Monthly Archives: June 2005


Cover of current edition of Footfall

My copy of Footfall was originally acquired by my father back in September 1988 – a time when this novel could have been regarded as “happening now”. The fall of the Soviet Union and the demise of the space shuttle, Challenger, place it in the past but then, hey, so was H. G. Wells.

How come there was a twist in one of Saturn’s rings? Aliens! And they aren’t coming in peace… Although the authorship of this novel is given as Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, from having read pure Niven (the various “Tales of Known Space”) and pure Pournelle (Future History), I do wonder who the main author is here; the aliens, I feel, are very much Niven’s creations, but I sense (quite possibly incorrectly) a heavier Pournelle influence than in other of their joint ventures..

In this tale, some unlikely heroes emerge – especially the team of science-fiction writers who become special presidential advisers and alien “experts”. Nearly all the characters are in some way connected with the others – something that I found confusing initially, especially as I get confused with names; perhaps I should have Xeroxed the Dramatis Personae from the beginning of the book and referred to it whilst reading. I could have even used it as a bookmark rather than the extremely dog-eared Adelaide Metro ticket that has been marking my place for the last couple of months.

Whilst Footfall lacks some of the sparkle of their other books, I’d still recommend it, especially to Niven & Pournelle fans.

Now to turn to the bookshelves and see what next takes my fancy.

The Joys of Gardening

Since the rains, the ground has become soft and the mess at the bottom of the yard has been demanding my attention. Yesterday, I grubbed out the tomato plants and stuck in some sugar peas where they were against the back fence. I've already got irrigation down there (nice, nutrient rich, reclaimed water), so all that remains is to build some trellises out of whatever suitable rubbish I can find in the pile of junk the builders left when they built this house.

I needed to break some more ground to get some other vegetables in – onions being the main priority at the moment. After long-term illness, I discovered that trying to turn the soil over with a fork was a bad move – I'm not as well recovered as I thought. I popped a disc cultivator on the back of "Fergus", my 47-year-old tractor, and managed to cultivate about 90 square metres in about 10 minutes, despite working in a confined space that required me to have to reverse after every 9 metres of cultivation.

The effort of raking that much heavy, wet, soil has convinced me that I need to build myself some sort of rake to go on Fergus' three-point linkage.

Fergus also helped me remove a huge stack of weeds and old tomato plants – I just stacked it all on a pallet on the three-point linkage forklift attachment I built a few weeks ago.

I have two punnets of brown onion seedlings in, have a punnet of spring onions to plant, Chinese cabbage (Bok Wong) and borlotti beans to sow – the latter requiring another trellis.

I have yet to work out how I am going to irrigate the onions; I don't think that drip irrigation will give me the coverage and I can't use sprays because the reclaimed irrigation water will a) block spray nozzles and b) being gravity-fed, has insufficient pressure to run sprays anyway.

So that's the garden as things stand; I'm having a rest now and plan to get working on the pea/bean trellises later, if I'm not too stiff to get up again.

Soup for a Winter's Morning

We are but four days past the Winter Solstice – the weather is cool enough to make hot, hearty breakfasts a very welcome start to the day.

This morning's offering was a pair of my butcher's best pork sausages, slow-fried to lose most of the fat, cut up and served in the juice that remained from the day-before-yesterday's evening meal: a stew, goulash-like, but with a little fenugreek. This spicy juice went an absolute treat with the relatively plain sausages – better than previous attempts at a similar dish, using different left-over juices.

For the record, the original stew was based on strained, fresh chicken stock and seasoned with (in order of quantity): garlic, ground cumin seed, ground mild paprika, ground, fenugreek, crushed black pepper.

Wine and Cheese

Tableau of wine, cheese and crackers

When not quite sated after a good meal, wine and cheese is always a winner for me. I have tried various combinations of wines and cheeses but there is one constant amongst the variables, the one piece of England that I cannot give up: Table Water Crackers from Carr’s of Carlisle.

Cheese-wise, no matter what I have available, I like Edith’s Cheese from the Woodside Cheese Wrights to be part of the selection. Edith is described by the makers as: “A traditional French-style goats milk cheese rolled in vine ash. As a young cheese, Edith is mild and balanced with a slight hint of a creamy blue flavour.”

As regards the wine, my two current favourites are Old Sleepy from Thorogoods of Burra – actually a cider – and Tim Smith’s Grenache Mataro Shiraz, a truly excellent wine. (Note: Tim’s site was last spotted by Google in April 2005, but appears to be off-line at the moment. Please leave a comment on this post if you find it working and I’ll remove this text.)

Near Miss

Fencepost - lightning damage

After yesterday's lightning near-miss, we and the owners of the adjacent property had been looking to see where the strike went to ground. The neighbours found it. My estimate of the strike being up to 400 metres away was a little short – my hand-held GPS made it 500 metres from the datum point of our house, or about 475 metres from the nearest point of the house.

The lightning struck a wire fence, blasting several of the wooden fenceposts and spreading debris over a fairly large area. We saw the smoke from the house.

I have set up a page of images of the damage.

Lightning Damage – Winter Solstice 2005

Lightning struck a neighbouring property mid-afternoon on the Winter Solstice (21 June – we’re in the Southern Hemisphere) 2005.

Thumbnail images all link to larger images (longest side: 640 pixels).

Blasted fencepost [thumbnail]

The fencepost in this image was one of several reduced to stumps.

View of Smiffys house from lightning strike location [thumbnail]

Looking back over the broken fence towards the house.

Broken fence [thumbnail]

The blasted fence

Solstice Drama

And where to start?

On the eve of the Solstice (the Winter one, for the benefit of those up in the Northern Hemisphere who have just enjoyed their longest day), my wife had a phone call just as I was preparing the evening meal – her father had been admitted to hospital with a collapsed lung.

I had to stay home and feed dogs, horses and myself whilst my wife went off to the hospital.

Merry Solstice! There's only one thing worse on this day than visiting somebody in hospital and that's being the person visited. My father in law seemed quite cheerful, all things considered.

Flash! Bang! Not long after we arrived home, we experienced a lightning strike that was far too close for comfort. The horses spooked and the dogs were terrified. A hail storm (small stuff, luckily) along with a lot more rain; looks like our drought has finally broken.

Amidst all this drama, I discovered that my rain gauge seems to have been putting out some very dubious data. I bought this model specifically because it was advertised as having better resolution than a cheaper model – which now does not appear to be the case. Luckily I am able to adjust my historical data, which I will do once I have gone out there and done some calibration to work out exactly what the wretchèd thing is really registering. On the positive side, we have been getting a lot more rain than I though.

Still not done – more drama unfolds. My wife advised me this morning that the mains water pump was making "funny noises", as well it may, as it was merrily trying to pump air. The 1,000 litre break tank was completely empty; no signs of leakage, so it must have been pumped empty. This means one of two things: one – the pump had pumped the water somewhere (where?) or two – we had received no mains water for two or three days. I am still waiting for the tank to fill sufficiently that I can re-prime the pump and get things back to normal so that I can investigate further.

Lots of Solstice Fun – all of which I could have done without.