Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.— Oscar Wilde.
This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.
Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.— Oscar Wilde.
This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.
A relative did a massive cleanse and clearance of years of accumulated … well crap. Much of it was showered on my household and then took a trip to its final resting place.
However, from the cascade of years of detritions, a few things were interesting. Said relative was a huge fan of catalogue and online buying of a wide cross section. This ended in an accumulation of amazing gadgets. The vast majority of gadgets found their way elsewhere. The cook books, landed with me.
The library of cook books I have now is substantial and tell a tale of radical change in the food we cook and eat. Up until the sixties and seventies, the kitchen and what came out of it was fairly stable, we did see the influence of France and Italy on the food we ate. With the advent of Le Cordon Bleu cooking school by Hume and Downes in 1975, with the impact of foodies like Julia Child and Elizabeth David who encouraged us to spread our wings.
And spread we did, vast doors swung open. In 1975, the National Trust ( a group who included many wealthy influential people who had an interest in the finer things of life ) produced and published a work called Cork Fork and Ladle (written in ornate cursive script to indicate its adherence to tradition). The book took me on an immediate journey.
1975 saw me involved in a world of design and food. I was an up and coming Interior Designer, pawing his way up the social ladder since it was the key to success. Jennifer and I attended way more openings, social events and dinners, cooked more Fillets de Boeuf than a decent son of a butcher had a right to. Urged on by Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol 1 and 2, were soon producing Pates as fine as any that ever graced Haute Cuisine (except I never ever pushed the pate through a fine sieve, I thought that was overkill) , delved into the world of Terrines. Drew a line at poncing up vegetables in small round unnatural things, but adored the many things that could be done with chocolate. On one spectacular occasion, was greeted by a hostess who had produced no less than three of the great chocolate dishes, roulade, mouse and chocolate pate. It was a tour de force chocolate feast.
Another of the books, not part of the shower, but bought by me at a junk sale was called ‘Cooking with a French Touch’. Published in London in 1952 by two Swiss/French authors. The introduction itself is a wonder of good advice that today, would be roundly ignored. The 1950’s was a hot bed of cook books, Elizabeth David published her first five books, Julia Childs first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in the USA in 1961. James Beard, famous American cook and writer published his first book in 1940, the influence of which was small and limited to the USA. Margaret Fulton, the undoubted queen of cooking in Australia and major influencer in every Australian kitchen, published her first cook book in 1968, followed by a flood of others.
It seems to me that there is great danger in change, the loss of men and women who can cook, the loss of people who want to cook, the confusion of cooks who find themselves overwhelmed by recipes and choices. The influence of ‘influencers’ whose job is to direct people in the direction of their employer. The influence of media who quickly saw food and cooking as a great money making opportunity and promoted modestly talented chefs to great heights because of their ability as TV stars. Their actual contribution to the cooking of food was questionable. In one case the celebrity Chef, rarely appeared sober and consumed vast quantities of wine as he cooked. Perhaps it can be said that he assisted the wine makers more than the cooks.
Hospital Auxiliaries were guilty of producing an endless flow of cook books, as was the Country Women’s Association of Australia, I was an avid collector of all, they were a window into a world that I much admired, cooks who were the backbone of Australia, who could run up a sponge cake or a batch of scones in a jiffy. Cooks who knew how hot their wood stoves were, who every day produced 3 meals for their families and often for others during intense work times in the country, who could also keep cake tins filled and biscuit boxes topped with sweet and savoury. My absolute all time fave from the CWA and Hospital Auxiliary world was ginger fluff sponge filled with mock cream. That said, I was also exceptionally fond of the banqueting stuff, the times when the towns come together to celebrate. My mother was always in charge of getting the debutantes up to scratch for the local Deb Ball. The supper room was a sight to behold.
I am told I am getting close to my use by… I am channelling my Grandfather, he worked until he was 85+ and when he stopped, moaned about the inactivity of it all.
I have not changed, the bloody world has changed, become way way less careful in its choices, is it organic?? More importantly was it made with care, love, knowledge and understanding. Organic is absolutely no criteria, so slack, so little faith so little regulation, anyone can claim organic. There is no one to stop you. It’s like free range eggs, now if ever there was an area of dishonesty, this takes the cake. Even organic free range poultry is massively suspect. Organic, free range – indeed.
It has taken years and years to gather the experience, knowledge and understanding of what I do, it has taken about five minutes for modern technology to develop, even less time for people to live their lives on social media. And that will all change soon as the next new thing rolls along. As I said to someone today, I liked the times of writing a good letter, if it was urgent, send a Telegram or make a call. I am far from convinced that immediacy has improved our lives. Not at all sure that being able to watch a life being snuffed out by ISIS executioners on my IPhone is ripper. I don’t get it, why do we need to see the war and horror as it happens?
We have lost so much, time mostly, simple elegant time. No one has the ability anymore to do nothing, just be in the moment. Everyone has to be fulfilled, jumping about from place to place, making deals, stitching up this or that, money money. What happened to the striving and obtaining of the 40 hour week? Where’s that gone. Is it really necessary to work 60 + hours a week just to pay a mortgage.
When was the last time you sat with family, enjoyed food, batted the air, laughed and cried. God I miss that, I miss my family rocking up for Sunday nights food, I miss getting to know my grandchildren around a great table, sharing love and laughter.
No one can go back, there are lots of times when I would love to be able to live a more genteel life, kick back. But you can’t. Preserving the whole past doesn’t allow for a future. Keeping the best bits seems the way. The UK has a better handle on this, they all love the past, the rituals, the foods, the country side, more mellow. I’m dead sure that London beats with a vibrant thrum, social media ruling. Yet in amongst all this there remains a great love of bespoke things. Food, clothing, lifestyle items, all made with great care and love and a tender vibrant acknowledgement of the past, the routes.
True to, that this way of living is not something that everyone can afford. But I don’t make product for the masses, I like to tip my hat to them and deeply acknowledge their right to a place in the now, they don’t understand me! Never have. I remain as enigmatic to them as they to me with their love of fast foods and beer. I don’t get it. I don’t frankly expect them to get me. We just have to co-exist.
But you know what, I am not going to bend to social media, I will use it any way I can to further the causes I care about. I will post the written word on Instagram, I will get katty and bitchy with politicians and anyone else I perceive to be mucking with a world I have grown to cherish. I will continue to make food and products that are the best, I will occasionally be drawn into new worlds as portrayed by people like Ottolenghi. But I will hold on tightly to the ways and means of people like Julia Child and battalions of foodies who have gone before, leaving legacies of great food, simply cooked and steeped richly in tradition.
A question, is it possible that someone today will create and leave a legacy of food dishes like Beef Burgundy, fabulous Pasta dishes, for that matter a family roast dinner. Or is it all done. Sorry I cannot think of a dish that has been created by todays doyens of food that is passing/has passed into greatness and will be cooked by generations to come. Take a look at what is lost, what has simply vanished, sponge cakes, fruit puddings, suet puddings (most people have no idea what suet is) home baking in a simple, everyday feed the family sort of way. We are losing beef and lamb stews that are the backbone of early country cooking in Australia.
It is important to grow, to explore and enjoy, it is important to know the foods of other countries, knowledge matters. But knowing is not synonymous with throwing out the old, what was wrong and awful with the old is for the bin, but not what was simple and good. Complexity is fine, diversity of food also fine, but we are not all chefs with kitchens equipped with every known device, mostly we need to cook foods that will feed, enjoyably, our families and friends.
We all use the vast array of electronic devices to explore, many think that television cooking shows are sufficient and induce a warm glow of satisfaction. Social media now is useless in trying to impart knowledge, more than three words, a challenging image and all is lost. Devices rule and how a whole generation is heading towards becoming blind because the writing on a mobile phone is about 3 point and in my case, unreadable.
I am reliably informed that ‘Instagram’ is widely loved, widely accepted and the way of now. This has to be garbage, this is simply a device for vicariously looking into a few lives, gathering followers and not having to leave the safety of a secure environment. If living is heading this way, we are in deep doodoos.
It’s imperative that we continuously look at the way we live, how we communicate, how we eat, what we eat, preservation of the planet. It’s not right to look with envy at the life styles of the wealthy, it’s not alright for governments of all persuasions to need more and more money to keep them in ineffective office. I am seriously considering a move to Denmark or Sweden, they seem to have it about right.
I cannot make sense of the world unless I cook. The world turns into a strange and useless place when cooking is not there. Wilma is helping, she’s ripper, Wilma is a stylish woman, maybe over fifty, bit stocky and quite expansive, but the eye candy is amazing. Wilma came along when my life was beginning to make no sense, a sort of miasma had engulfed me, self obsessed, self focussed. Looking inwards on a constant basis and trying to forge ahead. Wilma saved me. She forced me to lift my head, re-establish my dreams and see what can be. She is no cheap little number, she has needs and without them, she simply doesn’t work. She was, when I first met her, not to put to fine a point on it, dowdy! She had fallen on difficult times, experienced some illness, allowed herself to be overwhelmed with way too much baggage. Wilma was in need of me as much as I was in need of her. The first time we met, I was impressed, the family was not, moans, groans and comparisons, difficult to know, hard even to find. And yet I seemed to know that Wilma was what I needed, what I had to have. I still feel like that. I dragged the family into the melee once again, begged and pleaded, asked them to look at Wilma with different eyes, see what I saw, know her for what she was. It worked, I got comments like great bone structure, great eye candy, I suddenly was winning and Wilma was about to become mine.
Wilma is my house in the country, Wilma is on 15 acres, she is a stocky red brick woman, fairly square, but with winning ways, views in every direction to suit all moods, the ocean and Wilsons Prom, the Binginwarri valley and bush. Wilma is just over two hours from Melbourne, well depending on when you leave and the traffic, she has an old orchard, a plethora of shedding, a dam or two, plenty of tanks, and lots and lots of potential. I love Wilma, she is mine, lock stock and barrel. She is still a bit crest fallen with renovation in progress, there are things I would love to do quickly, add a second level, build in the veranda and in time, maybe even a pool.
Wilma was left a little devastated by the previous owners, she had cosseted them through a severe illness or two and had also been used, some would say misused, by one of the owners who was a compulsive collector of miscellaneous items of what I saw as mostly useless stuff, but which he and a bunch of people who rocked up to Wilma on a wet and blustery day and spent a healthy twenty four thousand on his junk, disagreed. Its fare to say that this also included a couple of tractors and a largish number of grass cutting devices of all types. The rest was some sort of association with one of the brothers previous lives as a worker in fabrication of iron and steel and consisted of many types of cutting, drilling devices. Suffice to say that all the sheds on Wilma were stacked to the gunnels with his (now) unwanted collection. I often wonder what would have happened on the sale day had it become known that I had named the place Wilma, could well have turned the heads of a few of the local lads.
Life for me is a simple thing, some ocean, some valleys, some trees and a dam fine kitchen. Nothing less. This may well account for the inordinate length of time it took for me to find, love and possess Wilma. There were others, lets not be shy. One that I thought I was in love with in a town called Shelford, a very very old stone house on just a couple of acres, not much view to speak of but sadly decrepit. There was one in Trentham, gorgeous spot, on just four acres, no house but an amazing set of front gates, some huge nut trees and the potential to build a great house, I even designed it. It would have been ripper, but the property was in a horrific fire region with a massive number of restrictions and excessive costs involved. In the end I am pleased I never did get to build the house, I am not patient and I think I would have become a hideous raving monster… I even did when I was offered ‘constructive’ criticism of the design and freaked when I was told it was too big. Wilma was out there waiting and I just had to find her.
Wilma ponged, she had been lived in by two elderly gents who had grown accustomed to a certain odour (Stephen Fry called it Eau de Seigneure… means water or smell of the Lord) and simply did not notice it. My family however did. It was decided the only way was to strip out all the internal fittings, carpets, blinds, floor coverings, anything that could or did hold even the slightest odour or suggestion. It happened on a weekend, we gathered, we collected, worked out where and how we could sleep and eat and set into it. It was a frantic day, kids, adults, busy and lazy, all jostling for a go and the fun to be had with minor demolition. It was a lot of fun.
The kitchen in Wilma was to be first, I had to insist it was running, feeding my family is paramount, it makes sense to me, I have always done it. I even planned, I though that a roast dinner done in the brothers ancient gas stove could have been possible. I had even contacted the local gas man since the brothers, for reasons I was unable to fathom, had removed the gas cylinders claiming, wrongly, that they belonged to them. We were gassed up. The kitchen had been the place to start… the workers assembled and with a hell of crash and bang, whole walls disappeared, cupboards were gone, the floor covering ripped up, the doors into the lounge gone. the transformation had begun. I was panting a little, not from exhaustion, I was there in an advisory capacity, but from the excitement of the beginning of a transformation.
A bit of fumbling and we managed to get the gas stove lit, that was followed by clouds of acrid black smoke that came from the (we later discovered) very rarely cleaned oven which had huge amounts of fat caked on every surface and which, when the gas was ignited, rose up in volume. It was a very frightening sight and one we thought may have ended in disaster with the house burning down. I had lavished the piece of lamb to be roasted with lashings of garlic and rosemary in butter and it was sitting in the roasting dish ready to bathe in the warm glow of the oven. Many good things can happen when you are confronted by disaster. In the midst of packing I had decided to take my favourite Turkish charcoal barbecue down and there it sat on the back veranda complete with a bag of charcoal. Turning my nose up at the belching stove, I cut the leg of lamb into a more acceptable shape (butterflied) and called for the lighting of the charcoal. Saved!
I had planned to roast some potatoes in the oven, that now had to be changed and thankfully, because I had also brought down a small induction plate, a heavy weight iron pan worked well and it was not long before some potato was sizzling. The smell of the lamb being grilled on the barbecue is so enticing and prompted calls for wine, I was afraid that work would cease as the crew settled in to enjoy a pre lunch drink. And it did, but the lure of food and wine was nothing compared to the lure of throwing your energy into house stripping.
Its hard to actually make sense of a country place, there is that imperative to go there and then there is also the lure of the city, the time when sitting in a hot tub in the sea baths at St Kilda has more allure than sipping tea and eating biscuit overlooking ocean and valley. But then you hear, like I did today, two… yes two, friends are in health trouble, one in Queensland has a cancer and is not in good shape, another in Melbourne also has a cancer and is not in good shape. Its a salutary moment, a moment in time when the forces all meet in some sort of swirling vortex and you get whammied by a bolt from the centre. I sat there, staring at the computer screen, dazed, bewildered and smarting from an abusive text from the partner (read boyfriend) of the Queensland friend who thought, I had no right at all to ask how he (my friend) was. When I picked up the phone to call the wife of my other friend, I was handed the news that he has a brain tumour and its aggressive and he was in hospital!
I wanted to weep, I wanted to lash out, I wanted to scream, this is just not right, I started loosing friends about ten years back, David was the first, silly bugger plunged his glider head first into the ground, it would have been quick. But it was not what I planned or wanted, over the years since our wedding, both my best men had left the planet… one quite soon after the wedding the other a bit later. It shook my personal concept of immortality. Then the list got longer culminating in the double. And that makes me not very happy and sure (now) that I am not immortal. Thanks to Wilma I have a way of coping.
Having said that, sitting around or more properly waiting around for events to happen is a very fraught experience. I was not ready for the experience of walking into a hospital room in the Oncology section to be greeted by my oldest friend sort of lying prone, unable to move, needy, eye’s pleading and sort of sad. I straight away launched into sort of happy verbal dance that was a jumble of all the things I was feeling, no orchestra, just a few sort of choking moments and some tears. He was needing the nurses to raise him up, lay him down, give him water or orange juice and demanding in his sort of odd spoken bits, to know where his lunch was, the fact he had just had breakfast mattered not a bit. I understood, even when I am lucid I think like that, being prepared for ones next meal is not a bad thing. I wanted to run, I wanted to get the hell out of there and embrace life in every way possible, see life, grass growing, anything that helped me find a way into the world. But my friend was/is dying. I heard the news a couple of days after the first visit, up to that point I had heard there was some hope, he was going to have some chemo and maybe some radiation, seemed like a plan to me, but I also remembered my own father, he had chemo and radiation, had one or two days of lucidity and then fell into a dark pit that had him dead in a day or two. Death and dying is not easy, its the final curtain.
Lama Yeshe was the first teacher I ever had in the Buddhist tradition, he was lucid and clear, but none the less he was not one to hide the harsher side of life and the first teaching I took was on death and dying. Lama Yeshe was a traditionalist and taught the unsubtle view. It was disturbing to be confronted by these teachings, they are such a vital part of Buddhist thought, they can be profound, yet deeply troubling. The simple approach is that of the elements which are said to be absorbed, earth into water, water into fire, fire into air, air into space. The teachings have remained with me and continue to be called on as I try to make sense of life living and dying.
A Wilma free zone. I wish it was not so, I am sure that I could find the energy to drive up, couple + hours and then the glorious views, glorious expansive vistas, bit of confusion about food and cooking… have not yet managed to adapt to the simple things. I think the large expansive and expensive stove has something to do with it, it intimidates me, I sort of feel like I must cook splendidly, amazing food. Yet I have always cooked simple food, good stews, good vegetables simply cooked, good bread and I have not yet achieved that. I kitted Wilma out with the stove, a spiffy fridge (French config) some good pots and pans and an over full pantry. I leapt into the wine storage and filled a couple of boxes, I grabbed some good gin, some excellent brandy, a silver tray or two and some decent glass ware. I rattled down there with a goodly selection of my recipe book collection so as not to be caught short, although god knows why, I rarely if ever consult the books, I use them as inspiration. In the end I got pushed into a corner, started to believe the publicity and was blinded. What the hells the matter with a dammed fine stew, well cooked unctuous and delicious. What’s the matter with a good well roasted leg of lamb…. and while I am at it, what’s all this stuff about lamb being served in great stringy shreds. My mother would have been mortified, her lamb was to be carved and not over cooked to hell and back, she saved that for the vegetables!
What do you do when an old friend rings and says ‘I’m dying’! Not long to go. I was stunned, disbelieving and completely discombobulated. He sounded well, was living life to the full, working nearly every day in two jobs. How could this be true?
This is an old friend, one from the days of youth, the salad days. This is a man who showed a lot of people how to take the most from life. He still is. He is bloody amazing.
For some reason when I am confronted by issues such as this I get jovial, become a bit of a smart ass. I wish I didn’t, its defensive, my way of coping. Bugger it all. I started off by saying things like you’re joking, you are pulling my leg. Why? Then he reminded me that he had told me a while back that he was fighting kidney issues and that his liver had become compromised. I remember now, we laughed about it. He loves a glass of wine, lives for it. Now he pays the price, pays the ferryman.
It’s a bugger when that happens, you sort of wander along in your life, dodging bullets, making changes, making the best of stuff. In his case, he came out as gay, faced telling a woman who just did not want to know and was quite settled into the idea of her middle class husband in his middle class job with a middle class wage being there for life, she had produced the mandatory children, two in fact. This was not part of her plan. Not his either I would have said. But unavoidable.
His guilt knew no bounds and one day, he thought the best solution would be to take his life. Characteristically he did one of the most hilarious things, stuck his head in a gas oven. Of course it didn’t work, hardly ever does, friends dropped by for a cup of tea, found him, shook and showered him and loaded him onto a bus to come to us in Queensland. He is still there, we left a few years later!
I picked him up at the bus station in Brisbane and we sort of took off where it has ended earlier. Seamless, no gaps, nothing. We drove back up to the Sunshine coast where Jennifer and I had started a restaurant in the pineapple packing shed on a great little farm, the kids didn’t know Ron, but they were a happy bunch and I was not concerned. He explained that the guilt he felt over being gay and leaving his wife and children, had overwhelmed him. His wife had been anything but understanding, who could blame her, she was not expecting this. Ron said it was hideous. Knowing his wife, I knew that it would be. But she was not to blame and he never did. I suspect too that dealing with even a small gay relationship when he was quite inexperienced was not easy. Casual sex was another matter, I knew he was doing that, carefully. It had all simply become too much for him.
Jennifer agreed he could stay and sort out his life, he was charmed by the idea of sleeping on the front veranda under a mosquito net, warm nights, tropical stars and a restaurant on tap, he was in his element, could smoke a cigarette, sip wine well into the night. Ron was not, specially when things started to get sorted, a person to let grass grow under his feet. He had some experience in Victoria running a food business, a converted garage in Sorrento was the venue for one of his restaurant ventures, he was good at it, loved feeding the masses with a grilled chop he said. It was his walk on water time. He was soon employed in a Buderim restaurant that was destined to be his own, but first the usual drama and trauma that always seemed to come with his life.
Eventually he moved into his own place, took about three months I think and he found a gay friend or two along the way. They always hurt him, or mostly. He seemed quite vulnerable and was always committing to this or that and often in financial binds. Like all of life, we had to make a dollar, raise a family and get on with things, in the meantime I kept a close eye on him, well as close as he would let me, and we went on with living. I don’t think we grew apart, we just went in other directions, me pursuing spiritual matters, him deliriously bored with that and wanting to find a love.
The Big Pineapple always seemed like and unlikely venue for Ron, but he was given the catering managers job and in no time had them going into areas they had not thought possible. I suspect in the end it was the sort of mediocre family/retiree clientele that simply got him down. He needed more.
He did find love, found a man that he was able to settle down with. Took charge of his life and made changes, he was never good at the financial side of business, in fact as I recall, neither was I, but he was close to a disaster. The food business he sort of inherited on the Sunshine coast was soon in financial trouble and Brisbane and the arms of his friend beckoned. He found a fine job with a massively reputable catering company and started a career that was to last until his ‘retirement’, with great success and acclaim.
The problem was his wandering ways and just as a financially comfortable ‘retirement’ was on the cards, he met a new lover. Ron being Ron, it all went up into the air and he was off on a new adventure, he was all of twenty five again, absolutely committed to giving it a go. New business ventures started, moving back to the Sunshine coast, he was alive and giving it his all. In some ways I wonder if his life and his ways of business had become formula’s to be repeated over and over. Maybe in the first instance he had not quite got it right, this time… he would walk on water.
The years rocketed by, kids came, my family grew and in the end having pursued my spiritual dreams and decided that moving back south was important, maybe too that although we had built a great house with wonderful views to watch the coast and see the storms roll by, we even had a swimming pool, but seemed not able to capture the dollars, everything I tried just didn’t work. In the hinterland years we didn’t see much of Ron, I think he found the Buddhist thing a difficult experience, and maybe I too had changed, no longer the bon vivante, more the serious family man… I am told that I did change in the time I was studying Buddhism. I think it could be true. Friends other than Ron who came from the pre hinterland days said so. I was confused about that, sort of felt like that I had no right to grow and change, I was not allowed to explore other aspects of me or my psyche. It was common to hear from friends that they thought I had deserted them. I think it was not so much that I had deserted them as I was finding me, or trying to.
Ron had moved to Brisbane, was working hard in his new catering job, he had fallen on his feet, no need to walk on water, he was working for the National Gallery of Queensland in their food area. The combination of food and art was right where he needed to be, combined the best of everything. As ever, and without as much as a side ways blink (it seemed) he had changed his life, made it great and was happy.
And then… the news I was least expecting, even given the fact that my sister in law had been carted off to hospital, deeply depressed and in some physical trouble. My oldest friend Joe, brain tumour, and as I write this is in the operating theatre where we hope, he will regain some quality of life.
Joe is Italian, amazingly talented, can do things with old stuff that defies imagination, he was responsible for some great great interiors, he had a shop on Toorak Road in South Yarra called ‘Heroe’s and it was filled with Joe’s delicious finds of old bits and pieces that he had lavished his skills on and turned them from simply old to magnificent. Joe had skills that all of us envied. He saw things in a very different way, saw colour where none existed, saw a twist here and a turn there, he took old bits of chimney tops and made them into pots and tables, he reworked and reconfigured and in the end, he lavished a personal style on the spaces he created that was unique. But better yet, Joe taught us all how to live and take the best out of every single day.
Joe’s take on life was all about doing, style, pleasure, drawing deeply upon his heritage. Joe and I shared the love of design, although he was far less poncy than I and much more skilled. We also shared a love of food and I remember many many hours sitting around a table somewhere, eating freshly cooked tiny fish with a squeeze of lemon, drinking wine that was OK, not grand. In those days none of us could afford bottles of wine, we drank from glass flagons and when cardboard came in we drank from that. We fixed the world up so many times, we embraced the new fashions and looks, Joe introduced us blokes to Bobby Diamond who would always give us an inside leg measurement, even for a pair of socks, but sure as hell garbed us in the very latest. Joe loved fashion and he and Hilary were always in the latest, they set trends and we all followed.
Most Friday nights would see us down in Acland Street St Kilda, usually eating at the Black Rose, a German restaurant that we all loved, there would always be six or eight of us and during the evening the table would swell as more friends would drop by or we were joined by other diners. The table would be littered with cups of wine with the two gallon flagons hidden and we would all be fixing the planet. In those days mobile phones simply did not exist and so communication was a different thing. Joe would never be happy with just a meal at the Black Rose, there was always an event planned for after eating, the Key Club, a very new and most likely Melbourne’s first gay venue was a favourite and we were all members and all carried keys, or we may repair to one or others house and continue on. Most dinners were always concluded with a goodly glass or two of modest Port and in the end, it was usually this that had us spiralling into a place that was not entirely sober. Not forgetting that we would in all likelihood be saddling up again the next night to have dinner at one or others house and the whole performance would be repeated, just with us cooking. In the summer it would be arrive after lunch and loll about until evening when we would cook and others who had either heard about or been invited, would roll up. I was a midnight fairy, I would sort of collapse inwards as the clock approached the midnight hour and have to be dragged home, usually I was not drunk, I simply lacked the stamina.
Many of the friends that came and went from the events of our lives were visitors to Australia, in many cases Europeans, occasionally English, one New Guinea man called Joseph who was so black, he shone. A lot of the beautiful people came from the art world, ballet, theatre and the arts, some were returning from extended stays overseas, usually in London or the Mediterranean, they had run away from Australia claiming it was a cultural backwater. For those of us too ignorant or afraid to leave, we didn’t see things quite that way, we even begrudged being told. In the end of course it was, but it was changing as the world became smaller and smaller with travel being not as difficult or expensive, Australia was not so remote, theatre, culture, writing, painting all bloomed and we in this country started to become the envy of many who lived in post war Europe in crowded, cramped and often very deprived conditions. While we enjoyed the freedoms of a wide brown land, fresh clean air, food and wine.
Joe was the Pied Piper, he was all about showing us how to live, how to get the best from life. Joe was and is the centre of life for many. I met Joe at Tosh’s men’s wear in Hampton, the Coachmen where he was employed as display guy and decked the shop out once a week. Joe was trained in display by one of the all time greats, Freddie Assmussan of Myer Melbourne was an amazing task master and produced display staff of extraordinary talent, as Joe was. Joe ambled up to my shop a few hundred yards up the street and we sort of fell on each other and from that day forward, my life and his have been entwined. I think I dedicated my meeting with Joe and his group of friends in a hot pink paisley shirt that I sort of wore loose, it had a Nehru collar and wide sleeve. It was for me, the first of what would be a wardrobe of carnaby street inspired clothes, wide legged pants and a jump suit of which I was very proud. We all set trends.
Queens birthday weekend was one of the times when gay Melbourne went to town, still deeply hidden but desirous of having some fun, it so happened that Jennifer was also pregnant with our first child but thought she was unlikely to ‘pop’ at the time and besides, most of our friends were gay, so we wanted to enjoy the experience, the freedom and just sheer fun. The venue chosen was the Yarra Glen football oval and the news soon spread as the queens and camp followers started with preparation, lots of madness, drag races, dressing competitions, loads of good food and wine. One small glitch, someone forgot to tell the other football club who were using the ground for some training that their lives were about to be changed. And changed they were, in no time a bunch of queens, many on the back of sports cars had sped across the oval and literally captured the footballers who, with only moderate protest, were stuffed into the cars with a bunch of queens lavishing all the attention they dared on them and whisked off to the picnic with loud cheers from the assembled faggots and followers. The day progressed and few if any of the straight men footballers went back to their own side of the ground. At the end of the day they gave three rousing cheers for the faggots and a bunch of straights were won over to understanding that the gay world does not offer threats.
Jennifer had been the centre of attention from the queens in our circle, make no mistake, gay men and woman love a good pregnancy and take a huge interest. Jen began to get some niggles during the afternoon at the picnic, nothing huge, but enough for her to sense she better start heading back to our home in South Yarra, in no time flat a procession had formed and a group of half a dozen cars with cheering queens on board were hurtling down the highway. As it turned out, it was a day or so later when Nikolas was born amidst cheering and much love, Jen received bunches and bunches of flowers, the most memorable being accompanied by a card from a very old friend David which said to Wally and little Wilma from Auntie Golda… it was a memorable treasured moment.
Ancient beads and bone.
Since the beginning of time man has sort to adorn his body, The women too, but not anywhere as gaudy. Men and women would use clay to mark intricate designs on their body, then plants were discovered to give off juices that stained the body, it was not long before it was discovered that piercing the skin with the ink was very effective and long lasting. Most of the ancient tattoo was done on women. The earliest record of tattoo was some 2000 BC.
Nuts, seeds, stones of many types and colours were abundant, flowers were used to adorn the hair, but quickly withered. Some of the flowers that were more woody were preserved. Around 5000 years back, about the time fire was discovered, it was found that fire heat melted the ground, specially sand. Glass drops were found in the coals and thus glass was made and evolved, it was then that glass beads were first made. It is entirely possible that glass beads from this era can be found today.
Animal and in some cases, human bone was used to make beads, some times for religious purposes. Beads were also made from shellfish. If the natural world yielded it up, it was used. In the Himalayan area, conch shells were frequently found and used for beads and body adornment… the conch must have been part of an ancient seabed. Conch shells are also found in the high Tibetan plateau.
There is evidence that body marking and beads were used to mark a person with something of significance. Tattoo was used first on mostly women to indicate male dominance, in some cases it was used as a clear signal to tribe members of some issue, i.e.: that the recipient was not to be trusted.
Most of what is found today in Antique markets world wide is from the 15th century onwards, as I said, it is very possible that some of the beads are from much earlier times, but there would need to be a forensic test done to determine age.
My own interest was very much set in the Himalayan region, running along the entire length and including the area of West India and Burma. I was also fascinated by the Mountainous regions of Nepal, Tibet, Sikkim. Bhutan where the dominant (and my own) religion was Buddhism. In the areas there also existed alongside Buddhism the older more shamanic faiths and in the case of Tibet, the Bon faith which is considered the original religion of Tibet and predated Tibetan Buddhism by many hundreds of years. Interesting side issue is that with the emergence of Buddhism, both religions began to adopt similar external manifestations and even today, are deeply entwined.
These religions, including Buddhism contributed to the rich religious life of the regions and the demand for exotic textiles, often heavily beaded, the use of stones like jade, turquoise, coral and bone was very common, often adopted by the women to signify wealth. Huge strands of beads and bone were used to adorn the necks of women and very exotic head wear was common. The use of precious and semi precious stones was common in the monastic rituals, this also included the use of human bone as part of the teachings and rituals of Tantra. It was seen as vital and indicated renunciation.
My fascination with Tibetan Buddhism saw me going to India and Nepal often as I took teachings and simply explored the complex world I was engaging. The more I looked into Buddhist teachings both sutra and Tantra, the more I explored the lives of these isolated peoples who, because of the isolation had time to develop deep understanding. I was often to be found exploring countries and some would say pillaging things that fascinated me.
The Naga people were not religious in the way we would see religion, but followers of earth religions, evoking local spirits and earth gods and goddesses, they also live a tribal life that was part of a loose knit community. They engaged in tribal wars and the taking of prisoners, the men would almost certainly loose their lives, the women would then inter marry. Their jewellery and body adornments were worn by both men and women, but had quite different meaning. My collection at one time also contained head dress and belts. The beads that I now offer, are very rare, almost certainly unobtainable now and unlikely to ever be seen on international markets again.
Hello all lovers of great Primitive Jewellery, amazing collections of ancient artifacts and to top it off, my own collection of kitchenalia.
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