Friday, 20 December 2013

False alarm on the reef?

The article below was written by Viv Forbes who is a regular contributor to where I find some very interesting ideas and information.  As this article as already been copied and shared on facebook, and I'd like to keep it as a reminder of some of the many false alarms we hear, I am sharing it on my blog. We hear so many false alarms as fashions ebb and flow - from eggs are bad for you to the coming of a new ice age - it's hard to keep track of it all.

False Alarm?       -------------

Corals – the Great Survivors by Viv Forbes

For at least fifty years, agitated academics have been predicting the end of the Great Barrier Reef. Now international “experts” are also sprouting coral calamity. But despite the alarms, the reef is still there.

An early scare focused on the Crown of Thorns Starfish which was going through one of its sporadic population booms. Such plagues come and go with the natural cycles of growth and decay. But the reef survived.

Then experts got scared in case someone drilled for oil on the Reef – so we had a Royal Commission and banned all that. However marine life seems to flourish around all artificial reefs such as jetties, shipwrecks and drilling platforms. Rigs have to be regularly cleaned of marine growth. 

Natural hydrocarbons have been part of the wild environment for longer than corals, which may explain why corals are remarkably tolerant of hydrocarbons. Despite natural oil and gas seeps, man-made spills, and hundreds of offshore drilling rigs, corals still thrive. 

After the worst oil spill ever during the First Gulf War there was no clean-up attempt apart from oil skimming because the 700 oil-well fires had priority. Fresh crude oil floats and is a danger to sea birds, but it soon reacts with air and salt water to become solid tar balls which sink to the sea floor. An inspection of the sea bed later to catalogue “the disaster” found teeming wildlife, with sea-grass, snails and fish thriving after the fertilising effect of the oxidising oil.

Corals are even thriving at the exact spot in the Montebello Islands where two atomic devices were tested by the British in 1952.

Another scare concerned coastal development and agricultural run-off. Again destruction of the Great Barrier Reef was forecast. Academics were summoned and a huge national park was established for their playground. Run-off still occurs, rivers still flood, but the reef is still there.

Lately global warming scares such as coral bleaching and ocean acidity have mesmerised the media. These are supposedly caused by wicked humans burning hydrocarbons and using energy by doing things. So we introduced a carbon tax, despite the fact that no unusual warming or acidity can be measured. And the reef is still there.

Now we are told that port dredging near Bowen is going to destroy the Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is 2,400 km long – stirring some mud at one small spot 40 km from the reef is unlikely to be noticed by the coral. Moreover, the stuff being dredged is comprised of natural material eroded from the land and put there over millennia by coastal rivers. Compared with the silt load discharged by rivers like the mighty Burdekin in a normal wet season, or stirred up by cyclonic surges, dredging is a non-event. The Reef has been coping with sediments like that for thousands of years.

All plants and animals need minerals for optimum health. Marine life gets its minerals from erosion of rocks on the land. Coastal rivers (and dredging of river silt) stir up the minerals which supply the off-shore environment. Like all nutrients, some is necessary, too much brings harm. 

Corals are among the greatest survivors on Earth and have been here for about 500 million years. Many of the types of corals found on reefs today were present in similar forms on reefs 50 million years ago.

Since corals first appeared there have been five mass extinctions when over 50% of all life forms on land and in the seas died. These episodes usually included massive volcanic events that filled air and sea with debris, lava, heat and acid fumes. And still corals survived.

Then there were asteroid impacts that created huge craters that dwarf man’s puny ports. Debris, rock, mud and slush were flung in all directions – far more and further than man’s dredging will ever do. Corals even survived this.

Corals also survived several deadly ice ages when sea levels fell so low that many coral reefs left their skeletons stranded as limestone hills on dry land. But always some colonisers followed the retreating seas and survived.

Then came the hot climate eras when the great ice sheets melted and sea levels rose dramatically. Some coral reefs drowned, but others just built on top of the old drowned corals forming the beautiful coral atolls we see today. Corals flourish in gently rising seas such as we have today – it gives them room to refresh and grow vertically.

And if the water gets too warm, coral larvae just drift into cooler waters closer to the poles. The Great Barrier Reef would move slowly south.

Corals have outlasted the dinosaurs, the mammoths and the sabre-toothed tiger. Captain Cook’s ship was almost disembowelled by the sturdy corals of the Great Barrier Reef in 1770. If Cook came back today, he would be unable to detect any changes in the Reef.

We should of course minimise soil erosion, human pollution of offshore waters and direct damage or interference with the Reef. However, green extremists would like to sacrifice all of Queensland’s coastal industry on the coral altar - exploration, mining, farming, land development, tourism, forestry, fishing, and shipping. They need reminding it is only rich societies who can afford to care for their environment.

No matter what the future holds, corals are more likely than humans to survive the next major extinction.

In the event of yet another Ice Age we must hope that reef alarmists have not denied us the things we will need to survive - food, energy, chemicals, shelter, concrete and steel generated by carbon fuels.


Saturday, 14 December 2013

How did you MAKE that?

So many blogs I read are on arts and crafts and I enjoy looking at all the lovely things being made - so I thought it's probably time to show my work. It will have to be something a little bit novel as my crafting skills are just average. This latest project surprised me when it came out as well as it did.

I make laundry bags for Aussie Hero Quilts and Laundry Bags, to send to Aussie personnel deployed overseas.  I enjoy it because I know the bags will help people keep track of their laundry and that saves time often spent trying to find a clean uniform.  Also I can also be as creative as I like.  More information is available on the AHQ blog -

Laundry bags - cotton drill, and printed duck with kangaroos

Probably most of the AHQers make quilts - I've not done a large project like that for years, and quilts are mostly repetitive - that's not a put down, I love quilts, I love traditional patterns and modern styles. I love the fact that so much work goes into them. I especially love scrap quilts and crazy quilting, but - for me, once the design is decided the most interesting part is over.  Until it's completed, that is - holding up a quilt you have made yourself, or that has been made for you, is a very special feeling.
We had a dinner in Brisbane for the Qld AHQers and along with speeches, door prizes and a pretty good raffle, there was a laundry bag competition.  The theme was open, but the Aussie flavour seemed to be the most popular. I wanted to enter just to be in it and thought maybe I could have fun and be really creative.

I had a picture in my head of a photo bombing giraffe I'd seen on line and a painting by my little grandniece, Izzy. I thought of making a wall hanging or cushion from that image - but with an Aussie animal. Earlier in the year I'd used left over strips of fabric for the desert landscape above, with Ayres Rock and a kangaroo -  I could do that again.

Giraffe by Izzy
My plan was to draw onto calico with fabric pens, fuse that to the bag and see if I could draw more into it with the sewing machine - not embroidering, I'll leave that to the very clever ladies with wonderful computer embroidery machines -  just drawing with sewing thread using the common straight and zigzag stitches.

Now to the design.  Australia = big blue sky, bright sunshine, orange earth, lots of green, and blue ocean. Recently I'd made a block for a group quilt with these colours - it was included in the quilt they raffled at the dinner.

Aussie theme patchwork block
Choosing animals. I like kangaroos but they are not easy to draw - they can turn into huge mice or rabbits if you aren't careful. I wanted something orange to contrast with the blue I'd chosen as a background so I tried a kangaroo.

Years ago I made papier mache animals as stage props. They were the size of small children and were carried across the stage by the small children.  One was an emu. He'd be perfect.

Drawing animals is not easy for me and I always need to research. Once upon a time I'd be searching through books and magazines, then photocopying the pictures, but now we can google anything. I cfound animals in the positions I wanted, copied them. turned them black and white, erased the details and outlined the shape - just love PhotoShop.   I worked out the size I wanted then cut the pictures up in the program, as my printer only takes A4.  When printed I stuck the bits together, cut out the shape and used it as a guide to get the outline and proportions, drawing around it with a 3B pencil. The choice of picture is important because any foreshortening does not translate to a flat image.

Once the outline was on the fabric I filldc in the details with ink, looking back at the original photo on the computer screen. The pose or expression can be changed at this stage.  Colour and shading was done with fabric ink pens I bought on line.  When I felt it was ready I cut out the calico animal. The kangaroo looked uncomfortable - but they look that way in photos too. I had high hopes for the emu.

The background had to be sky blue but I didn't have the right colour. I like to use a medium weight cotton drill or printed duck for the laundry bags because it's sturdy and nice to sew and comes in lots of colours.  But my usual ebay sellers couldn't help me with sky blue drill or similar so I was forced to actually go to a shop. I'm not an expert on fabric but love to handle it and finally found some cotton chino in the right colour. I'd never seen Chino before.  It was a bit lighter in weight than the fabric I usually use, and felt a lot softer, but looked almost the same.... hmmm.

The blue alone lacked richness so adding a strip of bright yellow desert, in cotton drill, to the bottom made a big difference. Using a fabric fix I ironed/glued the animals to the chino.  Ugh. Chino is not the same as drill.  It stretched out of shape and twisted. Also it was very humid that day and the fixative came away from the backing and didn't iron on properly. That turned out to be a good thing as I was able to pull the calico off and stretch the chino in the other direction - almost flat.  But, it meant the glue didn't take hold at the edge ... so all the edges would have to be covered by stitching. These little accidents along the way have a part in defining the finished piece, and I love that. Art often wanders in a different direction to the pattern.

Heat fusing the sketches on calico to the backing and stitching on Kangaroo

Stitching, stitching, stitching. I changed top thread colours but kept a neutral in the bobbin. The back of the piece was almost as interesting as the front. Some areas were straight stitched first, outlining the eyes and some long feathers, but most were zig zagged in different widths, making sure feathers or fur stitches covered all the raw edges.  I worked on the stitching for 4 or 5 days - in spurts. I loved it.  Maybe it wasn't exactly like drawing with thread, a little more like painting at times, I was learning what my machine would do in the way of free stitching and it was exciting to see the animals develop under the sewing machine.  I love the eyes on both of them and Emu's little grin is his own. Kangaroo looked a bit nervous so I added a stalking emu and then Emu needed a kangaroo to chase him.

Ironing the back of the fabric to smooth out puckering  - stitching feathers onto Emu

There are no instructions to give because the stitching is like drawing, you go with what feels right at the time. I did spend time unpicking tiny stitches when the Chino stretched our of shape, several times. And no, I didn't win the competition - I didn't really expect to. I find the sort of things I make never get the popularity vote, I think my designs have to grow on people - and, the judges were male soldiers. They are not into fabric art, they want something to give them a laugh, to tell jokes about and that's what they chose.  Congratulations to the winners, who understood the nature of their recipients.

At this stage the bag was one flat piece. I decided on where to fold it, ironed, stitched the side seam (three rows of stitching), ironed, added the channel for a drawstring, lined the bag with flannel shirt type checks and ironed again. While sewing the bottom seam I realised the bottom of the Emu and Kangaroo would meet in an ugly, thick lump. All I could do was sew in another folded strip of fabric to at least make colour break. The final job was to thread the drawstring through. I use cotton sash cord because it feels so nice.

OOppppsssss I had cut out a yellow sun which was to be over-stitched in white, but I  forgot to attach it before sewing on the drawstring channel. By that time I'd done so much sewing and unpicking ... I just couldn't do anymore. The sun was left off.

One flat piece - side seam stitched and ooopps, the sun wasn't included - bottom seam done with inset strip
- Kangaroo on a full laundry bag.

I posted the bag away and found I missed Emu's face for days, almost like losing a pet. When I saw it in the display a week later he seemed to have settled down and was sitting fairly flat.  I wonder who will open a parcel one day, pleased to get a new laundry bag, and find my Emu looking back at them. I'd love to see that.

The finished bag - Kangaroo's side with the lining hanging out, Emu in all his glory
and demonstrating how he'll look on a full laundry bag. He might be a little bit scary.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

What next?

It's impossible to prepare for everything, even though we try.  This 2013/14 summer began with threats of bush fires, damaging storms and cyclones - not all at once but it seemed like it  And a year ago we couldn't have guessed that a brand new baby would now be part of our extended family. Two years ago we didn't think we'd still have a dog. Disaster or delight, tremendous or trivial -  there are no guarantees. And when we do survive and find that new kind of normal something else will come along ... what next?  We just can't imagine.

Our family and friends know our dog and how much a part of our lives he is.  Now coming close to his 13 birthday (March 2014) we are aware he won't live forever and we've tried to prepare for that while avoiding the toe tapping wait mode. As a medium size male dog his life expectancy is about 10.  Being an active male Staffie could lower that - but, he is de-sexed, on a good diet, exercised daily, lives inside the house and sleeps on a soft surface - so his life expectancy is 12+. 

For the first five years we had very few problems, apart from noticing we had a hyperactive dog who madly chased anything that moved. And we soon found we had to check him daily for ticks and remove those, every day. Short haired dogs don't need brushing and a squirt from the hose can extend bathing for weeks.

There was a broken tooth, caused by chewing big logs and a split claw, possibly caused by rolling big logs in the paddock and both of these had to be removed under anaesthetic. A wound received when he was attacked by wild dogs required the vet's attention. Then he began growing warty things and a few mystery lumps on his legs. These were cut off and a grass seed embedded in his bottom lip led to the removal of the lip, so now he looks up at you and shows his bottom teeth.

Along the way he suffered pancreatitis which required not one, but two trips to the all-night vet hospital, in heavy rain, followed by a low fat diet forever. When a lump that had been growing on his nose was diagnosed as a mast cell tumour the vet felt we would only have him for a few more months - that was in Dec 2009. We held our breath and prepared. Half his nose was taken off in July 2010 and he went onto a homeopathic remedy. He recovered well, though he sneezes more than other dogs.  However arthritis was developing in his hips - we hoped it would slow him down. That was enough, and we looked for a smooth run ahead.

In March 2011 his right back leg went limp and we were told the knee had to be rebuilt. When you have a dog with a huge personality, who communicates well, is usually obedient and never chews your shoes how can't say 'no'.  Three months convalescence was hard on all of us and then in December the other knee went and we went through it all again. What next?

Time passes and we forget. I changed his diet to almost no commercial food and we added sweet potato, pumpkin, oats and psyllium husk powder to his home cooked meat. We had a healthy, happy dog.

We try to keep Rufous close to us, always on a rope or lead but there are still times when he can't resist the call of the wild by running after a kangaroo or dashing off to welcome a visitor and changing direction to chase a kookaburra - and he comes home limping. Our hearts sink until he's had a good rest and recovers. It's sad to hold back a dog who loves to run. His high need for activity has to be satisfied by several walks a day and a short run on a long rope.  He loves being outside so playing with ants under the clothes line or watching RJ weed the crop is good for him.

Early one Friday morning, hubby RJ was tending the new ginger on the far side of the farm, near a neighbour's house. The neighbour was upset about the loss of several chickens overnight and they were discussing the possibility of foxes or wild dogs, with Rufous sitting quietly nearby. As usual the rope on his collar was attached to a long stick which he drags along when walking as a reminder to him, and which can be tucked under something heavy if he has to stay put.

Something moved in the bush. Without warning Rufous was off - rope flying behind, stick bouncing along the ground until it caught between two trees, held for a split second, the weathered rope broke ......  dog gone.

I knew nothing of this, being asleep in bed at home. The phone rang about 8am and I didn't get to it in time. A message on the answering machine identified Lisa who said she had found a 'little' Staffie and could I phone her back.  What?
I phoned RJ and asked, "Where is Rufous?"
His uninformative reply was, "I don't know".
"Um .... isn't he with you?"
That was no help. I phoned Lisa and asked her to describe the dog.
"He has a sore nose," she said.  "The phone number was scratched on his registration tag."
Oh yes, I remember - I'd done that months ago when two adventuring Staffies had turned up at our house and we contacted the owners through the phone number on one of the collars.

Lisa and I swapped addresses - she was actually in our street but right at the top of the very steep hill and on the opposite side of a deep gully. To get there Rufous would have run uphill through dense bushland. There are deep gorges, a creek and several springs in there as well as thorns and spiky plants and possible wild dogs, foxes, snakes and kangaroos. She offered to drive him home as she was about to take her girls to school.  I couldn't suggest walking up to their driveway because I can't walk Rufous home on the lead without being molested by all the other dogs in our street.  I waited by our letter box with his lead and soon saw a little red car approaching, very slowly. Behind the L plates was a teenage driver in school uniform. In the back seat, beside another girl in school uniform, sat my darling boy, looking as if he was always chauffeured by pretty girls.

Lisa jumped from the front passenger seat and helped Rufous climb out of the car, still trailing a wet broken rope. I snapped his lead on quickly. He didn't look at me but turned away to sniff grass along the roadside.
"He's a lovely boy," Lisa said. "He had a good play with our boy before we knew he was there. We've had Staffies in the past and we know a good one when we see it. Now we have a Neo Mastiff".

I was numb, still thinking of what might have happened if I'd not scratched the phone number onto his tag.  Mastiffs are big dogs, aren't they?  We waved goodbye. At home Rufous had a huge drink of water. I wiped him down and he was soon asleep. RJ came in feeling guilty. I just hoped Ruffies new knees would be okay. He limped a bit, but at the hip, not the knee. Phew.

I googled.  'Neapolitan Mastiffs are one of the largest dog breeds with males weighing up to 80kg and measuring 65-75cm (26-30"). They are heavy boned and thickset with a big broad head.  They salivate heavily particularly when they are hot or after eating and drinking. If they want to come inside the house you'll have to wipe their mouths and faces with a towel.'  That's a big sloppy dog.

Monday morning at 8.30 I was asleep (I stay up late). RJ stuck his head around door and said, "I've just phoned the vet and they say to bring Rufous up straight away".
"What? Why?"
"He's peeing blood".
"He'll be okay, go back to sleep".
As if.  "Ask them to cut his nails while he's there".

There were two phone conversations during the day and then they said we could collect him at 4.30.  He had been sedated to have his bladder x-rayed and blood samples taken (and nails trimmed). Urine had been collected and they walked him around until they got a poo sample. He was howling with boredom when we arrived.

The x-ray showed an odd shape in his bladder. Tumour?  The samples were sent away for testing and the x-ray went to a specialist for diagnosis.  We came home with 10 days' supply of antibiotics and a receipt for a lot of money.  A few days later the vet phoned to say Rufous had an E-coli infection in the bladder and needed another 30 days on antibiotics.  What about the bladder shadow?  No one knows what that is.  Oh.

I googled.  'E-coli is the most common bacterium isolated in canine urinary tract infections. Dogs may have an urinary tract infection at any age but in male dogs it is generally classified as complicated. E-coli can invade the host's immune system. One possible source of E-coli is drinking water contaminated by faeces.'

The antibiotics were big white tablets, just right to feed to a dog ... NOT.  They have grooves in them so they break into four small pieces ... if you have huge muscles in your fingers.  Give with food - that should be possible if they are not too bitter.  I licked one - errrk.

The dose was three half tablets twice a day. I experimented with cooked oats, rolling little balls, pushing the half tab inside and then dipping into melted coconut oil (he loves it) or peanut butter (loves that too) and convince him it was a treat. He often swallows treats whole if there is another one waiting - but he can also swish it around his mouth, swallow the good bits and spit out the tablet.

That was good for the morning tabs. In the afternoon I tried to deprive him of snacks and fed him a little bit late so he was hungry enough to eat up the loaded oat balls hidden in his cooked meat and sweet potato. They all went down, mostly. If food was left in the bowl I temped him with a smear of peanut butter - but even with good fats I have to be careful because of his history with pancreatitis.

I was quite good at serving up his meds after 40 days. The follow up urine test showed no blood or infection.

It's not easy keeping Rufous tethered all the time, but it's much safer at his age. He likes to be outside and can still get up to mischief, eating possum poo when we aren't looking, getting bitten by ants when he tries to play with them, lunging at toads, biting the heads off lizards, trashing cardboard cartons. He plays hide and seek games with me and chasing with RJ.  He has a good life but he's not pampered - all dogs sit on the couch to watch TV, don't they?

Many other dogs are not looked after as well. There are dogs around here that run wild all day, sleep outside on hard ground, get chilled in wet weather, eat crap and tinned food and don't even have their ticks removed.  If Rufous picked up that E-coli infection during his two hour escapade up the hill why don't all these other dogs get it too?  And that is the mystery parents of young children wonder about. 

You just never know what will happen next so look after your pets and your children and all the other people you care for, treasure them and let them be a blessing - there are no guarantees for safety or long life.

Sunday, 27 October 2013


 'Upon a day' or 'Once upon a time' has long been a traditional opening for myths, fables and folklore.  For most of us the phrase would belong to our earliest memories of listening to stories. I loved story time and looking at my books. I was delighted when my mother acted out parts of the story as she read and used squeaky voices.  But, those fairy tales they read to us when we were very young were often nicely revised versions of folk tales - originally almost horror stories designed to entertain with fright or teach lessons. 

Fairy Tales, originally called Little Tales, usually involved fantasy with magical creatures, curses, goblins, witches spells and the like. They often began with 'once upon a time', referring to a supposed age when magic was still in use. One old German opening was 'In the old times when wishing was still effective'.

Folk tales and legends included actual events and were often stories for adults while moral tales, including beast fables (animal characters) were told to adults and children.  Many stories appeared in a variety of languages, with changes to suit the local culture.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm travelled Germany writing down the folk tales told to them by a variety of people. They published a book titled 'Children's and Household Tales', volume one in 1812 and volume 2 in 1815 with a total of 83 stories.

The Brothers Grimm continued to add to the collection  and now we can read 200 stories under their name.  Stories without proven German origins were rejected and the brothers rewrote many tales to make them more acceptable to families. We now refer to their collection as Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Many of those tales have been made over again by the Walt Disney machine and what once were stories of horror, mutilation, curses and despair are now mostly plastic sugar and spice.

Hans Christian Anderson
The brothers Grimm inspired others to collect tales in their own language and writers such as Hans Christian Anderson continued writing tales that often drew on fables.  First published in 1822, his stories have been translated into over 125 languages, including The Emperor's New Clothes, The Princess and the Pea, Thumbelina and one I remember very well, The Tinderbox, live on today.

Whether they are fables or folk tales we all love the stories and new tales are being written for future generations. One of my favourites, by Oscar Wilde was published in 1888 - 'The Selfish Giant' - a moral tale of self sacrifice.

And from the Grimm collection;

The Pied Piper: (pied being a sort of patchwork of different colours) In the original story the piper rids the town of rats and when the town leaders refuse to pay him he leads the children to, not a wonderful paradise, but the river where they all drown.  That'll learn 'em.

Snow White: The evil queen wants Snow White killed because she is prettier than the queen. The hunter is told to take Snow into the forest and kill her,  cutting out not just her heart, but her liver and lungs too which were to be served for dinner in the palace.  Later when the Prince finds a dead Snow White in the forest, he hoists her body onto his horse and this jostling awakens her - not the Disney kiss.  When exposed in the end as an evil woman, the queen is welded into red hot iron shoes and forced to dance herself to death. ewwwwww

Cinderella: The Cinderella story dates back to 1st century BC in different forms, with different names.  In the version collected by the Grimm brothers the ugly sisters cut off parts of their feet to fit into the glass slipper. Does the Prince not notice the pools of blood? Eventually their eyes are plucked out by pigeons and they spend the rest of their lives as blind beggars, while Cinders enjoys a life of luxury in the castle.

Little Red Riding Hood or Little Red Cap:  This story was so horrible even the brothers Grimm had to nice'n it up.  In the original versions there was no woodsman to rescue Red and sometimes not even a grandmother. We tell this tale to babies when it's really about a young girl being seduced by a wolf and losing her virginity. An old saying from France, referring to a girl losing her virginity, translates as 'she saw the wolf'. In some versions, to illustrate that her life is over, the wolf eats her up.

Sleeping Beauty: A young woman falls into a deep sleep as the result of a prophecy. While unconscious she is raped by the King, gets pregnant, delivers twins and it is her children who finally wake her, not the modern day kiss of a handsome prince.

Hansel and Gretel: This is a scary story even today but in an early French version, called The Lost Children, the wicked witch was actually the devil.  The devils wife attempts to help the children but they are forced to trick her and then they slit her throat to aid their escape.

The Frog Prince: In the Grimm collection there is no magical kiss. The frog makes a bargain with the Princess to take him home to the palace to live. He gets closer and closer to her until he is in her bed but she throws him against the wall. Somehow this turns him into a Prince ... and it's a little confusing.

Rapunzel: Letting down her hair too often gets Rapunzel in the family way so the witch cuts off her hair and sends her away.  When the Prince comes back the witch lets down the hair for him. He is afraid of the witch, rejects her advances and she pushes him out the window. He falls into thorn bushes and brambles, which blind him, so he wanders the forest forever.

The Little Mermaid: One of many by Hans Christian Anderson this story originally ended with the mermaid's suicide, after watching her Prince marry a human Princess. Walt Disney added the happy ending we have today.

The Story of the Three Bears:  First published in 1837, this story by English author and poet, Robert Southey, featured a malicious old woman who invades the home of three male bears. As early as 1813 Southey had been telling the story to friends in various versions including a fox or vixen as the female. It is possible that this version had been a traditional oral tale. By 1849 Southey had changed the old woman to an intrusive little girl, who was given various names referring to her hair colour until she became Goldilocks early in the 20th century, and the three male bears evolved into father, mother and baby bear. The oral tale ending with the intruder being torn to pieces by the bears became the soft cuddly family story that is the most popular tale in the English language today. It comes under the banner of fairy tales even though it is more of an animal fable. The underlying theme of harsh punishment for those who trespass in areas they should not has changed to one of accepting others who seem different and making life 'just right', with the bears being the good guys. Some cartoon versions today show Goldi remaining with the bears to live happily ever after.

Usually this happy ending refers to the main characters only and indicates a work of fiction. It also gives us the comfort so necessary today.  While we read 'they lived happily ever after', many years ago it was 'and they all lived happily in the ever after'. 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


Once upon a time, in the north east of England, there were two lovely people named Manley.  Mary Manley, who was American born, and her English husband, Stuart Manley, who had a small manufacturing business in an old Victorian Railway station in the little town of Alnwick. Mary dreamed of opening a second hand book shop, using the swap system, and she planned to call it Barter Books. Fortunately Stuart liked the idea and said she could use the front room, of the railway station, for her book shop. So she did and Barter Books opened in 1991.

Skipping to the year 2000, Stuart was unpacking a box of old books they had picked up at auction, when, at the bottom of the box he found a sheet of folded paper. It turned out to be an old poster. He liked it and showed it to Mary. She liked it too, so much that without knowing anything about it she had the poster framed and put it up in the shop. 

Customers in the book shop noticed the poster and asked if they could buy one. So Mary and Stuart had copies printed and soon they were selling posters, over 40,000 copies in the first 8 years. 

The Keep Calm message was so popular it soon spread around the world, but where had it come from?

Going back 61 years to early 1939, when England faced the threat of another war,   The Ministry of Information commissioned three inspirational posters to be used in the interest of public safety - to assure the population that all necessary steps to defend the nation were being taken, and to stress an attitude of mind, during the difficult times they expected were ahead.

As the posters conveyed a message from the King to his people they were designed to be difficult to counterfeit -  with a handsome typeface topped by the crown of King George Vl, on a plain coloured background. Five million posters were printed.

The first poster stated ...
                    Freedom Is In Peril. Defend It With All Your Might.

... to alert the population to the seriousness of war.

The second poster stated ...
                    Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness,
                    Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory.

... to encourage the nation to rally as one.

The second poster states ...
                    Keep Calm and Carry On.

... to reassure people when the country was invaded or occupied.

Posters 1 & 2 were displayed in public places - Railway Stations, Post Offices and shop windows from September 1939.   

Poster 3 was never used.

At the end of the war the unused posters were sent off to be destroyed ... all, it seems, except one, and it remained out of sight until discovered in a box of books more than 60 years later.

The posters Mary and Stuart sold were so popular the message was shared on line and suddenly Keep Calm and Carry On belonged to everyone. 

In 2007 online shops were selling the slogan on T-shirts and bags. Then one T-shirt company released a range of shirts that spoofed the poster such as Keep Calm and carry on sewing or Now Panic and Freak Out. Before long web stores allowed customers to design their own Keep Calm slogans.

By 2009 England was dealing with the global economic crisis and the attitude of mind conveyed by Keep Calm and Carry On became a strength to people who were struggling. At one stage 85 variations of the poster were recorded and it has become one of the first icons of the 21st century, appearing on walls, clothing, crockery, tote bags, and all types of souvenirs.

I was delighted when I discovered this story and to me this expression of keeping on is one to be celebrated. Firstly because in 1939 it was NOT needed. There was no invasion and no occupation.  But, the poster survived for over 60 years to bring the message of encouragement to the following generations - a reassurance that we go on, no matter what comes, to live our lives, to do our work and to care for each other.

We do not always understand the politics or economics of our world but we all have a place here, we all have a part to play in life on this planet - we just have to keep calm and carry on with it.

But back to the book shop.  The original building was designed by William Bell in 1887. As a railway station it was huge, 32,000 sq feet, far too grand for a small market town - but the town was also the seat of the Dukes of Northumberland, who would attract visiting royalty and so an impressive structure was necessary. The line closed in 1968 and the station building was put to several uses before becoming Barter Books.

The shop has many attractions, apart from a huge selection of second hand books, including open fires in winter, a refreshment room with skylights, a model railway, huge art works, free wifi, a children's room, plenty of seating, a reading room with newspapers and a display of antiquarian books. It's almost worth a trip to England to visit Barter Books.

Station built in 1887 - and as it is today

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

for all the TEA in China

In my grandmother's day everyone drank tea - there was very little else to drink and in some places drinking tea was actually better than drinking plain water because the water in the tea had been boiled.  The whole family drank tea for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in between.  It was relatively cheap,  refreshing in hot and cold weather and gave people something to do when socialising.  The process of boiling the water, brewing the tea, pouring and sipping helped to solve all problems, calm the spirit and to heal all wounds.

Tea is a hot drink made by infusing dried crushed tea leaves in boiling water.  We often refer to the infusion of other leaves, plants or flowers as tea, or herbal teas, but that is not real tea.

Real tea is made from the leaf of the tea bush, Camellia sinensis, which is native to southern and eastern Asia and has been grown as a cash crop for hundreds of years. The plant is a close relative of the camellia.  In Mandarin it was called ch'a, which is the origin of the char and chai words for tea, and in the Amoy dialect it was T'e.
The tea drinking habit came to Australia, from the United Kingdom, with the first settlers. For middle class England tea was served with a light afternoon meal  of sandwiches and cake.  I think the main meal was in the middle of the day and they had supper of buttered toast and cocoa late at night.  For the working people tea was the evening meal and both these concepts became part of the early Australian culture.

High Tea was a tradition from around the mid 1700s as a late afternoon meal for working men. They were usually grubby and smelly after work, so had their tea standing up, or sitting on tall stools at a high bench and it became a 'high' tea of scones, toast and fruit cake, served with tea.

Later, this evolved into an early meal for 'well to do' people, before a night out at the theatre or playing cards so High Tea was a light but nourishing meal. Later in the evening they returned home for supper, which was often cold meat and veg as the servants had gone to bed.  Around this time the Fourth Earl of Sandwich had the idea of holding a slice of meat between two slices of bread - so he could eat while playing cards - and the High Tea sandwich came into being.

My grandmother, who was born into a large family and grew up in a one room shack on a dairy farm, liked to feel that as she had trained as a nurse and made something of herself she could put on a few airs and graces. 'We' never referred to the evening meal as tea. That was for working class people.  In our house 'we' had dinner in the evening.  I was never quite sure about meals because on Sunday, when the lamb roast was served in the middle of the day it was also called dinner and on Sunday night we had early tea of toasted sandwiches and later on a supper with hot chocolate. So, if you had lunch you could have dinner, but if you had dinner at lunch time, then after tea you got supper.  I'm glad elevenses remained in England.  It all depends on who your grandmother was.

Until the 1960's tea, in Australia, was made in a pot and the left over tea leaves were disposed of by the back door, usually into a vegetable patch where they acted as fertiliser and mulch, or into a pile of maiden hair ferns that seemed to grow where people tipped tea leaves.  People who didn't have a back door often emptied the tea pot into the loo and at one family gathering I remember a small cousin came back from a visit to the toilet to announce to the room of relatives that 'someone in this house has a very sick tummy'.  Apparently Great Aunty had emptied the teapot and not flushed.

In the Aussie bush tea was brewed in
 tin billy-can over an open fire
An Australian tradition is billy tea - still make in camping grounds all over the country, it just takes a fire, a tin can of boiling water, a handful of tea and a gum leaf.  Tea and rum were the drinks, and at times currency, of early settlement days but real tea was not always available to people in the bush. The Leptospermum tree, from the family Myrtaceae, is commonly known as Teatree, from the practice of early settlers soaking the leaves in boiling water to make a tea substitute. I can't imagine what that tasted like.  I live near the town of Nambour which gets it's name from the local Aboriginal name for the tea tree.  

Tea tree oil distilled from Melaleuca alternifolia is popular for it's amazing antiseptic, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties.  

But, back to real tea, a visit to a Chinese tea shop will cause confusion because hundreds of different types and blends of tea are on offer, but there are only a few basic categories of tea and they all come from leaves of the same Camellia Sinensis plant. The processing of the newly picked leaves is what determines the tea's colour and taste.

Black tea is exposed to air until the oxidation of the leaf brings on its dark colour.  

Green tea comes from quickly heating the leaves to prevent further fermentation, and this gives the green colour and milder flavour.

White, yellow and the oolong teas are in-between, with different grades of fermentation.

Picking tea in India
History tells that tea travelled to Europe around 1590 when a Portuguese priest visited China and got permission to take some tea plants home, but until the 19th century nearly all tea was grown in China and most of it was exported to Great Britain.  
When political and business problems made trade difficult the British managed to get hold of (make off with), enough tea bushes to start tea plantations in Assam and Darjeeling in India, and Kenya in Africa, where it is still produced.  And, though China is still the biggest producer of tea, India comes a close second.

Apparently, for 300 years, at the London Tea Auction, tea was sold ‘by the candle’ system; bidding for lots went on until an inch of a candle had burnt away.

Water is still the most consumed beverage in the world today, but tea is a close second as we drink more than 3 billion cups of tea a year. The biggest consumers - and this may be a surprise - are the people of United Arab Emirates, followed by Morocco and then Ireland! 

My grandmother, and her sisters, treasured their tea pots - one for every day, one for special occasions and one for decoration but today most people don't own a tea pot because teabags have replaced brewing in the pot. But, tea post are still included in children's toys and cartoons. Gone are the tea pots and knitted tea cosies, tea caddies and spoons, and the tradition of one for each person and one for the pot. Even the ferns miss out as tea drinkers who don't want to waste the used tea bags 'feed' them to elkhorns in their garden.

Some healthy things people say about tea: 
Green tea and white tea especially are praised for many health benefits, including antibiotic effects, anti-cancer properties, boosting of the immune system, lowering of cholesterol levels and improvement of cardiovascular health.
Tea contains vitamins B2, B1 and B6 and is also rich in potassium, manganese, folic acid and calcium.
Tea contains half the amount of caffeine found in coffee.
One cup of white tea contains the same amount of antioxidants as 10 cups of apple juice.
Tea can help soothe a sore throat, black, green and oolong tea have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help alleviate symptoms.

Times to avoid tea:
Black tea can block iron absorption from foods and supplements so it's best to avoid tea when taking vitamins or eating foods that are rich in iron.
Green tea is a significant source of vitamin K, which can interfere with the effects of blood thinners such as warfarin.

A few other uses for tea: 
The used tea leaves can be beneficial as fertilizer for the garden.
Used tea leaves can absorb odours in the refrigerator.
Tea in a foot bath can eliminate some foot odours.

Interesting things said about tea:
The water source, temperature and brewing time effect the taste of the tea.
Half a kilo of loose tea can make about 200 cups of tea.
An experienced picker can collect over 30 kg of tea a day!
Until the 19th century, solid blocks of tea were used as money in Siberia.
Tea breaks are a tradition that have been with us for approximately 200 years.
Drinking 4 cups of tea a day is recommended for health.
Tea is a natural source of fluoride that could protect against tooth decay and gum disease.
The first book about tea was written by Lu Yu in 800 A.D.
Apart from tourism, tea is the biggest industrial activity in India.
98% of people have milk in their tea, but only 30% have sugar.
Tea bags were invented in America in the early 1800s. 

Tea bags were originally made of silk and were used to hold tea samples from India.
Slightly damp tea leaves can repel insects.

And I don't know if any of these things are true.

'Women are like tea bags. They don't know how strong they are 
until they get into hot water.'   Eleanor Roosevelt.


2 cups water
1 green tea bag, or loose green tea (for antioxidants)
2 teaspoons turmeric powder (antibacterial, exfolient)
1 tablespoon honey (moisturiser and softens)
2 -3 teaspoons rose water (smells nice)
Steep the tea in boiling water until you have a brew of very strong tea.
Open the teabag if using one, the leaves act as an exfolient.
Stir in turmeric, honey and rose water. 
Pour into a standard ice cube tray and into the freezer.
Wash your face with warm water to open the pores.
Rub a tea ice cube all over your face for several minutes, paying attention to the forehead, nose and chin.
With your fingers, gently massage the turmeric/tea leaf residue over your face to exfoliate.
Rinse off with cold water.
Finish with a splash of witch hazel or other toner, and moisturise.