a breath of yesteryear

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Once again nose to the scent of a family history trail, I was looking for names, dates and places but what I found was so much better: the opportunity to spend some time, in a fashion, with the G.O.’s Pop Mac.

Apparently there’s been family history research done on the G.O.’s mother’s paternal family side but I’ve never seen the fruits of it. Possibly I haven’t asked the right questions of the right person at the right time. Regardless, I like doing my own snooping research. Curious, I Googled the G.O.’s grandfather’s name and got not what I was looking for but more than I’d bargained.

The G.O. and I were pleased, and a little surprised, to come across a published version of his grandfather Roy Mackaway’s (1912-1994) work “Nulla Nulla”. The G.O. tells me he sat with his Pop for many hours as he one-finger-typed poems and stories. Roy always wanted them to be formally published. We have a copy of an early version of this work, and now a hardcopy for the G.O. and e-book for me of Jan Hawkins’ “Around the Campfire” 2013 published version.

I could give Nulla Nulla nothing less than 5 stars in my Goodreads review. “A time capsule of entertaining, amusing… sometimes poignant and hilarious… stories and poems. The author has a lively turn of phrase and is a talented storyteller and poet.” Lively turn of phrase may be understating it. I made the mistake of reading “The Pickle Bottle Poultice” on a crowded train. It describes Roy’s wife treating a boil on his “goat”  in the manner prescribed by his Grandpa. “The [dreaded] pickle poultice is short for pickle poultice murder…”

“… My Grandpa, he’s dead and gone now,
may the angels bless his soul.
For he’s the only man this side of hell,
that’s got a Grandson with two bum holes”

Wikipedia describes a nulla nulla (aka waddy) as “an Australian Aboriginal war club… A waddy is a heavy club constructed of carved timber. Waddies have been used in hand to hand combat, and were capable of splitting a shield, and killing or stunning prey. In addition to this they could be employed as a projectile as well as used to make fire and make ochre.”

Pop Mac adopted this name for his writing. In his words “Nulla Nulla is a stick, with a great knob on one end. One of its uses is when a young aboriginal lad was beginning to feel a bit lonely and he reckoned he needed a wife, he would wait until the middle of the day when it was a bit hot and he would sneak up to the water hole where all the young girls from other tribes would be having a swim. He would pick the best and spring on her like a greyhound with a bull-ant under his tail and if she gave any trouble he gave her a slight tap on the noggin’ with his nulla, throw her over his shoulder and head back to his tribe. In this way they were married.”

As well as being published, Nulla Nulla : a collection of Australian prose & poems by Cecil Roy Mackaway is held in the National Library of Australia and State Library of Queensland collection.

I’ve been distracted from my intended family history research but I will get back to it. There’s a wealth of clues in the book.

Often dipping into Goodreads quotes looking for tried & true words in the form of quotes to supplement my own literary efforts, I was thrilled and a little bemused to read the following of Roy’s recorded by Goodreads for posterity.

“Just Fat and Cuddly
There’s Aunty, just out of bed, looking a little glum and gloomy,
but I tell you mate, she’s put on weight as her frocks ain’t nice and roomy.
I’ll send her west where there ain’t no pests, where frogs all croak for water,
and I tell you mate she’ll loose the weight and once again she’ll be a corker.
I’m now heading back to my mountain shack, this only if I get the time,
for things won’t go well, she’ll give me hell, when she reads this little rhyme.”
― Cecil Roy Mackaway, Nulla Nulla (Around the Campfire Book 7) Cecil R Mackaway (Author), Eric S Hawkins (Illustrator), Jan Hawkins (Photographer)

The G.O. has long memorialized his Pop with the words "Nulla Nulla" signwritten on his ute. He is currently driving Nulla Nulla 2.
The G.O. has long memorialized his Pop with the words “Nulla Nulla” signwritten on his ute. He is currently driving Nulla Nulla 2.

A glimpse into the book is available via Amazon, one of the options for purchasing it.

Nulla Nulla

a collection of Australian Prose and Poems

by Cecil Roy Mackaway

published by Jan Hawkins

As noted by the publisher, Jan Hawkins:

“Cecil Roy Mackaway grew up in the Hunter Valley* north of Sydney, touched by a time now passed. Fresh from the influenced of a family with a convict colonial history he witnessed a world, seen from a unique view. His stories and poems bring to life the Australian colonial era and life lived from the Bushman’s perspective. Not always politically correct in today’s society, he none the less brings a richness and variety to our history and the tale of life as it was lived in the bush in a era now gone.”

“The Author gave the copyright to this collection of prose and poems into my care some years ago, to be published in time. I found the writing so delightful and entertaining that I have published it now for the general public. I invite you to step back into colonial Australia, into a time now passed and see the world through the eyes of someone who enjoyed the adventure of life and the living of it.

These works have been presented as originally written with minimal editing, preserving the vernacular and prose of the era passed where possible, which may be seen in the use of italics. The terms used in the past may not be appropriate if used in the discourse of the present day. If these terms are likely to offend please so not read this book. Neither the Author or Publisher intends to offend.

In publishing these works I would like to introduce Cecil Roy Mackaway, a friend, a relative and an inspiring writer and poet.”

The anthology begins…

“A Breath of Yesteryear

From the Memoirs of

Cecil Roy Mackaway

I was born in 1912 and reared at Dyers Crossing on the Wallamba River in New South Wales, Australia. My Grandmother was the daughter of a young Englishman, he was sent out to the colonies by his family for colonial experience like so many young men from England. It is believed however that he was murdered on the gold field at Bendigo…”

And includes…

“Old Cobbers

I sit alone in my mountain home with a pencil in my hand,

tryin’ to think of a line or two, for my cobbers down on the Strand.

They’re rushing here and rushing there as life is just one way,

and they forget their mates up bush, that they knew in another day.

So life goes on and years pass by, where’s it getting you in the end?

A cripple from rush and strife, or slightly ’round the bend. So I’ll sit up here and write good cheer for them mates down in the Strand,

and tell them about the fish I caught and latest about the brand.

Perhaps they will think of me whilst strolling in the Strand.”

* Dyers Crossing is correctly located in the Wallamba Valley near Nabiac on the Mid North Coast.

where there’s a will there’s a way

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At our previous [much-loved & still missed after 3 years] apartment we had not a lot of space but conducive enough environment at least to grow a few pots of culinary herbs, and flowers.

Our current apartment features generous balcony space with sunny north-east aspect but overlooks a city train line, the ballast dust from which means nothing survives other than succulents, and hardy geraniums that have few flowers but which I maintain as it appears the leaves are a desirable food source for caterpillars… that the native Noisy Miner birds enjoy… every thing has to eat.

Hardy city apartment balcony potted garden… train line in the background

During last month’s necessities trip to the supermarket I spotted a Jamie’s Garden Mini Green House for kids on sale for $5.  The G.O. watched with amusement as I spent a fun Sunday morning hour assembling it, applying stickers and planting way too many seeds onto the coir matt. My logic was the roof of the greenhouse would keep out the nasty ballast. And sure enough, within days there were tiny sprouts of green.

It started with Jamie's Garden... and wouldn't have been right without stickers
It started with Jamie’s Garden… and wouldn’t have been right without stickers

Of course, this success this wasn’t sufficient so running with it I purchased one, then another, big clear plastic storage tub with lid that I employed the G.O. to cut flaps in… I’m banned from very sharp implements due to my cack-handedness. I assembled odd containers and potting mix, added seeds to finally create a modest, but oh so gratifying to a frustrated gardener, productive edible space.

Tubs planted with pots of watercress, basil, rocket, mixed herbs, spinach, parsley, cress and coriander

The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.” - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Sam Gamgee

moving a mountain with a teaspoon

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The sombre latter days of winter preceding the brighter busy-ness spring heralds provide me an opportunity to take stock of our life and progress moving it from city to country. After consideration, I pronounce it satisfactory. We’re getting better at living well in our quest for a simple life. Although it’s not perfect, fortunately we have chosen wisely many aspects we find good in the everydayness of.

Broome vs Sydney
Sydney vs Broome

Comforting when contemplating my sister’s escape from Melbourne’s chilliness to take a break in the Northern Territory, first stop Broome, one of my favourite places, then onto Darwin and Kakadu following a similar route the G.O. and I took a few [too many] years ago over a comparable fortnight period. A timeframe the G.O. and I decided was too short, too exhausting to ever again contemplate. I experienced a few pangs of Kimberley region holiday envy, and got on with Sydney day-to-day life.

I’ve been spending days at my desk glued to the computer screen reviewing documents to a tight deadline, which after I’d rapidly laboured though a thousand or so, the deadline stretched… Notwithstanding I was captive and working I was at least sat in the sun drinking pots of tea and nibbling consoling muffins, so I considered those worse off than me. That would be the G.O. whose unpleasantly cold, windy and dusty construction site environment I wouldn’t survive half an hour in, let alone his 50 hour working week.

Sydney Soossie Cat dining in the dark
Sydney Soossie Cat dining in the dark

The G.O. and I were planning our own late winter escape of a week-long road trip to Queensland but dissecting the time-distance continuum it was pronounced implausible, and shelved [yet again] in favour of a week of attending to a little business, and as much R&R as possible sitting in the sun or by the fire at Taylors Arm.

It’s a change of plan that if she hasn’t sensibly decamped to reside with LHS neighbour our Taylors Arm independent living Claytons Soossie Cat will approve of no doubt, as it will facilitate her access to the inside amenities.

In the meantime our latest Sydney independent living Soossie Cat has after a year of ad hoc beneficence become sufficiently familiar to intercept the G.O. on his evening smoke-stroll, somehow understanding when she does it causes me to appear with not one but two tubs of cat food to feed her hungry self.

We’re impatient to be off on our longer term adventures both at Taylors Arm, and travelling further afield. Consolingly though, we see our forbearance transforming our dreams and plans into the landscape of our future. We’ve recently moved a couple of big [metaphorical] hills but the process requires more industry until the exciting stage is practically and sensibly within reach.

Our basic tools:

pay bills.

buy what we need to live well but not extravagantly.

save money.

ask do we need it now, can we do it differently?

wait.

Simple… Although it took us a while to feel like we were balancing it well enough. It’s not flawless. Sometimes time & energy is short. External factors are encountered. But the more we live, eat and spend ethically, sustainably, enjoyably, prudently; the less effort it takes to live, eat and spend ethically, sustainably, enjoyably, prudently… makes sense, huh.

“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and 1/4 percent guaranteed) Kid, you’ll move mountains.” ― Dr. Seuss

Taking advantage of the embryonic interim we are assimilating much of the lifestyle we aspire to. Once we attain it, carefully considering the best use of our resources will be a necessity. But now it has the correlating benefit of furthering our efforts.

It truly is a mountain of a process, and depending what perspective we’re viewing it from sometimes it’s hard to see progress.  At the end it will all come together quickly, and things will get busy and scary… because scary accounts for the other 1 and 1/4 percent in Dr Seuss’s math.

Cash is king

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been spending a lot of time with another man. The G.O. doesn’t mind, he’s a fan too… of The Man in Black: Johnny Cash.

It started with a book – Johnny Cash: The Life by Robert Hilburn, my book club’s selection earlier this year I purchased despite being a weighty paperback tome knowing the G.O. would enjoy it also, but the size of which was practically daunting to lug for daily commute reading time on the train.

“In this, the definitive biography of an American legend, Robert Hilburn conveys the unvarnished truth about a musical superstar. Johnny Cash’s extraordinary career stretched from his days at Sun Records with Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to the remarkable creative last hurrah, at age 69, that resulted in the brave, moving “Hurt” video.

As music critic for the Los Angeles Times, Hilburn knew Cash throughout his life: he was the only music journalist at the legendary Folsom Prison concert in 1968, and he interviewed both Cash and his wife June Carter just months before their deaths. Drawing upon a trove of never-before-seen material from the singer’s inner circle, Hilburn creates an utterly compelling, deeply human portrait of a towering figure in country music, a seminal influence in rock, and an icon of American popular culture. Hilburn’s reporting shows the astonishing highs and deep lows that marked the journey of a man of great faith and humbling addiction who throughout his life strove to use his music to lift people’s spirits.”

The heft of the book was soon immaterial as engrossed I read it every spare minute I had. At the end, sad to put it down, I gave it 5 stars: “Wonderfully absorbing. I had no idea I would become so captivated by Johnny Cash as his story is told by Robert Hilburn. This book doesn’t simply convey details, it makes you care and takes you along for the incredible ride. To enhance the experience listen to some Johnny Cash as you go through the book; the later Rick Rubin albums beginning with American Recordings as well as Johnny Cash’s earlier music.”

We already had a few Johnny Cash albums in our collection including the more recent American IV – The Man comes Around; American V – A Hundred Highways; and American VI Ain’t No Grave, which I have to confess at first I didn’t appreciate and languished in a cupboard. But, reading Robert Hilburn’s biography set me off on a shopping mission for classic recordings such as Folsom Prison and The Essential Johnny Cash plus the earlier of the Rick Rubin produced albums: American Recordings; Unchained (American II); and American III – Solitary Man.

Just after the book went back on the shelf awaiting the opportunity for the G.O. to read it I noticed a promo for The Man in Black – The Johnny Cash Story, a show at the Sydney Opera House for which I had tried unsuccessfully to get tickets during its previous tours.

“The Helpmann Award winning The Man in Black… Starring Tex Perkins, this is two hours of Johnny Cash’s magnificent music interwoven with the story of his rise to stardom, his fight for survival and his eventual redemption.

IMG_20140720_160739With his driving freight-train chords, steel-eyed intensity and a voice as dark as the night, the legendary Johnny Cash revolutionised music. The show explores his relationships – with hardened prisoners to the beautiful June Carter and lots in between. Johnny Cash was dealt a very tough hand, early in life, but through his music and dedication, he became a legend throughout the world.

Tex Perkins, one of the most electrifying front men of Australian rock ‘n’ roll, brings the hard-living country legend to life, and is joined on stage by Rachael Tidd and The Tennessee Four.

Enjoy Ring of Fire, I Walk the Line, Folsom Prison Blues, Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down, Get Rhythm, A Boy Named Sue, Hey Porter and over a dozen more hits.”

The weather was chilly last Friday night when we went but the show was brilliant, Tex Perkins doing an amazing account of The Man in Black, and the wintry late evening trip home well worth braving for the experience. I couldn’t really say a favourite song but “Hurt” originally recorded by the Nine Inch Nails and later covered by Johnny Cash was powerful. Over the weekend the G.O. and I both were still humming the tunes.

He was an extraordinary man.

“The Master of Life’s been good to me. He has given me strength to face past illnesses, and victory in the face of defeat. He has given me life and joy where others saw oblivion. He has given new purposes to live for. New services to render and old wounds to heal. Life and love go on. Let the music play.” Johnny Cash

 

people power II – putting your name on it…

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Does putting your name and signature to a cause make a difference? I believe so…

My email in-box is evidence of my affection for causes, populated as it is with emails from change.org, care2 petition site and GetUp requesting my virtual signature.

It started at home and simply enough with the change.org petition to RailCorp NSW: Erect a noise barrier wall along the St Peters rail corridor. Initially my support was speculative, not envisaging my armchair warrior stance could accomplish much. But there have been tangible results, evidenced by the weekend track-work taking place within sight of our balcony and a resultant reduction in noise.

And then today change.org and the media announced what is to me a real and groundbreaking victory both for the issue (which has been ongoing) and online petition supporters.

People-power win after Sydney teacher Paula Orbea launches petition against ‘misogynistic and degrading slogans’ on Wicked Campers vans. In this instance: in every princess there is a little slut who wants to try it just once…

street art_Macdonaldtown Train Station, Sydney NSW Australia
Wicked Campers were otherwise but people power won

“WICKED Campers* have agreed to clean up sexist or misogynistic slogans from their fleet of vans after a public outcry this week…
The company has today issued an apology and committed to reviewing and removing offensive marketing from all of its campervans in the next six months.
Paula Orbea, the Sydney school teacher who started the 110,000-strong change.org petition against Wicked Campers, says it’s a stunning people-power victory against sexism, with the result coming just four days after she started the petition.
In an email from Wicked Campers received by Paula, she says the company has offered a personal apology and has now removed the sexist slogan Paula’s daughter saw.”

Work in progress:
Roseanne is facing a lifetime in prison because of her disability. Stop the neglect.
There’s been “incredible progress on freeing Roseanne. Locked up in prison indefinitely because of her disability, without being guilty of a crime – your signatures have helped convince the NT Government to start moving to free her.”

There are still good old paper petitions doing the rounds as well. Earlier this week a colleague sought my signature on a petition opposing “More than two dozen specialist women’s shelters could be forced to close in metropolitan Sydney as the New South Wales government finalises a major reform into homeless services funding.”

Good news:
In April 2013 I became a member of Lock the Nambucca Valley, created to oppose Precious Metal Resources Pty Ltd mining exploration for gold and antimony mining in the Nambucca Valley… just up the road from our house at Taylors Arm, detailed in the post dead waters.

In June 2014 came the good news
“Precious Metals Resources has relinquished its licence (EL8016) to explore for antimony and gold in the Nambucca Valley! The licence has now been cancelled. PMR claimed that exploration was not justified. Lock the Nambucca Valley is confident that our strong opposition to commencement of antimony mining activities in the Nambucca had a role to play in PMRs decision to pull out. They were well aware of our existence and the enormous community support for our campaign to prevent them starting. We have won.”

Lock the Nambucca Valley however remain realistic and vigilant as “another company could apply for a similar exploration to plunder and pollute”.

Wins:
People power saved Newtown Community Markets.

change.org
NSW introduces tougher penalties for drunken violence
Mum of five gets life-saving stomach cancer surgery

care2 petition site
Tasmanian Forests Won’t Be Open to Logging
The Shubie Spice Girls Can Stay At Their Home

GetUp
Helped save from destruction the oldest collection of rock art in the world on the Burrup Peninsula, WA.
Brought together senators from across party lines to win a conscience vote stopping ministerial veto of the RU486 non-surgical abortion medication.

… and more wins, detailed on their websites.

A final word to Wicked Campers
Artist Stef Burgon takes on Wicked Campers, paints her own slogan
If ya wouldn’t say it to ya Nan… don’t write it on ya van! 

*Wicked Campers is an Australian camper van rental company based in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The company also has outlets in other parts of Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, North America, South Africa and South America. Wicked Campers market their product towards younger drivers and backpackers. Each van features a spray painted design, often featuring pop culture references and politically incorrect slogans.”

people power

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001aNewtown Community Market is successful enough that in 2012 it won a council-supported business achievement award. Popular enough that last year the organisers, Newtown Neighbourhood Centre, lodged a development application to expand its ongoing operation, but eliciting objection to the effect “they stole customers from bricks-and-mortar retailers” and votes from a number of Marrickville councillors to actually cease operations. The response was almost 4000 people signed a petition fighting to keep the markets open. People power won. Personally, I believe the retailers benefit from the presence the markets attract.

Described as “small-but-hip” Newtown Markets are the lazy Saturday morning option for the G.O. and me. It’s a leisurely walk browsing the eclectic King Street shops en route. When we don’t need much in the way of groceries our produce necessities are simply & wonderfully catered for by Sariwa Fresh Foods. No need to fight for car parking or lug a laden granny trolley 2 kms home from Eveleigh Farmers’ Market.

And, with unspent grocery money burning a hole in our pockets there are my personal favourites: second-hand books and socks… [new socks, that is; I have cat socks, dog socks, fox socks, owl socks, pink flamingo socks and more, some remaining only singly which I mix and match]; and all manner of interesting things once encountered you could hardly live without.

Newtown Market offers low-risk business opportunities for local artists and craftspeople in a high profile location to promote and sell their unique creations. The Market is organised by Newtown Neighbourhood Centre to raise funds for its community support programs. This community market has become the common ground, a place where people can interact, alive with social and economic activities. We believe our vibrant market strengthens the local identify and serves to amplify cherished aspects of Newtown’s local culture.

The Corner is a live music space located at the Newtown Community Market. The space provides local buskers with an opportunity to reach a new audience, promote their music while being encouraged to put out their cases and to sell their cd’s. The Corner has hosted a range of musical styles including Gypsy Jazz, solo artists, theatrical performances, blues, electronica, Newtown Primary’s Jazz Orchestra, soul, reggae and Latin. The Corner brings new life to the markets, entertaining market goers and stallholders with music to shop along to, or to sit and enjoy.”

The market is held in Newtown Square adjacent to The Hub, outside the community centre, opposite Newtown Railway Station on King Street, from 10 am to 4 pm every Saturday.

Newtown Neighbourhood Centre is also the organiser of Newtown Festival which on one Sunday each November attracts 80,000 people to Camperdown Memorial Rest Park.

And indeed there will be time

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001The street art message too many things to do not enough time – that is bullx#*t on a wall just off King Street perturbs me somewhat as I hurry past on my way somewhere else.

In April 2013 I posted about street art on this same wall, opening with the words Life is pretty dull quiet at Chez EllaDee & the G.O. but luckily what we lack the neighbourhood provides, just a short walk away.

Same same… the chilly Sydney winter weather is a plausible seasonal explanation; our ancient natural inclination to hibernate derailed by modern work-life environment still exerts enough influence to subdue our out-and-about doings.

My convenient consolation is that wall is an ever-changing canvas. So I’ll avert my eyes; divert my Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock-type thoughts of decisions & revisions, coffee spoons, should I eat a peach while wearing the bottoms of my white flannel trousers rolled when walking upon the beach; and allow time to take care of itself.

Goddard Street is a great example of the street art Newtown is renowned for.

 

everyday magic

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Sometimes I get so caught up in the workings of day-to-day living I forget things; often which home something is at – we’ve been wondering for a week about the location of an item thinking it was at Taylors Arm but it was right here in the city apartment on a shelf in plain sight.

Similarly, the Belief that is necessary to imbue everyday life with magic wasn’t missing, just overlooked.

The days following the G.O.’s birthday lazy long weekend quickly resumed their everyday feel but with magic restored it seemed like no time at all had passed and I was back at Velvet Garage, this time meeting up with Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and her husband on Saturday morning. After shuffling arrangements we finally managed a catch-up. We exchanged gifts, each sharing a bit of our lives… I offered a few things I’d been accumulating for this purpose, dragon pearls from my friend Nancy-from-Narrabri’s Hip Herbal ‘n Happening Tea, lemon myrtle seasoning from Perry’s and a small bottle of Isabella from Gruber’s Winery at Taylors Arm. I was thrilled to receive lemons from their tree, a jar of Pete’s quince jelly, and package of chorizo. After a pleasant hour breakfasting and chatting we departed to our respective Saturday errands.

May Street, St Peters street art collage
everyday magic on the streets I walk – May Street, St Peters between Velvet Garage and the train station

I headed over to Eveleigh Farmers Market primarily to pick up the beef cheeks I’d ordered. The Linga Longa Farm stall was my first stop, and I waited patiently, as you do at farmers markets, while the 3 people manning the stall discussed the meaty offerings with a customer. Eventually I was noticed, introduced myself and requested “can I pick up the beef cheeks I called the number on the business card and ordered over the phone… leaving a message on Lauren’s mobile”. Response: I’m Lauren - blank look – When did you ring?  Hmmm, I thought… “Wednesday or Thursday”.  [ I checked, it was Wednesday ]. Lauren looked at me as if that explained everything: oh, it was my birthday on Wednesday; your message must have gotten mixed up with the others… Still hopeful, I asked “so do you have any beef cheeks?” Lauren shifted her attention to me once more: no, we’re sold out. A little bemused I waited but that was it, so I stepped to the stall next door and impulse-bought a Thirlmere duck, while the man chatted to me about how much better value a whole duck was as opposed to buying packs of maryland or breast, how to cook it, and rounded the price down from $28-something to $25… once again I was stepping out of my culinary comfort zone.

[Note: Received text on Tuesday from Lauren of Linga Longa Farm offering me beef cheeks this coming Saturday market. Nice gesture but I'm not sure of plans this weekend. However, I'll call them next time I'm going.]

Wandering home from the markets I found a colourful memo-board free-footpath offering to take up the overload of loose bits & pieces from the fridge door, and spent a couple of dollars at a footpath sale on a decorative cage that I’ll sit a plant in and hang from a hook or in a tree at our Taylors Arm house.

We’re car sharing due to the G.O.’s being in for repairs after a small bingle during the week, so when the G.O. returned from his morning activities, we immediately set out for necessities to driving-distance shops; at which a box of glossy dark plump cherries imported from the U.S. caught my eye. Usually I would think imported-no but I thought duck-yes… and grabbed a handful, and a bunch of orange gladioli that remind me of my Nanna’s garden.

We paused at home again only momentarily, before going off on foot locally to re-visit a couple of items from last week’s birthday browsing-shopping expedition still lingering in our thoughts, to which end yet another old kookaburra and flower picture found a home with us.

everyday magic finds
everyday magic in the objects we find and bring home

Back to normal after the birthday-fest, this weekend was about eating in, therefore cooking. On Saturday afternoon, thinking ahead I quickly chopped and cooked pear & apple compote for Sunday morning porridge; and a bag of tomatoes, onions & basil and put them on to simmer for sauce: later combining a cupful with shallots, prawns, crème fraiche and pasta for a quick Saturday night dinner; and during the week, duck ragu.

Sunday morning was leisurely but chilly so I warmed the apartment with the oven, baking the G.O.’s smoko banana bread; chopped and sautéed kale for weekday breakfast and lunches, chopped cherries and peeled potatoes & carrots for dinner.

I’m new to duck, and had never cooked it whole before, so once the G.O. washed, dried and pricked it I followed my usual slow-roasting practice: into the cast iron pot with halved potatoes, a couple of dried bay leaves, stock and Madeira/Malmsey at 140 C (284 F) for 3 hours, popping in carrots toward the end, then lid off at 180 C (356 F) for an hour.

While the duck & veges were resting on a tray in the still-warm oven, I ladled a scoop of cooking juices with the cherries, 3 slices of fresh orange peel, a dash of Madeira/Malmsey in a saucepan, and set to simmer & reduce. The rest of the cooking juices were saved for the ragu.

everyday magic food
everyday magic in the food we are given, buy, cook and eat: goodies from Celia; roast duck with cherry sauce; farmers market food; duck ragu and penne

I learned a couple of things…

Given the size of the bird, I’d anticipated a couple of roast duck dinners and a couple of duck ragu dinners. The duck was flavoursome, more-so than chicken but there was a lot less of it. So no follow-up roast dinners.

And, as pointed out by the G.O. in response to my gastronomic stage-fright, roast duck was the domain of many home-cooks, including his grandmother and mine, before the elevation of its profile by fancy restaurants and TV cooking shows.

“In fact, people who possess not magic at all can instil their home-cooked meals with love and security and health, transforming ingredients… Cooking is a kind of everyday magic.” Juliet Blackwell

This post is dedicated to Christine of the dadirridreaming blog who I met early on in my wanderings through the WordPress world. Her husband Stuart kindly let her many [blogging] friends know via a touching post of her sudden passing. Many of you would have seen dadirri7’s delightful thoughtful comments on my posts, which I will miss. Christine has been a wonderful inspiration, and very much in touch with the magic of living. I’m sad because I didn’t get to meet Christine in person but I am richer for having known her.

a Claytons cat

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Just as negotiating our work-life city-country balance leaves us feeling we have a Claytons life, we now appear to have, for the moment at least, a Claytons cat to go with it.

Both the G.O. and I are cat, and dog, lovers and have in the past shared our lives with domestic four-legged-furry-ones. Since then, all the while we’ve been muttering our mantra we do not have room in our life, literally, for a cat, making do with pats from neighbourhood cats and befriending a couple of strays around our city apartment locale.

Late last year at Taylors Arm a little black cat started hanging around between our and both neighbours’ yards. Not uncommon as there was always an overflow from the too-numerous cats belonging to a house further up the road, and we’ve taken a couple of kittens to the local RSPCA. Around the time that house burned down is when the black cat started hanging out with LHS neighbour’s cats (of that same origin) but towards the end of our late January Australia Day long weekend stay she started waiting outside our back fence for food but wouldn’t come in. On our last day she waited and would only eat inside the fence near where the G.O.’s ute was parked.

Upon our return a few months later at Easter, Black Cat promptly appeared in our carport, waiting expectantly. After being fed, she settled in for the short duration of our stay. LHS & RHS neighbours said they’d seen her on our verandah and had been feeding her but she was too wild for any other contact. Hmmm, this is the same Black Cat, which we now called Soossie-Dorrie-Floss who meowed for food, followed the G.O., jumped on laps, wandered through our house and annexed the comfy pozzies.

A Soossie-Cat's life at Taylors Arm
A Soossie-Cat’s life at Taylors Arm

Not sure that Soossie Cat’s attachment to us was permanent (after all we’d had LHS neighbour’s grey cat aka Crazy Cat as a holiday houseguest before she gifted him to friends when he couldn’t cope with the two old semi-stray cats in her keeping) we ascertained from LHS neighbour that Soossie Cat was being fed, found out the RHS neighbours continued to be a food source also, and returned to our city life.

My familiarity with the city strays thankfully had given me some independent living cat perspective, and allayed the G.O.’s concerns about me getting attached and possibly broken-hearted. In our absence Soossie Cat selected our house & inhabits it of her own free-will, and has other choices should she exercise them. So we left her with food and assurances from the neighbours, whom she seems disinclined to move in with, that they will feed and look out for her.

When we arrived for the June long weekend visit Soossie Cat wandered out from the sunny verandah greeting us like we’d only been away for the day… quickly drew our attention to the empty food bowl and resumed her occupation of the interior comforts, now accessible. LHS neighbour reported that in our absence Soossie Cat was hanging out with her cats and being fed.

I like it!
I like it!

Soossie Cat is very much at home in the country so taking her to the city isn’t an option. I had hoped, and still do that Soossie Cat will shift camps to LHS neighbour. But just in case not, I offered a little extra comfort (mostly to myself, I think) providing Soosie Cat with an old flannelette drop sheet at the spot she’d been sleeping in the G.O.’s shed, and unearthed for the verandah a cat igloo & crochet rug I’d stored since Baddy Cat left us over 11 years ago. The G.O. said of the igloo, she won’t go in there. We’d barely turned our backs and Soosie Cat proved him wrong.

What does the future hold? You never do know, sometimes things you really want happen but not the way you think…

Note: Claytons  is the brand name of a non-alcoholic, non-carbonated beverage coloured and packaged to resemble bottled whisky. It was the subject of a major marketing campaign in Australian and New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s, promoting it as “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”… the name has entered into Australian and New Zealand vernacular where it represents a “poor substitute” or “an ineffective solution to a problem”. It can also be used to describe something that is effectively in existence but does not take the appropriate name, e.g. a common-law couple might be described as having a “Claytons marriage”.

 

a simply gorgeous birthday

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As far as I’m concerned too many long weekends are never enough, so opportunistically as the G.O.’s birthday fell on a Monday I suggested he take the day off work. Possibly influenced by his daily 160 km commute the G.O. weakened from his it’s just another day  stance and agreed, but when I lobbed the idea of a weekend away into the air he let it bounce out of the court… The weather probably be won’t be any good and we’ve just been away for your sister’s wedding and at Taylors Arm…

I, being a good missus took the G.O.’s birthday off as well to keep him company. So it came to be that we had a self-proclaimed mid-winter long weekend in Sydney. In 9 years we’ve never spent a long weekend in Sydney, and otherwise a rare sequence of days greater than 2 in our apartment only due to illness or injury.

What to do? Well, nothing in a hurry – one of the benefits of having an in-house coffee machine. Eventually Saturday started out as usual with a walk through Sydney Park, on via the local Triumph motorcycle showroom as we were sort of heading in that direction to lunch at Velvet Garage then a detour to browse along King Street, stopping at a second-hand shop to pick up the kookaburras the G.O. had been thinking about, and a spur-of-the-moment frog.

pre-birthday shopping
pre-birthday shopping

Sunday morning didn’t look like we were going anywhere at all, as our lunch plans had fallen through, until the G.O. remembered he wanted to go to the movies. We couldn’t rouse ourselves further than the local Dendy Newtown, but The Rover (“featuring Guy Pearce – an Australian dystopian crime drama film… a futuristic western that takes place in the Australia outback, ten years after a global economic collapse”) was on at 2 convenient times so we got a wriggle-on and aimed for the earlier. Slightly confronting, we agreed however it had merit if not enjoyable in the usual sense of the word.

Monday even though it wasn’t my birthday was worth celebrating just because the alarm didn’t go off at 5 am. After the G.O.’s morning still-trying-to-give-up-cigarette (and being interrogated by the apartment building’s formidable lady-caretaker putting out the bins while he -apparently a stranger- appeared to be loitering out the front rolling it… “can I help you?”), coffee, porridge with stewed apples-pears & walnuts, gift unwrapping, and birthday phone calls, the G.O. decided to proceed with his only plan for the day, a short drive to Victory Motorcycles so he could inflict another round of exquisite should-I-shouldn’t-I torture on himself.

The G.O.’s lunch suggestions were boring so we went with my brain-wave to go back in time and across the city to our old stomping ground at the West Ryde Hotel aka Mary’s. Shock horror, the same-same exterior hid a surprise; the interior had been revamped… it appeared recent but given neither of us had set foot there for quite some time it could have been done well over a decade ago.

Lunch was excellent, the G.O.’s meaty as is his preference, and we dined in the less-changed grapevine covered beer garden. With time to kill we stopped in off in Balmain-Rozelle for a stroll and something sweet to take home before setting off to our post-4 pm collection point to pick up the Baron Star Bar handlebar for his motorcycle, which the G.O. used his previous birthday IOU to order from the U.S. just a week earlier. (Note to DHL couriers, not happy you couldn’t manage to press our buzzer to deliver it in person – we were at home).

four wheels good two wheels better
four wheels good two wheels better

Neither of us felt like much dinner, so it was birthday banana bread*, very appropriate for a Coffs Harbour raised boy.

* I’m not a particularly assured cook, and assumed café offerings such as madeleines, friands and banana bread weren’t the domain of ordinary cooks. I’ve now attempted all successfully, dispelling the mystique, but none more so than this simple banana bread I resorted to a couple of weeks ago because I had bananas in the freezer, and (unusually) milk in the fridge but no eggs.

Combine 3 mashed bananas, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla essence, 2 1/2 cups self-raising flour, and 1 cup milk, bake in loaf tin in 180 C (356 F) oven for 40 minutes.

gorgeous birthday food
gorgeous birthday food