Five things I have to say about Hobbit 3

(1) I had no idea that Tolkien was such a great writer. The line where the dwarf dude says to the kungfu-elf-chick ‘You make me feel so alive’. And where she says in a marvellously anguished way about love ‘It hurts so much’. That I could think up such lines.

(2) Unfortunately when the giant rabbits appeared Manny had just started sucking a Malteser. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried doing that and groaning at the same time. It isn’t pretty. Fortunately somebody in our row knew the Heimlich maneuvre. Personally, the big bunnies don’t bother me the way they do Tolkien nerds. I mean, if you are going to have lines like ‘You make me feel so alive’, does it matter what size the rabbits are?

(3) Some Tolkien nerds say that the big bunnies aren’t supposed to be in The Hobbit. They say it is an invention of the crazed mind of Peter Jackson. If it is true, it is sheer petty jealousy. I heard it like this from a NZ friend of mine. The set of The Hobbit was next to the set of an ad where they were trialling the idea of Jenny Craig for animals. The rabbits were the before-the-Craig treatment look, Pete saw them and it was just one of those moments where movie magic is made. It’s things like the slightly too large rabbits that make Jackson the director he is. I won’t let anybody say different.

(4) I have also heard it said that Petey lives next to a farm where they are testing the idea of fois gras de la lapin. My hand-on-heart opinion as an Australian? Seriously? Kiwis would do that.

(5) Am I the only person who keeps thinking about what Gandalf looks like in the nude? I was in the front row when I went to see Gandalf doing King Lear, so I’ve been a few feet away from his tackle and somehow I can’t get it out of my head. I wish I’d gone to see him do it in Singapore where he wasn’t allowed to get it out and wave it about.

All in all, a vast improvement on number two and I’m greatly looking forward to The Hobbit 4.

Medusa by Michael Dibdin

It seems to me that in general one expects living authors to run out of words before breath – entirely unreasonable, I know, but there it is. Dibdin died too early, making this an unexpected treat, an Aurelio Zen I thought I’d read but hadn’t, I realised leafing through it in a bookshop in Australia.

As usual, I love the food details, minor thoughts one files away in brain under cooking. Atrociously ignorant about a country for which I hold a passport, I’ve probably learned as much about Italy from the Zen series as from any other source. Politics, culture, history abound without ever seeming like a substitute for a story.

On top of all that, an antiquarian bookseller has a big part. For what more could one ask?

Thai Food David Thompson

This is the only cookbook I’ve ever bought that’s plain scared me.

David Thompson, although he’s a white Australian, is considered THE authority on Thai food, to the extent that around 2000 the Thai government asked him to set up a restaurant in Bangkok, the idea of which was to bring street food back into restaurants.

He has a couple of restaurants in Sydney, one right on the harbour, cheap food with a million dollar view. Should you read this book you will only wonder how on earth it can be this cheap when it is so labour-intensive.

Any one of the recipes in this book has a lot of ingredients dealt with in the most pedantic of ways. He will insist on a pestle and mortar and then bully you into putting the garlic in first, THEN the ginger (or vice versa? I don’t have the book in front of me). Pound those ingredients in the wrong order and you’ll have him to answer to.

Then this, positively the best instruction I’ve ever read in a recipe. Referring to the frying of some piquant mixture he says the time to know when it is ready is when you sneeze, and, as if he knows you will stare at that in disbelief, he insists, waggling his finger at you, ‘yes, that’s right, until you sneeze.’

Wow. I’ve just never been brave enough to try this or anything else in the book. In fact I’ve given up Thai cooking before I’ve even started. This is another depressing fact. You spend what looks like it must be hours getting a paste ready to cook something in and the next instruction will be to take 100g of – huh. I do beg your pardon. ALL that effort for a mouthful of meat?

And, of course, it follows that you need to make half a dozen of these dishes just to feed a couple of people. See what I mean about how expensive a GOOD Thai restaurant should be? It simply can’t be done cheaply.

Don’t get me wrong, this book is a delight. The first hundred or so pages deal with the cultural aspects of food in Thailand – I can’t imagine a place where food is more important, even Italy. Those who cook, for instance, are reverentially buried with their recipes.

But much as it’s a delight, and I love reading the recipes and it makes me feel like having sex and all good things like that, it puts me right off cooking the damn stuff. Obviously I’m a complete coward, but I suspect even if you were brave you might be scared of this book too.

Still, buy it, read it….and then pop it away and find somebody nice to go to bed with. That’s my best advice on this one.