This is Lili's OLD WEBSITE! Go to liliwilkinson.com.au for the shiny, better, more up-to-date, awesome version.

17 December 2009

Potatoes!

You can't have Christmas dinner without some good roast veg. Potatoes are a must, and a little roast pumpkin and onion and garlic won't go astray either.

I also steam some green beans, just so there's something in the meal that isn't totally artery-clogging.

Let's start with potatoes. I par-boil them first (just peel and boil them in salty water for about 10 minutes). Then drain, and bash them around a bit in the pot with some salt, rosemary and a little semolina.

Now, there are two options.

1. When my turkey has been cooking for about an hour and a half, I pour off most of the juices from the dripping pan and save them for gravy and more basting. Then add the potatoes to the pan (with pumpkin if you like, but you don't have to parboil that), and let them roast while catching all that delicious turkey juice.

2. Pour a jar of duck-fat into the now-empty dripping tray, and let it heat up while the turkey does its last hour in the oven. When the turkey's out, crank the oven up as high as it will possibly go. When the fat is HOT HOT HOT, put in the potatoes. They'll need about 20 minutes each side. Duck fat has a higher burning point to other fats, so it can get REALLY hot. This will make them all crunchy and awesome on the outside, but it does mean resting your turkey for nearly an hour.

Either way, make sure your potatoes are the last thing you take out of the oven and serve at the table. They should be PIPING hot. Crunch crunch crunch.

15 December 2009

Stuffing


As I mentioned in the turkey post, I don't put stuffing in my bird. But that doesn't mean there is no stuffing. WHAT A TERRIBLE THOUGHT.

My stuffing recipe is pretty flexible and changes every year. But it usually goes a bit like this:

Fry an onion (or two), some garlic, and 3-4 finely chopped celery stalks in butter, in a reasonable sized pot. Then add:
-pepper
-salt
-lots of parsley
-lots of sage
-a bit of rosemary and/or thyme if you have any
-more butter
-bacon, if you feel like it
-1 egg
-mushrooms
-some kind of nuts - I like walnuts or pine nuts, although chestnuts are traditional.

Then chuck in about 300g of roughly cubed bread. I like to use a really seedy multigrain with a hearty rye flavour, but if you want to go more traditional you can just use white bread.

Add some chicken stock to keep the whole thing moist, then put into a baking dish. I usually do this the night before Christmas, so it has plenty of time to get tasty and flavourful. But take it out first thing Christmas morning so it'll be room temperature by the time it goes in the oven.

My oven is usually pretty full of turkey and veggies by this stage, so I just chuck it in as soon as the turkey comes out, uncovered, for 40 minutes, as high as my oven will go. It warms all the way through and ends up all crunchy on top.

12 December 2009

Bread sauce is one of those awesome traditional dishes that sounds disgusting until you actually eat it, and then it is the best thing ever. This is my grandma's recipe, spruced up a bit with additions from Nigella.

You will need about 800g stale white bread, so make sure you leave the bread out overnight if you've brought it fresh. Then cut or tear it into rough cubes (about 1-2cm square)

Then on the day, heat a pan containing 1/2 a litre of full-fat milk, and 1/2 a litre of chicken stock. Then add:
  • 1 finely diced onion
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.
Heat it all up but don't let it boil. Remove from heat once it's almost boiling, cover with lid. The longer you let it sit and infuse, the tastier it will be. This is a good thing to do in the early stages of the day, when you've just put the turkey on.
When you're almost ready to serve (turkey is out of the oven), put the mix back on the stove over a low heat, and either strain or fish out all the cloves and bayleaves and peppercorns (this is optional, you don't have to). Then add the stale bread cubes and cook for 15 minutes.
Just before serving, stir in 30g of butter, and if you've still got a bit of time, pop it in the oven for a bit. Serve with turkey.

10 December 2009

TURKEY

Roasting a Christmas Turkey is a daunting task, but it's really not that hard. It just takes a bit of planning. So here are my tips.

1. Buy a turkey. A good one, free-range. It will make all the difference.

2. Brine your turkey for 24 hours before you cook it. This is this totally complicated scientific thing that I don't quite understand, but soaking a raw bird in salt water makes it retain its moisture and juiciness when it's cooked. Plus it's a good opportunity to add some FLAVOUR.

To Brine A Turkey
Get a bucket containing
  • about six liters of cold water
  • 2 quartered oranges
  • 250g Maldon salt
  • 3 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 tbsp allspice berries
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 tbsp white mustard seeds
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 unpeeled quartered onions
  • 1 6cm piece of ginger, cut into slices
  • 4 tbsp maple syrup
  • 4 tbsp honey
  • stalks from a bunch of parsley (you will use the leaves for the stuffing)
  • a bunch of sage
  • a turkey (5-6 kilos, will serve around 10 people)

Doesn't it look pretty? Cover it all up with some gladwrap, and stick it somewhere cool and out of the way for 24 hours before you cook it (the turkey should be pretty cold and possibly frozen anyway, so you don't need to worry about it going off. Just don't stick it in the sun).

3. Don't stuff it. Stuffing means your turkey is denser, which means you have to cook it for longer, and the meat is dry and tough. I cook my stuffing separately in a dish, which has the added bonus of it going all awesomely crunchy on top.

4. Prepare your turkey.
After taking your turkey out of his briney bath, give it a good pat down with some paper towel, then rub it all over (inside and out) with a lemon and some squished cloves of garlic. Then make a glaze containing:
  • 75g butter
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • chopped sage
  • a few cloves of garlic.
Paint the turkey inside and out, then chuck a bundle of fresh herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme - really!) and your lemon carcasses in the turkey's front and rear cavities. I do not truss my turkey, because it takes longer to cook that way.

5. Cook your turkey. BUT NOT TOO MUCH.
Stick your oven on at 200C. Put the turkey straight onto the wire rack of the oven, breast up. You will not have to turn it. Put a pan below the turkey to catch the drippings. Chuck a cup or so of water into the pan, so the drippings don't burn. Baste the turkey with these drippings every half hour. Roast a 5-6 kg turkey for 2 1/2 hours. Yep. Two and a half hours. That's all. Then take it out and let it sit for AT LEAST 20 minutes, but ideally 40 or even an hour. The turkey will continue to cook when it comes out of the oven, and reabsorb all of the juices. Letting it sit also makes it easier to carve, and gives you a good opportunity to reheat your stuffing and bread sauce, and really CRANK your roast veggies to get them all crispy.
Here is last year's turkey, fresh out of the oven. So juicy! Such crispy skin on top! NOMMM. I'm about to tent a bit of foil over the top so he doesn't get cold.

And that's it! Not really that hard.

Next week, stuffing, bread sauce and veggies.

04 December 2009

The Words We Found

Be! You are the winner of last week's giveaway! Send me an email at liliATliliwilkinson.com with your address and I'll post you your shiny copy of The Words We Found.

Hurrah!

02 December 2009

Christmas noms!

I'm not much of a baker from January-November, but come December, I'm all over it.

Last year I blogged my recipes for mince pies and Christmas pudding, and now here's my recipe for Christmas gingerbread cookies. And when I say "my recipe for Christmas gingerbread cookies", I of course mean "Nigella's recipe for Christmas gingerbread cookies.

(makes 35-40)

Mix:
300g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 tsps freshly ground black pepper
(1 tsp ground ginger - Nigella doesn't have this, but I reckon it gives them a bit more kick)

Then slowly add
100g soft unsalted butter
100g soft dark sugar
2 large eggs, beaten with 4 tbsp runny honey

Make two fat discs of pastry, and wrap one in gladwrap and stick it in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 170C.
Dust a work surface with flour, and roll out your first disc of pastry to about 5mm thickness, and cut them using cookie-cutters (Nigella and I use snowflakes, but you could do stars or trees or angels or whatever).
Repeat with the second disc of dough, rolling all the leftover bits together until you've used up every scrap.

(if you want to turn these cookies into hangable decorations, this is a good time to use an icing nozzle to cut a little hole at the top of each biscuit)

Arrange your cookies on lined baking sheets and cook for about 20 minutes. It's a bit tricky to tell when they're done, you might need to give them a bit of a poke. Just watch carefully because they go from being "done" to "burnt" very quickly. Transfer them to a wire rack and leave to cool.

Prepare your royal icing - I buy the instant stuff from a cake-decorating shop, because it's easier than making it from scratch, and also more hygienic what with egg-whites and all. You can colour it if you like, but I leave mine white. Make sure you don't make it up too thick, otherwise it'll be hard to get on the biscuits.

Ice your cookies! I use an icing nozzle to trace designs, and add a few silver cachous (you know those little balls, yeah, I didn't know they had a name either), but you could completely blanket each decoration in white if you wanted, or add all sorts of other edible sparkles and fancy bits.
And that's it! Either nom them as they are, or thread a bit of ribbon if you made a hole and hang them on your tree.

Later this month I shall blog my tips for brining and roasting a forreals Christmas Turkey, and recipes for bread sauce and stuffing. NOMMM.

01 December 2009

NaNoWriMo - finished

!

So I finished NaNoWriMo, with only two crying tantrums (thanks to friends and loved ones for hugs and patience) and most of my sanity intact. November is a hard time of year, particularly in Australia, when things are warming up and everyone is racing towards the end of term. I had about a zillion other things to do this month, and they all (more or less) got done.

I'm pretty happy with my 50 077 words. I mean, they're all rubbish, but it's a rubbish first draft that I think I can probably wrangle into something a bit better. First job though, is to stick it in a drawer for a couple of months and GET MY CHEER ON.

23 November 2009

Voiceworks, The Words We Found + a COMPETITION

A lot of people ask me how I first got published.

It happened when I was twelve. My mum bought me a copy of Voiceworks magazine. Voiceworks (in case you are unfortunate enough not to know) is Australia's literary journal for under 25s, published by Express Media. It's awesome.

Well, I wrote a poem and sent it off to Voiceworks, and to my utter joy it was accepted, and soon afterwards I received a cheque for $40 and a shining copy of the magazine. My first publication.

That was in 1994 (I think). I had an opportunity to revisit that poem recently, and let me tell you - it isn't very good. It's bloody awful, actually.

2009 is Voicework's 21st birthday, and I'm totally excited to still be involved (I'm on the management committee of Express Media). Voiceworks gave me my start, and 5 published books under my belt, I couldn't be more grateful or admiring of the work it does.

Happy Birthday, Voiceworks!

Now...

Do you want to read that terrible first poem I wrote? Here's your opportunity. To celebrate the 21st, Express Media has published The Words We Found, an anthology of Voiceworks' best writing by young people (edited by Lisa Dempster).
To WIN a copy of this anthology, leave a comment on this post. A winner will be picked at random on Monday 29/11/09.

And wondering what to get a budding young writer for Christmas?
Buy a copy of The Words We Found.
Subscribe to Voiceworks.

16 November 2009

NaNoWriMo: Half way

So yesterday was the half-way mark for NaNoWriMo.

I'm on track, with 27 000 words under my belt. It's certainly the most I've ever written in such a short time. I'm not sure if any of it's any good, but I think some of it will be salvagable. I'll need to put it in a drawer for a month or so and then spend some serious time reworking it, but as I always say, it's much easier to turn a crappy story into a great story than it is to turn a blank page into a great story.

But I have to say I'm kind of enjoying the pressure. I like only having to write a small amount each day (1667 words). I like being able to compare my progress with other people (I am a competetive little monster). I like the idea of a REAL deadline, no extensions allowed.

And I really like updating my word count at Nanowrimo.org and seeing the blue line get a little longer each day.

Jellyfish

I have a friend who is a jellyfish*.
I've known her since I was born (she is a couple of months older than me).

We used to play a game called Hawaiian Grandmother. It involved some wire-rimmed glasses and a hula-skirt.

When we were about 4, we climbed up her chest of drawers, pretending we were scaling a mountain. We pulled the whole thing down on top of us.

Now we are grown up, my friend Jellyfish lives next door to me. Sometimes mean people pull her tentacles, and that makes her a sad Jellyfish.

Which is annoying because she is not a poisonous jellyfish, and she doesn't sting.

My friend Jellyfish is very good at her job (teaching little jellyfishes to share and read and do maths). She is totally awesome and I'm very proud of her.



*Did you know that the collective noun for jellyfish is "bloom"? Pretty.

05 November 2009

NaNoWriMo

When I was in the UK I read an article in one of the Sunday magazines. And like the very best lazy-Sunday morning reads, I thought - that'd make a great book.

So I've put the murder-mystery-in-a-natural-history-museum on hold for a month, and am delving into NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write a 50 000 word first draft in the month of November - 1667 words per day.

So Michael (who has also signed up) and I headed down to the Great Ocean Road for a few days to get some serious, internet-free, no-distractions writing done.

pretty place makes pretty writing?

I know there're some days this month where I won't be able to get any writing done at all, so I wanted to get a good head start. So this is the morning of Day 5 and I'm sitting on 10 715 words. Not very good words, I admit.

Back to it!

13 October 2009

Alan Turing and Bletchley Park

When I was in the UK, I made a special visit to Bletchley Park. This was part-research for a percolating book-idea, but mostly I went there for wholesome nerdy awesome. And Bletchley delivered.

Ever since I read Neal Stevenson's Cryptonomicon I've wanted to visit Bletchley Park. It's an hour and a bit out of London, and there's a fascinating (and pleasingly lofi) series of museums and things there, including the National Museum of Computing. Also, Ian Fleming used to work there as a gopher, and obviously got some good spy-related ideas because he ended up writing some books that became quite popular.

I meant it when I said lo-fi

Bletchley Park was a code-breaking centre during WW2. It was where a very intelligent man called Alan Turing broke the Enigma Machine - a contraption for encoding messages used by the Germans. It looks like this:

Working at Bletchley Park involved lots of TOP SECRET things, and you couldn't get in or out without a special pass. There were also lots of women who worked there, because working on code-breaking and other surveillancey things was a good way for women to be involved in the war without having to put on special pants and actually go and kill people. And some of those women had kids who had to go to school. So even the kids needed the special pass to get in and out of the Park. These kids were the youngest people ever to sign the Official Secrets Act.

So let's talk about Alan Turing. The good news is that he invented something (called a Turing machine) that ended up evolving into the machine I'm typing this on right now. His use of electronic calculation and algorithming was what enabled the British to break the Enigma machine.

Time Magazine declared Turing as one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century, and said: "the fact remains that everyone who taps at a keyboard, opening a spreadsheet or a word-processing program, is working on an incarnation of a Turing machine."

Now here's the bad news. Alan Turing was gay (that bit wasn't the bad news, it's coming next). And during his lifetime, homosexuality was illegal and thought of as a mental illness. Turing was prosecuted in 1952. He had a choice between going to jail or taking female hormone treatment to "cure" him. His security clearance was removed and he was no longer permitted to work for the government. In 1954 he killed himself by eating an apple laced with cyanide.

BUT, on September 10 2009, after a recent petition endorsed by Richard Dawkins and Ian McEwan, the British government officially apologised to Turing. Here's what Gordon Brown said:
While Mr Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him... So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better. (full statement here)
Which is awesome and encouraging and only 55 years overdue.

This was from a totally awesome exhibit titled PIGEONS IN WAR. Did you know some pigeons got bravery medals?

Here are some Real Live Boffins working on a Very Old Computer.

And more good news - for the first time ever, Bletchley Park is going to receive National Lottery Funding, so it won't have to just survive on donations any more. Hurrah!

Anyway, I totally recommend a visit. And if you want to read more, Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is a great read that blends all sorts of computery code-breakingly nerdery into one awesome novel.

08 October 2009

Three things you might not have known about SLOTHS

1. There are two kinds of sloth, the Two-toed Sloth and the Three-toed Sloth. The Two-toed sloth, rather confusingly, has three toes (but two fingers). The two kinds pretty much look the same, do the same things and live in the same places.

2. The sloth is the only animal in the world to not have seven cervical (or neck) vertebrae (apart from manatees). BUT the Two-toed and Three-toed sloths have a DIFFERENT number of vertebrae. The Two-toed has six and the Three-toed has NINE.

3. This crazy vertebrae inconsistency is because the Two- and Three-toed sloths do not have a shared ancestor until you go back 40 MILLION YEARS. They are a brilliant example of convergent evolution, where critters look the same and do the same things, because they've been surviving next to each other in the same environment for a very long time.


06 October 2009

The E-word

I'm currently reading Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth. And it's awesome. For those of you who get offended or irritated by Dawkins' attitude towards religion*, fear not! He barely mentions it**.

The book instead is a fascinating, straightforward and entertaining explanation of evolution. And I have to say I'm confused. Not by the evolution thing, but by the people who say they "don't believe in it". Because, well, here:

1. Dog breeders select dogs that carry desired traits to mate and produce puppies. Like a ridge on a Rhodesian Ridgeback, or a long body and teeny legs on a dachshund***. The parents pass these traits on to their puppies. And over time, the desired traits become more pronounced. Here are three pictures of a dachshund - the first from the 1800s, the second from 1915, the third a contemporary dog. This is what we call artificial selection.


2. This happens in nature, too. Peahens are attracted to peacocks with fancy bright plumage - it shows that they're healthy and strong. So the peacocks with the brightest, fanciest plumage are more likely to be chosen as a mate, will mate more times, have more offspring, and will pass their traits onto those offspring. This process is sexual selection.

3. And just one step further on, traits develop and endure without a breeder or potential mate actually choosing them. The critter that has the longest legs, the best eyesight, the most effective camouflage, will survive longer, produce more offspring and pass on those traits. This is called natural selection.

So what's evolution? Evolution is the name we give to random mutations in the gene pool. So for every giraffe that's born with a longer neck, there's one born with a twisted spine, or a stumpy tongue, or a slightly different coloured hide, or an infinite number of other random mutations. And some of these random mutations make no difference at all. Some make it harder for that giraffe to survive - the twisted-spine giraffe might not live as long as one with a straight spine. And the long-necked giraffe might live longer and be healthier because it can reach higher branches than other giraffes, with fresh new leaves. And because that giraffe is healthier and lives longer, it has more opportunities to mate and pass on its long neck to offspring.

So what confuses me is... how can people deny evolution? Being able to observe evolution and natural selection working together is fascinating and awesome and utterly beautiful. And while I personally am not religious, I don't particularly see how what I just said above necessarily excludes the existence of God. Maybe the existence of the Ark...

'Oh,' they say, 'but it's just a theory.'

It is. But there are two definitions of theory. One means 'hypothesis proposed as an explanation'. The other means 'A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation of experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles or causes of something known or observed'.

It is not the job of scientists to prove things. That is the job of mathematicians. A scientist's job is to try really really hard to disprove something, and fail. They have failed to disprove the theory of evolution. If evolution is just a theory, then so is gravity. And the theory that the sun is bigger than the moon. And the theory that the planets orbit the sun.

Anyway. I haven't actually finished the book yet. I'm just finding it fascinating and wanted to share.

_______________
*although to be honest I think he's vastly misrepresented in the press.

**apart from a rather amusing story about people trying to get around the no-meat-only-fish-on-Fridays rule. One community decided it was okay to eat a critter that was like a giant swimming hamster, because it swam, so it must be a fish. The French Catholics were even more sneaky - they lowered a leg of lamb into a well and then "fished" it out again, making it alright to eat.

***often to the detriment of the animal's health. Did anyone else see that documentary? Horrifying.

05 October 2009

Analyse THAT

Last night I dreamt that the Nazis built a huge 40-storey circus on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington. Made from bluestone. Then President Bartlet and CJ, under cover of night, climbed up the outside bluestone circus, where the President set a chair on fire with his cigarette and then distracted the Nazis by pretending to be God. Allowing CJ to throw a snake at Hitler and kill him.

28 September 2009

Coming out young

This is a really great feature article from the New York Times about how more and more kids are identifying as gay or bisexual in middle school, when they're 11 or 12 years old.
A new kind of gay adolescent was appearing on the page — proud, resilient, sometimes even happy. We profiled many of them in the magazine, including a seventh grader in suburban Philadelphia who was out to his classmates and a high-school varsity-football player from Massachusetts who came out to his teammates and was shocked to find unconditional support.

22 September 2009

A Very Zombie Weekend

I'm in Western Sydney at the moment, spending the week doing talks and workshops with secondary students. And a question I get asked a lot is: What do you do in your spare time?

Well, this is what I did last weekend.



(more info here)

14 September 2009

Scotland

So I did three wonderful events at the Edinburgh Book Festival back in August, and then the awesome folks at the Scottish Book Trust took me out into the country for a day to meet some young Scottish folk.

One of the towns we visited was Brechin, about 2 hours north of Edinburgh. Now Brechin is an interesting town (populatioon about 7000) for the following reasons:

1. It has a very nice 13th Century cathedral, with a round tower dating from about 1000AD.
2. Robert Watson-Watt, an important pioneer in the early development of radar was born there.
3. As was my great-great-grandfather, William Ross.

William was the illegitimate son of a woman called Jessie Mitchell. He emigrated to Australia as a young man, but his own son moved back to England, before HIS son (my grandfather) moved back to Australia. I had some time to go to the cathedral, and I found this in the churchyard:

It was also really awesome meeting some real live Scottish students, in their second ever week of high school. Here I am with a few of them:


Thanks, Edinburgh Book Festival and Scottish Book Trust for showing me such a great time!

12 September 2009

Angel Fish

Hate to sound like a broken record, but I have another book out. Angel Fish is out now with Black Dog Books. It's about the Children's Crusade and here's Chapter One:


A boy has come to Machery.
I think he might be an angel.
When he speaks, even the birds stop singing to listen. When he speaks, his eyes shine with a light that I know cannot come from dirt and skin. When he speaks, my head whirls round and round with strange thoughts, and my heart goes patter patter patter.
I first saw him two days ago. I was fetching water for Maman. The pails were heavy, but Maman tells me carrying them will help me to grow and be stronger. I am not strong, and not very tall. The other boys in Machery say I am a sparrow that will never grow to be a cock.
Maman says I must grow strong, because I will never be very smart, and a man needs to be one or the other. This is why she makes me eat so much cabbage. She says it will make me strong. I hate cabbage.
When I carry the water pails, I like to pretend I am in another place. It is very hot this summer, so I was pretending that I was lying by a cool stream on a soft bed of clover. Sometimes I pretend I am a silvery fish dancing in the stream. Or a white bird flying low over the water.
I was pretending all this very hard so I closed my eyes. Machery is all brown and dusty at the moment, and it is hard to imagine you are a dancing silvery fish when your eyes are full of brown and dust.
With my eyes closed, I didn’t see him at first. I only heard the shh, shh, shh of bare feet walking on the dusty road. With my eyes still closed, I pretended that it was the shh, shh, shh of branches bending over so leaves could kiss the water of the stream. I pretended that the leaves were tickling my silvery fishy skin as I danced below the surface.
As the shh, shh, shh came closer, I opened my eyes.
For a moment I was confused. I looked into eyes that were as blue as the stream in which I’d been swimming. I blinked, and then the eyes were attached to a person.
He was very tall and thin, with brown hair that was thick and bushy, like a sheep. He looked to be a few years older than me. Maybe fifteen?
His skin was dirty. It was hard to tell which brown bits were freckles and which bits were dirt. He had no shoes, and was dressed in rags.
And his eyes. Blue like the sky. Blue like an arrow. Blue like when someone hits you in the stomach and for a moment you can’t breathe.
He smiled at me, and the arrow-blue eyes crinkled at the edges.
‘Hello, friend,’ he said.
I wondered how he knew he was my friend. I didn’t think I’d ever had a friend before. But when he said it, I knew it was true. I knew it all the way deep down inside me, in my darkest and most secret places.
‘I am Stephan.’ He reached out a hand and I took it.
‘I’m Gabby,’ I told him. ‘Gabriel.’
The boy nodded approvingly. ‘Gabriel is one of the very greatest and most sacred Angels.’
I shrugged. I don’t really know Angels.
The boy’s lip curled in another smile. ‘Your pails look heavy, Gabriel,’ he said.
And they were, but I had forgotten.
‘I will let you get home,’ he said. ‘But we will see each other again. Very soon.’
I nodded. We would. I would see my friend again soon.

The next day was Sunday, so no work.
I went to mass in the morning with Maman and Papa. I have no brothers or sisters. Maman has tried to birth me a sister four times, but each time it has been no more than a wet and red thing. Papa thinks she is cursed. Maman says she cannot be cursed, because she birthed me. Papa replies that I am cursed too, because I don’t remember important things and am very small and find many things hard to understand.
One of the things I find difficult to understand is Father Sebastian. He reads to us every Sunday from the Holy Book in a tongue that Maman says is called Latin. Everyone else in the church nods and purses their lips when Father Sebastian speaks in the tongue that is called Latin, but I don’t understand any of it. And when I ask Maman or Papa, they get angry and tell me to hush. Once I thought that maybe they don’t understand it either and are just pretending, but when I told this to Maman she said that it was a wicked thought and I must never think it again.
When Father Sebastian speaks in a tongue I do understand, it doesn’t make much more sense. He uses lots of names of people that I don’t know. I think they must be Saints or Angels, but it is all very confusing because there are so many of them and it is hard to remember which ones are good and which ones are not.
Most of the time Father Sebastian reads to us or speaks in a voice that is all the same and very boring. But sometimes he gets excited and bangs his fist on the wooden stand and shakes his head so his cheeks wobble from side to side. Sometimes he gets so excited that I see sweat on his forehead. Or a tear slide from the corner of his eye and wriggle down his cheek.
After Father Sebastian talks, we all sing. This is my favourite part. I don’t know what any of the words mean, but I make up the meanings in my head. There is one that goes gloria gloria gloria and then some words I don’t know. It is the very best song. I think that Gloria is a land where nothing is brown and dusty, and the streams are clear and full of silvery dancing fish.
When I sang the gloria song on Sunday, I pretended that the streams were the colour of my new friend’s eyes. Blue as an arrow.
After the singing, we all line up and eat some bread and swallow some wine. Then we can go. Usually Maman and Papa want to talk to other people about boring things like rain and crops and bread, so I go and stand in the sun.
On Sunday though, Father Sebastian called me over to him.
‘There is a boy,’ he said. ‘A boy who has come to Machery.’
I nodded. ‘Yes, Father.’
‘You have seen him?’
I nodded again.
Father Sebastian shook his head so his cheeks wobbled. ‘You must not speak to him,’ he said. ‘He is from the Fiery Pit. His words are lies.’
I felt hot and angry inside. The boy was my friend. But I nodded again.
‘Do you understand? Do not listen to him. He is a child-stealer. He will take you and sell you to the Saracen.’
‘Yes, Father.’

Walking out of the church in summer is always lovely. The church is cold and dark, and stepping out is like being lifted up into the arms of the sun. It was so bright I had to close my eyes. I turned my face up to the light and let it soak in. In a few minutes I would be too hot again, but for now the hot was delicious.
I could hear him talking.
I opened my eyes.
He stood balanced on a watering-trough outside the church. A small crowd was listening —Maistre Eudes the smith and his wife, Maistre Mathieu and his three pretty daughters, Maistresse Claudette and Maistresse Abrial, their heads bent close together, and Monsieur Rotrou from the big farm on the hill.
Stephan spoke in a tongue I understood. He spoke of things I had never heard of before, but he spoke of them with such strength, such lightness, that I could see them before my eyes.
He spoke of the Holy Land. Father Sebastian had talked about the Holy Land. It sounded important, but so very very far away from Machery that I had never really listened.
But when Stephan spoke of it, I understood that it was the most important place in the world. A Paradise, he said. A real Paradise.
I wondered what a real Paradise would be like.
It would have streams with silvery fish, I decided. Like in the gloria song. But the streams would be apple-cider, bubbling and fizzing and fresh. And the trees would hang low with the sweetest fruits, all year round, so nobody had to pick and store them. Cows would milk themselves, and it would be the sweetest, creamiest milk you’ve ever tasted.
In the Holy Land, cabbages would have honey-cakes at their hearts, instead of more cabbage.
And then, best of all, Our Lord lives in the Holy Land.
Father Sebastian is always talking about Our Lord. Except the Our Lord that he talks about is mean. He’s always watching to see if we’re being wicked, and punishing us for things that we haven’t done, or things that we just think about. I don’t see how you can stop thinking about things, even if they are wicked. Things are just there to be thought. I can’t stop that, so I don’t know why I should be punished.
But Stephan’s Our Lord is different. He is wise and kind.
I imagined that he is fat and jolly, like a King. He has a big black beard and laughs all the time. The only work to be done in the Holy Land is to sit at the feet of Our Lord and sing the gloria song to him. He loves singing. And dancing. And honey-cakes and apple cider.
When Our Lord walks through the soft green grass of the Holy Land, sparkly jewels and sweet-smelling flowers spring from under his feet.
I wanted to go there. I wanted to go there so bad I thought I might break apart like a dandelion and go floating off into the sky.
But then Stephan’s face fell, and the world came to pieces and fell down as well with a horrible thundering crash!
‘But,’ he said. ‘But.’
No. No but. I didn’t want to hear the but. I just wanted to hear more about the Holy Land and Our Lord and the honey-cakes and silvery dancing fish.
‘The Saracen,’ said Stephan.
I shuddered. Father Sebastian has spoken of the Saracen. I thought of the stories of monsters that the boys in the village try to scare each other with. I thought of red, glowing eyes and horns and snake-pointed tongues and sharp hooves. I thought of them above me, with whips in their hands and steam blowing from their noses. I thought of the smell of burning meat.
‘The Saracen,’ said Stephan, and I wanted to cry. ‘The Saracen is in the Holy Land.’
I felt a hand around my heart, squeezing. I gasped.
‘The Saracen is in the Holy Land, and the Paradise has withered away.’
The trees. The streams. The silvery fish. All gone. All burned and choked and ruined. I wanted to throw myself into the dusty dirt and cry. Who could rescue the Holy Land?
Stephan looked at me and smiled. It was like he could hear what I was thinking inside my head.
‘Soldiers cannot save the Holy Land,’ he said. ‘Nor Knights. Nor Kings. Nor priests.’
Who, then? Who?
‘You,’ he said, still looking at me. ‘You.’
Me? I was small and not very good at thinking. I couldn’t fight even one Saracen.
‘The only thing that can save us is the purity and innocence of children,’ said Stephan. ‘There is no adult in the world who is untainted by wickedness. Only children are truly pure. And when the children of Our Lord step onto the soil of the Holy Land, the Saracen will crumble into dust, and once again it will be a Paradise.’
The crowd started to make soft, angry noises.
‘You can’t take our children,’ said Maistresse Claudette. ‘You’re crazy.’
Stephan looked at me. ‘Will you join with me?’ he asked.
Maistre Eudes’s wife yelled at Stephan, her cheeks red and shiny as apples and her eyes all closed-up. Someone threw a rock at him, but Stephen didn’t look away. His eyes arrowed into mine.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Yes. Yes.’

11 September 2009

Melvin Burgess on Anne Fine

This tickled me:

I think Anne Fine is wrong to suggest that it is hard to get back to an optimistic view without wandering into Ginger Beer land – I think that’s a view she holds because she is principally a pessimist about the world. I think there’s a great deal of hope in the world. You only have to look at the current crop of teenagers, and how they cope with all the nonsense we dump on them, to see that.

From Melvin Burgess' blog.

10 September 2009

Pink!


I was overseas when my new book PINK came out! But it's out and some people have said some very nice things about it, but I'll let you make up your own mind.

Over at Allen & Unwin, you can see me talking about it in a video, read my answers to some questions from teachers, librarians and teenagers, and download your very own PINK wallpaper!
And here's Chapter One!

(for USian readers, it'll be out early next year)

‘You’re leaving?’
Chloe dropped my hand.
‘I know, it sucks,’ I lied. ‘My parents think I’ll get better marks at a new school.’ Another lie. ‘The fascists,’ said Chloe, which was kind of hilarious given that my parents met at the Feminist-Socialist- Anarchist Collective at university.
‘It’ll be okay,’ I said. ‘Billy Hughes is a really good school.’
‘What’s wrong with our school? They’re all the same, anyway. All institutionalised learning designed to turn you into a robot.’
I shook my head. ‘Billy Hughes is really progressive,’ I told her. ‘The school motto is Independence of Learning.’
Chloe narrowed her eyes. ‘You don’t want to go there, do you?’
Of course I did.
‘I don’t want to leave you.’
‘They’ll break you, Ava!’ said Chloe, her eyebrows drawing together in concern. ‘It’ll be all rules and homework and standardised testing. No creative freedom. There’ll probably be cadets.’
I shrugged. How could I explain to Chloe that I wanted rules and homework and standardised testing? I wanted to be challenged. I wanted to be around people who cared about maths and structure and results. Not so much the cadets, though. The truth was, I’d begged my parents to let me change to a private school. I wrote letters and sat a scholarship exam and when I got the acceptance form halfway through first term, I danced around my room like a lunatic.
‘It’s not like I’m going to another country,’ I said. ‘We can still hang out after school and on weekends.’
Chloe lit up a cigarette and took a long drag. ‘Whatever,’ she sighed, exhaling.

Chloe was the coolest person I’d ever met. She was tall and thin and had elegant long fingers and pointy elbows like those pictures on women’s dress patterns. Today she was wearing a black pencil skirt with fishnet stockings and hot-librarian shoes, which she’d kicked off beside my bed. She had a black shirt on under a dark tweedy fitted jacket. Her dyed black hair was short and spiky and elfin. Two silver studs glittered in her nose, and four in each ear. Her fingernails were painted a very dark plum.
The only lightness about her was her porcelain skin, and her white cigarette.
Chloe read battered Penguin Classics she found in op shops and at garage sales. They were all by people like Anaïs Nin and Simone de Beauvoir and made her look totally intellectual, particularly when she was wearing her elegant horn-rimmed glasses. Chloe didn’t really care about school. She said most of the teachers were fascists, and sometimes even cryptofascists, whatever that meant. She said that our education system made us docile and stupid, and that true educa- tion could only come from art, philosophy, and life itself. Chloe would rather sit on the low stone wall just outside our school and smoke cigarettes and talk about Existentialism and Life and make out with me.
She was wonderful, and I was pretty sure I was in love with her.
So how come I wanted to leave so badly?

When I first told my parents I was a lesbian, they threw me a coming-out party. Seriously. We had champagne and everything. It was the most embarrassing thing that’d ever happened to me.
They loved Chloe – possibly even more than I did. When Chloe came over, she usually ended up poring over some Ann Sexton book with Pat, or listening to Bob Dylan on vinyl with David. Ostensibly, I was there too. But I didn’t really care for washed-out poetry about wombs, and I thought Bob Dylan was kind of overrated. So I just sat there politely like I was at someone else’s house, until the phone rang or something, and I could finally drag Chloe away to my room. Then there would be less talk about feminism, and Chloe would read to me from my favourite book of Jorge Luis Borges short stories, and I would make her laugh by doing impressions of Mrs Moss, our septuagenarian English teacher. Making Chloe’s lips curve upwards in a smile, or her eyes crinkle with laugh- ter, made me happier than just about anything else in the world.
When it was finally time for Chloe to go home, she’d smooth her hair and rearrange her clothes, and we’d troop back out to the kitchen. Pat and David would always look so crestfallen that she was leaving.
‘So soon?’ Pat would say. ‘But we’ve hardly had a chance to chat!’
Sometimes I thought my parents wished Chloe was their daughter.

I got home and said hi to Pat and David and then went into my room and shut the door. I wished I had a lock, but there was no way my parents would approve of that. It would imply that I had something to hide, and they’re the most liberal and accepting parents in the world – so what would I possibly want to hide from them?
If only they knew.
I went to my wardrobe and dug through my old jelly-sandals and mouldy runners until I was practically in Narnia. And I pulled out a bag. It was one of those pale- blue shiny shopping bags with a ribbon handle. It was the kind of bag that people on TV have fifty of when they’re on a shopping spree that could fund a starving African nation.
In the bag there was a bundle wrapped in thin lemon-yellow tissue paper, sealed with a pale-blue oval sticker with gold lettering on it. Holding my breath, I gently prised the sticker away from the tissue paper, and unwrapped the bundle, listening carefully for the sound of Pat or David busting in to offer me an espresso or a lecture on post-structuralism.
At the centre of the bundle there was a jumper. A pink argyle cashmere jumper, to be exact. It was pretty much the softest thing ever, the pink and cream diamonds snuggling up against each other like soul mates.
I rubbed the soft wool against my cheek, and then stood in front of the mirror, holding the jumper against my body. I didn’t need to put it on – I knew it fit perfectly. I knew because I’d tried it on at the shop. And it was so beautiful, so soft, so ... pink. I just had to buy it. Even though I knew I couldn’t wear it, because Chloe would laugh herself silly.
I never wore pink. Pink wasn’t cool. Pink wasn’t existential. Pink was for princesses and ballet shoes and glittery fairies.
When I was five, I only wore pink. Pink everything, from my undies to my socks to my little frilly dresses to my Flik Flak watch. I refused to wear any other colour – much to the dismay of my parents, who were itching to dress me in miniature Che Guevara T-shirts and black
berets. All my toys were pink. I only used pink pencils. I insisted on having my bedroom painted pink. Not now. Now my bedroom was painted a sombre pale grey, with charcoal skirting boards and architraves. Now, there was no trace of pink in my room. No more unicorn posters on the walls – instead there were black-and-white art prints. My parents must have been so proud. There wasn’t even so much as a rainbow flag; as Chloe said, we weren’t that sort of lesbian.
As I’d grown older, Pat and David had worn me down. They explained to me that pink was an empty signifier of femininity, and pointed out that none of the other little girls at my Steiner school wore pink dresses under their art smocks. They showed me magazine articles about Britney Spears before she went off the rails, and shook their heads sadly.
By the end of primary school, they were victorious. The pendulum had swung all the way over to black. Now, you’d be lucky to find me in a skirt, and at the end of Year Ten I’d thrown out my last pair of non-black undies. My hair was dyed black, and usually caught up in a messy bun. I wore a reasonably unchanging wardrobe of black jeans and black tops – black singlets in summer, and a grandpa cardigan in winter. Sometimes I wished I could dress crazy and eclectic and feminine like Chloe, but I knew she would always outshine me, so I stuck to what I knew.
So now the pink jumper was practically glowing in my grey bedroom. It was like a tiny bit of Dorothy’s Oz in boring old black-and-white Kansas.
I carefully folded it up, and rewrapped it in the yellow tissue paper.
Pink was for girls.
Girly girls who wore flavoured lip gloss and read maga- zines and talked on the phone lying on their perfect, lacy bedspreads with their feet in the air. Girls who spent six months looking for the perfect dress to wear to the school formal.
Girls who liked boys.

Are you old enough?

I did a great session last night at Loreto Mandeville Hall, talking to year 5, 6 and 7 girls and their mothers. It was heaps of fun, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves (I particularly enjoyed the home-made pink cupcakes and pink champagne).

A couple of the parents were asking me whether I thought their daughters were old enough to read my books, which is a question I get asked quite a bit. Here's my answer:

My mum never controlled what I read. There was nothing I wasn't allowed to read. In Grade 4, I read Lord of the Rings (I skipped a lot of the boring bits). In Grade 6 I read the Clan of the Cave Bear and its assorted sequels - complete with explicit sex scenes and 'throbbing members'. I don't think reading stuff I wasn't developmentally ready for damaged me in any way.

Reading is active. You have to physically engage your eyes and your brain in order to read. It's not like TV where it comes to you. Time and time again, studies have shown that if a child is uncomfortable with something they're reading - they'll put it down.

I'm not a parent, so I can only give my perspective as an ex-child, and as someone who knows a bit about reading and literature. I think if a young person wants to read a book - let them. If you are worried about some of the content in the book then make sure you read it as well, then talk to your kids about it. Parents should always talk to their kids about what they're reading. Talking about books is one of the great pleasures of being a reader.

07 September 2009

Whisky

In Edinburgh we went to the Scotch Whisky Experience, which is sort of like a tour/ride about Whisky*. And apart from the fact that I like whisky, it was just a REALLY well-designed tour/exhibition. Probably one of the best I went on**.

First you get to go on a BARREL RIDE where a ghost tells you all about how whisky is made. it is very complicated and involves squishing a lot of barley together to make a fermented mash, and then adding yeast and doing lots of distilling.

The Ghost:


And learn also about the barrels they mature the whisky in. 90% of Scotch barrels are first used in the US to make bourbon, and the other 10% are used first to make sherry. So they're all nommy and flavoury. Then sometimes they set them on fire for a little bit for a more caramelly taste, then put in the WHISKY. Because they're not airtight, the whisky breathes and matures... and evaporates. You lose 2% in 3 years, or 40% in 30 years. They say this evaporated whisky is for the angels.

Then you go and watch a video about all the different whisky regions, and a tour guide comes and talks about them all. And you get four little jars to represent the four main regions: Speyside, Islay, Highlands and Lowlands. Each jar contains some of the smells that you might find in each region's whisky. Lowlands is biscuity and vanilla-ish. Speyside is fruity, like pears. Highlands is sweet like heather and honey. Islay (which is a teeny island off the West Coast of Scotland) is smoky and peaty and by far MY FAVOURITE. So once you've picked your favourite, they pour you a glass of it and teach you how to taste it. There are five steps:

1. First you look at the colour. If it is a pale gold it was matured in a bourbon barrel. If it is darker it was a sherry barrel.

2. Then you swirl it around and look carefully to see how many teeny bubbles form and how fast the "legs" run down the sides of the glass. This indicates whether the whisky is full-bodied or light-bodied.

3. Then you nose the whiskey. This is the most important part because your nose recognises 40 different flavours, whereas your mouth only recognises 4 (actually there's some debate about whether there's a 5th but we didn't talk about that)

4. Then you put some of the whisky in your mouth, but don't swallow. This is the palate.

5. Finally you swallow it and think about the finish. The sweeter lighter whiskys have a flavour that disappears really quickly. The smokier heavier ones stay around for ages. Mine lasted over half an hour.

It all sounds very wankerish, but it was excellent fun. Then we went into this room which houses the biggest collection of whiskys in the world (this photo is only a fraction, it was impossible to photograph as it went round many corners):


This was my favourite: Inebriated Newt.

And then there was ANOTHER room with rare bottlings and wacky cases. Each one of these chess pieces is a small bottle of whisky - all together it makes up the volume of a normal sized bottle. The idea is every time you take an opponant's piece, you get to drink the contents.


And finally this is Peat, the whisky distillery cat.



We got to keep our special whisky nosing glasses, and then we were shown into the shop where we could buy the nommy whiskys for our VERY OWN.


*in case you are wondering, it's whisky if it's Scottish, and whiskey if it's Irish.

**Dear Underage Readers of this Blog: pls don't take this as encouragement to go out and get drunk. If for no other reason, a good single malt is VERY expensive and it would be a total waste of money.

06 September 2009

Wales

I spent a lovely week in Wales with the wondrous @snazzydee, where we traipsed around, went swimming in the OCEAN, ate many tasty foods and drank many tasty wines. Here were the highlights, and my recommendations should you ever happen to find yourself in the Land of No Vowels But Very High Scrabble Scores.

1. Hay on Wye, the town with more bookshops than streets. Eat at The Old Black Lion (try the house ale) and stay at The Bear (make sure you have the bacon with breakfast).


Tenby: One of the absolute highlights of my UK trip. Tenby is a beautiful old walled seaside town. I know that Australians get pretty cocky about our beaches and it's true - our beaches are pretty awesome. But we generally don't have ruined castles on our beaches:


Here is were Snazzy and I went swimming in beautiful clear water that was SO COLD I THOUGHT I MIGHT DIE.


But my very favourite thing about Tenby is the CRAZY TIDES. Here is a photo of low tide, followed by a photo of the exact same place, two hours later.
I am bursting to set a novel there.

Eat at the Plantagenet. Amazing. Try the mussels.


Aberaeron: Lovely little Aberaeron is a fishing village in Southwest Wales. It also has crazy tides. Stay at the Harbour Master for both food and sleeping. Make sure you try the laver bread with your full cooked breakfast (confusingly not bread at all - it's a sort of seaweed and oat rissole that is much, much tastier than it sounds).



I cannot particularly recommend Brecon (sorry, Brecon), but about 10 minutes outside town (towards Hay) is the Felin Fach Griffin, a lovely old inn that has fabulous food, amazing wine lists and a dessert called a Chocolate Nemesis that might kill you, but it'll be worth it.

Other things that were strange and wonderful in Wales:
1. Snazzy's satnav took us on some very random roads, one of which had some spectacular views and a giant standing stone.


2. We did a hasty U-turn and backtracked in order to see this decrepit old playground.


3. This isn't actually in Wales, it's in Much Wenlock near Shrewsbury. Much Wenlock is the home of the modern Olympic Games (yep, it really is), because they used to hold the Much Wenlock Games (based on the Ancient Olympics). And some American came by one day and went "Golly, that's a good idea. What if we did this, but bigger?". It's a very cute town with a ruined abbey and streets with names like:

...which contain cute little stone houses with names like:
Hmm. Snazzy and I stared at this for about two minutes before we were convinced it was real.

If you happen to find yourself in Much Wenloch, stay and eat at The Raven.

05 September 2009

Lindisfarne Castle

Between Hadrian's Wall and Edinburgh, we stopped at Lindisfarne Castle, because it was on the way. I went to a few castles and Stately Homes on this trip (including Melbourne Hall), and found them all a bit stuffy and boring. Lots of ugly furniture and mouldy curtains and you could just tell that all the nobility that had ever lived there were deeply boring. Lindisfarne is different.

It's this insane castle that's only tenuously connected to the land by a road that you can only use for a few hours a day because the ocean covers it the rest of the time.

The castle was built in 1600-and-something as a fort to defend england from VIKINGS and SCOTS. This bit of the story is boring - it's all ONLY SOUTH FACING HARBOUR ON THE EAST COAST blah blah ROMAN ROADS etc etc.

BUT in 1910, it was purchased by the man who founded House and Garden Magazine, in order to show off to his friends. He hired a rather innovative Edwardian architect who renovated the fort into the current castle, with cosy little rooms with marvellous views, and then got a gardener called Gertrude Jekyll to make a cute little walled garden. Then Mr House and Garden bought lots of fancy old furniture (which was really cheap as everyone was getting rid of their old stuff at that time to buy clean streamlined modern stuff). And then he got all his awesome bohemian friends to come over for summer where they hung out and practiced the cello and drank a lot. It sounds AWESOME. It had so much more character than the Stately British Homes we've visited, and for some reason because it belonged to someone who was "new money" and not ye olde nobility, I'm much more pleasantly disposed to him. I suppose because I can safely assume he wasn't as utterly tediously boring as the British nobility. Anyway, despite the driving rain it was WIN.

Castle:



Castle from "beach":


Scary road that goes over ocean floor:


04 September 2009

Hadrian's Wall Day #3: The Triumphant Descent







The very first thing we did today after eating a Hearty Breakfast, was climb up a REALLY BIG HILL to the highest point of the walk. The air is so fresh and pure here, that this species of lichen grows on the wall. it is the ONLY PLACE in the UK where this lichen grows. You are just fascinated by this, aren't you? I can tell.

The Lichen:


Oh noes! A barbarian Scot is breaking through! Halp! Halp!



This is one of the only bits of the wall that hasn't been restored. It's still in pretty good nick given it was built 2000 years ago. Incidentally, I have come to the conclusion that the Romans were TOTALLY NUTS. This wall is ENORMOUS! It goes forever and it was much higher back then and of course they had to DIG ALL THOSE STONES up and CUT THEM TO SIZE before even beginning to built it. And then there would have to be SQUILLIONS of soldiers to man all those turrets and milecastles. I mean SERIOUSLY. The Romans needed a HOBBY. And surely with all that effort and manpower they just could have CONQUERED Scotland. Or taken up knitting.

My favourite thing about England can be summed up with the following hypothetical conversation:

ENGLAND: So, Lili. How are you enjoying yourself?

LILI: Yeah, okay. I mean the spectacular views are very nice, and the Roman ruins are very interesting, but...

ENGLAND: What? What?

LILI: I'm just getting a bit BORED of spectacular views and roman ruins. I've been looking at them for three days straight.

ENGLAND: Uh huh, uh huh. Dude, I totally see where you're coming from.

LILI: You do?

ENGLAND: Sure. Can I maybe interest you in a fourteenth century ruined medieval castle?

LILI: o_O

Who is that fetching redhead looking in the window?

Let me talk for a while about stiles. Stiles are romantic. They come in a variety of types (stone, wooden). They cross different kinds of walls. Here I am crossing a typical stile on a farm.

Stiles are FUN. Until you have climbed over 71 of them (they're marked on the map and I just counted). 71 is a lot of stiles. Here is how I felt when I looked at the map and realised that this was the LAST STILE:



But we are FINISHED! Tomorrow we catch a taxi back to our car which we left at the beginning. I expect it will be a depressingly short trip*, even though 42 kilometres seems like a VERY long way to walk. Especially since none of it was on flat ground (and did I mention there were 71 stiles?).



*it was. 25 minutes. i nearly cried.