The Red Door

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This red door belongs to a pub in the suburb of Kensington in Melbourne. It’s right out the front of a set of traffic lights which proved convenient for me when the lights turned red, because I could take the photo I’d been wanting to snap for nearly as long as I’ve been driving this way, en-route to Footscray.

For some reason, this door has intrigued me ever since I set eyes on it. Certainly the color is halting and inviting, but it’s also the beautifully carved wooden detail on either side of the doorway and the arch above it that piques the old-world, romantic, architecture-loving woman inside me.

Melbourne is filled with buildings that reflect this style of architecture from a bygone era when the trams were made of wood and most of the cars were large, hollow, square-shaped tanks. And before this, when the streets were unmade and dirty and the cars were mostly rounded black beetles crawling through the city. And before this, when horses and carts and carriages dotted a landscape of wide flat streets and open pastures and gardens…to be continued.

 

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I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For The Split Screen…

 

 

Katch a Kombi – Living the Dream… Living the 70’s…

It’s hard to pin-point when the Kombi dream entered our home and took over our lives. My 23 year old identical twin sons are living in the middle of that dream – their dream – and the rest of the family are along for the ride, whether we like it or not. It’s a colorful, exciting, fascinating and historic journey that probably won’t have a definitive ending. Why should it? So many Kombi’s… so little time! But it’s proving to be a journey and an education worth taking, even by proxy!

Aesthetic splendour…

The boys have been working on their mechanical pieces of art for the last five years now, in between studying, and working part-time in order to pay for all the parts they invariably need to complete their overall Kombi ‘vision.’

Glossy (or matte) painted finishes, authentic fixtures and fittings, gelati colors, custom-made seating, upholstery, VW mini-fridges, sinks, beds and pop-out kitchens. Oh, and the all-important engine that sits snuggly in the rear of this adventurous beast; its mechanical giggle loud and always bubbling over with enthusiasm. These plethora of parts make up the elements and the unique personality of each Kombi that speaks a language from a bygone era.

Bloody hard work…

Lewis Carroll once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” I think the boys do know where they’re heading, but they’re taking their time and exploring all the narrow, winding tracks that meander off the big, main highway of removing rust, flattening panels with body filler, cutting and welding new panels, rust proofing sheet metal using epoxy, painting with primer for color bonding and adding the final, clear top coat.

This initial template proves easier and quicker to move through when subsequent vans enter the family. They are often rust-buckets. Old, discarded but pre-loved with the promise of future restoration and a new travelling adventure ahead.

And then there’s the ‘Jewel in the Crown,’ and ‘Manna from Heaven’ – the 1956 Split Screen Step-Through Panel Van Kombi that one of the boys stumbled across and bought for, what I’m told, was a ‘bargain price.’ Apparently it’s rare and it’s coveted and he’s going to keep it forever. Living out of it for an extended period of time may also be an option…

The end vision…

The other son has nearly finished his work of art (a 1974 Dormobile Bay Window Deluxe Edition), after committing hundreds of hours to its restoration and re-birth. He’s planning on selling it as soon as he’s driven it around the block a few times. He’s also built and sold bespoke Kombi Luggage Racks on the side, and of course, added one to his own van.

I have sat in this near-completed vehicle and dreamed about driving it around Australia myself, together with bedding and cushions, comfy chairs, pink and orange bunting and a small but excellent coffee machine… oh, and the dog!

I’m also told there’s plenty of opportunities to “make some good coin” and run a business from the Kombi’s unique interior. Whether this involves selling donuts, coffee, pies, iced-tea, or engaging in Winery Tours and chauffeuring guests and wedding parties to and from their desired venues, the ideas are seemingly infinite.

Feeling the love…

The humble Kombi has taken on a whole new meaning in the 21st century, and it’s certainly added a new dimension to our household and our lives. It has also been exciting and wondrous to witness the love these sons have for a vehicle from another time, another place.

It’s an institution they have made their business to bring into the lives of their family and friends, and to leave a lasting and a spirited impression on all who bask in the Kombi’s shimmering and shiny 50’s, 60’s and 70’s narrative.

 

 

Letting My Fingers Do The Talking…

 

 

 

 

“I love working on a typewriter – the rhythm, the sound; it’s like playing the piano, which I do, too.”

-David Mamet, Playwright.

 

When I was a small child and discovered keys and keyboards, my world suddenly became a more exciting place.

My mother and I lived with my father’s eldest sister for three months when I was in kindergarten and she had a very glossy, black, beautiful piano that I just couldn’t keep my hands off. My aunt was strict though, and every time I wanted to play it I would have to wash my hands with soap and present them to her, outstretched, so she could smell the lavender ‘bouquet’ that dutifully signalled to her my hands were clean and therefore, ‘worthy.’

I didn’t learn to play the piano at this stage of my young life, but I just loved the smooth, silky feel of the keys and the notes and sounds I could ‘magically’ conjure from striking the black and white palette of this mysterious and challenging instrument.

I taught myself to play by ear in the short time we lived at my auntie’s, and I ‘improvised.’ In my imaginary world between Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Mary Had A Little Lamb and Chopsticks, I was a famous concert pianist. Goodness knows what my playing sounded like, but eventually it was enough for my auntie to declare to my mother, “Edna, I think she needs lessons.”

My mother wasn’t musical but she loved the piano, and I think she harbored a secret yearning to learn and play herself. So when, at the age of seven, I showed renewed interest in this most exquisite of musical creations, I was offered lessons on a trial to see if I liked them and would stick at it. Mum said she’d buy me a second-hand piano if I showed enough passion and dedication and if I practiced every day.

I loved learning to play and I loved my lessons with Miss Murphy. I got my very own piano, and 44 years later I’m still playing it nearly every day. But in between discovering the piano, I also discovered the typewriter! As an eight or nine year old, I used to bash away on the neighbor’s old machine until eventually Father Christmas delivered my first manual typewriter. I still have it!

Of course, I typed with two fingers until I actually learnt how to touch-type, but after that first lesson, I felt like the sky was the limit. For some reason I could type fast. Much faster than I could hand write. And so, I eagerly typed all the silly short stories I used to write when I was very young. Again, in my fantasy world, I pretended to be a famous author! (Mm… I mutter, as I cradle my chin between my right thumb and forefinger and gaze upwards)!

Between the melodious sounds of the piano keys and the staccato taps and thumps of the typewriter keys, I was in heaven. As the years progressed, I wished I was as dexterous at mathematics and the sciences as I was at playing and typing, but I was happy with my lot. The keys made me happy. The sounds of my words and my music made me happy.

Fast-forward to the present day and one of my four sons also loves to play. He hasn’t learnt to read music (yet) but he plays very beautifully by ear. For him, as with me, the big, timber box with the crazy highway of strings and knobs hidden inside its wooden belly is a welcome friend and warm respite from the stresses and tensions of day-to-day living.

Words and music fill my soul with rhythmic and creative challenges I never imagined were possible. Both skills continue to prove onerous and complex, but as with anything that’s difficult to accomplish, there’s also a feeling of immense worth and contentment and happiness (most of the time), at sticking with it and pushing those limitations to the very edge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home Is Where The Chocolate Chip Cookie Is…

“I don’t believe in low-fat cooking.”

-Nigella Lawson

 

I used to bake a lot, but since I returned to study and writing, my baking ‘duties’ have fallen away. “More food, less words please,” begged one of my sons a while ago. Mm……

As with writing, baking and cooking are my passions, and they soon beckon me if I’ve neglected to give them the attention they invariably crave. Like words, punctuation and character and story arcs, baking and cooking are very different elements of the same skill. The later feeds and fills stomachs and souls in less time than it takes to craft a ‘Hero’s Journey,’ but the art of the culinary artisan follows its own ‘Hero’s Journey’ and is a grateful and warming inclusion in our kitchen and the hub of our home.

In this small and friendly space, family and friends come and go and gather, and their conversations mix with the pungent aromas of sweet and savory and whatever’s baking and bubbling away at the time. But just the idea of chocolate chip cookies gets everyone salivating with anticipation even before the sweet, dense smell of the ingredients fill their nostrils and the house.

Beating the butter and sugar into whipped mini-mountains of thick, cloying sweetness and taste-testing… adding the fattiness of the eggs and taste-testing (determined to be the BEST bit), before adding the flour and the roughly-chopped chunks of dark chocolate, all seem to welcome a whole other level of discussion.

The combined velvety-smoothness of butter, sugar and eggs is licked from beaters and fingers as I hear about some “idiot” who hasn’t contributed their fair share to the group project. Then the conversation swings in a whole different direction. “Girls are so complicated. Half the time they don’t say what they really mean and they expect us to guess what’s going on with them.”

Dessert spoons appear as I add the flour and chocolate and place largish clumps of mixture onto the waiting trays. “Don’t eat too much boys or they’ll be nothing left to actually cook,” I mutter, as the cat, curious and eager, leaps up onto a nearby stool and the dog sniffs the air in anticipation of an unexpected taste treat.

Ten minutes cooking time per batch and I hang around and make a cup of tea in between listening to a new discussion on whether there needs to be a ying and yang in life for it to all make sense. “You know? Balance out the good and the bad people and the crazy things they do.”

I may hear part of an essay read out loud as e-bay sales (or lack there-of) are discussed and dissected and lamented before I’m asked, “What’s for dinner?” and “Seeing you’ve got the oven on, are you going to make a chocolate cake as well?”

The boys are young men now and the eldest has moved out, but he still mentions to me from time to time how he misses the cooking smells and the sweet, delicious aroma of chocolate chip cookies wafting through the house.

The others still crave a batch of cookies every now and again, and when I’m at a stale-mate with my writing and I decide to flick the oven on and soften the butter, there’s always someone with an ear open and a nose at the ready to meet me in the ‘hub’ to smell, taste, chat and just be.

 

 

The beginning…

I like to have a different image at the beginning of each blog I write. I think it’s because it’s a non-verbal introduction and pathway into the verbal… and as the old saying goes: “A picture paints a thousand words.”

I didn’t grow up by the sea, but I live there now and have done for the last 23 years. Before that, when I was much younger, I was also living near water. The mighty Murray River was majestic and treacherous all at the same time. As is the ocean.

As the philosopher and writer Alan Watts said: “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” This is the gift of the sea, the ocean, the water. It gives me faith in all manner of life’s quirks and quandaries, and it helps me relax through the tough times, and float above all the conniptions and their accompanying challenges.

I only have to look at the ocean (or the bay in my case), to feel instant relaxation occur within my body. My mind quickly follows my body’s lead. When I touch my toes to the shoreline and simultaneously feel the course sand and the water’s ebb and flow, I’m even more de-stressed. But it’s when I dive in that I really feel its soothing and calming properties hug me close, and assuage any tenseness and negativity.

Water is one of nature’s drugs and I have the great privilege of living close to its edges. I see it in my boys too, when life has taken a sour turn and they’re in need of something more than just hugs and words and understanding (and food)! Two of my sons in particular, make it their mission to head to the beach and just immerse themselves in its healing qualities. The salt heals; its ecosystem heals (particularly if they’ve hit the dolphin jackpot), the sounds of its tidal narrative heals, and the boys always return with a lightness of being.

Of course, the water can also be unforgiving and dangerous. But I think, as with most people in this world, if it is treated with understanding, respect and its not taken for granted, it will almost always be soul-supportive and encouraging.