Thursday, December 20, 2012

2012 Christmas Column

The magical day of Christmas is almost upon us for another year and so long as tomorrow’s forecast Mayan apocalypse doesn’t eventuate many of us will be mingling with family and/or friends next Tuesday. Just to be on the safe side, the boys and I will be doing our “Christmas Lights Tour of Barham and Koondrook” tonight.

At the risk of sounding like the Grinch who stole Christmas, with each passing year I seem to be looking forward to Christmas less and less. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas lights, mince pies, ham and eggs, excited children, my mother’s traditional Christmas dinner with all the family and mixing a glass of Pimms No.1 Cup around 10am on Christmas morning… it’s the obligatory retail shopping lead-up to Christmas that gets me down.

Christmas for me now feels less and less about love and more and more about spending money on nonessential items that will be discarded or broken before the Christmas decorations are dismantled. I hate that.

Shopping is not one of my favourite pastimes; it causes me a considerable amount of stress. The reason behind this stress is decision making (another little thing I’m not particularly fond of) and shopping is non-stop decision making. Not only do we have to decide what we want, we have to decide on all the specifications that go with what we want e.g.: brand, colour, style, size, cost etc… and then when it’s gift shopping, we wonder if the recipient of our gifts will even like or appreciate them. Shopping is exhausting, not because you might spend hours walking around the streets or those huge shopping centres if you’re in the city but because of all that deciding you have to do.

The retailers have caught on to all this shopping angst and delivered us the “gift card” so we, the gift buyers still spend money at their shops without having to make any major decisions. Clever, very clever…

Back in the good old days when choices were limited and gifts only arrived twice a year on Christmas morning and birthdays, I imagine the lead-up to Christmas was far less stressful and a lot more enjoyable. These days we live in a world of hyper-consumerism and instant gratification, to say we are spoilt for choice is an understatement.

Yes, it’s enough to make one just want to book in for a full one hour massage and feel all that tension and stress melt away… did I mention I sell gift vouchers?

Regardless of where you are, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Behind the Barr in 2012 and wish all of you a very happy and joy-filled Christmas and a new year of magical moments and excellent adventures in 2013.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Australia's 2nd biggest killer

A couple of Fridays ago my parents, Farmer Bill & Granny were enjoying morning tea at the Riverside CafĂ© with me before they headed north to their home at Red Hill Station… a few short hours later I was on the phone to Triple O requesting an ambulance to meet my brother, Tom, who was rushing Farmer Bill back to Barham. Out of the blue my fit, healthy and lively father had suffered a stroke.

Several times during the Triple O phone call I had to stop and take a deep breath to calm the feeling of panic that was ballooning rapidly inside me. My voice waivered badly as I explained to the operator where to send the ambulance and the condition my father was in.

A medical emergency is a frightening experience no matter where you are but more so in rural Australia where medical help may be hours away. Red Hill Station is 160km north east of Barham between Moulamein and Hay. We made the decision to bring Dad to Barham Hospital even though it was considerably further than the Hay Hospital due to Hay’s current medical crisis.

For some time now the $15 million Hay Hospital has been without a doctor. The two doctors in the town do not have Visiting Medical Officer (VMO) status and as such, are unable to access the hospital. This leaves the local paramedics with the job of transferring all medical emergencies to Griffith, a further 160km east of Hay (215km from Red Hill Station).

Our family is feeling extremely grateful for the high standard of medical services that were available to us. The ambulance and paramedics met up with my brother and Farmer Bill just south of Moulamein. He was given oxygen and transferred to the Barham Hospital where he was attended to by our very capable nursing staff and excellent local doctor, Michael Clarke, before being transferred by ambulance to Bendigo for further treatment.

In Farmer Bill’s case, his heart (for reasons best known to itself) went into atrial fibrillation (AF), where the heart’s normal rhythm becomes irregular. This caused a blood clot to form in the heart which then travelled to his brain. Although he was able to walk, lift both arms and speak without slurring, he spoke very quietly, was having trouble finding the right words to say and some of what he was saying wasn’t making sense. His left eye was slightly drooped but otherwise he just felt very tired.

My Dad has been extremely lucky and his sense of humour is intact. The stroke affected his speech and some of his memory. While he knows exactly what he wants to say, Dad has trouble finding the correct words. He has also found it harder to recognise casual acquaintances and remember in what context he knows them.

These symptoms are diminishing with his speech and memory now improving on a daily basis thanks to neuroplasticity; the human brain’s amazing ability to build new connections to compensate for injury or disease. With practice, patience and perseverance, Dad is hoping to make a full recovery.

Strokes can occur at any age, it is the second biggest killer of Australians and a major cause of disability; it is caused by one of two ways. The main cause of stroke is blood supply to the brain being interrupted either from a blood clot travelling to the brain or arteries to the brain becoming blocked. The other cause of stroke is bleeding within the brain from a burst blood vessel.

When it comes to strokes, time is critical. It is important that people learn how to recognise signs of stroke. The acronym is FAST.

FACE – has their mouth drooped?
ARMS – can they lift both arms?
SPEECH – is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
TIME – is critical. If you see any of these signs or in any way suspect a stroke call 000 immediately.

The signs of stroke may occur alone or in combination and can last a few seconds or up to 24 hours and then disappear. So remember the FAST Test and act when necessary, it can save a life.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Surviving a heatwave in style

Summer arrived two days ahead of schedule last week with temperatures soaring to between forty-three and forty-four degrees around Barham and district by Thursday afternoon. After our very enjoyable but out of character, cool spring, it was a shock to the system I tell you.

Throwing fiscal caution and power bills to the wind, I turned on the air-conditioner and every ceiling fan in the house for about thirty-six hours. At least our heat out here is usually a dry one, like strolling around in a fan-forced oven as opposed to the energy sapping humid heat of the tropics and other places.

As luck would have it the boys and I were dining with the lovely Jo and Don Hearn out at their Restdown Winery on Thursday night. Jo had telephoned late in the afternoon to warn me that their temperamental air-conditioning unit appeared to have a forty-two degree cut-out switch… and had cut-out for the day.

Not willing to concede defeat, Jo and Don had an excellent Plan B: move dinner from the house to the winery.

For those of you who have yet to visit the Restdown Winery (just over half an hour’s drive from Barham), it is an ingenious design of concrete tilt panels. Jo and Don were first inspired by the residents of Coober Pedy, the South Australian outback town 846km north of Adelaide, where an estimated fifty percent of the town’s population live underground in “dugouts” to minimise the harsh extremes of their local climate.

Further viticultural research took the Hearns to Europe where they were impressed by the French technique of using underground tunnels to store their wine and champagne and thereby minimising temperature fluctuations.

In 2002 with the idea of minimising ongoing heating and cooling costs, Jo and Don built their winery. The concrete walls are 200mm thick and the concrete ceiling is 250mm thick with two Whirly Bird Spin Aways in the roof for ventilation. The building is embedded into the side of a sandhill and covered with over a metre of dirt. Native plants growing in the dirt add extra shade and also soak up any rain. The cellar door and only uncovered wall of the winery, faces to the east and limits the amount of sun contact to the building.

The concrete, dirt and plants insulate the winery without the need for powered heating or cooling. During the coldest of winter nights when the outside temperature drops into the minuses, the winery is still fifteen or sixteen degrees. Likewise, during the hottest of summer days when the outside temperature is well into the forties (like last Thursday), the winery remains at a very comfortable twenty-four degrees.

The cellar (where all their delicious Restdown Wines are stored) is at the back end of the building for the best insulation. The front half of the building is where the wine is made; crushing, pressing and fermenting etc…

So there we were last Thursday evening, surrounded by wine bottles and a balmy twenty four degrees, enjoying our sumptuous dinner of roast chicken (locally grown “Chooks for Cooks” from Mardie and Glen Gray’s Little Forest Produce) and a salad, accompanied by a glass of the award-winning Restdown 2011 Semillon and my new favourite non-alcoholic drink for summer – Restdown Verjus and soda. The meal concluded with bowls of (slightly melted) ice cream and fresh mangoes – all in all the perfect remedy for heatwaves!