Monday, 1 December 2014

First Friday of the Month

I look forward to the first Friday every month because our local Farmers Arms puts on a live music night. Normally this is a jazz ensemble of some type, but this month (December) we were in for an early treat.

An unnamed quartet played from 6:30 through till 9:00 pm. As with most local bands who do not get to play together very often the group showed indications of unfamiliarity with each other. This did not distract from their performances and, if anything, made the experience seem much more impromptu, which gave the night a special feel.

Graham White, a regular at the Farmers Arms, played his usual polished keyboards. First-timer, Mark Chalmers, accompanied on electric bass. While Mark showed a lack of familiarity with some of the songs, this did not carry over to his playing, which was professional and tidy, and his occasional solos displayed an inventive note structure quite different from previous bassists.

Vocals were delivered by Nelly Tidda Blue  who has a lovely, svelte smoothness to her voice. A clear, precise upper register, a smooth-as-honey mid-range and surprising lows made listening to Nelly a real joy. Also lacking 'contact time' with the other group members, Nelly obviously has plentiful performing experience as she was able to hide this fact from all but the deliberately observant. 

The stand-out musician of the night though, was the rhythm/lead guitarist, Steve "Beez" Beezley. Toowoomba is very fortunate to have a resident guitar professional who ranks with the best in the world.  I doubt that I have seen any guitar player with better technique than Steve. Steve has a long history playing guitars spanning more than 4 decades. He is comfortable with all styles and guitar types, be it acoustic, electric, rhythm, bass, lead, dobro, etc. Steve teaches music at some of our private  schools and also at his music studio, Avenue Guitar School.

Steve is a quiet man. I have never seen him 'blow his own horn' (sorry for the mixed metaphor) and he quietly goes about his life without raising a ripple. I doubt that there are too many Toowoomba people outside music circles that even know he exists. While most of the patrons were not aware of who Steve is, they certainly appreciated his adroit licks and accomplished solos. As I say, he was the stand-out performer on the night and his playing lifted what might be considered an average band performance to something artful and almost sublime.

I've said it before and bears repeating; a night of jazz and popular standards, such as is delivered on occasions like this, bring a quiet enjoyment and simple joy with no effort and very little cost. Do yourself a favour and book a table in the New year to enjoy one of Toowoomba's best 'simple pleasures'.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Storm season!

Oh, I hope and pray we see much more of this over the next few months.

Thanks to Jeffrey Higgins for this shot. The original can be seen here.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Spring time in Toowoomba

This is my favourite time of the year. Spring time in Toowoomba really is an exceptional display of floristry.

This is just one example of what we enjoy in the best city in Australia.

My thanks to imlee_ for placing this on instragram. You can see his original here.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A principled man

Eighty years old - that's a milestone in anyone's book. I am a young whipper-snapper by comparison. Even so, I have found my self thinking a lately about the relevance of the elderly in our society. The media and most movies portray life as exciting for the young and
almost irrelevant for the old.

So what relevance does an 80 year-old man have? I'll tell you. 

Ignoring all other contributions for the moment, one thing that the elderly provides society with is an "ancient landmark". Key that phrase into Google and see what you get. I know there may be exceptions, but I dare to venture that there are not too many octogenarians that are living irresponsible and reckless lives. 

Now I realise that living to an old age is as much about the gene pool we came from and factors outside our control as it is about responsible diet, behaviour and life choices. I also realise that bad habits don't just go away with age, and it is human to arrive at the last years of our life with attitudes and habits that are less than exemplary.

My father has lived a life as a principled, honest, truthful, reliable and humble man. He has done so, having come from a background of economic depression, war, bigotry, family abuse and low self-esteem. He worked hard to stop any shadow from that past being cast over those he loves.

He has lived through the decades of political upheaval, workplace "reform" and relentless media advertising that were unknown to his parents. These things did not deter him one little bit.

He has been generous to strangers and helped those in need, even when he had his own large family to feed and clothe. He taught his children the real meaning of love, forgiveness, and tolerance without once ignoring the sanctity of an individual's dignity or breaking any principles of relationship. He taught us to maintain a respect for authority that is completely lost on the youth of today.

Is my father perfect? Of course not. He would be the first to confess that inadequacy, weakness and personal bias has caused him to make errors, mistakes and blunders that he still feels ashamed of.

And that is why my father and many like him are owed a debt of gratitude and honour they rarely receive. Because despite all their short-comings, the elderly still provide us with example and education on how to live and they maintain a steadfast hold upon principles simply because they are just that - principles by which to live. 

When I say 'simply', I do not mean they they hold to these out of naivety or ignorance. No, they hold onto them because they have a lifetime of proof that such principles should, and do, guide a life. My father has been married for over 56 years to the same wife. Anyone who has been married for more than a few years knows how difficult that is to do. That kind of commitment only comes through the determination to hold onto promises and vows made regardless of how long ago they were made.

By refusing to assign a lesser value to things simply because of the passing of time, the elderly teach us that there is a different perspective on life that is so easily missed by we who are young.

Happy birthday Dad.

Saturday, 1 November 2014


One of the enduring memories I have as a youngster is working with my father and brothers in the vegie garden on week-ends.Our vegie patch was as large as our family. It had to be to feed two adults, five boys, two girls and any number of visitors. 

In order to produce enough vegetables to feed our family, constant work was required to keep the garden free from weeds and keep the produce in a healthy condition. I have many fond memories of my father's long arms scooping up weeds in a single swipe. My brothers and I would endeavour to emulate this practice but all our attempts seemed puny compared with his.

I also remember one particular Saturday morning when my mother called us for morning tea on the front verandah. My father's instructions were to finish the area we were working in, wash our hands and come once we were finished. Of course, no sooner had my father disappeared around the corner of the house and the competition was on to see who could pull the most weeds in the shortest period of time. Once done, we proceeded to wash our hands at the water tap at the back of the house.

Something else we admired was the way our father could make the garden fork stand upright by simply throwing it into the ground. For boys who had not yet reached puberty, this was a feat that was oft-attempted but as yet, success had escaped us.

While washing my hands, one of my brothers was pursuing this elusive goal; throwing the fork into the Kikuyu hoping it would stick. As luck would have it, the fork went straight through my foot in the webbing between my big and second toes. Once the fork was extracted, there was a square, neat hole through the skin. My brother's immediate consternation relaxed when he realised I was not in pain and when I  said, "Hey look, I can see straight through my foot!". "Cool", he said. "I wish I had one too."

"You can", I said.

Well, it doesn't take much imagination to wonder what happened next. Suffice to say, in a very short space of time we both sported the latest in see-though foot accessories. To say that we were pleased with ourselves would be an understatement.

We went around to the front of the house, beaming with pride, and exclaimed, "Look what we've got!"

I only remember two other things about this little event.

The first is my mother's scream. It was not the reaction we were expecting.

The second is the bewildering pain that came when she poured Mercurochrome on the "wound". Once that yellow solution touched our skin the pain was far worse than we expected, and importantly, unnecessarily so. Up until that point we had a fantastic talking point with our mates that had cost us nothing - no money, no shame, and no pain. Now we were subjected to baths (we had just washed), more pain (the original portion of Mercurochrome having been washed off by the unnecessary bath), a tetanus shot (those things sting!), bandages (inhibiting for any physically-active young boy), and once we recovered, two weeks of full kitchen duty (the most despised of all family chores) to help us consider our foolishness.

Over-reaction on my parents part? While I long considered this to be the case, I have noted that since that day I have never gardened bare-foot.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

A rose by any other name

Can you correctly name this plant?

Yes, that's right. It is a Murraya, commonly known as Mock Orange. You will need to take a close look because this particular bush does not normally look like this.

This is an example of someone ignoring the commonly accepted way of doing things and exercising their artistic desires. When you realise what this plant is you will be surprised.

Firstly, you may think that you would never expect to see a Mock Orange look like this. Most people simply either trim it into a neat shrub, or hedge it to form a border.

Secondly, you may wonder how did they do that? I can tell you that it took foresight, effort and patience. This did not take shape over night. Nor did it happen on a whim. The gardener had to prune and care for this bush over a number of seasons in order to shape it the way he saw it in his vision.

Personally, I like Murrayas. I like their softness when trimmed often. I like their fragrance and the way they often foretell of rain by blooming in little spurts of flowering activity. I like the way you can grow them low or high, and they maintain their natural demeanour.

But this example has made me see that they are so much more versatile than just a simple shrub or hedge. Now, where is my hedge trimmer?

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Oh, the disappointment!

Life can be a hard slog sometimes. So it's important to take the little victories and small joys as often as they come along. 

I have made no secret of the fact that one small joy for me is lemon meringue pie. That lemony, tart filling that makes your lips pucker (if it's done right) topped with that crisp sweet meringue; all encapsulated in a light, thin pastry shell. What's not to like?

As I say, a small joy.

So you can imagine my expectations when this arrived at my table earlier this month.

The ratio of filling to pie shell is perfect, and even though it sits alone on the plate with no other dressing, I was willing to award almost top marks for presentation. I mean, look at the height of that meringue! 

My usual method of tasting a new slice of pie is to take the whole of the very tip of the pie segment so I can taste the pastry, the filling and the meringue all in one mouthful. Not quite possible with pie that has such substantial proportions, but I gamely continued in my quest.

Just one such mouthful later I knew I was going to be disappointed. 

The meringue was raw. 

Seriously. Not just under-cooked. Completely raw. 

Closer inspection revealed that the meringue had received the briefest possible introduction to a flame. This pie had not gone into an oven.

I tried, I really did. I sampled the filling alone; not bad, but the tartness was fairly low. I tasted the pastry by itself; light, sweet, but in need of more oven time.  Each displayed a reasonable level of taste, but without a decent partner in the meringue department they were never going to arise to much individually.  I gamely braved more meringue, but in its raw state it was never going to be a winner.

I usually score my lemon meringue pies but this one cannot receive any such treatment. It was a complete fail. I am also not going to reveal where I experienced this failure. Those of you observant enough will already know the establishment within which this very poor experience occurred.

Don't worry dear reader, it's not as if I am in the throws of depression and this was the last straw. I see that bonoffee pie is making a come-back.