Odd Things I Own #1

My home is a sanctuary: when I close the door, I’m in my own private and safe world, shared with my husband and cat. I have all my books around me, plus a lot of quirky mementos, souvenirs and collectables. More than quirky, some of them are patently odd, but that’s why I like them. Here are a few of them:

Osbourne dolls

You’ve had a quick glimpse of my Ozzy talking-head doll before; now meet the whole family: Ozzy, wife Sharon, and children Kelly and Jack. These were sent to me by  a TV network to promote the reality show The Osbournes in 2002. They talk—or did. The batteries on three have worn down and I suppose I should get them replaced. Sharon still says “Shut the —- up and go to bed”, “The wicked witch has nothing on me”, and “Did anyone feed the dogs?”

Osbournes talking-head dolls

Lucky leprechauns

When I was a girl, my paternal grandmother gave me three little Wade Irish Porcelain leprechauns, which she said were lucky, but only if you had all three. They had red, yellow and blue hats. I took these leprechauns everywhere with me, through various countries, many houses and flats. Then, in 2000, a cleaner broke one of them, knocked the head clean off the red one, and the head had just disappeared. A short while later, I happened to look into the window of an antique shop, and there I saw a little red-capped leprechaun. He was sitting on a small dish, but no matter, I had to have him, and my set was complete again.

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Lou and Andy from Little Britain

If you’ve seen the British comedy show Little Britain, you’ll already be laughing at these plush toys of two of the most popular characters: Lou (right) in his fake-leather jacket and gold chain, carer to Andy, who’s only pretending to be in a wheelchair. If you squeeze Andy’s hand, he says some of his famous lines: “I don’t like it—I want that one”, “Yeah, I know”, and “MONSTER TRUCKS!”. And not to forget carer Lou’s “What a kerfuffle”. My husband bought me these two because he knew how much I enjoyed the show.

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Mini shopping trolley

This was sent to me by a PR company about 10 years ago to promote a shopping centre. It’s a perfect working model in every way. At the moment, I use it to house a mermaid doll or two (that’s a story for another day), but I always thought it would make a great alternative fruit holder in the kitchen.

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Coral and Lucy Locket

My cat, Lucy Locket, puts up with my odd possessions and knows which toys in the house are hers and which are mine. She’s not that fond of Coral the witch, but I love her. Coral is a handcrafted witch doll from Wellington, New Zealand, who was given to me by my lifelong friend, the New Zealand actor Yvette Parsons. Have a look at this clip of Yvette talking early this year about one of her current touring productions, Dolly Mixture, which features a strange lady of a certain age who loves collecting dolls…

As for Lucy Locket, she’s in this post because, by her very species, she is decidedly odd.  Someone who perfectly describes the oddness of cats is fellow blogger Goldfish from Fish of Gold. In a guest post on Merbear’s blog Knocked Over By A Feather, Goldfish said, “…all cats are whack-a-doodle. Every single one of them is weird as all get out. They may be insane in different ways, but all cats are completely deranged, and when you get down to it, it’s totally bonkers that we allow them in our homes.”  You can read more of her post about the weirdness of cats here.


Shower cap cat

A present from my mother that is…well, just odd. But there’s something about it that I really like—its madness, I suppose.

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Plenty more where they came from. Watch this space…

Cats by Candlelight

catcandleOur street had a power outage on Monday this week when a tree fell in high winds and knocked out the lines. The outage lasted from 12.45pm to 8pm, more than two hours after dark.

Not only did this put me almost a day behind in my work, but we couldn’t run our heating all day and it’s mid-winter. I had neglected to charge my phone and iPad over night, so had little juice left in both.

Power outages probably happen about once a year for various reasons, but they rarely last more than a couple of hours. We knew this one would be different, because there were so many call-outs due to the weather that it took four hours for the repair truck to turn up. And when my husband asked the guy how long it might take to fix the power lines, his reply was,  “How long is a piece of string?”

Never mind. At least we had a warning that we would probably have to spend some time after dark without power. We have a gas stove, so we could cook on that by lighting the gas ring with a match.

We stocked up on fat candles and two battery-powered camping lights, and took out some spare blankets to wrap ourselves in, in the absence of our central heating. My tall Balinese cat candle holder (pictured above) came in very handy.

We usually have dinner between 7.30 and 8.30pm. But this night, we realised it would be difficult to cook by candlelight, so we cooked at twilight. And instead of putting together one fabulous recipe or another, we decided to go simple: toss a salad, butter a bread roll and quick-fry some small lamb chops. Add some store-bought mint sauce and it was delicious. It felt like we were camping—or what I imagine camping would be like, since I’ve never actually been camping (unless you count a week in a camper van).

And the night came tumbling in.

My cat, Lucy Locket, just carried on as normal, jumping up on to the arm of the couch and lashing her tail. Then I remembered, cats can see in the dark, so she probably wondered why we were doing anything differently to usual.

“It’s so black out there,” my husband said, looking out the floor-to-ceiling glass doors and windows in our living room.

It certainly was. And inside, even with lots of candles and the camping lights, there wasn’t really enough light to do anything useful by. He could just see to read a book, but only just.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: an old-fashioned battery-powered transistor radio is one of the world’s greatest inventions. We moved this little radio from its usual place in the bathroom to lounge central, and it was our link to the world. We learned that thousands of other people were without power in Melbourne that night, too.

It certainly made me think about how much we take for granted in this modern life. A day without my blog feed, without Facebook, Twitter or email, and without access to the internet and to my computer itself felt very strange.

Then I thought about my great-grandmother, Isabelle Abbott, born in the 19th century, who told me in the 1980s that she hated electricity and the gadgets that went with it. The old coal-fired range was so much better to cook on than these newfangled electric stoves and ovens, she said. And as for the automatic washing machine—you could keep it. Electric lighting was overrated. What to do when it gets dark? “Go to sleep”.

The perfect inventions: top 11

Apart from the ancient essential inventions, such as the wheel and fire, and the obvious modern inventions, such as antibiotics and X-rays, and world-changing new media, such as the internet and computers, what are the inventions that make our everyday life better than it would otherwise be? What are the inventions that just can’t be beaten? I’ve made a list of some of my favourites. To make the list, they had to have longevity, be sturdy if not unbreakable, be cheap and provide an essential function. Here, then, are my top 11 inventions, in no particular order.

 1.Transistor radio: you need never feel lonely and a couple of batteries will last for a very long time. I have a transistor in the bathroom. Steam from the shower doesn’t bother it, I don’t need to pay anything or use up any data to listen to live radio shows at any time of the day or night. I can get news, real current affairs, interviews, travel updates, music, talkback, lifestyle information, comedy and more. Even my cat likes to sit and listen to the radio.

Radio Lucy: my cat likes to listen to the radio. I've heard they also like a CD, and there are some specially made for cats. That might be taking it a bit far. Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013.

Radio Lucy listens to the morning pet show on the radio. I’ve heard they also like a good music CD, and there are some specially made for cats. That might be taking it a bit far.                                  Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

2. Ballpoint pen: doesn’t go forever, but goes for a long time. Tiny, and never needs batteries. A $20 bundle of pens from the Post Office shop has so far lasted me 10 years. Granted, I don’t hand-write much these days, but there are doodles, occasional lists, scribbled reminders, class rolls. Great books have been written with one of these. Roald Dahl wrote by hand in his garden shed. Students with late essays would never be able to use the excuse that their “computer broke down”.

3. Paperback book: probably the most dodgy on the list, because people will say that ereaders have superseded it. Well, not necessarily. I love my Kindle and my iPad for reading, too, but they have limitations. Obviously, with the iPad, its battery life is a problem (though some flights now allow you to recharge). And with the basic Kindle, although the battery life is great, you still can’t operate electronic gadgets when a plane is taking off and landing, meaning you have to find something else to read then. I often take a paperback, as well as my Kindle, for the no-electronics times. And marginalia, although it can be made electronically, is just not the same. I recently found a text I’d had to read as an undergraduate student, and in the margin, I’ve written in pencil, “Soooooo tedious”.

4. Automatic analogue watch: all you have to do is wear it every day and it just goes. Or you can wind it up. No battery ever needed. My father had the same automatic watch almost all his life (though he owned lots of other watches, too).

5. Toothbrush: I’m talking the manual kind over the electric. I recently went back to this old fashioned gadget that never needs charging or a battery, is easy to clean, is good for three months or more, and is very cheap—the one I just bought cost $1.

6. Plastic comb: minimal cost, you use it every day and it fits in your purse or pocket. All you have to do is wash it every so often. I’ve had the same comb for more than 20 years, and now it has sentimental value.

7. Automatic kettle: most of us still have one, even though we can heat up water in the microwave quicker. My twentysomething brother doesn’t have one though, so perhaps times are a-changing.

8. Electric non-stick toasted sandwich maker: a meal in five minutes, barely any mess, maximum satisfaction and you can pick one up for $30 or less. You can also make omelets in the compartmentalised ones. I like the sandwich-press style these days, which you can also use as a mini grill.

9.  Digital camera: ‘new’ technology but so much better than film cameras (for everyday snapshots at least—proper photographer/artists might have a different opinion). The concept of putting a camera in our phones was brilliant. It’s so easy now to illustrate my blog, for example.

10. Scissors: imagine if they didn’t exist. We could still cut things, but it would be a pain. I have scissors in just about every room of the house. They’re cheap, simple, and although they are sharp, there’s much less chance you’ll accidentally injure yourself with them (unless, as the old saying goes, you run with them—even then…).

11. Dried pasta: lasts for ages without refrigeration, is very cheap (from 65c a packet), filling and incredibly versatile. The simplest of pasta dishes is also my favourite: for two people, boil half a packet (or less) of dried spaghetti in salted water until just al dente, then drain it (do NOT rinse). Meanwhile, in a deep-sided fry pan, heat two tablespoons or so of olive oil (or 1 of olive oil, one of butter) and, on low heat, add a couple of cloves of finely chopped garlic and fresh or dried chilli. Fry for a few minutes until the garlic starts to brown, then add one or two bottled anchovy fillets with a little of their oil, and a squeeze of lemon. Fry for a couple of minutes, stirring to break up the anchovy. Add the spaghetti and stir well in the sauce until it is piping hot. Serve  garnished with parsley, black pepper and parmesan, and you have aglio e olio, superb, simple and tasty comfort food.

Pets for Peace

Lucy Locket stars as "A Bookish Cat" in a pastel painting I did of her this week.

My pastel painting of my cat, Lucy Locket, who sits with me while I work

"Maggie", by Caron Dann, 2012.

“Maggie”, my brother’s dog, rescued from an animal shelter

These two pets don’t know each other, but my mother calls them her “grandchildren”. The dog is Maggie, who lives in the US with my brother and his wife. The cat is Lucy Locket, who lives with me in Melbourne, Australia. I share my paintings of them in this post, in answer to Kozo’s Bloggers for Peace challenge this month on raising children so they know the value of peace.
In order to truly promote peace in the world, you have to be a person who knows inner peace. I believe there are few experiences in our everyday lives that give this sort of peace as much as owning a pet does.
The undying love of a dog who thinks you are perfect, no matter what; the companionship, elegance and spirit of a cat who thinks you are part of its litter (or perhaps its servant); the sweetness of a small bird that will sit on your shoulder and mimic your sounds: these are pets I have known.
I’m a cat person. I’ve owned cats since I was very young. Times have changed since I was a child and we put the (un-neutered) cat OUT for the night. These days, my cat is an indoor being, perfectly happy in our townhouse. She has an enclosed courtyard to play in, and to wistfully watch birds strut across high-up roofs. She could, if she wanted, climb the fence and run off—but she never does.
As for Maggie, my brother’s dog, she’s an American rat-terrier. They acquired poor Maggie from an animal shelter. When she had been brought in, there were signs she had recently had puppies, but no trace of the puppies. Her claws were very long and she was malnourished. After that awful start, Maggie now has an idyllic life and is devoted to her owners.
If you have a pet, you have responsibilities to look after it, to keep it safe and to give it the affection it deserves. In return, this pet will be your greatest companion.
It doesn’t matter what you look like, whether you’re fat or thin, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you did well in school, whether you are popular or not, or whether you are talented at anything. As long as you look after it—which means training, of course, especially for dogs—your pet will love and respect you.
These are good lessons for children to learn: that love and care given will result in love and care back, and that life is about much more than material things.

Cats I have known

Lucy Locket stars as "A Bookish Cat" in a pastel painting I did of her this week.

Lucy Locket stars as “A Bookish Cat” in a pastel painting I did of her this week.

I’ve always loved cats. I don’t know what it is about them, but I’m always happiest with a book, a cup of tea, and a cat. My current cat is Lucy Locket, named for the old English nursery rhyme, which may or may not be a flattering name for her, depending on how you interpret the poem. If I had a second cat, I’d call it Kitty Fisher. (You can read why here ). I did a portrait in pastels of Lucy Locket this week (above).

Anyway, Lucy Locket is an indoor cat, except for being allowed into our enclosed courtyard, because I have had several cats run over, and so has my husband, and we couldn’t bear for that to happen again. Lucy seems very happy and the vet says that, at six, she is in the prime of her life.

I wish my dad were still alive to meet Lucy Locket. I wonder if he’d give her one of his famous cat nicknames. When I was a baby, we had Button—who before I arrived had been treated like a baby and sat at the dinner table wearing a bib. When I was a pre-schooler, we had Bomb (who was smelly) and Loopy (who had one eye). Later, there were part-Abyssinians Abdul, always known as Ringtail, and Omar, known as Other One. Yes. Can you imagine calling them in from outside: “Ringtail! Other One!” Ridiculous.

At one stage, we had three cats at the same time, all of whom hated each other. Sandy was a big pale ginger tom who became Fat Ginger; Thin Grey’s real name was Kelly Jason; and Jawa (named after the creatures in the first Star Wars film) was a pitch-black tom who became Blackness and who lived for 16 years and moved from New Zealand to Australia with my parents. My aunty had an all-white cat that Dad always called White Fright (though I don’t think they called it that!).

I couldn’t have a cat of my own for years, because I was moving towns and countries and living in flats. But my flatmates often had cats. I remember in particular Aunty Huia, a small grey cat named after a TV character of the time. She was one of a menagerie at a flat in the rural town of Warkworth, New Zealand, where I was working as a journalist. We also had German short-haired pointers Apollo and Zeus, Bunny Bunny the rabbit, Casper the bird, many unnamed goldfish, and another cat whose name escapes me now but was something like Molly.

As an adult, I kept on the tradition of giving a cat a “proper” name, but also giving it nicknames. The exception was Patsy, my Abyssinian kitten who mysteriously went missing forever from our enclosed backyard at six months. She was named after Joanna Lumley’s character  in Absolutely Fabulous.

10 years ago, I had a beautiful Burmese cat named Mandalay, but I always called her Babette. She had a brush with celebrity when the famous Australian TV vet Dr Harry examined her when I was writing a magazine story about a clinic he was running. Explaining to me some of the faults in her breeding, he said, in the kindest way, “She’s a lovely cat, but she’ll never be best in show”. I replied, “Oh well, she’s best in Mummy’s show”.

Australian TV celebrity vet Dr Harry with Babette. His verdict: "A lovely cat, but she won't be best in show".

Australian TV celebrity vet Dr Harry with Babette. His verdict: “A lovely cat, but she won’t be best in show”.

At 18 months, Babette was bitten by a tiger snake and nearly died: but $900 worth of anti-venom saved her. Two weeks later, she was run over by a car and killed.

Mandalay/Babette’s successors, sibling half-feral moggies Peter (named for a friend) and Minky (for a Peter Sellers line in the Pink Panther film), became Boy and Schmink.

And Lucy Locket? She’s Punchinella (a variation of the Italian puppet Punchinello, but there is also a Jamaican children’s song called Punchinella Little Fella). Don’t ask me why I call her that; it just seems to fit.