Friday, December 31, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 32

Flutter By
Two nights ago a moth fluttered around my light. It was persistent in its attempt to become amorous with the light, flying nearer and nearer, then in an almost flirtatious manner alighted on the opposite wall as if to say, "Light, chase me!" The light didn't reply. Again and again the moth crept nearer only to retreat. I became a tad annoyed. I was trying to read a book and a moth fluttering around my hair was a hindrance to becoming absorbed in the story line. Switching off the light I scrambled out of bed and opened the door in the hope that the moth would take a hint and vacate my space. That moth was dumb. He flew around and around the darkened space. More drastic action was required! I shut the door, firmly, switched the light back on, found a magazine that I rolled up and swished it suddenly onto the moth capturing it within the magazine pages, and with a quick flick I deposited it outside … back to my book.

The following night I had a visit from it's twin! As large as a 20cent piece, dark murky grayish brown, with white markings on its wings, as similar as two peas in a pod to the intruder of the previous night, this moth performed an aerial swoop of my room as if he was looking for his brother. This time I wasted not a moment, but grabbed my shower cap from behind the door, deftly encompassed the night flier, before tipping it out into the corridor. Those little incidents gave me cause to wonder why is it that moths, creatures of the night, and butterflies, their first cousins who prefer sunlight, evoke different reactions. We gaze in wonderment at the beautiful markings and brilliant hues of a butterfly, yet show little interest in the moth.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 31


Over the past two or three weeks the mosquitoes have hatched and in the evening stillness their buzzing advertises their presence, their unwelcome presence, in my room. I swipe my hand in the direction of the invading unwelcome bloodsucker. I invariably miss and two seconds later a bite on my arm announce that they have struck. If it finished there all might be well … but no … I swell up and itch and the unsightly red blotch does nothing to my appearance.

Last weekend they struck in the dead of night. In the morning my eye was swollen, and upon glancing in the mirror thought I had been in a war. Red blotches in the corner of my eye, another on my cheek, and all around was unsightly swelling. I peered in the early morning light and tried not to touch. In the dining room I imagined everyone was staring and wondering if I would come up with the old excuse as to the swelling, "Oh, I just walked into a door". Sad fact is I hadn't. I pretended nothing was wrong … that way I needed make no excuses or offer any reason.

We had a few nights of cooler weather and winds sprung up rattling the door and threatening to lift the roofing iron on the balcony roof. The clanging noise may have helped keep the mosquitoes at bay, or more likely, it was too cold and windy. My face cleared up … they took three days to disappear and the vague itching persisted another day. I almost forgot about mosquitoes.

Until … last night! The army invaded again, stealthily this time. They did not make the buzzing sound or if they did I was sound asleep. I woke this morning and there on my arm were the telltale red blotches accompanied by that old familiar itch. Tonight I will once again spray my door surrounds with fly spray, deadly to insect fly spray!

This hotel is almost a century old and it has gaps at the bottom of the door … gaps that could let in ants if I kept food lying around. I am wise; I use a refrigerator. In cold windy winters evenings the gaps let in cold air, and in the height of summer dry hot air from the desert drifts in making the air conditioner work twice as hard. I have sprayed once before and if it wasn't the appearance of colder nights that made the mosquitoes hibernate, then it worked.

Cue does have an army to fight the onslaught of the mosquito in the shape of a small truck that drives around the streets on dusk spraying in its wake a cloud of kerosene impregnated smoke that creeps into any mosquito breeding homes, and which is supposed to obliterate these pesky pests.

The first time I heard this 'exterminator truck' I thought a small single-winged airplane was circling the town in an effort to find a suitable landing place. We do have an airport on the outskirts, but a vivid imagination working over time envisioned a serious medical emergency necessitating an immediate touchdown as near to the scene as possible. I remember hurrying to the window and in the twilight I thought there was a fire, so dense was the smoke. I peered and noticed the smoke moved. There were no flames … there was no fire! Bushfires are commonplace in Australia, and thankfully I have never seen one, nor do I ever want to. Smoke billowing from behind a small white truck was a novelty, and once the purpose was explained I relaxed. That truck toured the town weekly last mosquito season. I hope it does it job a little better this season! I do not like the raised red blotches and the itching that is part and parcel of a mosquito bite.

Of course I could spray my bare skin with a spray that keeps insects away. Have you ever smelt that spray? It stinks! People who spray their bare skin with that particular insect repellent smell not nice. I think I will keep faith with the spray truck and in a positive frame of mind will knows that the mosquito problem will be reduced, or completely stopped within a week or two.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 30

Citrus Tang

It’s been a citrus couple of days. For a moment imagine me wandering through a citrus grove. [Now isn't grove a wonderful word … so close to grope, which is not exactly a wonderful word or its connotations are not wonderful, and glove, which conjures up a picture of a cold wintry day, one's breath spilling from mouth and nose like steam from a kettle, except steam is hot, and the breath instantly turns cold.] I have never wandered in a citrus grove. I have leaned over a boundary fence and accidentally knocked some luscious ripe lemons onto my side and thus, with a clear conscience turning away from the possibility of stolen fruit, I have picked them up for culinary purposes. I have seen orange trees growing in a neighbourhood, but I have never wandered in a citrus grove.

Some time ago several kilograms of limes were ordered. We do not know why as there is really little one can make from several kilograms of limes. They sat in a cardboard box high in the cool room. The catering had long been completed and not one lime was used. Since then the person who ordered those limes has departed from his employment at this establishment.

We found the limes one day. I picked one up and examined it, having only ever seen pictures of limes. They varied in colour from a deep dark lime green to a lime green such as was the fashion colour many moons ago [lime green, shocking pink, and burnt orange … one day those colours will return … perhaps under another name, but basically still the same colours].

When I discovered Roses Lime Marmalade I thought it the most wonderful marmalade ever made. Only 'Roses' … no other brand came a close second. As winter cut cold and harsh into the bones the light at the end of the tunnel appeared in the shape of Roses Lime Marmalade. Even the jars were distinctive! I saved those jars and used them for storing coffee and other stores. A row of Roses Lime jars with a kaleidoscope of ingredients transformed what would have been a mundane kitchen shelf into something almost reaching exceptional. [Remember that jars can, of their own free will, fall from shelves and break … these were at least cheap and easily replaced!]

The other day we discovered, or remembered, the limes again. We looked. A discussion took place. How to use them up before they passed their use-by date, made obvious by brown marks appearing on the surface. Two were added to the evening meal, unnoticed by diners, while the rest lay less than resplendent in their cardboard box high on the coolroom shelf. Yesterday another discussion occurred. It was decided … make lime marmalade. Instantly the taste of Roses Lime Marmalade gripped my taste buds. I volunteered to make the marmalade. Truth be told, if I didn't no one else would!

After cooking breakfast I settled in the dining room with the cardboard box of limes, some with telltale brown markings on the skin that indicated time was of the essence if we were to salvage these limes. I set the box on my right-hand side, first rolling back the tablecloth.

After all if I cut up limes, washing tablecloths would fall down the list of needs-to-be-done. Morning TV blared in the corner … weather and news, gossip from Hollywood, advertising, a little chat amongst the announcers, weather and news, gossip etc.

To my left I placed a small plate … for the rubbishy parts … those little brown marks. Directly in front I set down a plastic cutting board judicially placed on a larger tray, in case of excessive juice. In my hand, dangerously, I held a sharp black-handled steak knife. For decades I have found steak knives to be the best blades for cutting all types of materials … fruit, plastic binding on cardboard cartons, carrots and cauliflower, and for peeling cooked potatoes for a salad, and slicing unsavoury pieces from food. Not necessarily unsavoury because of age, more likely unsavoury because they were items I did not like.

I cut and sliced, sliced and cut. Slivers of lime covered the board. I tipped them into a large bowl. Thank goodness for weather and news, gossip from Hollywood, advertising, and a little chat amongst the announcers! My sanity may have otherwise been seriously challenged. Almost two kilograms of limes I cut and sliced. My arm ached and my shoulder was a smidgen from contracting RSI. There were two limes left in the box. I discarded them … already the brown colouration of the skin made them unsavoury in appearance. Two tossed out would not unbalance the budget. I measured water and poured it over the cut and finely sliced limes, and topped the whole shebang with a clean tea towel, clamping that in place with a tray before placing it in the corner of the storeroom. [Soak overnight the recipe stated.]

This morning I fed the hungry, and with a great burst of early morning enthusiasm tipped the cut and finely sliced limes, along with the covering water, into a large pot, placed them on the stove and lit the gas. Boil for one hour or until skins are soft, read the recipe. I boiled and a wonderful citrus aroma filled the kitchen and drifted out to the dining room. The hour passed quickly. I tested the skins and they were soft. Now it was time to measure the sugar into the pot, stir until the mix came to the boil, and wait until it jelled. In twenty minutes the lime marmalade was ready for bottling.

Sadly I had no Roses Lime Marmalade jars available. We did have some large, very large, glass jars, with lids, that had once held gherkins. I had saved these for months in the sure and certain knowledge that one-day they would come in handy. Two were already in daily use … as containers for the ice cream mix for the soft-serve ice cream. I warmed the jars, waited a short time for the marmalade to cool, and proudly poured the lime marmalade into the jars. They are now stored on a high shelf in the cool-room … except for a liberal serving ladled into a container for breakfast toast.

To while away the cooking time I imagined a walk through a citrus grove. Blue skies, the glowing orange, lemon and lime green of oranges, lemons and limes, incandescent in their bed of shimmering deep green leaves and emitting an aroma designed to tempt the senses … every time we spread the lime marmalade onto our morning toast a little journey into a citrus grove will be ours … if we so wish.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 29

Bottlebrush and Animals
It is spring … we had a substantial fall of rain on Monday with an equally substantial drop in temperatures that necessitated my placing the inner back into my duvet, commonly known as a doona here in W.A. Why a doona? I don't know. This part of the world has some strange words … doona for duvet; donga for transportable rooms, Blue for a redhead, and other colloquialisms that escape my mind at the moment.

The rain was welcome. By Wednesday, when all trace had evaporated, the air was clear and the countryside smelt fresh and clean. Birds found puddles for drinking fountains and the three little rabbits that appear to live beneath the old bank on the corner nibbled on the green grass growing amongst the splits in the footpath. Several weeks ago I noticed two rabbits attempting to jaywalk to the shop. Huge road trains rumble by, but these bobtail bunnies, using road sense, and common sense, traversed the dangerous highway with ease. Now there are three little rabbits.

I was out the other day and began a conversation with schoolboys who were hungrily eyeing the rabbits. The suggestion that they feed them up with a little bread for a few weeks was rewarded with a knowing wink. I felt no guilt. Two rabbits six weeks ago can increase to untold numbers by Christmas, and out there beyond the black stump is a rabbit proof fence. Whether we are on the right side or the wrong side of that fence is debatable. A photo of little bunnies has not been taken as they scampered to hide … I wonder if they understood the words 'pan' and 'rabbit stew'?

At this time of year the native Bottlebrush is in all its full glory. Eight Bottlebrush trees grace our main street and all are in magnificent bloom. Brilliant red flowers catch the eye. If I recollect correctly this years flowers are considerably bigger and better than those of last year. What that foretells I am not sure, but there is bound to be some folklore associated with it.

The swallows are once again nesting, and hatching their young, in the rafters of the balcony of the hotel. Our two visiting dogs, Rusty and Sally [Sally Anne when she is naughty] delight in running along the balcony, their feet pitter-pattering as they anticipate a little game. During the night these little dogs share the room with their masters and the two resident Blue Heelers climb the stairs to sleep on guard. In the early morning I coax them back downstairs and outside, but once the canine visitors are sent outdoors, via the fire escape, they all delight in chasing the crows watching from the beer garden roof. I place the kitchen scraps in two bowls near the beer garden. Dogs have first choice, but the moment their backs are turned the crows help themselves.

Wombat, the 'senior dog' here oversees all food disposal! He is first. He has second choice … and third choice as well. Should he condescend to let another dog approach the bowl it is on his terms, which means he can growl and chase them away as he sees fit. And he often sees fit! I have been at the clothesline hanging out tablecloths when Wombat, who not five seconds earlier had chased [with vehemence] one of his kennel mates away, will bring a bone … with meat … to me, drop it at my feet, and expect me to pick it up and be grateful. He is presenting a gift! Which goes to show that he has me higher in his pecking order than the other dogs. Then again, he knows the hand that feeds him! Our Wombat is not silly. It could truthfully be said he is greedy and selfish and bossy … but he is also lovable, which is a redeeming feature.

Bear, the other Blue Heeler is content to wait. Somewhere in his past he has been unkindly treated and it is sad to watch him cower at any sign of confrontation, be it canine or human. He is the one who sleeps outside my door, and who, I like to think, would stand guard should trouble arise. Though that is one test I hope never arises.

Between four dogs, crows that hover, swallows that nest and hatch, and the spring flowering of the Bottlebrush, there is plenty to occupy ones senses. Soon the weather will warm up and we will seek the coolness of our rooms and the air con. Until then … spring is a-blooming fair.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 28


At a recent meeting of the local Shire it was decided to do away with the overhead electricity wires that hog the skyline. At first I thought, 'Good, about time', but hadn't really considered how much blight on the landscape they were.

We get used to such blights. They become part and parcel of our daily lives. We find it easy to ignore their presence … until we stop and take a close look. I did just that. I picked up the camera and shot random shots. Everywhere the electricity lines were obvious. I have taken hundreds of photos of this town and carefully try to avoid placing the wires in the viewfinder as I consider them to be intrusive in an Outback landscape.

We have crows that live in the trees … that raid the dog food in our backyard, and perch, full of cheek, on the overhead wires. They will have to find a new perch! One persistent crow has begun sitting on the balcony rail. Should he encourage his feathered friends and relatives to do likewise I will need to strategize a plan to deter them! A row of crows would present an unwelcome appearance to prospective guests.

We are lucky that such a small remote town does actually have electricity. Cue’s little power plant is situated on the outskirts of town. The extreme distances involved makes it virtually impossible, and certainly impracticable and expensive, to connect to the national grid. I guess the fact that we do have electricity and do not have to rely on individual generators makes it easier to ignore the ugliness of the wires. Why we need so many criss-crossing every streetscape is beyond me. Their layout appears indiscriminate and perhaps it grew, like Topsy, as the need for electrical connections grew.

From all accounts the placing underground of electricity wires should take place in the next financial year. No doubt our streets will be dug up. That could well be a good thing for this hotel … as the workmen will need somewhere to stay. Everyone wins! The town is instantly beautified, some businesses will financially benefit, and the many tourists who stop to take photos of our town will have an unimpeded view of the historic buildings.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 27

Lane Closure
The Managers headed south to the city to await the birth of number one grandchild, leaving a skeleton staff. Mrs Boss and I were the ‘chosen ones’ to produce the evening meal. Meat, vegetables, a macaroni cheese concocted the previous day, and our never-made-before sweet a sticky date pudding were prepared as a joint effort.

With the preparation complete and placed in the bain marie, soon the dining room rattled and clanged with the sound of cutlery and crockery as diners partook their evening substance. Mr Boss, feeling a need to show his ‘mine host’ skills moved amongst the dining tables making friendly conversation to two older couples that were guests for the night.

As is so often the case, conversation tends to center on the weather. The drought was top of the list. Straight faced and serious, Kevin told them that at Dalwallinu, in the wheat belt to the south where a drought was in evidence, it was so dry that they had to close two lanes of the local swimming pool. By this time I was sitting having my tea and turned around to see the looks on their faces. I couldn't believe it when one of the women looked shocked and said, "Really! That is so bad!" Kevin saw me looking and asked for my confirmation … I replied that lanes one and six were closed. I went into the kitchen to relate the conversation causing Pam and I to almost collapse with laughter. Later Kevin comes into the kitchen, and splitting his sides relates the whole episode. To me the closure of a lane because of the shortage of water was such a joke. It was beyond simple comprehension how those folks didn’t twig to the massive leg-pull. Pam considers Kevin wastes his wit, as frequently those it is directed to fail to ‘catch on’.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 26

Gardening Effort

There were ten green bottles hanging on the wall
Ten green bottles hanging on the wall
And if one green bottle should
There'll be nine green bottles hanging on the wall.

The little ditty that many of us learned at primary school has been rolling around my mind for much of the day. Not that I have been indulging in strong liquor and leaving green bottles all over the place … no … something entirely different caused this refrain to echo in the mind.

Several weeks ago I sent south to the big city of Perth for some flower seeds. I am not really a keen gardener. I like gardens but dislike the hard work involved. I realise that if weeding is kept up as a regular weekly chore the hard work is minimised. There is no garden at the pub. Perhaps that is the reason I suddenly had an urge to grow flowers. I decided on the variety … nasturtiums. Even the novice gardener, or would be gardener, can grow nasturtiums.

At my previous home I had thrown a packet of nasturtium seeds into a raised garden at the back door. The eaves kept the area dry but it was also reasonably sheltered from frosts. In my present abode there is no worry about frosts and as for dryness … we seldom have rain. Nasturtiums that are over watered will send all their energy into leaves … lovely big leaves; round leaves with slightly scalloped edges. Starved of water the plant sends its energies into reproduction … the creation of flowers. Nasturtiums send forth colourful blooms; deep orange, pure yellow, and sometimes a reddish brown flower raises it head.

I know cooks who add nasturtium flowers to salads. I confess to not being a fan of flowers in salads, but that is just my opinion. The flowers have a distinctive peppery aroma and they give a homely ambivalence to a kitchen if placed in a glass of water. Within moments their heads droop over the edge of the glass. The water magnifies the stems and somehow the whole effect, while simplistic, has a certain charm.

I waited for the packet of seeds to arrive in the post. Wrapped in foil and placed inside a colourful wrapper the packet was enticing. I carefully opened the foil and counted the seeds. There were seventeen. Now I remember when a packet of seeds of exactly that … a packet of seeds. Seventeen!? Hardly a packet? In fact I go as far as to say that seventeen seeds must do nothing to entice novices into gardening. I planted three in a container, a plastic terracotta coloured container with its own matching saucer. I hunted around to find suitable places to plant the other fourteen. We have some old zinc baths on the balcony. You recall the baths [before plastic] we used to bathe in front of the fire on a Sunday night? Water was heated in the copper, and in summer that water was recycled by tipping it onto the garden.

I ignored the fact that some guests had previously used the baths as ashtrays. I suppose that was preferable to smoking inside this old building and preferable to tossing them over the balcony onto the street. It took only moments to push the seeds into the red dirt and a dousing with a few jugs of water ensured they had a good start in life. I sat back waiting for the day when the balcony was a riot of colour. I imagined tourists pointing in astonishment and taking photos of the wonderful picture they would portray.

A few days later three cats became residents of the hotel. Within hours of their arrival the zinc baths had their base use altered. No longer ashtrays … no longer flower plots … now they were cat latrines, and the seeds were scratched into oblivion. I began the nightly habit of taking my small container, with three seeds safely planted, inside. No longer could I leave my balcony door open. This doors acts as my window and in this warm climate it is essential the air be changed in a room daily. [After a few days the cats, for some unknown reason, keep a safe distance. Maybe it was the fact that I made loud noises and stamped my feet whenever they came within twenty feet of my door.]

My three plants thrived. I left them out for a longer time each day. Becoming daring I left them out over night. Nothing happened. The cats kept their distance and I relaxed. My gardening efforts were finally being rewarded. Then one morning I heard a noise. Day had not broken, the water reticulation was hosing the grass meridian strip, but the noise was definitely feline in origins. I swung the door open just in time to see one of the cats, a nosey white and black cat, jumping down from my nasturtiums. I let out severe words … threatened instant death to this four-legged interloper. I brought the plants inside.

Death has come to two of the nasturtium plants that were so nurtured. The third plant is ailing. It is bruised on the stem, but I have hopes it will survive. I have sprinkled a liberal coating of pepper all around and I have uttered threats of allowing the Blue Heelers upstairs and let lose on the balcony. In hindsight, I may have been wiser to buy cacti … prickly cacti. It was suggested I send the cats on a journey … throw them over the balcony onto the deck of a road train … preferably one that has over 1000 miles to travel before it reaches it final destination. I do know that cats have fallen down my list of favourite pets.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 25

Gone to the Dogs

Our family of dogs has decreased with the move south of the 'roo dog. No great loss as the power struggles between him and 'top dog' did nothing to induce a good nights' sleep. They growled at each other, they acted like small children fighting over a bone. The other day, as I was loading the washing machine, a growling match was carried out within a few feet of me. I couldn't make out exactly what was the problem … until the 'roo dog gave up his prize … the end nozzle of a hose! I was amazed such a fuss carried on over such a small piece of plastic. I said my goodbye to the 'roo dog … it was not difficult as I considered him the instigator of three quarters of the troubles. Admittedly I may be biased, but any dog that jumps up and is taller than I, and has teeth as big as a smiling crocodile gave me the shivers. Teeth that large and that close frightened me. No, I will not miss him at all.

We still have the two Blue Heelers. Bear, following an extensive course of pills to improve his eczema, has bloomed into good health. He has grown, outwards and upwards. He has confidence, and no longer cowers expecting a hiding that he received as a pup and which he so obviously dreaded. This morning dawned clear and bright, the suns rays warming the air that had been cool with biting winds whistling off the desert. I completed my chores and, taking advantage of the warmth, donned a cardigan, clipped the lead onto Bear and headed north.

Bear was ecstatic. He sniffed the ground and strained the leash. Cars and trucks were another story! He heard them coming, stopped and looked … until the moment they were opposite and at that critical moment he made a concerted attempt to chase the vehicle. I tightened the lead pulling his neck chain, thus making any dash impossible. It did take several attempted chases before he realised they were forbidden. He gave up, deciding obedience was the better part of valour!

On the town boundary Bear suddenly stood still. Gentle persuasion failed to get him moving. I looked to see exactly what the problem was. No animals hiding in the sparse vegetation, no crows hovering above, only a culvert under the highway that looked empty and innocent to my eyes. Bear had other ideas. I cajoled … he stood stubborn. I wheedled … he stood stubborn. There were no options but to persuade him nothing untoward lurked in the small tunnel. I hauled him towards the culvert … his ears lay flat, but after a closer inspection he decided that no danger lurked. We continued our walk.

Although a little rain has fallen on our parched earth over the last week it was impossible to ascertain where it landed. The ground was dry. Plants had not flourished. Signs of drought were abound. To Bear the smells were the most interesting. He sniffed the ground forcing me to follow an unseen path. We wandered towards the pepper tree that stood green and vibrant against the tan rocks lying exposed in a small hollow.

An abandoned mine site caused a flutter of excitement as Bear stretched to peer through the boarded-up shaft. Thankfully the shaft had a fence to protect curious sightseers. While I am extremely interested in how life must have been for miners over the last 100 years, I prefer to wonder from a distance. I imagine the hot summer and the cold winter and am thankful I missed the experience, fascinating though it may have been. Bear preferred to sniff as he explored this new environment. Mounds of rock, bushes designed to trap and hold moisture, and tiny stones lying on the ground all combined to make the walk an interesting diversion for us both.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 24

Things that go BUMP in the night

It all began when the Irish sisters arrived.

I have walked the long narrow corridors with ceilings so high one has to stretch their neck upwards, and never have I noticed anything untoward. I have, if I look carefully, seen spider webs hanging suspended from the pressed tin ceiling, and when the rains tumble from the usually brilliant blue sky, miniature waterfalls trickle from the ceiling, necessitating a bucket and mop brigade to sweep the blood red, though in reality only stained with the red dirt that abounds in The Outback, swirling waters out a door that remains locked.

I have often been woken in the darkness of a moonless night from sudden loud crashing noises emanating from downstairs. I lie awake listening. There is silence. Slowly as my eyes become heavy and sleep once again claims my senses I am left wondering if it was simply imagination. No one else hears the din, which left me to suspect they had retired much later than me and were in a state of deep sleep. In any elderly building … the hotel celebrated its centenary a few years ago … there are creaks and groans as indeed there is with centenarians. Loose floorboards squeak, doors rattle when the easterly winds whistle in from the desert, and curtains move quietly.

Often I notice a shadow passing the window and assume that someone is walking on the footpath outside. Or perhaps it is simply a low flying crow, those large black birds that squawk incessantly from the power lines, or the lone one that peers down the vent in the kitchen ceiling making what sound like indecent, and persistent calls as I prepare food. I ignored such noises and learned to close my ears, and eyes, to their increasing frequency.

Many nights I am the only resident asleep in the hotel and as I make my way to the bathroom for my ablutions or head down the darkened staircase to the lower level I am struck by the benevolent atmosphere that wraps itself around the building, like a warm comforting blanket in the middle of winter. When one of the dogs, or all of the dogs, have crept indoors … to keep warm … and curl up to pass the night hours on the orange soft chairs arranged conversationally on the upstairs landing, suddenly twitch their ears or open their eyes as if expecting to have a friendly hand pat them … no one is there.

One day the Irish sisters arrived. Nothing has been the same since.

A girls' night in the cottage evolved into what could have been a night of tales around a flickering campfire. Instead of simple songs such as sung at Girl Guide camps, ghostly tales were whispered, while outside the wind howled around the ancient building and branches of the palm tree scratched eerily on the tin walls.

But I progress too quickly with this tale.

The sisters' arrival at the hotel could only be called singularly surprising. The girls had called into an employment agency seeking work, preferably in the country, as they have a declared interest in horsemanship. And … they desired to be together, which is completely normal when so far from their native land. Their particulars were taken. Unfortunately the agency had no such positions on their books, but a promise was made they would be informed the moment any suitable jobs became available.

They barely noticed the middle-aged couple sitting behind them in the interview room. The couple were looking for a housemaid and a barmaid, and informed the receptionist that the two Irish girls were exactly who they were looking for.

Hardly a block away, sitting in a coffee shop awaiting their cappuccinos, a telephone buzzes in one of the girl's handbags. The outcome of that call was that the girls travelled north a few days later … settling in to what was initially a 'culture shock' [their words] situation.

They listened to the tales that became increasingly spookier … tales of ghostly bodies dripping blood staring out from mirrors, tales of suddenly becoming aware that hairs standing up on the back of your neck combined with a cold clammy feeling were not natural. When they dispersed to their separate rooms it was with trepidation. Next morning the conversation continued.

It was then that the Irish sisters mentioned ghosts in our building. When we enquired as to the form these ghostly happenings occurred I was surprised to be told about shadows walking past the windows. One of the girls was standing not far from the window, and being of a curious nature, had stepped closer to the pane to see exactly who was out in the cold of the early morning. To her utmost surprise she could see no one …from either direction. This happened twice, convincing her of a ghostly influence.

She related the noises … voices from the walls of an empty room, music that played gently but when checked out it stopped. She went on … the bangs erupting from downstairs and no explanation as to its source.

I confess to laughing the matter off, asking if one of them was the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. No … they were not.

Not wishing them to scare others I asked if they felt the ‘presence’ benevolent or malevolent. They had to confess to not being afraid. Since that day I listen carefully for other examples of what may well be ghostly presences, but feel I will not bother to investigate too closely unexplained disturbances or noises. Some things are best left to be wondered at.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 23

It's a Dogs' Life

The hotel as three dogs … two Blue Heelers and one Roo dog. I consider the Blue Heelers my friends, but Tigger the Roo dog is too tall, jumps up and at the moment is trying for the 'top dog' position'. Whenever the boss is away for a few days there are growling matches that go well into the night, barking and yapping sessions that disturb our sleep and cause rumblings of discontent. Wombat, slow, fat and the undisputed leader of the pack, has to be on constant guard if he is to keep his leadership. At the moment he is winning, but unless a new home is found for Tigger his seniority may drop. We offer Tigger to anyone remarks upon his size, or in fact anyone who even notices him.

The third dog is Bear, also a Blue Heeler, but younger than Wombat, though older than Tigger. Bear had little confidence in his ability to be a pack member and whenever the fights began he would seek shelter from the warmongers in the corridor, or hide in the deep recess of a storeroom doorway. Bear dislikes the brawling and makes every effort to remain neutral.

Bear suffered from a skin irritation that had him scratching endlessly. From the far end of the kitchen I would hear the rattle of his collars [he wears two … it seems to be a fashion statement] as he tried in vain to vanquish the foe. Bathing did not help, powders designed to kill tics and fleas only added to his distress. There seemed to easy cure and a visit to the Vet was inevitable.

One Sunday morning Bear was taken to the surgery. A diagnosis was made … I never enquired as to the results. There was a cure! A plastic bag of blue pills to be taken twice daily for one week, once a day for the second week, and from then on, one every second day. As so often happens when there is a task to be done the boss is away. This time I was seconded to look after Bear. After all wasn't I the one who patted the dogs or talked to them, or both, every time I went out the back door. There was method in this … to be high on the resident dogs' list of friends is preferable to being high on their list of enemies. Our dogs have certain dislikes and to show that dislike a nip of ankles, or any other bare part of the body, gives their dislike a tangible meaning.

How to persuade Bear to take the pills posed a small problem, for a moment or two. While I think they are lovely and friendly I baulked at laying the little blue pill on my hand and offering it to him 'naked' [so to say]. We hear Oprah talking of a light bulb moment, and while she doesn't necessarily mean in the context of giving a dog a pill, the significance is similar. I had a light bulb moment. In the dim recesses of my mind a thought shone forth … hide the pill in a palatable treat! I determined the treat should remain the same for the entire course of blue pills, which of course cut down on the alternatives.

A piece of ham might serve the purpose. We buy ham in bulk and there is always plenty available as in reality I am the only one who uses it, and that is for the guys' lunches … that they call cribs, and I have no idea why. However, I digress.

In the first week I cut a hunk of ham … hardly a slice as it was reasonably thick … and with a sharp knife inserted a tiny pocket in the thickest part. Into that pocket I slipped the pill. If one was decorating, the colour scheme of a rather pretty blue almost the shade of a Jacaranda flower, alongside the delicate pink of fresh ham is interesting, though probably better suited for a nursery than a lounge. Because I had no desire to engender feelings of not being wanted and thus create neurotic dogs, I sliced slivers for Wombat and Tigger.

The first time I dosed Bear he ate it direct from my hand … but … the feel of his teeth on my palm made that the last time. Not that he would bite … it was just a risk I had no wish to take. One chomp and the ham containing the pill were gone. Wombat and Tigger looked in surprise at the small piece allocated to them, but taking it as it was meant … a treat … who were they to snub such an offering. The first week wore on. Bear was lethargic, lying around disinterested. Week two saw a minuscule improvement. We are now at the end of week three. Bear bounces towards the door the moment he hears me and sniffs eagerly for his medication. I am still being kind to Wombat and Tigger and tossing a tiny portion their way. Bear is a changed dog. He hasn't entered the seniority wars, being much too sensible for that, but he has vigour, verve and vitality. Whatever his affliction was, it is definitely well on the way to being cured. We still have enough blue pills for another week, and just yesterday another large piece of ham was delivered … more than enough to complete the course.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 22

Let's take a walk

Yesterday we went for a walk. Originally the idea was to explore what was the first gold mining area on the northern boundary of our town … but … it was fenced off … completely enclosed with a high mesh fence designed to keep animals and people from crossing the border.

We had barely left the main highway when I noticed a plant that resembled, at a distance, a lamb's ear. Upon closer inspection the resemblance faded. Spikes grew on the stem, spikes protected the underbelly of the delicate leaves, and random spikes showed their armour. The white ground must reflect all the summer sun and even on the cooler days of winter a certain amount of heat would stream their warm rays to this plant. Added to the charm of this mock lamb's ear were flowers of the same texture, but in a murky shade of purple, that curled inwards. Perhaps brave insects made their home in these bracts ignoring the prickles forming an impenetrable barricade.

Other plants new to me were pepper trees with delicate lacey fronds. These were scattered over a wide area of abandoned mine shafts that dotted the landscape. Some of these shafts may still be in use. It was difficult to ascertain which were in use and which were deserted because the rich findings had petered out. A few were fenced. These were deeper and a closer inspection failed to show a bottom. Stones tossed in clattered down into the bowels of the earth but resisted our efforts to judge the distance as they plummeted onto board floors that had been erected in the mining operation. Frankly I would have felt claustrophobic had I been the intrepid miner digging down, and down, and further down, in the search of gold. Today the use of detecting devices makes the search easier.

The morning warmed up and the flies gathered encircling us and landing on our backs. What to do? Make mad swipes in the hope the flies would disperse? It didn't work! They dispersed for all of half a second, only to once again settle on a warm back. The flies in this part of Western Australia are bush flies … smaller than the blowfly, and silent as they swarm in the morning sun. There is a way to keep them off one's clothing. Walk deep into the foliage of a pepper tree and the flies appear to take umbrage at the aroma emitted from the flowers. While not completely banishing them from one's clothing the pepper tree certainly reduced the numbers drastically. I wondered why some type of fly spray was not manufactured from this source.

A white jawbone with teeth intact lay on the ground. What was it? A dog? Or was it a fox? Only a few steps further gave us a definite answer … a leg bone belonging to a kangaroo. Bleached white by the heat it was impossible for amateurs to decide just how long this native animal had met its death. Death in the Outback is a hush-hush affair. Eagles, goannas, foxes, crows and ants make short work of any evidence.

As we wandered back towards the town we decided to explore a shed surrounded by tyres and bits and pieces of metal, and old machinery. Parts of drilling equipment littered the ground. A box of nuts and bolts stored in an open cardboard container looked as though it had been tossed onto the broken concrete floor, and while the original owner may have found no use for them, I am positive others would covet such useful odds and ends. Two large openings in the shed walls allowed the weather in, thus shortening the life of these stored, or abandoned items.

Mounds of tyres, large enough to fit a truck or machinery, sat … perished, in the blazing sun. Vehicles, rusty and unwanted, rested on exposed rims, the lining of their flat tyres showing through. It was not a pretty sight. It was not a pretty site. Whether this area had once been a workshop for a contractor, a farmer's shed, or simply a dump for unwanted machinery was not obvious.

The surrounding area, as far as the eye can see, would be unrecognisable to the people who walked this land over 100 years ago. In the insatiable search for gold and other valuable minerals the land has seen a bulldozer moving great swathes of soil from A to B in the hope that the earth will give up its riches. We are unable to gauge if the terrain was undulating, what plants clung to cracks in the rocks, or whether the riches that abound in this barren landscape were easily detected.

To spend a couple of hours wandering across a few acres of land, that must have held hopes and dreams of early explorers and modern day prospectors, gave some small insight into the arduous livings eked out in what can appear an inhospitable landscape. We were only minutes from town but when we reached the streets signifying town boundaries 'civilisation' clamored with the voices of children playing on the footpath. The utter peace and quietness surrounding us on that deserted piece of land left a pleasant feeling of two hours well spent on what was a public holiday, a day of rest.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 21


Working in the kitchen is conducive to thinking about other things. We buy biscuits by the box and the last order was for plain biscuits when normally we prefer cream filled biscuits for the lunches, which incidentally are called cribs here in Western Australia. The guys are not keen on plain biscuits and they tend to leave several varieties in the box … choosing to take the three varieties that are sweeter and less like what they may have consumed at home as children.

To use up these plain biscuits I make them into fudge balls, saving some for our afternoon tea at scrapbooking tomorrow. Fudge balls go down well … plain biscuits are not wasted …tactical economy prevails.

Making fudge balls is a simple task that allows the mind to wander. Today my mind wandered to rocks. Rocks are a far cry from fudge balls I admit, but better to think about rocks than say, maggots or worms or other inedible things. Though it could be relevant that rocks and fudge balls can be similar in shape, but never in texture!

The Outback is made up of red dirt, as are many of the ancient soils of the world. It wasn't until I moved to this remote part of Australia that this fact dawned upon me. More time to think perhaps? As I contemplated red dirt this morning [it comes through the smallest crack in the building, in fact I swear it stands at the doorways waiting for them to open so it can spread its clingingness across furniture, windows, skirting, and all surfaces thus necessitating ongoing cleaning] rocks were the next obvious train of thought.

I think I have a fascination with rocks. Not in a professional geological manner, simply a basic curiosity; how did a diverse bunch of different colours and textures finish up as near neighbours?

Earlier this week whilst touring some of the mining sites near to this town we came across some wonderful rocks … no doubt that is why the subject of rocks stayed high in my mind … and I was astounded at the variety and colours of them. Bright green rocks that looked as though they must be poisonous, striped rocks [strata rocks] that we later found edging an Indigenous grave in the local cemetery, soft rocks, brown rocks, rocks that may have once held gold, and no matter how long I looked at the rocks, and marveled at their structure and texture and colour, I came to the conclusion that this Earth is indeed a unique place.

When making sweetmeats in the kitchen letting the mind wander is definitely a wonderful way to fill in what could be a boring moment.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 20


People are the most interesting creatures on this planet. No matter where one lives it quickly becomes obvious everyone has a story.

The dining room of this hotel is a hotbed of interesting stories. Antics of staff provide daily, well weekly at least, entertainment. I eagerly await an early morning visit from some of my fellow workers, and the latest gossip makes for a fascinating start to the day.

Guests, who stay a night or two, tend to treat us as a willing ear to their life story. Knowing the possibilities of running across each other in the future allows a certain degree of confidence that would otherwise be dismissed with a closer friend. How long a couple have been together, not necessarily in a marital state, is divulged in confidence while the male of the couple is out of the room. This morning a lovely lady confided to me her man's previous relationship. If half of it was true there is a novel in it; if it was all true, and I suspect she had not exaggerated one iota, then it was a shocker!

There are some folks who never hear little confidences … they are too busy being the confider. Personally I find listening much more interesting than telling, especially if what one is hearing is eyebrow-raising material. To find out about other folks simply means one puts aside any thought of work, or essential commitments, and take a moment to sit down and, after uttering a few discreet queries, simply listen. Seldom does one have to divulge information about oneself, though I have found a few insignificant personal jewels do tend to open the flood gates of confidences given. It isn't as though these conversations can be called gossip, as frequently those doing the talking need a listening ear. They need someone who they can unload worries and problems on, and if the chosen confidant is unknown but sympathetic, then the result is probably considerably better than bottling up tensions.

Hearing such confidences brings a sense of fulfillment to the listener … understanding our fellow human beings allows us to understand ourselves, our personal foibles, and hopefully just by listening to some-one unburdening themselves, a two-way relationship between previously unknown people is established. Not necessarily a friendship, but an over-riding connection that adds joy to the warp and weft of life.

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 19


Thwack! It is an impressive sound is Thwack!

How do I know? We have watermelons growing here, and they have ripened, and they have been stored in an outside shed. I hate seeing them sitting on their sides in the shed with old bits of this and that for company, so I deem it my duty to bring them inside and cut them up for human consumption. Luscious pink flesh interspersed with black seeds all clad in a pale green coat begs to be consumed. The coat, or skin, is thick and needs a severe blow to split it open. [Momentarily I wonder if this is similar to smacking open a skull to expose grey matter, but that thought is a diversion only.]

Yesterday morning, while it was still dark outside, and the guys who breakfast at the hotel had either not arrived, or had already left the dining room, and I with time to spare … too early to start the dishes, too late to cook more eggs, I decided to cut up another melon. These melons make a popular addition to the lunches the workers take to their construction site.

I placed a medium size melon on the chopping board, and taking the second largest knife, I held it high and brought it down with a Thwack! Never before had I heard that sound. Thwack! Thwack! It makes a suitably impressive sound … thwack, an onomatopoeic sound that resonated throughout the kitchen. Again I lifted the knife and brought it down, just to hear that sound again … and again.

Slices of melon littered the stainless steel bench top asking to be cut into small pieces, to enable those of us who find the flesh refreshing on a hot day, to eat them without dripping too much juice onto our chin, or worse, onto our clothes. I have heard that some folks actually engage in a pastime of spitting the black seeds a distance … a winning spit being the aim. I can see exactly how that came about. Those black seeds are the right size to spit a distance; their weight would ensure one could aim them in a specific direction. However, as I am a terrible aim, having missed many stray cats with pieces of coal over a lifetime, spitting black melon seeds is something I will resist.

Carefully I cut the melon into quarters and placed them into a pale blue plastic container while a series of images spun through my mind.

Harvest Festival … Autumn; the two are synonymous. The church dressed with pumpkins, jars of jams and pickles, potatoes of many colours, and fruit and vegetables brought from parishioners gardens to be generously distributed to the needy. While the Harvest Festivals of my childhood did not feature watermelons [the climate was not conducive to a large crop], somehow the smell, the ripeness and the healthy Thwack as I sliced them brought the Harvest Festival directly to mind.

One of my favourite books is "The Magic Apple Tree", by Susan Hill, and this book crept into my thoughts as I cut the melon. Why? Well The Magic Apple Tree tells about the seasons in a village in England … very rural, very gentle, and somehow soothing to the soul. Susan Hill makes jams and pickles, she bakes, she gathers crops as they ripen from her garden and around the village. At the moment I thwacked into the melon I felt empathy to Susan Hill as she described simple important tasks in her book.

As a background song to my thoughts I heard, in my mind, Tom T Hall singing "Old Dogs and Children and Watermelon Wine". I have no idea what water melon wine tastes like, whether it is sweet or dry, whether it is pink or a golden colour, indeed whether it is made by many. "Ever had a drink of watermelon wine? he asked. He told me all about it, though I didn’t answer back". The words reverberated in my mind and whisked me to that bar in Miami, while another segment stayed in Olde England with Susan Hill. Thwack … thwack … thwack. Water melon sliced and water melon placed into a container for our enjoyment. It may have been only 6.30am in the morning; it may still be dark outside, but in that moment of cutting the melon I was transported across the globe, and in my mind a sense of peace swept over. Yes, there is something satisfying about providing food especially if it is homegrown and abundant.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 18

Month of the Cook
It is official … the influence of El Nino is diminishing and we are told we can expect rainfall. The rainfall prediction has come true with thunder rolling across the heavens and lightning flickering like a fluorescent light ready to go on the blink, these pyrotechnics have been followed by the sound of rain on the tin roof and a warm earthy smell drifting up reminding one that life does indeed need water. Again this morning we had another significant rain shower, one that darkened the skies and sent us scurrying for shelter. Not only did the rainfall but also the wind blew that rain across the balcony, and had I not shut the door against it, onto the carpet of my room.

We have El Nino to thank … so we are frequently reliably informed. El Nino is an important weather factor. We hear El Nino, Global Warming, Droughts, Floods, Tempests … well perhaps tempests is a little exaggerated, but you get the picture … touted in newspapers, on television, and any other media that wishes to grab our attention.

It certainly is nice [and isn't nice one of those nice words … like sugar-sweet candies, overused and useless] to be able to cast the blame onto El Nino. We had a long hot summer. Some unfortunate folks lost their homes to bush fires; others lost their crops because of lack of irrigation or adequate rainfall, or indeed any rainfall. We sweltered in 40 degree plus temperatures and we wiped our sweaty brows with equally sweaty hands thus negating the effect.

OK … I have given space to El Nino.

But … I personally think that the rain this morning was simply heaven's way of cleansing us after an exhausting month of cooks. February, the month of the cook … it has a certain ring to it, one that is cheaper than a brass curtain ring bundled into 10's or 20's in a hardware department store. This February we have had two cooks at the hotel. Maybe the first one arrived in January as she was here for four whole weeks. Hardly a record, but the four weeks were certainly tumultuous. Her food was excellent. It was her personality that let her down. I spent many moments wondering how she ticked … like a 10cent child's watch or a time bomb? That was in the lap of the gods, or perhaps which side of the bed she got up from. She resigned. She did give us time to find and employ another cook, and on her last day she apologised to those she had offended. In fact her departure was amicable. She made her farewells in a manner strangely defying her actions whilst here. Not being a psychologist or a professional on matters of the personality I hesitate to say categorically that she was 'different'. She was!

Enter cook number two for February. The coach pulled in across the street. An attractive woman emerged from its darkened bowels and forged her way over the grass center verge towards the hotel. Alas … the boss was two or three minutes late in seeing the bus arrive and as he crossed the street she had walked down to the side gate. We have dogs … guard dogs, which to those they know are simply big loveable pets. To those who they have not been introduced, they can appear vicious. Thankfully the dogs behaved that evening.

Next morning I am made aware that bets have been placed as to the length of her stay. I was surprised! Short-term cooks are nothing but a nuisance. She blew into the kitchen like a tornado moving everything to another place. She had opinions that she relayed to the boss in a very outspoken manner. I made a vow to not let her behaviour rattle me, but to give her enough rope to hang herself. Within an hour she had a verbal dispute with the boss and failed to recognise his signs of anger … I recognised them even though I had never seen them before in the previous six months of my employment. The hanging rope suddenly seemed to have a tightening noose. I scrubbed, I defrosted, I donned gloves, and washed pots and pans in such numbers as to make me wonder how many she was cooking for. I remained outwardly calm!

The days wore on. The rest of the staff showed signs of restless anger. We trod our daily path like walking on eggshells. Monday, the fifth morning of her employment was her last. We won't go into the gruesome details but suffice to say she rubbed the boss up the wrong way by answering back. The result? She was on the coach south this morning.

Do not worry dear reader … there will be food for the starving guests this evening. You see The Family [those of us who live here, who help each other out, who actually like living here] have banded together to save the day. Maybe the meals might not be gourmet, but the atmosphere in the kitchen will be pleasant … a little bit of teasing, some laughter, and a lot of co-operation. The events of the past month lead me to ponder as to why middle aged women, seemingly of no fixed abode, who wander The Outback with a suitcase, or even a motor car, deem it essential to rule the roost of each and every place they stop off at, and end up feeling hurt and hard done by. I suspect they do not know many of the social tricks of life, I suspect they do not like other humans, and saddest of all I suspect they do not like themselves.

Friday, October 8, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 17

Australia Day

Australia Day falls on the 26th January in commemoration of the arrival of the first fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, though it wasn't until 1808 that the first recorded celebrations took place. As a public holiday the fact that this year the 26th fell on a Friday, made it into a long weekend, which is immensely preferable to just one day off in the middle of the week.

Cities all over Australia celebrated with impressive displays … fireworks from barges, and the fact that in Perth the barges exploded along with the crackers and other fireworks was an added excitement, albeit unplanned. Crowds gathered at venues where cricket, or other sporting events, took place.

Cue’s Australia Day celebrations were laid back, and dare I say it, a real reflection of life where expense and a 'must have fun' attitude prevail. Our town had its own celebrations at The Oval, a patch of green … because it is watered regularly … on the edge of town. In my over five months here this is the second event to be staged at The Oval. Alongside is an impressive toilet block … locked for much of the time, as is so often the case when bureaucracy gets its priorities slightly out of kilter. For instance the toilet block could have been an important addition to the public amenities had it been erected on the main street, simply because passers’ through seldom take a cruise around the back streets. They should … the town does warrant a proper look, but in their urgency to cover as many miles as possible a main street stop, coupled with a few photos of the Post Office and the Police Station, is all that most have time for. That they fail to find the peacefulness and appreciate the slower pace of life is their loss.

The celebrations were scheduled to begin at 5.00pm. A few minutes earlier I wandered along the street to The Oval only to find a handful of people there. I was not deterred and sat to watch.

A water slide had been laid out on the grass. A huge sheet of what looked like black garden plastic had been doused with liquid soap and the fire brigade played hoses on it. As the children arrived they made a beeline for the water slide and soon they were running a few meters [some a lot more than essential], leaping onto the plastic and sliding in the foamy water. Their clothes dried within minutes. Shrieks of laughter were a clear indication it was a popular attraction.

One of the Shire employees set up a cricket game [Australians are obsessed with cricket] allowing the children to alternate their water slide activities with a hit of the cricket ball. The official ceremony commenced when a sizeable crowd had arrived and the sound system pronounced ready to go. A speech of welcome was followed by the presentation of framed certificates to folks who had worked hard for the Shire and the town in the public-spirited way that is the heart of small towns. That one councillor wore a suit was the subject of much hilarity.

A general knowledge quiz, with prizes, gave us an insight into who knew most about their country.

As the sun moved behind the "stadium" and the temperature dropped from 47.5 degrees to something in the 30's a BBQ got under way and within a short time free food, sausages and steak, salads and bread buns were available for everyone. The queue was long.

While we all need speeches and food, to me the entertainment provided by the local band … "Wadjarri Boys" … was the highlight of the evening. Often on a Sunday afternoon I have heard this band playing or practicing and had assumed that the music that drifted over the town was the work of some local teenagers. I was wrong in that. The band members were all past their teenage years, which may or may not explain why I knew most of the songs they presented. They are very good and I would be more than happy if they practiced every Sunday afternoon.

I suppose the spirit of Australia Day differs from place to place but as I wandered back to the hotel what remained uppermost in my thoughts was the wonderful sense of community this little event projected. Huge sums of money were not spent, time had been given, people had turned up, and laughter and fun was the order of the day. It wasn't hyped up but simply another warp in the cloth of life in The Outback. I thoroughly enjoyed my first Australia Day, and I left feeling just a little more part of this community where I have chosen to spend some of my life.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 16

In the back of my mind is a saying, how exact I recall it is uncertain, but it runs along the lines "from little acorns big oak trees grow". This was brought to the surface a few days ago as the miracle of nature gave an example of magical happenings.

In November I headed down to the City, catching the overnight coach that left our town at 10.15pm. Normally I am in bed at that hour [some of us have to rise extremely early to cook for the hungry multitudes!] and to while away the time, and stay alert, I sat poolside … swiping at bloodthirsty mosquitoes that found my life-giving fluids tasty … and passed the time with gossip of the moment with others who had time to sit and chat. Soon it was time to head to the bus stop, and because our town may have experienced problems that night it was arranged I have a male escort to deliver me safely to the depot and wait until I had boarded the coach.

Walking through the side gate the remark was made that some melon seeds had been planted in the garden. The garden is a loose term. Until that moment I had considered it a patch of red dirt that may or may not have been cultivated. I had wondered if any plans were in hand for it, or if it was simply a place for the dogs to wander and use for whatever wandering dogs need a patch of wasteland.

Last week we had a catering job … luncheon for ten. This is a monthly occurrence but this time the larder was almost bare of exotic fruits. We had apples and oranges, but apples and oranges are commonplace. There were a few Kiwi fruit, but hardly enough to make an impressive fruit platter. The boss had an idea.

He confidently remarked "The watermelons!"

Watermelons? I had completely forgotten about the plantings! Next morning as I headed out the back gate towards the clothesline I noticed a watermelon sitting on a beer barrel. Yes, he had raided the garden. We cut it up; we sampled the melon and pronounced it beautiful, if perhaps a little green. Frankly I prefer them not quite ripe, as the juice does not drip down the chin and onto one's clothes. The melon was cut into triangles and arranged artistically on the fruit platter. It added certain elegance to the dish.

Roll on a few days when the melon was slowly, but surely, cut off and eaten. As most of our guests had booked out and the necessity of making a pudding diminished, once again the melon was suggested as a suitable way of rounding off the evening meal. The boss brought in a large watermelon … quite impressive in size, bearing in mind they had only been growing for under three months. We decided to weigh it. Five point five kilos, or twelve pounds! This melon was sweeter and juicier than the first, and already a considerable part of it has been devoured.

When one looks at the arid red dirt of The Outback, where plants are stunted and grey in colour, it is so very easy to assume the land is infertile. How wrong that assumption is. From a few humble seeds seventeen watermelons have grown … watered regularly with a run off from another part of the complex, and it shows that this land is not infertile, it is simply dry.

Two watermelons down, fifteen to go … I suspect our liking for watermelon will become a little less enthusiastic as time goes by. I wonder how basil would grow, or tomatoes? The dishes we could prepare if he had a homegrown supply of cucumbers and zucchinis, tomatoes and basil could bring our hotel cuisine up to International class!

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 15

Sunday Musings

The past several days have been hectic with hardly a moment that I could call my own. A cook in the kitchen whose cooking skills were below the level my children were capable of at age 10 put pressure in the workplace. It was with relief that I climbed the stairs last night to my room, to watch a little TV without watching the time, and to fall asleep knowing the alarm was not going to blast my eardrums at 4.15am.

The body is a creature of habit however. I did wake at 4.15am, but taking advantage of a day off, rolled over and dozed into a restful sleep. Twice more I wakened from dreams that were pleasant, and finally when the body and the mind decided to act in a coordinated manner, woke to face a new day at the time I normally have finished my first shift of the day. What utter bliss!

A long bath, a leisurely breakfast, a stroll across to the general store for the Sunday paper was followed by my housekeeping chores … I like to live in a clean room, sleep on clean sheets, and wear clean clothes, so a trip downstairs with my white plastic clothes basket full almost to the brim of washing was concluded when I stood in the blazing sun hanging out my personal wash. That wash is in, and I am positive this is the hottest day yet. It feels like an oven outside. I am not in the mood to make scones to test that.

What does one do on a lazy Sunday in Cue? One of my workmates set off on an expedition with a group of guests to view some Aborigine art sites. Other folks read the papers, and once the sun reaches it zenith … that blazing heat of midsummer in an almost desert environment … they stay indoors and do whatever folks do indoors on a day of rest.

I watch TV … for most of the day Sunday has some extraordinarily excellent programming. Of course that is a matter of opinion, but in my opinion Sunday far surpasses any other day. Songs of Praise: whether one has a particular religious belief or not this is one programme that I find extremely interesting … compiled in the UK, the presenter takes us to places of interest. Last week we were whisked around stately gardens, gardens that exuded peace and restfulness, gardens that create an environment where one can feed the soul. This week we went on a voyage exploring Celtic places. We saw the place where St David [of Wales … the presenter who had a strong Irish accent told us his view that St David was in reality Irish], we visited Ireland, and Lindisfarne … amongst other places.

A point offered up for consideration was the comment that the world has some 'thin places', places where mankind can come in touch with the spirit. She was not meaning a thin place on the earth's crust where the hot lava heated underground water to create hot pools as in the Rotorua area of New Zealand, nor was she inferring that zones earthquake prone were sacred places. Some of us go through life and never experience the mystique of these 'thin places'. The thin places exert their influence on different folks in varying ways. A 'thin place' experience is sometimes not recognised for what it is particularly in the fast paced times that are the 21st century.

Thin places are not necessarily places at all. Thin places can be objects, such as stones that one finds on the beach, or tucked away in obscure places, kept by their finder simply because they have felt the magical pull of the otherwise mundane object.

I once walked on Wave Rock at Hyden here in Western Australia. I was rooted to the spot by a knowing I should not be there. We were on a coach trip and no one else appeared to be so affected. Holiday makers were walking across the top of the rock, were laughing and joking taking photographs while the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I went into a cold sweat. A suggestion that I was scared of heights was utter rubbish. It was the rock that affected me so. To me that rock was a thin place.

Yesterday I was in conversation with a fellow workmate whom I felt confident would know exactly what I was talking about when I related to her my experiences on that rock. She too had the same experience, and she informed me she knew of others who were so affected. Then today when this commentator mentioned thin places I was struck by the synchronicity of the statement. Yesterday we were discussing just such an idea, and today it was mentioned as an aside on a TV programme.

As the old folks used to say "there is a lot of things of heaven and earth that we are unable to explain". Surely this is what we need? We should not need to know exactly what, when, how or why things occur. Perhaps we can ponder upon the mysteries of the Universe, of the world, and other things … ponder upon possibilities, but there away in the back of our mind is a little area that does not know. Isn't it that little bit of not knowing that keeps us alive … that keeps us searching for an answer that we will never find out?

Monday, September 27, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 14

Merry Christmas

“The Best laid plans of Mice and men gang aft agley", wrote Robert Burns. These words are as relevant today as when written, and were brought to my mind yesterday. I had no plans for Christmas other than stay put here in the hotel. Yesterday the boss said if I wished I could travel south and spend almost two weeks with my family. It took only five minutes for the suggestion to gel in my mind as a good idea. I looked at the calendar, worked out when coaches travel south, and return, and what days would suit. A few hours later tickets were booked and paid for. I am heading south to spend Christmas and the New Year with my family.

No doubt the coach south will be fuller than on my previous journey and I may not have two seats to spread out over, and catch a little sleep. This time I will have a longer period in which to catch up on sleep. I have hinted to eldest son that I wouldn't mind a trip to the Casino … knowing he likes an occasional visit there. Otherwise what happens, happens. As Robert Burns tells us, plans often go astray.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 13

Meeting History
Cue has a fascinating history. I was speaking with a guest about some of the buildings within a stone's throw of this hotel, and was informed that a gent who later became President of the USA built some of the structures that date to last century. He wasn't sure which President it was.
As is often the case once we hear of an event it takes only a very short space of time before we hear more. I often think that our senses link to an event, and the tiniest whisper sets bells of interest ringing and we ask a question that leads to more information. Sure enough it didn't take many hours before the next piece of information filtered into my hearing.
A couple staying at the hotel came in for breakfast … I hadn't realised they were staying, even though they had dinner the previous evening. I wrongly as I found out, assumed they had come in off the street, from the caravan park, or were just passing through, and was washing the dishes and the pots and pans when they appeared in the dining room. Smiling … one can't let on they were unexpected … I enquired what they would like for breakfast. It was a cooked one … I had to wash those pans twice!
Once their meal was over they came into the kitchen … this is a friendly place and anyone is welcome in the kitchen. I have noticed no one offers to help with the dishes! I guess that goes beyond the realm of being a paying guest, though we did have one who said she would make an omelet … an offer that never transpired. The lady asked me if I knew where the big sideboard with two carved eagles on either side, had gone to. I didn't know. I could tell the gossip I had heard … that some previous owner had taken most of the chattels when they sold. Obviously that was before Real Estate agents push a ream of paper to be signed, before a deal to sell is finalised … and we sign on the dotted line hardly bothering to read the small print. [The vendor will leave fitted floor coverings, light fittings, drapes and washing machine etc.]
She then said that a chap who later became President of America had it shipped here. The trail was warm! I asked which President was that. "Hooper, or Hoover or whatever his name was", she replied.
From the dim recesses of my mind I recalled the name was Hoover … we have vacuum cleaners of the same name, and one must have a simple way of remembering important facts. A science teacher impressed the unimpressionable students of physics that ions in electricity could be remembered by a line from a song of a long time ago … "Any old ion, any old ion" … the cry of the rag and bone man … now was that from Steptoe and Son? It worked, and from that day forward I look for simple methods to remember facts that would otherwise be pushed to the back of my mind.
She had seen this magnificent specimen of furniture in the hotel about 15 years ago. She thought it would be worth at least $A100,000 today. I know my eyes popped. I was, naively now I recognise, thinking she was wishing to view this carved sideboard for altruistic reasons, and discovered she was walking along the road of materialism. I lost interest in the conversation, though I did comment that with the value today of antiques I thought her estimate might fall considerably short of the actual value … of course that depends upon who would want it.
I still held the fascination of such a specimen having been in existence, and the fascination of the ever-increasing history of this town. Now we had a direct link to the White House. I must say I don't think many of the recent presidents of the USA would bother to come to Cue. Perhaps as there is such a richness of hidden treasure in natural elements … gold, and iron ore being but two … in the ground in this isolated area, the $ signs of profit, might be impressive. A little like Uncle Scrooge who dived, in comic after comic, into his hoard of gold coins with such desire and consummate delight.
At the next opportunity I asked the boss. It was as I suspected … the sideboard had gone by the board, kept at a time of sale, and despite legal efforts by the Shire, this piece of history is lost to the town.
To add to my knowledge I did a little research … Herbert Hoover was a mining engineer and was in this area in 1902, and another reference says he was a Shire President … perhaps his taste for politics began in the little Outback town? Or of course that could be just a figment of the imagination.

It is a shame the sideboard … huge that it was … isn't still in this town but as is so often the case, treasures that should belong in one particular area are hijacked by those who consider they have rights of ownership, and forget that yesterday and today need to be kept alive for tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 12

Ho Ho Ho

Santa came to our town … riding on a fire engine.

Last evening I went out onto the balcony to see what was happening in town, and sat chatting to one of the guests. We could hear the siren of the fire engine. I looked for smoke. As many areas of Australia are experiencing terrible bushfires, smoke and fire are the last thing we desire to see. Bush fires and Australian summers go hand in hand; but are not welcome.

No sign of smoke, we breathed a sigh of relief. Around the corner came the fire engine, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Bursts of song came wafting towards us, "Ho ho ho", followed by a burst of " Jingle Bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way". In the back seat of the red fire engine stood a red-coated Santa, his white beard [was it cotton wool?] a focus point, and his red hat with white fur, or was that cotton-wool as well, perched on top of his head, a microphone held in his hand all the better to spread the Christmas cheer. No sign of Dixon and Donner or Rudolph, but perhaps they do not venture out until Christmas Eve.

I laughed when I noticed one of the angels, or fairies, in the front seat, though there were no sign of wings or halos. It was our barmaid who has recently joined the local fire brigade. The driver I couldn't identify, but then again I do not know everyone who lives in this town. On the back of the engine perched another local, a colourful lady who works along the road at the Emporium, capably manning the hose.

There was no fire to extinguish but any person walking on the street received a light dowsing. In temperatures that were still in the 30's this was not unwelcome! They drove slowly along the street, turned the corner by the bar and sent a shower of water onto the footpath. I called out my approval and as a reward the siren blared louder and longer. Everyone was in good spirits.

The fire engine toured the main street, the side streets, and back again, and around again, and all the time Santa sang his song … his repertoire did not extend beyond Jingle Bells [perhaps he needs an introduction to some of the other old favourites], and water was spread by his angelic helper.

This morning as I was cooking breakfast for the guests our barmaid, Santa's little helper, came into the kitchen. I thought she was hungry and wanted breakfast, but no … she had just arrived home and was looking for the boss to see what time she was to work today … she hoped it wasn't the morning shift!

It did cross my mind that only in a small town would we see such a display. In the city it would not be allowed, or worse still it would be organised, crowds would line the streets and children would become fractious, and certainly there would be no water display.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 11

Daylight Saving and Rain
Western Australia has just adopted Daylight Saving. [This was written in 2006] I hate Daylight Saving! I know those who advocate its wondrous convenience [a little like scented toilet paper] do not begin work early in the day. I do! Thankfully yesterday was my day off. I took advantage of that fact turning my clock forward after I awoke.

This morning I arose in darkness, using my mobile phone as a torch to find the corridor light switch making the finding of the kitchen door and keyhole less of a challenge.

The Post Office clock, that I could see in daylight last week, was a blur in the dim dawn, the birds asleep in the trees, and the rooster had not risen from his perch to herald the new day.

Dinner plans are uncertain. Are having dinner between 6.30pm and 7.30pm or are reverting to yesterday's time, if not clockwise, then real-time wise, and eating an hour later, making the night short for the small minority of us, who are required to rise early.

I hung out my personal washing before noon and as I was foraging in the kitchen for lunch the boss advised me to bring in my washing as rain was hovering. To be truthful I hadn't bothered to look outdoors much. There was a party in the beer garden the previous evening … one of the girl's had a birthday … the beer garden was decorated with streamers and balloons greatly adding to the festivities. I attended … after I washed dishes and tidied up. What with that and a short night, sitting out on the balcony held little appeal.

I rescued my laundry … it was dry. Looking skywards I was impressed with the banks of clouds building up from east and west, from north and south, and surmised that rain indeed was on the agenda. I moved outdoors to the balcony and was treated to a free display more impressive than some of the organised fireworks displays ever witnessed. Lightning forked across the sky, its jagged flashes had red edges … something I had never seen. I am positive it was not a figment of the imagination as the phenomenon was not a once only show. Thunder boomed as loud as the bombs that razed London in the Blitz, rumbled and threatened to render apart the tin roof. One part of me wanted to sit and watch; the other part was a little afraid of the power in the heavens.

Just imagine if that enormous amount of energy could in some way being harnessed. We could clean the world of nuclear power, we could dismantle the dams destroying the rivers and the land in their vicinity, and we could do away with mining the black gold of coal; no longer would pollution be such a problem. I don't think mankind is astute enough to work out how to harness this energy. If they were, surely it would be implemented?

The heavens opened and it rained. Big blobs of water left their mark on the pavement until, moments later, the street was awash. I came inside, simply because the rain was making me wet. I went downstairs to see if all hands were required on the mops, but the repairs undertaken a few weeks ago were effective; only one plastic bucket was needed under a small drip.

The day wore on. The rain stopped, the sun came out. Later thunder and lightning lit the skies, and once again it rained. Children crossed the street paddling in the running water, the workmen, who were several miles out of town, came hurrying back as the lightning was too close for comfort. It was more comfortable sitting in the bar watching the pyrotechnics from a dry spot.

At bedtime, after the sun had sunk into the distant Indian Ocean, another display filled the skies. I sat out on the balcony, camera poised to take the shot of the year. Have you ever tried to capture lightning on film? I do not have one of those fancy cameras that take a series of shots, and my reaction time was too slow. I gave up. I went to bed and, through closed eyelids, was aware of the flashes that lit up my room. I slid gently into dreamland leaving behind the blue flashes and the loud rumbles.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 10

Water, water, everywhere
Yesterday the lightning flashed, a jagged streak across the grey sky; I counted … one, two, three, four, five … the thunder crashed, reverberating across the town like an explosion of dynamite ripping the land apart. The heavens opened and our town was awash. The streets were running red, stained with the red dirt that mixed indiscriminatingly with the water that fell from the clouds. It was a welcome sound.

Until … I was in the kitchen preparing tuna patties for the evening meal when a drip dropped on my elbow. I moved to the left. Another hit me on the left shoulder. Leaks were appearing. I knew about one, but not the other. I also knew water ran down the wall between the kitchen to the passageway that leads outdoors. The lightning and thunder continued. Rain beat upon the tin roof and found its way through less obvious apertures.

When I stumble downstairs in the morning and walk along the darkened passageway to the kitchen door, should I chance to glance upwards the southern skies are visible through gaps in the roofing iron. I must add these views are only obtainable when the manhole is left open, for whatever reason … maintenance or other essential servicing. There is something rather basic about seeing the stars through a roof. It puts life into some type of perspective and keeps the ego firmly grounded.

A suggestion was made that it would be wise to prepare extra food, as the roads have been known to isolate our town. I added another can of tuna to the bowl and mixed in more mashed potatoes.

The sound of running water captured our attention and the boss came through to warn us not to walk in the corridor between the dining room and the stairs. I took a look. Her warning was valid as there was a small waterfall raining down onto the slate floor and running in a determined manner towards the back corridor where another stream was bustling through the back door, and another in from the beer garden. Outside is higher than inside, and as we know, water quickly finds its own level. As I stood, elbows tucked in to avoid the splashes from the two drips that threatened to turn me into a dishrag, wet and bedraggled, my workmate and the boss tackled the rising waters with mops and buckets. One mopped the water from the beer garden towards a doorway and swished it onto an already wet street. The other mopped, squeezed, and mopped again. They did win that battle. After my preparations I mopped the kitchen floor … a daily chore, adding substantially to the water level in my bucket from the lake that formed under the bench. Two people booked in. The road to a mine site was impassable. Maybe there would be additional guests.

Upstairs once again I opened my balcony doors to watch parents collecting their children from school in motor vehicles. They drove through the water that sloshed spectacularly in a perfect vee formation. Some children chose to walk, their saturated yellow tops and green shorts clinging to their skin. Children not wearing shoes splashed joyfully through the water.

The thunder quieted and the lightning disappeared. In the distance a little strip of blue sky spread across the heavens and fluffy white clouds moved towards us. The sun came out and the wind dropped, the bird song is again audible, and the gutters are still running red.

I wonder if the little brownish green frog that resides in the overflow pipe of the mauve hand-basin in my bathroom will move to a country abode. Frogs and fishes in this part of the world go into inanimate hibernation during a long dry spell. When the rains come, a month, a year or even longer, later, they burst into life, mating, laying eggs, in a frantic attempt to reproduce the species. I think the little frog, the one that peers inquisitively at me when I brush my teeth, deserves a little Life.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 9

To A Mouse

To A Mouse … Robert Burns

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee
Wi' murd'ring pattle!
The cultivated fields of Scotland are far removed from the Outback of Australia. Today, to me, their common denominator is the humble mouse. I could easily use stronger adjectives as the activities of the furry gray/brown, four legged, and bright-eyed, long tailed creatures that roam the kitchen of this hotel have indeed irked me.

When I first arrived the sight of rat poison lain in strategic places barely caused me to raise an eyebrow … better poison bait than a trap. A trap needs emptying, and while the little mouse is hardly my best friend, emptying a stiff corpse is not one of my favourite chores. I understood the mice that had partaken of the green poisonous capsules crept away to some dark place and quietly left this life. I now know I was wrong in that assumption! They lie around in a stupor until they expire. Then they have to be disposed of!

I have swept up dead mice from the four corners and disposed of the corpse; I have stumbled across a dopey mouse, only hours from death, and helped it on its way, then disposed of it. Once a mouse sat crouched on the floor near the stove, and I hurried to get the broom … to help it on its way. When I returned it hadn’t moved an eyelid. I touched it with the broom [murder was not in my mind] and the mouse fell forward onto its face; life was extinct. It too was disposed of.

One would never imagine the task of a kitchen hand, come breakfast cook, included the disposal of mice. Disposing of them is preferable to walking around them, or indeed tramping upon them unexpectedly! There are few options, especially when I am the only person likely to be in the kitchen for the next several hours.

Over the last two or three days the mice that have made the kitchen part of their territory have been lively, frisky, and full of energy. It slowly dawned upon me that the rat bait must be depleted. Time for a new meal! This morning, after washing down all the shelves and removing all visible traces of mice infestation I opened new bait and carefully placed it in what, I sincerely trust, is a very strategic place!

I told the boss we needed more bait. He said that the mice at the moment are particularly bad and that everyone is complaining. It was only last week that the Pest Control men stayed in the hotel and their presence in our community was solely to eradicate mice and rats. Thankfully I have seen no sign of rats! That would be a different story as there is no way I would consider it my duty to dispose of them!

I daresay mice are of some use on this planet, though to be completely honest I am not sure that I can come up with one. I know that scientists breed them to experiment on, and while these wee tim'rous beasties may not be the type of pet I prefer, neither do I agree with creating a life with the intention of taking it in a laboratory. But that is another debate!

The bait takes three to seven days to work, if the placement is strategic enough. Until I start noticing dopey, sluggish mice I cannot be positive the bait is working, or indeed if I have laid enough. I have written Rat Bait on the shopping list!