Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Life: Bufo Marinus, who was the bufo-head who thought of importing these?

One unusually hot August day in 1962, I was waiting for my mother to get dressed so we could go to the Ekka. (Well that's what we called it)

To fill in time this 9 year old went for a ride on his scooter around the block and saw some mates gathered at the corner of the street. So I popped over to have a look. Here, gathered under the Roseby Ave street sign I found them peering down through the steel bars of a drain. "What's in there?" I asked.

"A toad! You know.. like a frog!" said one of assembled group. Now at age 9 I had never seen a frog, let alone a toad. So here was this thing swimming around in circles in the mucky water below our streets!


By the time I had become 14 our whole yard was full of the bloody things every night. And because of their ability to send your dog to the next world in a most unpleasant way.. my mother had taken it upon herself to became judge, jury and above all else executioner of these imports.

And so I learned from a young age that these toads were not welcome at No 5 Armagh Street.

Every summer night would find me, mother and George Hobbs (our flat tenant) on the hunt in the front and back yard looking for these beasts. Often we would cull 13 each night. There are lots of ways to do this:

1. The Dunlop method. (Dunlop Golf clubs or Dunlop Radials on your car!)

2. Shoot them! My favourite with my 177 air gun.. although one night the slug came back at me and hit me in the forehead.

3. Vlad the impaler: AKA the garden fork.

4. Behead them. (Deb has managed this when one threatened our new pup Dorothy.)

5. Poison; my new method. Mortein Surface Spray.

And the list goes on!

I used to dissect these creepy things when I was at high school. That was when I thought about becoming  marine biologist. And I still have a cane toad's heart in a bottle some 45 year later. A nice ornament for the kitchen it makes too!

In recent years the numbers dropped.. but now they are back in large numbers again. Every night sees me on patrol with my trusty can of Mortein.. thinking of buying a cattle prod. A 5 minute burst from that should send them to Valhalla me thinks! Perhaps with some accelerant on them for that whole "Flaming Viking" effect!

So who was the boof head who thought it would be a good idea to import the rotten things anyhow? Obviously a visionary ... not! Sort of like.. lets get a couple of rabbits to keep the grass down!

The sun is falling towards the horizon as the day draws to a close. (Not as romantic as it sounds.. big shadow across my front lawn from the flats across the road) Soon it will be time to grab the torch, and the can of Mortein to rid my patch of these revolting beasts.

Invariably after a night on the killing fields I go out at first light to count the bodies. I am keeping score you see as I want to know if my efforts are paying off.. but by 10:00 AM they have gone!

Where did they go... are toads like the US Rangers and never leave their fallen behind?

Who knows.. perhaps they get beamed up to the mothership; but it doesn't really matter as tonight it will be full on as I keep up the onslaught! I will never surrender!

Mark: 5 Toads: NIL!

Public enemy No 1 at my house!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Life: Good friends.. until death do us part!

It is my understanding after 60 orbits of the sun, that we humans are the only animals that form attachments with inanimate objects.. like my bike, my iMac etc. (Although I am prepared to be corrected should a zoologist happen by this blog!)

And for me one of my favourite things (to quote Julie Andrews) is my pair of RM Williams Yearling Boots. The lovely Debra bought them for me for a wedding anniversary present nearly 14 years ago.. and I just love them. In fact for XMAS some 8 years ago she bought me another pair the same.. but I hardly wear those ones. They are for "good" when I need to wear a suit. (Yes I can hear you now.. Mark Taylor in a suit? Actually I have 2 of them.. and it is my ambition not to have to wear them very often between now and when I am dressed in the black one for my "Shuffle from this mortal coil.")

Now my original pair of RM Williams have been with me for many adventures.. but now as they get near to the end of their life, I feel sad. I want to keep them. Perhaps fill them with potting mix and plant some ferns in them for the front verandah. And then every time I would look at them I would remember….

These boots have been with me on wondrous adventures...

I would remember wearing these boots when I photographed Prime Ministers.. Howard, Rudd and Gillard. John Howard was always charming and happy to be posed and photographed every time. PM Rudd.. well he was too obsessed with his thoughts on Programatical Specificites to want to cooperate at the time. Once he actually didn't turn up. The next time he was.. well I understand why those who had never met him loved him and those who had .. well they had other thoughts about him. Julia Gillard was charming and cooperative away from the media; surprised me! Also Gough Whitlam too. Whatever your politics he was an impressive man to meet. I even had my photo taken with him while I was there too!

Me and my mate Gough!
These very boots were on my feet when I met and photographed Lord Mayors Sooley, Quinn, Newman and Quirk. All very charming people and happy to talk with you and get the pictures in the can. Various minsters from both sides of politics at state and federal level.. Hockey, McFarlane, Nicholls, Santoro, Costello, Carr.. the list goes on.

And then the are the places they have walked with me… the length of 5th Avenue in New York, the top of the Empire State Building in New York. Old Parliament House in Canberra saw me in these boots standing on the top steps saying.. "Well may we say God save the Queen.. etc" while Deb and Cheryl scurried for cover. "We don't know that man!"

The sadness of Dachau Concentration Camp in Bavaria is profound and real. Again I wandered the area and tried hard to imagine the inhumanity dished out to fellow man that had happened not that long ago. Then the coffee shops in Marienplatz in the heart of Munich. Yep.. the RMs were on my feet then too!

Walking around the Italian Riviera on a hot summers night seeking out a pizzeria for dinner.. yep.. the boots came too! These boots also pressed hard on the accelerator of an AUDI A8 turbo diesel as we hit the speed limiter at 250 km/h on the Autostrada west of Munich.

Many trips to more main road destinations on my motorcycles were made wearing these boots.

And sadly they bore witness to me carrying Dorothy into the vet for that very last time last year. Their fine leather stained by our combined tears as Deb and I hugged each other and cried rivers of tears after Dorothy drew her last breath.

So now these boots themselves are near the end of their days… they have been part of my life for nearly a quarter of it… been with me though some rainy days and also with me as Deb and  I shared the sunshine that is the mostly the way our life is.

NO! I can't do it! The wedding photographer flies to Melbourne tonight on one of Virgin's Kerosene Canaries and will have his "good" RM Williams on. But the old pair will await my return, just like Chloe our new faithful dog.

And I'll continue to wear them until my toes stick out through the now so thin leather sides of these proud boots.

Perhaps I should give them one final clean and place them in the wardrobe next to that black suit.. then I can take them with me to the next life. Reminds me.. pack a toothbrush too.. well you never know!

How very Egyptian of me.

(I have also used these boots to send countless Asian house geckos to the next world too! Little bastards crapping all over my home!)

So if you don't own a pair of RM Williams boots.. well do yourself a favour and go buy a pair. If you don't (and especially if you wear some cheap Chinese copies).. well you're being a fool to yourself and a burden to others!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Youth: Mum's Magic Mixmaster!

Hands up if you have a Sunbeam Mixmaster! OK.. a few hands went up.

So.. hands up if your mother had a Sunbeam Mixmaster.. yep.. 95%. I thought so!

One of the joys of my wonder years around 13 was watching my mother's Sunday morning ritual as I (supposedly) did my homework on the kitchen table. You see Sunday was mum's baking day. Cakes and biscuits for the week ahead. The old Mixmaster whirred away, the giant oven in the gas range would heat the kitchen as hot as hades (murder in summer) as it discharged tray after tray of biscuits and sponge cakes.. with the finale being a hot apple pie for Sunday lunch.

Now while the old cake mixer was screaming its head off in top gear, I could hear my old man's voice bellowing through a haze of cigar smoke from the lounge… his TV had interference on it from the Mixmaster. How could he watch "Meet the Press?" (It used to be on 7 back then.)

"Shut that damned thing off May!".. he would bellow.

But mother ignored him with a dismissive,"Do you want to have morning tea through the week at work or starve? Well let me get on with it!"

The magic Mixmaster!

And in-between shovelling ingredients into the bowl, she would be loading her "biscuit pusher", an aluminium tube with a handle like a grease gun.. and as she "make see-saw the lever * " biscuit mix would flow through the bottom of this machine fashioned into some stylish shape on her freshly greased pan. I still have that machine today! It must be as old as me I reckon.

Made in Sweden too.. "None of your Japanese rubbish mate!" as my old dad would say!

Mum's biscuits were always Monte Carlos with both halves joined with jam mixed with icing sugar and then there were her "Mt Stewart Biscuits" or "Nutties" as she and her sister Dora called them. These had nuts and dates in them. Yummo! As for the name, you see Aunty Dora and Uncle Jack had a cattle property near Marlborough called "Mt Stewart" and this biscuit mix was a favourite. Aunty Dora (who moved to Clayfield after Uncle Jack died) used to keep her biscuits in old tins that had been painted grey. In fact, I still have one and my Bosch drill now lives in it! Now Aunty Dora's "Nutties" were always soft and chewy and I loved them, while mum's were always a lot harder.. my brother Max liked the hard version!

And these days with both of them having gone to God.. well I guess it's time I fired up the Mixmaster and tried my hand at making some "Mt Stewart" buiscuits. I do have a Mixmaster, not mum's.. it died as did Aunty's too.. and these days they are no longer repairable. So sadly, my Mixmaster is made in China by somebody who probably earns $4 a week.. and it mixes as well.. but the sound is different sadly.

Have never tried my hand at making an apple pie either. Mum's were good with a serve of cold ice cream on top. Every Sunday my mate Wayne around the corner would turn up as the Apple pie was being served.. he could smell it you know. Then we would hear him call out.. "Hey Mark.. is your mum serving apple pie?" And I would stand at the top of the back stairs.. "Yes.. come around Wayne". My mum would say, "Why don't you ring each other?" My dad would say.. "No May, that costs money!" (Well dad's mother was a Scot you know!)

So.. 48 years later, our same kitchen is quiet on a Sunday morning.. only the sounds of the Delonghi Coffee machine grinding and then expressing coffee are to be heard.. along with the sound of a packet of store bought biscuits being opened.

What would my mother say if she were here to witness all of this on a Sunday? Perhaps, "Store bought biscuits and a coffee machine? What's wrong with a cup of Bushell's Tea or a Pablo instant coffee and making your own Nutties?"

I hear you mum from across the void from wherever you are now.... perhaps it is time to go back to the future.. To dig through mum's old recipe books, find the recipe for her biscuits and fire up the Mixmaster one Sunday morning.. who knows.. it might be fun! Home cooked biscuits and cakes! What a novelty in 2014! Stop the press! Brother Paul has a copy of the recipe and via the magic of email it is on its way to  me now!

And here it is:

1/2 cup of unsalted butter
3/4 cup of sugar ( I always use caster sugar as it mixes better )
2. Eggs
2  cups flour
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 tablespoon golden syrup
1. Teaspoon cinnamon
1. Cup crushed walnuts
1. Cup of dates or raisins ( chop the dates up with a knife. If you use raisins whole is sufficient )
1. Teaspoon cocoa 
1. Teaspoon boiling water to dissolve carb of soda

Cream butter and sugar then add eggs one at a time.
Add fruit and nuts then other ingredients. Lastly add carb of soda dissolved in boiling water. Make sure ingredients are well mixed. No whitish signs of unmixed flour around the mixing bowl. I always finish mixing by hand with a wooden spoon so I can observe the mixture fully. 

Using 2 teaspoons place many a teaspoon of mixture on a greased slide and bake for between 12 to 15 minutes in a preheated oven of 180 degrees or moderate as was called in aunt and mum's day. 

I use a vacuum slide to prevent the bases burning. Keep the mixture in the bowl covered with a damp tea towel to prevent the mixture drying out while the first batch is cooking. Cook in the middle of the oven. 

You will understand the use of two teaspoons to place each nutty on the slide as the mixture is extremely sticky due to the syrup. 

Look out MKR!

 * My late friend Ken Brand had a Japanese grease gun back in the day.. the instructions read.. "Apply to grease nipple and make see-saw the lever"

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Photography: Don't you own a camera?

Up on the wall of a camera shop I used to visit was a cartoon. It was an artist with canvas and paints brushing into life  this magnificent mountain view panorama. Beside the artist was a small boy with a Nikon. He looked at the artist and asked: "Don't you own a camera?"

As a photographer that made me laugh! A lot!

Being a "visual" person, I see pictures everywhere. Actually drives me mad as I argue with myself if it is worth stopping to capture them as i go about my day either with a camera or iPhone. You see like that young boy in the Bruce Willis movie.. "I see pictures everywhere."  And if I was a painter.. well I would not have enough time to paint everything I see.

Lucky I do have a camera.

Well actually 11 if I don't count the iPhone!

It's the creativity thing I guess. It is more alive in some of us than others.. and then again it varies so much. Take Blue Poles for example. I have looked at it and other works of "modern art" and I have to say I just don't get it!

None of it!

It looks like an accident in a paint factory to me!

But then I look at some hills and… well let me explain.

Last Saturday evening my mate Ian and I rode our bikes up to Mt Nebo at sunset. All the way up the mountain, I could catch glimpses to my right of the hills in the Samford Valley below me being lit by the last rays of sunlight. And the low angle, cross lighting brought out all of the detail of those hills. Now I have seen those hills many times in my lifetime.. but never before like this. They came alive for me.

And did I have a decent camera with the right lens with me.. of course not! And if I had of photographed them. would it be a creative shot? I mean God's own light illuminated the view.. so the only creativity I could introduce would be variations of exposure, contrast and framing.

But having said that, this view (and others in the past) really got my creativity mojo going!

And that was good!

Because.. I had to photograph a roof this week.

A flat metal roof.. and it had to be done in the morning.. as it was a "product" shot, not an art piece .. so good hard light was on order. (Combined with some blue skies.. we hoped)

A few days later and I am standing on a roof of a huge shopping mall with views of the Pacific Ocean looking at all of this metal.

Where is the picture?

Where is the hero shot?

Well as it turned out I managed to find a few.. here is one of them.

Only walk on the walk way.. or the shoppers will get a surprise!

And the thing about this image from a series of pictures I took is this: While they may look boring to you (as Blue Poles is to me) they really ring my bells! Even Debra was impressed.. and she takes some impressing I can tell you.

And… as I stood on that roof and surveyed an acre or two of metal roof panels.. the images just "came" to me.

They just appeared in my head I guess.

And then the camera recorded them.

I have no idea where these pictures come from.. but for me.. they come all the time!

It is obvious that I would have no time to paint them all!

So it is just  as well I do own a camera…. or 11!