You think that’s a grater? Now this is a grater


Every time I have to throw something away, it hurts. Some manufactured object (manufactured = made by hand, and most of these things are made by machine, but there was great human ingenuity put into the production) has reached the end of its life and heads off for landfill.

Take the cheap laser printer which is essential for the university student in the house. It runs out of ink and you need to buy a new cartridge, at $69. Here’s the old cartridge.


It’s a high-tech bundle of plastic and metal, probably including a smidgeon of the rare metals which we are all going to run out of somewhere down the track. And it’s useless, all you can do is chuck it. Would it be completely out of the question to redesign the laser printer, so that the refill, instead of being a $69 package of non-renewable resources, was just a little bottle of ink powder, which could be decanted straight into the printer? Oh no, that wouldn’t work commercially, it would destroy the manufacturer’s commercial model, wouldn’t it. How silly of me.

Of course we recycle. Three bins: rubbish, recycling and green for garden waste. The recycling bin contains a mix of newspapers, plastic containers, milk cartons, tins… and it’s picked up by a special recycling truck. I’ve always wondered how much of that stuff actually ends up in landfill. The council doesn’t publicise the end of the recycling line. And green waste goes off in a special green truck. I would love to believe that all our rose cuttings, tree prunings and noxious weeds find their way to a giant compost heap that reduces everything to lovely healthy compost in a few weeks, but I’ve heard awful rumours that our council can’t actually deal with the quantities of green waste that its residents supply. Hopefully this is just urban cynicism. There’s no way I’m going to abandon the ritual of sorting stuff for the bins. We time the pruning of fruit trees by the dates of the green rubbish collection, which happens every two weeks. About a third of the apricot tree just went off; the big apple tree is next.

A few months ago, our ancient box grater gave up the ghost. The rivets that held it together along one edge failed, and this household is not capable of riveting anything. No skills, no tools. We needed a new grater immediately, and found a similar one, a bit smaller but very cheap, at the supermarket. It’s on the left in the photo above.

Over the last few weeks, the new grater has been deteriorating. Little patches of orange rust have appeared on the main grating areas – they look exactly like the remains of grated carrot, which is why I tried to wash them off when I first saw them. I can’t think of any way of saving this thing: off to the tip it will go.

These days I buy kitchenware on line, after several debacles in the city department stores. (Myers and David Jones, I’m talking about you.) Of the various graters on offer, somehow I ended up ordering a much more expensive whizz-bang object with a solid plastic handle at the top and a removable plastic base to catch your gratings so (in theory) they don’t go all over the place. It arrived this morning, and has yet to be put into action.

I found myself justifying the expense, first to myself and then to my partner.

(1) If the last grater cost $5 and lasted three months, that’s $20 a year, which over three years is $60, which is more than I’ve spent on the new grater. The new grater is supposed to last for ever, more or less.

(2) We haven’t got a Kitchenaid mixer and we do most things by hand, so we need good equipment. And a good grater is much cheaper than a Kitchenaid mixer.

(3) We just sent a bit of useless metal to landfill after three months, which is bad for the environment and a waste of non-renewable resources. If the new grater lasts for ever, it will justify the use of the metal and plastic of which it’s made, and stay out of landfill.

(4) If we have a really good collection of graters, that will stop me coveting a Kitchenaid mixer. And we don’t really have room for a Kitchenaid mixer, and they cost a fortune, and embody and consume a lot more energy than a hand grater, or even a set of hand graters. You are allowed to have a good hand grater. (These arguments are beginning to become circular, and are clearly driven by guilt, both environmental and financial.)

Did I say ‘set of graters’ just then? Oh yes – I also ordered a fine microplane grater at the same time. After all, the postage and packing weren’t going to cost any more.

The title of a book by the British science writer Fred Pearce comes to mind. Confessions of an eco-sinner: travels to find where my stuff comes from. I haven’t even travelled to the outskirts of the City of Moreland to find the giant compost heap where I hope the prunings from the apricot tree are being turned over in a rich mix of earthworms and microbes, to end up in our local parks. Or not.


I think I’ll get back to knitting, and to the extremely difficult business of picking up dropped stitches.



Slippery slope

Knitting has mostly defeated me. No patience. Some little thing goes wrong, and after a short struggle the new balls of wool are abandoned and eventually passed on to someone who can’t believe I’m getting rid of them. ‘But this is really good wool,’ she says, astonished, and gets to work, and a couple of weeks later she’s made something lovely. I give it a rest for another three or four years, and then I try again.

I love watching a good knitter at work. I love the sight of a half-made garment in interesting colours hanging from her needles. I love the feel of the finished jumper: strong and soft, stretching in all the right places. There are sewing bloggers (like Pegsewer of Deconstruct Alter Create) who also make gorgeous knitted shawls and jumpers. I’ve seen women knitting Fair Isle patterns in fabulous colour combinations, while paying attention to what’s going on in a meeting and interjecting from time to time while their hands carry on with needles and wool. How do they do it?

Last year I came across some extraordinary wool. There’s a craft market outside the Melbourne arts centre on Sundays, and there, in among the jewellery and children’s clothes, was a table covered with brilliantly multicoloured skeins of wool. Sue Flynn of Hawthorne Cottage in Sebastopol, outside Ballarat, keeps and shears her own sheep and spins and dyes her own wool, and it feels like silk. She sold me a couple of rainbow skeins, lumpy and gorgeous, and told me I’d need enormous knitting needles:

I took it home and started knitting. No idea how many stitches to make a scarf. It soon became clear that 25 was too many – 20 was too many (a lot of ripping apart of my painfully slow work) – and I settled for only 12 stitches. The resulting scarf was light and warm and oddly shaped, and the colours were so lovely that the lumpiness hardly mattered. I wore it all last winter.

Meanwhile my friend Celia in the UK lives in an old mill that was built well before Australia was colonised by the British, and it gets seriously cold in winter. So the next time I passed the craft market I bought a couple more skeins of Sue Flynn’s wool, even more brightly coloured than the first two. Knitted up another scarf and sent it off to Celia.


This is incredible. Not only have I successfully knitted myself a scarf, I’ve knitted one for a friend and she seems to like it.

So when my son mentioned casually that he’d quite like me to knit him a jumper, of course I said yes.