Sunday, January 30, 2011


It is 40ºC here today (104ºF) in other words pretty warm! This is just about the only hot weather we have had so far this summer.

Deb and I still wanted to get out, so we picked a spot we knew would be shady.

We drove to Badger Creek near Healesville and went for a walk in the Weir Park.

Healesville is on the edge of the Yarra Ranges and Badger Weir Park nestles up into a patch of rainforest on the edge of the Range.

It is only about a kilometre walk an mostly through trees, a perfect stroll for a hot day.

On the way up to the weir we took the main path which runs alongside a Melbourne Water Aqueduct similar to one I posted about a while ago
Normally the water in this system is so clear because of the forest it flows out of that Melbourne doesn’t have to filter it before piping it to our houses (just a little chlorine and it’s safe to drink). Since the 2009 Black Saturday fires stripped the tree cover off the higher slopes it is carrying more sediment.

As you go up the forest is a mix of giant Mountain Ash trees and tree ferns.The weir is a simple concrete barrier across the creek.

This pipe is what Badger Creek gets to keep.While this is the portion that we in Melbourne get to drink.On the way back we took another path that dives down into the shade of the rainforest.

Tunnels of tree ferns line the path. Epiphytes grow on any surface that is close enough to horizontal.And with all the moisture fungus like these bracket fungi thrive.So a relatively cool stroll back to the car.

Then finally I found a sweet (if small) treat.Native wild raspberries. Yum!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tassie Day 3 – The agony continues

I am afraid I am going to inflict more piccies of coastline on you than you can probably stand. Uncle Harry would approve.
After pausing for dinner at St Helen’s we stayed overnight at a little place on the east coast called Beaumaris which the locals translate from French as ‘Beautiful Beaches’.

Our target for our third day was the Bay of Fires. We spent most of the next day exploring there and I have to say I am hard pressed to name anywhere I’ve seen in the world that is more beautiful.

Anyway I’ll begin at the beginning. We were only able to see roughly the southern third of the bay. We had time to see more but alas the insurance on our hire car specifically excluded unsealed roads and the northern section is only accessible along dirt roads.

This piccie shows a little cove that was our first glimpse of the Bay of Fires. I’d heard before we went that it was beautiful and this first glimpse certainly didn’t disappoint.

As you can see it was a glorious sunny day and the light and the colours have to be seen to be believed.
Crystal clear air and water, Tassie is one of the least polluted environments in the world. It is just so far from most of the World’s population and manufacturing centres. The gorgeous white sand and granite boulders painted with orange lichen complete the picture.

I shot these boats at The Gardens which was the northernmost point of our day.Notice they are tied at both stem and stern to overhead cables to prevent them being driven into the rocks in windy weather.

These boulders were taken from a point just near the boats.We went in a meandering fashion toward the south. This little cove is also at The Gardens
And these boulders are taken from the same vantage.
South of the Gardens Deb walked along this sandy path to have a look at
Taylor’s Beach.Out at the point was this rock formation.
Deb thought it looked like a mother and children, I can see that but I can also see something else.Deb says that is because I 'am a boy'.

A little father south at Seaton Cove the beach was positively crowded.
I think this was the most people we saw on any beach at the Bay of Fires. Bear in mind this is high summer, Tasmania’s peak tourist season and summer holidays for schools.

Like I said agony.

Our last view of the Bay of Fires.Why the Bay of Fires? The first European Explorer to see this place was Tobias Furneaux, who was the commander of one of the ships during James Cook’s second voyage around the world. Furneaux saw the bay at night, all along the coast were the twinkling lights of Aboriginal camp-fires. There were so many that he decided the area must be densely populated and did not go ashore.

If you keep your eyes open as you walk you will see traces left by the original inhabitants. Usually in the form of an archaeologists delight, trash heaps called middens like this one eroding out of a bank behind the dunes.The remains of somebody’s seafood banquet hundreds of years ago.

Then finally as the day began to wane we stopped for a picnic meal. And as we ate I snapped this photo of a little local. He perched there for an unusually long time, these Superb Blue Wrens usually never stop. I would almost swear he was admiring the view.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Weekend and Charlie

We had an uneventful weekend, and unusually I didn’t take a single photo. As you know I spent a bit of time sorting out a second blog.
I have been wondering how to proceed on promoting Veiled in Shadows, I have few ideas forming which I think might just work, but they are going to take some time to get together and time is the problem.
In the meantime I guess I’ll just go one day at a time.

Valentina has let me go for the moment, but only because I am distracted by another sideline in the WIP.
I need a feed in for a narrator who wouldn’t normally tell her tale and I am trying to find a way to get her to speak. Charlie Bykov might just be the catalyst to get her talking.
This distraction has taken me two generations and to another war. But my character shares similarities with Valentina. Charlie is also distraught and on the edge. I seem to be caught up in characters who are desperate and haunted at the moment.
Ahh well it is all good writing practice.
Once again this is a first draft, I need to read this again and probably re-write it a few times to see if it as promising as it seemed at first.
I give you Charlie:

Charlotte Bykov 2005
I looked for Mom in the crowd as I came trough the arrivals gate. Courtesy of the airline I was in a wheelchair. I had fought it but I had to check my crutches in Germany, some battles you can’t win.
‘Charlie, Chaaaarlie!’
My name, who… at the back of the crowd, ‘Melissa!’
The chick from the airline checked her nails as Mel hugged and kissed me. At first there was no awkwardness, in the excitement of welcoming me Mel left off the questions that always came.
Or didn’t come, but were there anyway.
Of course the awkwardness was mine as much as it was anyone else’s.
I felt disconnected from my life. Melissa looked so fresh and young, as pretty as ever. I was only gone two years, yet I felt ages older. Grief and pain leave their mark.

Mel tried, Mel always tried. ‘She has work, she would have come, if she could.’
Mel left me with the airline chick while she went to find a cab.
I wiped a tear aside. I was a big girl now, I had the scars to prove it and big girls don’t cry for their mama. I don’t know why I was disappointed Mom wasn’t there. Mom was never there.

The house was as I left it in ’98. The army was my way out. I was never going back.
Yet here I was.
Leaning on my crutches I traced my fingers over the photos in the hall. Me as a little girl sitting on Mom’s lap, I was there but her eyes were for Derek, my stepfather as she laughed up at him.
A newer pic the unsure teenage me, blonde curls and blue eyes standing on one side of a family portrait: Mom with arms wrapped around Derek and black-haired Mel and Tony. Me, with them but alone.
Always alone.
Then photos I could barely look at:
Me lacing up shoes at track and field;
Me in cheerleader uniform;
Charlie Bykov, beautiful, hot and sexy, young and fit.
Most of all whole.

Mel, lovely Mel, tried to distract me with coffee and cookies. But no amount of coffee and cookies will grow a girl a new leg.
‘I have to head back to school soon, but I can wait for Mom or Dad.’
‘Do you think the gimp needs her hand held?’
‘You know Charlotte you can be a real bitch sometimes.’
She left me alone, staring at the door.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A New Blog and Chapter Nine

My post tonight is going to be very quick.

I’ve been busy putting up a new blog to showcase extracts of my Book Veiled in shadows.
It’s called Veiled in Shadows
You can find it here

At the moment I am using almost the same template as for this blog. I may change that later.

I’m looking for feedback on the new blog, especially if you think its layout works.

I’m putting it up tonight, no doubt there are errors, if you see any glaring ones perhaps you can let me know.

So if you have a moment pop over and have a look and let me know what you think.

Also for those (probably few) of you who may have been reading the extracts I have posted, Chapter Nine has gone up over there tonight.

In Chapter Nine, Ebi has finally managed to save enough money to get over to England to hunt for Katharina…

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Two-Oh-Two Followers and Terrible Tassie: Day 2.

I thought I should mention I have 202 followers. I think the big jump to 200 happened while I was away in Tasmania. Over two hundred people following my blog, all I can say is wow!
Thank you guys, you are amazing!

Well my WIP is still being dominated by Valentina. That woman won’t let me pay attention to anyone else.
If I stay at all close to my original outline (and it isn’t looking likely) her part in my story is close to wrapping up. I kind of don’t think she’s going to sit back quietly and let me sideline her.

Speaking of sidelined, I haven’t posted anything more of my Tassie trip and I have so many piccies that I would love to share. It is impossible to do them justice in a single post so I thought I would post a few maybe once a week for a while.

That way none of us will get too bored and I won’t seem too much like Uncle Harry.

Day two in Tassie was all about coast.
We drove north from Launceston along the east bank of the Tamar River.
I took dozens of piccies here are just a few (as usual click on any of the photos to enlarge).
A sandy bay in the estuaryThis looks across the river, the straight stone line in the fore ground looks to be a fish trap. They are scattered around the Australian coast, the idea is the fish swim in at high tide and get trapped as the tide goes out. On the mainland they are often very old and were usually built by Aboriginal people. But I can say with absolute certainty that if this is a fish trap it is not Aboriginal. Why?
I know because Tasmanian Aboriginals had a taboo on eating fish for thousands of years before European settlement. They ate shellfish, and other marine resources but considered scaly fish unfit to eat. If anyone knows why their descendants are not saying.
Near the river mouth is the 1835 Pilot Station. The Tamar in general and Launceston in particular was an important port.

We stopped a while for a poke around and unsurprisingly I took photos.
Of nooks and crannies.Of a Tassie local, Hakea flowersand the old pilot’s jettyPart of the Pilot Station is still in use as the Tamar is still a harbour.This was the view from the café table where we had lunch.
A short run to low head where I took a few piccies of the Low Head LighthouseWe headed east along the North Coast to Bridport, there you can find the remains of the Granite Point Jetty which burnt down in 1938.Finally in the evening we hit the East Coast at St HelensOne last piccie, Deb contemplates the view at the seafood restaurant where we ate dinner.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mutiny in the Ranks!

Another quick post tonight.
I am still feverishly working on my WIP, doing a good couple of hours most work days. Words are flowing freely and I am enjoying it immensely.

But there is a problem. I have posted extracts featuring Valentina before, and she is meant to be a secondary character. But she is well and truly demanding to be heard. I have written nothing other than about her for the past two weeks. I don’t know if she will win in the end, but if she does it will be at the expense of some of my other characters and leave my outline in tatters.
I am planning to post more chapters of my completed novel Veiled in Shadows but I have to work out where. Blogger has a limit on the number of pages I can have up on Tabs.
Hmmm maybe a secondary blog just for posting sections of book? What do you think?

Now an extract of my WIP Veiled in Storms because Valentina won’t be quiet any longer.
This was typed today on my way home, so it is once again entirely unedited…

Last time Valentina was quivering under-fire. This time her problems are (at least partly) more personal.

Valentina Meshcova Berlin 1945
It was children who saved me. Children in the ruins.
We were near Hoppegarten outside Berlin when the surrender came. The jubilation in the army had to be felt to be understood. All the terror lifted, the lid taken off years of pent up emotion.
But for several days we were kept working nearly as hard. Though now the women medics like me had to have an escort. The rape and pillage that had been a feature of our advance into Germany exploded as soldiers consumed the city's stocks of alcohol. Being in a Red army uniform was usually enough, but a few of the girls in our regiment were raped. A drunken army with little discipline in place is a frightening thing.

For the next days we continued recovering the wounded from the stinking ruins of Berlin. The mix changed, fewer Russians, a lot of German civilians and even German soldiers came through our hospital. Only days before German wounded would have been shot out of hand, even civilians would more than likely have been turned away.

Then, suddenly, within twenty four hours, most of my work was gone. Yes the hospital continued working, but now the panic of battle was gone it was the sick we were treating.
Our commander organised some tour groups into the heart of the city. We had the privilege of entering as conquerors. After all we had been through it was delicious to stand in the ruins of the Chancellery and the Reichstag. Revenge was sweet.

But then anti-climax, the emptiness I had dreaded. Not enough hours filled with anything meaningful and an empty futile future stretching in front of me.
I sat one night cleaning and re-cleaning my carbine.

Luckily no one offered me vodka that night, If they had I would have found the courage to do what I wanted and put the barrel in my mouth and squeeze the trigger.
There were a surprising number of suicides in those first weeks after victory; I was not the only one who did not know how to go on.

Then one day I rode one of our big American trucks to take a number of wounded to the station. A little girl sitting on a pile of rubble alongside the road caught my eye. I don't know why I noticed her, perhaps her blond hair stood out against the mountains of debris. I didn't think much of it, but as we drove back she was still there. I wondered about her all the way back.

When I finished my duty I took my carbine and strolled back. It was already a lot safer for a Russian woman on her own. Discipline was being re-established, some of the worst offenders had been shot and the officers were bringing the army back in line.
But you never knew and the gun was just in case.

She was still there, a tiny thing maybe four years old, sitting almost motionless on a pile of broken bricks. Her eyes flicked up at me as I came closer and then fell again.
I stood for a long time and watched her, she was skin and bones, dressed in clothes that were warm enough but had obviously been cast-down innumerable times. A child of the war.

I slung my gun over my shoulder and held out my arms.
Her stick arms came up. I lifted her and held her to my chest. Her little arms wrapped themselves very tightly around my neck.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Curry According to Al

First, my girls are safely in Sydney and will hopefully complete the final leg of their trip home tomorrow. To give you a perspective of how far from here Queensland is, it's two long days or three comfortable days driving. And the girls have paused a few times on their way.

Tonight I am going to present something totally different to my usual fare (pardon the pun).
Quite some time ago I talked about the curries I cook. A couple of people expressed an interest in the recipe. I am cooking curry tonight so I thought I’d bring you along for the ride.
I have written out a rather long winded recipe and taken a few very bad photos as I have progressed to go with my descriptions. It is surprisingly hard to cook and take photos at the same time.
I would say this is not a curry in any particular tradition, rather it is something like the dishes my Indian Granny used to cook. I’ve modified it a bit for ease and to suit local ingredients (the spices are much easier to get here in Oz than they once were).

Curry According to Al.
1 kg (2lb) Cubed meat
2 Large onions chopped
6 – 8 crushed cloves of garlic
1 – 2 inch piece of fresh ginger peeled and grated
4 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
4 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
4 teaspoons of ground turmeric
Ground Cayenne chilli or equivalent
2 cinnamon sticks
12 whole black peppercorns
10 whole cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
Salt to taste
8 tablespoons of plain (natural) yoghurt (alternately a tin of light coconut milk)
8-10 tablespoons good quality cooking oil (I use olive oil which is not at all authentic but any good oil will work)
1 tin diced tomatoes (you can use fresh if you wish)

First a word about the meat: I usually use lamb or beef, but goat or kangaroo both work well. In fact goat meat is my favourite for this dish but I have to go out of my way to get it.
You could use chicken, but I would dial the spices back a little (except the chilli).

Grind the coriander and cumin seeds. I usually use a mortar and pestle which takes a bit of time (you can use a coffee grinder but don’t expect your coffee to taste right again).

If you have never ground coriander seed take a moment to enjoy the fresh lemony scent when they are cracked, it is simply heavenly. You can substitute pre-ground spices but I would not recommend them. Pre-ground spices very quickly lose much of their flavour and smell. Fresh is best.

Combine with the turmeric and chilli.
With the chilli the trick is to make the amount to suit you palate. If you are a total chilli-wimp half a teaspoon would suit.If I am feeding curry novices I would usually add around a teaspoon of chilli. If you like chilli and are used to hot food two, or three teaspoons would be fine. However I would see this as a fairly mild curry so I wouldn’t go overboard.
To the ground spices add the whole cinnamon sticks, peppercorns, cardamom pods and cloves (you can chuck in a couple of bay leaves as well if you wish).Set this spice mix aside.

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot that you can cover with a lid (DO NOT use a non-stick pan).
Keep the heat high - add the onions and begin to fry.As the onions begin to soften and change colour chuck in the spice mix.
Stir them on a high heat for maybe 60 seconds. Don’t worry if they stick to the pan that is pretty much what you want. Throw in the garlic and ginger and continue to stir.

About this time you will “think this is a real mess”.
Don’t worry, it is meant to be sticky, even caked on to the pan. It should smell really good as the heat activates the spices.

Keeping the heat high, add the meat. Keep it turning as you brown it.
Then as the juices start to come out of the meat use them to help scrape gunk off the pan (I use a heavy wood or bamboo spoon for this).The above piccie shows just how gunky the pan will get

By the time the meat is browned you should have the bulk of the spices scraped off the pan.Add the tomatoes and stir well, keep the heat high until they are well mixed.

Turn the heat down and stir in the yoghurt, one tablespoon at a time.
Alternatively you can use coconut milk. Yoghurt is nicer coconut milk is a bit quicker.

Now add some water (about a cup). If you have used coconut milk you will need less water.
Turn the heat back up slightly and bring the pot to a boil. Then turn it right down to a gentle simmer and cover.
Cook for at least an hour (until the meat is tender), stirring the pot well every ten minutes or so. The longer you cook the meat the more the flavours will infuse the meat. Some people will cook a curry for over 20 hours! I usually cook this dish for between 1 and 2 hours.

When the meat is tender remove the lid and turn up the heat to reduce the mixture a little until the sauce is somewhat thickened.
Add salt to taste and stir in.

Remove from heat and serve with rice.

A word about rice. An Indian style curry should be served with long-grain rice like Basmati.
Add the rice to rapidly boiling water and stir back to the boil.
Rice should not be overcooked 10 – 15 minutes at the boil will usually be heaps. As it gets close keep tasting it until it is just tender.
Then drain and serve, the rice should be light and fluffy and not at all sticky.

So there you go. Curry according to Al.
Hopefully my Indian readers aren’t laughing too hard.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A quick post tonight.

First and most important.

My daughters E and Io safely left Toowoomba today.

They drove south along the New England Highway to Armidale about five hours away in NSW. Their Grandma (my Mum) has made her way across to there and they are staying together for the night.

The roads North, East and West are still closed by flood-waters.
The New England Highway runs along the Great Dividing Range and although it was cut by floods in a few places it had cleared by this morning.

The only thing that made their trip slower than normal was police had checkpoints on some of the bridges that had been flooded. They were enforcing a 5 tonne limit on those bridges until Engineers have been able to check them for structural soundness. So there are definitely no trucks rolling on the highway.

The flood crisis in Queensland is very far from over, but at least I can breathe a little easier knowing my girls are headed in the direction of home.

Now on a cheerier note a few piccies from our first day in Tassie.

We flew into Launceston which is by Aussie standards very old having been founded in 1806.These shops are typical of the buildings in the centre of town being from the late Nineteenth Century.

Running right through the centre of Launceston is the amazing Cascade Gorge.At the top end of the town Launceston has taken advantage of the natural wonder on their doorstep by establishing a park at the Upper Basin.This old suspension bridge crosses the top end of the gorge.I thought these rocks silhouetted against the sky were worth capturing. At the bottom end the gorge flows into the Tamar River. The wrought iron King's Bridge spans the river here.

An old house falling into ruin that we happened to passNorth of Launceston the Tamar broadens into a wide estuary the only bridge crossing downstream of Launceston is the Tasman Suspension Bridge.Now finally,
Over the past couple of weeks I have been a vey bad blogosphere citizen as I have absolutely failed to respond to any comments or visit many of your blogs.

In my defence of course I was away, and since I have been back we have been somewhat distracted by the QLD floods.

All I can say is I am most sorry and I will try to be less naughty over the coming weeks.