Friday, August 28, 2020

A tale of lost crackling - Welder's Dog leaves for Moscow

Since soon after covid-19 struck, we began getting fortnightly bunker boxes from the Welder's Dog. Welder's Dog is a local brewery and bar. When forced to close venues because of covid-19, they set up a cooperative on-line food delivery service using local suppliers.  

Even though it is yonks since covid-19 was anywhere near us, the practice has continued. We never know quite what we are going to get and that's fun. 

A week or so back we were promised a pork rack as part of our package along with a recipe for getting the best pork crackling. Now I love pork crackling and have mourned the increasing habit of trimming skin and fat from meat. 

Crumbed cutlets are delish but they need some fat. Pork chops are delish but you need the skin so that you can eat the chops with crackling.    

I first noticed this pernicious trimming practice down in Sydney when the health conscious super markets began trimming fat and skin, I am sure that this approach is very PC (politically correct) but it sent me in search of butcher shops that still provided the real thing. I found success at the local Chinese owned butcher's shop where pork chops were always on special and untrimmed! With baked vegetables they provided a luscious meal.

Sadly, this pernicious trimming habit has spread to Armidale. I guess that it's part of centralised The same problem problem afflicts some of our liquor outlets. I went into a local Liquorland to buy a bottle of wine. Struck by a sign saying "local wines"  I rushed across to find not a bottle of New England wine. To the marketers in head office, local means NSW. Now if I want to buy a bottle of Mudgee or Riverina wine I can do so, but its not local wine.

I digress! 

Imagine our distress when our bunker box came with a pork rack with all it's skin trimmed! We were not alone.

The Welder's Dog in Disgrace    

The following statement appeared on one of the Welder's Dog Facebook pages.

'Crackling Bungle Forces Bunker Box Boys Into Hiding'

After sending out skinless pork roasts for a crackling competition, it has been reported the shame was too much for the owners of Bunker Boxes and that they have gone to ground. A spokesperson for the company earlier today released this statement:

'We are sorry to everyone from the bottom of our heart. The competition will still run, just send in a picture of your roast, or even better just roast us in a message, we deserve it. We have gone on a soul searching journey to get to the bottom of what has happened and take out anyone we find removing skin from pork, which is a capital sin. This goes all the way to the top. We're thinking probably Trump or Putin has their grubby mits all over this. Please buy a Bunker Box this week to fund our return tickets as we left in a hurry with no forethought whatsoever.

A little later came this email. Headed "TOPSECRET COMMUNIQUE: the crackling investigation continues", it read:

Our beloved email subscribers who we forced to subscribe, we write to you this week deep behind enemy lines. 

As you may have seen on facebook, we have set off on a mission to discover who skinned this week's pork roast, an obvious and deliberate act of sabotage against our crackling competition. We take full responsibility however it was definitely not our fault and we take no responsibility. So far we have followed the money through the hands of many crooked butchers millions of kilometers into Russia after a reliable tip-off from Dales' greek uncle.

We hope this message finds you well, the cold winters in Petrograd are hard on the postal service, however they have absolutely no effect on the internet at all so there's really no reason you shouldn't get this. 

We hope the fact that your pork is some of the most succulent we have ever tasted is some recompense for the lack of skin, although even saying the words 'lack of skin' reminds us that it is not. We will bring back the skin of the culprit as punishment and send you all a small square. Except the vegetarians. Actually, bad idea, except everyone. 

As our mission here continues and we seek justice, please order next week's Bunker Box, we will email again tomorrow with the delicious ingredients however we thought you deserved an update on the crackling competition. Please still email in your roasts and we will choose the best one and award the Bunker Box. 

spokoynoy nochi


We do forgive you, but please get your act into gear. We need you. All is forgiven. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Armidale Diaries - 9: covid-19

This table from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows in rather dramatic fashion the drop in international arrivals in Australia since covid-19 hit.  

The ripple effects of Australia's closed international borders roll on. To these we can add the effects of internal border closures between Australian states and territories. 

The internal border closures will ease, although they are having short to medium term effects. The international border closures will continue for some time. The effects here are likely to be more profound. 

At a purely personal level, Australians are a mobile people, at least as far as international travel is concerned. We are used to hopping on planes and flying. I think that we are all struggling to adjust to the new environment. At first, we thought that the border restrictions would be a short term thing, Now it appears that they may continue for an extended period. A certain weariness is setting in, one not limited to border closures.  I suppose that this is inevitable.

Heraklion, Crete. Eldest has just returned to Copenhagen from a holiday in Crete with her partner. Australians are being told that it may be the end of 2021 before we can travel overseas again for holidays. Many older Australians are feeling that they may never be able to travel overseas again in their lifetime.  

That remains my view although I accept that there have been errors and mistakes. However, the rubbing nature of restrictions, the suggestion that restrictions will have to be maintained indefinitely or at least for very long periods, is creating both frustration and loss of hope. This is not helped by the constant emphasis on the need to protect our mental health. 

There is a certain lack of subtlety, an absence of nuance and flexibility, in the response of Australian Governments to the virus which is now eroding community support. Part of the problem lies in an inability to distinguish between the responses required to meet an immediate challenge and those required to manage longer term. Our current responses are being dictated by immediate challenges such as the outbreak in Melbourne, responses based on legal jurisdictions applied independent of geographic variation. We don't have a longer term path to manage all this. 

To try to illustrate all this, the area I live in had a very small number of cases early on from return travellers. There have been no cases in the months since. The nearest present cases are a small number of cases in the lower Hunter linked to the Sydney outbreak. Many parts of our broader region have had no cases, 

When the epidemic began we lived under restrictions designed to stop the spread of the disease. People accepted that. Now we live under restrictions linked to the Melbourne outbreak and to the smaller Sydney outbreak.  Outside the limited border bubble we cannot travel to Queensland because that Government has declared all of NSW and the ACT a covid-19 hotspot. That holds even though we have had no recent cases, in some places no cases, creating major problems. 

Our local sport has been curtailed by restrictions based on Sydney problems. Our covid-19 record is better than WA or the Northern Territory and yet they can have spectators and we cannot. The recent Sydney outbreak saw further restrictions applied across NSW as a universal. 

The breakdown in economic and social activity has been quite profound to the point that recovery seems difficult. My U3A course has resumed. While many have dropped out or have deferred to next year, a group continues. Some are so glad to be back. I had not realised how important this course was as a social and intellectual outing for the dedicated few. 

To manage the return, I have had to double my workload to accommodate two smaller groups to fit with covid-19 space  restrictions. At each session I have to be there early to wipe down chairs and computer equipment. When the course finishes I have to do the same, helped by attendees so that the room is ready for the next group. 

Armidale U3A headquarters in happier days. 

The once buzzing centre is now quiet: there is warning tape across the main men's toilet; the kitchen and offices are closed; the friendly interaction that was once so important has gone. Armidale U3A is doing its best and has managed to restart many courses (we U3A tutors appear to be a stubborn lot), but its been a difficult road. 

This morning when I arrived at ACSA House, the Armidale U3A headquarters, to set up for the 9 am session I thought how the experience typified the covid-19 experience. 

Ian J had already arrived. He had had to have a minor operation that put him out of the course earlier. It was meant to be a minor procedure that turned into a four month's break. During much of this time he was isolated from his previous contacts.  Ian sat down while I set up the room, putting out the chairs and wiping them down. The building was freezing, so I put the air-conditioner on. I think of cold as a signifier of the covid-19 experience.

Our small group began to arrive. With covid-19 space limitations, I am allowed a maximum of 13 people in the main room including me. To split people up within space limitations I have around eight in each group. As tutor, I am meant to enforce all the covid-19 safe procedures. This includes two attendance registers, on for course purpose, the other for tracing purposes. I constantly have to remind myself and others to sign in, not always perfectly.

With the door shut and the room warming, I begin. I love my groups. One plus of covid-19 is that what was the largest U3A course has been forcibly split into smaller groups, making me change our lecture format and to switch more to discussions. I still have to get through the same content, but I do so in different ways. In doing so, they educate me!            
We talked about covid-19 in passing. I think that we are all confused, given that our area is covid free. The pressure is on to wear masks and some do. I always carry mine with me, but don't wear it in sessions because it makes projection difficult. The evolving principle for my groups appears to be that if you have a cold, wear a mask, otherwise not, given the length of time since we had a case. 

I spoke of the difference between immediate problems and longer term issues. It strikes me that my area has become locked between the two. If we had any covid-19 cases we would have to respond to immediate local issues. We don't, so what is being mandated across all aspects of life is being mandated be developments elsewhere.  We are struggling to respond. And in the meantime, we have no direction for the future.

When I looked at my daughter's photo of her visit to Crete, I wondered:  bloody hell, when will I be able to go overseas again? Will it be in my lifetime? I felt so envious. I think that we have to distinguish between immediate challenges in particular areas and the longer term. I think that we have to be selective and nuanced in our responses. I think, too, that we have to accept that their are risks and may be longer term losses. 

 And in purely local terms, why can't we have localised approaches that allow for variation, if with fall back positions should an outbreak occur.? Why should Armidale or Walcha or Moree be forced to responds to rules imposed elsewhere that have no connection to their area?  

 I don't know. I am just tired and a bit confused.  

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Saturday morning musings - have collectivist societies managed covid-19 better than individualist societies?


One does wonder sometimes. Although the latest round of Australian restrictions have become very wearing for many people. I have no patience for those people who consciously argue that the restrictions do not apply to them. However, there is a real danger now that public tolerance will wear very thin.  

There are so many variations in approach between jurisdictions around the world that it becomes hard to monitor what's right, what's working. 

There are clear cases of what's not working. The US comes to mind. There it's not just the virus, but the dysfunction in the US system of Government. I am not talking about President Trump especially, but the dysfunction between the executive and legislative branches and indeed between the centre and the states and local governments. 

I was thinking here, among other things, about the inability of Congress to agree economic support measures. I blame the Democrats as much as the Republicans, perhaps more so, because their approach strikes me as a bit crazy in political and social terms.   I don't mean that their proposals were wrong, I don't know enough about the details, but sometimes better to take a portion of cake when the alternative is the removal even of crumbs. Accept under protest and then use that in campaigning for more.   

 I referred to varying approaches in jurisdictions around the world. Only time will tell which approach work best. Sweden has adopted a relaxed approach with subsequent increase in cases. This approach has been much criticised,  There has been some tightening, but their daily cases have been trending down and on 7 August 2020 dropped to 41 for the day. Sweden's population is a bit over 10 million, bigger than Victoria's.  

In Denmark where new cases have been trending up, reaching 146 on 6 August, daily life is close to normal. Denmark's population is just under 5.8 million. Eldest lives in Copenhagen with her partner. Her Facebook posts show a near normal life style. They are just off to Crete for a break. Greek cases have been trending up, but Crete itself had one new case on 7 August. Safe? I don't know, but it is a relief to read details of normal life after Australia.  

Pandemic Game. I suppose that it was inevitable that the current pandemic would create a board game. Apparently it's very good, especially with a glass of red wine!

In all the variations around the world, the only conclusion I have reached is that collectivist societies do better on average than individualistic societies. It's not sufficient to be just collectivist, but collectivist in taking individual responsibility for the effects of your actions on others. This is totally different from imposed action, although that may be necessary for reinforcement.    

My course is underway again and I feel the better for it! I am not working at present and I miss the discipline. I know that as a writer I should organise myself but I have been finding it very hard in current circumstances. The course fits with and reinforces other projects, so it's good to be moving.

A final note. Google has changed the writing software on its blogs. One change has been a shift in the comment delete button from bottom to top. Today I attempted to delete a range of spam comments only to realise that I was actually deleting substantive comments that I wanted to retian. My apologies.    

Monday, August 03, 2020

Putting covid-19 into perspective

Just for a mental break. Source unknown.

Like most of us, I am still struggling a little with that rolling crisis that is covid-19. This is not helped by the increasingly clouded international environment. 

On July 7 2020 I wrote It makes me proud to be Australian: short reflections on just how well the Australian system of Government and our people have worked in managing covid-19. This remains my view despite the new outbreak in Victoria. However, I have noticed that blame and blame shifting has started to enter the equation. That's hardly surprising. There have been mistakes, some critical. Again, that's hardly surprising. Fatigue is setting in, making it harder to respond, easier to blame. 

Talking to a friend, she commented that Victorian Premier Dan Andrews needs to take a break. I think that's right. It's very hard to respond sensibly in the face of almost over-whelming tiredness. It need not be a long break nor does it need to be presented as a break, simply days to recharge, leaving it to others to present and plan. Something similar applies to Premier Gladys Berejiklian in NSW. She is looking tireder and tireder. 

Tiredness cascades down from the top. Think of the health workers especially in Victoria who have been under constant stress. Tiredness leads to mistakes. They may not be able to take breaks, but we have to recognise that constant strain leads to error and longer term personal and structural problems.

At a purely personal level, I am finding the constant tension wearing and very distracting. I have become very tired of the sometimes breathless media coverage. It locks me in the present when I am trying to look forward. It gives me information and opinions that does not help because there is nothing I can do about it. There is nothing I can do to change what I am doing in ways that might help.

I have been working at getting my introductory course on the history of Australia's New England restarted. This has been a complex process. First, U3A Armidale had to work out covid-safe practices taking changing Government regulations into account. This placed additional responsibilities on all course leaders.

Then when the decision was made that U3A would re-open under the regulations for  a covid-19 safe workplace, I had to survey course members to see who wanted drop out entirely, who wanted to continue, who to transfer to semester one next year. When the number who wanted to continue exceeded the maximum room numbers under the covid-19 rules, I had to wait to see if we could get a second room slot. That done, there was another round to allocate people to different groups and then check the allocations. In the midst of all this the new Victorian shut-downs with possible flow-on effects, raising the question of whether we could proceed or, if we could, whether people would want to come. After another survey we are proceeding, assuming no further changes in NSW. 

In many ways, this is a minor local example of the complexities introduced by the pandemic. More people actually wanted to either drop out or defer than to continue, but the seventeen or so who wanted to go on were very enthusiastic. In the end, and I think that this is the important point, they felt that we cannot make life dependent upon covid-19. This does not mean breaching regulations, simply setting plans based on what we might want to do, then modifying if required. The alternative is to set plans based on ever-shifting regulations. It can't be done. 

We can't control what might happen, we can only control our responses, doing what we can. I, for one, will not let responses to covid-19 dictate my life. Again, this does not mean breaching regulations, just taking a degree of control over my own responses. I have allowed covid-19 to distract me far too much, putting me far behind on the things I can do. 

As I write, the news is on in the background. I know that all this is a big story, but after ten minutes I have learned nothing useful. The over-whelming message is be afraid, be very afraid. Enough!