Thursday, 11 October 2018

Stories Galorey

I know 'galorey' is not a word.
It's just that I'm excited.
I'm feeling  inspired and creative and ants-in-my-pants restless.

I've just been on holidays to strange and foreign lands. 
I don't suppose they were strange and foreign to the residents of Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. 
But they were to me. 
And that was so very, very exciting.

The problem is that I have come home with my head stuffed full of ideas.
And the ideas are jostling about , thrusting their hands in the  air, shouting, 'Oooh! Ooh! Pick me! Pick me!' over the top of one another.

The ideas want to emerge as stories and pictures and blogs and daydreams and all sorts of other crazy, fun stuff.
A piano playing horse with romantic goals.
He deserves a whole novel, surely!
This is all just fine and dandy, but I have a deadline.
A serious, end-of-year deadline for a 70 000 word novel.

But the stories and ideas and pictures from those strange and foreign lands keep vying for the space in my mind which is currently labelled FINISH YOUR NOVEL.
Book one and two are waiting for the final story
 to complete the trilogy!!

So here, in an attempt to free a little more space so that I can go on with my Most Pressing Task, I am going to share ten of my favourite holiday shots. 
Perhaps tossing them out into cyberspace will free them from the confines of my mind. 
Perhaps another creative mind will suck up one of the images and use it to create a story, a poem, a picture, a dream.

Bon voyage!

Nature wins - Esztergom, Hungary.

Coloured log cottages ... bears ... grannies
with floral aprons and headscarves
... apple trees heavy with fruit -
my heart (and imagination) was aching
in Vlkolinec, Slovakia.

Treasures and secrets and tears hidden within - 
Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland.

Austere living - Bardejov, Slovakia.

An airy house - Levoca, Slovakia.

A railway station straight from the pages of a 1960's
spy novel - Szentendre, Hungary.

A reward for completing the quest -
Zakopane, Poland

Crumble and charm and some very dodgy down-pipes
 - Bratislava, Slovakia.

The Love Bank - I kid you not!
Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia

A looong wait for the train in
Dunakeszi, Hungary.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Out with the new. In with the old.

I am now the proud owner of a complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica from 1962. 

I didn't set out to buy a set of encyclopaedias. I mean, why would anyone want a bulky source of fifty-six-year-old information, half of which is now hopelessly outdated? 

The rapid changes that take place in the modern world have made it impossible for encyclopaedias to stay current. 
The internet has made them completely unnecessary.
So why did I buy a set of encyclopaedias?

Well, it started with a chair. 

Or perhaps it really started with my love of old things.

A psychologically savvy person might say that, as I age, I'm trying to convince myself that old things have just as much worth as perfect, shiny, new things.  

My husband, the Great Dane, might say that I've lost the plot.

But I would say that I love old things because they have a solidity, a beauty and a history that new things simply do not have.

The history, especially, is what sucks me in. I love to imagine the stories behind old objects.

Take this hot water pot, for instance.

I bought it at the op shop a few years ago because, as soon as I laid eyes on it, I saw a whole world of CWA gatherings taking place around it. 

I pictured a large, sunny, slightly dusty country hall, filled with trellis tables and those funny old metal seats with the curved backs. The tables were covered in white linen cloths and laden with scones, sponge cakes, lamingtons, Anzac bickies and chocolate slices. 

Seated around the tables were ladies with names like Alice and Maude and Betty, dressed in their Sunday best, handbags in laps, lipstick and powder slightly too thick, smiling and laughing and catching up on the week's news. Back and forth between the tables bustled several plump ladies - Lorna, Jean and Marg. They wore floral aprons and carried giant teapots with which they filled the other ladies' cups. 
My op shop pot was there, of course, being carried about by a blustery woman named Deidre. Deidre's forehead was sweaty but her smile was soft. She leaned over people's shoulders, saying, 'A bit of hot water to weaken that tea, love? It's a bit stewy after sitting in the pot.'
And the ladies at the table smiled and nodded and tittered about the date scones, promising to save one for Deidre when she finally sat down and joined them because, my word, wasn't she a worker and what would the CWA do without her? 
All this from one plain old pot.

Old picnic sets, thermoses, hats with veils, fox-skin shawls, ancient lawn bowls, wooden tennis rackets, knitted dolls, Scrabble sets with wooden letters, typewriters, pigeon holes ripped from office walls - they all draw me away into a land of imagined stories ... 
Or perhaps they are real stories... 
Oh my goodness. I hadn't thought of that until now!
Freckles - knitted by my mum almost fifty years ago.

Ready to type my tax return.

I had visions of using the pigeon holes to organise small
art supplies but can't bring myself to place
anything in a hole unless it starts with that letter.
X and Z are going to stay empty for a while.
(Just noticed the clock under T for TIME - it can
move to Y for YELLOW!)

And don't get me going on old brush and mirror sets. 
I'm thinking of starting a movement to have them removed from op shops and second hand stores across the nation. 
They seem too personal, too intimate. 
I'm afraid they're going to reveal secrets that their owner hoped would remain forever hidden. Unfulfilled ambitions, unspoken crushes, long lost loves, bedroom secrets. 
I blush and feel inclined to weep every time I walk by a brush and mirror set. 
The silver ones and the Bakelite ones are bad enough, but those with fine embroidered backings covered in glass are the end of me.

Then there are old books. 

Oh my, how I love an old book with a dodgy cover. Even better if the title or the author's name has a touch of quirk about it.

This one (above), a three dollar bargain discovered recently in Melbourne, has turned out to be one of the best books I have ever read. The character descriptions are fabulous. I haven't laughed so hard while reading in a long time.
And I've since discovered that Constance E. Maud was a heroine of the Suffragettes. 
I'll be spending more time with Constance, if I can just get my paws on more of her books.

And then there are the treasures one sometimes finds tucked into old books. Look at these two beauties below. I'm still pondering what to do with them. 
From an old school banking poster or bank book?

This looks like an essay a child has had to write
for their teacher after indulging in a spot of graffiti:

1958   24th October
Some people get very wild and draw on walls but the
joy goes away after awhile and they feal
sorry for that you have done it.
Let that be a lesson to all you would-be vandals!

So the long and the short of it is that I love old things. Especially quirky old things.

Which takes me back to the encyclopaedias.
I found a beautiful old chair on Bendigo Buy, Swap and Sell and headed off to make the transaction. 
Solid and elegant - and it has a home-cut Masonite
seat. The stories this chair could tell
- and probably will when I sit and listen.

While there, in the garage, expressing my delight at the chair, I was offered the set of encyclopaedias
'Make an offer. We can't get rid of them.' 
So I did.
And they got rid of them.
And now I have a world of outdated knowledge crammed into my book nook. 

Turns out the Great Dane is fascinated, despite his initial scoffings and eye-rollings...

So to finish, I'll share a few gems  that I have gleaned from spending time with my old wonder (the  Encyclopaedia Britannica from 1962, not the husband from 1961!)...

An albino giraffe - beautiful!

Death receives lengthy mention, but Danish pastries do not get a single line of acknowledgement. Even the Cuban tree snail gets its shell displayed, so why not the Danish pastry?

China has a population of less than 600 million. I read it just now so it must be true.

The fact that sarsaparilla and sorcery share a volume just tickles my fancy. Hope it does yours, too.

Monday, 9 July 2018

It's a tough job, but someone has to eat the raclette

I love it.
And Saturday was a day filled with wonderful research.

I'm over halfway through writing the third book in my mystery series, The Girl, the Dog and the Writer. This one is set in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Beautiful, beautiful Switzerland!

I wrote a blog earlier in the year about starting this book.
I talked about reading travel blogs and books, eating chocolate and cheese, and dining at the local Viennese cafe because it was the closest thing to a Swiss restaurant I could find.
You can read about it here.

But the other day, I realised, that I have the best source of all right at hand. 
I have Swiss friends.
Real live Swiss friends.

I was feeling a little detached from the food in my story.
I like to feel a connection with everything about which I write.

Feeling connected to the raspberry gelato and the pizza and Vivi's delicious macarons in the first book, The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Rome, was a breeze.

Embracing croissants and baguettes and Camembert and olives while writing the second book, The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Provence, was a pleasure. (It will be out in October, by the way - YAY!)

And dabbling in Swiss chocolate (Toblerone and Lindt) and holey cheese and schnitzels and sausages for this third book, The Girl, the Dog and the Writer in Lucerne has been just dandy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I took to the chocolate like a duck to water.
It's a gift!

But melted cheese dishes - fondue and raclette - are also an important part of the Swiss diet and I didn't feel like I had the experience to write about it with authenticity.

Enter my Swiss friends, Adelheid and Wolfgang. (Not their real names for privacy reasons.)

'Adelheid,' I said, 'could I please borrow some Swiss recipe books.'
'Ja! Ja!' she answered.
Actually, she said, 'Sure. No worries.' Because it's Wolfgang who's Swiss, not Adelheid. Adelheid is  Australian, but she has lived in Switzerland and has embraced the culture for Wolfgang's sake - and, I suspect, because she likes the chocolate and the melty cheese delights.

However I digress.

'Ja! Ja!' said Adelheid, with her Germanic-Swiss-Aussie accent.
'Danke! Danke!' I replied, getting into the swing of things. (Immersion is great for writing novels.)
But then, I realised that the Swiss cookbooks would be written in German or Italian or French or some mystical Swiss combination of all three.
'I'm such a hanswurst!' I cried. 'I won't be able to read the recipes.'
'Never fear!' cried Adelheid and Wolfgang in unison. 'We will cook for you so that you can embrace the melted cheese that forms the basis of Swiss cheese and, indeed,  the Swiss culture.'

And so they did.

And so came about Swiss Saturday.

I got up early and stoked the fire because the day was chilly, the wind icy. It felt like a good sign. Sedgwick was putting on the closest thing possible to Swiss alpine weather.

I donned an apron, chopped apples, threw around some cinnamon and sugar and sultanas, rolled some pastry and baked some apple strudel.

My first attempt at apple strudel so
I was feeling quite chuffed.
I picked out my best potatoes and arranged my small goods in a pretty pattern.

I hid chocolate in strange and pleasing nooks around the house for Adelheid and Wolfgang's children. *

And then the Swiss folk arrived.

We started by doing the really Swiss thing of eating chocolate and gherkins (not together!) and going for a hike around the Alps. Of course, we compromised a little and hiked for an hour or two around the hills, but the wind blew with a negative windchill factor and our noses turned blue so it wasn't too far from the real Swiss deal. I'm sad to say that we forgot to yodel. 

Then, returning to the house, we got down to brass tacks. Or, as the Swiss might say, returning to the chalet, we got down to melted cheese.
We ate Raclette for lunch.

Raclette is peasant food that, traditionally, consists of melted Raclette cheese on boiled potatoes. In the good old days,  a shepherd would have carried his large wheel of Raclette under his arm as he wandered from one mountain pasture to the next with his flock. Sounds a bit arm-pitty but perhaps it added to the flavour. 

When the sheep (or perhaps goats) were hunkered down beside a sheltered rock-face for the night, the shepherd would light a fire, boil some potatoes and sit his wheel of Raclette cheese to melt by the naked flames. The potatoes boiled and on his plate, he'd scrape the melty surface of the Raclette on top and gobble it all up. In times of plenty, a few pickles might have been added as well. 

In the 21st century,  when one eats Raclette with Adelheid and Wolfgang, an electric grill sits in the middle of the table and everyone has their own little grilling tray to fill with slices of Raclette cheese. The Raclette has not been carried around, tucked beneath Wolfgang's arm for weeks on end. Rather, it has been purchased from a fancy delicatessen and sliced into precise squares in the comfort of one's kitchen. When one's personal tray of Raclette is melted beneath the grill, one scrapes it over one's boiled potatoes and fills the rest of the plate with pickle onions, gherkins, small-goods, capsicum and fresh pear. One might also aid one's digestion by sipping a little bit of dry white wine or kirschwasser. And to finish up, one eats apple strudel and ice-cream, and drink strong black coffee while discussing cheese fondue.

Notice the little cheese melting tray
and scraper to the right of the grill. 

A little more variety than the humble shepherd
was able to include in his evening meal.

It's tough, but a writer has to do her research.
And, being dedicated, I did mine with gusto.

By the time my research was done, I felt tight of belly and Swiss of heart.
I had finally embraced the concept of melted cheese as a staple food and could continue to write my Swiss novel with authenticity.

Thank you, Adelheid and Wolfgang and little Swiss children - for the culture, the cuisine and the fabulous company.
I feel richer for having included this meal in my life.

I also feel a little broader of girth.

* Let's face it, any place you find chocolate is pleasing, no matter how strange. 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

There's gold in them there hills ... or in them there plains.

On Friday night, the Great Dane and I went to a wine tasting night at Wedderburn.

'Where on earth is Wedderburn?' I hear you ask.

Good question.

It's north-west of Bendigo. 
About a thousand miles through desert and prickly pears and ghost towns and tumbleweed.

Just kidding. 

But it's a bit of a hike from where we live, so not the sort of place you just scoot over to, like you might just scoot down to the neighbour's dam to catch a yabby or two for dinner. 
From Bendigo, you have to drive for an hour.
And you do travel through some very dry, flat terrain and pass a paddock full of prickly pears - so I'm not getting totally carried away,  just because I know that I'm protected by the Poetic Licence Act of 2018.***

But it's worth the drive.
Wedderburn, although a tiny town with just 660 residents, has spades of charm.
Gold rush charm. 
Shops with verandas.
Wobbly old timber houses.
Red brick cottages.
A Methodist church that is only marginally bigger than an outhouse  but built so sturdily that it could withstand fire, flood, tornado and earthquake - all at once.
Main street, Wedderburn.
Picture-postcard pretty.
Furthermore, there are places to dine, places to sleep, a beautiful swimming pool, a shady green park and shops. Between the supermarket and the hardware store alone you can  purchase everything you need to wet your whistle, fill your belly, trim your toenails, mark your lambs and build and decorate a house. (Our good friends Jenni and Leigh own the supermarket and hardware store, so I have to give it a plug! And my claim to fame is that I painted the orange poles in Wedderburn Hardware - so make sure you take time to appreciate the fine brushwork if you do go in to buy your lamb-marking rings.)

ALL your  needs met in two great stores!

In short, Wedderburn is the duck's guts.
And, for me, it felt a little bit like home, being so very much like the little country town in NSW in which I grew up.

The wine tasting, however, hit a whole new high.
The Wedderburn Wine Tasting was the duck's guts with bells on.
Set in the Senior Citizen's Hall, there were four local wine producers, one beer brewing couple, one dog and approximately fifty tasters.
I met locals and ring-ins. 
And everyone was delightfully friendly. 
Especially the dog. He almost wore a hole in the floor with his tail-wagging.
It was incredible to step into a new venue and instantly feel such warmth.

But what I loved most of all was that everyone seemed to have a  story to tell. A great story. Not a yawner in earshot!
And, of course, being a writer, I'm a sucker for a yarn.

For the wine growers, it wasn't just about the wine but the story of the wine and the vines and the family and, in one case, the dog.

The story behind Burnt Acres you can probably guess - the first harvest ... a primitive barbeque lit between the vines, ready for cooking the lunchtime sausage sangas ... a bit of a breeze ... AAAAH! 
There were tales of naive young couples in love with each other and the idea of producing their own wine, grape growing deals struck over casual dinners, and trips to the Trappist breweries of Belgium and the wineries of Provence.

I chatted with a lovely local who had just been to Finland. She'd met, for the very first time, a woman who had been her penfriend for more than thirty years. And it had felt like meeting a long lost sister. How wonderful!

But my favourite story was the one behind the group of eight middle-aged men. 
These guys were all dressed alike - in high-vis-yellow bucket hats  and T-shirts with a skull on the front. 
They called themselves The Darkside. 
And, yet, they looked like the sweetest group of men you'd ever see. 

Drawn to their warmth and jollity, and the idea that they might have been family rather than a club group, I went over to say hello. 
I mean, who wouldn't want to know the story behind a family who called themselves The Darkside? 
There'd be a novel in there, surely!

Turns out, The Darkside are a group of metal detector enthusiasts. (I didn't see that one coming!) They found each other through an online forum for people who  share a passion for running around the countryside with their metal detectors, looking for gold. Or, sometimes - as in the case of Wedderburn Detectors' Jamboree - they run around paddocks searching for  metal discs that have been buried by competition organisers. The one who finds the most discs is the winner. 


I love meeting enthusiasts and hearing them speak about their passion, whatever it may be - train modelling, chocolate making, rock climbing, poetry writing, poodle grooming ...
Passion is inspiring.

But these guys were extra special, because their passion had led them to become such a close and caring group of friends. So much so that, when one of their number became desperately ill, they all travelled to his bedside - from Geelong, Melbourne, regional Victoria and South Australia, to cheer him up. The patient made the grim joke that they'd come from the dark side and so the name was born - a scary tag for a warm and wonderful group of friends.

So there you have it!
Wedderburn Wine Tasting turned out to be a place as rich in tipples, friendship and great stories as the town used to be in gold.
If you find yourself looking for something to do next year on the Friday night of the Labour Day Weekend , head out to Wedderburn Senior Citizen's Hall.
There's gold in them there hills ... or, at least, in them there plains ... and in that there Senior Citizen's Hall!

The Great Dane and me with our friends Jenni
and Leigh - at the 2018 Wedderburn Wine Tasting.

*** Okay, so there is no Poetic Licence Act of 2018. I'm just saying that because I know I'm protected by the Bare-faced Lying in the Name  of a Good Story Act of 1987.