dragons then would build their pyramids again, whilst dancing to the music, weaving their way through the nearby power lines to pull the money free of the poles. 

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Other members of their gang with polls pushed the power lines aside to make enough room for the dragons to pass through. Some of the dragons had only one person in them and some (such as the one above) had two people in them.

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It was the best time we had in Vietnam.  The people were so nice. The food was excellent and the entertainment couldn’t be beat.

You can never have too many clamps

I’ve been beavering away at the cabinet that I said I’d make back at the end of June. I’m in the last stages of putting it together and tomorrow will be spent sanding. On Monday, it’s off to a professional spray painter’s for a two-pack polyurethane finish. Hopefully the unit will be completed by next Friday.

One of the reasons why it’s taken me two weeks to get this far is because I don’t have enough clamps. Sure, I’ve got lots of clamps but it never seems like I’ve got enough of the right size. I can only build so much before I run out of the right sized clamps and I have to stop.

So far the whole construction has been done with glue (a cross-linked PVA that sands back real nice), using biscuits, dowels, lap joints, mortise and tenons, plus tongue and groove.

Because I’ve had plywood veneered one side (it’s so damn expensive) with figured sycamore it has bowed the plywood a little which means I have to muscle it back into line with equal measures of brute force (sash clamps) and ignorance (a lump hammer).

you can never have too many clamps

The large black clamps in the foreground are sash clamps and they are good for exerting a lot of force on large items. Sash clamps are quite often used to join wood, side to side like on table tops. The red handled clamp on the left near the sash clamp is a pipe clamp and it’s basically a sash clamp as well but it has the advantage of being able to be twisted so you can clamp things in different directions (see the photo below). The down side to sash clamps is that they are quite heavy and bulky.

The smaller red handled clamps are F clamps and are usually used for smaller clamping jobs. It is possible to get large F clamps but they’re not very good because they bow when you tighten them right up which sometimes causes the joins to come apart. The big advantage of  F clamps is that they can be coarsely adjusted very quickly.

The yellow and green clamps are quick grips. Like the name suggests, quick clamps are very quick to use and have the advantage that they can be used with one hand. The down side of quick clamps is that they don’t exert much force which means that they are only really useful for holding things in place. I find quick clamps are great for holding the little blocks of scrap wood in place, that are used with the larger clamps to protect the item being made, while I’m getting the bigger and heavier clamps into place.

One of the things that’s been slowing progress down is that fact that I can only assemble one drawer a day. The glue I use shouldn’t be stressed for about 24 hours and because I’ve used dove tails joints (nice and tight),

if only I had more clamps

I have to use a fair bit of force to pull the drawers together so there are no gaps and when the clamps are taken off the wood springs back a little, stressing the glued areas. So I have to wait a day before I can do another drawer because I don’t have enough clamps. There will be eight drawers in the cabinet, which means eight days. 

By the way, the paper between to the scrap wood in the clamps is baking paper which I use because glue won’t stick to it.

Cooking and carpentry…. there is a cross over.

So, as you can see, I’ve been in a very wood-butcher head space lately and I haven’t been posting as much lately. Sorry about that but I’ve only got a week to go.

Now to glue another bloody drawer!

Watina by Andy Palacio & The Garifuna Collective

Every now and again, my wife and I spend a day or two listening to music on Amazon, then we lash out and buy about ten albums at once. One the best CDs that we bought this time was “Watina” by Andy Palacio & The Garifuna Collective.

Back in 1982 I went to Belize and spent two weeks in Belize City. The experience was so bad that I’ve bad-mouthed the country and it’s capital city ever since, to who ever would listen.

Now that I’ve recently come across the music of Andy Palacio I feel that I have something good to say about Belize. As good it feels to say something positive about Belize, when I looked up Andy Palacio on the net today to find out more about him, I was saddened to find out that he died over a year ago.

I wanted to put up a video of him performing Águyuha Nidúheñu (My people have moved on) but it isn’t on Youtube and I can’t insert it into this post, but I found this instead.

[youtube QZ01Kcx8k6c]

The truth is in the sausage.

I’m one of those people who thinks that a good sausage is better than a good steak. If I’m at a restaurant and there is an interesting sounding sausage on offer, I’ll order it in preference to just about anything else. About a  month ago I went with my wife and her parents to a Greek restaurant call Il Greco and had a great meal.

The name Il Greco means “The Greek” in Italian.

What! And why?

At first I thought it was a reference to El Greco the painter and we’d be eating Spanish food, but then I realised that “il” was Italian for “the”, and if it was a Greek restaurant it should’ve been named something like “O Hellene” (Ο Έλληνας). It turns out that restaurant is owned by a Greek guy with an Italian wife and he told us that she would’ve killed him if he hadn’t put something Italian in the name. To me, it’s further proof of how much more there is in everything that is written; if we take the time to think about it. Luckily for me, my wife and her parents are the kind of people who are engaged by trying to make sense of the world around them and the sign provided us with some entertainment as we tried to figure out the story behind the choice of words and language.

Here in Australia there once lived a famous old bush walker called Paddy Pallin and he once wrote something along the lines of, “that if you know the name of a few trees, the bush is no longer just bush”. I’ve always taken that to mean, that the more one knows about the world, the more one gets out of it.

Enough of that thinking stuff and back to the more important matter of sausages!

As part of my meal at Il Greco I had an entree of some fabulous Greek sausages called, “loukaniko”. The loukaniko we had were Cyprian and were made with beef, pork, leeks and chilli. They were so delicious that I asked the owner of the restaurant if he made them himself . His answer was that he buys them from a Greek butcher and he even told me where to get them. Usually when one asks about where a business gets their supplies, one is usually told politely to, “go forth and multiply with oneself”.

Last Friday night, I invited a bunch of friends over for a bit of a “sausage fest”.

Most Australians of Anglo-Saxon decent will willingly to admit that the traditional Aussie “snag” (sausage) is crime against nature. The Aussie snag is based on the English sausage that isn’t that much better.

I once heard a story (probably apocryphal) that the continental Europeans in their in the drive to standardize the terminology used for food in the E.U. Common Market, didn’t think that the English sausage had enough meat in it to be legally called a sausage, and allegedly the French had suggested that the English should be forced to call their sausages “offal-tubes”. Apparently a compromise was reached and the English were allowed to call their “offal tubes”, “English sausages”.

So in preparation for the Friday night sausage fest, I spent four and a half hours driving around Sydney (it’s a big city of nearly 4 million people) buying different sausages. Sydney sees itself as a city that has a good food culture and there are some providores that really rape the consumer looking for “gourmet” foods. Unfortunately many peasant foods that have been noticed by the foodies (food-wankers), such as sausages, have been promoted up into the category of gourmet food.

It was an interesting experience going to the different kinds of sausage suppliers.

The first place I went to was a German delicatessen I found out about on the web, that some German guy raved on about. It was a very clean and upmarket establishment and the guy who made the sausages was out the back and a there was an amazingly “hochnäsiges Weibchen”, serving at a counter where the sausages were beautifully arranged like each one was almost like an event in it’s own right.

They sure looked good

Our interaction went something like this:

Me: Hi! what’s in the Thuringer style seasoning?

Her: Can’t tell you, it’s a secret.

Me: O.K. So what does it taste like?

Her: How do you expect me to answer a question like that? How can anyone describe a taste?

Me: By telling me what the main spices or flavourings are in the sausage.

Her: Marjoram.

Nearly every question I asked was met with the same irritation and hostility and to add insult to injury the sausages were quite expensive at just under $20 a kilo (7.35 Euros a kg or US$7.20 a lb). The woman at the counter, seemed to me at least, to think that the public were so far beneath her and the product she sold was far too good for hoi poli such as myself. I bought half a kilo (just over a pound) each of Thuringer Bratwurst, Bockwurst and Bratwurst. I also bought a small slice of Leberkäse (a Bavarian meatloaf). I would’ve bought more but I didn’t feel like giving my money to a person with their head so far up their own arse.

I ate the Leberkäse in the car for lunch and it was lousy.

Not a good omen.

The next butchers I went to were the Rodriguez Brothers (485 Hume Highway, Yagoona, NSW) who are Spanish butchers and they are famous for their chorizos. I only bought 1kg (2.2lbs) of chorizos because everyone knows what they are like (pork with garlic and pimenton) and 2kg of parrillero (South American style pork and beef) at $9kg (US $3.25lb or  5.10 Euros a kilo) I knew I’d be writing about the sausages for this blog so I asked to take a photo of the Latin guy serving me. He was shy so I only took one shot of him because I knew it was making him uncomfortable,

I wish I had've taken some more shots

but funnily enough, there was an Aussie butcher out the back who called out to me in a humorous voice:

“I better hide, you don’t want to get an Aussie butcher in your shot!” 

Me: “That’s right, because every one knows what you guys put in your sausages, and I don’t want to bring down the reputation of this place”

He laughed, and shouted out, “yeah, noses and arseholes!”

I laughed and then I told him about my grandfather who was a butcher and how when he was an apprentice in England, the butcher who was training him was prosecuted for selling sausages with hardly any meat in them. The butcher then said to me, “you won’t surprise an old time butcher like me, with stories of what went into sausages back in the bad old days”. He then went on to tell me about a butcher he knew years ago, who won the “best sausage in show” at the Royal Easter Show (a huge annual agriculture fair here in Sydney) with a chicken sausage that didn’t have any meat in it at all, and was flavoured with chicken and veal stock. As we talked, the conversation was full of laughter and it served as a reminder to me of how confident, relaxed and open a lot of Aussies are. Most Australians are fairly friendly and laid back in a very natural sort of way. Such a contrast to the first place I went to.

The final butchers I went to was the “Illawarra Road Meat Market” in Marrickville. This butcher, is the Greek butcher, that the guy at Il Greco put me onto for the loukaniko and they offer two kinds, dry and fresh.

This guy knows he makes a great product

The dry loukaniko comes in lengths about a metre long (about 3′) and is flavoured with leeks and chilli whilst the fresh loukaniko is the size of a normal sausage and is without the leeks and chilli. I bought 2kg of dried and 1kg of fresh at $12kg (US$4.30lb or 6.80Euros a kilo).

So for the diner I cooked the sausages in a Webber kettle barbeque, over charcoal and served them with a French tomato salad (tomatoes, Spanish onion, capers, mustard, olive oil and wine vinegar) and mashed potatoes.

The verdict. 

Everyone liked the expensive German sausages the least, which was surprising and a pity because the Germans usually make such good sausages. I guess it was just a reflection of that particular butcher rather, than German sausages in general. 

The Rodriguez Brothers chorizos were so tempting that I made huevos rancheros with chorizo for breakfast on Friday morning for my wife and I. I make an excellent huevos rancheros (even if I do say so myself) and the chorizos were so divine that I didn’t cook them up for the sausage fest but kept them for later on in the weekend.  Everyone at the dinner enjoyed the parrilleros.

The sausage that was judged the best were the dried loukaniko. The fresh loukaniko were good, but the dried ones were spectacular.

So the lesson learnt here, in my statistically insignificant sample group, is that the expensive place that had removed itself so far away from the peasant origins of it’s product, made the least enjoyable product. The butchers who remained true to their origins made the best product at a very reasonable price. 

The Pommy drug smuggler. Madrid, Spain. 1982

When I left Morocco in 1982 I went by ferry from Tangiers to Algerceris in Spain.  Whilst on the ferry, I met an Englishman who I hit it off with immediately, and is often the case when one is traveling; we decided to travel onwards together.
 
The Englishman wasn’t the only other fellow traveller I met, and soon there was a group of us guys who spent the evening exchanging horror stories about Morocco.  After talking with those guys it was obvious that most of them had gone to Morocco to smoke hash. I could just tell by their talk and bloodshot eyes, that some of them were carrying drugs and it wouldn’t have surprised me if some of them were thinking about smuggling dope into Spain.  I may have done a lot of dumb things in my life, but smuggling drugs is not one of them and I wanted to keep it that way. So I made sure that I checked my luggage before I got off the boat just in case somebody had decided to use me as a courier.
 
After disembarking the ferry at Algerceris, my newfound English friend and I caught the train to Madrid. When we first got on the train, there were plenty of seats and we could stretch out and get a little bit of sleep, but of course that sort of situation never lasts.  During the middle of the night, hundreds of soldiers on leave got onto the train and of course we all had to sit up and nobody was getting any comfortable sleep. To make sure that nobody fell asleep sitting up, the soldiers drank and partied all night.  It was during this uncomfortable time that my traveling companion told me that he had smuggled a condom full of hash oil into Spain by swallowing it.
 
Just before dawn, as I was starting to nod off, my new friend disappeared to the toilet to pass his contraband.  It doesn’t bear thinking about how he sorted it all out in a train lavatory (I can remember thinking at the time that his fingernails were rather dirty), but he came back to his seat with a big smile on his face.  His joy was short lived and his mood quickly turned to irritation, as there was now a sleeping soldier lying across his seat.  So he walked up to the soldiers face, turned around, and let loose a ripper fart into the guy’s sleeping face. 
 
I just couldn’t believe the sheer crazy audacity of the Pom’s action, and in a shot, the Spaniard was up and had his hands around the Englishman’s throat whilst screaming invective at him in Spanish. 

There was going to be blood!

The hullabaloo of course attracted other soldiers, and I was sure we were both about to be beaten to a pulp by a mob.  While the Spanish soldier was throttling my stupid friend, I was frantically trying to calm the situation down.  As the choking English lad’s face was turning a bright red, he struggled vainly to get free and in the meantime the soldier’s comrades, advanced shaking their fists and baying for blood. 

Amazingly, with my broken Spanish, I was able to eventually get everyone to calm down by convincing the soldiers that my friend was a complete idiot and that he was very sorry. The soldier let go of the Englishman, shoving down him into one of the seats and with a threatening gesture, left with his friends.

Whew! That was soooo close.
 
When we got to Madrid, the English guy offered to let me share his tent at a campground.  The tent was a tiny little mountaineering tent called a “Force 10”, but at least it enabled us to stay in Madrid cheaply. 

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One of the first things we did after we got the tent setup was to go off to the nearest bodega and buy the cheapest wine we could get our hands on. We took some empty wine bottles and got them filled up for $.50 each. Strangely enough, I can say this without a doubt, it was absolutely the worst wine that I have ever drunk in my whole life.  It was like drinking hydrochloric acid, and in the morning I had a very bad case of gastric reflux and a killer hangover.

Also, smoking something that had come out of a guy’s backside is a very weird thing to do.

Did I hear someone say…. Good shit?
 
Ahhhh… those were the days!