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#19 Challenge Accepted Beliefs

In the early 2000s when MythBusters first went to air, I rarely missed an episode. That there was a television show dedicated to ‘scientifically’ dispelling myths hit the spot for me.

It was created by an Australian producer – Peter Rees – which made it even more intriguing. (This was back in the day when Australia had a Science Minister, and evidence-based theories weren’t considered heretical).

Lately, though, the program seems to have involved blowing things up, and while I can understand that this would be terrifically appealing to some viewers, I’m not in the correct demographic any more.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t create my own MythBusters, it’s just that mine will be writ small.

#19 Challenge Accepted Beliefs

Recently there was a great article in the Fairfax press titled ‘Myth-conceptions’ where the author Larissa Dubeki, sought to ‘debunk’ – or not – a number of popular kitchen myths.

The first related to that important issue of Milk in Tea.

Milk in first (MIF)? Or milk in last (MIL)? Was MIF really better? Is there a discernible difference in taste, as a friend of mine attests?

She swears she can pick at twenty paces the cup where milk’s been incorrectly added after the tea is poured. So I decided to test this hypothesis.

Marking the bottom of the MIF cup with an ‘M’, I proceeded to pour two identical cups of tea, one MIF and the other MIL. After they were switched around a few times, could I tell them apart?

Tea cups

 Spot the difference. 

The short answer is … no, I couldn’t.

But according to Britain’s Royal Society of Chemistry, (yes, sob, Britain has one of these) MIF creates a smoother, richer cup whereas MIL makes a cup that’s more tannic. It’s all to do with the breakdown of the milk proteins and whether they’ve been gently diluted by the tea, or been plunged into a big wall of it.

So my friend is right. Of course, it could mean that, like 25% of the population, she’s what’s known as a ‘Supertaster‘ and has a palate that’s more finely attuned to certain bitter tastes. I’m planning to experiment on her taste buds to further my scientific project, but that will be a tale for another day.

So then I turned my attention to another Accepted Belief:

‘Don’t Count your Chickens Before They’re Hatched’

Luckily, I could go right to the source to test this one. One of my lovely Light Sussex hens

Light Sussex

Exhibit One

went irreversibly broody a few months ago, so I bought some fertilised eggs for her to hatch.

I didn’t really need any more chickens, but I thought it would be in keeping with my fun and frivolous retirement activities.

Imagine my disquiet when I picked up the eggs to discover that the seller had added a bonus three to the minimum dozen I had to take.

Fifteen little chicks, I counted. What was I going to do with fifteen extra mouths to feed on my small suburban block? And based on the law of probability, seven or eight would be roosters. What would the neighbours say?

eggs

15 (+1) eggs is ridiculous, but I couldn’t bring myself to destroy any…

So I spent the next 21 days (this species is very precise with its hatching timetable) fretting about such a huge number of chickens taking over my garden and my life, and began offering them to unwilling friends.

On Day 21, this was the sum total of hatchlings to emerge:

Mama Bea and chicks 2

And it’s a 50:50 split. Dixie chick is on the left and Rex the rooster is on the right.

So it seems that you can count your chickens before they hatch – but just don’t expect accuracy.

Then there’s the popular saying ‘You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks.’ Does this really stack up?

I could test this one easily too, thanks to my old dog Ziggy. He’s a whippet who’s pretty good at catching a frisbee, but very bad at dropping it back at my feet.

He’s very bad in other ways, too, like stealing food by counter-surfing:

Ziggy 2

and subtly threatening me to get what he wants:

Green-eyed monster

Would I dare refuse?

So, to be honest, I didn’t hold out much hope of retraining him:

Screenshot 2014-09-28 11.43.02

Ziggy keeps his frisbee

But several training sessions later, we finally arrived at this position:

Screenshot 2014-09-28 11.44.34

By George, he’s got it. Sort of …

So maybe that old adage is a bit of a furphy.

Come to think of it, a week ago, I didn’t know it was essential to hold an i-phone horizontally while videoing (it’s something to do with the 16:9 ratio of screens), nor had I ever uploaded a video I’d shot to YouTube. I didn’t know how to take a screenshot of the video, nor did I understand the importance of setting it to public viewing rather than private before posting it into a blog entry.

Hey. It looks like you really can teach an old dog new tricks.

#17 Indulge in Life’s Little Luxuries

What a relief we’re not compelled to believe our Government’s pronouncements.

So if, for example, they were to tell us that the Age of Entitlement is over, we can smile in the secret knowledge that this just isn’t true. Or to paraphrase a classic line from George Orwell’s novel, 1984: ‘They can tell us anything – anything – but they can’t make us believe it. They can’t get inside us.’*

So in retirement, I’m prepared to disregard Government directives and flaunt my sense of entitlement to:

#17 Indulge in Life’s Little Luxuries

TS Eliot may have said ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons’ but have you noticed how we’re now expected to measure our life by ‘the cost of a cup of coffee’?  This phrase seems to have entered the language as synonymous with a tiny amount of money, an amount so inconsequential, so piffling that it can barely be considered spending money.  You’ll understand then, if I refer to some of these little luxuries as sometimes costing even less than a cup of coffee.

***

We have two new pâtisseries in town, Patty’s and Geoffrey Michael’s. Not cake shops. Pâtisseries. They deserve the French title, because they both produce the most exquisite little treats imaginable. A feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

Just look at what I was able to buy on Saturday for a special morning tea with friends: treats

 And each of these delicacies cost a mere 0.75 of the ‘cost of a cup of coffee’.

Then I noticed from my kitchen window that the last of the Apricot Nectar roses were blooming. Why leave them out in the garden to be ruined by the rain? Isn’t a vase of fresh flowers the ultimate in luxury? And all it takes is some gardening gloves, a pair of secateurs and a little time to provide such an indulgence. Flowers

 …Costing significantly less than the ten cups of coffee a florist would charge… 

Now, until Cussons soaps started advertising their Imperial Leather brand as the soap for use in the bath on your private jet  I considered soap was just  – well, soap.

That advertisement changed my view a little, but now, it’s been ratcheted up even further. And hurrah for that. More little luxuries.

Have you heard of Himalayan salt soap? Or SoapRocks® in assorted styles and colours, like Fire Opal™ or Citrene™?

I hadn’t until recently, but now they’re officially on my list of little luxuries. Soaps

Soaps just ain’t soaps any more… but to be fair, these cost more like a cup of civet coffee than regular coffee.

And does this ring a bell with anyone?The Good Set

The imprisoned ‘Good Set’…

Yes, it’s the ‘Good Set’, the one handed down from your grandmother to your mother and now to you, and forever destined to be locked up behind a glass facade, or hidden in a box somewhere upstairs, only to enjoy day release on very rare, very special occasions.

Pshaw, I say to that. Be a devil. Use the ‘Good Set’ just because you can.

And it’s a known fact that tea and coffee tastes better in a forbidden cup. coffee

The one above costs more than the one below!

The good set in use

Is it just me, or is there something seriously luxurious about fur? These days, fur means faux fur, of course, unless we’re talking about a real kitten. But I even love the feel of faux fur against skin, and every time I put on my faux fur-trimmed gloves I feel … special.

I could go on for ages, adding items like sleeping on silk pillowslips, or using bathroom fragrance tapers, or indulging in a glass of Grand Marnier or Frangelico liqueur, because finding little luxuries is very close to my heart.

But the best thing is, I don’t have to sacrifice even one cup of coffee for any of these treats, because the truth is, I don’t actually drink coffee…

* The original quote from George Orwell’s 1984 was said by Julia: ‘They can make you say anything – anything – but they can’t make you believe it. They can’t get inside you.’

***SPOILER ALERT***

Unfortunately, Julia was wrong.

#14 Celebrate the Ordinary

At twelve years of age, I first encountered Sally Dalton* and realised there was no such thing as a level playing field. Sally was a year older than I, very pretty with long, dazzlingly-blonde hair, excellent sporting ability and, as I came to recognise quickly … something extra that I didn’t have.

We were to race against each other to see who’d represent our school in the 50-yard sprint at the prestigious (as I thought at the time) Combined Girls’ Sports Day.

I beat Sally easily in the first trial, but for some inexplicable reason, that wasn’t what the coach wanted.  So a second race was arranged, when I beat her again. Finally, coach scheduled a third encounter when I had a very heavy cold.

Sally prevailed that day, and was immediately granted the golden ticket to the Combined Girls’ Sports Day.

It’s not that I’ve hung on to this memory for the whole of my life, it’s just that I’ve decided it’s time to:

#14 Celebrate the Ordinary

The ordinary are those who, through no fault of their own, will never be wildly popular, will never get away with behaviour that the Sally Daltons of the world indulge in with impunity, and whose very name may even give rise to negative, or at best, neutral comments.

Watching the birds frolic in my birdbath recently brought it home to me. There was the unloved Indian Myna daring to enjoy a bath. The bird that, if you Google its name, gives rise to pages with comments like “Flying Rats”, “Bird Control: netting, spikes, bait, shock and more” and “The Most Important Pest in Australia.”

800px-Indian_Myna

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Poor old Myna. No one has a good word to say about it, but it didn’t ask to be introduced here. It’s managed to make a brilliant success of surviving by scavenging just about anything, pinching native birds’ nesting hollows by turfing out their chicks, and gorging on our fruit crops.

Its communal roosting habit helps it organise a social life, avoid predators and exchange gossip about food sources. A poster-chick for evolutionary success. If we didn’t hate it so much, we might even admire the fact that it mates for life and is … well, quite pretty.

Compare the attitude to the hummingbird, which is the Sally Dalton of the bird world. It’s tiny, can hover with its wings vibrating oh-so-cleverly, and can even fly backwards.

It has a cake and a movie named after it.

But I recently discovered that hummingbirds’ belligerence towards their fellows is legendary. Fighting hummingbirds will try to stab each other’s eyes out with their bills. Their own species, for goodness sake. On an evolutionary scale, how silly is that? Why isn’t it hated for behaving that way?

I could write at length about how we despise other bird species, too.  Just try and defend sparrows to most people.

Sparrow

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Exquisitely constructed, but you may as well suggest you find serial killers attractive.

And we all hate starlings, but look what they can do:

800px-Starling_eggs

Image: Wikimedia commons

Impressive, aren’t they?

Watch them all frolic in a bird-bath together, splashing and diving and – what’s really impressive – sharing the space comfortably with each other, and you can’t help but find pleasure in them.

Sure the magpie’s a native, which gives it instant Sally Dalton status, but its horrible swooping habit in Spring is poor form, and you should see it terrorise all the other birds at the bird bath.

800px-Magpie_swooping_kookaburra_ed_MF

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Mean as…

So I’m raising a glass to all the ordinary in society, because it just depends on how you look at them.

* Names have been changed, because the real ‘Sally Dalton’ doesn’t need any more attention. 

***

STOP PRESS

Following this posting, a friend has sent me a wonderful link to a video of starling murmurations.

Watch it in awe.

I’m now wondering if this post should really have be called “Celebrate the extraordinary”!

#11 Embrace your foibles

When Jenny Macklin entertained Annabel Crabb recently on Kitchen Cabinet (ABC TV) Annabel commented on Jenny’s “exceedingly organised spice drawer”.

A text – from my sister – suddenly appeared on my iPhone:

“She calls that an organised spice drawer?”

I understood what she meant. She was, of course referring to my own spice drawer.

Jenny had no system going whatsoever. A few handwritten labels carelessly stuck on the top of mismatched jars, no sign of alphabetisation, no ability to see the label and the spice simultaneously. Who was she kidding?

Spice drawer

now this is an organised spice drawer

So as well as admitting that I may have a very mild case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (or perfectionism, as I prefer to call it) I’ve decided it’s time to give in to it and rather than be embarrassed, claim it as a fun and frivolous pursuit:

#11 Embrace your foibles

Once you give yourself permission, there’s no knowing where it will end.

A trip to the Reject Shop recently resulted in a magnificent find: small rectangular plastic trays perfectly proportioned to fit the very narrow width of bathroom cabinets. And better than that, they came in different lengths.

This gave me the chance to carefully measure the dimensions of the cabinet and work out all the possible permutations and combinations of tray sizes needed for a perfect fit.

Bathroom

I’m really on a roll now . Why not reorganise under the sink, too?

sink

But wait, it gets worse.

While in the Reject Shop, I found these drawer dividers, so now my jumpers can be separated by colour.

Jumper drawer

 Opening this drawer creates a frisson of excitement … for mild OCD sufferers

Another little foible of mine is taking a photo of food I’ve cooked, so I can compare it to the original photos in the recipe book. (Well, okay, not just compare it, but actually attach it to the cook book.)

Roast veg

Roast veggies from the recipe book

Roast veggies

Come and see the real thing…

So it turns out that traits I’ve always found slightly annoying (I mean, what’s the point in counting steps every single time I walk up or down them?) can be turned into something that’s fun, or if not fun, at least frivolous.

Though I haven’t worked out yet how counting steps can be put to good use. By my measure, regular exercise  by climbing a certain number of stairs is neither fun nor frivolous…

#7 Enter competitions

What is it about the human psyche that convinces you whenever you enter a competition or buy a raffle ticket that you’re going to win? I mean, deep down, if you were honest with yourself, you’d realise the odds are totally against you.  But just the thought of scoring something for nothing creates such a frisson of excitement that I’ve decided it’s an essential part of any list of fun activities. So:

#7 Enter competitions

This isn’t a new venture for me. Some sixteen years ago, I won a trip to New York, flying business class and staying at a 5-star hotel on Fifth Avenue for a week with $1000 spending money.

I‘m not joking.

It was the most magnificent holiday of my life. However, it stopped me entering any more competitions for several years. As a prize, it was  – well – un-toppable.

But with that now a distant memory and with time on my hands, I’ve been revisiting the heady days of entering competitions.

People who regularly win prizes say there are certain tricks to increasing your chances. The big Jackpot lotteries are fine if you like dreaming large, but with the odds of winning them somewhere around 1 in 20 million, the emphasis is on ‘dreaming’ here. No, they recommend trying smaller, perhaps local competitions, especially if there’s a bit of effort involved. Apparently the 25-words-or-less type of competition cuts out a lot of potential entrants who don’t get around to thinking up a slogan, so this shortens your odds.

Reading the free local newspaper a few months ago, I found an article about renovations being done to a well-known hotel in the main street. As a piece of journalism, it wasn’t all that fascinating – until I hit the last line. They were offering a $100 dinner voucher for the person who emailed them with the best name for their planned roof-top restaurant!

My frisson came back. How many people would read this slightly dull article to the very end? And then think up a name for the restaurant? And then send it in? I figured I had about a 1 in 4 chance of winning this voucher.

It seems that no one else read the article to the end, no one else came up with a name, so together with 6 friends, I enjoyed a delightful $100 meal on my birthday in the rooftop restaurant when it opened. (And fortunately, not named after my suggestion)

Then I was visiting my local bakery a few weeks back when a sign said that if you put your name and address on the back of your docket and left it in the box on the counter, you had a chance of winning 3 bottles of wine.

When they didn’t actually print out and give me a docket for my purchase, I realised that would probably reduce the playing field quite a bit, so the next time I bought bread, I stood my ground, insisted on my docket, filled out the details and dropped it in the box.

Bingo! The next week I got a call to say I’d won 3 bottles of wine. Clearly I was their only demanding customer that week.

Of course, there’ll be endless times when you don’t win anything, but even then, there can be surprising advantages.

For almost a year, I’ve been entering a monthly competition where I have to take a photo of myself in my garden for a particular horticultural company. No luck in the winning stakes of course, but I’ve now realised that I have twelve months worth of terrific photos of my garden in all its seasonal glory.

A clever friend recently told me about snapfish,  a website that allows you to convert your photos into all sorts of products, ranging from photo albums, cards, wall art and the like for very reasonable rates. So now I plan to turn my twelve losing entries into a calendar of the garden.

It’s just a pity that I’m holding up the company’s gardening product with a silly grin on my face in every photo…

#6 Become an Extra in a Film or Telemovie

Have you ever hankered to have a moment, however brief, on the big screen?

If, like me, you’ve no discernable acting talent, this has probably seemed like a pipe dream, but now, I may have found the solution:

#6 Become an Extra in a Film or Telemovie

Extras don’t normally speak, so voice projection skills aren’t necessary. In fact, extras play such an unimportant, unskilled role in the background that they’re barely noticeable until – and this is the vital point – there are no extras present and it becomes glaringly obvious that something important is missing. That ‘something important’ is definitely a skill I thought I could bring to any film.

So when a recent advertisement in our local paper called for extras for the filming of a telemovie called ‘Cliffy’, I immediately put up my hand.

The film is about Cliff Young, a 61-year-old, unheralded potato farmer from Western Victoria who became famous when he won an ultra marathon race (or shuffle as it turned out) from Sydney to Melbourne in 1983.

His tortoise-and-hare approach to the race, where he beat out all the other showier, younger but ultimately slower contenders, was a real feel-good moment for the nation. Here was a chance to snatch a small role in a classic telemovie and live the dream.

After completing the registration forms, I awaited The Call from the Extras Casting Director. When it came I was slotted to play an audience member seated in a television studio as ‘Cliff’ was being interviewed after his race win.

So I plucked my best 1980s-style jacket from the back of my wardrobe  – no need for me to visit the wardrobe department on set – and arrived ready for action.

And waited.

And waited.

Because that’s what extras do. They wait.

Finally my moment arrived, but rather than play a part of the audience, I became what’s known as a “featured extra”. I was to stand in the background pretending to be a studio manager ‘chatting’ to another extra, as the actor playing Cliff was about to go on set for his interview. A real acting role!

My new colleague clearly had great acting aspirations too.

During the repeated shootings of that 10-second scene, he gesticulated in such an exaggerated and unusual manner that I just stood there open-mouthed, perplexed at what he was doing and wondering if I should be doing the same. So I did.

I now have an uneasy feeling that we’ll both end up on the cutting room floor…

***

STOP PRESS

I didn’t end up on the cutting room floor!

If you look very carefully behind Cliffy’s shoulder in this shot from the film, you’ll see the vital role that extras play.

Cliffy 2

The final word in vanity searches…?

#5 Improve Blogging Skills

I couldn’t believe my luck. A few weeks after creating this blog and wondering what on earth I was doing, along comes the best workshop ever: How to Write a Killer Blog (and build a loving on-line following) run by Suzi Taylor from ABC Open. So here was my next activity.

#5 Improve my Blogging Skills

It was part of the local Writer’s Festival and was exactly what I needed. A small group of very enthusiastic people at various stages of their blogging careers all providing generous input. It was hugely inspiring.

If you want a killer blog, it helps – not surprisingly – to have a clear idea of why you’re doing it. One of the most helpful messages Suzi gave us was that:

 “The main thing with blogging is that it’s FUN! It shouldn’t be a chore.

So define what ‘success’ means to you, as a blogger, and aim for that.”

This got me thinking and I realised that I wasn’t really looking to build a huge blogging community with lots of followers. Recent research has led me to acknowledge that I’m an introvert.

The thought of linking to my Facebook page (that would be my non-existent Facebook page) and my Twitter account (ditto) so I can exhort people to read my blog is about as appealing as going alone to a very noisy late-night party full of strangers.

So now I know: I just want to blog for the fun of blogging. Doesn’t really matter if no-one reads it.

Phew.

That takes a lot of pressure off me.

I wonder what the record is for the longest time anyone’s had a blog with no followers?