Sunday, August 30, 2009

First signs of Spring

Sorry about the lateness of last weeks blog but work got in the way. We are fortunate that we are busy in these difficult financial times but I think Australia is not feeling it as difficult as some other countries.
Sure, my shares have dropped and that means retirement is further off than expected two years earlier. We can still enjoy the good things in life without it costing a lot, like the coming of spring.....

The first signs of spring are popping up all over our property. The days are stretching out a little. I notice that my weekend morning rides don't require lights on my bike lately and it's still light after getting home from work around 6ish pm. There's little more warmth around mid-day, I even opened the sunroof in my car during last week.

Daylight saving starts in the first weekend of October so the mornings will be darker again and the longer sunlit evenings will fade the curtains, the kids won't go to bed and the milking cows will be confused. I do love daylight saving though.
Sue suggested that I take a few piccies of the blooming plants on our property. In another month, I'll take a few more for comparison.

The Jasmine is going wild along the side fence beside out outdoor deck. The scent wafts across as you sit nearby with a coffee or wine - spring is on its way.

Our front veranda has had wisteria since the day we moved in in the early 80's. Ready to burst into a wall of purple, it mirrors the Jacaranda's purple bloom in our backyard.

I became a tree terrorist recently and savagely cut back the Prunis, but it continues to sprint towards spring.

Alyssum grows madly throughout the property, particularly up through the brick paving. I believe our backyard will be a very pleasant place to be with a bottle of Rose this year.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Possibly the last Open Fire

Winter draws into spring – today’s early morning sky was cloudless, clear and blue as it blended with the bay’s waters. Chilly as it was, our morning group ride opened thoughts of spring and warmer rides over the next few weeks.
We invited friends from the MG Car Club to join us for dinner tonight and Sue has me vacuuming and organizing what will possibly be our last open fire for winter.
I must admit to looking forward to the summer BBQs with friends in the backyard again soon.

As the hunter and gatherer of the family, I organised the wood for the fireplace.

Our house has two open fires but the lounge room is the most interesting one.
When we moved in, the fireplace had been renovated in a 60s style or as we used to say in the northern suburbs, Greeked. During the 50s and 60s we had a high influx of Italians, Greeks, and oh yes, Pommies.
Both the Greeks and Italians would buy the cheaper (then) inner suburban houses and in their own special way, modernize them.
Anyway, I pulled out the "Greeked" old gas space heater after we installed central heating. Another motor racing enthusiast friend of mine offered me a wooden overmantle and would you believe it was the same design as the one that used to be there originally in 1929.
How would I know, you ask? Well after years of the room being painted, I could see the faint silhouette of the original overmantle. How good is that?
But I digress – where was I? Yes, we invite our friends, Kaye and Ray for dinner.
Sue sent me down to Uncle Dan’s (Dan Murphy’s), our local wine cellar where I found a nice crisp wine to start with. It is a Sancerre Sauvignon Blanc from the very eastern Loire in central France. This wine brings back memories of sitting in the hilltop village of Sancerre, sipping a glass of wine in the sunshine before the rains came.
The red is one that we enjoyed at a small back lane restaurant in Vienne earlier this year.
It’s a 2005 E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone vin rouge. It seems that memories of our travels are activated by the label on a wine bottle.
I also bought a local Pinot Noir, mainly because of the label. It’s a Killara Estate “Racers and Rascals” wine from the Yarra Valley. The label depicts a racing Austin 7 in the vineyard.
The property where the vines now take over was the property of one of Australia’s great motor racing drivers. Just after the war Lex Davison and his wife Diana lived on the property and ran the first ¼ mile speed trials on their driveway to the house for the Vintage Drivers Club. Lex later became an Australian Grand Prix winner and one of the personalities of Australian Motor Racing. Part of his and Diana’s early motor racing history is featured in my book, “Rob Roy Hillclimb”.

Lex Davison manhandling his huge Mercedes at Rob Roy Hillclimb around 1946.

OK, you want to know what Sue is cooking now…..
Sue says;
Nothing too fancy.
We’ll start with smoked trout with a horse radish, sour cream and herb dressing on sliced baguette.
Then beef, mushroom and red wine pot pies with a home made spicy tomato relish, and garlic potato and pea mash.
Finish up with little chocolate puddings with molten choc centres and cream.
Almond macaroons with coffee. Yummo.

The night went well with and we awoke to another cloudless sunny Sunday morning sky.
Roll on spring and summer.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Entertaining the relatives

Leon says,
Entertaining the relatives, Sue's brother John and sister-inlaw Jan, starts out as an impromptu phone call - "come and join us for an afternoon drink"
Now that might sound simple enough initially, BUT!!!!
We were given a bottle of wine that needed to be complimented by foie gras. The wine was presented to us on departure from Dijon by our wonderful host Coco, from her husband's personal wine cellar. It was a Macon 2005 Vendanges de la Saint Martin golden white dessert wine. We decided that we would open the bottle and enjoy it with special people -
Sue says,
John and Jan are special. They enjoy wine, food and travel having been to France, Italy and the UK as well as a myriad of other places over the years.

The very special bottle of Macon wine that travelled back to OZ.
Sue says,
The foie gras we bought last year in Sarlat in the Dordogne. We went to a tasting of both duck and goose foie gras and ended up purchasing the goose one. Tough call though.
Strawberries, olives and foie gras on a rainy afternoon.
Fearing we wouldn't be able to eat much due to its richness, I made a pizza with roasted red capsicum, chargrilled eggplant, green olives, proscuitto and fresh mozzerella to snack on. As you can see, when it was cooked I topped it with rocket and a drizzle of olive oil.

I was soooo wrong....we managed to gobble up all the foie gras, and most of another one we had given John and Jan as a gift! Oink, oink! The wine was smooth and delicious with the foie gras and complemented its richness very well.
Home made pizza
The pizza was yummy as also.
What a pleasant way to spend a wet and windy Sunday arvo.

Mentone Village

It’s Sunday morning and looking out of the study window, our old Gum tree is under the strain of high winds – my Sunday morning ride didn’t happen in these conditions.
Along the beach road can be difficult and dangerous as the winds churn up the Bay. It's much safer to stay indoors and write another installment on "Melbourne our Home".

This weekend's blog is about Mentone Village. Well it's not really a village as such, not compared to those of France or Italy. Back in the late 1880s it was a village, a seaside resort but suburbia encroached and Mentone is now only 30 minutes from the CBD of Melbourne by car. In horse and cart days, it was probably a 1/2 day out of town. Most people took the steam powered train for a day at the beach.

Mentone Coffee Palace in the 1880s
Yesterday I drove into what is still called Mentone Village. The central shopping centre is highlighted by the Kilbreda College for young ladies. Initially built in 1887, it started life as the Mentone Coffee Palace. Such is the grandness of the building, it can be seen across the rooftops from many vantage points around the Village.

Mentone's now Kilbreda Ladies College
Kilbreda's tower stands proud above Mentone Village.
Just around from the now ladies school is a large car park for the shoppers where the main tower of Kilbreda can still be seen. Tucked in here is the public toilet block – not just a common old convenience but a work of art itself, covered in mosaic scenes. In the same area is the Mentone artist’s Society. Mentone has a rich history for art in the district.

The Mosaic toilet block showing Mentone Coffee Palace/Kilbreda Ladies College.

Tom Roberts and Charles Condor travelled to the bayside area in their pre-Heidelberg days to paint. These two were influencial in the Australian Impressionist movement.
In fact, Condor travelled to England and France to paint and met Toulouse Lautrec who painted his portrait. It hangs in Canberra’s National Gallery of Australia.

And the actual painting from 1888.

A mosiac version of Charles Condor's "Holiday at Mentone".

Condor’s painting “Holiday at Mentone” has been imortalised on both a postage stamp and just as importantly on our public convenience in the Mentone Village car park.

Wikipedia notes the following on Charles Condor……..
“Conder was a fun loving man who painted with an often humorous touch. While staying with Tom Roberts in his famous Grosvenor chambers studio, he painted A Holiday at Mentone (1888), which shows men and women at the beach relaxing while clothed from head to foot—the men in suits and hats; the ladies in long girdled dresses with boots and pretty hats. The man and woman at the front of the painting face away from each other, yet possibly are interested in one another and watching each other through the corner of their eye. The mood is one of simple elegance and with a relaxed feel, as in the background people are strolling along the beach into the distance. The composition of the painting has possibly been borrowed from a work by Whistler in which a bridge similarly transects the picture, as Conder among other painters such as Frederick McCubbin had been directly or indirectly influenced by Whistler.”
It’s amazing to wander around our village and discover these little pieces of important history and I wonder if the people walking out of the supermarket realize what a rich history Mentone Village has.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


House work is never finished.
Not on the inside, but outside – the domain of the male I’m told.
Since returning from holiday and work taking priority, the outside house work was getting away from me. What with training on the bike as well!!!!
The garden was becoming over-grown and the beds needed weeding, with the trees needing pruning.

The plane trees in the south of France always intrigued me and I love the way the French line the roads in and out of their villages with the flat top haircuts they give these trees.
We have two trees that always grow rampant during spring. One we call the stick because it began life in our front garden as a mere twig and that’s way it stayed until we transplanted it in the back yard. Since then it went crazy, growing higher than our garage.
Each year I cut it back but each year it comes back stronger.
The other tree that received a “crew cut” this year was our Prunis. This has been here when we first moved in during 1982. The Prunis started life as a poor sad thing that even fell over in the early years but I transplanted it with loving care and it also took on a life of its own with shoots coming from every branch. I’ve hit it really hard this year as it was trying to escape from our property to our neighbour’s backyard.
Since then the backyard has taken on many incarnations.

The "Stick" matures
So the garden beds have been weeded and the trees pruned – next job; paint the remaining side of the house.
Some of you may remember Paul Hogan, Hoges or more famously known as Crocodile Dundee, the "chuck another shrimp on the Barbie" bloke. That’s an outdoor BBQ, not the infamous skinny blonde doll that was allegedly having it off with Ken.
Anyway Hoges used to work on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Painting the bridge is eternal. Once they get to the other side, they return back to the other and start all over again.
I have the same philosophy about our home. It has four sides so that’s four years to paint. I might confess that I’m behind schedule, what with three trips to France since I started.
I tell Sue that you can’t rush these things. She doesn’t believe that I’m a perfectionist and that I need time to give the house the love and care it deserves.
The last side of the house gets its fresh coat of paint, finally.........
Our house was built in 1929 of timber construction. Sue initially saw it and said it had a feeling of being “home”. It felt right!
It has leadlight windows, a bay window, two open fire places, high ceilings and light fittings from the era. A sort of blend between Edwardian and Art Deco. It’s an architecture described as Californian Bungalow.
These pics prove that I have, in the past, been productive - but you can't rush these things.....
Anyway, I started painting again last weekend and this weekend I’m so pleased with the progress.
The sun was shining, perfect weather for painting. The garden was looking good and things (called plants) were starting to bud. It’s still chilly in the mornings but I can see the beginnings of spring.
Spring can't be far off - the birds are returning and the garden is starting to bloom again.
The last two mornings on my training rides the Bay has been beautifully still and yacht racing is starting again.
It won’t be long before we can start shedding our winter clothing and enjoy some UVs.
Ahhh, some vitamin D.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The week that was....

During the week I had an appointment with the rowing master of Scotch College, one of the prestigious private schools of Melbourne. Its history dates back to the early years of Melbourne. Bob, the Master whom I met with had purchased my old 1951 Citroen Traction Avant recently and he wanted the original number plates still in my possession. Scotch college is situated on the banks of the Yarra River and rowing is a sport that they have excelled in.
I believe two of the oarsome foursome, Olympic rowing gold medalists graduated from Scotch.
The area I met Bob at was the boathouse. It housed high tech carbon fibre vessels. It was so peaceful and I can understand why Bob enjoys his job. It’s like being in the country and yet only five kms from the city and the traffic. The river is home to swans, ducks and other forms of wildlife.

Today was our last day at our North Melbourne premises where I work. After 4 years we have outgrown the warehouse space. The company has had its fifth phase of growth over the 14 years I have worked at Australian Clothing Company.
North Melbourne has a gritty charm all its own and an early history that might be un-noticed as you drive to somewhere else.
There are still a few original homes from the mid-1880s such as Rose Cottage, an original bluestone constructed house. Another home from that period is a gothic style house that is unique in its style.

A short walk from the office is Errol Street. Full of great restaurants, bars and cafes, it will be hard to leave Errol Street behind.

This morning as I drove for the last time to our office, I saw three hot air balloons silently floating across the city sky. The sky was clear as the sun rose through the tall city buildings. I wish I could be in the basket looking over Melbourne instead of moving office today.
And this was the week that was.