Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sailing on Port Phillip Bay

I have a friend (well maybe a few) who has a yacht moored at Sandringham Yacht Club not far from home. He and my other friend (see, I said I had a few) are yachties of some note.

Both these Yachties will be called “Dazza” and “Al ex-Prez” and to explain this would be a further story so lets leave that to another time, maybe!!! Needless to say that the girls, Tracy, Denise and Sue don’t need silly names – it’s a boy thing.

Al ex-Prez is the big bloke to the left and Dazza to the right

Anyway the two blokes sail a thing called a Tazer – I know nothing about yachts, boats and ships but I’m told that the Tazar is a little boat, or is that yacht. Anyway, I’m informed by these two blokes that these “things” have a weight limit when it comes to competition.

Seeing that Al ex-Prez is a somewhat bigger person, of taller stature and with maybe a little condition around the middle, well let’s just say he enjoys a good grazing occasionally so he needs to pick his sailing partner carefully.
These two blokes recently returned from the World Master’s Games in Sydney and I understand that Al ex-Prez, that’s the bigger bloke, needed a somewhat more lighter bloke to improve on the weight limit. That’s where Dazza comes in. Now Dazza is what you’d call in cycling terms, a climber, similar to those Spanish hill climbers that just twiddle up hills like there’s no tomorrow. This is due to his lighter frame, his frame, not the bike frame. Are you still with me?
I’m also told that he is a talented sailor and has done some ocean races in the past that include Bass Strait crossings from Melbourne to Tasmania. Now that is serious stuff....

The big boat moored waiting to load on the food and refreshments.

Hence the reason for this blog (yes, I know, I’m long winded, an intended sailing pun). Dazza keeps his father's larger yacht, boat – whatever – at the Sandy Yacht Club. I’ve been hassling him for yonks to take Sue and me out for a sail and he finally came good.

LEFT: Looking across the Sandringham marina while enjoying a cool beer. Does it get any better?
A full moon rose above the horizon and reflected against the Bay waters for the whole night.

Loaded up with food and refreshments we met at “Bonsoir time”. Sue had prepared a caramelized onion and blue cheese tart, with a side dish of asparagus topped with shaved pecorino much to the delight of Al ex-Prez.

Chicken, potato salad, green salad, caramelized onion and blue cheese tart, asparagus with shavings of pecorino cheese all washed down with some good Italian beer and wine.

I brought some refreshments and thought we might go all Italian with Peroni beer, Prosecco, a dry sparking and a red from Montalcino in the Toscana region.

Back to this sailing thing – I thought I needed to look a little sea faring so I went down and bought a pair of sandals, and a sort of beach style t-shirt (Sue wouldn’t let me wear the Hawaiian shirt tucked away in the wardrobe for occasions like this) to go with my shorts. Being a cyclist, I thought the lycra might not be a good look. And just incase we decided to go for a dip, I put on the budgie smugglers under the shorts.

On arrival at the yacht we spied Dazza and Al ex-Prez in full flight on the Tazer. Al ex-Prez, remember he’s the big bloke offered me an opportunity to experience the thrilling delights of sailing. Now not wanting to seem a little petrified, I agreed to allow myself to be in the good hands of Al ex-Prez.

He explained my responsibilities but it was all “jibberish” (another intended sailing pun) to me. Ropes are not called ropes, they have other names which didn’t sink (let’s not take that word seriously) in.

Anyway after a little time with Al ex-Prez, I actually started to enjoy being out there with the wind and waves of Port Phillip Bay, although a little wet from hanging my bum out over the side of the Tazer.

LEFT: The view of Melbourne, possibly some 10Kms away.
The moon had risen but still reflected over the water.

On our return it was back to the serious part of entertainment. The night was just perfect in the mid-30s, a cool wispy wind travelling across the calm water and keeping us a very comfortable while viewing the shoreline from a kilometer or two out in the bay.

BELOW: The three photographs below were taken off the shoreline on a short time exposure while the boat gently rocked back and forth. This caused the lights from the shore move. I then used a little digital creativity to intensify the colour and contrast.

The night came to an end all too soon but tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and definitely will be a late night – we wish our readers a safe and healthy 2010, the start of another new decade. Do you remember where you were on New Year’s Eve 2000?

Thanks to Dazza and Denise, Al ex-Prez and Tracy for a memorable night, sailing on Port Phillip Bay.

It's the end of the night and Dazza makes the final adjustments before we leave. 

PS – Translations are available on request from our European readers.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Southbank Melbourne

I know that this is mainly a weekly blog but I'm on leave for a week and its good to kick back, read a little, write a little, eat a little and drink a little.
One of my favourite presents this Christmas came from Sue - its a book titled "Cycling's Golden Age". It is a superb account of the cycling legends from 1946 to 1967. The forward is written by Belgium cyclist, Eddy Merckx. Many of the pictures capture scenes from France, Italy and Belgium.

You may have noticed that the Bathing Boxes have been replaced by a night scene of Melbourne as our header (well, one of my readers kindly noticed and made mention of it). I should explain firstly that it is not taken by me but borrowed from Wikipedia and so is the one below.
The scene is of area known as Southbank and the river running through the city is called the Yarra.

Looking down on Melbourne CBD you see Southbank to the right hand side of the Yarra. To the left is the famous Flinders Street Station where people meet "under the clocks".
Wikipedia says,
Before British settlement, the area now called South Melbourne was a series of low lying swamps inhabited by Aboriginal tribes.
From British settlement the area which is now Southbank consisted of some old factories, warehouses and wharves mostly built between the 1860s-1920s when the area was part of the first port of Melbourne. It had a few old bridges, the first being the first Princes Bridge and later the Sandridge Bridge which was formerly part of the Port Melbourne railway line from 1888 to 1987, and the Arts centre precinct which opened in the 1980s on a former parkland.
The suburb was the subject of urban renewal in the early 1990s aimed at stimulating development in a period when Melbourne was experiencing an economic downturn.

Its 7.00 am and the Bayside Bandidos meet for their traditional Boxing Day breakfast at Southbank and to shed a few calories gained from the previous Christmas Day feast.
That's Stats, Nico and Dancing - Hummm, not their real names, but then none of the group do have real names. We also have an Elvis and a Mavis (big bloke).

Every year on Boxing day my cycling friends do a traditional ride to Southbank for breakfast and just take in the serenity of the Yarra river. There's not many people around at 8.00 am when we arrive. The weather was just perfect with clear skies and a very slight wind. My cycling friends are called "the Bayside Bandidos - Mid-Life Cycling Gang" and range from their 30s to 60s. Its a great group of people and we have had some fantastic cycling adventures over the last 10 years.

The boys and girls await their coffee and raisin toast.

Southbank has progressed from an area of warehouses, factories and slum housing to the tourist precinct of today. I'm old enough to remember some of the area before redevelopment.
New Years Eve will see 1000s of people along both banks of the Yarra to wish in the New Year and view the fireworks at midnight. Some will take in the more rural stretches of the Yarra River seen below.

Some people prefer this part of the Yarra River to Southbank. It meanders from the hills of its source and through the country-side before reaching Southbank and the Melbourne CBD. At this point in the country, the river is fresh and clean. It is home to Platypus, trout. Kangaroos, wallabies and wombats can occasionally be seen along its banks. Some of my early cycling days were in the upper Yarra district.

Christmas and Boxing day have now drifted in to 2009 history and its only a few more days before we start a new decade. I've always felt that each new year is a good year.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Table set for Twelve

Twelve family members sat down to celebrate Christmas, well 14 really, because this year, the twins experienced their first Christmas. Sue's niece Pheobe and her husband Brad sat their "not yet one year old" twins at the end of the table. What a great experience for them (and us). We all played musical babies with them during the day.
The day started with an open house breakfast with friends and family joining us for Champagne and orange juice, with Sue's home made pate, ham and cantaloupe. The weather was perfect being in the mid-20s and a slight wind. Presents were exchanged with much hugging and kissing between those that had to go off to their family dinners.

Our Christmas dinner was at Sue's brother John and sister-law Jan's home which overlooks the bay.
I have to say this Christmas lunch was probably the best with the biggest turkey perfectly cooked by Andrew (who flew down from Sydney) and the most succulent chicken (cooked by John) and the pork (cooked by Louise). Sue did the vegetables of sweet potato, potato, parsnips and pumpkin. Add to this long green beans and the gravy from the turkey juices. It was all very yummy and very much a family affair.

With so much food it seems a sin not to look to seconds and most of us did. Oooops, did we leave enough for desert, and did I hear you say there was a choice between plum pudding or mango misu with rasberry sauce. I had both, wish I didn't as I write this.

Oh well, all we can do now is sleep it off.
Hope you all had a great Christmas.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

An afternoon at the Sth Melbourne Market

The view of the market while sipping a nice cool ale on a sunny afternoon before Christmas.

I'd raced (cycling) in the morning and arrived home just after noon and feeling (toooo much my time) guilty, I said to Sue, "let's pop into the South Melbourne Market and check out the Chef's Hat."
The Chef's Hat is one of her favourite kitchen shops. Her real favourite is Essential Ingredients near the Prahran Market (earlier blog).

The Chef's Hat has everything the serious cook could ever desire at the right prices.

I love South Melbourne and have written about it before. It reminds me of some of the French cities we have experienced such as St Remy de Provence. Sitting at the George Hotel having lunch and a nice cold beer on a sunny afternoon brings back memories. The world passes by with cars, cyclists, scooter riders and pedestrians mingling together and showing a patience and courtesy that is not always acknowleged further out in the suburbs.

Our first stop naturally was the Chef's Hat. This was the perfect place for finding Christmas presents for Sue.
She paticularly wanted a paella dish. Having seen the huge paella dishes at the provincial village markets in France, Sue wants to try this at home. We found what she wanted with much discussion on the best to buy from the choices available. Secretly she really wanted a Nespresso machine but being budget minded, really didn't want that much spent on her. The Chef's Hat had it on special. After much humming and harring (OK spell-check, I know this doesn't work for you), I twisted Sue's arm and bit the bullit. She is so excited with her Christmas presents.

After lunch and a cold ale at the George, we wandered off to the Market where we bought some veggies and some great mangoes and avocados. Even mid-afternoon, there were heaps of activity, especially from the store-holders trying to sell off the last of the produce at reduced prices. It was a delight to just let the atmosphere flow over the top of you and take in the interactions between people.

Mangoes and avocados at the end of the market day sell at realistic prices.

Across the street was a serious coffee place, and so we enjoyed an expresso before driving off home.

Sue can't wait for Christmas morning to use her new presents.

We have a small open house Christmas morning with family and friends popping in for the tradition Champagne and orange juice. Sue make's her own Pate which is very popular with the guests. Also on the table are ham slices, bread sticks and fresh fruit. I'm afraid we probably offer a little too much before our guests wander off to a fully over the top Christmas lunch.
We will be sitting down with about 18 family members tomorrow, but more about that in a day or two.

All the very best for Christmas to you all and have a healthy and safe 2010.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Australia's first Saint

From Wikipedia

Blessed Mary MacKillop (15 January 1842 – 8 August 1909) was an Australian Roman Catholic nun who, together with Father Julian Tenison Woods, founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

Since her death she has attracted much veneration within Australia as a symbol of the strength of the early Catholic Church. She is the only Australian to be beatified (1995); on 19 December 2009 the Vatican announced the recognition of a second miracle attributed to her intercession. It is expected that her canonisation as a saint will occur in 2010. This would make her the first Australian saint. On 17 July 2008, Pope Benedict XVI prayed at her large tomb during his visit to Sydney for World Youth Day 2008.

Should MacKillop achieve sainthood, she will have the distinction of being the only saint ever to have been previously excommunicated from the Roman Catholic church.

Only this week Mary MacKillop made the team.
Only 2 more sleeps before the jolly fat man in the red suit slithers down the chimney………..

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lunch in the Gardens

On Thursday this week the Boss took us to Christmas lunch in the Fitzroy Gardens. The Gardens are on the edge of the central business district of Melbourne and just behind Parliament House. I probably haven't been in the gardens since my childhood. I do remember visiting the cottage which supposedly was the home of Captain Cook's parents. That's all I remember.

I'm not sure that I appreciated gardens until we visited the gardens of Paris and the Loire. Luxembourg, and Jardin les Plants were inspiring. Fitzroy gardens is probably about the same size, but different due to being in opposite hemispheres. Although there are many English trees, there are also many indiginous trees and plants among the winding paths. The land was set aside for parklands in 1840 by Govenor La Trobe.
The head Gardener at the time was James Sinclair between 1860 and 1870. Some of his plantings survive to this day.

After a surprise game of ten pin bowling, we alighted from our bus on the city side of the gardens and walked the paths to where, we did not know at the time. I lagged behind the others as I took in the sight of the Spanish style Conservatory built in 1929. Inside was a floral display of hanging baskets, and water plants.

Inside and around the Conseratory.

Cook's cottage was the next building we  viewed as we walked under the tall trees that flanked the winding pathway. It was dismantled stone by stone then transported to Melbourne and rebuilt in 1934.
The Yorkshire cottage was originally built in 1755. Cook never actually lived in the home.

From Wikipedia
"In 1933 the owner of the cottage decided to sell it with a condition of sale that the building remain in England. She was persuaded to change "England" to "the Empire", and accepted an Australian bid of £800, by Russell Grimwade as opposed to the highest local offer of £300.
The cottage was deconstructed brick by brick and packed into 253 cases and 40 barrels, for shipping onboard the Port Dunedin from Hull. Cuttings from ivy that adorned the house were also taken and planted when the house was re-erected in Melbourne. Grimwade, a notable businessman and philanthropist, donated the house to the people of Victoria for the centenary anniversary of the settlement of Melbourne in October 1934."

Although known as Cook's cottage, he never actually lived here. His parents did.

James Sinclair, the head Gardener's home still stands within the gardens and I stopped to admire the architecture while my hungry work collegues were about 100 metres further on.

James Sinclair's cottage, and he did live here............

As I hurried to catch up, I missed seeing the children's favourite, the Fairies tree. Sculptured by Ola Cohn, it links elves, fairies and goblins with Australian animals.

Before reaching the venue of our Christmas lunch, I passed the miniature Tudor village. Although a little tacky in my mind, the sentiment behind the miniature village certainly wasn't. It was donated to Melbourne by the people of Lambeth, England in 1948 in appreciation of food pacels sent to them from Australia during World War II.

The miniature Tudor Village presented to Melbourne by the people of Lambeth, England.

I wish I could have continued to explore the gardens further but both my stomach and my collegues were beckoning me to lunch. Maybe I'll return for a more relaxed walk another time.

The Pavilion Cafe during the 1950s prior to being destroyed by fire. A more modern building is where we enjoyed lunch.

If you would like to explore more of the gardens, follow the link below.

Apologies for the average quality of the photographs - I carry a small Canon camera in my pocket for ocassions such as this day. The weather was overcast and light rain fell most of the afternoon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The long lost Rellies

The long lost relatives arrived last Saturday after visiting the Great Barrier Reef and Ayers Rock (Uluru) and spending some time in Adelaide. My brother-law, John and I drove to Melbourne airport to greet Lynette, her sister Kathy, and respective husbands, Steve and DT.

Part of the Kelly Gang - John, Kathy, Judy and Lynette after arriving in from Adelaide.

Lynette and Kathy's father was Australian and brother to Sue, John and Judy's Mum, and that's basically the tie-in.

And this time with Sue, less Kathy.

Lynette's husband Steve said she had been planning this for some time. Both John and Judy had visited the Virginia Beach relatives many years ago on their trips to the US but Sue had never met them previously.

Its amazing to see certain similarities in personalities and mannerisms with the women when deep in conversation. Expressions and laughter seem to mirror each other.

On their arrival Saturday, a welcome evening BBQ was arranged and everyone began to destroy many bottles of Australian wine as the night rolled on.

Some of the leftover debri - gosh they enjoy their red wine.
On the Sunday a "Kelly Gang' reunion was organised where more food and wine was consumed.
As Steve said, "I'm looking forward to returning to work for a holiday."

Tuesday after a lunch at Southbank on the Yarra river, they joined us for dinner where again many empty bottles of wine were thrown in the recycling bin. Sue made a beautiful meal with one of the best entrees I've had in awhile.

Sue explains dinner................

I split a ripe fig and a drizzle a little olive oil and balsamic, then popped in a wedge of blue cheese. A couple of minutes in the oven to melt the cheese and warm the fig, then I put on a little bit of rocket with a slice of proscuitto and another drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduced to a sticky syrup. It was yummo.

The Entree - extremely yummy.

Chermoula chicken with orange cous cous, a sweet chilli and yoghurt sauce and minted, honeyed carrots.

Then I made a "mangomisu". Think tiramisu without the coffee and coffee liqueur, and substitute mango and Cointreau. Fresh and nice.

From Left to right: Steve, Lynette, DT, Kathy and Sue.

It has been fabulous to meet and spend some time with our American cousins. The only sad thing is that we have just met them and they're flying home again. I guess it must be my turn to go there next. They're from Virginia Beach which sounds like a nice part of the world...and Kathy has offered to meet me in New York...mmm...sounds good.

Lynette presented us with one of her personal artworks which will remind us of their visit to Australia and "Melbourne our home". Her mother Peggy (also an Aussie by birth) is also an artist and kindly sent us two small prints of paintings she had done. So there is a bit of framing to be done in this household.
OK, we've been a little self indulgent this blog, but it was a special occasion - we'll be back to telling you more about Melbourne and its features soon.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cars - It's a boy thing

Growing up in Melbourne in the northern suburbs, all my friends couldn't wait to get their driving licence. Most lusted after either a Holden or Ford, both Australian built cars originating from American designs of the post-war era. Later in the 60s, they grew squarer and had fins but I preferred something a little different. No chrome fat wheels for me, my wheels preferred Michelins.

Michelin man - the fat man of tyres.
I never really came to grips with Orstralian cars although I have had them in the past.

My last Citroen Traction Avant - note the Aussie bushman's hat on the roof.

My leanings were towards French, British and Italian cars. My first car was a 1951 Citroen Light 15, followed by Renault Dauphine. These two cars cemented my direction for the future.

It was a great fun car, my Dauphine, although a Gordini would have been a step up. Maybe one day I'll find another.

The Dauphine and the ID19, so different yet so enjoyable in their own special way to drive.

Having said that, I did go through a British period of cars starting with MGs & Triumphs and a great little 1969 Mini, along with these French and British cars came membership to both Citroen and MG car clubs. Many great memories stem from these Clubs and friendships from those days exist now.

We had Triumph saloons over the period of our boys growing up - leather, wood, pure luxury we thought..... The Mini was great fun and my boys at 12 and 10 drove it in MG Car Club motokhanas on grass.

My little 850cc Renault Dauphine was a delightful car with its roundish curves and flat headlights poking out of a nose unlike the traditional chrome grill of the Holdens and Fords. The motor was in the back and openings behind the rear doors allowed air to travel to the rear engine compartment to cool the radiator. I can remember achieving the top speed of 75 mph on a downhill stretch. Very scary.

With the Renault Dauphine being a memory, in the late 70s a Renault 16 came my way. As a recycled bachelor, it helped me move home a few times. The seats had all these various configurations so I could transport my wardrobe, records and books. Oh yes, the bed also.

My first Citroen was a Slough built model out of England. Compared to the French built Traction Avant, it had such upgrades as a sunroof, leather upholstery and wood grain dash and door trims. It was the first of many Traction Avants, followed by a 1954 model and later a 1951 Big Six model with the huge 3 litre six cylinder engine.

A 1960s ID19 Citroen also joined the collection - now this was considered to be a radical choice by my Holden/Ford friends. It might not be very quick at the lights but it certainly was "Queen of the open road" with its air-cutting shape and its quirky suspension.

I had always wanted an MG during the 70s and in 1976 I was able to purchase a six year old MGB. This was the start of long association with the MG Car Club of Melbourne.

Our 2nd MGB was red, the 1st (mine) was indigo blue. Although Sue's everyday car, we used it on weekends for hillclimbs, motokhanas and general club competition.

The MGB was followed five years later with an MGA restoration project. Then came two 1950s MG Magnettes and a very cute 1963 MG 1100. The 1100 was a front wheel drive derivative of the Morris 1100. It was a surprisingly good little car for many years.

The MG Magnette saloon, quite a nice car, not quick (1500cc) but leather and wood gave it an attitude of refinement.

Yes, it does look a little sad doesn't it, but it was great project and done with my own hands after a 6 month panel beating course.
By the way, Sue was carrying our 2nd born who is now 21.

A great little car that we developed for competition in the MG Car Club.

At some time it was suggested that everyone should an Italian love affair and mine was the ownership of two Alfa Romeo Coupes. The first was a white 1974 2000GTV 105 (again Sue's everyday car). I truly loved that car and so it was followed by a 1979 Alfetta GTV, naturally in red. It was my substitute Ferrari.

How lucky was Sue to have this as her everyday car?

And my everyday car.

In the last decade, French cars again adorned our driveway. The Peugeot 505 GTI was a drivers car with its sweet 5 speed gearbox, magnesium sports wheels and subtle rear spoiler. With this first experience of Peugeot, my next company car was a Peugeot 307 before being replaced by my current MG ZT 190 sedan. We haven't abandoned our love of French cars as Sue's daily transport is a 2000 Citroen Xantia. Its a superb car and so comfortable to drive. In the car park it would go unnoticed but like the Citroen ID19, its real features become apparent on driving it for a while. They have the best suspension of all cars.

Probably a favorite of ours, not realising its qualities till after purchasing the 505 GTI.

I quite often think I would like another classic to take out on sunny days - maybe another Traction Avant, yes but hellish in Melbourne traffic with its big drum brakes and flip flop wipers.

Yes, if I lived in the country it might be OK. Tootling down country lanes, wearing my beret. I like that image.
My two Alfas would still cope with city traffic to this day as would the 505 GTI.
But I think I would like to "return to the future" and lovingly restore an example of my very first Renault Dauphine.
Cars - It's a boy thing......Isn't IT?????