Last Saturday we went to Melbourne to do the grandparent thing with two year old Roo. It had taken several weeks to organize, what with various commitments and so on. Roo’s house is a two hour drive from our place.

These are exciting times just now. Roo is about to get a little sister. He knows but he is not quite sure what a sister is. Something is in the air, he thinks. Probably the new sister will be living with the new chickens in their brand spanking new accommodation that has just been installed in the back yard.  Roo likes to check for eggs. But they, and the new sister, have not arrived.

Roo’s Mum is tired and there are times, like now, when she has a cold, when it is good to keep out of the way.  Dad explained to Roo that he would be waiting at home when Roo came back from his adventure.

First we went to a cafe near the railway station where we could  watch the trains gliding past. We could hear the bells at the railway crossing warning of the train’s arrival. Grandpa suggested that Roo could come with us on a train ride.

Roo could think of nothing better. Going for a train ride there and back would be the best thing ever. We had to leave now. It was frustrating waiting for everyone else to finish their coffee particularly when he had finished his babbachino.  But we eventually departed from  Northcote station all the way to Preston: about four stops in ten minutes. It was pretty magnificent.

Grandpa’s plan was that we could catch the return train back in five minutes. That was not to be. The platform was longer than we thought and the crossing, across the tracks to the opposite platform was even further away. We had never ventured as far as Preston on the train so it was all very new territory. It is either the inner suburbs or the bush. Nothing in between. We had twenty minutes to wait for the next train.  We amused ourselves with a visit to the Preston Market, a colorful extravaganza selling anything and everything and not more than five minutes walk away.

The platform was crowded with Saturday morning shoppers. We like to catch the front carriage. Most people congregate in the middle of the train but with a child in a stroller, much more room is needed. In the front carriages it is possible to get a window seat from where  we can spot trucks, diggers and cars as well as the odd cat.

While we were waiting we  saw a young girl a busy with an ipad. She was young, tattooed and dressed funkily enough. A man came by: drunk, disorderly and swearing. At her. Calling her names. Did he know her? I think not. She yelled back. Maybe he did. She was shaking. We decided to move closer to her, so that we stood between her and the drunk man. A railway employee walked by, oblivious to the drama unfolding there and then. He was on his way to assist a passenger in a wheelchair.

The train arrived. The young girl stood and walked to a spot some distance away. The man, behind us forgotten and quiet now, found his spot on the train and we clambered aboard with stroller and Roo in tow. On the way back home we spotted cars, cats, another digger and a truck. We arrived at Roo’s house just in time to help clean up the back yard before lunch.

Finally, at last, we have the weekend to ourselves. Time enough to tackle the long list of things to be done; to finish  half finished projects and begin the ones that have been on the list forever, it seems. Much has been delayed by my husband’s injury last October. Such things take time to recover from. This morning the top item was  “choosing an buying light fittings”. We live in a mud-brick house with cathedral ceilings. The present light fittings are getting past their usefulness energy-wise. They are halogen lights. We are needing LED… so we have settled for two elegant chandeliers which will embrace our living space – when we eventually put them up. My husband spotted them. His taste in these things is better than mine.

Then there is the rainwater tank. We are not on town water at our place. We are dependent upon catching the rain, and have a large tank for the purpose. It is a brand for which my husband is the local dealer so it doubles as a display tank. Every once in a while he will bring a customer to our house for a tank inspection. They can look at the various bits and pieces and think about the various finishing touches they need. Most of all they are impressed by the tank’s volume. Many customers are city-folk relocating to the country. They may have seen tanks on their long country drives but have not, before now, thought through the mathematics of tank building. Rainwater is gathered from the roof of the house, flowing through gutters and pipes to land in the tank. For a 200 square metre house one can collect about 100,000 litres a year in Central Victoria where we are. That number is based on the average rainfall for this region. Then of course one has to factor in the number of people living in the house and gardens. Better to use dam water for the latter and have a back up tank in case of fire.

During a trip to England last year we met a couple of young men during a train trip. As one does  we talked about our work. We explained the tank business – how in Australia domestic corrugated steel tanks are an essential part of water storage infrastructure. One of the young men was astounded. I cannot get my mind around it, he said.

Two years ago during an intensely hot summer the dams dried up. The vegetable garden had to be sacrificed. We  re allocated what water we had to the trees in the garden. The vegetable garden could be resurrected. The son came to visit. I suppose you are letting the garden lie fallow, he said. I *think* he was joking. He is on town-water where he lives. The kangaroos came down from the bush and gorged themselves on the spring quinces still on the tree before turning to the remnants of the vegetable garden.  We decided not to use house water to keep that alive.

As a result of that harsh summer we realized that if we are to continue the dream of self sufficiency and grow our own vegetables, we need to store more dam water. It has called for another tank. The plan is to pump water into the tank from the dam during winter. And – this is the gamble where we live –  the spring rains will top up the dams to provide sufficient water over the summer. One or two summer storms provides a sufficient margin. Last year my husband’s injury from the assault put these plans on hold. The tank we purchased was not built. He, the builder of tanks, was too busy recovering and ensuring his business retained stability. Nine months later we are finally catching up.

The second, garden tank was finally built six weeks ago. Today my husband has been busy digging ditches, laying pipes, pumping water from one tank to another. The ground – rock hard in summer – has been softened by the recent rain enough for trenches to be dug and pipes to be laid. The vegetable garden though has been retired, defeated by lettuce eating kangaroos and rabbits. It is to be redeveloped as an orchard. For fresh vegetables we will be using a smaller garden bed built close to the back door of the house – close enough to be able to slip out from the kitchen to pick what I need for the cooking pot,

The Quilt.

A quilt turned up in the mail last week. It was the ‘jungle quilt’ my mother was making for our grandchildren. It is green and jungly with animal motifs: a hippo, a monkey and a giraffe. Edged with blue, backed with lime green, it is a piece for a small bed or cot. It is the last thing my mother was making for me. Every Friday for years she had met with a group of women who came to her house for sewing lessons. Their passion  is a sophisticated form of machine embroidery. They had worked together to make quilts and embroider pictures using this technology.  My mother, self taught, and finally pursuing her passion after years of housewife-ing, did not want to die. She would miss out on the technology that was coming, she said.  She and her ‘ladies’ knew more than most people about computer stuff.

On the 25th of October last year a policeman drove to our house and knocked in the door. What, I wondered was going on? I had just paid a speeding fine so why would the police come now? I greeted him at the door with that question. It’s not that, he said. Your husband is in hospital. He has been assaulted by the young lad he took on last week. Could he run me into hospital?

I had a patient list to cancel and if he was to run me into hospital how would I get home? No, it’s alright I said. I have things to do. I can drive myself in. And so the rest of the day passed in the twilight world of the emergency department where it was established that despite the blood and bruising there was little serious damage. The doctors put the pain in his chest down to his age. It was a cracked sternum but  we found that out a week later when he awoke and could not move.

We had decided to visit my parents in Canberra for the following long weekend. It would be an eight hour trip. It would have to be postponed. I rang my mother the following day to tell her we would not be coming. She got in first. She had had fluid drained from her abdomen. Several litres of it. She was seeing an oncologist the following week. Was I coming to Canberra? I could not, I explained. I could not leave my husband just yet. His children visited, each concerned, angry and confused. My mother and father understood.

The young-man-in-question (YMIQ) had become angry when my husband challenged some of his boasting about outwitting the police. They had been on a delivery together. The YMIQ had hit my husband. While my husband was driving. My husband stopped the car and threw him out and told him to walk. They were on a winding road at the time.

Back at the factory, an hour or so later, my husband was working at his desk. The YMIQ entered his office. He had hitch-hiked back. No one speaks to me like that, the YMIQ said. He punched my husband unconscious. YMIQ left the premises in his beautiful souped up car. Not before completing his time sheet. This was delivered to the prosecutor. The YMIQ was subsequently dealt with by due legal process with the maximum sentence that could be delivered.

My mother went to see the oncologist. It is Ovarian Cancer she was told. She started chemotherapy. I was able to visit the following weekend to find her not eating. She told me about the quilt she was making and showed me the pieces.

A week later my mother began vomiting and did not stop. She was sent to hospital and prescribed surgery. It could kill you, they said. I cancelled everything and went to Canberra to stay with my father.They cancelled the surgery. She did not want heroic interventions. On the second night I was there my father and I visited her. She looked at my father. You are not sleeping, she said. He nodded. You do not need to worry, she said. You know where this is going to end. She was at Stage 4. Her bowel was completely blocked.

It was possible, in that terrible week for my mother’s beloved dog to visit her in hospital. The staff wheeled her bed out into the courtyard where we were waiting with the dog. We knew then that she would be leaving for a palliative care unit. I remember her calling the dog. The dog, confused, was not sure. It was a moment for her to say good bye to the dog, and the next day, for her to say good bye to me.  She died two days short of a month after first visiting the doctor.

The Ladies came to her funeral. Would they, I asked, finish this last project? This small quilt? They said they would. I gave them the material. And it turned up last week. The quilt is beautiful. It is made with the ladies’ love.  I suspect their tears are woven into it, too.

I have been away from this site and blogging for a long time. Not for any reason other than being consumed by work, the advent of grandchildren and building life at Lockwood.

Amongst other changes is the acquisition of chickens. We began with four, two Buff Sussex girls, an Australorpe and a Light Sussex – Vida, Rose, Mrs Cholmondeley and Mrs Worthington. Mrs W is no longer with us and after a period of going on strike after being traumatised by a snake, we acquired a rooster who was duly named Cedric and a little white hen called Minnie. Cedric ended his career by jumping into the dog run and that was that. Minnie grew huge.  Little Vida entered her egg-laying career by becoming clucky and mothering five chicks – two roosters and three hens.

Poor Minnie did not know whether she was a chick or hen for a time. She would run with the mother hen and then turn to the older girls. She was shunned in the ladies pen and crowded out of the nursery pen. She was adopted by a friend along with one of the baby roosters and is now happily enjoying a career as a breeding hen. Rooster No. 2 became aggressive and so he had to go.

So now we have six hens – Vida, Rosie, Mrs Cholmondeley. Brunhilde is a Blue Australorpe and the other two whose names vary between Isabella Georgina and just plain old Chook are Plymouth Rocks.

Each personality is a delight to live with and, at last, they have all come into lay along with a lovely surplus of eggs.

The Wedding – at last.

We went to a wedding today.

It began several years ago when we discovered that one of my husband’s network of people from his past life before me, owned the house across the road. It had been tenanted for years with a series of colourful personalities who made a lot of noise so we were pleased to learn that the owner, then unknown, would be moving in. Our meeting – at least for  my husband, – was along the lines of ‘what are you doing here’? The two recognised one another: my husband was the parent of T’s music student. Over the years our status has altered, moving from one of ‘neighbors’  to ‘friends’: from popping in and out of each others houses for chats, looking after pets and the usual stuff of living in a community, to discussions about more serious matters concerning life and living. We also share an awareness that we live in an area where bushfires could wipe us out. It is the price one pays for living in an area full of trees, birds and wildlife and glorious unimpeded sunsets. But that is for another post, another time.

In recent years T formed a new relationship. A long-term friendship deepened, blossomed and turned into an abiding love. We knew something important was happening, when we visited one day, and found M cleaning the fridge. Casual visitors don’t clean their host’s fridge, we opined. So we began to watch and, over time, became a sort of cheer squad. Progress was slow and, at times, fraught. It took some years. Middle age romance is like that … so many warts and bunions, so much history…What will the neighbours think? M would wonder. We ARE the neighbours, we replied. We think you should move in. And move in she has. Six weeks ago.

The wedding, at a local winery, was a delight. The couple pulled up in a horse-drawn carriage: a reconstructed Cobb and Co Coach pulled by two white Clydesdales. The best man and matron of honour both got to ride in the carriage while the little flower girl and page  had the adventure of their lives and rode on top of the carriage. There was one perilous moment when they had to duck under a tree branch so as to not get knocked off as the coach moved along but it was all part of the fun.

‘Cobb and Co’, for people who do not know, is the name of the coach company that transported the mail and people across country in the eastern part of Australia during the mid to late nineteenth century. Around our way, for example, there are a number of old dirt roads – Coach Road is one of them – that formed the old mail route between Melbourne and Bendigo. Nowadays these roads are mysterious turnoffs from the main highways. They seem to disappear into the bush.

While the bride and groom were off having photos taken and doing all the stuff that brides and grooms do with family, the friends had a lovely time riding around in the coach. Picture it… middle aged  to elderly respectable looking ladies, some of portly dimensions, others wearing tight skirts and high heels, clambering up to the top of the coach – each one not missing a chance for a bit of nostalgia and a bumpy ride around the paddock.

A wedding is a marker between past and future, between what was before and what will be.   I am sure that today, as we watched and listened to M and T taking their wedding vows and, later, telling their story, each and every one of us in the party reflected upon our own love story and path to marriage – whether as a formal event in law as this one was, or as a private commitment.  In each case, I think, a marriage is part of complex, rich, a voyage of discovery and recognition of the mystery of another. Love, they say, is like a celtic knot – who knows where it begins or ends….


I am preparing for a trip to England at the end of November. It means getting fit: eating healthy food, exercise and good, regular sleep in preparation for several long haul flights in the space of three to four weeks. The bicycle is back in commission, the dog is getting two walks a day – 3000 human steps each – and I am cooking.

My love token for my husband while I am gone is to leave him enough frozen meals to last the distance. He can do breakfast. He can do sausages and a very good batch of sardines with baked potato and salad. He works long hours building rainwater tanks – the larger variety. He is also a gentleman who holds a Seniors Card. He comes home from such tanking days aching and longing to lie down. Eating properly does not happen in these circumstances. I remember this from my days of single hood.

So I have been busy making 42 meals – lunches and dinners, cooked, ladled into containers, labelled and stacked in the freezer. Yotam Ottolenghi’s ‘Chicken Sofito’ recipe from his book with Sami Tamimi, Jerusalem was the first batch. Five down. An Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook recipe for ‘Beef Cheeks in Red Wine’ is the second lot. Another five. Some of Sunday’s breakfast batch of kedgeree has been set aside and, as I write, a version of Hungarian Goulash is simmering in the slow cooker.

Why does he not learn to cook? you may wonder. Yes… in this day and age when men rule the kitchen and the chef is ‘Master’ rather than ‘Mistress’ or something neutral like ‘Number One  Chef’, it is arguable that the man who does everything should prove his mettle while his beloved goes out foraging for food or whatever, and cook. Too.

But here, I beg to differ. He has helped me to create a garden. He has provided space to do the things I wish to do and encouraged this trip for me even though he cannot be with me because he is 90 percent of his business.

I rather like doing what I am doing. For him.

On Phones and Dinosaurs

We were talking about phones when we set off to visit friends over at Colac. We had set up ‘Nagging Nellie’ so she could direct us.

Turn left in 100 metres, she said.  NOW turn left.

We did not.

At the first opportunity when it is safe please do a U turn, she commanded.

We ignored her and drove on. Nellie sighed and adjusted her travel plans.

We proceeded, turning left or right as Nellie directed. Nellie seemed to be very happy and contented.

Suddenly all was quiet. Nellie was gone.

The phone – through which we access Nellie’s maps and directions – had switched itself off. Again.

It was easy in the olden days. Phones lived in the hallway fixed to the wall. People rang each other up and, it was assumed, when the phone rang everyone would drop what they were doing and answer it. It was courteous to do so. It was also manners to not make phone calls at dinner time or the children’s bed time. Nowadays phones are not used to call people as such. They have all sorts of apps attached – including the likes of Nagging Nellie. But times have also changed.

Even though it is a common sight to see people walking about the place – nay, driving – with phones glued to their ears, people don’t answer phones. A caller’s call may  go to a  message bank and the recipient decides whether or not they will respond – if they have decided to not answer the phone there and then.  Sometimes recipients block some callers. Of course there may be good reasons for this decision but it is also a measure of social control.  Other recipients do not want to talk and will wait until one texts before responding.  This is all very well until there is an emergency – as there was in our family last week. But then one must be flexible. And certainly when one is trying to do business is it not possible to make oneself available when the business provider returns the call?

Apparently we mobile phone users have access to phone networks when we are indoors and outdoors, in the city and in the country, on the beach and up in the mountains. But there are still problems.  It is hard enough, if not daunting to go into a phone shop manned by a bunch of twentysomethings in pipeleg trousers, white shirt, thin tie and slicked hair ever so carefully coiffured – I mean the guys – and talk about one’s phone requirements. To say that all we want to do is to use the phone to make phone calls and speak to people is like talking another language when one is of dinosaur age talking to a relative newborn. These newborns are bewildered when the dinosours say they dont want screens that darken in the sun when they are outdoors because they can’t see the screen to do the necessary swipes to answer the call. Then there is the matter of typing in the number to call. Some phones have buttons so small it suggests that the designers thought the children’s market – ie the newborns – would be their only consumers. Or they failed to understand basic principles of ergonomics: buttons must be larger than fingers. And buttons must be visible.

And this brings us to another complication – the service itself. In this country most people have mobile phones. ( They are called Cell Phones in other parts of the world). Here in OZ there is reasonably good coverage in the cities but once one leaves the metropolitan area phone coverage is dodgy. At Lockwood, if we want to answer a call we must go outside and stand under the third tree along the drive way to speak to one’s caller. It also helps if we stand on our left leg and facing southeast.

Can anyone recommend a mobile phone that meets these requirements?

1. It must excel in its purpose to make and receive calls. It must be capable of being used on all networks and places with an appropriate sim card.

2. It must be possible to answer the phone in bright sunlight with working gloves on.

3. The designer has taken notice of the other part of the term’ mobile phone’ and remembered that it is ‘mobile’ and should not have to be charged every few hours either on a car battery or at a power point in the kitchen or wherever.

4. It should be reliable, ie do what it is supposed to do when we want it to and not suddenly decided that there needs to be an update of some description this rendering it unusable for an hour or so in the middle of the working day when business activity is high.

5. The addition of extra functions should enhance the phone experience. it is not a substitute for reliability.

6.That this phone has been developed by a company that is respectful of all comers.  Although we have used the term dinosaur to describe our status we are certainly not disabled because of our age. We are the early adopters of technology. We have been around long enough to see the decline of the mobile and its usability. And is it not an insult to the newborns, the dinosaurs of the future, to force them to sell an inferior product?

Hear us roar!!!


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