Definitely worth reading: “Bridge of Clay”

In the last year or so, I’ve read three books about teenage boys: Jasper Jones, boy swallows universe and, now Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak, the author of The Book Thief. They’ve been very different stories but have all told the stories of boys growing up in difficult situations and have all been great reads.

I hear about incidences which occur in the high school classrooms in which two of my daughters teach and I ask myself what situations are these kids trying to cope with as they go from childhood to adulthood. Certainly many kids today, as always, don’t have it easy.

This book was published last year and is set in suburban Sydney, Australia where Markus Zusak lives with his wife and two children.

The Dunbar family consists of five brothers. Their mother, Penelope is dead and their father has fled. The story is narrated by the oldest of the boys and tells the story of their life, their love and their brawls and how it all came to pass.

It flips backwards and forwards, going into the parents’ history which I found very disconcerting at first. It was hard to remember who was who. Many times, in the first half, I almost returned the book to the library unread.

But then the author hooked me. This morning I did my chores, met my daughter for a walk and a coffee and came home to continue to research and write my grandfather’s story but I saw the book and my plans went awry. I have done nothing but read on until the end.

It’s a wonderful story of stories, of loves, of youth and animals, of internal battles….. and, of course of the building of a bridge, a very special bridge.

It’s just a great story. I recommend it to you.

Musings on Father’s Day

My thoughts are so confused today. I had two fathers. I never knew my birth father as he died when I was two but I’d been adopted out at birth anyway as a result of an ultimatum made to my mother by her mother who knew that children shouldn’t be in her care. My adopted father was a stern frightening man who rarely showed me love.

He did, however, see that I had an education which is a wonderful gift and I thank him for that most sincerely. I feel no love towards him though and I’m so angry at him that he never told me I was adopted, leaving me to discover this when he and my adopted mum were both dead.

His father was a lovely old granddad with a sense of fun & we got on well. I saw quite a bit of him from my teens on as we lived close to them. We would go for tea on Sunday nights and sometimes I’d stay with them in school holidays as they lived near the beach at Maroochydore in Queensland. They migrated to Australia in 1921 when my dad was seven. Granddad had been a British soldier in France in WWI.

I didn’t know my adopted Mum’s father very well at all. He died when I was seven but they lived in Melbourne and I can only remember a couple of visits. Mum had been brought up in a very strict religious family and I remember receiving religious texts for my birthdays and Christmas.

I’d like to have met my birth Dad. He had two other children, older than me, and they tell me he was a good Dad. I get the impression he was a bit of a lad and the photos seem to support that feeling. He was sent to Australia from England in 1914 by his older brothers and told to “make a man of himself”. He enlisted in the army but his records show that he had flat feet (that’s where I must get them from), couldn’t march, was invalided of a ship in Perth on the way to war and then went absent without leave. I’ve yet to really delve into the details of his life but I do know that he ran many concerts for the Red Cross in Melbourne between the wars. So definitely an interesting story to follow. I think his Dad was an upstanding man and I have met and am very close to a granddaughter of one of my father’s brothers who lives in Canada.

I think my birth mother’s father had a very sad life and I’m currently researching his story. He was born and grew up in the Beechworth area of Victoria where his grandfathers were both miners. He fought in the trenches in France and his brother was killed there. I think that has to have affected his whole life. How anyone could return to a ‘normal’ life after that, is beyond me.

So, I have more fathers and grandfathers than most. They are a motley crew. What an interesting evening we would have if I could have any one of them to dinner.

I have so many questions!

“little fires everywhere” by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng has written two books. This is her second novel and the first I’ve read. I’ll be looking for her first, Everything I never told you, as I really enjoyed little fires everywhere.

I’ve been thinking about the book since I finished it last night. I think it is the story of three mothers and their children but it is so much more as it stimulates thought about our western society, the way we treat others of different classes and colour and what makes a good mother.

The story is set in Shaker Heights, a meticulously planned suburb of Cleveland Ohio where the author grew up. Elena Richardson and her lawyer husband have four children and they are the perfect embodiment of a successful Shaker Heights family.

Mia Warren, a photographic artist, and her daughter Pearl live a nomadic life and Mia has promised Pearl that they will make a permanent home at their next stop which turns out to be in Shaker Heights. Mia has, however, total disregard for the rules of the lifestyle here.

Friends of the Richardsons decide to adopt a Chinese-American baby girl that has been left outside a fire station in the snow by her desperate mother, a work colleague of Mia.

I loved reading this book. There was love, angst, caring, disdain and lots of intrigue. Once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. And there are little fires everywhere.

It’s being made into a miniseries to be released in 2020 with Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. I’m looking forward to it.

A pleasant day at Brisbane’s Southbank”

This weekend was the Regional Flavours promotion of Queensland produce at Southbank, the site of Expo 88 beside the Brisbane River. As you know, we do enjoy our fresh food and visiting the fresh food markets in Europe.

So yesterday morning we caught the train from our local station at Lota for the 35 minute ride to Southbank.

When we arrived we found that many others had arrived before us and the market stalls were very busy with queues to buy goods at most of them. The regions of Queensland had displays of both fresh food and goods produced in the region from that.

We weren’t tempted to buy much as we didn’t have the car. I lived in The South Burnett for ten years and so bought a bag of curry flavoured peanuts for old times sake. Kingaroy is famous for its peanut van which sits beside the main road into town and sells peanuts with many flavours.

You could buy a stemless plastic recyclable wine glass for $5 and visit the area which showcased the many wine-producing companies of Queensland for tastings. We do not really enjoy tasting many wines in quick procession so we didn’t bother with that.

Many stalls were selling food for eating on the run- everything from berries to ice cream to chicken wings to camel milk and camel cheese to sliders and tagines. There didn’t seem to be an area where you could sit down to have a proper meal within the Regional Flavours displays and since we like to sit down and enjoy our food, we ate at one of the local restaurants, French Martini, where we both enjoyed moules cooked in white wine and lemon with a baguette. I also enjoyed my glass of French Chablis. The moules were delicious but the baguette was quite disappointing – not up to the standard I expect of French breads. We sat and enjoyed ourselves over our leisurely lunch. I felt quite disloyal eating at a French restaurant on this day but consoled myself with the thought that the mussels would have been local.

After lunch we wandered back alongside the river to South Brisbane Station, enjoying the lovely ambience of Southbank where so many families enjoyed the artificial beach and the parklands.

All in all, a very pleasant few hours!

Loved reading about some of my female ancestors

I’ve just read Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon – Women’s Lives And The Fight For Equality by Frances Bevan.

My first contact with Frances came about a few years ago when I searched for Radnor Street Cemetery on Facebook and her name popped up. I found that she researches the lives of the people buried in this old cemetery and writes their stories. She also leads tours of the cemetery on one Sunday per month through the warmer months. The cemetery is in Swindon, a railway town in Wiltshire about a ninety minute drive west of London. Consequently I can’t go on the tours but I can read her stories and since many of my Alley family, my paternal line, are buried there I really enjoy reading them.

In fact, it was through communicating with Frances that I found and have met some cousins who are very special to me. When Frances asked me if I knew Wendy Burrows who was also searching for information about Frederick Alley, it lead me on the journey to find my cousins. We went to Swindon where Frances, Wendy and her husband, Frank, David and I enjoyed a wonderful day together. We have since met and stayed with my lovely cousin, Kay Prosser, and her husband Ben in Victoria on Vancouver Island and they have been to stay with us in Brisbane. When you discover at 52 that you were adopted, finding and meeting and becoming close to your birth family is very special. It gives you back your sense of identity and you know where you fit in the world.

Reading about the women in my family in Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon is also special and I really appreciate the work that Frances does. My Grand Great Uncle, George Richman Alley had one son and seven daughters. The daughters are pictured Below. Amelia Annie Alley and her sister, Ethel Gertrude Alley had a millinery business at 90 Victoria Road. Ethel Gertrude Alley married William Hewer and they ran the Oddfellows’ Arms. The youngest sister Eva married George Babington and they opened a drapery store next door to the milliners. Mabel Alley was awarded the British Empire Medal for Meritorious Service in 1960 as she was sub Post Mistress at Westcott Place for more than fifty years.

Emma Louisa Hull, née Alley, another of the sisters, was a member of the Women’s Freedom League and was active in the fight for the vote for women. She was arrested twice and imprisoned for short times.

Eileen Kostitch, née Babington, was the daughter of Eva Alley & George Babington fought with the Yugoslavian forces against the Germans in World War II. She died there of ill health and is buried in Western Bosnia.

I think there have been some amazing women in my family!

Details of life in Swindon and of the women who fought for women’s rights can be found in this well researched book. I found it fascinating.

Oceania Cruises wows us again!

A couple of weeks ago we received an invitation to a luncheon from Oceania Cruises. We thought we’d go along ….. It would probably be finger food and we’d stand around for an hour or so, trying to juggle glasses of wine and plates of food as we chatted to fellow Oceania cruisers before hearing the promotional messages but it would be OK.

So we caught the train into the city, found 480 Queen Street and caught the lift to level 4 and entered Otto Ristorante, a beautiful Italian restaurant with a view of the Brisbane River and the Story Bridge.

This was a special, sit-down, a-la-carte meal with lovely wines. It was Oceania thanking some 60 of us for being loyal Oceania cruisers. The food was delicious as you would expect of a company which promises the finest cuisine at sea. What’s more, they did not use it as an opportunity to sell more cruises.

We were very impressed with the restaurant too. It is a beautiful venue and the food and the service were great. We’d like to return.

So, thank you Oceania. We really enjoyed ourselves.

An enjoyable afternoon at the movies with Red Joan

Last Thursday we went to the movies at Cineplex Victoria Point to see Judi Dench in Red Joan and we really enjoyed it. This is our favourite movie theatre with very comfortable seats and plenty of room to stretch your legs and it is so much cheaper than other theatre chains. Parking is easy too. So why would you go anywhere else?

The movie is based on a book of the same name by Jennie Rooney inspired by the life of Melita Norwood who was a secretary at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association. In the movie, Joan is befriended by communists whilst studying physics at university. She becomes secretary to a physicist researching the atomic bomb and leaks documents to her friends.

The movie begins with the arrest of the elderly Joan who is played by Judi Dench. We thought it was a great role for her and we really enjoyed the movie.

An interesting visit to the Beenleigh Historical Village

Today I joined my fellow members of the Redlands Genealogical Society on a tour of this village and it was definitely a walk down memory lane.

It is a heritage village and living history museum dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of the Beenleigh region for current and future generations to enjoy. Beenleigh is situated between Brisbane and the Gold Coast & it took me about 45 minutes to drive there this morning. It brought back a lot of memories and was well worth the drive. We began our visit with damper and a cuppa which we had to have inside because of the rain.

There are quite a number of old buildings making up the village and they are well cared for by the amazing team of volunteers. The old Beenleigh railway station is so typical of those of its time and you can find them scattered throughout Queensland.

I especially loved the old one-teacher school. I didn’t attend this one which was moved here from Loganhome but I did attend similar ones in Hivesville and Jimboomba, both small country towns in South East Queensland and my daughters attended one in Branyan, near Bundaberg. Jimboomba is no longer a small country town but is quite a metropolis and The Branyan State School has grown into a much bigger school.

It was fun to slide into the old-style seating, pick up a slate pencil and write on the slate. I think we used slates until grade 3. We checked out the holes in the desks for the inkwells and reminisced about the cheeky boys dipping the girls’ plaits in the ink well. The Queenslanders amongst us could recite the words on the letter chart: b like a bat and ball and b says ‘b’.

I seemed to be the only one who could remember writing out the good manners chart, pictured above, for talking in class but we could all remember getting a smack over the knuckles with a ruler for talking.

This is a ‘Rural School Building’ which was moved from the Beenleigh Primary School. I went to Caboolture Primary School for grades 4 to 8 and we had a Rural School there too. Kids used to come in by bus from all the little schools around. In grade 6, we learnt ‘milk and cream testing’ which involved using pipettes and a centrifuge etc to measure the fat content of the milk and cream. I’m not sure if this was meant to prepare us to work in local dairies or just interest us in science. Looking back, it does seem a bit strange but I did enjoy it. In grades 7 and 8 we learnt cooking and sewing at Rural School and the boys did metalwork and woodwork. I think it was for one afternoon a week. I remember we had to write up our recipes very neatly and find a picture of what we were cooking and it was marked out of 10. I enjoyed the cooking but showed no skill at all with a needle.

This is a page out of one of my books – it’s a bit yellow with age but I still use some of the recipes occasionally. I would have been pleased with the mark of 8.5 out of 10.

This morning there were plenty of ‘I remember doing……’ or ‘Remember that’ moments. We could all remember trying to make a phone call from a public phone box and hearing the operator telling us to press button A to be connected or press button B to get your money back and being frustrated when you ran out of coins. Mobiles make it all so much easier. There’s all sorts of memorabilia. It was fascinating.

So fascinating that I think I’ll take my grandkids there next week in the school holidays. They will enjoy lunch in the Tin Cup Cafe too as we did before coming home.

A new Aussie author that I’ll be following

I’ve just read the third novel by Jane Harper, The Lost Man. Like The Dry this one is set in the Australian outback, this time in South West Queensland rather than Victoria. Life on a cattle station in the outback is a struggle for all. One of the three brothers is found dead of dehydration in the scorching Christmas heat beside an old stock man’s grave and no one understands why he would have left his vehicle with all his food and water to walk ten kilometres to this headstone.

The story delves into the tensions around families at Christmas and how these tensions are magnified by the death. We go back into the past to enable us to understand the present. It was an excellent read, as was The Dry. I didn’t want to put it down.

A pleasant week in Ayr, North Queensland

Last week we flew to Townsville where my daughter picked us to drive us to Ayr where she teaches Japanese. It was Friday night so first we went to the CBar on the Esplanade in Townsville for a Friday night drink. For dinner, we chose to go to A Touch of Salt which turned out to be a great choice. I really enjoyed my sand crab and scallop dumplings although David wasn’t overly impressed with his beef short ribs. Jac had vegan dumplings and they were good too.

Ayr is about an hour south of Townsville usually but, at the moment, roadworks are slowing it down.

Staying in Ayr is very relaxing. It’s a small country town and everything is within walking distance. Everyday we would wander up the street to our favourite coffee shop, Chill, for our caffeine hit. We went to the movies to see Rocket Man which we all enjoyed. I usually manage to find something that takes my fancy in the little boutiques and this time, I found a groovy, bright comfortable pair of pants that were actually made on the Gold Coast.

I visited the Japanese classroom at one of the school and it looks a very inviting environment in which to learn about the language and culture of Japan.

It was a lovely week staying with my daughter and I look forward to returning soon.