Spaghetti with a mushroom ragu for two

This is a delightful little dish that’s simple and fairly quick to make. You can use fresh mushrooms, but I suggest using dried because they are cheaper, have much more flavor, and you can use the soaking liquor for the stock. If you do choose to use fresh mushrooms, then use vegetable stock. Chicken or chicken-style vegan stock will overpower the flavor of the mushrooms.

For the mushrooms, I used a mixture of shiitake, button, cep, and black fungus, but I don’t think the black fungus worked all that well (except for giving the dish a dramatic look!). I think dried mushrooms are excellent, but if you do use fresh, you’ll need about five times the weight. If you use nice mushrooms, that’ll be expensive, but you might be rich so you do you. Either way, don’t bother using just baby button mushrooms, and certainly don’t use oyster mushrooms because your sauce will taste of nothing.

It serves two people. Or one person twice.

Ingredients

  • 50 g dried mushrooms
  • Olive oil (about twice as much as you think you’ll need, but not so much that you’ll be deep frying)
  • 1 onion (or a couple of banana shallots would be nice)
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, minced (or two big dollops out of a jar)
  • 60 ml or so of vermouth, or whatever you have – sherry, Madeira, Marsala etc.
  • 2 tbsp thickened cream (double cream in the UK, heavy cream in America)
  • Some basil, parsley, and parmesan cheese (as much as you like of each)
  • 250 g spaghetti (I use Barilla no. 7 spaghettoni)

Method

Begin by soaking the mushrooms in warm water for about half an hour (you’re going to ask me how much water to use: use enough to cover them in whatever vessel you’re soaking them in, and in any case at least 300 ml to 400 ml, but not too much, otherwise the lovely stock will be too weak.) While they are soaking, chop the onion and have a glass of wine. Add the chopped onion and garlic along with a good pinch of salt to the oil in a large frying pan, but don’t put it on the heat yet.

Once the mushrooms are rehydrated, drain and chop them, reserving 250 ml of the soaking liquor.

Now put the frying pan on a medium-ish heat and soften the onion, not until it’s brown, but until it’s really soft; it’ll take five to ten minutes, depending on the heat, but don’t be tempted to turn the heat up to rush it.

Next, add the mushrooms to the pan, and grind in some black pepper. If it’s a special occasion, you could grate in some nutmeg too – mushrooms love nutmeg. Cook the mushrooms over a fairly high heat until they are tender and any liquid that went in with them has evaporated.

Now pour in the vermouth (or whatever you are using) and allow that to evaporate too (it’s flavor we’re after here; we’re not making soup). Then pour in the reserved soaking liquor (or if you used fresh mushrooms, add 250 ml vegetable stock or something with an inoffensive amount of flavor). Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for about half an hour – until the liquid has reduced by about half and it’s thickened up.

While all that’s going on, bring a large pot of water to the boil and add a frightening amount of salt (like, I grab a handful of rock salt and throw it in), add the pasta and cook it for one minute less than it tells you on the packet, unless you’ve got dentures you’re worried about, then add some extra time so it all goes soft. Time it all so that the pasta will not be sitting around waiting for the sauce.

After the sauce has been cooking for half an hour and has reduced sufficiently, add the herbs and the cream (you can use more or less cream, depending on your taste, but don’t drown out the taste of the mushrooms, and remember you’re not making soup!). Bring it back up to a simmer (it shouldn’t curdle, unless you’ve used reduced fat cream for some reason, though I can’t imagine why you would). Then immediately drain the pasta and add it to the pan, mix it all together thoroughly, then serve onto warmed plates. Sprinkle over some grated parmesan cheese (or shaved if you’re trying to impress).

Enjoy!

 

Knitting supplies: advice for beginners

A question I often answer and am sometimes asked is:

I want to learn to knit; what basic supplies do I need?

I’m going to answer this with what I think are the basics, with some specific recommendations on products. Note, this is my biased view; other people will give you different advice, but this is definitely my opinion on the best and most versatile products to get started with.

Assumptions:

  1. I’m going to assume you don’t want to spend a fortune, but do want some borderline decent supplies to get started.
  2. I’m also going to assume you just want to pick up some needles and yarn and start knitting. You don’t want to knit a thing (at first), you just want to practise the stitches.

A note: while understanding that you don’t want to spend a lot of money initially, knitting is an expensive hobby. You can, of course, buy a pair of needles and some acrylic yarn from the $2 store and knit with them, but I promise you that you’ll hate knitting if you do that.

Needles

I think for beginners, the best way to get started is to buy a 24″/60cm circular needle, size 4mm or 4.5mm (US size 6 or 7), and made of wood. (A lot of beginners start with bamboo, but I think that’s way too sticky. While having a bit of grip is good so your stitches won’t fall off the needle, if you’re constantly dragging the stitches along it will be irritating and you won’t enjoy knitting.)

With a circular needle you’ll be able to practise basic flat knitting, as well as circular knitting and magic loop knitting.

I am going to recommend KnitPro Symphonie fixed circular needle size 4mm. It’s AU$10.38 from LoveCrafts – or check your local yarn store.

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Yarn

There are loads of yarns available and it can be very confusing when you’re starting out. Most beginners start with acrylic yarn because it’s cheap and available everywhere – DON’T DO IT. The quality of cheap acrylic yarn can be so bad that it is genuinely unpleasant to knit with, and you’ll end up thinking you hate knitting when you just hate the yarn.

I recommend starting with wool yarn, in weight 4/medium/worsted/10-ply (it’s all the same thing, just different names depending on your location). Buy two 50g balls in two different light colors. 

This weight of yarn is probably the easiest to work with, and your stitches will be big enough for you to see. It’s also a good weight for your needles. Wool generally feels nice to work with and is really forgiving. It’ll have a bit more grip on your needles too. It’s really important to get light colors so you’ll be able to see your stitches easily.

If you’re in Australia I recommend Morris & Sons Estate 10-ply available from their website for AU$6.45.

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Other supplies

Aside from needles and yarn, there are a couple of other things I recommend you get. Not essential, but they’ll make life easier.

  • A crochet hook. I recommend an aluminium one with a soft grip handle, in the same size or a size smaller than your knitting needles. They are useful for practising picking up dropped stitches, as well as provisional cast-ons (I don’t expect you to know what that means!). KnitPro has one that’s good value: AU$4.37 from Love Crafts.
  • A yarn needle/tapestry needle. You’ll almost certainly want to practise weaving in ends or seaming, and these are essential for those things. They’re available everywhere (even supermarkets) for a couple of bucks, and the cheapest ones are fine.
  • Stitch markers are very useful for when you are practising increases or decreases. You can buy them, but for beginners you can make them by just cutting up a plastic drinking straw (one of the thick ones for milkshakes) into thin hoops.

Things you probably already have

  • A ruler. A 6″/15cm one is fine, as is a 12″/30cm one. A metre stick/yardstick is probably a bit too big.
  • A tape measure. The flexible 60″ ones that are everywhere are perfect. No need for a fancy retractable one.
  • Scissors, any size – even nail scissors will do, but massive kitchen ones might be a bit unwieldy.

A teacher

I think going to a beginners’ class at your local yarn store is the best way to get started, but that might well be impractical or unaffordable. There are lots of YouTube channels, some of them are good, and some of them are not. I recommend VeryPink Knits – Staci Perry of VeryPink is an excellent knitting teacher, and her videos are very well produced.

Please feel free to get in touch if you want more advice or if you dispute any of this! I’d love to chat knitting with you!

The One

A glance to the left. This is not a date, but oh! he is so beautiful.

The rocking of the ship moves with the beat. Ah ah ah ah.

I’m the one.
Love me, love me, love me, love me.

Another glance. Was it reciprocated or are my eyes deceiving me?
The urge to kiss him is so strong. Don’t do it. Keep it together, hold it in.

I’ll go and get pizza and maybe he’ll be there. Maybe he’ll say hello. I’m too shy to call him. Too shy to walk up to him and say hello. I’d do anything to have you near me.

Falling in love with him would be a very bad idea. If I get hurt again I’ll need a lifetime to repair.
But it’s too late.
Time is short.
I look at him again and again, over and over. Every photograph of him is a work of art, but to be in his presence, to look at his face, his physical body is perfection. I pull him in for a selfie. It’s the worst photo of him in existence. I cannot record this, only remember it.

Can you imagine…? Just suppose.

Vegan Chili

I like vegetarian cooking, but have long had a problem with vegetarian chili, and in particular the texture. Without overcooking the beans and vegetables it’s always seemed like a spicy vegetable and bean soup. A friend suggested blending it a bit with a stick blender. I loved it!

Serves 4 hungry people, or 6 people whose appetites are smaller

Ingredients

  • Oil (I used sunflower oil, but olive oil is good too.)
  • 1 onion (I used a red onion, but a brown onion would be just as good)
  • 1 red capsicum
  • 2 carrots (on the larger size, but not the tree-trunk sized ones)
  • 2 sticks of celery
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic (or three big dollops of already-crushed garlic from a jar)
  • About a heaped pudding spoonful of ground cayenne pepper (be bold; trust me)
  • Ground cumin, more than a teaspoon, less than a tablespoon
  • Ground smoked paprika, about the same amount as the cumin
  • 1 teaspoon mixed Italian herbs (I know, it sounds ridic, but it works)
  • A good heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder (NOT drinking chocolate)
  • 2 400 g cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 400 g cans of beans (I used Woolworths Mexican Beans mix, which is a mix of kidney beans, pinto beans, and black beans but you can use any beans you like)
  • 1 400 g can of sweetcorn kernels (or you can use frozen if you have some in the freezer)
  • 400 ml vegetable stock (I used stock powder and an empty tomato can full of hot water)
  • A few drops of Tabasco sauce (enough to put the willies up you a bit, but not so much you’re genuinely afraid)
  • Splash of white wine vinegar

Note: try to get the “no added salt” version of the canned stuff; it’ll taste better.

Method

Chop up the capsicum, carrots and celery and dice the onion. Warm the oil in a big saucepan or pot or casserole or something (I used the 3 litre Ikea 365+ pot, which was a bit snug, and I reckon the 5-litre one would have been better) and toss in the chopped vegetables. Keep the heat low and turn them over in the oil before putting a lid on. Stir them every now and then and after about fifteen minutes they should be tender. If not, leave them a bit longer, but you don’t want them mushy; just tender.

Now turn up the heat and put in the garlic, the spices and the herbs stirring to combine, and then add the cocoa powder. Stir that in too: it will combine with the oil and vegetable juices and go lovely and glossy – that’s when it’s time to add the tomatoes, drained beans, and drained corn, as well as the stock (or water and stock powder). Use the stock too rinse out the tomato cans. Stir it all together and bring it up to a simmer.

Once it’s simmering, turn the heat down so it’s simmering gently and let it cook for about half an hour, stirring occasionally and making sure nothing’s sticking to the bottom.

After half an hour add salt and pepper to taste (if you add salt before you cook the beans they’ll end up tasting of nothing – that’s also why I recommending using cans with no added salt).

Now take it off the heat and leave it to cool down for a couple of minutes. It won’t get cold. Use a stick blender to give it a bit of a whizz – just a couple of pulses, but don’t go crazy: you’re not making soup. If you don’t have a stick blender (and honestly, if you don’t you really should get one, and a decent one – the best you can afford) you can put a couple of ladlefuls into an ordinary blender and whizzy whizzy before adding it back to the pot (and if you don’t have any kind of blender you could put a couple of ladlefuls through a mouli, or go at it with a potato masher, but I really do recommend doing something to get the contrasting textures).

Finally stir in a splash of white wine vinegar, check the seasoning and serve! I put some slices of avocado on top and it was delicious. I often put broken tortilla chips on chili too, and, while I don’t really like it, a lot of people put corriander leaves on the top. A dollop of sour cream and that grated Monterrey Jack cheese is nice if you’re not concerned about it not being vegan

M People videos, a full rundown

I wrote a short thread on twitter earlier about my thoughts on some M People videos. Here is a full rundown.

Colour My Life

For a first video it’s okay. It’s just the band playing the song in a studio. but it’s well shot. Heather’s outfit is extremely 1991. We have a lady guitarist, which was very progressive back then. The backing vocalists do a bizarre dance that uses only their arms and bobbing up and down a bit. It’s quite endearing. ⭐⭐⭐

How Can I Love You More

More of the same really; just the and performing the song in a studio, but without the backing singers and their dance. Disappointing tbh. ⭐⭐

Someday

A further slide downhill. This is Heather singing alone against a black backdrop with some lighting , interspersed with some live show footage. They’d clearly run out of money by single #3. ⭐

Excited

Excited has two videos! The UK video is Heather dancing in front of interesting backdrops wearing office attire while the boys play pinball, with some shots of Heather wearing a rather gorgeous evening dress on a couch. It’s quite cute! ⭐⭐⭐

The US remake is where we finally get a LOCATION! They’re in the courtyard of a nice house with a stage set up in the middle of the pond (???) singing the song. People dance. They’ve thrown a bit of money at this, but not much. ⭐⭐⭐

One Night In Heaven

They went to Barcelona to film this video. They’re all drunk and/or high and carrying on while being filmed. Heather has two outfits – a lovely, if plain, dress and cardigan (a cardigan in Summer in Barcelona?!), and a horrible checked waistcoat and a shirt with a massive collar combo. The video’s a bit boring, but it’s nice to see them outside. ⭐⭐⭐

Moving On Up

We’re at a party and M People have been booked to perform. Some couples on the dance floor are fighting, Suddenly there is a cat and an iguana for some reason. Heather is wearing a long black dress and a lovely choker with matching earings. The boys are wearing pajamas. It’s all a bit confusing, but it’s fun and extremely 1994. ⭐⭐⭐

Don’t Look Any Further

They sent Heather and Mark to Berlin to film this and apparently left Mike, Paul, and Shovel at home. As such, Heather appears to have stayed sober. They’ve put her in gorgeous makeup with cute little heart earrings. It’s moody and dark. A really solid video actually. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Renaissance

I think this could be San Francisco? We have a few shots of them singing and dancing in a studio that we’re supposed to believe is a hotel or something, and the rest of the video is Heather driving an enormous car around the streets of wherever they are and basically losing control. They must have used up all the budget for this album because we’ve got the dress from Moving on up and the earrings from Don’t Look Any Further. It’s fun, but not all that great. ⭐⭐

Sight For Sore Eyes

We’re back in the studio. There are some car shells and mechanics welding, but the car/mechanic theme is a bit half-arsed, because other than that it’s basically the Colour My Life video. Heather has finally discovered hoop earrings, and she is wearing what is honestly the most horrible jumper I have ever seen; it’s either from C&A or Dior. Paul is starting to look a bit rugged and has CHEEKBONES. Mike has grown a beard and his hair and is clearly starting his mid-life crisis. The only good bit of this video is when the drummer pretends to use spanners instead of drumsticks. ⭐⭐

Open Your Heart

Some solid CGI here. Heather’s in a CGI lift that might be in a hotel ur club or something and different characters & groups get in and out f the lift. Heather has a very lovely East-Asian-inspired dress and a diamond hair band. Paul’s eyes are BLUE. Mike’s mid-life crisis deepens he looks like he hasn’t even washed his hair.  There are gays, there are trans people, there are loads of people of color as well as Heather, there’s a supernatural spooky bit where Heather walks away and her reflection doesn’t until a few seconds later. It’s a bloody amazing video. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Search for the Hero

An abandones warehouse or school or tower block or something. Children throw rocks at windows. The band stands in the middle of it and performs. Suddenly there is fire, and then the sprinklers activate. Another outstanding video that’s worth watching even if you hate the song. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Love Rendezvous

A re-run of Renaissance, but they’re high in Rio instead of Barcelona. There’s a bit more narrative here as we’re also following a couple running through the streets to find each other and then they kiss. There’s some live footage from the tour, and shome travel show type shots of Rio and it’s people. ⭐⭐⭐

Itchycoo Park

Heather’s on the bed in a spotlight dreaming of walking through a country house and its gardens. She levitates. Gorgeous blue velvet dress and ruby choker. The video’s crap but the fashion is excellent. ⭐⭐

Just For You

Heather’s on a couch in a studio while the band play around her. Paul’s finally lost all his hair and has developed the sort of cheekbones that could cut diamond. There’s an orchestra. Oh, and CGI bugs. It looks like they spent a LOT of money on this. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Fantasy Island

In a studio on a spinning platform with some CGI texture going on underneath. It’s extremely boring. ⭐

Angel St

This is mostly live footage and footage from rehearsals, backstage and stuff. It’s pretty good for what it is, but it’s not winning any prizes or anything. ⭐⭐⭐

Testify

ZOMG this video. Heather’s wearing a cloak and wandering through the forest in the snow while the Northern Lights are happening in the sky. She gets to where she’s going, shakes of the cloak and is there singing in the snow in a Warrior Princess outfit made of diamonds. It is amazing. It’s all CGI. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Dreaming

Heather’s walking through the streets of London with a horrible filter applied to the video, like as if someone has gone to town with Snapseed. It is not good. Clearly they threw some money at this, but it was not well spent. ⭐⭐

A morning walk

Every morning on my walk to work from the station I pass an elderly couple walking into town. They walk quite slowly; it probably takes them an hour or more to get into town so it doesn’t matter which train I get on or how early or late I’m running; I always pass them.

They are old. So old. Certainly in their eighties at least. I’d guess they have half a lifetime of memories in India, shared. And they walk together, side-by-side, always in silence, and always very slowly.

They are always immaculately dressed, beautiful clothes, clean and pressed. Sandals even in winter. Long, flowing, and brightly colored fabric, probably decades old. And the smell of beautifully scented soaps and lotions fills the air as I walk by them,

It’s actually been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen them. We’ve never interacted, so I haven’t noticed that I haven’t seen them, I haven’t missed them — except yesterday I wondered about them as I walked past the tree where I would sometimes have to give way to them if we arrived there at the same time because the footpath isn’t wide enough. But it didn’t dwell on my mind.

Until today as I was walking to work from the station I passed him in the street. He was walking a little faster than normal. Alone. Wearing pajamas and slippers. Smelling slightly stale. I said hello; he didn’t answer me. I could see the pain on his face.

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Handwritten draft of the text

Anger

[This is part one of a short series on emotional abuse in domestic relationships. This piece discusses anger, aggression, emotional control and manipulation.]

“You’re a good influence on him. He’s more mellow with you. I love his bitterness, and you mellow him. You’re good for him.”

She told you that, and she was right. She’s known him longer than you have, and she knows how angry he can get. His angry outbursts. He gets angry quite a lot.

“That must be awful for you.”

Not really, right? He gets angry quite a lot, but only at other people. His anger is never directed at you. People piss him off a lot. Hell, it seems everybody pisses him off, people cross him and he gets angry. But his anger is never directed at you. He speaks to you calmly, never angrily. With you he is mellow. He tells you that you calm him down. His friends notice you calm him down. It’s so good that you met him: you’re the only person who he never gets angry at; he’s so lucky to have found you.

He’s manipulating you. This is emotional abuse. Emotional abuse that is directed at you, and you haven’t noticed. He’s tricking you into being afraid of him whilst believing you trust him.

No, you’re not afraid of him! You do trust him!

You’re not afraid that at some point his anger will be directed at you? That he’ll become aggressive towards you the way he is aggressive towards other people who piss him off? No, of course you’re not, because, see, he only gets angry and aggressive towards people who piss him off. All you have to do is never piss him off. All you have to do to avoid is anger is to simply not fuck up. You’ve got this. You can do this. Avoiding his aggression is something you are responsible for: just don’t fuck up.

And there. He’s got you. He’s controlling you. He’s manipulating your emotions; controlling your behavior. By withholding his anger he’s making you believe that you are in control of his anger and that if he ever does become aggressive towards you, it will have been your fault.

And one day he does lose his temper at you. You knew it would come eventually. You’ve seen how he gets with other people, just flies off the handle at any little thing that pisses him off, and you knew you couldn’t stay on his good side forever. You knew you’d fuck up at some point. But it was only a little fuck-up. And that’s just how he is. You can use this as a learning experience. Keep on his good side. Keep him mellow.

You’re the one who calms him down. He only gets angry at you sometimes, and it’s not like it’s for major things. It’s only for things that are inconsequential, so it doesn’t really matter. I mean, obviously you fucked up here, and he’s got every right to be angry. Anyone would be angry.

And, look, sometimes he gets angry and aggressive towards you for things that were not your fault, but that’s just how he is. You know him: anger is how he deals with things. He gets frustrated and aggression is just the way his frustration erupts out of him. All of this was out of your control, you didn’t do anything wrong here; he’s just upset. Anyone would be upset; you can’t hold that against him because anyone would be upset, so of course he’s angry. Of course he is angry.

And, look, you’re a team, right? You love him and he loves you. You trust him because he doesn’t get angry at you except when he does. You absorb his anger, that’s what you do. And he trusts you to. You calm him; you mellow him. And he trusts you enough to let himself show his anger to you. He trusts you to stay when he is angry because you calm him. Anyone else he is aggressive to runs away, but not you. He trusts you not to. His anger towards you is different from his anger towards other people. To you his anger is an expression of love. His aggression is an expression of trust.

You know that anger is his default emotion. This is the way he expresses himself. He needs a release. It’s good that he allows his emotions to show. It’s not really aggression as such; he’s just sharing his emotions with you. You have this emotional connection: trust going both ways. It’s despair and he needs to get it out, and you’re the one who makes things better. You have to be there for him.

You have to be there. He needs an outlet for his emotions. His anger and aggression is just an outlet for his emotions. And really, if you think about it, it’s better that his anger and aggression is directed at you instead of being directed at other people. Like, at least you know how to handle him. Other people don’t know how to handle him when he’s angry, but you do. You calm him when he is angry, so although he gets angry quite a lot, it’s never at other people. His anger is only directed at you. People piss him off a lot. Hell, it seems everybody pisses him off, people cross him and he gets angry. But his anger is only directed at you.

 

Witches, evil faries, and wicked queens

The worst fairy story is Cinderella because there is no witch or demon or anything; the baddies are just ordinary humans being intolerable cunts, and that is *not* the basis for a Force of Evil in a fairy tale. What I’m looking for in a fairy tale antagonist is some magical being who is smart — and maybe *too* smart. The absolute best fairy story villains go about their cruel schemes because of petty grudges rather than an attempt at amassing wealth or status.

Cinderella fails on all counts. The villain is a wicked stepmother, but she has no magic powers; she just has political power. She and her daughters treat Cinderella cruelly, but it’s simply because they are horrible people.

The best fairy tale (and not just for, but mainly for its villain) is Sleeping Beauty. In all its incarnations the evil fairy is spectacular, but I think Disney’s Maleficent is particularly good. This is the story of an evil fairy who cooks up an elaborate plan to kill a child out of pure spite. The sole motivation for her murderous plot is her not being invited to a party, and she spends nearly two decades dwelling on this petty grudge, allowing it to consume her. She’s magic; she’s evil; and, although she could have done the job with a single shot when she gatecrashed the party, she implements the most outrageously elaborate scheme to put a family through sixteen years of anguish before striking the fatal blow. Her demise is entirely because of this over-the-top scheme: it all gets too big for her. She is a victim of her own genius.

Hansel and Gretel is alright, but just alright. We start with the wicked stepmother who is just a dick because she doesn’t like children, but we move past this quite quickly into the main setting with the witch in the wood. Witches are great; I like witches, but overall this witch is a bit disappointing. Sure, she’s capable of doing magic (gingerbread houses have got to be magic, right?), but apart from that she is a basic bitch witch. Of all the possibilities in the world, she captures children because she wants to eat them — and even more dull, she physically catches them and locks them in a cage, and plans to cook them in an oven. Yawn. And quite the opposite of Sleeping Beauty’s wicked fairy who is a genius, Hansel and Gretel’s witch is a moron who is tricked by a chicken bone.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is quite good, but it spends way too much time on the Dwarfs (like, honestly, who cares?). The Wicked Queen is a solid villain: she uses magic, she’s a child killer, she lives her whole life consumed with outrageous vanity, she holds an utterly pointless grudge. In short, she’s my ideal villain. There are lots of incarnations of this story, with various demises for the Wicked Queen, and mostly they are good: she almost always falls victim to her own clever scheme. The Disney version where she falls off a cliff is rubbish, but other versions have wonderful endings for this baddie: as John points out, the version where the Queen is forced to dance to death in red hot iron shoes is wonderful for the ballet, but my favorite ending is the one where every mirror she looks into turns black and she is driven to insanity by never being able to gaze upon her own reflection ever again.

Roses are red

Every single Valentine’s day we have to argue over where to place boundaries when dividing a continuous spectrum into discrete sections, but human language adds boundaries progressively as time advances and violets are blue except in languages that have words for purple.

Roses aren’t red either, but red is such a linguistically ancient concept that it tends not to get divided up as quickly as other color concepts. The points at which red stops being red are much further from the center of red than the points at which blue stops being blue are from the center of blue. But excluding the violets that are white, we can say two things for certain:

  1. Violets are definitely blue.
  2. Violets are definitely not blue.

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Poker machines: why do we even have them?

I’m loath to refer to this as a piece in support of poker machines (electronic gaming machines, slot machines, fruit machines, pokies, call them what you will), but this will largely be interpreted as such because it’s not a scathing criticism. However, it’s more a collection of thoughts and things to think about when composing scathing criticisms of poker machines. So here goes.

(And before we start, full disclosure: I am employed by a large club in Sydney, my knowledge of gaming and gaming machines is technical and extensive, and I have worked in the gambling industry (in clubs and casinos in Australia and overseas) since 2005.).

First I’ll acknowledge that problem gambling exists and is a problem, and I don’t think anyone is doing enough to tackle it, and a lot of harm can be attributed to problem gambling involving poker machines. A huge amount of money goes through poker machines in NSW, and very few players win in the short-term – even fewer in the long-term.

All of that said, it’s important that we have legal and regulated gambling. We have to – both from a personal liberty perspective (people should be allowed to do whatever the like with their own money), and from a harm minimization perspective (the alternative to legal, regulated gambling is illegal, unregulated gambling – underground casinos, dog fights and cock fights, underground poker games bankrolled by loan sharks). We can’t totally prevent problem gambling and the harm that comes from it, but we can try to minimize it, which is why regulation is important.

Regulation and monitoring

Poker machines are easy to regulate and easy to monitor. Really easy. Every legally operated poker machine in NSW has a unique serial number; the regulator knows where every single one is, who is operating it and what software is installed on it. The software goes through an approval process. Every legally-operated poker machine in NSW is connected to the Central Monitoring System (CMS) and has to be by law – if there are any problems with communication to the CMS, the machine can’t be operated until communication is restored. Whether the regulation is good enough, the enforcement is good enough, compliance is good enough are other issues, but that they are so so simple to regulate and monitor makes them really attractive to gambling regulators.

Because of the process of getting poker machine software from development to market, poker machines are really difficult to compromise. In short you can’t bribe a poker machine. You can’t cheat. Unlike in casinos and bookmakers, staff can’t be bribed or assist with cheating, payouts can’t be miscalculated. Everything is legit. So they are attractive to operators, players, and regulators, all of whom can trust them.

Low-risk gambling

With the usual acknowledgement that some people’s lives are destroyed through gambling, for most people poker machines provide access to gambling (a legitimate leisure activity) in a low-risk and low-cost way. People who set and stick to limits don’t lose more than they can afford, and the range of machines and games available mean that even very low limits can provide genuine entertainment value, decent time playing, and the thrill of a potential win. And poker machines combine three things that other forms of leisure gambling can’t: low entry price, high prize potential, instant win. Some examples:

  • Casino games offer instant wins and high prize potentials, but the entry prices are high – most people cannot afford to play casino games.
  • Racing and sports betting offer the potential of instant wins with a low entry price, but large prize potentials don’t exist without large bets.
  • Lotteries offer large prizes at a low entry price, but generally can’t offer instant wins.

I’m sure many people consider this a bad thing; I don’t. I just consider it a thing. Lots of people want to experience the thrill of gambling, the potential to win a large prize with an instant payoff, and at a low entry price, and poker machines offer that. I am certainly not going to tell people that that should not be on offer to them.

Harm minimization

Like for regulation, poker machines are easy to monitor for problem gambling as well as for potential money laundering. (Despite what is often said, it’s very difficult to launder money through a poker machine if strict transaction monitoring and player identification procedures are adhered to). Players can monitor their own play if they want to, and get detailed and accurate statements on their play and spend, things that are much more difficult with casino gaming, racing and sports betting, and lotteries, for example. These are not necessarily good or bad things, but they are things that make poker machines attractive to operators and regulators.

Staff exposure is quite important here too: this is anecdotal, but I’ve had far fewer colleagues develop gambling problems in venues with only poker machines compared with casinos that offer table games with live dealers. I have been a dealer myself, and even I can sit at a blackjack table, or stand at a craps table as a player and think that I somehow have an advantage because I know the game inside out.

And it’s worth mentioning that, unlike racing, there are no animal welfare issues with poker machines (other than, perhaps, say, problem gamblers neglecting their pets).

Social exclusion reduction

There are better venues for social interaction than gaming rooms in clubs and hotels. Of course there are. But still, we live in the world we live in, and for quite a lot of people (especially elderly people living alone) a couple of hours playing the pokies once, twice, or a couple more times a week is valuable social interaction with others. I won’t spin it as a good thing, and I am more than aware that this can be spun as pokie dens preying on vulnerable people. But it’s a thing that exists and happens. Social services for elderly and lonely people should be better – of course they should – but they aren’t, and as long as people who get their social interaction from playing poker machines would otherwise be sitting at home alone, a social exclusion reduction argument can be made.

Physical poker machines in regulated venues also function as an alternative to online gambling. Online casinos and online poker machines. Those things can’t be regulated (we’ve tried!) and they are genuinely solitary. Again, it’s not ideal, but having poker machines in relatively safe environments with amenities and other people is a more attractive offering to players and regulators than people sitting at home alone playing the same games but with unregulated operators with no guarantee of wins being honored and withdrawals being possible, and with no protection if things do go wrong.

Money

Of course one of the main reasons they are attractive to operators is that poker machines can generate quite large amounts of revenue, and they are attractive to governments because they generate quite large amounts of tax. There’s a lot of financial and political leverage that goes both ways. A lot of people spend small amounts of money playing poker machines, and a small number of people spend large amounts of money playing poker machines, and this is the basis of most criticism of poker machines: money. (And this criticism is valid.)

All forms of gambling come with the risk of harm from problem gambling and problems related to problem gambling, and poker machines are not a special case. I won’t argue that poker machines are a benevolent source of social virtue providing employment and delivering social change through charitable giving (though both things are true/there are good arguments why these things are, indeed, bullshit: make up your own mind), but poker machines and the industry as a whole (despite some thoroughly rotten operators) are not a pure force of evil. They are simply, as a form of legal and regulated gambling, attractive.

Kedgeree with smoked herrings

Kedgeree is great. It’s a breakfast dish but you can have it any time. It’s quick and easy and a very good recipe for one, but it is also good when you have an overnight guest who you want to impress with breakfast, and because my version mostly uses tinned ingredients, it’s an ideal camping dish.

This recipe serves one.

Ingredients

  • 200 g can of smoked herrings (in brine, please; not tomato sauce)
  • 60 ml basmati rice (or any long-grain rice, but I insist on basmati)
  • half an onion, diced (I use already diced frozen onions)
  • half a small can of mushrooms (I like the ones in butter sauce)
  • One hard boiled egg, roughly chopped
  • A big pinch of curry powder (I use Clive of India Hot curry powder – this is an outrageous colonial dish after all!)
  • About half a teaspoon of turmeric, for color
  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter

Method

In a small-ish frying pan over a medium heat, fry the onion in butter until it is soft and slightly brown, then turn the heat up to high. Stir in the curry powder and the turmeric until it’s combined with the butter and coated the onions, then add the rice to the pan. You want to toast the rice for about a minute, and keep it moving so that the rice picks up the color and flavor of the curry powder.

Once everything is a lovely orange color and nicely fragrant, pour in 180 ml water and bring to the boil. Once it’s boiling, cover the pan (if you haven’t got a lid that fits, just use foil), turn the heat right down and let it barely simmer for about fifteen minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the rice is cooked.

In the meantime, pour yourself a glass of wine (if you are making this for lunch or dinner) or champagne (if you are making this for breakfast) and take some photos of the cooking process for your Instagram.

Once the rice is cooked, fluff it up a bit with a wooden fork (I had trouble finding a wooden fork in Sydney when I first moved here, and was even told by a shop assistant in a cookware shop that they did not exist and I had conjured up the concept of a wooden fork in my head, but it turns out that someone at Ikea also conjured up the concept of a wooden fork in their head, so you can get one there). Use the wooden fork to break up the herring fillets (which you have drained, of course!) a bit, but not too much because you want chunks rather than flakes, and stir the into the rice, along with the chopped egg and the mushrooms. Do it gently otherwise you’ll break up the fish and egg too much and you’ll end up with mush. Just turn it over with the fork until everything is combined and heated through. Season with salt and pepper. I’m an absolute fiend for salt, but you probably won’t need that much because of the herrings.

If you’re doing this for Instagram, and are particularly interested in likes and comments, then this looks nice sprinkled with some cayenne pepper (I don’t do this because I don’t like the flavor) and some parsley arranged on the top (you could use coriander, of course, which might be a better flavor combination, but wouldn’t be in the spirit of colonial cuisine).

Then, of course, you eat it.

Notes

If you want a vegetarian version, leave out the fish and double the mushrooms, and you could maybe use some lentils or some smoked firm tofu or tempeh or something that will have a bit of a bite and a smoky or smoke-adjacent flavor. If you want a vegan version do that and leave out the egg (and use some kind of vegetable oil or other instead of the butter).

If you’re making this for more than one person (which you probably are if, as suggested, you’re making this for breakfast to impress last night’s shag your overnight guest), then increase the quantities of everything accordingly (use a 1:3 ratio of rice to water), and serve it on a platter, rather than individually, so people can help themselves.

follow me on twitter @supercroup 

 

 

 

A celebration of queer rights in Australia

In Australia we’re in the middle of a campaign for a government survey on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. The going is really tough, and a lot of us are feeling really shitty: the attacks are coming strong from the No campaign.

But: some positivity. Despite marriage equality not yet having arrived in Australia, we do have a lot of rights, and rights that are worth celebrating. And importantly rights that prove that our equality does not have terrible consequences for society.

Let’s celebrate these rights, and use their existence to argue for further extension of our civil and human rights.

The right to exist

Fundamentally, in Australia, we have the right to exist. The law doesn’t prohibit our existence. For all the hatred we face, the abuse, the violence, our right to exist is protected. Around the world, not all LGBT people have that right protected.

The right to fuck

Sexuality and sex is a core part of [most of] our existence. In Australia we have the right to fuck anyone who can and does consent. Some people engage in sexual violence against people asserting that right. Some put acid in lube dispensers in gay saunas. But none of that removes the right we have to fuck anyone who can and does consent. Around the world, not all LGBT people have that right protected.

The right to form domestic partnerships

Australia is pretty good when it comes to recognizing de facto partnerships — including those between same-sex couples. We’ve established over the pervious weeks that they are not identical to marriages but even so, de facto couples are afforded most of the rights and benefits that married couples are. It’s not perfect, but we do have some of the most progressive de facto rights and protections in the world.

The right to migrate

Spousal migration to Australia is easy. I know: I’ve done it. Admittedly as a white man, but the right to migrate to Australia as the spouse (de jure or de facto) of an Australian citizen or permanent resident is protected, and dependent on (almost) nothing except the status of the relationship. Migration law recognizes the status of de facto relationships where cohabitation hasn’t occurred because of the illegality of the relationship where the couple previously lived.

In practice it can be hard, expensive, and complicated, but the right to migrate with our spouses exists. Few other countries offer this.

The right to employment

Discrimination against a person on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or marital relationship status is against the law in Australia. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against us.

They do, of course. But they don’t have the right to do so. And our right is to be protected by law against such discrimination.

The right to transition

Unlike in many places in the world, trans people in Australia have the right to transition. Socially, medically, and administratively. This is not to suggest it is straightforward or that the process of transition isn’t riddled with gatekeeping bullshit, but trans people have the right to live in whatever gender role(s) suit, according to each person’s own determination.

Trans people have the right to receive support to transition, the right to a name change on official documentation, the right to change gender markers on official documentation (including to X if neither male nor female is appropriate). Around the world not all trans people have these rights.

The right to celebrate

These — and other — rights come along with the right to exist openly and freely. The right to celebrate. We have bars and clubs that are not hideaways, but open and public venues that SCREAM queer. We have Mardi Gras in Sydney every year, and politicians incessantly turn up for photo opportunities. There are plenty of problems in the queer party scene, including racism, sexism, and transphobia, and we need to work on that. But we have the right to work on it because we have the right to celebrate.

The right to marry

Coming soon.

The right to marry is an addition to our existing rights, wide-ranging rights that in Australia are surprisingly progressive. It’s right and good that we demand access to marriage, but let’s do so in the context of celebration of our existing rights, and how much these rights add to society.

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Why straight people should say Yes to gay marriage

For most queer people, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, call it what you will is about equal access to a legal institution, and for us equality is important.

For a large part of mainstream society, equality honestly just isn’t that important, and inequality doesn’t affect your day -to-day lives. I know you don’t really care about queer people’s mental health or about queer teens’ suicide rates. Yes, it’s sad, but it doesn’t really affect you, and you’d rather it all just went away.

I know that to a large number of you, the gays are an irritation, an inconvenience. Of course it gives me the shits that you see my existence as an inconvenience, but I won’t pretend it isn’t so, and try to sell you same-sex marriage on a platform of equality, benefit to queers, and #loveveislove.

I know that since we are an inconvenience, you’d rather we just went away, but unfortunately (or otherwise) we are here to stay. Society has tried for centuries to reduce the inconvenience we cause by making us go away, but I think we all realize that we are not going anywhere.

So aside from the equality that we care about, I’d like to share with you how same-sex marriage can help solve some of the inconvenience that you care about.

Admin is a mess

In most states and territories in Australia, there is some kind or relationship register or civil partnership register that unmarried couples can use to register their relationships. Same-sex couples are required to use these registers if they wish to register their relationships. It’s a mess: each state or territory that uses such a scheme has to administer this scheme, as well as administering the recognition of similar interstate schemes and administering the recognition of marriage, which itself is looked after by the Commonwealth. All this jumble, all these intertwined systems could be streamlined and simplified simply by opening up marriage to all couples who want to register their relationships.

Think of all the taxpayers’ money that could be saved. Think of all the red tape that could be done away with. Think of all the extra time, money, and resources that could be put into roads, schools, and hospitals instead of managing half a dozen mostly-equivalent systems that could all be consolidated into the one institution that already exists and is universal: marriage.

Determining next of kin is a mess

When people in same-sex relationships die or fall ill, how much time, money, and effort is spent trying to ascertain who their next of kin is? Lots. Doctors and medical staff spend time and taxpayers’ money trying to find out who should make decisions on a person’s care, when they could be taking care of patients. Taxpayers’ money and administration time is spent in courts trying to determine who a dead person’s next of kin is, who has rights over their affairs. And all of this could be solved by opening up marriage to couples who want to use marriage to manage this.

Barring same-sex couples from marrying costs us all money, and reduces the quality of our healthcare. It’s such a simple fix.

Children are important

Same-sex couples have children. The debate on whether they should or not is a different one, but the fact is: they do. And children of same-sex couples are important. Their lives are important, their childhoods are important, and their education is important.

Children’s lives are easier when the administration of their lives and their education is simple. And that involves recognizing their parents. Marriage makes this super, super simple. It instantly recognizes co-parents, and reduces time and money spent by education systems and other systems administering children’s lives and arrangements. This doesn’t just improve life and education for the children of same-sex couples; it improves life and education for all children. Streamlined education systems with simple admin benefit everyone. Opposition to same-sex marriage is very literally holding your child back.

And aside, if you really do believe that children need a mother and a father, that children of same-sex couples are necessarily at a disadvantage, surely you wouldn’t support putting these kids at more of a disadvantage. Surely you would want to do everything possible to mitigate the effects of that inherent disadvantage. Same-sex marriage does that.

So #VoteYes for you

So straight people, even if you don’t really care all that much about equality, put your support behind same-sex marriage because it benefits you. Even if you actually oppose rights for queer people, put your support behind same-sex marriage because it benefits you. Even if you think queers are a scourge on society, put your support behind same-sex marriage because it benefits society as a whole.

Even if you won’t do it for us, do it for you.

No hate mail, please

Followers on Instagram and twitter may have seen I have updated my mailbox, adding a “No anti-marriage equality material” sticker next to the “no junk mail” sticker.

If you want your own that looks like mine, here is the PDF printable format (click the link). Print, laminate (if you like) and stick it on your mailbox.

This is a very small gesture, but I have stuck this on my mailbox for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I don’t want homophobic hate mail in my letter box. I don’t expect this will actually prevent this, but it might. Secondly I am marking my home as queer, or at least queer-friendly. In the past I might have been afraid to do this out of fear of threats to my physical safety and to the security of my home. Now I don’t care; I think it’s more important to be visibly queer, to send messages that we are everywhere, and that we are not going away.

This also, I hope, sends the message that objecting to receiving homophobic hate material is a normal and reasonable thing to do, that this ‘debate’ on marriage rights in Australia does not have to be balanced, and that we have no obligation to ‘hear both sides’.

Stay strong, comrades. xx

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A week of homophobic medical experiences

I’ve had a pretty shitty week, and here is the story. I want to express how I was really feeling at the time, so I’ll mostly copy-paste messages sent to friends and family with as little editing as possible.

I was sick on Monday (an upset stomach) and took the day off work so I had to go to the doctor to get a doctor’s certificate for work. I just went to the doctor round the corner instead of my usual doctor. As part of the consultation she was asked general health questions, and through her questioning it transpired that I’m gay: at this she got very flustered and her immediate response was to to say she wanted to send me for full STI & HIV tests immediately, so I was like WTF I’m just here for a medical certificate and I have a regular testing schedule anyway but she wouldn’t drop it and gave me a referral anyway.

That pissed me off, obviously. But anyway, there’s a pathology lab that I pass on my way home from work, so I figured I may as well just go in to do the urine test and throat swab because it’s free and I might as well.

On arrival I gave the lab tech the referral; she asked me to sit down and she left the room. She came back a few minutes later and said “I’m confused because your doctor has requested a throat swab for gonorrhea, and the swab is normally from the penis in men” so I was like, “OK but I need a throat swab”. She said that she didn’t know how to do it because there are no guidelines for doing a throat swab for gonorrhea in men (like WTF srsly?) and she couldn’t do it. She told me to either come back the next day, or go to a different pathology lab.

So I was furious. And I wrote to their office to complain.

I am writing to complain following a recent visit to your pathology collection centre on 15 August that has left me distressed and angry.

My doctor had ordered a urine test and throat swab for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, tests which I have had many times, and believe are very common. On arrival, I presented the pathology request to the technician, who asked me to take a seat and left the room. Some minutes later she returned and said she was confused because my doctor had requested throat swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, and that there were “no guidelines” for how she should collect those because swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhoea are usually taken from the penis. I told her I have throat swabs for these tests regularly, but she reiterated that because there were no guidelines she did not know how to collect the required sample. She suggested I either return the following day or go to a different collection centre, and refused to collect the sample.

The impression I got was that either this collection center or this staff member (or both) was completely unprepared to collect a sample for a very common test for men who have sex with men. I personally felt humiliated by what seems to be clear discrimination based on my sex and sexual orientation, and angry that my health care and any treatment that may be necessary was delayed because of this. I am also very concerned more generally that experiences like this one discourage men who have sex with men and who live in this area from testing for STIs, putting the health of the community of which I am a part at unnecessary and unacceptable risk.

I would like to receive a response explaining why I had this experience, and what will be done to ensure that this experience will not be repeated, either for me or for other people.

But anyway I did go back the next day because I’m some sort of masochist or something. And it was terrible. I was furious.

I got there, handed over the urine sample that I had been carrying round with me all day and said “I’m here for the throat swab too”. It was the same technician as the previous day. She asked if I had called in the morning, and I said no, I’m here now. She told me that she had said to call in the morning to ask them which sample collection kit to use (!!!!), and I said, well, I couldn’t call in the morning.

She said she still didn’t know what the correct procedure for collecting the sample was (I mean come on, it’s a throat swab FFS) and I got quite angry and asked her why she didn’t know, and if it was really that uncommon. She said again that they only normally do the swab from the penis, and I snapped. I said “you do know oral sex is a thing, right?” and then she asked me to wait and that she would go and ask the doctor.

She came back and again said I should have called in the morning. By this point I was nearly in tears. She then picked up the phone and called (I think) another doctor, and by the sounds of it he didn’t know which sample kit to use either (I was there rolling my eyes because I know it’s the blue one, but she wouldn’t take my word for it), and after a far-too-long discussion they agreed that it was probably best if they used the blue one.

She put came towards me, and then went back and got out a face mask to put on (fair enough I suppose, but it felt like she was making a point, and I have never known anyone put a mask on to take a throat swab), and then jabbed me in the throat a few times with the swab. She printed some labels, pushed them towards me and said “check your details”. I told her they were correct, and she said “you can go now. See your doctor in three days”. And I left.

Fucking hell, I was furious. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so simultaneously angry and humiliated.

This was at a very large medical center in a big suburb. And it’s so concerning because there are a lot of married men on the DL in in that suburb and surrounds having sex with other men (and I know this for obvious reasons), and if it’s this much hassle for me — someone open and upfront about my sexuality & sexual behavior — to get the most basic test for very common STIs, I can’t imagine the local men, who need to test discreetly and quickly, are getting the care they need.

I’m very conscious that this was in an area where there are lots of men who have sex with men in secret. Primarily men of color. Shit like this — that makes testing for common STIs difficult and filled with judgment — discourages testing. Especially in suburbs like this, where culture and open homosexual behavior do not go together, this is a terrible thing. Instead of men being able to test and treat in secret, easily, there’s unnecessary discouragement. And so as well as increased prevalence of these STIs in the local network of MSM their wives are at much greater risk of STIs that they have no conscious reason to test for.

So I’m left angry and upset. Not just because of the effect it has had on my personally, but because homophobic and inadequate systems mean that our community is not getting the care it needs. We deserve a much better standard.

Pea & garlic soup

I make this soup from time to time because it’s really quick and easy to make (it takes ten minutes!), it’s super cheap, and – most importantly – it’s delicious. I think it’s a perfect weekend lunch for one.

Every ingredient – except for the peas – is optional, and I never go out and buy anything specifically to make this, so it’s very much a storecupboard recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable stock powder (optional)
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Put the peas and the garlic in a small saucepan with the stock powder; cover with boiling water from the kettle so the peas are just covered. Simmer for 7-8 minutes before blending in a blender with a slug of olive oil and a decent drizzling of balsamic vinegar. Season well with salt and pepper, then eat it immediately.

(Serves one)

Everybody loves the Trump/Turnbull phone call story

The Story

There were reports that on a phone call with Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, Donald Trump shouted a lot and then hung up on him.

Everybody loves it

Apart from one group, everybody in both the USA and Australia loves this story:

USA

The fash love it because it makes Trump look powerful and in control, taking no prisoners, and not allowing existing alliances influence his very good decisions.

Conservatives love it because it embarrasses Trump, making him look out of control. They know that they have control of Congress and that this display of childishness means they can more or less proceed how they like.

Centrists are horrified because their President who they Must Respect has insulted the leader of Australia, and surely the Australians respect him and are also suitably insulted.

Progressives love it because it’s reasonably amusing.

Australia

The fash love it because it embarrasses Malcolm Turnbull, makes him look weak and unable to deal with Trump, and paves the way for previously ousted leader Tony Abbott to recommence his Glorious Reign.

Conservatives love it because it embarrasses Trump and shows how their darling waffling Malcopops Trumble remains cool, calm, and collected in the face of adversary.

Centrists love it because it’s reasonably funny.

Progressives love it because it embarrasses both Turnbull and Trump, shows Trump as unhinged and Turnbull disrespected by a man he’s spent the last few months declaring to be one of his closest political allies.

So what?

Quite. That everyone is jumping on this story and trying to use it their advantage probably means most of it has been grossly exaggerated, and that it’s a non-story probably masking real stories. (E.g. the call was over a deal concerning refugees on Nauru & Manus Island, and we’re talking more about the phone call than seriously how we can get these people to Australia as soon as possible.)

That’s as in-depth as my analysis on this will get. Sorry.

Our Relationship: The Inside Story of Gay Male Couples

Since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014, the days of stigma and shame in gay male society have been replaced with those of liberation and tolerance. Emerging is a gay male world free from heteronormativity, self-loathing and internalised homophobia. To find out more about this new world of freedom I met five gay male couples living across the UK to ask about the inside story of their relationships.

Adam and Jeremy, Brighton

Adam and Jeremy have been together for ten years and have been married since they converted their civil partnership to a marriage last year. Living in a small flat in Brighton, most of their free time away from their office jobs is spent watching movies and playing video games.

“We have an active sex life too,” Adam confesses as he sips his fennel tea. “We don’t take drugs or drink alcohol so we can really experience sex to the fullest.” I ask if they have varied roles in the bedroom, or if they have fallen into strict top and bottom roles as many couples do.

“Oh, we don’t do anal!” says Jeremy with clear shock in his voice. “It’s not that we don’t enjoy it,” he clarifies as I lean forward, “it’s just that we’re not those kind of people.”

“Anal sex is fine for people without commitments,” adds Adam. “I tried it three times at uni.”

“Oh yes, you were a real slut,” laughs Jeremy as he picks up another of his homemade fondant fancies. “But I think we’ve both decided just to be more respectable now. We might even want to have children some day so we don’t want to fall into any habits that might affect their impressionable minds.”

“The adoption agency doesn’t view anal sex households too favourably” Adam explains. “So we try to stick to oral with a condom.”

I ask how they keep their sex lives interesting. Adam blushes, but Jeremy seems a little more willing to open up. “It was our anniversary last week,” he says, “and we tried frottage.” I try to press him further, but he tells me quite plainly: “That sort of skin-on-skin fetish isn’t really for us.”

Steve and Pete, Nottingham

I’m chatting to Steve over a protein shake as he waits for his boyfriend Pete – or his “brofriend” as he refers to him – to finish his workout. “I usually finish first,” he tells me “but I do a more intense session. Pete does more reps.” I ask about cardio. “Nah,” Steve responds, “cardio’s for chicks and poofters.”

Steve first met Pete via a popular gay dating app whilst looking for a ‘gym buddy’, though he admits he did not know what Pete looked like until they met in person. “Most of the guys worth meeting don’t show their faces,” he explains. “The ones who do are usually flaming queens and if I was looking to hook up with a chick I wouldn’t be on this app.”

I ask Steve – who doesn’t refer to himself as gay – if people ever think his statements are homophobic. “Nah mate,” he tells me, “it’s just how it is. I’m masc and I’m looking for masc.”

Steve straightens up, pushing out his muscular chest as Pete, a 5′ 11″ block of muscle and veins emerges from the gym. The two men bump fists as Pete approaches and asks “what’s up”, although he’s neither expecting nor receiving a response.

Pete tells me I’m lucky to have the chance to chat to them today – “We usually chill out in the locker room after a workout,” he says. “Yeah, we normally chill,” adds Steve. I enquire about the nature of their chill out sessions; Pete tells me about ‘brojobs’ – how he refers to oral sex. “Steve’s my bro,” he explains. “Most guys want a wife or something, but I’m looking for men who are men.”

“I’m a bottom,” he goes on, “but it’s all about muscle control. I’m masc so I’m not interested in sissy boys. Men should be men.”

“Yeah, cheers bro,” says Steve, with a nod before he downs the rest of his protein shake.

Mark and Richard, York

Mark and Richard from York are currently planning their wedding. They tell me they decided against a civil partnership, choosing to wait until same-sex marriage was legalised before forming their union. “We’re the same as straight people,” Mark tells me, “so why would we choose anything different?”

Richard nods as he turns the pages of the catalogue in front of him. “I have to pick a suit for the wedding, but they’re all pretty much the same” he says. “I reckon I’ll just let Mark decide.”

“What are men like?” Mark chuckles, standing up and clearing away the coffee cups. I ask if he wants any help. “No,” he says, “I’m going to be a housewife so I may as well act like one!”

“I’m the man of the house,” Richard tells me. “I wear the trousers.”

I join Mark in the kitchen and ask about the dynamics of their relationship. “It’s hard being the woman,” he says “but Richard does help around the house. Any time anything needs fixing he sees to it.”

I ask Mark if he really sees himself as a woman. He tells me it’s more of a mindset than a gender. “Every relationship needs a man and a woman. Just because we’re both men doesn’t mean that one of us isn’t the woman.”

Chris and Johnny, London

I meet Chris and Johnny at a vegetarian restaurant in central London. They arrive together; Chris is wearing black skinny jeans, a tee shirt with a slogan, black Converse sneakers and black-rimmed glasses, while Johnny wears a tee shirt with a print of a video game character, dark blue skinny jeans, grey Converse sneakers and brown-rimmed, circular spectacles. “I don’t need glasses to see,” Johnny says. “I just like the look”.

We’re sitting at a table outside, and after ordering starters – Chris and Johnny both order the butternut tart – they each take out their packet of Marlboro Lights and absentmindedly offer the other a cigarette.

“It’s how we met,” laughs Chris, running his fingers through his hair. “We were in a club before the smoking ban; I was out of cigarettes but I saw Johnny and figured he looked like someone who smoked Marlboro Lights.” It turns out that that was the case.

I ask how long they have been together. “Nine years.” Johnny tells me as he brushes his hair to the side with his fingers. “We moved in together five years ago. We had to get rid of so much stuff though because we basically had two of everything.”

We’re interrupted by the sound of Coldplay’s Speed of Sound. Chris and Johnny both take out their rose gold iPhone 6’s – Johnny answers his while Chris just chuckles. “Yeah, we have the same ringtone,” he tells me. “We didn’t even realise at first but I guess our tastes just align!”

While he has his phone out Chris takes the opportunity to show me some photos of himself and Johnny. I notice they have less facial hair in the photos from last year than the neatly groomed stubble they are sporting today. “Yes, we like to change things up a bit,” he explains. “It gets dull if we keep things the same all the time.”

Dan and Justin, Durham

Dan and Justin (not their real names) have lived together in their two-bedroom flat in Durham for just over a year. I’m meeting them at the flat, and after I’ve been waiting several minutes, Dan answers the door. “Oh thank god!” he exclaims.

He takes me through to their living room, shouting “don’t worry about unmaking the beds!” as we walk down the hall.

I’m confused, but Justin joins us after a minute or so and explains. “It’s in case my mum comes round,” he tells me. “She doesn’t know about us, so we make it look like both beds have been slept in.”

I’m shown around their rather large flat, including both bedrooms. They share a bed, but I ask which bedroom they pretend belongs to which of them. “It depends whose mum is round,” Dan says, and they both laugh nervously.

The flat feels strangely un-lived in – there are no signs of personality anywhere. No photos of the occupants, not even art or posters on the walls. I notice separate CD and DVD collections. “We really have to make it look like we’re just flatmates,” Justin says. “We even have separate cupboards in the kitchen.”

I ask if they think their families have any suspicions that they are a couple. “I don’t know” is Justin’s response. Dan says “I hope not. They’d probably be cool with it, but I just don’t want to tell them.”


John Avocado mainly tweets at @SuperCroup, often posts photos on Instagram and occasionally shoves posts on this here blog.

Tea Party for One

Originally posted on Six Months in Sydney

In a previous post I discussed my love of tea, and what is the perfect accompaniment to tea? Biscuits, of course! Dunkable or otherwise, a cup of tea and a biscuit is always delightful. Happily, that is equally true in Britain and Australia: tea and biscuits. I suppose it does make sense, rather than being an English curiosity. Even more happily, the blends of tea that are available are pretty much the same: English Breakfast (and the similar (and I hope ironically named) Australian Afternoon), Earl Grey etc.

However, the varieties of biscuits are vastly different. I’ll be blunt: I don’t really like Australian biscuits (bar a couple). I’m not sure if that’s because I genuinely don’t like them, or if it’s because I miss my beloved English biscuits. I suspect it’s a bit of both, but in any case I thought I’d try to find out with a scientific* experiment.

Before we get to the details of the experiment, however, a run down of some of my favourite biscuits that are available in England, but not here.

English Biscuits

rich tea

Rich Tea

Rich tea biscuits are very, very boring, and are the staple English biscuit. My Grandma always had these biscuits, and that’s probably the only reason I like them. They’re not all that good for dunking because they fall apart and collect in the bottom of the tea cup, but if you do manage to get a decent dunk, they soak up the flavour of the tea, and this the only way to make them even vaguely enjoyable.

There is a type of biscuit called Rich Tea available in Australia. These biscuits are quite different, and I discuss these below.

hobnob

Hob Nobs

Hob Nobs are made by McVities, and they are the most amazing things in existence. Obviously, the only ones worth eating are chocolate Hob Nobs. They’re oaty and crunchy and delicious. In L.A. I was willing to pay up to $12 for a packet of Hob Nobs. Alas, they are not available in supermarkets here, and I’m not prepared to go in search of a British shop, so I have to go without.

Pink Wafers

Wafer biscuits are available here: vanilla wafers, chocolate wafers, and strawberry wafers. What is not available, however, are pink wafers: those wafer finger sandwiches with cream in the middle. They are bright pink and don’t seem to have any actual flavour other than simply pink. I remember them from play school, and I think that perhaps they are children’s biscuits, but sometimes children’s biscuits are the best! Which leads me to…

party rings

Party Rings!

Oh yes! These are brilliant. They are definitely children’s biscuits because, well look at them. The main ingredient is, I think, food colouring, followed my sugar and then more food colouring. They come in a variety of flavours: pink, yellow, pinky-purple and fluorescent brown.

in essence, the actual biscuit is crap. It’s a very plain biscuit, but it is the brightly-coloured icing that makes them awesome. Definitely for children’s parties, but also a favourite at parties I went to as a student. I love the retro 80’s feel of these. But they just don’t exist here. People are also a little horrified when I describe them. I can’t imagine why.

Bourbons

I won’t go into too much detail, because these are a very basic chocolate sandwich biscuit. Similar things are available here, but they’re not called bourbons, and I think it is the name, rather than the actual biscuit I like.

The Scientific* Experiment

Okay, so not really a scientific experiment, but rather an afternoon session of me sitting and eating biscuits. Now, I did actually do it properly: I put out the biscuits on a nice plate, made a pot of tea, and tested each one, considering flavour, crunch and dunkability.

Shopping

A Packets

Arnott’s in Australia is basically what McVitie’s is in the UK. Now for this experiment, I splurged a bit and I bought Arnott’s. I could have got Woolworth’s own-brand, but I figure these wouldn’t have been as good, and I might have been accused of not conducting the test fairly. I also bought a pack of Anzac biscuits made in-house by Woolworth’s, and Rich Teas by Paradise biscuits, as Arnott’s rich tea either don’t exist, or aren’t available in my local Woolie’s.

The Party

B Plated upC Ready to Go

Like I said, I put the biscuits on a plate, as civilized people do, made a pot of tea (Yorkshire Tea, of course!), and sat down and started eating. Actually, it seemed rather daunting, the sight of all those biscuits, and knowing that I was going to have to eat them all. But first, a cup of tea to warm up my biscuit-eating muscles.

01 Tea

The Plain Biscuits

Nice and Milk Arrowroot

02 nice03 arrowroot

Nice aren’t particularly Australian, but they were included in the family pack of biscuits that I bought, so I thought I’d try them. They’re plain, but with a pleasing crunch. They dunk well, and the sweetness comes out when dunked.

Milk Arrowroots are very much like English Rich Teas, although they are oval instead of circular. They fall apart when dunked, and are an excellent option for a soggy biscuit.

04 choc ripple

Choc Ripple

Just a plain chocolate biscuit, with quite a nice texture. A good chocolate flavour, but it does not dunk well. I think it would probably dunk better in coffee, but the biscuit spoils the taste of the tea, and the tea spoils the taste of the biscuit.

This one definitely tasted chocolatey, which is unusual for commercially-produced chocolate biscuits that don’t have a chocolate coating or chocolate cream.

05 scotch

Scotch Finger

I don’t like Scotch Fingers really. They’re definitely Australian though. Essentially, they’re a shortbread biscuit, but not not nice like Scottish ones. These are very dense, and when chewed they sort of clump together in your mouth.

Sadly, they didn’t pass the dunk test either. There was no improvement to either texture or flavour by dunking in tea.

05 scotch dunk

06 teddy bear

Teddy Bears

A very disappointing biscuit. This is clearly a children’s biscuit, and going on this one might think that Australians do not like children or want them to have fun. This doesn’t even come close to the Party Ring or even the Pink Wafer. It is very plain, hardly even sweet. It’s an unpleasant dunker, falling apart quickly and finding itself at the bottom of the cup.

07 butternut snap

Butternut Snap

Now these are very nice biscuits. They come close, but not quite close enough, to Hob Nobs. They have a really good crunch and oaty texture, with a very smooth, buttery flavour. They dunk well (and from experience I know they dunk really well in coffee), and they hold their texture when dunked.

Milk Coffee & Rich Tea

09 milk coffee12rich tea

There is not much good to say about either of these biscuits. The milk coffee is very very plain, much like the teddy bear, but without even a fun shape. It totally disintegrated when I dunked it, and I had to fish out bits of it with a teaspoon.

The Australian version of the Rich Tea is very odd indeed. It’s completely different from the English biscuit. The texture is that of a tougher arrowroot, but it has a horrible orangey flavour that becomes really quite bitter, and dunking only makes it worse. It’s dotted with chewy currants too, which are really quite nasty. I will not be buying these again.

11 anzac

The Anzac Biscuit

Anzac biscuits are most definitely Australian, and they are gorgeous! The texture is chewy, but oaty, and they have a really good buttery flavour. They’re made with coconut, but the ones I had today didn’t really have a flavour of coconut. They are, however, still delicious.

Australia may produce some dodgy biscuits that make me pine for a Fox’s selection tin, but all is forgiven with the Anzac biscuit.

The Cream Biscuits

10 timtam

Tim Tams

I first heard about Tim Tams in 2009, and had an American licensed version of them shortly afterwards. They are really really nice, and not liking them is unAustralian apparently.

The thing they most compare to in the UK is the Penguin, although the actual biscuit part of Tim Tams is quite a bit softer, and the cream creamier. The only negative I have to add is that the chocolate is a little too sugary, but I should bear in mind that I had by this point already eaten a lot of biscuits, so my mouth was likely FULL of dissolved sugar.

Monte Carlo & Delta Cream

13 monte carlo16 delta open

The Monte Carlo is really nice. It looks crunchy, but really it isn’t. The cream is almost marshmallowy, and the raspberry jam around the outside of the cream is a really nice surprise. The Delta Cream is a lot like an Oreo, but not as chocolatey. Actually it’s not chocolatey at all. The cream is also very sugary, and although it is supposed to be vanilla cream, it doesn’t have any flavour at all. Disappointing.

14 orange slice

Orange Slice

Now, I’m not really a lover of orange flavoured biscuits; it makes no sense to me, so it’s not surprising that I didn’t like these. That said, the orange flavour was not very strong. The biscuit had no real crunch either. A really disappointing biscuit.

17 kingston

Kingston

The Kingston is a really very pleasant biscuit. It’s very much like two butternut snaps with chocolate cream in the middle.

The biscuit has a really good crunch and a pleasant oaty texture, and the chocolate cream was a nice surprise. It wasn’t that hard, flavourless chocolate cream, but rather almost like gooey melted chocolate. I could eat lots of these biscuits!

19 more munching

Shortbread Creams

Honestly, these are horrible. They have no flavour whatsoever, and the texture is not pleasant. The shortbread is like soft sand, and lacks that buttery flavour that Scottish shortbread has. The cream is sugary, but has no clear flavour.

I’ll be avoiding these.

The Conclusion

There are plenty of good things to say about biscuits in Australia, but I do miss my English favourites. My definite favourite out of all of these is the Anzac biscuit, but from the Arnott’s selection, either the butternut snap or the Kingston was in the top spot.

After all of these biscuits, I did feel rather sick, and I got a head rush from all the sugar, but I suppose it WAS in the name of research. And a tea party for one was a lot of fun!

follow me on twitter: @supercroup

Image credits:

Party rings photo:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mattbuck
mattbuck

Rich Tea (English) photo:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Xyrael?uselang=en-gb
Sean Whitton

Enough already with #loveislove

A lot of same-sex marriage advocates really like the hashtag #loveislove. I don’t. It’s harmful.

Today deputy leader of the opposition, Tanya Plibersek, tweeted this in support of same-sex marriage in Australia:

It irritated me quite intensely. Partly because that’s not what same-sex marriage (or marriage equality, call it what you will) is; and partly because of the harmful message it sends.

Amending the law to allow same-sex couples to marry is simply a question of giving same-sex couples equal access to a legal institution. Nothing more, and nothing less. Amending the law is not about recognizing love: weddings (well, most) do that; the legal institution of marriage does not. We are not asking that the government recognizes the love involved in many of our relationships, or that the government supports the love involved in many of our relationships, we are simply asking that the government provides us with equal access to the legal institution for formalizing our relationships.

I feel like I am repeating myself too much, but it irks me that something so simple seems to be so widely misunderstood.

Facts aside, #loveislove seems like pretty good rhetoric to convince people to support same-sex marriage. And oh, how harmful that rhetoric is.

#loveislove says that we should be given equal access to a legal institution because we deserve it. Not that all legal institutions should be equally available to all, but that equal rights are for those who deserve them.

#loveislove invites people to base their willingness to allow us equal access to a legal institution on their opinion of the validity of of our relationships. It invites them to judge that our love isn’t real love in their eyes and deny us equal rights based on that.

#loveislove sets conditions on our equal access to a legal institution. It says our marriages should be based on love – when the law does not (the law says they must be genuine, for life, and exclusive – all of which I disagree with, but that’s another matter).

Worst of all #loveislove erases the queerness of our relationships. #loveislove demands our relationships be based on a heteronormative model of two people who love each other forming a monogamous life-long relationship, when a very large number of queer relationships are just not like that. #loveislove sets up gatekeepers of equal access to a legal institution, and gives the respectable gays the keys, keeping the scandalous queers out. It sets whatever exists of the queer community up against itself, and can only ever make our demands for equal access to a legal institution weaker.

So can we kill off #loveislove? Can we give up asking for permission? Can we demand equal access to a legal institution based simply on the fact that we are people, and without placing conditions on ourselves?

I hope so.

Chickpea & mushroom spiced stew

I threw this together last night because I was looking for something super-cheap, nutritious, and very tasty for dinner. It was successful on all counts: easy to make and it cost about $4 (AUD) to make. Aside from the onion, everything came out of cans or packets too, which makes it a perfect last-minute thing, and you could easily make it on a camping trip. Vegan & vegetarian friendly.

img_20160927_210625

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, sliced into half moons
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 400 g can chickpeas
  • 1 400 g can whole champignons, drained
  • 2 400 g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp hot Madras curry powder
  • 1 tbsp canola oil or similar

Method

  • Over a medium heat soften the onion and garlic in the oil with a good pinch of salt for around ten minutes.
  • Turn the heat to high, add the curry powder and the spices, turning them over in the onion for about a minute until they become fragrant.
  • Pour in the tomatoes, and about a can’s worth of water, using it to rinse out the cans before adding.
  • Bring to the boil, then add the drained champignons, and the chickpeas with their brine
  • Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes
  • Turn up the heat to medium-high add the lentils, simmering more robustly for a further 15-20 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the lentils have gone mushy. Scrape the bottom from time to time to ensure the lentils do not stick.

Serve with rice.

Conflicts on same-sex marriage

I just found this in my drafts on my Google Drive from August 2014. I probably meant it to be the bones of a piece with sentences and paragraphs and everything, but looks like I could never be bothered to actually write it. (I think the original question was on Q&A). Here it is in its unedited form.

Note the question used “gay people”, so I used the same in the response. I’d normally use “queer people”. See an earlier post for my thoughts on the term for marriage that includes queer people that I refer to here as “gay marriage”.

Why do so many gay people want to be assimilated into the heteronormative-archaic-patriarchal construct that is marriage?

 

  • We don’t
    • Rich vocal minority with means and funding to campaign loudly on this issue make it seem like more gay people see this as a major issue than actually do.
    • Well-meaning straight people with influence see this as an easy cause to get behind.
    • Actual major issues affecting gay people are where the less-vocal majority of gay people actually want to see change:
      • Homelessness, particularly for young gay people
      • Employment
      • Education
      • Access to relevant health services – including sexual and mental health, and especially aged care.
      • Societal, rather than legal change
      • Protection of our culture/subcultures
      • Not being called a poofter on national television or being told by boss to move to New Zealand
    • Underground gay culture is still strong – most gay people really do reject heteronormativity.
  • We do, but we shouldn’t
    • Marriage is a form of social control – government regulating our relationships
    • Gay marriage means more discrimination; not less
      • Immigration (ref UK Home Office guidelines)
      • Treatment of trans people
      • Treatment of poly people
      • Adoption rights
      • Increased stigma to unmarried people – including unmarried couples (of all orientations), single parents
      • Creation of a ‘gold standard’
    • Gay marriage is an attempt to stifle our liberation – by regulating our relationships, our oppressors make us less free; not more free.
    • Marriage is promoted as a right, but in reality it is a civic duty – our responsibility to ensure our relationships follow the approved format
    • Gay marriage creates a public register of gay people that can be used against us by those who would harm us.
    • The whole fucking system is bollocks
  • We do, and we should
    • The law shouldn’t discriminate
      • BUT it still does, indirectly.
      • BUT just because it doesn’t discriminate against us doesn’t mean it doesn’t discriminate against anyone.
    • Family is universal – our desire to form family units that fit within our wider culture is not assimilation – it’s an expression of our relationships being a valid and important part of society
    • Our relationships are normal, not subcultural, and society should recognise that
    • We actually just want the legal rights afforded by marriage, and we reject the archaic patriarchal nature of traditional marriage
    • We can’t completely eliminate societal discrimination if we don’t eliminate legal discrimination
      • Gay marriage, while not perfect, is a definite step in the right direction.
    • We shouldn’t ignore the inequality of discriminatory marriage laws just because there are also worse issues affecting gay people
    • We like the idea of having a wedding and all the cultural tradition that comes with it
    • It’s also just, at it’s most basic element, a certificate and official recognition that two (or more) people  love each other.
    • Some of us want to get married, and that should be reason enough

Versions of gay marriage I have knowledge of and oppose

    • The UK version. Oh god so awful.
      • Spousal veto in particular
      • Really heavily gender-defining
    • The (thankfully overturned) Canberra version (even fucking worse than the UK)
      • Set us apart as different
      • Completely excluded trans and genderless people
  • Versions of marriage including gay people I could support:
    • Any marriage that didn’t exclude any consenting adult. At all. Under any circumstance.
    • None, really. The whole system is fucked

Complementary Albums

I try to save weekends for writing about – or even just sharing – things that bring me joy. Here’s some music that brings me joy!

Even in the age of streaming, playlists and songs, I’m still a lover of the the full-length album (and more specifically the pop album). Scot often laughs, but one of my criteria for a really good pop album is “flow” – how well the songs on the album work together in the order presented, and the overall feel of the album. Today I’m taking that a little further, and sharing my picks for pairs of albums that I think work so well together that listening to them together as one is pop music synergy.

Confessions on a Dance Floor, Madonna & System, Seal

Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor is easily my favorite album to date: I love the songs and I adore Stuart Price’s production. Sitting alongside, though, is another favorite of mine, System by Seal, also produced by Stuart Price. Both are polished dance records with gorgeous layers, synths and sequences. Good beats.

Highlights from Confessions  are Get Together, Let it will be,  and How High, and my favorites from System  are Loaded, Dumb, and The Right Life.

Ladies of the Canyon, Joni Mitchell & Seventh Tree, Goldfrapp

A couple of breezy, folky albums that are perfect for Sunday afternoon listening. Although I’m definitely a fan of Goldfrapp, and love Seventh Tree, I don’t know much of Joni Mitchell aside from Ladies of the Canyon.

Top picks from Joni’s album are Conversation and The Circle Game, and, while it’s hard to pick the best tracks from Seventh Tree I’d suggest Happiness, A&E, and Caravan Girl are unmissable.

Zonoscope, Cut Copy & Made In The Dark, Hot Chip

Quirky dance albums are definitely my thing, and though male voices tend not to be, these two albums have the kind of posh non-American male voice that I find pleasing. Both albums are definitely what some people might call overproduced, but it’s the kind of thing I like. Also guitars and a mix of dance and pop will always win me over.

From Zonoscope I recommend Pharaohs and Pyramids and Haning onto every Heartbeat; and from Made in the Dark my stand-out tracks are Out at the Pictures, We’re Looking for a lot of Love, and Hold On.

A Joyful Noise, Gossip & The Family Jewels, Marina and the Diamonds

JB Hi-Fi files both of these very excellent albums under ‘Alternative’, but I’m not sure I agree with them. They’re both really good pop albums, just with growling. As is the (almost) theme, they are a bit quirky, quite dark in places, and have hard-hitting beats.

From A Joyful Noise my favorites are Move in the Right Direction and Into The Wild; and my favorite tracks from The Family Jewels are all of them, but particularly Shampain, Mowgli’s Road, and Hollywood.

Blood Like Lemonade, Morcheeba & The Reminder, Feist

I’m lying to myself a little here – I actually think the perfect companion to The Reminder by Feist is by Damien Rice, and I’ve had more than one evening with those two albums and good red wine, but I’m here suggesting pairing The Reminder with Blood Like Lemonadea perfectly nice and understated album by Morcheeba. Another couple of records that are a little folksy with some quirks, they bring me a sense of calm.

My picks from Blood Like Lemonade are Crimson, Recipe for Disaster, and Beat of the Drum. The Reminder is another one to pick favorites from, but if pushed I’d recommend So Sorry, The Park, and The Limit To Your Love. I also have a deep love for Brandy Alexander and I’m including it here because it reminds me of a friend.

Homesickness 

I wrote this last year for Six Months in Sydney, but a chat with Adam on Twitter reminded me of it. Some who follow me closely will know my Australian citizenship application had been approved and I have the ceremony next month: thoughts of home and what home is exactly are in my mind again. 
Timehop reminded me this morning that three years ago I was about two weeks away from leaving the UK and that this fact, having suddenly hit me, was causing my emotions to be pretty messy. I suppose it was to be expected, aside from the thoughts of everything I was leaving behind, I had also, earlier in the week, put the majority of my possessions, packed into tea chests, onto a truck bound for a shipping container. I very much felt like I was in some sort of ‘limbo’; halfway between two lives. I’d done all the admin, all the packing, booked my flights, tidied everything up. Aside from saying goodbye to people I wanted to say goodbye to, I was ready to go.

During the previous couple of weeks I had spent most of my time busying myself with the packing and with the admin, but once everything was done, once I was able to just stop, it hit me: shit, this is really happening.

CNDWM_LUEAAEXmn

I had a couple of mini meltdowns, had episodes where I’d just break down into tears for no real reason and then after about five minutes I’d be fine. It was a strange time for me, emotionally.

Three years later, I feel very settled. That ‘limbo’ feeling is long gone – honestly I have never really felt it here. I expected to feel homesick perhaps, but I never have. Perhaps things like Skype help. but I’m sure it goes deeper than that. I feel no real desire to be in the UK. Sure I miss family and friends, and have a desire to physically be with them, but there’s not much about England itself that I long for, and as time passes, the UK feels ever more like a foreign country. When I’m there, of course, it feels like home, but being so far removed in my day-to-day life means that any associations with “home” are reserved now for people rather than the place.

On my last day in Leeds, I sat in City Square and cried, but now that feels so long ago, as though it were another life. I thought I wouldn’t be able to cope without the BBC, but I find myself only rarely catching ip with British TV shows on iPlayer, and I haven’t once in the last three years listened to Radio 1 online. I don’t feel that longing for supermarkets, the pub, fish-and-chip shops, British roads, the Pound, that I thought I would. I just feel settled.

A friend on Twitter said this, and it echoes my thoughts beautifully:

So perhaps that’s it. I don’t feel any longing for England because I have no need to long for it. Any time I want it, I can have it. Looking back three years, I wish I’d known it then. But even three years later, it’s a comforting thought.

 

follow me on Twitter: @supercroup

Nico Hines could have got loads of dates

I think we’re all agreed that the article that Nico Hines wrote for the Daily Beast, in which he claimed to have used Grindr to arrange three dates with Olympic athletes, was very bad, homophobic, and put the lives of at least one Olympic athlete in very real danger. There have been a lot of responses to that (my favorite being Rebecca Shaw’s for SBS) so I don’t think I need or want to add anything there.

I’ve been more interested in the response from quite a lot of gay men on Twitter suggesting that Nico couldn’t possibly have got enough interest on Grindr to arrange three dates, simply because of his physical appearance. I’ll be fair, Nico isn’t smokin’ hot. He’s not the toned, bronzed Adonis that the stereotypical gay man seeks. And too, Grindr is full of generally dreadful men who body shame and won’t even have a conversation with anyone who isn’t toned, tanned, and under twenty-two. (I won’t go into the very real issues of racism here, but they deserve at least a nod.) And many of these men have taken to Twitter to express their dismay at the mere thought that someone who looks like Nico Hines would ever be contacted by anyone on Grindr.

nicotweet
@tobyparkin on Twitter: “I’m not about shaming, but, there is absolutely no chance he got 3 dates in 60 minutes on Grindr is there?”

In reality there’s every chance that Nico got three dates in an hour, and for lots of reasons.

For a start, beauty and attractiveness are very subjective. True, Nico isn’t the conventional ideal male body, but not everyone’s ideal is the conventional ideal. I’m sure plenty of men find Nico perfectly (at least physically) attractive – and I’m sure even some Olympians would. Hell, aside from those gay men who exclusively date people who look like themselves (and I refer you here to one of my favorite Tumblrs), what we, ourselves, look like doesn’t have much of a bearing on what we find attractive.

Looking deeper, and beyond attractiveness, there are other reasons Olympic athletes might get in touch with Nico to arrange a hook-up. Nico himself revealed that some of the people he connected with on Grindr were from countries where being gay is dangerous or illegal. And even in the world of sport, being gay means you mightn’t have the easiest time. So a a good proportion of male Olympic athletes looking for sex with men in Rio will be on the down low. Nico’s clearly not an Olympic athlete: he’s removed, so anyone really trying to stay on the DL might feel safer with him; might feel like this could truly be an encounter that would not ever come out; might feel like this could be something completely deniable with someone totally unconnected. This makes Nico’s actions all the more abhorrent, but it does explain a potential reason why Olympic athletes might have contacted him: when safety is a primary concern, physical attraction might not be.

Laws, culture, and safety concerns also mean that gay male Olympic athletes from certain countries might not be getting laid that often. Or at all. For them, maybe being in Rio for the Games was their only real chance of guaranteed sex with another man. Maybe a once in a lifetime chance. Maybe in their minds they couldn’t risk being picky; they couldn’t risk rejection from the ultra-toned stunners. They had a couple of weeks to get a shag and then perhaps never again. So they may have seen Nico as a sure thing. Someone who would almost certainly say yes.

A lot of discussion about Nico’s face, body, and overall appearance however, erases a sizable section of gay male sexual culture – one that involves dark rooms, glory holes, cottages, blindfolds – one that is truly anonymous, and one that doesn’t care about physical beauty or ideal bodies: it cares only about cock. It’s blunt, but it rejects heterosexist norms about courtship, romance and attraction and is all about animalistic sex. In that culture Nico’s appearance is irrelevant. His body shape, size, and tone are irrelevant. Every feature of his face is irrelevant. The only part of his body that is relevant is his cock. It’s not a culture we’re all part of, but it’s one that is valid and worthy of celebration.

An experiment

I wanted to know for sure if it could be possible to secure three hook-ups in the space of an hour on Grindr without being conventionally attractive. I wagered it would be possible with an almost blank profile. So I set one up. And waited.

grindr1

I put in some limited details, left out a photo and waited. Within five minutes I had three messages, all from men looking for casual sex immediately. (Note I’ve distorted the images for privacy.)

grindr2

Within ten minutes I had eight messages. I didn’t respond to the messages, and I deleted the profile straight away, but I could very easily have turned at least three of those into fake hook-up appointments with an hour, just like Nico did.

Thoughts?

Nico Hines’s actions were disgusting and harmful, but our response shouldn’t be this self-loathing body shaming. Of course Nico could have got laid in Rio – because men who have sex with men like having sex with men.

Quick Politics Roundup (warning: may include a terrible analogy)

Hello, here are a few thoughts on Australian and UK politics for the weekend. In the tradition of political commentators who spill their thoughts in the Sunday papers, I probably won’t proof read or edit this, and I certainly won’t think about it too hard.

Jeremy Corbyn

I’m not a member of the Labour party. I generally like Jeremy Corbyn’s policies, but my goodness not right now. He’s come out as a Brexitmeansbrexiteer, which is actually a smart move considering he needs support from working class Brexiteers, but it’s really not helpful for anyone apart from himself.

To use a tired old ‘burning building’ analogy, Corbyn’s anti-austerity message was very good last year before anyone was even thinking about the EU Referendum, and was rather like demanding some fire doors and some sprinklers in a building at risk of catching fire. Now the building’s on fire with everyone trapped inside; Theresa May’s running a “let it burn and see what happens” line; David Davis and crew are turning up with a demolition ball to knock the whole thing down as quickly as possible, and all the while Jeremy – Leader of the Opposition – Corbyn’s response is still “we should put some fire doors in”. Meanwhile there do seem to be some (Owen Smith, crucially, as well as the Lib Dems) who are saying, you know what, we could try putting the fire out, and they’re being demonised by Corbyn supporters as haters of the poor.

Clearly fire doors are a good idea. Anti-austerity is a very very good position to hold. But right now, Brexit is more dangerous than imaginable. The result of the EU Referendum has caused more damage in a month than Cameron and Osborne’s austerity package could have caused in a decade. And even though Cameron and Osborne are out of the picture now, Jeremy Corbyn is still focusing all his efforts on them and their policies, seemingly unaware of what is going on around him.

(And much though I hate to take a “fuck the poor” position, large numbers of certain sections of the British population voted to leave the EU, and my sympathy for the resulting self-inflicted hardship is very limited indeed.)

The Australian Senate & 1st preference votes

Apparently Malcolm Roberts only got 77 first preference votes and is now a senator. Apparently we have four One Nation senators (up from zero) even though the party got a lower share of the vote than last time. Apparently nobody knows how preferential voting works. 77 first preference votes for a not-even-first candidate for a minor party is quite impressive, and quite worrying. We should probably be more concerned about a society that allows bigotry to flourish rather than an electoral system that allows people to vote for it.

On colorblindness, clothes, and currency

Content notes: this post touches on casino gambling.

When I was 13 Auntie Sue bought me a pair of green jeans for Christmas. These were absolutely the height of fashion, but I was a timid 13-year-old and I did not have the confidence to actually wear them, so Mum took me to the shop, gift receipt in hand, so I could exchange them for a more traditional blue. I picked a darkish pair that I  thought suited my timid style. Something that would make sure I blended into the background, something that wouldn’t draw any attention to me or what I was wearing.

They were purple.

Mum didn’t tell me.

I’m red-green colorblind, which is the standard kind, although my color vision is pretty fucked up. I talk about it a fair bit, mainly because it leads to a fair number of amusing situations (like the purple jeans!), but also because some people seem to find it fascinating. For me it’s a source of frustration more than anything, but I do see how people find differences in perception interesting, so I’m happy to share.

fivedollars
Australian $5 note

The latest source of discussion came from an outburst of shock on my part yesterday when I read on the internet that the Australian five dollar note is pink. There it is over there. Pink as you like. Although not to me. To my eyes it is a sort of blue-green color. Although not to my eyes, I should say. To my mind. After much discussion on Twitter with John B, I worked out that my perception of the five dollar note being blue-green probably comes from my knowing (although not seeing) that the British five pound note is green (although I have always seen it as very definitely blue), and that I see the Australian five dollar note and the British five pound note as being the same color. It seems my brain sometimes perceives color based on not just (or not even) the information coming from my eyes, but from prior knowledge of the color of things that are similar.

fivepoundnote
British fiver that I grew up with. I’m told it’s green.

Curiosities and sources of amusement aside, color vision deficiency does have a fairly significant impact on many aspects of life. I won’t say that color vision deficiency is a disability (although some people argue that it is, and indeed a Brazilian court ruled that it is), but it does present challenges and there are things that, because of my color vision deficiency, I Just Can’t Do. Regular followers might know that I used to work as a casino dealer (and I still do moonlight as a dealer for those fun casinos that you often see at events), which is a job where being able to see and differentiate color is very important. The color of gambling chips designates their value, and roulette wheel checks come in different colors to be assigned to different players to give a couple of examples. Mostly I’m able to cope, as the colors are different enough that I can tell them apart, but there have been occasions where I have been stuck.

Outside my professional life, there are heaps of difficulties. The world is set up for people with normal color vision, and most notably the very common use of green/red to mean good/bad or on/off. Sometimes it’s impossible for me to see the difference – e.g. on a tiny LED, the red light and the green light look the same. Identical. Some product labeling that uses traffic-light-style information means nothing to me – or at least nothing at a glance, which is how it is designed. And people so often use colors that are difficult or impossible for people with color vision deficiency to tell apart on maps, charts, diagrams etc. (Public transport maps are notoriously difficult!)

Happily some people do care about this, and go to efforts to make the things they produce accessible to people with color vision deficiency. I was contacted in 2013 by Phillipa Demonte who was working on a paper for the Department of Geosciences at Boise State University and was keen to ensure that the figures that would be used in the paper were as accessible as possible from a color vision perspective. A few people responded to Phillipa’s call, and the general consensus among us was that bold colors and thick lines are easier to see than pastels and thin lines.

 

I hope more and more people take color vision deficiency into consideration when designing things – whether it’s public information, product labels, LED indicators on electronics, or figures and plots in scientific papers. But even if that does happen, I’ll still forever be haunted by those purple jeans. John B told me last night “You dress well and I admire your dress sense; I suspect that colourblindness helps you ditch some prejudices about colours though”. I’m not so sure. I remain super conscious that I might not be able to tell if the colors of the things I’m wearing complement each other or clash horribly. When preparing new outfits I always – always – check with someone that the colors don’t clash. I have to know the name of the color of every single piece of clothing I own – I simply will not wear anything unless I know the name of its color. (This, again, leads to some amusement as when my boyfriend buys me clothes as gifts, my response is almost always “I really like it; what color is it?”.) More often than most people, I Google color combinations the night before I wear anything just to be sure the things I wear will look okay.

Color vision deficiency seems normal and trivial to me, and a lot of the time I find discussion of color perception tedious. I’m predisposed to take into account other people’s color vision when designing things, and I would encourage anyone reading to do the same. And at the very least – warn your kids before they buy purple jeans.

Programming

At the end of 2014 I took a beginners statistics course and was introduced to R, which is a programming language and software environment for statistical computing. It was brand new to me, but I picked up the basics fairly quickly. As is my nature, I played around with it a fair bit, trying things out, and eighteen months later, I know enough to have convinced my boss that I am literally a magician based on what I can produce.

To complement, in the last year or so I’ve taught myself the basics (and a bit more) of LaTeX, which is a document preparation system and markup language. Perhaps just the basics, but enough to produce documents that I’m actually proud to present to management as my work, rather than the (especially now) disappointing documents I used to produce using Microsoft Word.

Despite all this, I still feel intimidated by the idea of programming languages that I don’t know. And it’s holding me back. I think it’s probably because I don’t really have any formal background in computing, and everything I’ve ever learnt has been self-taught, but I seem to pick up the basics of anything I try without any issue.

I taught myself enough HTML in 2003 to be able to build the website for the Leeds University LGBT society from scratch – I did the whole thing in Notepad (the ongoing management of the site was another issue, I hasten to add), but I was scared to learn any CSS because it was new.

When I was maybe 12, I wrote some games in BASIC – from memory a slot machine (poker machine, fruit machine, or what you will) that was pretty simple, but functional; and a safari park management sim – all text based (because I’m not artistic enough to do graphics). The object of that game was to balance the antelope and lion populations by culling or inseminating either lions or antelope on each turn – again, a simple game, but proof that I could write programs, and was good at it.

There’s little point to this post, other than for me to combat the impostor syndrome I suffer dreadfully from. I can’t go back to when I was 14 years old, change my mind and decide to do a Computing GCSE instead of Business Studies (even though, with hindsight, I totally should have) – that would probably have taken me somewhere. But perhaps this can be an inspiration to someone who can make that sort of decision.

No, your concerns about immigration are not about immigration

I wasn’t going to write this. I didn’t think I needed to write something parading my many privileges. But it’s been on my mind for weeks. Since Brexit, since Trump and now since Pauline Hanson, Sonia Kruger, since people all across the developed world are claiming they have concerns about immigration. For all sorts of reasons. But it’s doublespeak. It’s a cover for nasty prejudices that people would rather pretend they didn’t hold. But people are not really concerned about immigration. And I know.

know.

I know because I am an immigrant. But the nice kind. The kind that people don’t have a problem with. The white, middle class, childless kind. The kind who is steeped in privilege.

But going deeper, and removing the many layers of privilege, I have been a very bad immigrant. I have done many, if not all, the things that people who have concerns about immigration cite as reasons for their concerns. And none of the people who have these concerns have objected to me.

I moved from one country to another

In 2012 I moved from the UK to Australia. It’s glaringly obvious that I’m a migrant, but it still needs saying. None of the people I know who have concerns about immigration objected to my migration. Most thought it was a good thing. Some attended a party I had to celebrate my migration (and, ironically, discussed their objections to immigration with me at the party). But not a single person has ever objected to me – and specifically me – moving from one country to another. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of migration – you didn’t object when I did it.

I arrived in Australia with no money

Many people who have concerns about immigration suggest that immigrants are a drain on the economy. It’s okay for wealthy people to migrate because they are able to support themselves, but people who do not have healthy bank balances should not migrate. They don’t have concerns about immigration per se; just about people who have little money migrating.

When I moved to Australia, I arrived with little more than enough money for a flight back to the UK in case some emergency meant I needed it. That’s all I had. And from people I know who have concerns about immigration I received words of encouragement and offers of support. That’s how I know you do not object to the concept of a person migrating with no money – you didn’t object when I did it.

When I arrived, welfare supported my family

When I moved to Australia I was unemployed and my partner was studying and receiving Austudy – a welfare benefit. For the time that I was unemployed, this was the majority of the money our family of two had coming in. People I told about this – people who have concerns about immigration – didn’t voice any objection to this. Some told me how it was good that we had some money coming in. That’s how I know you don’t object to the concept of immigrants relying on welfare – you didn’t object when I did it.

Shortly after arriving, I took a low-skilled job

Quite a lot of people who have concerns about immigration base this concern on unemployment. There aren’t enough jobs, and immigrants are taking those jobs. Immigrants are the cause of unemployment. Especially when immigrants are taking low-skilled jobs. It’s okay for highly-skilled immigrants: nurses, sports players, scientists – we need those kind of people, but low-skilled immigrants just contribute to unemployment.

When I arrived, after a couple of weeks of unemployment, I took a job cleaning ashtrays in a leagues club. A low-paid, low-skilled job that anyone could do. The response I got when I told people I know who have concerns about immigration was, strangely, a positive one. “That’s great!”; “Good on you!”; “It’s good that you’re earning money”. Nobody told me that I was stuffing up the economy and contributing to unemployment amongst Australian citizens. Nobody suggested I resign for moral reasons. That’s how I know you don’t object to immigrants taking jobs – you didn’t object when I did it.

There are probably a myriad other reasons people cite for having concerns about immigration – things that the faceless hypothetical immigrant does that cause untold damage to society and to the economy. I’ve probably done most of them. I arrived with no money but I had a mobile phone (I can’t have been that poor if I had a mobile phone!); I spend money outside of the Australian economy, sending gifts to my family overseas; I hang on to my culture and traditions, doing things I did in England; I haven’t adopted Christianity; I eat English food; not applicable here, but wherever I moved, I would have continued to speak my mother language; I watch English TV; I lived rent-free with adopted family for a while when I moved here; I’ve been a burden on the health service. Nobody has ever objected to any of it. Nobody.

So I know your concerns about immigration are really concerns about something else. Because you only have concerns about things that I have done when you strip away my privilege. When you take away my whiteness, you start having concerns. When you take away my middle-class upbringing, you start having concerns. When you take away my native speaker level of English, my childlessness, now my income, my abled body, my lack of religion, all of it. That’s when you start having concerns.

So let’s be honest – what are you really concerned about? And are you quite comfortable holding those concerns?