Remembrance Day 2016

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Never forgotten

Each night I get a dose of what my husband calls ‘war porn’.  No, I am not into video battle games or S&M in the bedroom this is what I see when I turn on the television and watch the evening news whilst preparing dinner.

The kitchen commando is particularly sensitive to what he perceives to be constructed war zone scenes and the excessive zeal of news correspondents dressed in combat gear.

I engage him in discussions on what he thinks is appropriate reporting, interrupted by the occasional critique, hurled like a missile at the computer screen.  His opinions I suspect are still based on experiences from the Vietnam War.

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Finding a Great-Uncle

I accuse him of being an armchair critic, safe in our bunker, whilst we watch whole communities disintegrating under enemy fire in far off sandy places. We see families wandering dazed from the bombardments their cities are being subjected to, with children being plucked out of rubble and raced to emergency vehicles. This is what he describes as soft war porn, ready images of the distressed individual, or the fighter wandering into the haze firing at unhittable targets. He dislikes the hyperbolic language used to present the ‘news’ for our voyeuristic delight.

More boring and less dramatically reported are the conditions that our troops are experiencing, the dust particles that tickle the nose, the energy sapping heat that makes you irritable, tired and less patient, the constant tension from always being alert to your alien and rarely welcoming environment.

Remembrance Day is a trigger to reflect on the service our men and women give to us in Australia and elsewhere defending and supporting the values and morals which makes this democratic country a safe haven in which to live.

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Reflecting on their sacrifice

Of course they are paid to do this, but when deployed they don’t leave if the conditions become uncomfortable and unsafe. They cannot turn away from the ghastly sights that unfold in front of them. War is brutal and horrible, there is no escaping from that fact. They don’t have a ‘trigger warning’ allowing them to distance themselves from this harrowing place they find themselves in. They cannot choose not to participate because it might cause them distress. They learn to deal with the issues, develop resilience and keep going in an environment that is often debilitating and toxic. But then they return home to a totally different world and sometimes find it difficult to convey to their families and friends the shattering effects it has on their mind and body.

 

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Villers-Bretonneux

In his tragic warrior, Ajax, the Greek tragedian Sophocles portrays the psychological wounds inflicted on Greek warriors after fighting in the Trojan War.   Twenty-five hundred years ago Ajax struggled to deal with the guilt over atrocities inflicted during that conflict.  This is often thought of as the first example of PTSD.

Living your life doesn’t mean that you spend your time in rosehip jelly, insulated from what we don’t want to see or hear about.  I watch friends coping with family  members suffering from PTSD and it isn’t easy. We aren’t living in a simulator where if it becomes too terrible we can turn it off and walk out of the room. No-one should have to deal with these ghosts by themselves.

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Today I will reflect not only on those who served and didn’t come home but on those who have returned and are dealing with life after what they have experienced. That can be just as challenging. No-one is ever the same when they return from the ‘Theatre of War’.

A father comes in many guises

Father’s Day in Australia really isn’t a big deal in our house. Of course I’ll have my father to lunch if he isn’t playing bridge or golf with his mates or lunching with his wife of 61 years. Our children might phone in to say hi, but if they don’t, their father isn’t going to be cast into the doldrums feeling neglected. He knows he is loved.

I, like other women I know, have played father to my children. Whether it was because of long hours at work, divorce, or death there have been many times when I have had to play the traditional role of father as well as mother.

Sailing Days

A competitive father and disgruntled daughter

I have kicked the football, thrown the cricket ball, discussed dating and sex education and offered the ‘don’t drink and drive’ advice often to a withering scowl. I have learnt to communicate in grunts and lived with nocturnal teenagers.

Web-The-Craigs-1My husband was in the reverse situation of playing mother to three boys and a girl. He adores them all and is immensely proud of his brood of 7 children and 10.5 grandchildren.

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What do you mean I cannot raise my daughter like the boys? It worked for these three fellows.

He is the first to admit that bring up a girl in a family of boys was a challenge.  He isn’t the most demonstrative of men, (read that as hugging), but he can cook a mean brownie to take to the school rugby and is prepared to defend his daughter’s honour, even when she doesn’t want him to.

Whether you are a father or mother, being a parent is equal parts fun, hard work, lonely, terrifying and exhilarating. It isn’t a role for that can be discarded when you are tired, busy at work or disinterested. It is a job that demands everything of you, it is draining emotionally and physically and you should not expect devotion; that is for the dog. Affection must be earned.

You will never stop being a parent no matter how old you grow as my Grandmother told me when she was 100 and still worrying about her girls. My father at 90, is not above giving me advice, nor is he above competing with his grandchildren when he can.

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Showing off

Fatherhood is fun but the competitive nature of the man keeps coming out. He has to climb higher trees, do what his kids do and do it better. For some obscure reason lost in the Neanderthal mists, he continues to compete despite the handicaps that age eventually imposes on his body. I doubt if we women are any less good at accepting age gracefully.Web-Canberr-trip-1998-3-(1)

I trained as a midwife and thought I was prepared for motherhood, but nothing prepares you for that gut wrenchingly complicated feeling when you hold your baby for the first time. As their stepfather says, ‘If you thought too deeply about fatherhood, you mightn’t do it.’Bill with newborn Angus

As a father (and mother) I accept that we are to blame as we started it all. Yes, I realise that you blame me for your separation anxiety dating from when you were forced to leave the home that you and your mother shared but you had to make room for the others. My fatherly advice is ‘Get over it.’

This is our father’s day message to you, our children. You are the most awesome, overwhelmingly frustrating and challenging thing we do in our lives and you changed us and our lives from the moment you arrived. We have adored being a mother and a father however, there are some points that we hadn’t anticipated including:

  • Never having a moment of privacy again and no, you cannot always cross swords with me when I am having a pee!
  • If you want to share my bath you had better stop complaining that Chanel No 5 is too girlie. There is a perfectly good shower over there that you can have on your own,Version 2
  • Our dog appreciates the delicious well-balanced meals I cook every evening even if you don’t so if you don’t like what I’ve cooked, help yourself to cereal and milk,
  • No, I don’t eat cold toast because the butter doesn’t melt; my toast, like all my food is always cold by the time I have cut yours up,
  • Experiencing that feeling of rejection when even at 4 years old you let me know that you prefer the company of your friends to me,

    Bill playing with Angus on Main Beach

    A new take on dermabrasion

  • being prepared to look like a fool in public and being chased around the house wearing a hat made from newspaper shouting Ninja at the top of my voice, but why do I always have to be the baddie,
  • Never catching a fish off the beach again because I am untangling little people’s lines

    Beach fishing for Gus and Jemma

    What do you mean that I never catch a fish?

  • Feeling utterly desperate when you are lying in a hospital bed running a fever,
  • Being appalled at my wish for you to grow up so that we can talk as adults,
  • Knowing where to find a hairdresser when the home dye job turns green,
  • Wishing you hadn’t grown up because you are drinking too much of my whiskey,
  • Being impressed when you turn up with a replacement bottle,

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    Its easier when I do it on myself

  • Being furious that you don’t share my opinion but delighted that you have an opinion,
  • Being enormously proud of your every achievement,
  • Being asked for advice on your love life, knowing that you probably won’t take it and realising that we are the same – human and fallible.Old memories 6

 

For our family, father’s day is just another day to talk with each other, toast our strengths and peculiarities and take pleasure in each other’s company.

Hello Possum

Possum sitting in bird feeder

 

Dame Edna may have popularised the greeting ‘Hello Possums’, but in my bed, no thank you.

I grew up in a wonderful family that embraced animals as members of the family and allowed our dogs and cats onto our beds at night. The coolness of a winter night was often measured in cats: a one-cat or two-cat night. Competition was high between the sisters and I can remember waiting until my little sister was asleep to creep in and lift a cat off her bed and into mine. We never rolled onto them, even the new-born kittens survived without being squashed.

A father I know recalls when kissing his young son goodnight, being asked to also kiss his son’s friend and discovering that each night a baby possum had been crawling under the covers and snuggling up to the small boy.  I am amazed that a small possum would sleep next to a child without scratching but I guess it was a nice warm non-threatening environment as long as it din’t mind being squashed occasionally.

They are such voracious feeders and devour my flowering plants regularly.  They are an absolute pest in our garden and I have pulled down the passionfruit vine in defeat and planted a jasmine across my railing in an attempt to deter the hungry mammals from carousing on my deck each night as they munch on their passionfruit cocktails.

In desperation, we have strung wires above the deck railing  to deter them from using our handrail as their footpath. Our barrier would make a European border patrol proud but hasn’t acted as a deterrent.  The possums regarded the high wire as an opportunity to practice their circus act and still manage to leave their horrible stinking trails along the railing.

Colin viewing the world

Alert to the situation

Possums aren’t cuddly although they might look cute when curled up in my bird feeder with their large pink domed ears and matching pink nose. The smaller ring tail possum fights for dominance against the brushtailed possum on our verandah each evening. That is the only place I want to see or hear them.

Fortunately I am married to a man who tolerates our cat sleeping on my side of the bed only because Colin ‘chat bizarre’ has learnt that sleeping on your master’s chest leads to being catapulted violently across the room.

However I am becoming less tolerant because a hot husband snuggled up to my back and a warped cat snuggled up against my tummy raises the temperature in bed to intolerable levels on other than absolutely freezing nights, of which there are few in Brisbane. In fact last night was so warm I opened the windows and the door to the verandah to avoid suffering heat stroke or a night-long hot flush. I was absorbed in reading about beautiful gardens in Australia but slightly unnerved by the bronze snake fountains and decided to roll over and join my sleeping husband.

As I snuggled up against my dozing companion a movement of the bedroom curtains caught my eye and a tug at the blanket that had fallen off the end of the bed. ‘Come on puss’, I said reaching over the end of the bed and came eye to eye with a brushtailed possum climbing up the blanket. We both bounced off the bed with me tripping over the blanket whilst flapping my arms and shooing it out of the room. My intruder didn’t seem to very perturbed; it ambled slowly over to the doorway, turned and looked at me as to say, ‘I’ll be back,’ before it walked the length of the verandah and jumped off into the banana trees. Too late, Colin arrived at the scene, nose up, sniffing possum smells.

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‘Possum, what a quaint endearment,’ said my husband cuddling up to me. ‘No you deaf fool, I was chasing a possum and much use you were in defending my honour as neither you nor the cat came to my rescue.’ Snores and purring were the only response.

Camellias and Chanel



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I have been picking camellias from my garden and naturally, loving fashion remembered that the Camellia is a wonderful link to one of my favourite designers, Coco Chanel who was born on this day, 19 August in 1883. When you look at the pink blossom, you can see why she was attracted to the symmetry and elegant shape of the camellia which became one of her signature symbols. Weaving together seduction, glamour, beauty, and a touch of the exotic.

CamelliaMy garden is in a constant of flux as I debate over how much space can be devoted to flowering plants versus fruit trees and vegetables. I savour every mouthful of home grown lettuce, rocket, tomatoes, oranges and herbs. Yet I also adore being able to place a bunch of home grown flowers in a bowl on the table.Web_white-camelliaIn one perfect corner of my garden this month I have been indulging in a sumptuous display of pink and white camellias. These flowers aren’t easy to display because they have short stems that makes them difficult to stand in vases which if shallow are often too delicate and insubstantial to hold the weight of the flower. I have found the perfect bowl for displaying them: my shallow yellow bowl with the silver rim. It is just the right depth and lets the full blooms lie showing their gorgeous faces to the world.

My three camellia bushes are tucked into a hidden aspect of my garden that gets protection from our harsh strong summer heat and thrive despite the neglect that I am sure they suffer from. Even nicer, I see them through my bedroom window and watch the Minah birds feed on the insects in the flowers each morning from my bathroom windows.Web_Great-Eastern-pink-camellia
The white bush has somehow survived in a small narrow space and is covered in large frilly multi-petalled flowers. Just when I think it has run out of buds more appear to nudge the tired flowers from their stems. In the afternoons when I rummage through the bush collecting the limp, browned flowers to throw on the compost heap I can smell the lightest of perfumes. It is also attracting bees to the garden. 

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A while after the white bush starts run out of buds, the neighbouring camellia with exquisite symmetrical flowers comes into its own with petals a deep glorious Schiaparelli pink. It is such an intense colour I am wondering whether I could use them as a natural plant dye. This could be my next project. ‘Not another project,’ my husband groans, sensing mess and chaos in the kitchen. But the petals seem too pretty to just throw away. Does anyone know if you can use these petals and if so, what colour comes from them?

How wonderful to be reminded every day by flowers, of two of my favourite designers, Schiaparelli and Chanel.  I cannot resist, I am now going through garden catalogues looking for another white to complement the two pink bushes I already have.

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Wisteria

 
Wisteria  & rosesI have been discussing with my sister, world politics and climate change, both of which are quite depressing topics at the moment. We are disappointed with the current State and Federal Governments and despair for what the future holds for our children.  She has decided my suggestion of moving to a farm is not such a silly idea. I have some reservations about this concept of self-sufficiency although I love gardening and growing my own fruit and vegetables and I can picture myself spreading grain for my gorgeous hens and rooster. I’ll be generous and let her collect the eggs as long as she is prepared to also act as executioner. What a shame our Italian Grandfather isn’t alive to share his skills as a trained butcher and salami maker.

Mulling over how I would explain the idea of us living on a farm to my very urban husband I wandered into my garden wondering which plants would withstand climate change and an increase in temperatures with reduced rainfall.Wisteria in spring 2015I decided as I stood under my wisteria vine, that it would survive the most rigorous conditions. It is one very tough plant. Five years ago I found it in a tangled mess lying on the ground where my tenants had thrust it. The branches were long and twisted upon themselves like a ball of curling ribbon. Some of the lengths hadn’t been pruned for over 7 years making them impossible to unravel, so I hacked them off leaving a few long branches near the base which I trained across the stainless steel arbour that we had installed. The wisteria never hesitated and took to the space with energy and vigour, threading its way in a clockwise fashion along the wires and up over the veranda railings. Its summer growth is so fast that if you stood next to it you would be entwined within it like an enormous carpet python wrapped around its prey.Wisteria 2nd year flowering

When it flowers it looks spectacular and last year, a lunch guest insisted on touching the flowers to check whether I had trailed a fake vine across the veranda. Now as I contemplated the vine I realised I had neglected its pruning this year and it was looking a mess with long summer growth thrusting up and weaving around itself.Wisteria blooms & bud

This proved to be quite a cathartic activity because it is difficult to think of anything else when clambering up a ladder and handling pruning shears. I am always reluctant to prune which is ridiculous as everything grows so vigorously in our sub-tropical climate. So I started slowly nipping the occasional spur, climbing down, reviewing the look then climbing back up again, stretching my arms above my head reaching for the strong arching canes. I think I have managed to determine which are the plumper flower buds and the flatter growth buds.Wisteria buds trimmedIt was a great workout and I enjoyed it. I left some of the canes above the arbour so that I would see the flowers from above but managed to fill an entire wheelie bin with debris.

I also discovered a use for the canes and have woven them into wreaths. My amateur attempts have survived the enthusiasm from the crows seeking nesting material and now I need to refine the technique of adding flowers to the wreaths. Weaving with garden materials is a whole new interest for me.
Wisteria wreathDuring winter this skeletal frame lets the sunlight filter through, lighting the downstairs rooms while in spring the spectacular profusion of blooms fills our house with the gentle scent of wisteria. In Summer my study is illuminated with a cool green sunlight shining through the dense cover of leaves. Almost as good as a holiday. The flowers are so beautiful I am also working out how to draw them onto canvas for a tapestry. I cannot imagine how anyone need be bored when they have a garden.

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Linzertorte- totally irresistible

Linzertorte

We have had a cold, blustery damp week and I was getting sugar withdrawals. I had been too busy to bake and had avoided going out to the shops so consequently I didn’t have anything sweet in the house, not a block of chocolate, no biscuits or cakes to nibble on with morning coffee. This is not normal for me as my children will verify. Their delight in coming into my study or office was to raid the drawers in which were stashed my supply of nibbles including salted nuts, chocolate and sweet and savoury biscuits. I work better when I am munching and as my weight has never varied more than a kilo or two, my diet suits me.

So when my family were coming for Sunday dinner recently I went into overdrive and cooked not only a chocolate cake but a Linzertorte as well. Talk about sugar overload: this was the ultimate in a sugar fix. The walnut and caramelized citrus cake with chocolate ganache is superb cut into small pieces to have with coffee and the jam tart: this was pure heaven.

I took pity on my nephew who is studying and sent him home with a large piece of each to get him through the next day while sitting at his desk but there has still been enough for me this week. I am thinking of hiding the last piece of Linzertorte from my husband but he knows all my hiding places. I managed to snaffle the last piece for the photo.

I will share this recipe as it is the easiest torte to make and so adaptable that you can use any type of nuts and jams you have in your pantry and it will still taste divine. I used almond meal as I had already used my walnut meal in the chocolate cake.

I didn’t have raspberry jam but had a small amount of homemade strawberry jam and topped it up with homemade blackberry jam, which was just as delicious. I blended the ingredients in my food processor makes it quicker but it is just as easy but slower made by hand. As I had a small amount of pastry left over, I have made biscuits sandwiched with jam to consume later in the week.

Timing: Pre heat oven to 180°C / 350°F when you have formed the lattice pattern over the jam.

LinzertorteIngredients

  • 160g almond meal (hazelnut or walnut works just as well.)
  • 100g caster sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (an orange or lime will add a different flavour)
  • 200g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 180g butter, unsalted
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs, yolks only, gently combined
  • 1 cup of jam, (traditionally raspberry, but I used strawberry and blackberry and it is just as delicious. You could use apricot jam also.)
  1. Toast the almond meal in a frying pan over a moderate heat, or in the oven, until it is lightly coloured and gives off the lovely toasty smell of roasted nuts.
  2. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before using it.
  3. Blend the almond meal, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, lemon rind, flour and baking powder in a food processor.
  4. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the dry ingredients to make fine crumbs. You can do this in the processor or by hand.
  5. Add the egg yolks and blend together. You can do this gently in the blender or by hand in a bowl. It is a dry mixture and tends to want to crumble. Rest the dough in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to one hour. On hot days, if the dough becomes too soft, just refrigerate it for a while.
  6. Lightly grease a pan that has a removable base. I use a long 34cm x 11 cm pan, but a square pan or a round 23 cm pan works just as well. Cut off about ⅔ of the dough and roll it out thinly until about 2-4 mm thick. Don’t worry if it won’t roll out just pat it into the pan and up the sides. Place the torte on an oven tray to keep it stable.
  7. Spread the jam over the pastry. I used the strawberry jam and then topped it up with the blackberry jam. Refrigerate this while you roll out the top sheet of pastry.
  8. Roll the remaining pastry out until it is also 2-4 mm thick and cut it into thin strips. Place the strips across the top of the jam in a decorative pattern. Diagonal works well to form a lattice pattern. Refrigerate to rest the dough for about 30 minutes.
  9. Place the torte into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the jam starts to bubble. Remove and cool in the pan before removing the tart. Do this before it is completely cold or it might stick to the sides because of the jam.Dust with icing sugar and serve with ice cream or crème fraîche to cut the sweetness.

 

 

Lemonade days

Web-lemonade-with-rose-2If the thought of lemonade stalls and cool, pale green liquid in long glasses cloudy with condensation seems like a perfect way to pass warm summery days then you could be excused for thinking we are living in the northern hemisphere rather than in sub-tropical Brisbane. Our long Indian summer has delayed Autumn and it is wreaking havoc on my equilibrium. I have capitulated to the realisation that my garden will never be perfect however, this season I am experiencing citrus envy which is threatening to impair the quality of my relationship with my trees.

When I look at the picture perfect citrus displayed on Gardening sheets and blog pages I start hyperventilating with fury and begin raging at the mealy mites, the ants, the grass hoppers and the aphids which have been, judging by their population, orgasmically enjoying our long hot days.Web-tangelo-tree

My latest weapon in the fight to perfection is to release Cryptolaemus larvae onto the leaves where the mealy mites have populated in profusion. These larvae feast on the mealy mite then morph into tiny beetles that resemble lady bugs. They are brown with rusty red heads and move so quickly that I haven’t managed to get a photo of them. I have resorted to wandering through my trees trying, in vain, to count the number of beetles that have hatched. As my non-gardening husband asks, ‘How can you tell whether you have counted the same one three times because it flies around so quickly?”

I adore the smell of citrus blossom and missed it hugely whilst living London, so when we returned to Brisbane, I went overboard and have planted oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, seville oranges, blood oranges and tangelos. As always there will be too many fruit for just one family and my father regularly directs his hose towards my trees so that he can claim watering rights in the form of tangelos and navels for his morning orange juice. I give away jars of marmalade and salted lemons as gifts.

Scale is often a problem, not in the size of my garden or the musical tinkle of ice blocks but in the rough patches on the skin of the fruit. They would never win a prize in our agricultural show and could be used as an example of how not to look in a dermatologist’s brochure. They look ugly but are so delicious.Web-cut-lemonades

Our lemonade tree is one of the earliest to ripen particularly in these still hot days. It is a strange fruit, and has come from either a cross between a Meyer lemon and an orange or a lemon and a mandarin tree. Whatever its source, the fruit is sweeter than a lemon and sharper than an orange.

The delicious pale green juice can be drunk straight or with soda to make a summer spritz. The fruit can be eaten but it does contain a lot of seeds that become annoying. It does not need a sugar syrup.  Even the most discerning four-year old palate will accept lemonade squeezed straight from the fruit.

I have been waiting to see whether the fruit ripened to a lemon yellow or an orange colour before picking but this doesn’t seem to happen. The fruit stays a light lime green, slowly turning yellow by which time it is almost over-ripe. The trick is to test the ripeness of the fruit by gently tugging or twisting the fruit hanging from the branches. If ripe, the fruit comes away easily. I have realised that it is best not to wait until they become yellow because by then they have been attacked by fruit fly and rot on the tree.

Web-lemonade-thornsOur young tree has fruited too heavily and has a decidedly drunken lean to it but I have been reluctant to prune it. The challenge is in avoiding being impaled on its thorns which are sharp enough to use as tapestry needles. Even worse, the rootstock tends to send out rogue branches that would be a perfect material for weaving a crown of thorns. I have already suggested this as an option for the next dress up event at school and I think I am about to be reported by my daughter-in-law for cruelty to children.

Web-lemonade-with-roseIn the meantime I am enjoying fresh lemonade for breakfast.

Nutritionally, you don’t need a large amount of fruit juice so it can be difficult to find the right size glasses. Traditional water glasses are too large and clumsy so I was delighted when I remembered these lovely crystal glasses sitting at the back of the cupboard. A perfect size and shape. The  etched star pattern was the right complement to the homegrown lemonade sparkling in the early morning sunlight.

Mother’s Day 2016


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Mothering Sunday
: it was an opportunity to gather around the nine women in our two families that go back three generations and now followed by another two.
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We remembered and talked about our Great Grandmothers
who sat in rocking chairs and cradled newborns to sleep;

Our Grandmothers who listen while younger generations sound off against the world;

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Our Mothers old and young, attentive and there

even when you don’t want them to be; and

Our Indulgent aunts with whom we play.
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We reminisced, and toasted the many strong women in our lives.It was a lunch made with love by all, food with memories and meaning. Web-Marg-Tait-&-Angus-at-christening

We laughed at our foibles, and grimaced at our fiery moments.Sunshine flooded across the veranda, highlighting small boys climbing over chairs and balancing on tables.

Mothering is like that: a balance, not always even, easily tipped in another direction but naturally veering towards the centre.

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We don’t always get it right, occasionally mis-manage the situation but we never stop caring.  As my 100 year old Granny, once said, ‘ I still worry over my daughters.

 

 

 

My International Women’s Day lunch

I have to tell you about my lunch which makes me proud to be a daughter of a most exclusive group of women.   Four women in their very late 70s or 80s who have been friends for decades have a regular lunch date and when one of them cannot come they often include a daughter which this time happened to be me.Version 2

These wonderful women have such a variety of skills and talents and their lives have been packed with experiences. They have lived and worked overseas, been married, raised families, have successful interesting children and grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. They keep their brains alert with playing card games including bridge. They have been to more places than I have including the Amazon, Nepal, India, and Africa as well as the more traditional destinations of Europe and America. I cannot keep up with the number of books and journals that they read and their social life, as my husband says, ‘Would kill an ox.’ They are resilient and independent despite their age. You might expect their conversation to revolve around family, children and grandchildren etc. Perhaps it might include their ailments and the limitations of age. Forget it. Not once did they discuss illness, problems or the vicissitudes of life of which there have been a few.

These women are alert, intelligent and curious about life. The conversation around our table was vibrant and stimulating. I would go on too long if I gave you all the topics we discussed over our lunch but just to give you a quick overview I’ll start from where the discussion brought up David Morrison AO because his family and career were known to this circle of women. This naturally brought up the topic of gender diversity, its impact on professions such as theirs and how they managed. We segued smoothly into a discussion about minority groups and activists and how they are represented in mainstream media and society including films and television shows. The recent Sydney Mardi Gras came up in conversation with much laughter at the suggestion that perhaps they should have a float for the traditional (unnoticed older) heterosexual members of the population. This led to a discussion on government policies and the influence of minorities in decision-making and  the consequences of this on the Australian community. As women we all expressed concern about what comes across as a lack of strategic thinking in our politicians who seem to make decisions based on broadly watered down community consultation and what it takes to keep as many people happy as possible.  From here we moved onto what we expect of government, the quality and capabilities of our politicians in general, their leadership characteristics and the evolving role of our leaders, including the Prime Minister and whether a Prime Minister should attend or participate in the Gay Mardi Gras. Thus we discussed the LGBTI landscape and the Safe Schools education program and what its impact might be on families and society. These women have experienced good and indifferent education policies and we all would prefer it if the Education departments didn’t experiment on our children. This led onto their concern over what is commonly being perceived as a ‘witch hunt’ of Cardinal Pell, again known to some of these women from an earlier life. We reflected on the role of social media in society, the relevance of religion and how attitudes towards individuals have evolved in the workplace since when they first started working in the 1950s. And this wasn’t all we chatted about.

It was the most delightful and intellectually stimulating conversation I have had for a while. These gorgeous ‘old’ ladies expressed their considered opinions, listened to each other, and participated in a lively thoughtful discussion without once maligning or being hurtful about anyone. I cannot wait to be invited to join them again for lunch.

Raindrops of fantasy

Last week I awoke to a feeling of absolute delight. I could hear heavy succulent raindrops splattering on my tin roof. This rain would certainly be heavy enough to get through the leaf litter and into the soil. As we lay listening, to ensure he didn’t feel too neglected I enticed my knowledgeable husband into a discussion on the meteorological conditions that influence raindrop size. Scintillating I know, but I am a keen gardener. Enough said.

Web,-Watermark_Raindrops-on-CitrusI love rainy days because they tempt me to bring out my wet weather gear that doesn’t get a lot of wear in our dry climate. The garden skinks and spiders are brushed out of my Wellingtons, the umbrella mechanisms are tested to ensure they haven’t rusted out and my raincoats get aired and the dust shaken from the shoulders.

Sophie & Angus on Home Beach – Version 3I think raincoats can be such a fashion statement but here in Brisbane they aren’t commonly used other than by primary-aged school children wandering around in bright high-vis yellow plastic coats Paddington Bear style. We usually have wet weather in summer so wearing a coat just adds to the discomfort of wearing clothes. There is something to be said for living in a nudist colony in the sub-tropics.

As I child I loved dressing up, so it is with glee that at the first sign of rain I slip into my full-length waterproof coat with its pleated hood around me. There is something about an elegant cape that triggers fantasy and imagination in most adults.  The reversible coat is forest brown and shiraz red which does tempt Captain A to comment that I look like an ageing Red Riding Hood in camouflage whilst I feel as if I could swish across time zones fighting evil dragons rather than just wolves in the forest. Leaving my childhood I can always turn to another favourite Susie in raincoat hood fashion model.  I could wear a light trench coat that reminds me of Audrey Hepburn. It is very practical even when riding a bike but the problem occurs when I arrive at my destination because Brisbane hasn’t yet embraced the concept of cloakrooms where wet coats and umbrellas are placed.

 

I remember as a child walking home from school in the rain, bare foot in the gutter, making dams with my heels, and feeling the cool water surge across my toes. Absolute bliss!  Wellies may not be my fashion statement choice but they do serve a purpose. My large yellow boots were a lifesaver when wandering through the flooded streets in Venice during a snowy November. The pavements were so cold it was warmer wading and my only challenge was preventing the bow wave from washing the cigarette buts and rubbish into my boots. Now, in Brisbane these boots have Susie in St Mark's Sq, in wellies – Version 2been relegated to the shed where they make a foray into the garden more pleasant after heavy rain and hopefully, are a deterrent to the odd snake. Captain A who feels I am reverting into fantasy, has developed an inclination to spray what he perceives to be escapee caterpillars from Alice in Wonderland. I put up with their discomfort but I have to agree with him that they are cumbersome and inelegant and I shouldn’t be seen out in them. Definitely not car to bar shoes!

Thus, if it continues to rain during the morning will I use an umbrella but which one?

My first choice would be a small flip-up umbrella that inevitably does flip but upside down in any breeze.  I cannot count the number of small umbrellas I have left around the world, because I avoid putting a wet item into my handbag which already contains camera, iPad, iPhone as well as lipstick and sunglasses. Small folding umbrellas are workable only in very light showers and once our tropical downpour starts the only option to prevent drowning through inhalation of raindrops is to use the large golf umbrellas that have become corporate billboards. Compromise has been reached in our Andrew with umbrella in LAhousehold with me carrying the small umbrella when on my own, but when sharing the large size, it is Captain A’s responsibility. I am not sure he agrees with me but it is that or we both get wet. I remind him that we once witnessed a discussion in a Gentlemen’s outfitters shop in London where a customer deliberated between two umbrellas each costing over £400. And that was at the lower end of the price range. I really do think a pocket handkerchief and a snazzy umbrella contribute to the male sartorial style and have suggested Captain A consider it his fashion statement or weapon as John Steed did in The Avengers.

A tightly furled umbrellas is particularly useful in claiming space in a crowd in addition to tripping the odd irritating passer-by. When I see a phalanx of umbrellas charging towards me from across the street I am tempted to run in the opposite direction. I am surprised in our risk adverse society that we don’t get issued with a warning and instructions on what not to do with an umbrella. Even when it is a dismal wet day I will wear sunglasses so that the points from someone’s umbrella don’t remove my eyes. I think I should also carry a bucket.

BBC 4 umbrella sculpture

Umbrella sculpture outside BBC4, London.

The water has to run off these umbrellas somewhere but why does it have to be down my back. Recently while I was waiting at the pedestrian lights in the city, minding my own business and keeping dry under my dinky umbrella I felt water trickling down my back and into my shoes. My neighbour was completely oblivious of the damage being done to my attire much less my sense of wellbeing. At least I didn’t have a carry bag full of purchases also getting wet.

My saddest umbrella experience was occurred during a stormy afternoon when along with everyone else I was doing last minute Christmas shopping hoping I could get it all done and meet the next day’s deadline for postage home. I had a cache of bags with all my purchases clutched tightly under one arm to avoid getting wet, a shoulder bag slung over the other arm and with my free hand I was carrying an opened umbrella bent against the wind. I got to my destination, sat down and as I moved the bags containing my gifts out of pedestrian way, I thought they felt very light. I had been totally oblivious that the rain was dripping off my small foldup umbrella into the bottom of the carry bags which being paper, and once damp, tore apart and allowed all my carefully chosen presents to fall out. I think I was more upset about the time wasted than the money.

Umbrellas are an appendage we don’t know what to do with. Next rainy day, watch people shut their brolllies, shake the water off and then look around wondering what to do with them when they enter a shop? The drops make the smart marble floors as slippery as an ice-skating rink and the pile of brollies is very tempting to sort through as they leave and I am sure you won’t mind if I take the one that hasn’t got the broken strut.

Playing in raincoats – Version 2
We need to encourage more workplaces and shops to install the clever apparatus that encases the wet umbrella in a plastic bag and perhaps we could put the odd damp child in there as well and contain them. That is one thing to be thankful for, I don’t have small children to entertain on wet days. Been there done that!