Thursday, 28 January 2016

apricot time

There is something centring about fruit trees. We planted an apricot tree in our Brunswick house many years ago. There was a ritual and a rhythm in keeping with each season. In Autumn I watched as yellow, brown and dry the leaves carpeted the ground. In winter we pruned aggressively and in spring pink and white cotton candy buds bejewelled bare limbs. Vibrant green leaves accompanied an explosion of budding fruit. Pink and white petals gave way to small green parcels of promise. Small and green became large and yellow and then it was a competition between birds, ants and humans, all coveting that prized ripe fruit. Summer is harvest time, a week or two of intense picking and eating and stewing and jam making.

I have missed my tree these past few years while we have been roaming and 'home' is a rented apartment in one state or another. This year my sister shared her tree with me. I arrived back from Melbourne to a text from her telling me it was 'time'. The tree was laden and time was short, already the birds had feasted and the fruit had begun to fall. Teddy, her labrador, left a regurgitated mess on her kitchen floor which included 14 apricot stones. True to form he is also feasting on what falls to the ground.

This morning I arrived early for my task, rain was forecast and the thought of all that fruit ruined was unimaginable. Grey skies, parched ground, space and trees and green living things, clean air, a rooster crowing a new day, a wooden ladder and a green ice-cream container, a hopeful labrador and woolly spectators, a very enjoyable way to start the day and a mountain of fruit a bonus.

The afternoon was spent in my mothers kitchen - we turned 7 kilos of apricots into a multitude of jars of jam and another 3 kilos into stewed fruit. It is very satisfying to see an abundance of produce, that comes from your garden, that you made yourself and that will feed your family. And as we cleaned and cut and cooked the rain poured down accompanied by thunder and lightening...

Wednesday, 20 January 2016


There is a smoky haze again today. Summer bush fires burn in many places across the state, those closest to us send a steady blanket of filmy grey and a smell that is distinctly the bush burning...

Monday, 18 January 2016

tam o'shanter

It is an unusual name but a great little place. Tam O'Shanter is nestled on Tassie's North Coast right alongside Lulworth and down the road from Weymouth. There is supposedly surf sometimes, which is why we were checking it out. It was pretty flat when we were there but I can see why those in the know have shacks and holiday houses in this place. It is about 45 minutes from Launceston but it may as well be hours. I doubt many people know the place exists and that is exactly as the locals want it I reckon. There is nothing there, no shops, amenities or tourist kind of stuff, just locals dwellings of the modest and not so modest kind. Oh and there is a decent golf course, so some people are certainly in the know. Lulworth, round the corner and down the other end of the beach has a playground and a public toilet but that is it. It's the kind of place that hasn't changed much over the decades, slow and sleepy, where everyone knows everyone else and kids can disappear for the day and come back safely in time to eat. It is like so many places in Tassie, beautiful but remote and I guess the two go together, people haven't had a chance to spoil it yet.

looking at where the surf would be if the conditions were right

Tam O'Shanter at this end of the beach and Lulworth at the far end

my mother clambering up the path

there is a house right out on the point, spectacular view but mighty windy at times

the path to the beach

Saturday, 16 January 2016

summer berries

When I think of summer and Tassie I think of berries. The two are inextricably linked and this summer we have indulged in a colour and taste sensation.

From my mother's garden come divine raspberries and blueberries; they adorn pavs, get made into jam, are added to breakfast cereal and eaten straight from the garden, usually with a dollop of cream or ice-cream.

There are numerous cherry orchards that just happen to be right on our way driving from one place to another. This summer we have eaten fruit that is ripe and plump, full of flavour and nothing like the stuff you buy in supermarkets.

Friday, 8 January 2016


It is done. We have cleared my fathers unit and with far less hassle than we anticipated. When we first talked to my father about packing up his unit he was adamant that the 'many things of value' go to family or be sold. I made an example of a rather old and tired print on the wall  - "Pops, no one in the family would want that, that is something that could go to the Op-shop" His reply, "that is a good picture, I paid $50 for that!" (Yeah about 20 years ago, you couldn't give it away now!) We pretty quickly got the idea of how this was going to go and decided a plan of action was definitely required. My wonderful sister and brother in law offered some space on their property to store all his furniture and 'valuable things', ostensibly for when one of their children moves out of home or my other sisters plan to buy a shack comes to fruition. My father was happy with that. We booked a moving truck and set a date, involving him in the process.

In passing I told him I would pop in a few days before and do a bit of packing up and clean out some cupboards in preparation. In reality we took a trailer and did a massive clean out, taking a heap of stuff to the tip and to be recycled. My father's motto is 'waste not, want not'. I guess a childhood in post war Italy where poverty is your reality stays with you in some form or another. My father finds a use for all things; he saves, recycles, reuses, makes, fixes and keeps, just in case. I don't think he has disposed of a plastic bag or a piece of string in the last 20 years, there were boxes of the stuff neatly folded and stored.

We invented a game, "guess what is in here?" and we were continually surprised. At the very back and the very top of the laundry cupboard was a huge old Bushells tin (5 litres), 30 years old, never opened and yep full of loose leaf tea. (my father pilfered it from the Hydro when he worked in the kitchen, there is many a story about what else ended up disappearing from that place). There was also a box of white paper, neatly folded, the stickers giving the price for salami and ham bought at the deli ten years ago. At least that came in handy to wrap up crockery from the kitchen cupboard.

Gloves were required in the pantry, too many bottles and packets half used and out of date. There were margarine containers of unknown dried herbs from his garden, we couldn't take the risk that some of them hid a certain plant he had grown and dried that some people like to smoke. I did keep the many bottles of preserved and pickled produce - I think that should be safe enough.

The cupboard in the spare room was full of bottled tomatoes, pickled onions, relish and some other bottles with uncertain contents. There were shelves of home made grappa and liqueur (and the shed contained a different alcoholic treasure - 2 cans of commemorative Cascade Beer from 1982). There were boxes and boxes of flagons, glass jars and bottles, a home brewers or preservers paradise.

His wardrobe contained shirts from a time when brown and purple were 'in', there were fifty year old shoes from Italy (this is good leather, expensive, they still all right, says he) and we rescued a 30 year old pair of black dress shoes, ("for when I kick the bucket"). There were a multitude of plain white t-shirts, also nicked from the Hydro.

The bathroom cupboards were a bit scary (how many tiny left over bits of soap do you really need to keep and surely you don't need to reuse toothpicks). The biggest surprise was a margarine container full of some liquid and a plate with several false teeth. No one could have guessed what was in that one!

There was an eel trap in the back yard and a rotisserie spit in the garage. Perhaps the greatest treasure though was a small packet of documents, neatly wrapped in a plastic bag (of course) hiding at the back of a drawer; original identity papers, passport and old photos from the time my father arrived in Australia, some 55 years ago.

With the hardest part done, moving day was relatively straightforward. My father coped well with our 'little bit of packing up and preparation' done beforehand. When he began rescuing things from the Op-shop pile we knew we had done the right thing keeping him out of the loop for the big clean up.

Next week there will be a gardener, cleaner and carpet cleaner to work their magic. Then it will be settlement and then it really will all be done...

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

rather unpleasant

A few weeks ago we had a bit of a disaster. We collected my father from the aged care home and went to his unit to do a quick tidy up before a potential buyer came to have a look. Rachel and I sent my father outside with Colin and then we took some garbage bags and proceeded to clean and de-clutter every surface we could find. Within an hour we had the place presentable. Just as we were leaving I grabbed the esky to take another load of frozen food from my father's heavily laden freezer. The grand old lady is stored in the garage and is usually full to the brim, with all kinds of things, some mentionable and some not. Last time we were here I had taken some ducks (to be made into salad for Christmas), some rabbits (my father and his friend had trapped, dispatched and gutted) and some calamari he had caught (dated 2014, but maybe still OK?).

When I lifted the lid an almighty stench arose from the depths, a quick prod on something at the top and yep - soft and flabby, definitely not frozen any more. Colin checked and my father checked and we all agreed it was a bit of a disaster. We scrounged some large garbage bags and Colin did the manly thing and reached into the freezer to pull out the rotting contents. Rachel dutifully held the garbage bag as one by one each plastic bag of decaying food was disposed of.

A little explanation is required here. My father will happily eat pretty much any part of any animal and over the years he has accumulated a lot of body parts in that freezer. He also cooks large quantities of any meal and freezes the left overs. He puts them all in plastic bags with a piece of cardboard (cut from old cereal boxes) to label the contents. His written English is minimal so you have to have a bit of a guess at the spelling. I am now familiar with sosl, that means sauce, as in pasta, bon, that means bones, smok, that means smoked, stek, that means steak etc...

Rachel was a bit concerned at ok tal, surely thats not ox tail. Unfortunately it was possible. For a vegetarian it was very courageous of her to hold that bag. We filled five garbage bags. And a side note here. My father keeps things for a long time, even garbage bags, and they were beginning to perish and stuff was leaking on the garage floor. And when the labelled plastic bags and their nasty contents were removed from the freezer there was a bloody sludge left in the bottom. Colin tipped the freezer and I used a plastic jug to scoop out the offending liquid, trying not to gag in the process. Copious amounts of disinfectant were used in the clean up.

The next challenge was to get the stinking garbage to the tip. We lined the boot of my father's SUV with more plastic, just in case of seepage or spillage and very gingerly lifted the refuse into the boot.(P.S there is nothing separating the boot from the back seats) The windows were definitely all the way down as we left the unit. Rachel had her head stuck out the window for good measure. Unbelievably my father insists we stop off on the way to the tip to fill up with petrol and so he can deliver a bottle of his grappa to his friend at the petrol station. You have got to be kidding.

My father knows the bloke at the tip (of course) so we get in for free, we back the car to the concrete pit and throw the garbage bags in, where of course on impact they explode, stinking, rotting meat spraying debris far and wide. We make a hasty retreat.

Friday, 1 January 2016

a new year

The last six months have been a bit of a blur, the next month or so will be the same and then I hope to stop and be still for a while - 'still' on the outside and 'still' on the inside. The last month has seen my father accept a room at an aged care home, move in within a week, accept an offer on his unit a couple of weeks later (friend of a friend), sign the contract a couple of days before Christmas and settlement is in less than three weeks. Eighteen years of living has to packed and sorted and distributed. It has been a whirlwind of decisions and activity and more to come; frenetic, persistent and sometimes overwhelming. Oh and in between was Christmas and family and a birthday.

The greatest relief has been the way in which my father has settled into his new home - he feels safe, he is eating, he is under the care of a competent GP (the first thing his new doctor did was reduce his twenty tablets a day back to eleven) and we can see the difference already. As my father succinctly said "I think I live longer here"

The next week will be all about packing, the following will be in Melbourne wishing Rachel a happy birthday and seeing her and Johanna fly to New Zealand, the next will be back in Launceston for settlement and then back to Melbourne to lend a hand as Colin's father is also in the midst of selling, buying and moving.

And then I hope comes rest...