A Spin on the Cycle

It’s thirty years since I first climbed onto a bike and wobbled along our dusty driveway, held upright by trainer wheels. In the years after that I rode everywhere, like most country kids: to school and back every day, to friends’ places on the weekends, and on long epic rides in the summer holidays. They seemed long at the time, anyway. In hindsight they were probably never more than thirty k’s; from Huonville to Judbury and back via Rhys’s at Ranelagh, or up to Snowy’s place at Lower Longley. The ride to Gavin’s was the hardest, along that steep stretch of Swamp Road heading up from the river. Getting out there was fun, though, because you could cut onto the oxbow bend of main road bypassed a few years earlier—the local equivalent of an old railway siding. It was overgrown, but you could still get up a good head of steam, until you hit the trench across it that was exactly the same shape as a ten-speed’s front wheel.



The Cordial Elderflower

Jane and a friend visiting us from Australia toured the castles of Aberdeenshire last week, and brought back a bag of elderflowers picked from the side of the road. She asked if I could post this recipe here to add to the collective elderflower wisdom of the web, which I’m more than happy to (and to see how many times I can say the word “elderflower”). It’s a combination of several different recipes, and tastes great. It’s pretty strong, so you might want to dilute it more than you would a commercial cordial.



In Theory

I don’t normally launch new parts of the site until they’re finished, or finished enough, but in this case I’m making an exception. Ever since I started putting my academic writings from pre-web days onto this site, I’ve been thinking about how to—or even whether to—include some of my old essays in political thought. Although at one time I had plans to do more with them, ten years of actual life got in the way, and they’ve mouldered away in the bottom disk sector all that time.



Cheap as Chips

Welcome to the first in a series of Speedysnail recipes for the budget-minded gourmet.† Each week we’ll be showing how to entertain your friends in style without stretching your bank balance—or your waistline! This week, sit back and enjoy the satisfying goodness of that old British favourite, the mushy pea.

Tesco Value Mushy Peas



I’m Your Venus

As we all know, yesterday was the first time anyone alive has been able to see the transit of Venus. I’m no astronomer, but as an Aussie with an interest in the Pacific I couldn’t resist the allure of an event witnessed by Captain James Cook in Tahiti in 1769. The weather this past week has been perfect, with clear sunny mornings every day, so it was looking good for transit-watchers across Britain. It was time to load up the Nikon, ready the pinholed cardboard for safe viewing, and head out into the streets of Edinburgh to witness the historic Transit of Venus.

9 June 2004



Remains in the Sand

The final part after Skye, Lewis and Harris.

This is my earliest memory.

I’m walking beside a giant dune, the brilliant white sand squeaking underfoot, the brilliant white sky glaring overhead. My attention is all at ground level, absorbed in the yellow and green spinifex spiking out of the sand. But I’m aware of a presence, tall, bearded: my father.

There’s no-one else here; there rarely is, on the east coast of Tasmania in 1970. I’m two, and I’m camping in Seymour with my Dad, while Mum is at home, pregnant with my brother.

I’ve found something: a grey shape in the sand, half-buried. It’s the small, dessicated corpse of an animal, a rat or, I prefer to think (and quite possibly it was), a bandicoot.

There’s a handkerchief scrap of skin; a bundle of bleached white bones; and a delicate feather-light skull. Or perhaps it’s fresher than that, and its face still has features; these memories are almost as old as I am, and have been shaped and reshaped over thirty-four years. I can picture this animal in my head, but its details blur under my gaze as sunlight bleeds into it from the sand.

“It’s a bandicoot,” Dad tells me, “a dead bandy.” And I suppose this is my first encounter with death. So this is what happens when you die; the sun bakes you dry, and the wind drives fine white sand through your ribs into your body, until one day you’re just sand, too.

Later that day, the campsite cleared and the fire put out, we climb into our grey ex-Hydro Land Rover and circle around to drive off. “Bye-bye,” I wave at the dunes. Bye-bye, campsite; bye-bye, Seymour. Bye, dead animal.

No darkness, no menace; just a natural death, and a quiet funeral.