Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The third shoe

Anyone living here knows how hot it has been. Working in a kitchen is even hotter, so we took a break and drove over to Warana beach for a swim.
So tired after long days baking, packing hampers and delivering hams, cakes and puddings all over, we dumped our clothes next to the flag and staggered into the cooling surf to loll around, not enough energy for real swimming, pushed in and out by the small waves, luxuriating in the relief, relaxing tired muscles and tireder minds.

I was born at the peak of power of the Third Reich. Hitler was plundering and killing, demonising Jews readying his constituency for the coming genocide while France was still drinking wine in her delightful cafes, not quite believing it was happening again.
Chamberlain still called the mad dictator Mr Hitler and hoped it would all go away. Of course it didn’t and as they say, ‘the rest is history’.

For most Australians of my age, that and the threat of rape and pillage by rampant militant Japanese, systematically gobbling up the Asian land bridge to Australia, was a traumatic time. I use the term in its correct meaning. It wasn’t just extremely threatening. It created a life long fear that still reverberates through people who were children then. Whenever we hear German spoken or see Japanese people we remember. It fades but never leaves.

When guilt drove us back to the beach, nowhere near fully refreshed but feeling better than before, we collected our clothes and returned to the kitchen. An hour or so later we had had enough for the day and headed home. Stopping for petrol, I couldn’t find my wallet.

I remembered having held it in my hand as I picked up my clothes at the beach and was reminded with a pang of fear that it contained several hundred dollars, money I had loaned to IXL that she paid back in cash.

A frantic search of the car drew a blank so we raced back to the beach, arriving just as the life guard was packing up his toys. “No”. No wallet had been handed in.
Back to the sand, looking for a mark where the flag had been. Nothing.

Then we noticed an excited looking lady, waddling her plump frame in our direction and waving her arms frantically with a wide smile lighting her sun burnt face.
Her husband dragged himself to his feet and followed her slowly, clearly the less agile of the two.

He held in his hand my old wallet and was calling out in a mixture of German, of which I understand abut ten words and very accented unintelligible English.
They were so excited we had returned looking for the wallet, we must have appeared unenthusiastic in comparison. The man pressed the wallet into one hand while he vigorously shook the other and the woman hugged LJ in her joy.

I resisted the temptation to look inside to check on the cash until we had thanked them, said our good-byes and were back at the car and out of sight. It was all there as I had expected.

We used to say; “The only good German is a dead German.”
Of course I haven’t thought that for many decades, but the simple honesty of those lovely people who must have suffered so terribly at the hands of Hitler then from Allied bombing and then on through the cold war and the partition of their fatherland were still able to rejoice in such a simple thing as the loss and return a stranger’s old wallet.

Waiting for the third shoe to drop.

The happy ham scammer was soon forgotten in the rush and looking back, it was a hundred invested in our education. But the well dressed elderly lady at Noosa was something else.

She came to the stall and pushed to the front when we were busy.
“I’ve come for the pudding I ordered last week.”
She looked classy and proud, a no-nonsense lady of maybe sixty-five.
I was busy serving and handing out change, only partly aware of the exchange beside me.
LJ began flicking through the orders, carefully arranged by numbers, with names, addresses and phone numbers recorded along with the amount paid.

“Do you have your receipt?”
She delved into her shoulder bag for a second.
“Must have left it at home. Name’s Smith. Paid Wednesday.”
“We’re not here on Wednesdays, we’re only here on Sundays.”
That’s it, I paid you on Saturday. I paid for a pudding!”
She was becoming excited, attracting attention as onlookers became aware something out of the ordinary was happening. She pointed to the Christmas cakes and Dolce Fortes.
“I got them too and ordered the pudding and paid for the lot on Saturday!”

LJ was still leafing through the order book as the crowd thickened. Some grew tired of waiting and drifted off, sales missed.
“You say you paid on Saturday?” LJ asked. “Did you pay at Eumundi?”
“No, I paid you here on Saturday.”
“But we’re only here on Sundays. We were at Eumundi on Saturday, in the sheds.”
“Well it must have been Sunday. All I know is, I paid for a pudding and I want it now!”

On the way to look at LJ, my eyes passed over the crowd. They had the fidgets, becoming impatient as she frantically leafed through the order book for the third or fourth time. I engaged her eyes, shrugged and picked up a pudding, handing it over.

My wry ‘Merry Christmas’ was as lost on her as it was on the perplexed onlookers. She was gone. I lost sight of her as she had disappeared into the crowd clutching her purloined pudding and I was drawn back to the waiting customers.

But I continued to follow her progress in my mind, maybe on her way to claim other real goods, secured by imaginary deposits made last Wednesday, or Saturday or Sunday on other imaginary orders.

Come in Spinner!

If took twenty-four hours too long to recognise the trick. We should have known, but when the tall New Zealander turned up at the kitchen door with a wad of cash and an order for six premium hams and six puddings, a sale of somewhere like six hundred bucks. It got IXL’s attention!
“Look! she grinned, “I’ll take one ham now and pick up six hams and puddings tomorrow.”
I collected the ham, placed it in a cool bag and deposited it into the boot of her beat up Nissan as instructed.

As I walked in again, she had placed the ham money, seventy something dollars on the desk in front of IXL and the money for the future sale of six in front of herself and was saying,
“I just won twenty-five grand on Lotto and I want these people here,” she said, waving a fine brown arm towards the kitchen where Deb was baking Christmas tarts and Rae was packing hampers, “to have some champagne on me.”

She took two ten cent pieces from a dish on the desk, handed one to IXL and held one in her hand.
“Here’s what I’ll do… mind, this has nothing to do with the six hams and puddings I’ll pick up tomorrow. I’ll bet you the seventy there against the six hundred I have here that I can pick heads or tails of two coins we throw up like this.”
She then flicked one of the coins and caught it, slapped it down on the desk and grinned.
It was a tail.

“It can’t be fairer than that. Here,” passing the other coin to IXL, “You try.”
IXL flicked the coin and slapped it down, revealing another ‘tail’.
“That’s it!” the Kiwi laughed. “Now this has nothing to do with tomorrow’s six hams. You call heads or tails and then we throw the coins until we get two of what you call, or I get the opposite. OK?”
We both nodded, wondering why she would bet her six hundred bucks against IXL’s seventy on what was clearly an even bet.

As if she head read our thoughts, she assured us that “I don’t care if I lose, I won plenty and I just want those people there to have some champagne on me!”

That’s when I had a mental niggle but nothing specific came so I said nothing.
IXL chose tails, I guess because two tails had already been thrown and the bet was on.
Up went the coins and they were slapped down. My side had a tail and the other was a head.

Next throw, again IXL got a tail and the other was a head then it was over. IXL threw a head and the other coin was a head. A big brown hand grabbed the pot and it disappeared into her jeans only to reappear accompanied by a hearty laugh.
“Look, I really do want you to win. I’ll give you a chance to get it back!” she grinned. “I bet all this against a pudding.”
I couldn’t believe it. She was betting almost seven hundred against a thirty dollar pudding. I knew the puddings were then best around, but seven hundred bucks!?

IXL looked at me for assurance which I stupidly gave.
“Chances are even and you’re on a hundred to one shot.” I said, airing my impeccable knowledge of odds. “You’d be crazy not to try.”
So on it went. IXL chose tails and after a few tosses she lost again. The pudding disappeared out the door to join the ham.

Next day it hit me. I hardly had the heart to tell IXL, but I had to.
At school when I was about ten years old, we learned to toss a shilling in the same way. We could almost always predict the outcome. Start with a ‘tail’ showing and flick. Catch it and turn it over and it almost always came up heads.

With the call made before the throw, our wily ham snatcher knew what she needed to get. In the excitement and in front of a gathering group of bystanders, nobody noticed how she carefully chose which side was up before flicking.
There was always a chance she could lose but I remember at school, way back then, throwing maybe a hundred correct calls in a row.

Of course, she didn’t come back for the six hams and puddings. We had been scammed, victims of just a little greed and my faltering long term memory.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The chicken comes before the egg!

Sold out! The egg man had the sign up before 11am. That’s the problem with a real farmer’s market. The chooks can lay only so many in the week and to increase production takes a lot of lead time so that’s why the buyers come early.

IXL sold out her large pies and sliced (doubler smoked) leg ham, so next week she will try to bring more of both. She doesn't have the egg egg man's problem. She can always bake more pies!

Getting out of bed at three to be there by 4.30 is hard, but once we get going the whole market thing generates its own energy.

We arrive in the dark and some stall holders are already there, lanterns illuminating the scene as marquees are pitched, utes and vans unloaded, tables assembled and wares carefully arranged. Of course for the farmer, baker, bee keeper some products are the end of a long process of production. A cabbage takes almost six months to grow from seed to pick.

At the Noosa market, there are a lot of genuine producers, some obviously trying to bring pesticide and chemical free food directly to consumers and it is appreciated. But I wonder how many buyers really understand that most grower/marketers don’t really do it for the money. The hourly rate they make is typically less than the minimum wage. But they love the lifestyle and their closeness to the earth brings a contentment a Sol Trujillo with all his millions is unlikely to ever experience.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Pies and Tarts to Live For!

Collected IXL from the Sydney plane and she headed straight for the kitchen.
The stainless steel pin that has been threaded through the bones of her toe for a month is out and she’s back! The new combi oven has been going full blast all day.
So what’s new tomorrow at Noosa Markets?
Ham and veal pies and Blue Cheese or Brie tarts with spinach mascarpone and caramelised onion. Delicious!
She sold out of most gourmet smoked smallgoods last week so had to something new for the cognoscenti! Fans of her Gallery Gourmet packaged smallgoods will have to wait until next week for the full range, but there are plenty of some favourites including the very popular anti-pasto if you’re early.
It’s good to see her out of pain and smiling again.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Necessity is the mum/dad of invention.

Thanks to Annabel Candy for her inspirational stories that prompted me to write this one.

After sixteen years Sal left the three of us for reasons I can only guess. But, as I believe in the open cage idea of marriage, although very hurt I helped her move and usually defended her when others wanted to blame her. She even wrote me a reference! That must be rare.

But suddenly I had to find ways of coping with a full work schedule as a farmer and part time teacher while being a full time mum/dad to two teenagers.

For a few days I was lost and so were they. We all felt abandoned and cried a lot.
But then I put my mind to problem solving and it became a challenge in logistics and time management. We had also lost one income.

I called a family meeting. First was the announcement that I couldn’t do it all alone and needed their help. I said I had a few ideas to offer, some negotiable and most not.

Before I go on, let me say, I now wonder why we give kids so many options. With no options they just get on with what they are supposed to do, that is, being kids and leave the adult stuff to adults! However, for that to work, they must trust you and you must trust them. I believe that not showing trust is one of the worst thing you can do to a kid and you mut never promise what you can't deliver.

Anyway, we had the family meeting at which I made a few announcements.
• You will both get $100 a month allowance. (1992 money). Smiles were wide to start with but did shrink a bit when the detail came out!
• You buy everything personal you need, including clothes.
• You can tell me what you want for lunch so you can prepare your own, or you can buy lunch at school out of you allowance. (he had four rounds of bread with honey and peanut butter plus four apples every day, no variation, for about four years!)
• Local calls are free, all others must be entered into the log by the phone. STD and mobile calls over $10 a month will be deducted from your allowance.
• Clean your own rooms or not, but if not, keep the door closed. Her room was tidy. (In his we found a nest of dead rats under the wardrobe, killed by a flea bomb).
• Put washing in the machine and hang it out. I bring it in and you iron it or not.
• If you miss the bus, I drive you in and deduct petrol money from your allowance.
• We will have one night a week out at a restaurant. I pay for the meal and one drink, any more drinks you pay for.
• You each cook at least one evening meal a week.

I bought a tent, a camper van and a Hobie 14. We took every school holiday off and went somewhere, usually camping with friends near the water but several times to the snow and once to Hill End. They both had horses and both played sport. Going on weekend rides and watching them play sport gave me more pleasure than I could have imagined.

They both acted out a bit at school and in both cases I went in to assure them I was there for them but let them take their punishment. They both went on to be successful students at school, and are both now in the NSW Police Force.

My girl was always trying to borrow to get through the month but her brother was so tight with his, he had $10,000 by the time he left school and when he was ready to start his first full time job, he paid cash for a new car.
He and his wife, now both thirty three, own three houses and are planning to buy their fourth. My girl had slightly different priorities, is thirty and married to a very steady guy, has three kids with one more on the way and has never been happier.
Neither smoke and I have never seen them drunk. They were probably too busy to get into drugs. For that I am especially thankful and am very proud of them.

Maybe I was lucky we stumbled on a good way of growing through a difficult time with love, respect and trust. My ex is still a friend to this day. We didn't put the kids through the usual ego driven battles over custody that so badly scar all concerned, so I thank her too. And hey! What about a pat on the back for dad? But then, I am the one telling the story. Mmmm… they will all read this, so the comments could be interesting!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Kissing makes it better.

Ever wondered about ‘catch and release’ fishing?
Fishing has always had the nod, even JC himself had a soft spot for fishermen. Truth is, we were ‘designed’ to eat meat and fish, being swamped in omega 3’s gets full marks.
However, one can eat only so much fish, so catch and release was invented as a sport.
We buy expensive tackle and race the outboard to where they’re biting and spend the day fishing. Very acceptable, or is it?

Ok, so we put a bit of their favourite nosh on the hook. Fishie swims by, goes for it and whoops! This prawn, squid, mullet or weed won’t go down properly. Suddenly it hurts like hell and something else is in there, jerking into the flesh.

Then the fish is lifted from the water, where for the first time, its full weight is felt and all that weight is concentrated into the spot where the hook is biting deeper.
Imagine being lifted by a hook through your lip, as often as not coming out through the eye socket or even stuck in your throat. Along with the pain is the panic of being dragged into a world where you can’t breathe.

Then, while the fish is gasping the equivalent of a mammal drowning, jerking around on the hook, we have the photo opportunity. After all that, the hook is removed.
That is the cruellest part, dragging the barb backwards through the flesh. And kissing ‘makes it better’? Hello!

So, what’s the point?
Well, I used to hunt too. Rabbits mainly, but I sold my guns long ago. Too many bad feelings watching animals die. They may be feral and they may be pests, but they don’t know that and they feel pain just as much as I do.
I still fish, but always use a landing net and never, never catch more than I can eat. Every time I go fishing the joy decreases and the guilt increases and the time is coming when I’ll be getting my omega 3’s from olive oil.

We can’t help stepping on ants and spraying flies is a necessity, but to wilfully inflict that level of pain on one of nature’s creatures, once you realise what we are doing to the fish, is just plain bastardry. Of course, very few see it that way, so maybe I’m wrong. Bull fighting, cock and dog fighting are still acceptable to some, but they all make me want to throw up. Here, if we wilfully inflicted that sort of pain on a dog, a cat or each other we’d be jailed!
But we still torture fish in the name of sport. What do you think?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Anna Bligh's treatment for Atrial Fibrillation

What can I do with the bloody woman? After Noosa Markets, as I said, IXL was up before 3am, had a long day on her feet serving and selling, then fronted up yesterday at the kitchen at Warana to fire up her huge combi oven to bake more cakes. But what cakes they are! So much brown Muscat you should need a liquor licence to sell them!
I decided to have an easy day and stayed at her house to make heaps of spag bol sauce to freeze for those days when there’s no time or energy to make dinner. Just add spaghetti, a bit of salad and presto!
So she staggered in after another full day, had the usual Jammies on ice (add a little water, not too much) and sat to watch Kerry sweat the pollies at 7.30. She stopped eating after a couple of bites and said she didn’t feel well. I thought the food wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t that, she was having a heart turn.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been staying with IXL and had to ring triple O.
She was in AF (Atrial Fibrillation), causes partly known, but mainly dehydration and stress. (Probably too much coffee too, but who’s game to tell her that? Not me the congenital coward!)
There she was in the ambulance, heart trying to jump out of her chest at 160 RPM and we hit a bump on the Bli Bli road.
Hey, Anna please leave that bump right where it is. The ambulanced jerked and IXL bounced on the gurney. Suddenly her heart went into normal rhythm again. We continued on to Nambour where the handsomest (her word) doctor was wonderful, as were the nurses and paramedics. Full marks Queensland Health. But apparently a bump will do it
Blood tests came back and all’s well, so we finally fell into bed just as the coach returned to being a pumpkin.
She’s already up and buzzing about! (Expletive omitted) By the way, she could have been receiving the pension for at least ten years, if she’d ever stop working! What can you with the bloody woman? All I can do is love her and hope.
See you at Noosa on Sunday.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Provence at Noosa

Close your eyes at Noosa markets on Sunday and you could have been in Provence!
Beautiful day, cool breeze and so much real food. (Good coffee too).
IXL got me up at 2.30am to help. With her van full of product and my old station wagon stuffed to the gills with tables, artificial grass and the marquee etc. etc.
But what a day! Apart from selling out of some lines of charcuterie, IXL couldn’t stop smiling as she cooked stacks of her bacon steaks for sampling and was rushed with people buying and asking questions. Next week more product and more variety.
Someone forgot to get change so we got away a bit late and were hurrying along somewhere north of Mudjimba when we were stopped by the cops parked across the Sunshine Motorway. Breath test, I thought, looking forward to counting to ten with a completely clear conscience, but it was just the road blocked by fire. Not a problem after the baking and dusting we got last week.

Friday, 25 September 2009

A well balaned life-not!

What do you do when the love of your life (IXL) says ‘You should do nothing but write’, then loads you up with so many jobs you have to ask for time off to pee?
Well, I get up really early, like yesterday 2.30 to read your blogs and check the mail. Today, slept in til 4, so half the day’s gone.
Poor old Tiziana is being neglected but with SS (second son) arriving with family for a floating holiday in a week, she just has to get the priority. SS has other connotations and they apply just a little. It must be a virus they catch at copper school that makes them arrogant know-alls! Then again, he is a loving, loyal and caring person. He probably inherited the arrogance from me. Oops!
The Wide Bay bar is no joke as IXL tells anyone who listens and that’s where we are going. So if we don’t make it across, it will be in the news. Any sailors out there?

Monday, 21 September 2009

Carer Blues- One

Calling all carers. Did you know that about 75% of carers suffer depression within two years? Of course you did (if you've been there)!
My old mum died on my birthday last year at 93 after suffering a severe stroke two years earlier that left her mind in perfect condition but her body useless.

To stay sane, I wrote poems and stories and was partially successful.... at remaining sane, that is. I don't invite second opinions about my sanity, but do invite you to share your carer stories with me and each other. Meanwhile, to kick it off, you might find my stories and poems interesting. If so, please give encouragement, if not shut up! :-)

This is her story of Marjorie, her stroke and her carers. She was a local, living in Atkinson Rd Nambour for many years, helping out at Bli Bli primary school around 1967-72.
Marjorie before her stroke surrounded by grandchildren.

Whatever convinced Mum that she would rather live, I will never know and I suspect, neither will she. Whatever it was, she agreed to let the doctor re-insert the cannula and thread a plastic tube through her nose so she could be fed. She knew what was in store for her but agreed anyway. I guess women are more used to having other people, usually men, prod and poke their private bits and pieces, in one way or another from an early age.

Be that as it may, she did decide to live and of course, that is the test. If they want to live, we are bound to support that decision regardless of the cost to the common weal in money and to loved ones in time. I don’t
know what I would have decided if I had been facing death after ten days of starvation following a serious stroke that left me with no control over my tongue, no swallow and no speech.
I remember a mate of mine interviewing a rather beaten up old bloke of eighty-five. He was complaining of his medical woes, bent over with arthritis, sans teeth, sans hair and apparently sans everything else. My mate Spike said he sympathised with the old fellow and remarked that he doubted if he himself would like to live to be eighty-five. The old fellow came back, quick as a whip.
“When you’re eighty-four you will!”

Well, with staph lurking in most hospitals and never enough spare beds to accommodate the average road smash, they push them out as soon as acute care is no longer essential. For Mum, that meant Bega. Bega has a lovely caring home for older citizens requiring twenty four hour care, but it is so far from Mum’s home in Eden that she would be unlikely to be visited regularly once the guilt rush was past and all her busy offspring and friends had returned to their already over-committed lives.

We decided that Mum could be cared for at my sister Jennifer’s house. Of course, there would be professional help, a nurse to bathe her most days, a speech therapist three times a week, a physiotherapist twice a week and a little cleaning help if required. It all sounds wonderful, but take an hour a day out for the professionals and that still leaves twenty three, seven days a week and no prospect that the outcome will be anything to celebrate in the long run. We are dealing with a ninety two year old person who has already suffered one stroke eleven years before and is, notwithstanding her survival of the latest treachery visited upon her by her ageing body, on the skids.

To be continued?