Friday, August 31, 2012

Henry turns 10 and birthday cake disasters

The pressure was on in our home last week; the youngest member of the House of Barr, Henry was turning ten. Despite valiant efforts on my part to dissuade Henry from the idea of having a party, by 3.30pm last Thursday the river bank at Willow Bend was overtaken by a dozen or more ten year old boys and girls packing “nerf” guns and various other weapons…

The day before I had pulled my late 1960s model Kenwood Chef mixer out of the cupboard, opened up my “Women’s Weekly Original Cookbook” and commenced Operation Chocolate Cake. In our house (for the last thirteen years), a birthday means chocolate cake.

Once (and only once) upon a time, way back in 1999 in our home, a child’s birthday meant sponge cake. Triple-sifted flour and delicately combined ingredients were to produce a light as a feather, fluffy as a cloud, sponge cake… well that was my intention.

In May 1999 Max was turning one and as any parent knows, the first birthday is a significant milestone. As one half of a team of super parents, I wanted Max’s first birthday cake to be perfect; so I phoned my Mother for advice. Mother, a domestic goddess from way back, recommended a plain sponge cake with strawberry jam and cream. Even though I had never baked a sponge cake before, it all sounded so simple… so I left it until the last possible moment to begin my culinary masterpiece.

I selected a sponge cake recipe from my extensive cookbook collection and set about recreating the delicious looking cake photographed next to the recipe. It was all going along beautifully up until the moment I walked towards the pre-heated oven with my cake tin full of mixture. A little voice inside my head said, “Hang on a minute, did you remember to add the baking powder to the flour before sifting it three times?”

I muttered merde in English and my inner Julia Child evaporated as I realised I was out of time to start again. Upending a half-teaspoon of baking powder over the top of the cake mixture, I stirred vigorously before slamming it into the oven. Unsurprisingly I produced a circular cake of brick-like consistency, which I was forced to disguise under a mountain of whipped cream and chocolate Freddo Frogs. Although it looked suitably impressive in the photographs the only member of the family that actually ate it was Spook, the kelpie sheepdog and even she wasn’t that enthusiastic. I haven’t made a sponge cake since.

These days I begin preparations the day before. I dedicate an hour to amassing copious amounts of flour, cocoa powder, black coffee, butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla essence, sour cream, salt and bi-carbonate of soda. Then pour (most of) the (sensationally delicious) raw mixture into a big, square cake tin and place it into the oven for a further two and a bit hours at 160 °C. The end result is a double sized, Women’s Weekly Dark Chocolate Cake that could feed a small African nation or a horde of Barham Primary School children and their parents. Add a small bucket load of mocha icing, handfuls of Smarties, Strawberries & Cream and Natural Confectionary Co. dinosaur shaped jellies and the gastronomic, diabetes-inducing masterpiece is complete.

With the addition of a platter or two of fairy bread and a few chip sandwiches; plenty of outdoor spaces to run around on with nerf guns and you have the perfect setting for a birthday party. Happy 10th birthday Henry.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Inaugural Bendigo Writer's Festival

Just the other day I discovered a whole new world; the literary nirvana of attending my first ever writer’s festival.  At a friend’s suggestion, on Sunday 12th August, I went along to the final day of the inaugural Bendigo Writer’s Festival at the Capital Theatre in Vine Street, Bendigo.

Leaving early on the Sunday morning I drove to Kerang and car-pooled south with creative genius and Your Community Cares legend Jane Ogden.

The three-day event had brought together writers, readers, speakers and word lovers from all over Australia. With four or more sessions running concurrently at each timeslot it was an astrological nightmare for Librans like myself… how to choose between so many enticing topics?

Jane and I headed in different directions for the first two hours as Jane went to listen to Australian playwright and screenwriter Katherine Thomson speak about writing for theatre and the importance of telling your own stories on stage. While I headed into a panel session entitled “What makes a hero?” to hear Hanifa Deen, Ian Jones, Gideon Haigh and Janine Burke talk with Emma Robertson about who we admire, why and the writer’s role in creating legends.

Australian historian and writer Michael McKernan from Canberra came and sat in the seat next to me. Before the panel session began we had an interesting chat about interviewing war veterans. He was particularly interested to hear about Edgar and his trip to England, visiting the Bomber Command Memorial and attending the 550 Squadron Reunion. Michael has written numerous books including “Gallipoli: A Short History”. In April 1990 he travelled with a group of World War I Gallipoli veterans back to Turkey for the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing.

Jane and I reunited at lunchtime to hear Roger Sworder, Harry Oldmeadow and Brian Coman discuss “The Uses and Abuses of Philosophy” with Tom McWilliam. It was by this stage after 12pm and I was feeling a bit peckish but with no scheduled lunchbreak I had to contend with consuming my chicken, cheese and spinach focaccia in the front row of the philosophy talk. I felt rather self-conscious as I tried in vain to quietly remove the paper wrapping. Wishing I could absorb the focaccia through osmosis, I wondered anxiously if I would be evicted from the audience for eating (thankfully, I wasn’t).

Later in the afternoon talk-show hostess Gena McLean interviewed John Holton and Lauren Mitchell, both of whom write weekly columns for the Bendigo Advertiser. They spoke of the ongoing challenge of writing non-stop non-fiction to a weekly deadline. 

Speaking briefly with Lauren after the interview I learnt that she is a regular weekend visitor to Barham and enjoys escaping up here to her family’s holiday house.

Other sessions I attended during the day included a talk from various small, independent publishers and a discussion on the difference in writing styles between male and female writers.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of attending a writer’s festival, (especially one as close and accessible as Bendigo) and I will be looking forward to putting it onto my “To Do” list for next year. Listening to and talking with people who are interested in what you are interested in, is good for the soul.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The importance of communication and Jonesy's Dairy

“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” – Joseph Priestley (1733-1804)

A thought provoking quote that seems more valid today than when it was originally said by the English chemist who discovered oxygen and invented soda water in the 1700s.

Lack of communication or a breakdown in communication is the single biggest cause of conflict in the world today.

Regrettably for the ratepayers of the Wakool Shire, a recent lack of communication has cost the Wakool Shire Council a considerable amount of money following the court ruling on the Jonesy’s Dairy Fresh Development Application (DA). The court ruled that Council had failed to properly notify all persons likely to be affected by the development.

There have been no winners in this recent legal debacle except perhaps the legal advisors themselves.

While it is easy to be wise in hindsight, surely the local residents who launched the legal action against the Wakool Shire Council could have, at the very least, raised their concerns in person, directly with Wayne and Rhonda Somerville of Jonesy’s Dairy Fresh as well as the Council, before proceeding down the trail of litigation?

As Australians we can be grateful we live in a country that values freedom of speech and a legal system that allows us to have our voices heard, no matter how big or small we are. Let us not abuse these privileges.

I have always viewed legal action as a last resort; to be used when all other forms of mediation have failed. Not the first port of call.

There are at least two sides to every story and in this case, possibly three or four. People are entitled to ask questions and to have their concerns answered. Why didn’t Wakool Shire Council, the group of concerned residents and Jonesy’s Dairy Fresh get together and call for a public meeting?

Who are the residents who launched the legal action?

What are their concerns?

Are they anti the dairy development simply because they bought or built homes next to the town’s industrial zone? If this were the case, then it would be akin to people buying housing under flight-paths and then demanding the planes fly somewhere else.

Are they willing to discuss their concerns calmly and openly at a public meeting?

Barham needs industry to grow to attract working families. Barham needs industry to grow to attract and retain young people in our community.

If an industry wants to locate itself in the industrial area in Barham and meets the appropriate standards and regulations required, then I feel it should be encouraged and supported. (…unless of course it’s a nuclear power station, then my stance would be “No way in hell.”)

For the past two years our towns of Barham and Koondrook have been benefiting from a short-term artificial population increase courtesy of the Koondrook-Perricoota Forest Flood Enhancement Works Project (KPFFEWP).

Sometime in the next twelve months, the KPFFEWP will be completed (ironically the end date is rather vague thanks to the naturally occurring floods down the Murray River that keep delaying the construction of the project…). The 150+ employees and contractors for Fulton Hogan will move on to other projects, leaving a large economic hole in the towns of Barham and Koondrook.

Fulton Hogan’s arrival in town coincided with and is still cushioning the impact of, the New South Wales State Government’s decision to close the town’s main industry: sustainable red gum logging.

Jonesy’s Dairy Fresh were planning to run their office and set up a small boutique cheese and yogurt plant at Parkman Avenue, that they say could employ around thirty people. Does the community of Barham want this project dismissed on a technicality?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Loving procrastination and BTB one year on

Last week marked the first anniversary of my weekly column Behind the Barr. And who would have thought (least of all me), that I would still be writing it a year later. I love that moment each week when I hit “send” on my computer keyboard and the column vanishes into cyberspace and turns up in the office of The Bridge. The pressure to put together five or six hundred words is over for another week… or at least until I start worrying about what to write for the following week.

Friends have asked me how I come up with a column each week and I think Bill Watterson, the American cartoonist and author of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes summed it up nicely with his quote:

“You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.”

“What mood is that?”

“Last-minute panic.”

While doing some detailed research into learning about being a newspaper columnist, I discovered that professional columnists usually have one or two emergency columns written and put aside for moments when an unforeseen calamity or illness strike, making reaching your deadline impossible.

It’s great advice and I have embraced the theory… it’s just that every time I get an extra column written my brain goes inexplicably blank the following week until finally I smile and think, “Gee, lucky I have that emergency column that I wrote last week.”

Many times I find there just aren’t enough hours in my day… mainly because I allow myself to dedicate large tracts of time to the often-maligned art of “doing other things” usually referred to as procrastination.

In today’s time management obsessed society, efficient and productive uses of one’s time is praised, while procrastination is viewed in a very dim light indeed. Being an advocate of procrastination, I prefer to view it in a much brighter light.

I find procrastination immensely satisfying. It enables me to complete numerous boring tasks (such as housework) that I would otherwise ignore. Has anyone else noticed how tantalizing vacuuming your house becomes when faced with the prospect of doing last month’s bookwork? The bookwork of course still gets done but not until I’ve completed a multitude of minor jobs first. Personally I see it as a win/win situation.

When put to good use, procrastination can expand your life in ways you never dreamed of. It allows you to head off on other tangents and discover opportunities and adventures you may never have thought of, had you stuck rigidly to the task at hand.

Procrastination can do wonders for enhancing your life/work balance, as any high school student knows. Why spend three weeks slaving over an important assignment when it can all be done the night before it’s due?

Actually, there can sometimes be a significant reduction in the quality of the work produced when done the night before, depending on what type of assignment it is. Not to mention the raising of tension between the parent and teenager… so perhaps not a great example for you all, please forget I mentioned it.

Teenagers aside, procrastination with a deadline looming ramps up the pressure and enables you to be sometimes dazzled with your own flashes of brilliance and productivity output over a short space of time… other times you should just abandon all hope and finish sorting out your sock drawer…

Friday, August 3, 2012

Post holiday blues

The last few weeks I have been getting back into the swing of things and life in Barham. After four weeks of non-stop adventuring around England and Paris and a twenty-three hour flight home, I knew to be on the lookout for the post holiday blues… it didn’t help but at least I knew to be on the lookout…

It took a good five or six days for my 24-hour internal body clock to readjust from the effects of jetlag. Long haul flights wreck havoc with the body’s circadian rhythms and I found myself struggling to stay awake past 7pm but then frustratingly wide awake at 3am. Happily I am now back to my usual routine of staying up late, getting up early and having the occasional nap at lunchtime.

No sooner had I adjusted to Barham time when the restlessness set in. Rather selfishly all I want is to head off on another excellent adventure. Already I’ve been consulting road maps to see just how far I could travel in the course of a weekend and wondering if a two thousand kilometre round trip would be excessive… as I eye off a little spot I’d like to see in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges.

Whether they are big or small, for most of us, having moments to look forward to is what keeps our lives so interesting. What I find so fascinating is the never knowing what may lie around the next metaphoric corner and the seemingly insignificant choices that can end up changing the whole course of one’s life.

Luckily for me and my current restlessness there are a number of things coming up locally that I’m very much looking forward to. Take for instance this weekend; our talented local thespians and dedicated production team of the Golden Rivers Theatre Group launch their annual play. This year we are being treated to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1957 stage production of Cinderella.

Richard Rodgers (1902–1979) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895–1960) were an innovative and successful American musical theatre writing team with Rodgers composing the music and Hammerstein writing the lyrics. During the 1940s and 1950s they created a string of popular Broadway musicals including Oklahoma! (1943); South Pacific (1949); The King and I (1951); Cinderella (1957) and The Sound of Music (1959).

The team at Golden Rivers Theatre Group will be performing for six magical evenings and two amazing matinées, starting with tomorrow (Saturday) night’s opening performance commencing at 7.30pm in the Faulkner Pavilion.

Sunday morning I’m planning on enjoying an outing to the Barham Riverside Park for the annual Winterfest Market. Run by the Barham Festivals Committee and now in its twelfth year, the market is held from 10am until 2pm.  With something for everyone, there is an abundance of entertainment, hot food, quality produce and craft to choose from.