Yesterday, was Father’s Day here in Australia. Unfortunately, my parents have colds so we couldn’t go round to see them. However, we were able to focus on Geoff and went to Church as a family for the first time in about 18 months (due to covid) and out for dinner to a fabulous local Indian restaurant. We couldn’t finish it off, and brought the leftovers home so the east will continue tonight albeit more of a nibble. Indeed, I’m about to head out to buy some more chicken to cook up with my leftover sauce.
Did you celebrate Father’s Day where you are? I also understand that it’s a day of reflection and grief for many so if that’s you, I send you a hug and my thoughts.
As you may recall, Geoff and I went to Bathurst what is like three weeks ago now, and I’m still in the very early stages of writing up about our trip here on the blog. I’m also wanting to write some freelance articles as well, but decided to write these posts for the blog first and use them as a launching pad.
However, my third post about a trio of marble sculptures in Machattie Park has become very complicated taking me down numerous deep and meandering research burrows without really feeling confident about the basic facts like who made the sculptures, and how they came to reside in a fernery in a park in Bathurst 200 km WNW of Sydney. My quest has taken me back to the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 where a swag of nations set up camp and showed of their national achievements. In addition to the main exhibition hall in the Garden Palace a separate art gallery was built and two out of three of these sculptures were displayed there and bought by the Art Gallery of NSW who went on to loan them to the city of Bathurst to put in their you beaut park with the band rotunda and massive fountain. By the way, the sculptor was Giovanni Fontana who was a well-known Italian sculptor at the time, who was commissioned to produce a number of public sculptures in Sydney. So far, I’ve been able to trace back the providence of two out of three of the statues but the third one is eluding me and I’ve lost myself down so many rabbit burrows as I said just trying to put the basics together, that I’ve ended up terribly lost and confused to the point of losing what I actually know. Have you ever experienced that?
Meanwhile, the other big news around here, is that Miss sprained her ankle last Friday night at dance. When it happened, they all heard a loud snap and they were really concerned she’d broken it. I missed a call from an unknown number just as I was meeting up with friends, and that turned out to be her dance teacher. They rang Geoff instead who was at home and so he drew the short straw of taking her to Gosford Hospital for hours on end while we waited and prayed for a verdict and I was going through all her dance commitments in my head and wondering how bad this was going to be and the implications of it all. I was also rather concerned about how she was responding to all of this psychologically. For a mere mortal, a sprained ankle is a painful inconvenience but for a ballerina, it can so easily feel like the end of the world. However, fortunately the timing is fairly good and she doesn’t have anything big right away. Her dance teacher has also referred her to special physio, which is probably going hurt us more in terms of the bank account, but you do what you’ve got to do.
With Mum and my step-dad fighting like alley cats, Sally said I could crash in her dad’s empty shed. I was almost asleep, when I heard footsteps outside getting closer and closer.
“Stop being such a baby!” I scolded. “It’s just the cat.”
However, then I heard the distinct clomp of heavy boots on the footpath. This was no cat. Suddenly, the door swung open. “Who was it?” I panicked, slinking down the bottom of my sleeping bag, as he hit the floor drunk.
With nowhere else to go, I held my breath and prayed for the sun to rise.
This is another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.
How are you all? I hope you are well and this weekend, I can offer you some cheese biscuits with a chive and parsley cream cheese filling along with your choice of beverage. They’re very addictive!
This last week has been a case of recovering from the adventurous week before, which is what I’m going to focus on today.
On Thursday 18th August, we dropped Miss at the local train station. She was heading off to Queensland’s Gold Coast with the school’s cheerleading team to compete at Nationals. She would also be competing in a few solo events as well. Although we seriously considered driving up there to watch and be a part of it all, it wasn’t long enough to pull it off and so Geoff and I decided to head off to Bathurst 200 kms WNW of Sydney. We live night near the beach, and I’ve never been out that way and was interested in its goldrush heritage and all the photographic opportunities it offered. Meanwhile, we stayed at Rydges Mt Panorama which was right on the race track at Conrod Straight. In case you’re not aware, Bathurst is also home to the Bathurst 1000 Supercars Race, which is what’s brought Geoff and Jonathon to Bathurst before.
I’m in the process of writing up about the trip. However, so far I’ve written up a fairly extensive overview which you might enjoy: here.
However, probably what you’d like to see most are some photos of kangaroos taken in Hill End. We were there past sunset into the twilight, which is when kangaroos become most active. Great for photography when we were walking around town, but potentially treacherous driving back to Bathurst. Indeed, we had a very stressful near miss when a huge male hopped in front of the car and instead of getting out of the way, he kept turning back in front of the car. Obviously, he was out to collect the Darwin award, but we didn’t want him taking us with him. Fortunately, Geoff grew up in rural Tasmania and is well-versed in country driving, but even he found this particular kangaroo too much.
In addition to all the architectural attractions, there was also the race track. The Bathurst 1000 takes place the weekend after the October long weekend, and will be held 6th-9th October this year. The track itself is 6.213 km long and runs on public roads 174-metre (571 ft) elevation difference between its highest and lowest points The race is 161 laps in length and generally takes between six and seven hours to complete, depending on weather and Safety Car periods. A likely race finish time can be anywhere between 6pm and 8pm AEDT and I can tell you, you don’t disturb Geoff too much especially towards the end of the big race.
Geoff has walked and driven around the track before. However, being my first trip to Bathurst, naturally I’ve never been and I made a decision to drive around the track myself. Normally, this wouldn’t be a small consideration because I’m quite an anxious driver. However, I seemed to get into a different zone and wasn’t nervous at all in the end. By this stage, I’d been round the track with Geoff a few times making note of where the trouble spots were and preparing to go at a snail’s pace if necessary. I didn’t care if I clocked up the slowest lap time in Bathurst history. No one was recording it and I truly enjoyed the experience.
However, before we left on the trip, I received some awful news. A friend of mine called to say she was having trouble reaching our friend, Stephen. His phone wasn’t answering and had a message saying it was out of power or something to that effect. I rang and got the same response and sent an email letting him know we were concerned and to get in touch. Nothing. I had to look up my old hardcopy address book and my friend and her husband went down to check on him. They spoke to his neighbours who were also concerned and they rang the police for a welfare check and both he and his cat, Pippa, were found deceased. At the time, we didn’t know how long it had been and I was initially devastated that my dear friend would die in such circumstances, even though he’d chosen to shut himself off. However, as time went by, it turned out family and friends had been keeping in touch with him and it hadn’t been that long. Well, it’s kind of inevitable when you live alone and don’t reach out. He was 65 and had some health issues, and we’re still waiting for cause of death.
Unfortunately, losing Stephen has reminded me of how many people I know in similar circumstances and as much as I would love to reach out to them all, my days simply go up in smoke often with very little to show for it. However, my heart is in it and I also recently did a suicide intervention program through Lifeline, which I found very helpful.
I realise that this is a rather heavy subject to consider while having a cup of tea or coffee with Rowie and I hope it hasn’t been triggering. As a positive, if each of us called someone we know who is doing it tough once a week, I’m sure we could make a difference.
This is a good reminder that I need to start thinking about having something to look forward to myself now this trip is over. I’m not sure whether living from holiday to holiday is a good thing, and so I might organise a few get togethers with friends as well. After all, we’re about to launch into Spring here and come out of hibernation.
Lastly, speaking of Spring, I was struck by all the daffodils and jonquils we saw while we were away. They were EVERYWHERE!! I felt so grateful and could’ve thanked each and every soul who’d planted each and every one of those bulbs. I’ve gardened myself and have only been thinking of my own enjoyment and making the place look attractive and cheerful. It’s never crossed my mind that a stranger could be walking past and get some enjoyment out of it. Better still, that someone who is doing it tough could feel a moment’s joy simply because a stranger had planted a bulb in the ground. While I was trying not to think about Stephen too much while we were away, it was inevitable and seeing all the daffodils and jonquils truly helped.
Indeed, I ordered in a couple of bunches of daffodils from our local florist when I got home. They are so happy! It’s like having my own personal cheer squad every time I go out into the kitchen. Such a blessing!
Welcome to Windhoek, Namibia- the latest stopover on my travels via Google Earth…
However, before I launch into my travels, I thought I’d better explain what am I doing in Africa, as it might seem rather random, and disconnected from my usual haunts.
To be perfectly honest with you, I hadn’t heard of Namibia until a few months ago when I was introduced to a missionary family supported by my church. They were back in Sydney for a few months on furlough, and briefly spoke about their mission work one Sunday night. Unfortunately, as Sydney was under covid lockdown at the time, this was all via zoom. So, I never actually met them. However, as I listened to their stories, I naturally wondered what life would be like for them there. I spent six months living in Germany as a backpacker in 1992. The language and cultural differences weren’t always easy there, even though I was living with a very loving and accommodating German family, and was also part of both German and American Church communities. I was still left pining for a gum tree, any sign of home, even though I loved exploring and absorbing the unfamiliar. However, living in Namibia as Australians seemed like a very big step, and that’s quite aside from all entailed with being a missionary. So, I was rather curious.
Then, as it turned out, our home groups were encouraged to reach out to one these missionaries. I’ve never done this before, although friends of mine have had cards on their fridge featuring rather formal looking missionary family portraits. These people had gone to various incarnations of Timbuctoo, and sometimes it was a bit of a relief to be sitting in our comfortable seats at home to be perfectly honest.
Anyway, our online zoom group was asked to support this family in Namibia and I was keen to get behind them as I’d at least I knew a little about who they were. Next thing I knew, I was offering to send them an email to make contact, and then I became our official missionary representative. I signed up for their newsletter via CMS ministries as well. So, now I had to make a decent go of it. No more good intentions. No “Gunna do but never get around to it”. Then, there’s also the trouble of consistency. I’m not too sure I’m cut out for this, but then I had an idea.
I decided to check out Windhoek, Namibia via Google Earth. For those of you who haven’t been on any of my previous travels, I’ve revisited some of my past haunts from my 1992 European backpacking trip, a few places in Ireland my family came from, and threw Venice in for good measure. It’s so much fun and almost feels like I’m there, and it was such a relief during months and months of lockdown and isolation. After all, with our national border shut, it was the only was the only way an Australian could travel, especially this Australian.
So, there I was heading through cyberspace madly pressing the + bar and watching Namibia crystalise in front of me. Hello. I’m coming and even though it was only a virtual adventure, I was excited. Curious. Thrilled to be honest. I’d never given going to Africa a second thought. I don’t have that kind of money, or the chance to get away.
Now, here I am in Windhoek, Namibia.
If you’d like to join me, you can head to Google Earth. I found it difficult to wander far, and have been more reliant on Youtube videos to get a sense of the place. I recommend starting out with Travelzilla, which also incorporates what sounds like authentic local African music. You could almost be there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irH6kFce3f4 The second clip is more raw, and I’ve had some trouble with the sound, but it’s more authentic and gave me a real sense of walking around: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7at7ZioItCM
So, what did I find in Windhoek?
The first place I wanted to mention is the Christuskirz, which really stands out. It’s a German-speaking Evangelical Lutheran Church. I’m not going to rehash a whole load of facts from Wikipaedia, but needless to say it wasn’t what I expected to find in Africa. It was designed by architect Gottlieb Redecker. The church was built following the wars between the Germans and the Khoikhoi, Herero, and Owambo. The foundation stone was laid on 11 August 1907, while on 16 October 1910 the church was officially dedicated. It was originally known as the Church of Peace. Christ Church was constructed from quartz sandstone mined from the vicinity of Avis Dam. It has a mixture of neo-Romanesque, Art Nouveau and Gothic revival influences. Its spire is 24 metres high, and seemingly towers over the city. . The portico was made from Carrara marble imported from Italy. The clock and part of the roof was shipped from Germany, as were the three bronze bells cast by Franz Schilling. They bear the inscriptions “Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe”, “Friede auf Erden”, and “Den Menschen ein Wohlgefallen”. Kaiser Wilhelm I even paid for three of the stained glass windows.Wikipedia
Isn’t that extraordinary?
The only other place I really explored, and this was more via a series of websites, and that was Craft Centre on Tal Street in the Old Breweries Complex. It houses “40 women-owned or community driven craft enterprises that hail from rural communities, various ethnic groups and projects, it provides a platform for Namibian handicraft ranging from jewellery to carved tree roots” http://www.namibiacraftcentre.com/
Immediately, I was captivated hopping from stall to stall online. A smattering of stalls also had their own online stores and the opportunity to buy a few treasures all the way from here in Australia. You’ve got to love how the Internet has the capacity to extend our wings and broaden our outlooks and allow us to become more culturally diverse, and to not be limited to our own backyards.
I have to be honest and say that even this virtual experience of Windhoek in Namibia opened my eyes to quite a few things. Firstly, that we have preconceived ideas about how other people live. I had actually assumed Windhoek was a rural village, which in fact its an urban city with a magnificent cathedral, shopping malls, cars, traffic jams and no doubt similar parking issues to us. Secondly, I was reminded of how little we really know people under the skin, beneath all our superficial assumptions, and their public roles. We need to look a little further. Most importantly we need to open up our eyes and ears and hear their stories. I have a favourite quote, which isn’t from the Bible, but in many ways distils it’s essence:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—” “Sir?” “—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird
While this is obviously impossible to achieve, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If we are to love our neighbours as ourselves, we at least ought to get to know them. Take the extra step, even if we might not be able to walk the extra mile. Besides, in so many ways, stepping out of ourselves becomes enlightened self-interest. We grow.
So, have you been to or perhaps live in Windhoek or Namibia? Perhaps, you’ve been to or currently live in South Africa. If so, I’d love to hear from you.
Best wishes and blessings,
PS I haven’t actually named the family to respect their privacy, but I will be forwarding it on. I also want to note that this is a blogging post, not an advertisement. These are my explorations and this has been tailored around my regular readers, and to be included over at Thursday Doors.
“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
– Jacques Yves Cousteau
Last Wednesday, Geoff and I drove down to Sydney Harbour to welcome back our No. 1 son, who’d been away for ten days sailing on the tall ship STS Young Endeavour from Geelong to Sydney. Indeed, we were waiting at the Coal Loader Wharf near HMAS Waterhen with our eyes peeling looking for the much anticipated ship, when a massive rainbow appeared. I couldn’t believe my luck. I have been in lockdown at home for the best part of six months and right on my release, a rainbow appears, I have my camera, and better still, the Young Endeavour appearing right on cue and I managed to capture it sailing across the rainbow. Better still, our son was perched right at the very top like an oversized crow as they came in. Oh! Be still my beating heart!
Just to recap on the journey, he’d been away on a nine day trip from Geelong to Sydney which, as he said, was pretty much the “Sydney-to-Hobart Yacht Race in reverse minus Tasmanian.” They sailed out of Geelong on Monday the 20th March. On Day two, they sailed out of Port Phillip Bay, across the notorious Rip and soon they were taking on the even more notorious Bass Strait before heading up the East Coast. They stopped off at Refuge Bay, Jervis Bay and Watson’s Bay along the way before spending their final night anchored near Taronga Park Zoo listening to the elephants.
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
I can’t tell you how excited I was to see him, the boat, and to finally be a physical part of his experience after being unable to see him off in Geelong. The ship was due in at 10.00am and knowing the Navy, it would be 10.00am sharp, and they certainly wouldn’t be running on Byron Bay time (which is little better than a hair past a freckle). However, my watch hit 10.00am and there was still no sign of the Young Endeavour. The anticipation was absolutely killing me. Thank goodness the rainbow was there to distract me, and we were just hoping the rain would hold off long enough for us to see them come in.
Then, apparently just a minute or two after ten, the ship’s canon sounded, and STS Young Endeavour finally came into view. There he was – one of those large black birds perched right at the very top of the mast with the daring of a movie stunt double. I couldn’t wait to see him. Give him a hug. Have him back.
However, there was a spanner in the works. An unfortunately all too familiar spanner, which I’d naively thought had been wrestled and dealt with before they’d climbed on board. Three of the “youthies” (as the young people were called) had tested positive to covid despite having had a PCR test and a RAT before leaving (covid seems to be more effective than the devil at sneaking into unwanted places and wreaking havoc). Apparently, the news went up to the Navy “higher-ups”, and after being isolated on the bridge for four hours they were given a “VIP” escort to the big navy base at Woolloomooloo. While it was tough for those whose voyages were cut short, it also hit the remaining youthies really hard. In only seven days, they’d all grown incredibly close. There was no “us and them”, or being focused on No. 1. They’d become a unit and they were welded together like an unbroken chain.
Of course, I wasn’t there, and it’s an interesting experience writing about someone else’s journey as though it was your own. However, even as a parent of a now 18 year old where the umbilical cord was cut years ago, we’re still Mum and Dad. We’re still interested in what he’s up to, especially when he’s been on such a privileged adventure, and as the Captain mentioned in his first Captain’s Log, we had all become “armchair sailors” back home.
Besides, we’d also gone through the last two years alongside them. I don’t need to explain what this has been like to any of you. We’ve all been living through it. We also had the worst bushfires in living memory just before covid along with it’s choking haze of smoke which travelled the globe several times over before finally breaking up. We haven’t been able to plan, hope, leave the house although many of us tried to make a positive out of a negative and had our “Covid Projects”. On a much more serious note, people have died. Now, places are recovering from devastating floods and there’s the invasion of Ukraine.
So, without going into all our son and these other young people have been through over the last two years, let’s just say that their arrival home, especially surrounded by that massive rainbow, just screamed positivity. Indeed, you can see, I’ve doctored the photo of the ship surrounded by the rainbow, and added the words: “There Is Always Hope”. I’ve come a very long way to reach that point. Indeed, with our son perched high up on the mast, me being there to greet him after more than six months in lockdown, and capturing the photo of a lifetime, it was an incredible triumph.
“My soul is full of longing for the secret of the sea, and the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
I was pleasantly surprised by how chatty he was, and his incredibly enthusiastic and visually graphic storytelling abilities. After all, teenagers aren’t renowned for sharing all the lurid details with Mum and Dad and perhaps there was still a lot he left out. Usually, we’ve ecstatic to get a grunt.
In my next post, I’ll share a few points from his trip, and you never know perhaps he or one of his fellow youthies might share their experiences directly on Beyond the Flow. I live in hope.
“Forget a Hail Mary, Mike. Make that a Bloody Mary, with an extra shot of Vodka.”
“Hair of the dog, eh Meg? You okay?” Tim the barman asked. Bloody Marys were a well-known hangover cure. Meg was sous chef at their two hat restaurant, and she’d been on a bender. She knew he knew, but neither of them said a word. However, she’d never hit the bottle this early before, and it wasn’t going to happen on his watch. He left out the vodka, made a Virgin Mary to go, and grabbed his keys. “Meg, I’m taking you home.”
I don’t know whether I should be shouting: “Hip Hip Hooray” today, or in mourning. Today, Great Sydney finally came out of its extensive 106 day lockdown now that we’ve reached a vaccination rate of 70%. After a peak of 1603 on September 10, we were down to 496 cases today. That’s not a perfect world, and not yet a safe space for vulnerable people like myself to enter yet. I was about to say it offers hope, but it could also demonstrate reckless abandon after being careful for so long. It’s interesting too to see where people head as soon as they break out? Is is to see friends and family they’re been shut away from for so long? I can’t blame people for possibly wanting to get to the hairdresser first. I was planning to have at least a friend over to christen the new table today, but of course, it rained and being an outdoor table, that’s not much fun unless you’re a woolly Border Collie with thick, protective coat. For those of you who still remember Bilbo, he was a great one for standing out in the rain and getting soaking wet.
Well, I know there’s been a lot of table talk going on around here, but this week I’m proud to announce that the table has been sanded back, restored and in situ. I have well and really rung the brass bell over that, as it would’ve been easier to move heaven and earth. I’m sure those of you with real homes can testify to that as well. That a seemingly easy decision to put a table out the front can require so much work, negotiation, acceptance and maybe even grief! Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to leave alone and just be able todo what I want, when I want and not have to consult ANYBODY – or have someone else scuttle my plans, especially due to a lack of planning on their part. (Speaking of which I’ve had two pairs of ballet pointe shoes and a sewing basket left beside my chair. One of the downsides about coming out of lockdown, is that the pointe shoes needed to be replaced. However, one pair is heading back to the ballerina to do herself. BTW She’s very excited because she managed to get a Billie Eilish ticket today).
Tis week, I slowed down over at my new blog: “Tea With Ethel Turner” this week with only adding one post. However, it was a post that meant a lot to me. I was reading her somewhat autobiographical novel, Three Little Maids, when almost at the end I found what I’ve dubbed: “A Writer’s Prayer”. Through this prayer, Dolly (who is said to represent Ethel Turner) tells her sister how she prayed to get a book published and that her calling might be to write books that “do some good”. As a writer with the same heart-felt desire in mind, it meant the world to me and perhaps you would love it too: https://teawithethelturner.com/2021/10/07/a-writers-prayer-ethel-turner/
By the way, I had quite a few technical issues with the new blog, and ended up changing format to sort them out. So, I apologise if you had any difficulties last week.
The other thing I’ve been working on lately, is the story of my friend’s father who was a Polish Bomber Pilot serving in the UK during WWII. It’s been my friend’s quest to write a book about his father’s experiences of escaping Poland and into Romania where he was interred, and smuggled out into France where he served before arriving in England. Roland’s father never taught his children Polish, and unfortunately the Polish pilot’s records in England are all in Polish. So it’s been a beast to sort anything out. Google translate has helped with clarifying online resources, but otherwise its a slow and laborious process. I had a bit of a breakthrough this week, when I found a pdf in Polish online. It was written by one of his Dad’s friends an was a story of the “Three Muskateers”. It even ad a few pages just about Roland’s dad. It was wonderful, except it was all in Polish. So, I tried a little experiment. I typed up the Polish and pasted it into Google translate. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this. Well, it was like magic. There really was a story behind all those words which made absolutely no sense to me. Indeed, I thought the start of the story was very touching. There is this old Polish man with all the photos taken in his entire lifetime contained in a biscuit tin his cousin brought back from England. It was incredibly poignant but also pretty heart wrenching to all the photos of a lifetime can fit into one biscuit tin. It’s nothing for me to take 200 photos in a day. However, it would do me good to put the most precious ones in a tin so I can see the the trees. By having so many photos, we might as well have none in a way.
Anyway, who would’ve thought I’d be typing up Polish like that? In some ways my life feels incredibly random, and yet my insatiable curiosity won’t just let me settle with a fragment of such a good story even when I’m immersed in so many other gripping stories pursuing Ethel Turner and my WWI stories. I’m not going to be very good at interacting with people about the mundane realities of daily life if I ever make it fully out of isolation!
So, how are are things for you? Have you had a good week? I sure hope so!
“There are times when wisdom cannot be found in the chambers of parliament or the halls of academia but at the unpretentious setting of the kitchen table.” ― E.A. Bucchianeri
Don’t know how it is round at your place, but getting anything done around here is a very long and winding road that makes mission impossible look quick and easy. So, any successes need to be celebrated with the full brass band out in force and waving the flags. We did it! Yesterday, we finished restoring our new to us but anything but new outdoor table.
While restoring the table has been a journey, just getting it here has been a story in itself. My friend Roland found the table “beside the road*”. When I saw it in his lounge room, I was filled with envy. Damn! Why didn’t I find it? Well, to be honest, even if I’d found it, I wouldn’t have been able to shift it unless it was just down the road and the kids actually lifted a finger to help. Geoff, I’m afraid wouldn’t not have aided and abetted bringing any more tables home. We already have enough tables!! However, as it turned out, Roland had second thoughts, and decided it was too big. Before he could offload it to the opportunity shop, I stuck my hand up, and it was all mine. He even stuck a post-it note on it with my name on it. So there could be no challenges to my precious piece of real estate.
There was just one problem.
Well, there was more than one problem.
There usually is around here, which is why getting anything done is such an arduous, circular process.
Firstly, the table needed transport, and unfortunately not being related to Enid Blyton’s Magic Wishing Chair, it wasn’t going to sprout wings and magically fly down the mountain to our place. It needed Geoff, and that required more than a confession. Serious negotiation was required. You see, there was already a table and a fish tank out where the intended table was meant to be going. The fish tank has been sitting here waiting to make to next step of it’s future life after it started leaking something like five years ago, and the existing table was falling apart and we’d bought the wood to replace the top. However, nothing had happened and Geoff has been painting the house, replacing the guttering, and anything but idle. I decided that table could go out the back. I didn’t care where the blessed fish tank went as long as it was gone. I didn’t care where the lot went. I wanted my new table out the front so I could have friends over outside once this wretched lockdown eased, and actually start getting social again within the safety of home. After all, we’ve not been in lockdown for 106 days and Monday is Freedom Day. I want to be a part of it.
Sometimes, hints are broad suggestions aren’t enough. Roland was wanting to clear his garage and I desperately wanted to table here, and measuring tape or no measuring tape, Geoff found himself making room for the table, and driving up the hill to pick it up. I don’t play the “Happy Wife, Happy Life” card often, but by now I was in make it happen mode. He had no choice but to capitulate and assist.
“To share a table with someone is to share everything.” ― Paul Krueger, Steel Crow Saga
However, there was just one small complication with the table. It was more of an indoor table than an outdoor table, and aside from needing protection, he top needed sanding. In other words, the table was “a project”. What’s more, the rest of the family was quick to extricate themselves and call it “YOUR project”. Geoff fetched the orbital sander from the garage and with my arms vibrating and my head buzzing, I started rowing backwards and forwards giving my arms quite a workout, which proved quite a shock to the system in itself. Seeing me with a power tool in hand must’ve been like an apparition too. Rowena the Writer is a far cry from Bob the Builder and his mates.
After beavering away for a veritable eternity with the orbital sander, the scratches were definitely winning. Moreover, these scratches giving have that worn-in distressed look that people go out of their way to age their furniture. The table looked like the scene of a cat fight with random scratches all over the place, and the annoying perfectionist in me was starting to picture our guests sitting at the table and counting all the scratches and thinking about how awful we were. I did try saying they’d be much more interested in the dessert and conversation, and wouldn’t care but I knew better. I asked Geoff for stronger sandpaper, and at this point he finally realized I wasn’t wanting to do a superficial sand, but more of a reconstructive face lift. I wanted to strip this baby right back to bare wood, even if it meant losing loads of personality. It could regain character in time.
Now, the belt sander came out, and it was incredibly satisfying to see all those scratches evaporate in clouds of dust.
“The oldest form of theater is the dinner table. It’s got five or six people, new show every night, same players. Good ensemble; the people have worked together a lot.”
Michael J. Fox]
I don’t think I’ve actually mentioned that the table top is oak. It has a beautiful grain, and when I finally came to apply the decking oil, the wood just shone. It looked amazing. Although it was “your project”, Geoff ended up sanding and painting the legs. By then, my arms had had it. I’m much more in favour of teamwork than being a lone ranger – especially when I’m the one needing assistance.
The table was finally finished yesterday and moved into position. It looks amazing. I cooked up a big lamb roast with all the trimmings to celebrate last night, but it was cold and dark by the time it was really so we still haven’t christened the table yet. Moreover, I’ve been tapping away in here in my pyjamas with the dog on my lap ignoring the outside world, which is so bright and sunny. Geoff has gone sailing.Our daughter is doing her final dance class in the kitchen and for dinner or worse our world here in Greater Sydney is about to open up.
A few weeks ago, it was my birthday. In previous years, I’ve fully acknowledged and celebrated my birthday on the blog with equal enthusiasm and interest as the real world. However, this year, I didn’t quite get here, and it probably also reflects that my birthday in the real world didn’t go off with a bang this year either.
It was good, and indeed better than expected. However, my birthday (30th July) actually marked the day that Greater Sydney was supposed to come out of Covid lockdown, and I, and the collective we, knew after the third week of hard lockdown and with one week to go until our blessed release, that it wasn’t going to happen. There was going to be no extravagant birthday cake covered in candles with either my parents in Sydney or with my much loved friends. Everyone was going to be locked inside their little cells at home, and only let out for bad behaviour (my perspective on exercise).
However, while one is allowed to be a bit self-indulgent when their birthday plans go up in smoke (especially a Covid smoke), I know things could be worse, and that I have so much to be grateful for, especially when I see covid through a global lens. I checked the stats just then (which I don’t do on a global scale all that often) and globally there have been 206 million cases and 4.35 million deaths. In America alone (which ops the charts) there have been 621k deaths. Australia isn’t at the bottom of the charts and we have a much smaller population, but we have had 948 deaths. So, we have largely been spared the full force of this scourge here, although our lockdowns have been pretty tight and for vulnerable people like myself, we’ve spent much of the last 18 months in varying degrees of isolation and social distancing, while, of course, there are others who haven’t complied with restrictions or have lived away from the major cities and haven’t had to worry too much.
The other thing is that given my poor health and the somewhat dire state of my lungs, I am thankful and overjoyed for every birthday I have. So, I’m not saying that I spent my birthday at home crying either.
My birthday was on a Friday, and Friday nights are generally quite busy even in lockdown here. Our son has zoom with his youth group which sounds pretty rowdy and a lot of fun, and our daughter has a dance class right at dinner time. We also have our small group meeting for Church and we were getting together for a zoom party. So, we decided just to get Chinese home delivered that night, and deferred our family celebration to the following night, when we had home delivery from a local smokehouse we hadn’t tried before. This is I guess what we’d call “American” food, and I was particularly wanting to try Southern Fried Chicken that wasn’t from KFC. I made a Banoffee Pie for my birthday cake.
Meanwhile, during the day Geoff and I went for a bushwalk at the Mt Ettalong Lookout, which has the most magnificent coastal views over Pearl Beach to the right, and Umina Beach (home) on the left. When you see these photos, you’ll have absolutely so sympathy for my tough lockdown situation, and think I’m deluding myself. I’m in God’s country. However, breathtaking ocean views is not immersing myself in a room filled with my friends and being able to hug each other and talk totally oblivious of exchanging the air we breathe and what it might contain.
I know presents don’t make a birthday. However, I’m not going to deny how much they meant to me and how nice is was to open the front door and find a little treasure there. It was wonderful, and it meant so much more during this gloominess of Covid – a gloominess which, if we’re really honest with ourselves and others is at least a somewhat constant undercurrent of varying dimensions.) especially when you’re an extroverted people person like myself.
Anyway, I wanted to share a bit of the brightness which came my way on my birthday and offer each and everyone of you a virtual piece of cake.
Have you have any special celebrations during lockdown and what did you do?
For me, 2020 has become a year of extreme baking where I’ve broken out of my straight jacket of tried and tested caution and taken on many risks, and my family and friends have been more than willing guinea pigs.
Last week, I thought I’d reached my zenith with the precarious Tree House Cake I created for a friend’s birthday. Moreover, just to blow the risk out of the park, we needed to transport the cake without the chocolate house sliding off its perch. Indeed, at one point, Geoff had to slam on the brakes and I almost leaped out of my skin!! However, the cake survived, and was an amazing success.
Perhaps, it was that success which spurred me on to attempt this week’s total insanity. You know how it is. You take a huge gamble. Have a bit of success, and it goes to your head. Now, you think you can do ANYTHING! Indeed, you’ve become invincible.
Moreover, I’ve also been watching Masterchef Junior where you see pint-sized supremoes conjure up the most incredible and unbelievable dishes out of the weirdest and most exotic flavours and ingredient combinations. You can either be incredibly humbled, or inspired to have a go yourself. I haven’t tried to replicate their dishes. However, time and time again, I’ve seen how you can jazz up a simple dish with a few added elements and create something truly spectacular and utterly scrumptious. So, I think it’s fairly fair to say that Masterchef Junior has fuelled my courage, spirit of experimentation and my seeming passion for skiing straight over a cliff, and expecting to land on both skis. Indeed, Masterchef has turned baking into an extreme sport.
Added to this mix, there’s the coronavirus. With so many of the usual sources of excitement, entertainment and facets of simply being human prohibited, perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve turned to baking for a buzz. What else is there to do, especially for those of us who are in a high risk category and need to isolate and stay out of circulation as much as possible?
However, countering these temptations to succomb to extreme baking, there’s my mother’s tried and tested cooking advice. Indeed, I’ll call it “Mum’s Golden Rule” and that reads: “Never cook anything for a special occasion that you haven’t tried and tested at home first.” Clearly, that’s very good advice, especially when people are counting on you.
Yet, as I said, I’ve been throwing caution to the wind lately, and there’s no better illustration than my decision to bake Bombe Alaska for my friend’s 60th Birthday Party on Friday night.
After the famed tree house cake, I couldn’t just dish up a dried up sponge cake. No, it had to be spectacular. Have a sense of theatre, especially as she’s a performer and loves a lot of sparkle. So, what could be better and offer more theatre than a bombe…a Bombe Alaska? Not that I’ve ever tried baking Bombe Alaska before. Indeed, I’ve never even seen or tasted it before. So, I really was flying blind. Yet, how hard could it be? You just follow the recipe and Bob’s your uncle. Your bombe is ready to explode.
Well, at least, I knew I had to clear carve out a massive hole for the huge bowl of ice cream in the overloaded freezer. After all, baking isn’t just about creativity. There’s a lot of science and meticulous preparation, which can seem a bit boring and dull, but it’s just as important as the baking process itself.
In case you don’t know much about making Bombe Alaska either, the bombe itself is made out of 6 cups of ice cream which is packed into a pudding basin. This goes back into the freezer to set, and then upended on top of a cake base, covered in meringue and baked in the oven at 200 degrees celsius. Of course, baking ice cream in the oven really goes against the grain. Doesn’t the ice cream melt into a ginormous puddle and DISASTER strikes?!! However, this is where the science comes in. The meringue is supposed to act like a shell insulating the ice cream inside while the outside forms a voluminous crust. After the meringue shell is lightly browned, you take it out of the oven, pour warm brandy over the top and light a match…KERBOOM!!!
Well, at least that’s what’s supposed to happen…
As I said, this was the first time I’ve even made Bombe Alaska, and it’s not a dessert I’m even familiar with.
Just to complicate matters further, I significantly altered the recipe. The original recipe used a combination of vanilla ice cream, frozen raspberries and lemon sorbet on a sponge cake base. However, I had a layer of chocolate ice cream on top and a mixture of vanilla and raspberries inside and I replaced the sponge cake with a gooey Flourless Chocolate Cake. After finding out the mix for the chocolate cake was big enough to make 2 cakes, I also made some Nutella Buttercream Icing and spread lashings of icing, roasted hazelnuts, Violet Crumble over both cakes and the other cake became home for the Happy Birthday candles.
Unfortunately, the chances of the Bombe working out were always going to be low. The party was being held at a friend’s place and I had to beat up the meringue at home before we left, a good two hours before it headed into the oven. Obviously, that delay was hardly ideal. The other concern was that I didn’t know whether I’d have enough meringue to seal it properly, and I couldn’t just whip up more on the spot. So, I was really taking a huge chance.
Yet, surprisingly I just shrugged off the doubt and the possibility we’d be drinking our bombe out of mugs. However, despite the obvious insanity of proceeding with the bombe, I could sense in my heart that the bombe was meant to be – whether it worked out or not. I was just following orders. BTW, taking a chance like this is very out of character for me. I’m usually quite the perfectionist albeit in a quirky, haphazard guise. I don’t like failure and usually play it safe.
So, without any further ado, the bombe goes into the oven and there’s a group of spectators hovering around the oven door. We’re intrigued, and rather curious to see what happens when you put ice cream in the oven. It certainly goes against the grain and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Moreover, again I’m wondering why I took on such a risk, and so publicly. What was I thinking? Indeed, was I thinking at all?
All goes well for the first few critical minutes, but it doesn’t take long for trouble to brew. A hole opens up in the meringue and the chocolate ice cream pokes it’s head out. Oh no! I’m hoping it can just manage to hold itself together until the meringue has browned. However, reminiscent of the Christchurch earthquake, the ice cream begins to liquify. More meringue slides down the embankment and it’s pretty clear there’s nothing I can do to salvage the wreck. Yet, I’m still trying to brown the meringue so it’s not just a sticky moat of rawness around the base. Ever the optimist, I haven’t given up yet and I’m still hoping we’ll somehow be able to light the brandy and get the bombe to go off. However, we ended up being a bit confused about what to do with the brandy and how to heat it, and we were also doubtful it would light on the ice cream surface now the meringue had washed away. However, it didn’t work. So, we’ll end up calling this “a learning experience”.
Yet, the Bombe Alaska still tasted really good and still had a lot of theatre, suspense and it made everyone happy. Moreover, it did what it was really intended to do, and that was to show my friend how much I love and value her. It helped to make her birthday extra special, and that’s what I particularly wanted for her as Covid has hit her business really hard and she’s had to do a hell of a lot of soul searching this year. That’s what really mattered, and what’s important about my baking… seeing people smiling inside and out.
So, although the bombe didn’t light and all the meringue fell off in the oven, I still consider it a success and I’m planning to have another go fairly soon at home. See if I can perfect this spectacular dessert and possibly come up with a Christmas variation.
It’s exploding with possibilities.
Have you ever had or baked Bomb Alaska? What are your secrets for getting it to work out? I’d love to hear from you.