“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea” Henry James, The Portrait Of A Lady.
Afternoon tea offers a variety of rich, creamy cakes and sweet pastries. Ribbon sandwiches are sometimes served with savoury nibbles but the ubiquitous tea, scones, crumpets and homemade preserves are still in evidence.
The British aristocracy conceived Afternoon Tea a long time before their working classes began to consume High Tea in the evening. Traditionally afternoon tea is lighter than high tea, the latter consisting of heavier food like meats and fish which possibly morphed into dinner. Who knows? I’m only going on what I’ve read.
Australia was founded by the British so, up until recently, a fair amount of our eating habits were ever-so-English and afternoon Tea For Two was practiced both domestically and in cafés until the advance of a more universal drink – coffee. Most people are lucky if they get afternoon tea now, e.g. in my experience people have a break at ‘morning tea’ time.
My grandmother’s hand-stitched tablecloth and serviettes were linen and a deliciously laden 3-tiered cake stand was placed in the centre of the table on a crocheted doily. A posy of fresh flowers was discreetly positioned beside the teapot, milk jug and sugar bowl. The cutlery was usually a knife, for spreading strawberry jam and cream, and a spoon for stirring your tea.
The crockery set was china or hand-painted porcelain and generally both cups and saucers displayed dainty flowers. I learned to tell the difference between a teapot and a coffee pot by the position of the spout. Not many people remember the design reason for this! Sometimes during pouring, a small tea strainer was used. I won’t go into the variety of teas available but traditionally alcohol was not served.
“Happiness for me is largely a matter of digestion” said writer Lin Yutang and added “There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life” ― Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living.
These are my thoughts becoming words and not necessarily historical facts; just how I remember it when I visited my grandmother in Melbourne, Victoria. As a child, in the homes of my friends, a serving of apple pie with ice-cream was just as good. Friday evening fish and chips were a treat, and when the first pizza was taken from the pizzeria oven, we were not sure how to pronounce it let alone eat it.
I have a pot of leaf tea with my breakfast and use a tea cosy. Teapots come in all shapes and sizes, and tea cosies, once the staple of the twentieth century Australian woman’s knitting repertoire, covered the pot and kept it warm. While the tea leaves brewed, a colourful and creative tea cosy added to the charm of many an afternoon tea table.
NOTE : Afternoon tea images may induce hunger pangs!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Teapot Museum : http://www.bygonebeautys.com.au/tearooms/
Have you received an email, text message, Facebook request or card in the letterbox which made you wince? Me too. And it was today. I guess I should be grateful that the sender did not phone me. I would have spluttered my way through the conversation and tried to weasel out of giving this person any information about myself since I last saw them 24 years ago.
Do I feel annoyed, upset or beguiled by their surprise appearance on Facebook? I’m not sure. First, I wondered what prompted this bolt-from-the-blue contact. Second, I wrote down our backstory to get my head straight:
We worked together before our children were born, she was going into a new marriage and I was leaving an old one. This woman’s role was administration manager or something like that, she did a lot of accounts and moaned about the way forms were filled incorrectly. She had a corner office with a big desk and spent a lot of time talking to staff in an over-friendly, mocking way that unpopular people have when they are trying to be popular.
As a matter of fact, I’m ashamed to admit, I became part of her bridal party. I succumbed to pressure and involuntarily became a bridesmaid. Her friend or her sister was matron-of-honour and I think there may have been another bridesmaid but maybe I replaced someone who wasn’t up to task. Anyhow, I remember the gown fittings, the diamanté jewellery, the shoes, the bouquets, the whole rigmarole was exhausting. On the Big Day I had professional make-up applied (trowelled on) and I thought it looked hideous. My hair was whooshed back and I felt as stiff as a Barbie doll. A close-up photograph of me doesn’t look too bad – gosh, I was young.
Now, dear reader, I was in a relationship with an army sergeant at the time and the wedding photographer was an ex-boyfriend. I don’t remember feeling tense about them being in the same ballroom. Maybe I blotted out that part of the evening. I do remember my ex-boyfriend wilfully snapping a photo of me dancing with my new partner. I’m not a dancer. It was an okay wedding ceremony with theme colours of pink and maroon which were quite tastefully done. As befits the centre of attention, the bride played her part but the groom was a bit quiet, e.g. rather inanimate character. Predictably over the intervening years, the cake, food, groomsmen and speeches left no impression.
Not long after the Big Day, I resigned from the corporation where we both worked and I started another life. I briefly met the woman in question about two years later outside a local video store (remember videos, overnight rental, tape jams?) and she was with her husband and six months pregnant. From what Facebook will let me see, she has a couple of children now. With no family news or information, she perceptively called me ‘Stranger’, asked me if I was still living in the same place and did I want to meet up? Why, and why now? Truth must be told; I was uncomfortable around the woman. She had the knack of grating on me, especially when she initiated ‘jokes’ with co-workers.
A long-time friend, a dear person who lives in the countryside, says he has been contacted by various ‘friends’ he hasn’t seen in years and feels they are freeloading in their desire to drop in on his rural idyll, taking advantage of a convenient escape to the country. I, too, have had similar occurrences in suburbia but I tell people that I do not entertain at home and we don’t have a spare bed. And that is true enough, depending on the visitor. With this mystery reappearance of a workmate (as opposed to friend) who made no contact with me after the wedding, much to my relief, and now wants to buddy up as if 24 years is no time at all – I don’t get it.
Is she divorced? Is she retiring? Is she thinking kind thoughts about me? Or is she bored with her life and Facebooking randoms from her past? Another truthful moment; I don’t think we would have one single thing in common. Possibly she has changed, possibly I’m anti-social, possibly infinite variables.
Am I tempted? Sure, I’m tempted. I could click Accept or Decline on that Messenger button. Click Accept and, hey presto, all will be revealed. Also, it would expose a lot of stuff I don’t want to remember very closely. Then there’s the difficulty of worming my way out of it. I don’t want an added extra to my social life right now. As previously posted, I am cutting back on my social media. I want to move forward…write and relax…my way…I guess I could just say ‘hello’ and not get involved…I guess…
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
N.B. Apologies to friends and followers who would like a Comment box.
Maybe it’s because I was brought up by post-war parents that I am shocked at the staggering amount of food waste in Brisbane. I could not understand why our local Government has joined the world-wide campaign Love Food Hate Waste. Surely you only buy, cook and eat what you need and freeze leftovers?
Apparently for millions of households, it’s not that simple!
The Council brochure states “Love Food Hate Waste was launched in 2007 by Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) in the United Kingdom followed by New Zealand, Canada and Australia. With food waste making up 37% of the average Brisbane rubbish bin, 1 in 5 shopping bags of food ends up in the bin. That’s 97,000 tonnes of food thrown away every year. There are simple and practical changes which residents can make in the kitchen to reduce food waste; planning, preparation and storage of food will make a big difference to your wallet and keep Brisbane clean, green and sustainable.”
Scramble over the mat, don’t trip on the dog, here’s a tasty listicle of Council wisdom prepared earlier:
- Plan meals ahead – create a meal plan based on what is already in your fridge, freezer and pantry.
- Shop mindfully – stick to your shopping list!
- Store food correctly – Learn how to store food to ensure it lasts as long as possible and check your refrigerator is functioning at maximum efficiency.
- Cook with care – Without controlling portions, we tend to waste food when we prepare or cook too much. Remember fruit and vegetables ripen quickly and are best consumed daily.
- Love your leftovers – Freeze leftovers to use for lunches, keep for snacks, or add to another main meal.
- Consider composting – Turn your kitchen scraps into rich nutrients for your garden, get a Bokashi bucket, consider owning pets like chickens or guinea pigs.
- Join a community garden – Composting hubs operate in selected community gardens.
- Six-week food waste challenge – Every week the Council will provide step-by-step information on how you can reduce food waste in your home. Seriously.
We are over-stocked, over-fed and over-indulgent of our taste buds. Or as my dear mother would say “Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
After taking one year off to immerse myself in the art of writing, my time is up.
New Year’s resolution: I will no longer be posting regularly on Facebook because it is the most all-consuming part of my day and ultimately hollow. Eight years ago I dropped out, as evidenced by the snapshot of this unanswered Poke. Author Jen Storer of Girl & Duck, The Duck Pond and Scribbles creative groups can be pleased she was the one who drew me back into social media to nurture my writing dream – you light up my life – thank you.
My unFacebooking is not due in any way to the calibre and overall enjoyment of the wonderful ‘friends’ I made, I will miss virtually following your daily journeys in writing and illustration. Conversely, we all are living two lives, the one on Facebook and the real one.
My departure is due to the links, Likes, highlights, comments, feeds, Facebook layout and general entanglements with people whom I do not know on a real level. It may feel personal but it is not; and I need to grasp reality, my home, my family and my proper writing.
A visit from a little red hen named Took got me back out into our overgrown garden and I realised the computer screen is destroying my creativity rather than enhancing it.
My WordPress blog will continue https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/
“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instil in us” – Hal Borland, American author.
Happy New Year 2018, everyone, and much fulfillment!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Postscript : According to the 2017 Deloitte Media Consumer Survey, daily social media usage in Australia is down from 61 percent to 59 percent in 2017, and 20 percent of Australian social media users say they are no longer enjoying their time on the platforms. Likewise, almost one third (31 percent) of survey respondents said they have temporarily or permanently deactivated one or more of their social media accounts in the past year. Fake news is killing the media star with 58 percent of respondents agreeing that they have changed the way they access online content given the prevalence of fake news. So, folks, I am not alone!
Writers need to write but do readers need to read?
From early on I made the decision not to Like a post unless I had read it. As you can guess, it‘s hard to do. Every day millions of posts circulate around the world on countless blogging platforms and social media sites to such an extent that most of them will NEVER be read. At least, not fully. I think I am pretty safe in saying that. We are doing the modern equivalent of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.
Which brings me to the heading of my post. I will answer my own question. It is preferable to get things out of your head and onto a page for personal satisfaction rather than thinking you are making a useful contribution to the world. Plenty of specialists are making useful contributions but I guarantee they are writing to a niche audience, not the world.
Another decision (note I use the word ‘decision’ because we are given choices then have to make one decision) I made is not to seek Likes and Followers and not to maintain a prolific output to pursue a high profile. I have not activated my Comments because the majority of blogging sites appear not to have worthwhile comments or replies and, if they do, the bulk of them are from fans bordering on sycophant behaviour.
I’m not a tortured genius nor do I have a singular agenda so I am way down the favourites listicle. I am happy doing my own thing and don’t pine for kindly Likes. However, I am very grateful for those Likes and Followers I do have because I feel confident they have actually read my blog posts. You can tell by my Home page that I am not going to stick to a theme, although I do have Photo Of The Week and I’m loosely hung up on the importance of literacy.
Why did I write this post? I will probably feel differently tomorrow but today I wanted to get it out of my head.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
ANGRY THOUGHTS BECOME WORDS:
A cathartic rant penned soon after the burglary of my home. The break-and-enter and subsequent robbery took place on the evening of 15 September between 6pm and 11pm. Here are my raw observations—
OUT FOR THE EVENING:
My family and I went to a live theatre production for the first time in several years and when we arrived home that night we felt that all was not well. We quickly turned on all internal lights throughout the house. It wasn’t until we entered our bedrooms that we saw small things dropped haphazardly on the floor. A notebook, a spectacles case, a shirt flipped off the hanger onto the floor and drawers slightly open. Nothing spectacular, no broken objects, but obviously all our rooms had been searched.
SHOCK AND DISBELIEF:
At first my feeling was one of shocked disbelief, we ran between bedrooms trying to find where the intruder had entered. Nothing was immediately visible and my daughter slammed the bathroom door shut with the thought that someone may still be in the house. As our report was phoned through to the police, my anger was slowly building until I kicked the bathroom door open, shrieking foul words of murder and mayhem. Behind me, my daughter screamed in fright at my violent action but we were both relieved that nobody was lurking there.
THE POINT OF ENTRY:
I went slowly into the living room and turned towards the dining room which led into the kitchen. At first glance I could see that the windows were intact and the back door was undamaged. Suddenly I noticed that the lounge chair in front of the French doors had been moved forward. I peered over and saw that the flyscreen had been damaged in one corner but the blinds were still closed. I unlocked the back door and went outside onto the patio. I had a vile afterthought that the burglar was probably watching me from the shrubbery, sniggering. The French doors were slightly ajar and moving closer I could see that they had been forced open, classic B&E. The top and bottom bolts were smashed out, splintering the wood, and the middle locks were broken off.
A MINOR OBSTACLE:
Back inside and time to have a closer look behind that lounge chair. The sliding flyscreen doors had given the burglar trouble, they were jammed with metal rods. I believe the burglar took off his glove (there is evidence inside and outside the house that gloves were worn) in order to flip the metal rod out of the runner. This rod was then discarded, to be found in our garden weeks later. It had been though rain and handled which was unfortunate because the forensic officer who attended the scene would have liked to have dusted it.
THE POLICE ARRIVE:
After a lengthy telephone call to CrimeStoppers, and a sleepless night, we awaited the arrival of the police next morning. Two officers arrived early with a forensic sergeant. They had a look around and were surprised to see no broken glass and our electronic devices and certain objects still in place. This is something which we have never understood but do believe we were done over by a specialist thief who targeted gold. I use the word “he” because I was later informed that two similar crimes had occurred over a three-day period and on the third day he was seen in a hallway and escaped by jumping out a window.
Regrettably I do not have the name of the forensic officer who was called in but she was very informative and helpful and took samples of gloved finger prints from the broken French doors, walls and throughout the house. She took clear photographs and checked items like the front of the jewellery chest-of-draws which she dusted for prints but which were on wood so not very useful. If I had been in a less shocked mood, it was a good example of police work.
FAMILY INHERITANCE LOST:
This thieving criminal stole gold items relating to my family history, small pieces from my great grandparents, finely crafted and lovingly engraved. An inheritance lost, no proof of ownership, not clear photos, only verbal descriptions. Special items, sentimental items kept in the third drawer down in my mother’s large pine chest-of-drawers. Yes, this is where the old jewellery was kept, all in original boxes, all quite obviously family treasures. Sure, silly place to put them but they were not worn often, too fine for general wear, and not my generation’s style.
ANGER, SORROW AND TAKING THE BLAME:
I am deeply sad and angry and wholly blame myself for the loss because I took our jewellery for granted. It was part of the family but I did not respect its uniqueness or irreplaceable value enough to make sure these precious objects were kept safe. My engraved wedding bracelet was worn, not hidden away. Gone now. Should we love and wear our meaningful possessions or lock them up? We run great risks with many things. There is insurance available but no matter what premium fees we pay, it will never ever replace our true possessions. I have steeled myself never to see those familiar pieces again. I know my family members are safe but I feel this loss like an ache.
MELTED DOWN OR SOLD AT AUCTION:
A shockwave went through me when I realised our jewellery may be melted down for its gold. But, according to a Melbourne jeweller I spoke to a week later, old gold is highly prized on the stolen goods market. Holding value, easily transported from thief to fence to crooked jewellery store to people out there who don’t care if it has been stolen. Sold as “deceased estate” jewellery, people will buy it, wear it, and lie about its provenance. Either way, I hope they rot in hell for all eternity.
SIFTING THROUGH THE RUINS:
The small sad broken little jewellery boxes are still in the chest-of-drawers. Initially I couldn’t delved too far, it was traumatic enough sitting on the bed to open each box from its jumble in the bottom of the drawer. I had to do an inventory. Instinctively I knew which pieces of jewellery would be gone – and they were. My gold rings were taken but everyday accessories were still there because they are average stuff. Of course there’s always the horror of the thief passing on details to other cronies who may be interested in what is left behind. Huh, nothin’ here now, mate.
TOUCHY FEELY KINDA GUY:
It was obvious the intruder had touched everything and anything in our house. The classic cat burglar, in most instances hardly moving objects, but perceptible just the same. The rough gloves worn to jemmy open the double doors were replaced by smaller, possibly surgical gloves, but they still left small dents in the dust on our bookcases and side tables. Three-prong finger prints where he had rested his middle fingers to reach up or pull an item forward. Those small gloved finger marks tell the story of a thorough search. Every framed picture, every ornament on every shelf had been moved. Anything which might conceivably contain cash or jewellery was opened and closed roughly or otherwise. Yes, even my t-shirts and undies drawer had been shuffled through. Various drawers had been almost closed as to be unnoticeable. But he had wanted them to be noticed.
EXTERNAL DAMAGE REPAIRED:
The locksmith was calm and professional and he showed me the methods used to break-and-enter as he repaired the damage. The door was pried in ten places to snap the barrel bolts and break off the locks. You could see where the thief had rested his grip-gloved hand while he worked. Also, explained the locksmith, marks were on window sills at the back of the house where windows had been probed, the security screen lock on the back door was loose, too.
FORCE USED ON INTERNAL DOORS:
Inside, where this felon could not easily open a storage cupboard, force was used. Fortunately we never keep any cash on the premises but the bending of hinges and buckling of locks is easy to see. Door handle screws were loosened, the bottom door on an old metal filing cabinet (never locked anyway) is damaged, the locked door between our garage and hallway held firm but had been jemmied and now rattles in the frame.
INSULT TO INJURY:
My emotions seesawed from sadness to annoyance to outrage. One particular thing which made me fume and cry “How dare he!” was when I discovered the hinged bracket on my stepladder had been damaged. During his unlawful search, the thief had broken my stepladder!
ANOTHER MISSING ITEM:
When I had a thought about something, say a trinket box or unused cupboard, I would look to see if anything inside had been moved, sure enough, it had. Days later I realised a small insignificant brooch was missing. And everywhere those chilling little gloved fingerprints. The thing which surprised me was the opening of food packets in our kitchen. No mess but dry goods were rifled. Even foodstuff in the refrigerator had been rearranged. I thought that only happened in movies.
IN THE TIME WE WERE AWAY:
On the crucial night of the burglary, he certainly had a field day and didn’t have to worry about the length of time we would be away, seeing as our calendars advertised the start and finish time of the show we attended. We were away for approximately five hours. Basically, our lives were overturned in that time. As mentioned, he’d worked throughout the house and over the following days we discovered more tamper-evident details.
TAMPERING WITH ELECTRICITY SUPPLY:
The switchboard power box at the side of the house has been damaged because it had a jammed clasp which squeaked when pulled open and shut. I checked it and could see the screws have been slacked off so the lock was useless. I remembered waking up one morning and the clocks were flashing, showing the power had gone off at approximately 2am. Someone checking the switches? An outdoor floodlight had been broken during the burglary and was subsequently replaced. Another cunning trick is to turn off the water supply to gauge if the householder is at home.
WATCHING AND WAITING:
It is my strong belief that the thief was watching our house for at least a week or two before we were robbed. My spider senses were working but I forced them down, I knew something was “out there” and chose to rationalise, ignoring my tiny twinges. I did get a scare when I went down to the rubbish bin after dark one night. Glancing up I thought I saw a shadow dive around the corner of the narrow walkway at the back of the empty house next door. Nah, just imagination, right? Never happened before…out-of-character for our quiet street…
NEVER IGNORE YOUR SUSPICIONS:
I do know I heard “things” several days beforehand and tried to dismiss them. I shouldn’t have, they were significant sounds. Once or twice the wind chimes tinkled when there wasn’t a breath of air. Another time I heard our loose paving step rattle, a bin lid drop, the door shake. Why was I aware of this? Familiar sounds, yet unusual at those times. I turned on the outdoor lights. Maybe that was the night I scared a sneak thief, testing, checking points of entry.
POOR CONDITIONS FOR US:
On the night of the burglary, the house on our left was unoccupied (owners out to dinner), the house on the right was a vacant rental and the house immediately behind us was also an empty rental. Perfect conditions for a would-be thief; means, motive and opportunity! We no longer own a dog and, ironically, one week after the break and enter, the house on the right was rented and the new tenants have two teenagers, two dogs and one cat. Then the house behind us was occupied by a young family also with two dogs. Always plenty of activity now which would have been useful just one week earlier. C’est la vie.
BE VIGILANT WITHOUT BEING PARANOID:
Things worth watching for – I had noticed a shiny black motor cycle with a rider clad in black leathers cruising up and down our street a couple of times. In our average middle-class street, he was not a regular nor a neighbour. I heard him in the next street over, cruising up and away. A week later I was chatting to a friend at the front gate and a dark sports car with blackened windows cruised slowly up our street. No headlights on, it was dusk, so the number plate was not visible. I always pray that our scrutiny scared off that driver. Both these occasions, I am certain, were “patrols” by the criminal fraternity.
NO ARREST IN SIGHT:
To date, the thieving scumbag is still at large. No matter what I do from now on in, I will always be double checking the doors and locks and security lights. He is obviously specific, neat and creepy in all his movements. He could have family connections to a jeweller, he could have been groomed to thieve for the family firm. Perhaps a drug or gambling addiction? There could be a number of reasons why he does what he does but none of them is excusable or legal. I hate this faceless nameless criminal who broke into my home. I hate him with a passion and still haven’t recovered from the crushing of my security, my safety, my homelife.
Thanks a lot, you rat fink bastard.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
N.B. Images used for illustration purposes only.
Ever do something just for fun? Sure you have. From an impromptu picnic to cooking a lavish dinner. Sporty things, family things, shopping expeditions or entering a competition in the name of fun.
Recently I designed a book-themed teatowel for fun. There was a prize involved but I won’t dwell on that because I did not win. However, it did spawn this blog piece…
For those born into a dishwasher world, I will elaborate. A teatowel is used to dry crockery and cutlery. It is made of an oblong piece of linen or cotton material, naturally absorbent, hemmed on all sides and printed with a design. The design is printed on one side, in portrait position. Teatowels can be any colour, any theme, but traditionally the same fabric and size. They can also be displayed poster-like on a kitchen wall. The following teatowels are not ignominious!
Tourist destinations sell souvenir teatowels, the most glorious ones are those in public art galleries. Gift shops offer cute ones with flowers, teacups, recipes or cow designs. Craft groups use them as fund-raisers, while cookware stores display matching sets of oven mitt, apron and teatowel with a trendy designer logo.
I have a large proportion of Australian flora and fauna too well-laundered to show here. The examples displayed are the best I could find in the kitchen drawer. A lovely giraffe print from Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo NSW, was singed from a cooking incident. My recently purchased Cecily teatowel (below) is part of a book-themed series from New Zealand. It will not suffer the fate of another limited edition teatowel which, shock horror, was used to wipe the stove griller.
Teatowels sound old-fashioned and domesticated but they can become the focus of teenage washing-up disputes and used as a weapon to flick people. Snap!
Apparently teatowels originated in Victorian England and were used at teatime to keep the china in good condition. Baked goods were often laid on a teatowel to cool or alternatively kept moist under a teatowel. The name is different in different countries, in Australia a dishtowel/dishcloth is used for more heavy duty cleaning.
No doubt there is an online history of teatowels and teatowel aficionados around the world, but I am content in the knowledge that I have owned many useful hard-working ones over the years. Lightly imbued with nostalgia and sentiment, some were gifts, most I have bought, and one I designed myself which is not destined to be printed. That’s a good thing.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
My blog post is laden with afternoon tea foodie photographs
Extra teatowel image courtesy of The National Trust UK
September and spring is emerging in the southern hemisphere. And my garden!
I have just found out what Crocosmia means! Small, brightly coloured funnel-shaped blooms, sword-shaped foliage, grown from bulbs similar to the Iris family. Grouped together they make ideal, butterfly-friendly floral displays. Such a variety of colours and shapes to gladden the heart of any artistic gardener.
On Gardenia Creating Gardens website, companion planting with Crocosmia is reminiscent of English cottage gardens (see below) although they are natives of South Africa. I haven’t planted Crocosmia, I should, they tolerate Brisbane’s subtropical climate, humidity, heat and current drought-like conditions.
Since Queensland won’t be getting tropical rainfall for a couple of months yet, I will satisfy myself with what I can photograph in my own meagre garden; and add excerpts from some famous poems about springtime.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
This postcard came in the mail via Australia Post. As intended, the ye olde black and white image caught my eye. It was not sent from a removalist company but a real estate agent.
Our images are so copious, so spread around, and so disposable these days that it is hard to believe this single shot would have been a painstaking work of art. And quite an historic rural event. Look at that horse power! There appears to be one small girl on a beam but the rest of the contingent is male. A move like this would have been challenging to say the least, and not without its hazards, so the womenfolk were probably waiting at the other end with hot beverages and bandages.
I would have liked acknowledgement of the photographer, location or source (probably State Library archives) but suffice to say I was most impressed with the photo taken a century ago. And delivered to my letterbox in the traditional way.
As a kid I had an American penpal, sadly no letters and no memory remain other than choosing the lick-and-stick postage stamps. Until recently I belonged to the world-wide postcard group Postcrossing, receiving postcards and stamps from all over the planet. It proved difficult for me to maintain but it was a wonderful experience.
In Brisbane, we still have a good postal service which regularly delivers letters, parcels, bills, cards, leaflets, brochures, newspapers, pizza vouchers and assorted items like sachet samples of detergent.
I scrutinise all unsolicited mail and most goes straight into the recycle bin. Except, of course, this one. Ah, time travel, how I wish I could go back and watch that house moving for real…
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
For the last 20 years my lawn have been maintained by a variety of lawn mower men. You might say I’m an expert in using and losing lawn mower men. Some were franchised, many were independent, two were uni students, and my current bloke is the son of a former lawn mowing man. They all have one thing in common, they have stories to tell. From tyre-like snakes to the ubiquitous naked housewife, they would arrive from their last job, either wide-eyed or totally unmoved at what people do or generally don’t do in their gardens.
An interesting fact, little documented, is that lawn mowing men are commonly escaping the grind of an intense and soul-destroying job. They like the fresh air, the physical aspect, their own timetable and the odd cash in hand. I have heard about their families, their weekend activities and their apologies for why they have to charge me more for trimming the edges. I’ve given up querying those five minute extras. Some have used a whipper-snipper over the whole garden and one modern man used a ride-on mower. The noise and the results were equally bad but they didn’t come back. Which is a blessed relief. You can read about my suburban garden in Garden Notes.
In the beginning I used to offer these men a cold drink on a hot day but increasingly I have noticed they bring their own beverages. Once I offered a craggy old fellow a yoghurt ice-cream on a stick, thinking it would be cooling, but he refused telling me he didn’t like that sort of stuff. The stories are real but I have used pseudonyms throughout so let’s call him Doug. Doug had experienced “that sort of stuff” before. Without yoghurt but involving a Naked Lady.
Doug was mowing the front lawn when he glanced up and saw the homeowner standing naked in the front window. She was unperturbed but he was flustered. At the end of his job, Doug went to the door and it was flung open before he could knock. The now scantily clad homeowner ushered him inside, offered him coffee, sat close on the sofa and introduced him to her girlfriend. Apparently they wanted a baby together and he seemed the perfect candidate. Doug was a happily married grandfather and “wouldn’t have a bar of it”. In other words, the answer was “no”.
The Egg Basket was one of Doug’s more humorous stories. Doug was mowing the back lawn of a regular customer, being careful not to scare the free range hens, when he came across fresh laid eggs. He picked them up and placed them out of harm’s way in the peg basket swinging on the clothes line. Next visit, the homeowner told Doug “the funniest thing had happened” and his “chooks must be acrobats” because they laid their eggs in the peg basket. Doug laughed and explained what he had done. The homeowner was relieved since he couldn’t understand how the hens had balanced.
Lawn mowing men are wizards with a mower but rarely are they trained horticulturists, arborists or landscapers. The same goes for a sub-branch called treeloppers but that’s another story. Some mower men are billed as gardeners but often become vague about availability when you ask if they can weed the back garden. Or even more vague when you ask if they have time to remove a pile of garden waste. Their astute move with garden waste is to tote-up how many other householders want rubbish removed, coordinate the same day collection, slug each of us the disposal fee and do a one-stop drop at the council tip.
One thing I have noticed (apologies, I have yet to see a female mower person) is that, to a man, they have their mobile phones in their top left pocket, button undone ready to take calls. They don’t write these calls down so, inevitably, at some point they have to ring the caller back to confirm appointment details. The good ones leave a business card in my letterbox with the next mowing day and the more lax ones fade away.
On the subject of workwear, I have observed that lawn mower men do not go in for burdensome things like high visibility vests or safety glasses. On the plus side, they do wear working boots with heavy khaki socks which match their heavy khaki shirts. Accessories include cheap sunglasses and, depending on the age of the wearer, a sweaty cap or straw-weave hat. Protective gloves rarely make an appearance and I can only put that down to the subtropical heat.
Wally certainly needed all the help he could get. He was always keen to lend a helping hand (even building our budgie aviary) but he had an obsession for removing wasps and spiders. We told him that the big spider over our driveway was our pet and he was to leave it alone. But Wally took a dislike to a wasps nest and attacked it until he was chased around and around the garden, flyspray can in hand. I was on the side of the wasps. And Wally didn’t know it but I had seen him surreptitiously snipping bits off my conifer tree because it got in his way.
Once Wally told me about a customer who came outside complaining because he was using a leaf blower instead of a broom. He also told me of clothes left hanging on drying lines for months, barbecue crockery left out for weeks and large rocks abandoned in strange places. Regarding rocks, Wally had flicked up stones which had broken windows. The best way to identify a novice lawn mower man like Wally is to watch his attention to detail. Does he bring in your empty wheelie bin? Does he shut the gate? Does he make sure nothing has been missed, e.g. palm fronds on the path? If the answers are “no” then you can assume he is experienced; the old hand creating a tsunami of leaves in the far corner of your yard.
Another sign of the more experienced lawn mowing man is the Second Job. Usually this is unrelated, like the chap who hinted that my balcony railing looked unsafe and gave me the number of his carpentry business. Go with your instincts. In this instance, I should have taken note because a year later the carpenter who subsequently did the job was pretty slap-dash and cost me money. On the subject of money, let me tell you about Enrico.
Enrico’s customers are a mixed bag when it comes to paying the bill. Those who live in big houses with big cars take months to pay. There are customers who pay him online and he’s never met them. One customer paid him with lots and lots of coins, and another disappeared owing money. Sounds like an average business day to me. Enrico has three pet peeves. First, the bossy client who dictates how they want the job done then stands with hands on hips to watch. The second is chatty old ladies/men who want to follow him around. And third, the classic Neighbour Across The Street who asks for his business card then angles for a “good” deal.
I think of young Johnno as more of a wildlife ranger. He always had a tale to tell about an animal encounter, from guinea pig wrangling to accidentally letting dogs out, to scaring a goat. One day he was requested to do a garden tidy for a couple who had taken ill. He recommenced where they had left off and scooped up a large pile of leaves and twigs. It wasn’t until he had disposed of the bundle in his Ute trailer that he realised it was full of black fuzzy caterpillars. And they were on his clothes. He did a war dance and hosed himself down but still came up in a rash wherever they had crawled, mainly down his neckline.
Johnno by far had the biggest snake encounters, from a python asleep in a veggie patch to a green tree snake in my begonia hanging basket. One morning he saw a big brown snake sunning on our driveway and he took a spade to it. I was horrified, first because he wanted to kill it but second, because he sent it under the fence into the children’s play area. It was never found.
I believe a lawn mower man does not appreciate the pressure he puts the lawn mowee under. We have to lock up the dog, do a poop patrol, clear away any washing and raise the Hills Hoist, pick up toys, cover the budgies (in case of those flying rocks) remove fallen branches and make sure the area is free of trip-and-fall hazards. It is imperative that I place my herbs and tender potted plants in a safe place and have learned from bitter experience to build a fortress around new shrubs. My prize pomegranate was lopped off at the base and has taken years to reassert itself.
In conclusion, I would say that most of the lawn mower men I’ve employed seemed happy with their work. It’s an early start and early knock-off, and their weekends are free. They seem fit and healthy, none I’ve known have ever set foot in a gym. Of course, sunstroke taught them to drink plenty of water. I am sure I have contributed to their holiday funds in a positive way and they, in turn, have allowed me to walk across my lawn without using a machete.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
One hot day in early 1970s, sitting in a crowded bus on my way to business college in Brisbane central, I vowed to myself like most young people at the time, that the first thing I was going to do when I found a job was to buy a car. And I wanted a new car.
Thanks to my parents’ foresight, I was already taking RACQ driving lessons around the torturous hills of Bardon and Paddington in Brisbane. I was issued with my driver’s license at Rosalie on the first attempt, secured a secretarial job and started to save for my first car.
Vehicle window-shopping became a regular pastime. By mid-1975, after reading volumes of the driver’s bible The Road Ahead, and comparing models with my father, I purchased a brand-new white Datsun 120Y four-door sedan from Ira Berk in Fortitude Valley.
My new Datsun sedan cost me $4,000 in cash. Although I could drive a manual, it was an automatic. It also sported a thin stripe along either side. It had a tight turning circle and was economy-plus when it came to petrol consumption, two of its bragging points. The interior and seats were brown vinyl and the dashboard was black; basic but functional. It contained a radio player, cigarette lighter and, surprise-surprise, an analogue clock which ticked away the hours for 18 glorious years.
Many happy memories are linked to my first-car ownership which include boyfriends, marriage, having my child’s first car seat fitted, then school runs. There was no downside to my Datsun. The only challenge I faced was to keep the metal hubcaps on because they would pop off driving over speed bumps.
It was serviced regularly and the service log book was an historical record in itself. When my Datsun was sold in 1993, it was in such good condition, amazingly, I was given $2,000 trade-in. The only reason I sold it was to enjoy the cooling breeze of air-conditioning in my second brand new car. Another white four-door sedan.
AUTHOR NOTE: This excerpt was written in 2004 and I would like to add the postscript that I am now a big advocate of public transport and catch a bus regularly, particularly into the city centre.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
As I sit on our small balcony with the French doors open behind me, I can see a front view over the trees, over the shallow valley and up the opposite hillside. Roof tops gleam here and there and a council bus grinds its way up the steep incline of a street still named ‘lane” from way back when it took farm traffic up and over the hill.
To my right are the wooden chamfer boards which line the house, in this instance making the wall of our home office, or, as it was nicknamed many years ago, The Den. To the left is an open view over rooftops and trees and I’m right in line with a big fluffy white cloud. This cloud is probably bigger than an ocean liner. It is floating slowly through the blue sky.
To the side I hear the roar of a jet engine and a shiny aerodynamic form cruises past, heading towards the fluffy cloud. For the first time, I wonder what it must be like for the pilot, drawn inexorably into this massive expanse of whiteness. From experience I know that clouds can be bumpy rides but the unspeakable horror of something else flying into it from the other direction…nah, that’s not possible in this day and age…
The plane gets smaller and smaller until the sun glints off a tiny silver speck. I wait for it to be swallowed by the white cloud when, ever so gracefully, it curves away and downward, heading for the airport and out of my view.
I jump as suddenly a screeching white cockatoo cuts across my line of vision. It is closer but follows the same flight path as the jet. Still screeching to scare both friends and enemies, the cockatoo turns and mirrors the same downward arc, disappearing from sight.
Perhaps a philosophical parallel could be made, a bit of literary prose penned to suit the occasion. However, it is just an illustration of everyday life and I can still hear the highway rumble, the neighbour’s dog barking and the postman on a small motorbike with squeaky brakes. Nothing magical, no cheque in the mail, just suburban routine.
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
My childhood nickname was “Apple Queen”. In later years, I have wondered why I wasn’t called “Apple Princess” but I think it may have had something to do with the name of a variety of apple at that time. One of my mother’s favourite early black and white photographs of me, taken in my grandparents’ long driveway at Hampton, Victoria, illustrates my love of apples. I have a Granny Smith apple in each hand, possibly from a homegrown tree. I was about four years old and, by the look on my face, quite serious about the art of eating apples.
I still am. One sits next to me as I type. If I need a snack, a lunch box filler or fruit for a picnic, I grab an apple. Drool has formed in the corners of my mouth when I’ve looked at apples with sultanas and honey. Strudel, pies, pureed or skewered on a kebab, the texture and essence of apples is never lost. That crisp, sweet smell pervades my senses, particularly when I walk into a room and get a whiff of that fruity fragrance. Immediately I want to chomp my teeth into the cool, smooth skin, break through that thin protective layer to taste its juicy flesh. That first crunch is like no other sound. The sound reverberates through my jaw as I munch the apple into cider and swallow.
In my haste to eat an apple, I have been known to choke on a piece but it has never put me off. My mother could devour a whole apple, pips and all, but that’s not my style. I denude the apple to the core then toss the remains into the garden for some foraging creature to finish off.
I have a vivid memory of apple blossom and then tiny green and red striped apples forming on a tree we had in our backyard at Mount Waverley, Victoria. Picking them too soon, I recall my disappointment at their unripe, bitter flavour. Just recently I have read that apples are helpful to asthma sufferers and, since I am a life-long asthmatic, I wondered if instinct might have played a part in my voracious consumption. It certainly had nothing to do with Adam or Eve.
Occasionally, I am asked about my favourite variety and I answer “Any. As long as it’s not bruised.” Apples creep into my salads, my sauces and, thanks to a friend, into my hamburger mince. To me, a dessert isn’t a proper dessert unless it contains apples. Imagine a world without apple pie and ice-cream! My father liked cloves cooked into apple pies and that’s the only time I didn’t like my mother’s cooking. To this day I don’t know why the odd flavouring of clove is meant to enhance cooked apples.
The very shape of an apple is pleasing to me, even the logo on my laptop. During my teenage years, I collected ornaments in the shape of apples. Two examples may have survived. A red china apple made in two halves, the bottom half containing candle wax. The other apple made of hand-blown glass, with a glass leaf, which contains layers of coloured sands from Cooloola Beach on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.
Baby daughters are now being named Apple; it’s something I didn’t think of at the time and I’m hoping it’s after the apple blossom fruit rather than the corporation. My fruit bowl is really an apple bowl with other fruit scattered around for effect. Sometimes toffee apples will creep into the mix and I treat them with caution. Hard red toffee and my teeth don’t work well together but I never let that stop me.
Happy torta di mele!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Dear Diary, it’s a calm, warm July day, almost like an early Spring, but there are no butterflies or buzzing insects. The crows call to each other across the back garden and noisy miners flit back and forth like feathered investigators on an important assignment. The children in the house behind my suburban block are jumping on a netted trampoline and soon there will be a cry and a parent will take them off. The towels have been on the Hills Hoist clothes line for two days. A dried-out agapanthus head is sticking straight up out of the perennial foliage, a reminder that I am not a conscientious gardener.
So saying, in a green square pot I have grown a very tall tomato plant with fat green tomatoes (above) emerging every day. The old mandarin tree has a yearly crop of pale orange-coloured mandarins, and my rosella plants are flowering (above) while the spring onions and ginger roots carry on regardless. There are non-native plants like a small pomegranate, poinsettia bright red and blooming (above) and our huge native gum tree towers over all of us; blossom for the parrots and fruit bats. Special mention goes to our agave family. These Mexican beauties (above) love our subtropical climate and we’ve given away more young plants than I can remember.
Of course, there’s the herbs, for better or worse, always trying so hard … The trailing hoya (above) was a joy with its pink waxy flowers but recently it decided it had had enough and shrivelled up. The ancient mulberry tree went the same way, dying in the drought a few years back, followed by the peach and avocado trees. The coffee bean tree (above) survives anything. We live on a sloping hill with poor soil which is interesting because many years ago cows grazed on the lush hillsides around us. My father once said “All your good top soil has been washed downhill”. Not so long ago the rich alluvial earth along the creek at the bottom of our street was plundered and no doubt sold for landscaping.
When I first lived here, the suburb was casual with a leafy roughness about it which made for a relaxed, friendly vibe. Indeed, every home was owner/builder and most residents chose not to erect fences nor were there any footpaths. Trees were planted to shade homes from the fierce western afternoon sun and if you were lucky you had a ceiling fan. Ah, the 70s, a time of emerging from the past and forging ahead with little regard for past cultural or community identity but, in so doing, it created a unique city. Strangely, if not surprisingly, it has taken about 40 years for the people of Brisbane, Queensland, to appreciate our subtropical city. The past is now nostalgically and fondly remembered as the concrete is poured for yet another highrise apartment block.
If real estate developers would let us, we would return to our friendly, informal way of life instead of building cement block homes and painting them grey like every other capital city in Australia. To take my mind off the screeching of chainsaws as they hack down another leopard tree (above) I will write a little bit about our front garden.
In the front garden, and I use the term loosely, there is structure and visions of edging and all, but I have let that slip. Two tall palm trees (above) on either side of the house echo early Queensland-style seen in rural areas. Tough-as-old-boots golden cane palms dot the area while I think our camellia is a Melbourne throwback. The stocky Illawarra flame tree with its pink orchids (above) was planted to complement the purple jacaranda nextdoor (viewed from balcony). I will not describe the weeds like camphor laurel, monstera or umbrella trees always springing up between the lemon scented tea-trees and more civilised shrubs. Does anyone still grow ‘mother-in-law tongue’ and ‘cast-iron’ plants? Cast iron is an unkillable broad leafed low-growing plant and I think it was beloved of early Victorians as either a hothouse or indoor plant in brass pots on wooden stands.
In the back garden, what there is left of our lawn is covered in bindii prickles thanks to lawn mowing contractors who disperse them willy-nilly via their lawn mower tyres. You can read my screed on Lawn Mower Men. There is a shallow bird bath under the eucalyptus tree for the enjoyment of noisy miner birds. On a tiled outdoor table, I have my inherited maiden hair fern (above) in a small pretty terracotta pot. The pot was thrown and fired by a neighbour and friend over thirty-five years ago. This little fern is hardier than most!
Apart from hedging bushes of murraya, or mock orange, there is no strong scent in the garden and no ornamental plantings with fragrance except a straggly French lavender potplant. Our forebears had a bit of foresight when it came to planting leafy, sheltering greenery in an otherwise hot landscape. It’s our trees which stand out, they, and others like them, represent our suburban streetscape. Long may they tower over us!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
I read three books at a time …
My books are almost in every room. All genres and categories, all shapes and sizes, new and old, popular and obscure, loved, liked and even loathed. I will refer to them, quote them, yet perhaps not always re-read them. I prefer the next book, the next Great Read, something new to me but not necessarily a blockbusting bestseller.
As mentioned, I read about three books at a time, not to show off, but to suit my mood during the day. The books can be in any format, paper, ebook, large print, audio as long as it holds my attention, sparks my imagination, gets me interested or teaches me something new. I’ve been through my non-fiction period, my classics epoch, my intellectual stage, my steampunk phase, my romance jaunt and different levels of humour, while dabbling in between with things like sci-fi fantasy and horror, but I keep coming back to perennial crime fiction.
For me, the ‘must have’ is a good strong lead character, someone I want to know about, someone I want to tag along with throughout the day, or night. On the weekend I read in the garden under the palms with a cool drink but mainly I read at night. A good crime novel can be detrimental to my sleep! Apart from a nicely twisted plot, the characters are who I care about the most. Currently my favourite murder mysteries are written by Australian and British authors.
While I enjoy writing reviews, my ego is under no illusions that anyone would find my reviews earth-shattering or even interesting. It’s a hobby for me and my suggestion to you, dear reader, is that you should make up your own mind on any book. Blurb can be misleading! It would be nice to see more conflicting, controversial reviews and posts by readers who are not looking over their shoulders at freebies/writers/publishers/fans or the next thumbs up.
I recommend books I’ve liked and occasionally pan those I’ve disliked. My thoughts may differ from yours so if you have never written a review, why not give it a go? Write a couple of paragraphs and see if it deepens your appreciation of the book. My thoughts lead me to writing down the key words and hey-presto. Get along to book launches and author signings for insider information. And grab a copy of “Francis Plug: How to Be a Public Author” by Paul Ewen. Kooky, hilarious and factual, it delves into the fan/author relationship with real consequences.
NOTE: Reading three books simultaneously for maximum brain gymnastics means, for example, one on public transport, another in a lunch break, and a third at bedtime. Happy reading!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward