August 11, 2013

Plugs and pumpkin

I've lost count of the number of times I've had to ask for a bathroom plug in accommodations in Australia. Even in Sydney hotels. It's a problem I've rarely come across before, in wealthy countries at any rate. (When we moved into this extortionately expensive 'luxury' apartment, there was only one plug between two basins in our ensuite.)

There'll likely be a plug in the bath, and I'd be happy to use that for the hand basin, except that it's usually bigger and doesn't fit. If it's a question of economy, then I'd rather have a plug for the basin because I prefer a shower, so I don't need a bath plug, whereas I do run water in the basin at least twice a day.

Whenever I ask for a plug, more often than not I get a strange look. Like I'm eccentric; weird even.

Three months before we arrived in Australia, a decade-long drought came to an end. During that time there were stringent water conservation measures in place. You had to have a water tank in which to collect water for the garden and toilet flushing; shower heads were modified to reduce flow; that kind of thing. I'm sure there must have been lots of other simple advice given to citizens, such as showering with a friend; not keeping the tap running while brushing your teeth or washing your face; placing a brick in the toilet tank; recycling washing-up water; and so on. Plugs are a must-have part of water conservation, aren't they?

I wasn't surprised they were missing in basic accommodations in the remote outback. When I asked for one in a motel in Charleville, the lady remarked that the plug must have 'walked' with a previous guest. At first I thought, crikey, you have to be pretty impoverished to steal a rubber plug. But in fact it's perfectly understandable: whoever it was thought they might need one in the next place. I have now added 'plugs' to my extensive list of what to take when travelling, and my Bunnings shopping list.

So, missing plugs are on a growing list of things that are usually the case here. Ubiquitous pumpkin is another. Pumpkin is overwhelmingly Australians' favourite vegetable. Ninety times out of a hundred in cafes and restaurants the soup of the day will be pumpkin; 99 times in winter. In addition, there will be pumpkin in salads, roast dinners, pies, scones, muffins, pasta sauces, quiches, bread, curries, risotto, casseroles and on pizzas. Dear gods, pumpkin really isn't that good. It's inoffensive – apart from a slightly slimy consistency sometimes – but it's a long way from delicious, isn't it? I've really tried to acquire the taste. I ordered it in a really good-looking salad in a deli on Hawthorne Road a few days ago, but I ended up leaving quite a lot on the side of the plate. I'm just not that into pumpkin.

There are lots of other food experiences that happen automatically, before you remember, too late, what is likely to turn up if you don't specify exactly what you want. For the record, please don't assume:
• I want cream with my cake
• I want my cake warm, especially if it's a chocolate brownie or mudcake
• I want my toast buttered for me, while it's still hot 
• I want brown sauce on my egg-and-bacon sandwich
• I want my croissant hot, with cheese and ham, strawberries and ice cream, or dipping chocolate
• I want nuts sprinkled over my yoghurt
• I want my olives warm
• I want salt on my chips
• I want my steak swimming in sauce
• I want my wine poured for me
• You can collect other people's plates if I'm still eating

There is, in general, an overcomplication of food matters. In the last week, I've seen muesli and honey muffins and chilli, chocolate and pumpkin muffins. Noooooooo, thank you. Do you have a plain chocolate one? No bits, no nuts, no nothing?

I'll never forget, not long after we moved into our first house in Brisbane, I went shopping for tuna in a supermarket. Twenty-five minutes later I left the canned fish section, empty-handed. I had never seen so many variations on a theme. In the UK, tuna comes in olive oil, sunflower oil, spring water or brine. In Australia, the choices include with sundried tomato and basil, oven-dried tomato and basil, lemon and cracked pepper, natural smoked, onion and tomato and savoury sauce, zesty vinaigrette, spicy chilli, sweet chilli, mango chilli, chilli and lime and ginger, tomato chilli, tomato and capsicum (sweet pepper), beans, roast capsicum and three bean, sweet mustard, tomato salsa, puttanesca, onion savoury sauce, soy and ginger, garlic and soy, sweetcorn and mayonnaise, Thai red curry, mild Indian curry, Mexican style, Japanese style, Italian style, Spanish style and Moroccan style, as well as the oil/springwater/brine options.

Too much choice, man. Makes me crave the simple life. Actually, I haven't bought tuna in a while. Most tuna is not fished sustainably or humanely. End of story. Phew.


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