Saturday, 24 January 2015

Naming Dilemma

Elizabeth or Kate, Bernice or Sue
We cannot decide, what will we do?
This cute little bundle must have a name
The indecision will turn us insane!

Kylie, Samantha, Julie or Jean
Lauren, Kathy, maybe Maxine
Gertrude or Sigrid, Lisa or Prue
Goodness! There must be one that will do.

Born on a Monday after much pain
Helen or Phoebe.  What about Jane?
Lyndal, Trudi, Margaret, Joan
We’ll even settle for Claudia (moan)

Mary, Lilly, Bronwyn, Faye
Do we have to make a decision today?
Megan, Jodie, Yvonne and Tammy
Now my hands are getting all clammy

Sophie, Nora, Sally, Nicole
I’m just digging myself into a hole
Vanessa, Edith, Bethany, Lenore
What you say there’s even more!

Andrea, Lois, Kim, Terri-Lee
Make it easy for poor simple me
I’ve done no work but I’m tired [yawn]
Debra, Cindy, Melanie, Dawn...


To all the young couples at Toowoomba Christian Fellowship who are enjoying the birth of their first daughters.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A good read

Reading is one of the singular pleasures in life. Regardless of whether you prefer fact or fiction, a hour (or three) spent reading a good book ranks as one of the most pleasurable things a person can do to relax. It does not matter what the subject matter is, and here is where I disagree with my I-only-read-non-fiction friends, because you can always learn something from a good book.

What makes a good book? That answer changes for every person. It will depend on your level of education (no point reading something that is far beyond your ability to grasp). It will depend on your preferences (no point reading something that is as dry as sawdust).

When I was a pre-teenager I read just about anything I could get my hands on.The first book that made an impact on me was Cocky's Castle by Celia Syred. The adventure excited me, the emotional ending shocked me. I read all of Enid Blyton's Secret Seven and Famous Five and I do not remember a time when I have not been reading a book since then.

My parents called me a book worm. They love to tell the story of the time when some old lino was being pulled up in the kitchen to make way for renovations. As the lino came up, sheets of newspaper, lying between the lino and the floorboards, were revealed. Apparently I was of little help to them as I insisted on reading every sheet as it was released from the floor.

Life takes many twists and turns, and mine has had many that were unexpected and difficult. Some things remain as constants though, and one of those for me has been reading.

In an effort to conform with my afore-mentioned friends I took a journey into the domain of non-fiction. I read biographies, auto-biographies, historical treatises, white papers, etc. I enjoyed most of them. But I don't read just for content. In fact, given that the larger portion of my reading is fiction, content has been a minor consideration for many years. I read to learn and to expand my vocabulary; to improve my communication skills. In my experience, non-fiction is generally written with only the content in mind. This leads to lazy writing.

One of my favourite authors is Charles Frazier. He became famous in 1997 with his first full-length novel, Cold Mountain. The movie was rubbish. The book was a tour de force in how to describe something with expression. He described several characters as "not precisely old but he was working his way there" and "had a natural inclination toward bile and melancholy" and "poisoned by lonesomeness and longing".

Another fabulous author, Simon Winchester, wrote The Surgeon of Crowthorne". This is one of the few non-fiction books I have read that match the prose and beauty of script that is commonplace in fiction, but so often sadly lacking in non-fiction. Winchester's masterpiece proves that it is possible to cover a topic that many would consider dry as old bones with artistry and aplomb, thus elevating it to the level of the sublime. The Surgeon is sub-titled A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words. It details the story of how the Oxford English Dictionary came to be published. One could be forgiven for thinking that the pursuit of ensuring that the mite of a two-letter preposition should have no less standing than the majesty of a piece of polysyllabic sesquipedalianism would be banal and trite. One would be wrong, but I digress.

This post started with an intention to alert you to an excellent book I read over the Christmas break. I don't usually recommend books to others as I know that reading is a very personal enjoyment, and like art and love, there is no accounting for taste. Written by William Kent Kreuger, "An Ordinary Grace" is the story of one summer told through the eyes and perceptions of a 13 year old boy. Read it for the story or read it for the beautiful prose and exquisite phrasing, but read it.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Why write a blog?

I enjoy reading.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading is because I hope to improve my communication skills. When I read a well-written piece of text, it opens up the vistas of my imagination. I'm not talking about day-dreaming or flights of fancy, although sometimes that can happen too. I'm talking about the power of words to bring illumination so that I see something in a new way, confirm something I had not cognitively recognised, or simply to bring enjoyment for the beautiful way in which the words express the content of the topic at hand.

Good writing does not succeed or fail on its ability to coax or influence; not in this blog at least. It succeeds or fails on its capacity to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else's head (mine); even if in the end you conclude that my head is really not a place you would like to be.

Writing a blog can be cathartic. It can be pleasurable, relaxing and satisfying. That's on a good day. Sometimes writing is a frustrating, laboured and demanding experience. There are days, and even weeks, when inspiration is absent and motivation is missing.

So why write a blog if it is so difficult?

The world is full of mediocre writing, (and you may think I am contributing to that condition), and there is too little that could be said to contain charm or elegance. Almost any adult could tell you that the pleasure received for completing a task is directly proportionate to the difficulty of the task. I consider writing an easy task. I consider good writing to be a difficult task, and I consider consistently good writing to be an arduous and herculean task. 

So herein is my goal; to write about life in and around Toowoomba, and to use words both beautiful and elegant. Will I succeed? Only time and you will tell. If I fail my hope is to, at the very least, have opened up the vistas of your imagination.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

When coffee becomes wine

Read the tasting notes on any decent bottle of wine and you will come across flowery expressions that seem a little removed from what you might expect when describing wine. For instance a 2011 bottle of Katnook Founders Block Merlot I have in the cupboard reads "...medium bodied with generous flavours of plum, mulberry and dark berry fruits...".  One of my favourite drops, a Palladium Estates Watchman Shiraz reads, "exhibits black pepper characters... complimentary ripe plum and raspberry...".

So you can imagine that my intrigue was piqued when I read this on a menu in Melbourne last week; "... ripe nectarine, syrupy pink marshmallow with blackcurrant finish". 

No, I was not sitting in one of the many fine dining establishments that city has to offer, nor was I sitting in a restaurant at all. I was in an out-of-the-way cafe, in a back street a couple of blocks from the South Melbourne markets. The cafe, St Ali's, whilst serving a very decent array of foodie dishes, is known for one thing: 


If you are not a coffee drinker, or you are, but instant granules is quite sufficient, then you will not understand how a cafe like this can survive, or even why it would. If you are "into" coffee, then it will come as no surprise that there is often a queue to enter, and every available seat is used. In other words, you may very well be seated at a table with people you do not know, but this does not matter because everyone has this in common - they have come for the coffee.

This is where you come to taste coffee like you have never tasted before. 

This is where you learn the difference between a filter brew and a batch brew (which is also a filter brew). This is where you can compare the difference between a cold drip and a filter of the same beans to understand the subtle affects each process has on a particular bean variety. You can even learn how the same bean variety grown in two different countries, or the same country but two different climates, or different soils changes the flavour experience.

I used to drink a very strong coffee in order to enjoy the taste. Now I understand that, like wine, strength is only one attribute. There is very little that I enjoy more than a good strong, explode-in-the-mouth Shiraz, except for a refined, subtle cold climate Pinot Noir that reveals complexities long after the last swallow.

Apart from the very real limits my stomach imposes on intake, I could easily have spent the whole day at St Ali's, enjoying the experience and expanding my understanding. I venture to bemoan the lack of a similar cafe in Toowoomba, but that would unjustly judge those that are making a fine effort to change the status quo. In particular, Ground Up continues to impress with the consistency of its excellent coffees and for this reason remains my favourite place to drink coffee locally.

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.