The enemy in my kitchen


Pizza OvenMichael arrives on the dot of seven. He prides himself on punctuality, among other things, though he will patiently explain if necessary that he’s not obsessive about it – he just sees it as common courtesy.

He’s come to prune some thick foliage overshadowing our back lawn, limbs that are higher up than I am prepared to venture these days, and to tidy up with his whipper-snipper and pull out weeds and other intruders among the vegetables and shrubs.

As usual, I feel self-conscious about this. As a sedentary worker professionally, I have always prided myself on my capacity to do some heavy labouring in my spare time – from rural fencing, ploughing, building sheds and shearing pens in the past to, these days, more genteel gardening, digging and cultivation. But a serious back injury put a stop to most of that and now, like the Ancient Mariner buttonholing the Wedding Guest to explain himself, I feel obliged to tell people like Michael that I would normally be doing these jobs myself if it weren’t for … Ah vanity, vanity, all is vanity.

Michael doesn’t mind though. He is no youth, mid to late forties, but hard as nails and seemingly neither surprised nor deterred by even the most daunting tasks. Fortunately, however, to be callous about it, he has also had back trouble and so is understanding rather than judgemental or, worse, scornful.

As we make the mandatory tour of the tasks ahead, he looks up at the sky, where an early morning blush is giving way to scudding wispy clouds, and sniffs the air.

‘Smells good,’ he says. ‘Looks like spring might be making a move at last.’

‘I reckon so.’ I wave an arm at the fig tree with its famously gender-concealing leaves in full, bright green panoply.

‘Funny how we dwell on spring,’ Michael says, ‘in a way we don’t with other seasons. It’s about renewal, I suppose, things getting started again – more so in the northern hemisphere, of course. You’ll be wanting to get rid of this.’ He stabs a battered Blundstone at a spreading outbreak of onion weed and bridal creeper.

‘I read just the other day,’ he says, ‘that a lot of people in London after World War II wondered if spring would ever come again. Years of bombs and destruction and some really freezing winters made them think that the seasons had been thrown out of kilter. Want me to clean up round here too?’

This is awkward. He has stopped at our wood-fired pizza oven – a very large, heavy, cast iron structure so tightly wrapped in a special black, zipped-up rainproof cover from top to bottom, with only the flue protruding that it is unrecognisable. Michael’s talking about the grass sprouting round its base, but I have another worry. Because it is wrongly positioned in the garden and too close to the fence, we haven’t used it in two years. I’d been thinking of asking him for help to move it to a spot where we could safely fire it up. Two blokes with bung backs wouldn’t be much use, but I thought he might be able to mobilise younger, stronger talent from his impressive network of contacts, helpers and ‘old mates’. Somehow, I feel reluctant to ask him, and I’m relieved to be able to put it off under the guise of not wanting to interrupt.

‘Of course,’ he says, with a touch of irony, ‘we’re actually at war now, aren’t we? according to Mr Abbott, anyway, and the only woman in cabinet is Minister of War, for now. I reckon it’s bloody amazing that two women called Bishop are waging war on Muslims – one of ’em’s trying to lock them out and the other’s organising to bomb them. Strange world. Anyway, I’ll get the gear from the ute and start work.’

But he can see I’m hesitating.

‘What’s the problem?’

I point at the pizza oven. ‘Would there be any chance of your rounding up a few blokes, especially young strong ones, and supervising its removal just a few metres away across the lawn. It’s heavy and awkward, but …’

He looks at it, stroking his stubbled chin and squinting a bit as if to size it up.

‘Well, mate,’ he says at last, ‘it’s dressed in black and it’s totally masked and unidentifiable. It wouldn’t be allowed into Parliament would it? Strictly speaking, I should report you to the Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop, and Senator Cory Bernardi. And probably to The Hon. Scott Morrison as well, for breaching on-lawn operational protocols. In the meantime, though, I’ll get on to a couple of heavyweight blokes who owe me a favour and we’ll shift the bugger for you – strictly on the quiet.'

Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is honorary professor of English at Flinders University and an award winning columnist and biographer.

Topic tags: Brian Matthews, politics, burqa, niqab, Islam, Muslim women, pizza oven



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Existing comments

Always good to read your pieces Brian MR

M Rush | 10 October 2014  

'Two blokes with bung backs'. When can we expect the rest of the poem, Brian?

David B | 10 October 2014  

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