Author Archives: lorikeetlady

About lorikeetlady

I am about to begin a new life living in Brisbane Australia after having lived in London and Los Angeles for nearly 5 years and am beginning to wonder how to develop this next step in my personal and professional life. The positive aspects are being closer to some members of our large extended family and many of our friends although we are leaving just as many in the UK. Thank goodness for phones and the internet.

Remembrance Day – to forget would unravel our culture

The centenary of Armistice Day has prompted me to think about the symbols we use to remember those who fought and died in the service of their country. I have waited in the hushed silence before a dawn service at Villers-Bretonneux with thousands of others and it is a memorable gathering. I prefer visiting these cemeteries without the huge crowd, sometimes with my husband or daughter, treading softly so as not to disturb the resting souls, reading the ages of those who did not return, experiencing the feelings of being a mother, daughter, sister, and wife of a military person. I don’t want to touch these stones fearing I would release a barrage of ghosts.

The Cross of Sacrifice at Lutwyche cemetery, Brisbane

It is a sobering moment to walk along the lines of pale gravestones in the Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries in France reading the names, standing back to look at the rows set in lawn with narrow flower beds, usually with a cross erected nearby and in the larger ones a Stone of Remembrance. I feel shivers threading through my body reacting to the pleas from those hoping not to be forgotten.

Australian War Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux 

I am not religious and don’t practice a faith. My father, probably because he felt obliged, would drag my reluctant self and sisters, dressed in beautiful dresses and flower adorned hats, to Sunday morning mass and I can remember glaring at the image of Jesus hanging in pain and agony from the cross. Even as a child, I puzzled over why a faith which was supposed to inspire should choose a symbol of torture and pain. Surely there must be a better symbol for a faith?

Yet I am always moved by the dignity of the Cross of Sacrifice that stands in many War Grave cemeteries. I have found two crosses in Brisbane, one in the Toowong cemetery and the other in the Lutwyche cemetery. I started thinking about this cross with its simple design and the symbolism associated with it. After all a cross is simple isn’t it; two lines at right angles to each other.  Not this cross. The warp and weft of history and design that entwine the Cross are like ultrafine silk sending me as a time traveller ballooning across the aeons to Ancient Greece whose builders used entasis, the Greek rule of optical correction. The Parthenon is best known for this but it is speculated that earlier civilizations knew the effect of entasis when building the ziggurats in Mesopotamia and the Egyptians when building the pyramids. It is a curious link as Australian troops have fought in these regions.

In 1918 Sir Reginald Blomfield designed the Cross of Sacrifice and used entasis, to ensure the size was pleasing to the eye. The short cross arm is one third that of the shaft which tapers from the octagonal base. Set into the cross is a bronze long sword, shaft down. It is based on the Latin cross, used by Christianity as a symbol of sacrifice. The sword is an emblem of military honour, and is associated with the concept of strength and liberty. The shaft is pointing down indicating the battle is over. 

The two pieces of the cross are octagonal again providing links to many cultures in which the figure eight represented renewal and eternity. In early Persian gardens many fountains incorporated eight sides providing a link between the square earth and the round heaven as architecturally eight sides are required to link a dome representing Heaven to a square representing Earth. These shapes are often incorporated in church architecture both in the Christianity and Arabic world. I love these connections and think of them as those gossamer threads that are like the tiny money spider’s ballooning allow us to transcend cultures and religions.

Polygon Wood Cemetery

In cemeteries where there are over 40 graves you may also see the Stone of Remembrance designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. He also used entasis to ensure the stone would be pleasing to look at from any aspect. Neither the vertical or horizontal sides of the stone (3.5m long and 1.5m high) are straight. If these curved lines were extended they would create a circle over 549 m (1800 feet) in diameter. The stone, similar to a plain altar, which was traditionally used for sacrifice, worship or prayer, is placed on three shallow steps with the words, ‘Their Name Liveth For Evermore’   inscribed on the long surface.

On Remembrance Day, my husband will lay a wreath at Brisbane’s Cenotaph above Anzac Square and touch gently upon another poignant connection derived through the ages from the ancient Greek word, kenotaphion, through the Latin word cenotaphium,  to the French cénotaphe for empty tomb.

We owe it to the many millions who died and those who were injured to ensure theirs was no empty sacrifice.

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You are never too old to learn a new skill

When do you get too old to learn a new skill? Never if you look at my parents generation who are playing bridge, mahjong, reading new books, golfing and taking up hobbies as well as exercising.

My grandmother when she was in her 80s, stopped cooking with her aluminium saucepans and refused to use deodorant that had aluminium as an ingredient. She was particularly insulted by our laughter when she told us that she was doing it to help prevent Alzheimer’s. Granny died when she was 104 and was alert almost to the end.

Now, my mother has returned from having a bone scan, jubilant that she doesn’t have dementia. Her bone density isn’t very good, but at least she doesn’t have Alzheimer’s. Judging from the number of days each week that she trots off to play bridge and have lunch with the girlfriends, there never was any doubt about her mental capability. However, both she and Dad are determined to slow the ageing process by all means possible.

Aged 92, my father is still playing golf three or four days a week and is irritated that 18 holes is almost too much for him. He comes back after a day on the course looking absolutely shattered. But as he says, ‘The alternative is to sit on the verandah and eat your mother’s cakes while watching the world go by.’

Mum’s hands aren’t strong enough at 87 years, to take up a new hobby such as quilting or knitting but she can still cook and her plan is to cook a new recipe every week. She says that deciding upon the recipe, shopping for the food and then preparing it fills in a lot of her spare time, that is if there is any after bridge, reading and lunches. She struggles to open the tops of jars and is tempted to ask the local shopkeeper to open the bottles of ingredients for her before she leaves the shop. Even the act of squeezing the petrol pump nozzle has become a challenge to her arthritic fingers. Dad complains his muscle strength isn’t what it used to be despite walking the dog and swinging a golf stick with a weight on it.

Keeping your body and mind does become more challenging as you lose muscle strength with age. You may be able to slow down the advance of Sarcopenia with exercise and diet but it eventually affects us all.  Mum says the latest topic around the bridge table isn’t which erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra the old fellas should take, it is all about super foods and which source of omega-3 and protein powder is the best one to buy. Whey protein smoothies are popular whilst others sprinkle it onto their yoghurt and muesli at breakfast.

These oldies enjoy life and seem to be determined to live forever and if they can’t slow the body down they will try to slow mental ageing down with Brain Training. However, I think my father’s latest challenge is one of the best.

He and I recently went shopping at Apple and he bought his first iPhone and replaced his very old laptop with an iMac. He is refusing to be overwhelmed and is already becoming more sanguine about using these new machines. There are lots of hiccups and he is often asking me what command he should use, but he is tackling a new operating system with determination. We sit together at his desk while I guide him, letting him use the mouse and keyboard, then he writes these instructions down in his notebook for future reference. He is familiar with internet banking, he scans rental property documents, books his travel online and has digital subscriptions to many magazines. He already has his Bridge notes on his iPad, now his bedtime reading includes manuals for using the Apple iPhone and iMac. Within 24-hours my sister had him on a WhatsApp group, exchanging text messages and photos with his children and grandchildren who are scattered around the world. He is set to become a role model in my son’s business as an example of how not to fear learning a new system. The great-grandchildren love it when he FaceTimes them.

As this inspirational couple say, at 87 and 92 years of age, Brain Training is probably all the training they can do.

Love your bookshops

 

It is a sad situation when a small group of individuals are so threatened by ideas they disagree with that they feel vindicated in ransacking a bookshop. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/aug/05/far-right-protesters-ransack-socialist-bookshop-bookmarks-in-london

Bookmarks

Bookmarks on Bloomsbury Street in central London is the UK’s largest socialist bookshop. Photograph: Dave Gilchrist

1933 the German Students Union participated in burning books deemed to be ‘unGerman’. Strange new ideas are like bullets peppering your self-righteous beliefs. You see this attitude creeping onto our campuses where ideas deemed antagonistic to current virtue signalling concepts are vigorously opposed.

It could be of course, that the intruders limit their reading to social media and therefore cannot articulate their ideas in any way but through force. It is easier to break a door than support an opinion through rhetoric and debate. No-one is forcing them to buy or read these books but where is their respect for the right of someone to have a differing point of view.

I love bookshops even more than food markets which is saying a lot for me. I cannot walk past a book shop without browsing the display in a window, or better still picking up and perusing from a pile of books lying in a box outside as one of our local second-hand bookshops does.

The temptation is not worth resisting and so I enter sure in the knowledge that I will find at least one book that I have been wanting to read or one that will make me desire it. Even before I read the titles, the smell of the paper gives me a buzz of excitement and the thought of what the pages can show me is so addictive that I can spend a couple of hours drifting along the shelves, pulling books in and out, calculating how many I can justify to myself that I will read in the near future. Yes, that does mean I have a pile of books on my to read/unread shelf but who cares because they are a promise of a future pleasure.

I get excited just looking at the piles of books that clutter the corridor of a bookshop, the books that other people have pushed in on top of the ordered shelves and those left in the wrong place. There is even the joy of finding comments written on the pages and occasionally a letter or photo used as a bookmark. My husband uses his old boarding passes so one day when he goes to the great bookshop in the sky, someone will travel the world on his books. We have a book of poetry where the owner has written her comments beside her favourite poems. It is a joy to read the thoughts of a woman clearly well read and insightful. I wish I could sit down with her over a glass of wine and talk about the world. 

Now I am enjoying the vicarious pleasure of introducing a grandchild to this rewarding hobby. I watch as his finger runs down the spines of the pile of second-hand Treehouse Series books, trying to remember which ones he already has. He is only 7 years old, but for the next two hours he sits, buried in the pages, bubbles of laughter erupting at the crazy ideas he is discovering on the pages, curling up in exquisite delight at the ridiculousness and taking pleasure in reading the story to me. This child will never be bored, never lonely and never threatened by ideas. This is an adventure for life.

I feel sorry for those vandals. They must have had a very boring and restrictive childhood.

It was well intentioned at the time…

I have just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s book, An Artist of the Floating World published in 1987 and it is as relevant today as then.

Integrity, a value which isn’t discussed very often these days is a thread that weaves through this story.  Masuji Ono, a retired artist, believes he is an honourable man who is challenged by the shifting values of the world he is now living in.

Having survived the Second World War in Japan, Ono takes the reader with him as he reminisces about his early life as an artist and the actions he took during his professional career. Slowly, falteringly as an older person might speak, we begin to understand his concern for his daughters and the impact his pre-war propaganda painting career could have on their future happiness. He remembers family, old friends and rivals, and explores past relationships secure in their values while trying to accommodate the rapidly changing attitudes of the post-war Japanese generation and their attraction to the Americanisation of their culture even to discussing Popeye with his grandson.

Ishiguro nudges the reader to consider their past lives through Ono’s thoughts and conversations including those on a compatriot’s suicide and of his turning in a pupil to the authorities for anti-war activities. In these days of virtue-signalling, you the reader are forced to consider your life and the decisions and actions you may have taken when viewed from the perspective of current values which have changed. It made me wonder how my life will be judged by the next generation who will not have the background knowledge to understand why I lived my life as I did.

My Sustainable Garden -Chickweed Pesto

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Tiny seedlings are starting to appear in our garden from plants that I let go to seed last year. The fun is in spotting these new plants growing in unexpected places and in being able to identify what they are. I know I have violas, sweet alyssum, petunias and begonias but I have also noticed another seedling spring up all over the garden. Web_chickweed-in-bricksThis last unknown is appearing in my hanging baskets, tumbling over my walls, and in between the pavers. Web_chickweed-basketInitially I nurtured it with water and seaweed emulsion only to have an explosion of growth suddenly start taking over the beds. Suspicion started to creep into my mind as nothing I have planted grows that quickly and I have now realised I am battling a worthy foe. Chickweed!

Web_chickweed-stalksI have been on my hands and knees reaching under the roses, through the hydrangea, around the olive trees and across the brick pavers removing this fragile but tenacious weed and throwing it into the bin. Fortunately it is relatively easy to pull out but little bits still litter the garden probably preparing to haunt me in another 12 months. I have been muttering to myself, asking where did it come from. As I have been growing my own mulch (which is another story) for the past 12 months I doubted that it was from the bag of sugar cane I had used 12 months ago. Web_chickweed_neighbourI didn’t remain in ignorance for long as crouching under the olives I glanced across my neighbour’s neglected backyard and saw a glorious carpet of light green starting right next to my fence. The ground is covered in a tangled mass of stalks, leaves and flowers.Now I had found my source; Stellaria media commonly known as chickweed, winter weed, bindweed, satin flower, satin-flower, starweed, starwort, stitchwort, tongue grass and white bird’s eye.

Web_chickweed-flowerI am trying to make my garden as sustainable as possible and I hate throwing plant material out but this weed had gone to seed and I am not going to put it into the compost bin. As I threw the fourth bag away I started to wonder if it was edible. The name surely has to be a clue; I mean chickweed? I grabbed a couple of handfuls and walked through the forest to see if my son’s chooks would eat it. No problems there and they are still alive as I write. Chickweed is easy to identify with its frill of fine hairs running up one side of its stalk, changing sides at a leaf juncture.

Web_chickweed-and-chookMy father, curious about my frenetic gardening activity, wandered down to see what I was doing. I explained that having identified that this weed was not toxic to humans I was going to put some in our salad. Curious to see what it tasted like he reached down and picked off a few leaves to nibble on.

‘Mum won’t forgive me if you die on my patch,’ I told him. ‘Hey, at 91 years old I have to die sometime,’ he said, munching like Peter Rabbit on the sprigs.
Chickweed is one of those super foods, rich in omega-6 fatty acids and saponins, high in vitamins A, C, D, and B as well as the minerals, calcium, zinc, potassium, manganese, silica, phosphorous, sodium and copper. Web_chickweed-in-mug2It now definitely has a place in my diet both in salads, as an infusion and in pesto. It is also said to be useful as a poultice or tincture for skin irritations and helpful in treating obesity not that this is a problem in our household. I am really quite excited about identifying this plant and am now keen to see what else I can use from my garden’s supply of edible weeds.Web_chickweed-pesto

The chickweed was starting to go to seed and forming stalks which might have made the pesto stringy so I pulled the leaves from the stalks. The pesto was delicious.

Chickweed Pesto

Ingredients:

2 cups chickweed leaves

1 large clove garlic, smashed

½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated

¼ – ½ cup nuts – pine nuts, macadamia or walnuts

½ cup virgin olive oil

¼ cup fresh basil leaves

salt and pepper

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Process:

In a food processor, pulse the chickweed and the basil leaves with the garlic until well broken down and blended, scraping down the sides to ensure even chopping. Add the Parmesan and pulse, then the nuts and pulse well. Slowly add the olive oil pulsing all the time. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on bruschetta, over pasta or as a dip with vegetables.

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The Dawn Chorus

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My morning visitors.

I heard something last week that was so addictive that I am happily waking up before dawn in anticipation of hearing this music again. You might be thinking, ‘Crazy lady’ and I couldn’t blame you but it is almost sufficient enticement to get me out of bed before dawn in winter and down to the nearby bushland to try recording it.

Are you a morning person? My early morning alarm is usually the cat leaping onto my bed, nudging me with his cold nose, and meowing in ever-increasing tones telling me that his food bowl is empty. I can ignore the yowls but not the nibbles on my toes.

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Mohair blankets are purrrfect!

Last week however, my furry intruder was early and the sun’s rays were just lighting up the hills across the valley, immersing my bedroom in that half-light before dawn. Opening my eyes, I could see a sliver of pale washed blue sky through the linen curtains that moved lightly in the morning breeze.

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Birdsong drifts across our valley.

It was a strange feeling, not knowing why all my senses were alert yet the cat was also sitting up, eyes wide, ears twitching quite obviously listening to something. It was as if the air around me was vibrating with song, and the room a tunnel with the notes bouncing off the walls. The dawn chorus was so clear and so beautiful it was like being submerged in bird song or in a painting filled with music and I lay there, trying to identify which bird produced which sound. It was early, well before the sun had risen so there was almost no traffic noise to compete with this chorus. It was also a very cool winter’s morning so this symphony dominated the airwaves.

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Tempting the Rosella

I had forgotten how truly magnificent is the dawn chorus in Australia. Gloriously melodic notes floated on the air, a soft warble, a chirrup, a twireep, a trill and more and more songs. All these sounds cascading together to form one of the most beautiful natural chorus anyone could wish to hear. I am no expert but I think I could make out at least some of the following bird songs from the magpies, the grey butcherbirds, the blue-faced honeyeater, the common myna, the black-faced cuckoo shrike, the willy wagtail and of course the kookaburra. There were probably others I didn’t identify.

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Shy Rosella feeding on sunflower seeds.

Listening to this music I tried to remember other dawn choruses and I think Australia does it better than anywhere else. They sure sound louder than other choruses I have heard. Perhaps this is because songbirds originated in Australia about 23 million years ago.

Although our dinosaur bones have survived, our very fragile bird skeletons tend not to, making it difficult to determine the migration of songbirds.  Now a team led by Dr Rob Moyle from the University of Kansas, USA is using DNA to study the migration of these songsters. They are thought to have occurred travelled across the chain of islands called Wallacea that lay between Australia and New Guinea and the Indonesian archipelago.

Map_of_Sunda_and_Sahul

Map of Wallace (Sunda & Sahul) Sourced: Wikipedia.

Australia has many eucalypts and paperbarks as well as grevilleas that bear nectar producing flowers which attract the honeyeaters and lorikeets. These birds which feed voraciously on the flowers and fight over their food patch, have become the primary pollinators of trees and shrubs.

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The wattle flowers are like star bursts of fireworks.

At the moment my local park and bushland has lots of  flowering wattles, eucalypts and grevilleas.

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Ducking and weaving amongst the flowers.

Each afternoon when I go for a walk and I see the myna birds feeding on the Grevilleas and there was even a very shy Rosella munching on the last of the sunflower seeds. Sometimes it feels as if the trees are starting to vibrate with the bees feeding on the flowers.

In the Northern Hemisphere it is small birds such as the hummingbirds that act as pollinators and most trees are pollinated by wind or insects.

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Bee raiding eucalypts flower.

On other mornings this week I have also heard the dawn chorus but it hasn’t been as loud or clear and I wondered why on that one morning it was like being in a tunnel of sound. Perhaps winter is the reason. I was intrigued to read a description using the same words in Nature’s Music: The Science of Birdsong by Peter R Marler and Hans Slabbekoorn. Apparently in winter you often get an ‘inversion’ layer of cold air sitting just above the ground and when the birds sing, their songs are reflected off the warm layer above them and beamed along the ‘tunnel of cold air’. Sound travels better in still cold air than warm air which may be why the bird song at dawn seems up to 20 times louder than in the middle of the day.

At least I have this beautiful sight every morning.

Feeding Lorikeets

Morning chorus

I lost Autumn

Autumn has eluded me.  Occasionally when I wake, the western hills are cloaked in a thick, grey fog dampening the sounds of an awakening suburb. It fills the gullies and swirls around like a dancer clothed in a cape of moist air teasing me behind a mask of summery temperatures warm enough for a t-shirt when I work in the garden.Web_fog_9127
This morning, I heard, over the shrill squabbling of the lorikeets feasting on the bread, milk and honey mixture I put out for them, an unfamiliar chirruping outside my kitchen. Coffee in hand, I wandered into my front garden and squinted up into the early sunlight. Perched high in the spindly branches of the crepe myrtle, surprisingly well camouflaged despite its bright blue and yellow colours was a Rosella, visible only because the leaves have finally started to fall. This drought tolerant deciduous tree is a delight in summer with its bowl-shaped canopy of mauve crepe flowers attracting lots of bees and in winter its beautiful bark is a stand out feature. I think I lost autumn, I am not sure it occurred and now this elusive season has segued into winter.

Web-Lorikeets_9234-2We get excited about the leaves dropping in our cooler months. I get excited as they are a useful dry leaf matter addition to the compost bin, but my gardening assistant sees them as a chore to be swept up. I have uttered serious threats to this individual, because after sweeping up the Wisteria leaves, he tends to toss them into the rubbish bin rather than into the compost. As punishment, I have set him a task to install a light under the Frangipani to highlight its sculptural bare limbs in the evening. Now the Birch has started to drop leaves around the garden, the yellow colours mimicking the yellow paint on the house. Suddenly there are enough leaves to scrunch beneath my feet, a true sound of autumn and winter.Web-autumn-birchleaves9475

The shorter days are still perfect for long lunches on the deck although we have dusted off the gas heater so that as the sun disappears below the hills we can continue the conversation over another bottle of wine.

Soon it will be time to bring out my collection of old rugs under which guests can snuggle to ward off an evening’s cooler temperature. I have an assortment of old tartan rugs inherited from various members of the family plus those knitted or sewn by myself. None are so precious that I get upset if a glass or two of wine is spilt over them. They need an airing to rid them of the smell of lavender that I store with them to dissuade the clothes moths.Web_blankets_9481

Now that the cooler evenings have arrived, we have moved from eating outside with tea lights for romance to dining under soft candle light at the dinner table. Our barbecue is still frequently used, but now I am beginning to plan meals around warm soups and casseroles accompanied by winter salads incorporating the delicious flavours of vegetables such as cabbage, brussels sprouts and beetroot.

I am impatient for the colder nights to arrive so that we can light the first of only about 20 fires that we have each winter. Our winter evenings are not really cold enough to warrant a fire, but I have been known open all the doors and windows to let in as much cold air as possible. My idea of bliss is to sit having a drink after dinner, feet encased in uggies, books and knitting beside me, soaking up the warmth of the flames.  Web_pinecones_9470

If I am really lucky next morning there will be enough coals left, that with the addition of a few pine cones, the fire will reignite. This is definitely one of the pleasures of not having to rush off to work in the morning, because I will make a coffee and curl up under a rug eating breakfast in front of the flames.

This week in anticipation of a cooler night, I put a light winter blanket on the bed which was a total waste of time as it is still too hot to sleep under anything heavier than a summer blanket. This didn’t stop the cat who leapt onto me in the middle of the night pitter pattering with his claws, purring loudly and commandeering more than his fair third of the blanket. If I get tired of being squashed between the two males in my bed, and try to shift the hairy one, he digs his claws in and bites. Ouch!

I am however, the eternal optimist and have started on a list of tasks for the elusive autumn and winter:Web_kindling9472

  • Get the firewood and pine cones ready for the first fire. Set the fire in preparation. This can be a very competitive business in our household.
  • Buy more candles for the dinner table
  • Fill up the gas bottle for the heater on the deck
  • Wash the old rugs and give them an airing.
  • Start thinking about recipes for soups, winter salads and pies
  • Finish knitting the baby rug for number 11 grandchild before he goes to school!Web_meatpie_7205