This week a friend and I managed to find a last minute booking for what was described as a “quaint, rustic cottage” next to a lake in Bridgetown.  We jumped at the chance and headed off for a few days of sorely needed downtime at the end of a very busy term. The plan was to rest, but also do some writing, photography, drawing and (most importantly) chatting.

I’d been itching to try out my new camera since my birthday, so as soon as we were settled in our distinctly rustic abode I set out to walk around the lake and find something photo-worthy. I soon came across a derelict footbridge (snap), a rose arbour that had fallen into disrepair (no snap, too sad), a very orderly row of fairly young gum trees side by side with a lone fig tree (snap, snap), and a rather palatial kid’s cubby house (snap). All of these were interesting, but none of them stirred me more than superficially.

Then I saw it – a huge river red gum, standing head and shoulders above all the other trees. It was glorious and immediately evocative of a much loved childhood story. Indeed, the first thing sprang to mind as I gazed up at it was ‘It’s the Faraway Tree!’ I could easily imagine Moonface, Silky, the Saucepan Man, Dame Washalot and the rest of characters that paraded through my highly imaginative early childhood hiding somewhere in its branches.

Bridgetown Faraway Tree

Bridgetown Faraway Tree

Our host had placed a bench under the tree and from that vantage point I could gaze up at the enormous trunk as I reminisced. I remembered wishing that I had a tree with a slippery slide built into it so that I could whizz down on a tasselled cushion. What fun that would be!

I found I couldn’t quite stop myself from glancing up at the top of the tree as I thought about the lands that drifted across the top of the Faraway Tree, just in case… Like the storybook version, this is a tree that cries out to be climbed, for children to adventure into, for artists to photograph and paint, and for arboriculturists to conserve. It’s quite magnificent and the childhood memories that it stirred up made me smile each time I looked across the lake at it over the next few days.

Although I’d remembered the names of all the magical characters in the Faraway Tree books, my memory referenced the human characters generically as the children. Out of curiosity, I looked it up as soon as a Wifi connection was to hand and the second or third ‘hit’ I got was a link to the Enid Blyton Society. This provided me with a plethora of information on all things Blyton, including the names of the children in the series (Jo, Fanny, Bessie) and some examples of the lovely illustrations and cover art from the early print runs.

I spent ages pouring over the covers and jumping between examples of some of my favourite early reading matter. Much to my delight I found a listing for the Five Find-Outers Mystery Series. I read these books with alacrity at much the same time as the Faraway Tree series, but subsequently never found the books again. In the intervening years I’ve asked numerous people whether they’ve read them, but no one I know had even heard of the series. Most people went so far as to ask whether I meant the Famous Five, Adventurous Four or even the Secret Seven! So the sense of vindication was actually quite ridiculously strong and decidedly childlike when I discovered that the Finder-Outers and little Buster the dog really do exist in Blyton-land and that I hadn’t made them up.

The combination of the real and imagined trees, the photographs I took and the information and images on the website has been like catching glimpses of a kaleidoscope of my childhood, of a fragmented land that seems to move further away each year. It’s brought them closer together and has made me want to climb more trees and to hunt for adventures – or perhaps it was simply relaxing for a few days that did that.

From The Enchanted Wood, by Enid Blyton. Illustration by Dorothy M. Wheeler, taken from the first edition.

From The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage, by Enid Blyton. Illustration by Joseph Abbey, taken from the first edition.

6am is far too early to be awake on a Saturday morning… unless there’s a darn good reason. Does going to the markets to bulk shop for fish, meat and veggies qualify as ‘a good reason’? Hell, yes! The cost savings are significant and future-me can put her feet up and recover later, whilst congratulating past-me on epic shopping success and bargains galore.

market city3When I first joined a veggie-buying co-op twenty+ years ago it was an economic necessity. I was surprised at how much fresh food cost in Australia when we arrived, and being part of the co-op made including a wide range of fruit and veg in our diet affordable. Our group was made up of four families and our budget per week was $60, although we often spent less than that. We all took it in turn to head off to the markets at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings, armed with our specially made collapsible shopping trolley, a pen and notepad to record the prices, and our allotted $60 in cash. Each week brought with it some surprise items and, depending on who the shopper was, the surprises ranged from a share of a box of quinces to a similar quantity of parsnips… or capsicum… or zucchini or… whatever seemed like a good idea at the time. Being part of this definitely broadened my family’s eating repertoire considerably and taught them just how many ways I could disguise zucchini!

 I confess that I initially found the market experience quite confronting. The determination with which people set about their shopping was impressive, the jostling and competitiveness unnerving, and the need for rapid mental arithmetic a challenge. It took several visits for me to get a handle on how to select the best buys and on how to manage the vendors in order to get the best service. In those days I noticed that many market goers were from Vietnam and China; as time passed there were more people from the Philippines, then from Middle Eastern countries, then Africa – a reflection of the changes to Australian migration policy, no doubt. These days it’s much harder to pick an ethnic trend, the markets having become a multicultural microcosm in action.

Over time the numbers in our co-op have diminished. Families have grown up and moved on, with the result that we diehards go to the markets less frequently. Since we’re down to two groups of people, we now take it in turn go every three weeks instead of weekly. This makes going more of a novelty and, on our turn, we now choose to go a little earlier and incorporate other outlets into our market adventures.

Our first stop is usually the fish market, where great crates and crates of fish stare up at me accusingly with their googly little eyes as I sneak past. Even with plastic gloves on, handling whole fish is not something I do willingly. The stench of fish, the slippery floor, the occasional splash of fishy-goo on my feet – all of this is highly unappealing. The meat shed next door is next, where the sheer expanse of raw meat is unsettling in a different way. Bags and bags of vacuum packed beef on trestle tables, piles of ubiquitous bones lurking menacingly in giant crates, the band saw singing tunelessly in the background and the queue to pay wending oh-so-slowly through all this is tough going on an early-morning stomach.

In due course we stash our assorted purchases in a cooler box in the car, then head across to the much larger veggie markets to face yet another throng of people, more jostling, more queues, more toting of heavy boxes. So why do it? Very simple: the price difference between the markets and a fish vendor, butcher or suburban veggie store is significant. Our most recent market haul included frozen fish fillets (hoki) at $5/kg, fresh trout – googly eyes and all, salmon steaks (we have a house guest who can’t eat red meat), many kilos of beef mince and ox heart at remarkably low prices (for the dog and cats), stir fry beef strips and a couple of roasts (because we still eat red meat sometimes!), cherry tomatoes ($5 for a huge box of these – the pick of the week), red capsicum, pears, nectarines, corn, potatoes, zucchini, cabbage, watermelon and some very tasty freshly-picked prunes. Our fridges and freezer are bulging at the seams and we’re set for fresh food for the next three to four weeks.

I remind myself of this every six weeks when I roll out of bed at 5.30 on a Saturday morning, wondering if it’s really worthwhile. From a both a future planning and cost point of view it is absolutely and always worth the occasional early morning and a bit of shoulder bumping from strangers. It’s also fun, in a weird sort of way – and last time I was there the coffee stand was open and the (charming) barista charge me $1 less than the standard price for a cuppa just because she liked my accent and I smiled at her. Win! 🙂

Years ago my daughter learned how to do linocuts as part of her TEE art programme. She made me a gorgeous cushion cover, printed from one of her designs — and I still sit on the cushion at my desk everyday, 15+ years later. At the time I thought it would be good fun to try out linocuts too, perhaps to print some fabric or cards. Every now and then I’d think of it again as something I’d get to eventually, but somehow the years passed and it never quite got to the top of my to-do list.

Then, just recently, a friend sent me a link about a one-day linocut workshop at Jude Taylor’s studio in the Swan Valley. I pounced on the opportunity without a moments hesitation. It was clearly time to make some space for creativity in my life – and I was delighted to be able to do so under instruction from one of WA’s top print makers.

The workshop was a very full day. We started by working on the design phase, which took a fair while as most people drew their designs from scratch. I, however, had trawled the internet for pictures until I found something that appealed and took the picture along to the class, where I redrew it and augmented it with some vaguely leafy shapes in the background. To do this I had to actually go out into the gardens and collect some leaves to copy, since drawing is not something that comes naturally to me.

Once all the sketching was done, the next step was to rub compressed charcoal on the back of the design, turn it right way up on top of the lino (actually a medium called combi board, but I’ll just refer to it as lino for the sake of simplicity), and then go over the lines with a sharp pencil to transfer them. Putting the sketch aside, we all went over our designs (now on the lino) with marking pen, then coloured in the sections of the design that we wanted to be the focus of our prints. This step made it much easier to see where to cut the lino and where to leave it intact a little later on.

After a very relaxing and chatty break for lunch (super tasty corn and leak soup, plus a pumpkin muffin an much-needed caffeine hit) we finally got down to carving out our designs. This turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. The medium is quite soft and as a result the tools are easier to control than (my experience of) wood carving tools. This aside, there were a few ‘oops’ moments when I overshot an edge of the design and then had to change it ever so slightly to incorporate what Jude referred to as happy mistakes.

It was fascinating to see how everyone’s designs changed as we went through the process of cutting, test printing and recutting to refine and tidy them. Each test print was put up on a board so that we could step back and look at them analytically. Then came the iterative process of assessment, tweaking, reprinting and checking  our respective designs until they were how we wanted them – after which the printing press ran hot!
linocut wkshop_25oct14
For someone who generally has restrained hysterics at the very thought of drawing, this workshop was remarkably enjoyable. The energy and enthusiasm that Jude shared with us was uplifting, as was the pleasure she very clearly experienced in doing so. The end of the day rushed in all too quickly, but we all left on a high. It was a great day of creative fun and this is definitely a do-more craft for me. I didn’t make a cushion cover, but I did create a pretty attractive gecko picture. Perhaps I’ll use the design on some fabric in the holidays and make some crazily colourful outdoor seat covers for the patio.

The past week was my almost-holiday between terms. This is the relatively quiet time when I generally get to enjoy some downtime, with only a few hours of work thrown into the mix each week. I managed to be out of work-mode for a while, but have had to wrack my brains a bit to figure out just what – exactly – I did with my time (other than the usual daily thingos).

Well, first there was brunch down in Fremantle with a dozen or so people to celebrate a couple of birthdays, followed by a quick foray down onto the beach to laze around, paddle or – for the bravest amongst us – to swim.


On one day we adventured off to meet our puppy for the first time. At all of six weeks old, Miss Molly turned out to be a-dor-able in every way. We get to bring her home in early November – and then the fun really begins!

Over the next couple days I managed to pack in quite a few things, now that I think about it. I rode my bike in the sun, zipping off on sundry missions to shops, library and friends. I’d almost forgotten just how much l love my bike and what fun it is to fly down hills with the wind in my hair. More of that to come over the summer, for sure. I read some books, planted some seedlings and a rose bush and finished the penultimate round of edits on my memoir. One more reader on that, then it’s time to hit up a publisher and see what emerges.

week of things234_oct14

Thursday morning was spent at work – so that wasn’t downtime at all, really, but putting nine volunteers through a training programme on the new computer system will make life easier for me next week, so it was a worthwhile investment. Afterwards I visited a damaged sibling – she broke her ankle earlier in the week and needed some cheering up. It felt good to be the one visiting and cheering for once, rather than on the receiving end. I think I make a better visitor than patient!

I attended week 4 of my ‘Smart Busy’ programme at Murdoch Uni, which motivated me to declutter several cupboards and get rid of some unnecessary stuff. VERY satisfying. During that process I came across some artwork that my brother did for me for a wedding invitation – nearly forty years ago, when he was living in Melbourne. How the wheel turns: I’m now in Perth and he’s in Johannesburg. Sadly he seldom sketches these days, but I’ve sent this one to him to see if it inspires him to start drawing again. We’ll see how that goes.

week of things56_oct14

A family dinner on one night included experimental Magic Bean Cake. It’s gluten free and very chocolatey – lots of good quality cocoa in there. Made as per the recipe it turned out super delicious and the unanimous vote was that it’s a definite do-again option. We had it for dessert, dusted with icing sugar and served with raspberries and custard. Yum. You can find the recipe I used hereOn Saturday we hit the veggie markets for fruit and veg and came away with an amazing haul of great stuff at bargain prices. I now need recipes for things to do with oranges – lots of oranges! Maybe the next magic bean cake should be orange flavoured…  The week has finally staggered to a close with gardening, a waterlogged German Shepherd (our water baby strikes again) and a trip to the cinema for ice-cream and a vampire movie.

It’s possible that I now need to go back to work to recover enough for more ‘down-time’!

kites collageIt’s been a few years since I last put together birthday goodie-bags, which is not surprising – considering that my youngest just turned 32 🙂

Luckily both skill and enthusiasm were still lurking in the dim recesses and the process turned out to be much as I remembered: a fair bit of planning, lots of glue, bits of paper and trying to get all the lollies INTO the bags instead of eating them. Or at least all of them…

Eventually all the component parts were assembled and the kite kits / goodie-bags were good to go. Kite flying birthday (of aforementioned youngest) dawned a bit grey and rainy looking, but cleared up enough for a foray to the local park for some kite action.  First the kite kits were unpacked and mini kites constructed (tasty treats discovered in bags were fun for all), then the kites were tested and modified (by those of an engineering bent), after which we all trooped across to the park.

A couple of commercial kites were unleashed, but the mini kites really won the day: perfect for limited space and not much wind. There was lots of fun and laughter – and a little girl running around shouting ‘I got it! I got it!’ added to that immensely. Adorable-Anaira is two years old and found it much more fun to chase kites than to fly them. Very reminiscent of a hyperactive puppy, actually… and that was before the very tasty, icing-covered, kite-cake for afternoon tea…