Friday, January 30, 2009


One of two prisoners handcuffed together who ran either side of a lamp-post in an ill-conceived bid for freedom has pleaded guilty to trying to escape custody.

He had the collywobbles, apparently. His lawyer said so.

I think they should be let off this particular offense. They provided a great service by performing their stunt on video, thus brightening the lives of people all around the globe.

That has to count for something, surely.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


A couple of years ago I wrote about the previously cantankerous Henry. Henry, after having what was possibly a cancer removed from his bottom, recovered with a changed personality. He then developed an interest in the opposite sex for the first time, and great things were expected of him. Someone has to keep the family genes going.


Finally, at the age of 111, Henry has become a father. I was delighted to read this news at first, but then I noticed something rather surprising and, I must say, disappointing:

... he mated with 80-year-old Mildred last July and 11 of the eggs she produced have now hatched



Who is Mildred?

What happened to Henry's first love, the young and lovely Juliet? How could Henry had forgotten her so quickly? How could he have been so fickle? I could not believe it.

But when I got to the end of the story, I read this:

He lives with three female tuatara "in great harmony", said Mr Hazley, and described the hatching of the eggs as "the completion of a love story".

Juliet's name was not mentioned, but I have chosen to believe that Juliet is his FIRST wife. The other two – including Mildred – are only extras. Henry was being considerate. Juliet is, after all, only twenty. She needs a little time to sow her wild oats before settling down with babies. Mildred is eighty, and is far more suited to motherhood.

So it is all good. Mildred can stay home and take care of the children, and Juliet can go out on the town and live it up. She is too young for the heavy responsibilities that come with motherhood, especially the motherhood of eleven children all at once. After all, there are a lot of dangers out there for the babies, especially from their teenaged relatives.

Also, there has to be some benefit to being First Wife.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Knights of passion

I was marking tests today. A lot of the test was dictation, and I was not too fussy about spelling as long as it was close, as the point of the dictations I did during semester was to develop listening skills rather than writing. One misspelling pulled me up short, though, mostly because of the image that popped into my head. It was a dialogue that came from the unit in the textbook about booking a hotel, and my student had written this:

I'd like a room for two knights.

(I wanted to illustrate this blog post, but I'll need a lot more practice before I can draw a knight.)

Hot morning

"In America, when you eat out," my colleague was saying last Friday, "they don't have the 'set meal' system they have here. You can't get a healthy lunch for about $10 in any coffee shop, like you can in Japan, or get a cheap and simple breakfast."

I thought about the set meal system. I like it, too, and after all these years I'm used to it and would miss it. I like going into a coffee shop before work and having a hot morning. It makes me happy that it is the same price as a cup of coffee would be in the same coffee shop at any other time of day, but includes a piece of toast and a hard-boiled egg. Some places also include jam, or a small salad, or other options, but toast, egg and coffee are the basics. (Hot morning is the Japanese version of what you end up with if you crunch together morning set and hot coffee.')

The coffee shop I have used for years on workdays has not been a place to have a very warm hot morning recently, I must say. Since I started using this coffee shop, many years ago, the old couple running it have been getting older and older (as have I, only not quite so dramatically). The husband is going so deaf that entering the shop and thus setting off a loud, discordant tinkling doorbell tune frequently does not alert him to the presence of a customer, and it takes some artful maneuvering to accidentally get into his line of sight so he knows you are there. This is made particularly difficult because the shop often does not have any other customers, and he is behind his newspaper, squinting at the pages in the semi-dark. His wife, who is usually not there when I arrive, turns up when a customer comes, and does the job of delivering the food and drinks to the customers. In recent years she has developed a tremor in one hand so extreme that you fear the toast is going to leap off the tray. She brings the coffee with her other hand, but it is probably safe anyway because her husband never fills the cup past about a half full. It is excellent coffee, which makes it both worth it and frustrating because you are always left wanting just a little more. But it is strong, so I don't mind too much.

I suspect the old couple are having trouble making the coffee shop pay. Little economies have made in recent years. The salad that used to be included with the morning set has disappeared. That revolting blue stuff in the toilet is no longer used. Quite often, in the mornings, I arrive and the lights are not on. The open sign is up, though, and when I go in they turn on the lights. And this winter, rather to my dismay, the old but very warm kerosene heater also disappeared, probably deemed too dangerous by the old couple's daughter, who occasionally helps out. It has been replaced by a one bar electric heater, which barely takes the edge off the chill. The only reason I continue to go there two or three freezing mornings a week is that I don't want to be yet another disappearing customer, disappointing them with my disloyalty. I am tempted to keep my coat on, but don't. The old lady wears a woolly hat, however.

Most of the other customers, who are few and far between, are also old. They hold shouted conversations with the old guy, accommodating each other's deafness and competing with the TV, which is generally blasting out one of the morning 'wide' shows. Quite frequently my toast is burnt, and a few days ago I didn't get an egg. I had to ask for it. The wife was upstairs, possibly having a nap, so asking involved some shouting. When that did not work, I accidentally knocked a chair over, which did. Once I got the old guy's attention I asked for my egg, and had to bellow. It is, I discovered, difficult to be tactful at full volume. Eventually the message was received, however, and we both had a good laugh.

I think the old couple are probably in their eighties. The Man worries that they will give me food poisoning, but I can't bring myself to desert them at this late stage. I don't know how long the coffee shop will continue, but as long as it does, I will be a regular customer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mystery gull

On Monday, down at the small river behind the place I work, I saw a lot of gulls like the ones I usually see. But I also saw another type of gull, standing alone on a rock.

This gull was a lot larger than the usual ones, and I cannot identify it. Is it a Vega Gull (Larus vegae)? A Mongolian Gull (Larus mongolicus)?

The gulls I usually see are easy to identify. They are, of course, Larus Ridiculous, which is probably why the mystery gull did not want to hang out with them.

Bad housekeeper

I just added a new blog to my blogroll, and discovered while doing so that it is at least a year since I changed my blogroll at all. This means that there are probably a few bad links in there, for which I offer a sincere but meaningless apology. My bad housekeeping skills apparently extend to the virtual world. What a sad thing to learn about myself.

But you will be pleased to hear that this discovery has goaded me into action. I have decisively added 'clean up my blogroll' to my current 'to-do' list, and will get to it sometime in the next year or so, if I don't lose the list first.

Friday, January 16, 2009


1. Life is a roller coaster ride, all ups and downs.

2. Life is a merry-go-round. You go round and round until you get sick and fall off.

3. ?

(I was reading obituaries today, in an old New York Times someone had brought back from their Christmas vacation and left in the teachers' room.)

Thursday, January 08, 2009


This sentence (from a book review in the New York Times) puzzled me enormously at first.

To see how arousal alters sexual attitudes, for example, Ariely and his colleagues asked young men to answer a questionnaire — then asked them to answer it again, only this time while indulging in Internet pornography on a laptop wrapped in Saran Wrap.

I stopped reading to think about this. Just how tightly were these young men wrapped? How could they breathe? Wouldn't the Saran Wrap defeat the purpose of the experiment? Or was this some sort of exciting sexual thing that everybody knew about except me? How bizarre.

The mental picture I got was also rather disturbing. I imagined a room full of young men dressed in nothing but Saran Wrap, with laptop computers (on their laps?) and scientists with white coats and clipboards standing behind them.

Then I decided I must have missed something important, and went back to the beginning and read it again.

Is it just me, or does that sentence need some rewriting?

(It seems like an interesting book, though.)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Tufted ducks and friends

Recently I have seen tufted ducks on a little river near here. (Not on the river I usually visit.)

Whenever I have seen these ducks, they are always hanging out with some ducks that are not tufted ducks. I think they are pochards. All of these ducks are diving ducks, and they look like children's toys. They look, somehow, painted.

But there are some mysteries about these ducks. Well, at least to me they are mysteries. Maybe you can help me to understand what is going on.

The first mystery is this: Where are the female tufted ducks? In the Wikipedia pictures, the female is brown. I have never seen a brown duck at the river. There seem to be only males.

The second mystery is why these two types of ducks are always hanging around together. I thought at first they were male and female, but although they are both diving ducks (I know because I have seen them both dive), I cannot find any pictures that show a male and female that look like these ones do.

I did, however, find some pictures that made me wonder whether the pochards are actually hybrid pochard/tufted ducks. But that still leaves the question of why they are all male. Unless, of course, some of them are actually female and I just haven't found the right pictures yet and matched them up.

Also, I wonder why this particular tufted duck (below) has some brownish feathers under its wings? The others are just black and white. Is it also some kind of hybrid?

And finally, did you know before seeing this picture that ducks had tongues? I didn't. Actually, I hadn't ever thought about it, and I suppose if I had I would have guessed that they did. But even so, I find this tongue rather surprising.

Monday, January 05, 2009

No, please don't. That would be cruel.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Rice pudding

I haven't had rice pudding since I was a little girl, when my mother used to make it sometimes. It was always a great favourite in my family. Most Japanese people find the very idea of rice pudding strange, and when I looked it up I discovered that there were rice puddings in almost every cultures except Japanese and Korean, even though both are rice-eating countries. In Japan and Korea rice is made into desserts in other ways, but not as rice pudding.

The Man is unusual (for a Japanese person) in that he likes rice pudding, so I decided to make some for him. I used Japanese rice, because that's practically the only rice you can get here. It's REALLY hard to find long-grained rices here, which is extremely annoying when you want to make any dish that is not Japanese and which includes rice. Japanese rice is very glutinous, and sometimes you don't WANT glutinous.

So I made rice pudding using, in the end and after much Internet searching, a recipe from Edmond's Cookbook, because if any recipe is going to work it will be one from Edmond's Cookbook. Edmond's Cookbook only has recipes that work. It is a very old cookbook.

It didn't work, of course, but that was not the fault of Edmond's Cookbook. It was the fault of the very sticky, glutinous rice I used. The cookbook said how much rice and milk to use, but didn't say which kind of rice. I added quite a lot more milk because I knew that most rice sold in NZ is not so sticky, but I did not add enough. What I ended up with was not rice pudding, but rice brick. When it was warm it was still edible, but when it cooled it was pretty well solid.

I did not offer any to The Man. I knew he would not be impressed. When he thinks of rice pudding he thinks of creamy, soft, heavenly rice pudding, like the sort you get in Turkey (where he first had it). He does not think of a glob of solidified sticky rice.

I was so frustrated with this experience I wanted to throw my rice pudding at the wall. I didn't, though. If I threw it at the wall, it would stay there forever, and I do not want to be reminded of my mistake.

But at least I have some idea of what to do next time. Next time, I will use already cooked rice, and maybe try washing it first to get rid of some of the starch. And I will boil, not bake it, so I can add more milk if necessary while it's cooking.

It might even be easier than the way I did it the first time.

What's your favourite rice pudding recipe?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Okaasan needs a new dentist

When we visited Okaasan this New Year, she gave us a bit of a fright when she opened the door. She appeared to have aged about fifteen years since the last time we saw her. She was OLD. She looked every minute of her eighty-one years.

We went inside, and after a few minutes of chatting she giggled and asked if she looked and sounded funny. "You can't understand me properly, can you?" she said. "My teeth hurt, so I took them out."

She didn't sound funny, or at least no funnier than usual, but that did explain the the way her face had collapsed.

She took her teeth out of a cup, popped them back in, and instantly dropped fifteen years. It was amazing to see, especially because it was only four teeth. Even more surprising was that when she started to talk again, she had acquired a lisp.

Thee told uth that when thee was eating dinner thee kept thome thithorth bethide her plate, to cut up the bitth of food thee was having trouble chewing becauthe her teeth hurt.

We made her promise to go to a new, better dentist.