Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Joy and the Scourge of Travel

Courtesy of Google Images

So you want to travel?  The world is your oyster, so go forth and explore as they say, but is it as simple as that?

The appealing romantic notion of life on the road, without a care, pervades many of our daydreams.  Travel is the circuit breaker to life's daily monotonous grind, good or bad experiences, it matters little as long as it's not at home.  It's the adventure of it all, the adrenaline rush of uncertainty, anything but boring. 

I've spent the latter part of my life thinking this way.  Due to circumstances, I have ended up living in South East Asia for the best part of 10 years and have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to expand my cultural and spacial awareness.  

We should all travel if we can.  Travel brings ideas and refreshes the mind to new and exciting possibilities and it makes us re-examine the way we look at the world.  Home is never the same again; the last missing piece completes the puzzle and illustrates with brilliant clarity; we are all but a product of our own upbringing and environment.

To travel is what every human should do some stage during their life, but of course it's impossible for most; not everyone has the means or the desire.

Any downside to this quest to explore?  Yes, I fear so.
Is it better to seek security or live life to its fullest? A question that truly polarises. 
With all that travel brings into our life also comes some unwanted baggage - discontentment. 
The more you travel the more you want.  I am sure you know or have seen the addicted 20 somethings that spend all their time on the road living out of a backpack, darting from one exotic location to another. The gypsy within, makes us quietly envious of these drifters even if we think it's a touch irresponsible for them not to settle down sooner. 

Of course the elephant in the room is truly money or the lack of it.  I have spent tens of thousands on travel over the years but not for one moment regretted the expense. Others will disagree.  I, for one, won't be dying with a bucket full of money in the bank.  Many could not bear that thought. 

Travel creates the need to travel more.  There is always one more road to find and one more beach to wander on. 

So what should we do, stay at home and end our wanderlust? Personally, I think the benefits far outweigh the downside as long as all of us realize there is more to life than wanting to be elsewhere. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

When The Wheels Start Falling Off

It creeps up on you slowly. Barely noticeable at first until the day you attempt to jump up out of bed and end up rolling out. Getting out of a chair is like raising the Titanic, every joint and spar of the infrastructure creaks, reluctant to leave the comfort of Davy Jone's locker.
It's not until I look into the mirror that the true realization (shock) of aging strikes me. Not that I do that very often mind you, maybe once a day as I clean my teeth and brush my receded greying hair. The hair started to change colour way back in my 20s, so I've had plenty of time to get used to it.
Must be worst for some; those who spend time putting makeup on. Looking at every crevice and crack in great detail and trying to reconcile the mental image with the physical one.  
 Apart from a brief look at myself  after my early morning shower, I only have to content with the occasional glance from a shop window or the obscure reflection from a computer screen. Not too difficult to deal with. We all get old, but it seems to have happened oh so much quicker than I thought it would. Never mind, the change in appearance I can can cope with more or less, ( I was never an oil painting) it's the physical decline that's much harder to handle.

As the years bobble along so does the increasing size of the waist line. I've kept reasonable active most of my life, mainly through walking after the active sports stopped in my early 20s, but the weight has increased to the extent you become conscious of the bulging stomach especially when seated and the constant discomfort after eating. It's comes across as indigestion at first, but becomes more insidious in the mind as time passes by. Hiatus Hernia or stomach cancer? 

That’s the problem when you have a little medical knowledge and a vivid imagination, mole hills become mountains. Going to the toilet too often - prostate problems or diabetes. Stiff back, no flexibility - Rheumatoid arthritis or was it all that running I did years ago, wearing out out the joints, a touch of Osteo? Oh well, the days of jumping over a gate with a single bound have well and truly gone.
  Is it my imagination I’m becoming a little clumsy or is it the onset of something more sinister, Parkinson or a smidgin of Motor Neuron disease?

Arrh how the mind plays tricks.  But it doesn't play tricks with my eyes sight. Blind as the proverbial bat these days. Anything thing within a metre is a blurry train crash. My constant companion is a pair of never cleaned cheap reading glasses that I invariably look over most of the time when not reading. Way too lazy to take them off. Makes me look distinguish or so I tell myself. "Is that a skin cancer on my left temple?" As they arrive on the bridge of my nose each morning.

It's not all bad this getting old caper. I long since not worried what  others thing about me. I'm resigned to the fact I'm a grumpy old so and so. You know the one at the christmas office party about to retire, always talking about the good old days (as if they ever existed) and complaining about the youth of todays total lack of respect. ( to him of course.)

My heart beat app tells me I'll live until I'm 93, have no idea how it knows. How come I feel 93 now?

Enough whinging. Time to go for my daily 4k walk in the hot tropical sun. Not dead yet, just practicing.

Care of Google Images

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Murder I Wrote

The spider slowly descended down its half constructed web looking for a secure place to anchor its next thread. The slim sliver of light that made its way into the darkened room, illuminated the scene; a builder in the spotlight still deciding where to attach his next spar.  Such was life in my small dusty half forgotten second hand shop in downtown New Norfolk. Few customers with even fewer sales kept me bored and disillusioned. Life's monotony was in full display in this ageing shop of mine.  Even the bric-a-brac looked tired and boring as my eyes slowly scanned the store looking for who knows what; a habit from years of diminishing mental activity.  The odd piece that was sold was soon replaced with something that looked the same, did the same.   I gave up a secure job that placed a great deal more on my mental agility to do this. The idea seemed right at the time. But like most things in my life, it hadn't turned out the way I expected. 

My wife Betty was banging around in the back doing what she did most days - bang around. We had stopped most communication a long time ago and only talked when it became absolutely necessary.  We shared an ordinary house in an ordinary street in an ordinary suburb with almost nothing else in common. Life's like that for some, never raising its head much above the water line, a constant struggle not to drown until.. you know, you drown.

The apartment block across the road was one of those places you aspire to if you are poor but can't wait to get out if you're not. Most were investment properties, so a constant stream of unlikely types moved in and out like an army of ants searching for their queen. 

A van pulled up, a large nondescript white one. Two men and I think, a woman jumped out and scurried up the low entrance staircase leading to the ground floor units. I say think because it was bitterly cold and all three wore heavy full length coats with their collars turned up in a vain attempt to keep warm. One of the figures, much more diminutive than the other two, was bent over slightly with a hand on the stomach like you see when someone wants to vomit but can't. I couldn't see their faces; they were in such a hurry. 

The action only lasted a few seconds and my thoughts and sight returned to that spider and its constructive life. 

A day or two later my wife in an unexpected burst of civility drew my attention to a newspaper article about a spate of missing teenager girls. Four had gone missing the previous six months. Not that it's uncommon with teenagers to run away, but these were well adjusted reliable kids that had never been in trouble and from all accounts came from stable homes.  The police were becoming concerned and asked  the public for help.

Photos of the 4 filled most of the page.  Innocent faces frozen to a time and place, not knowing what the future had in store for them.  My wife muttered something about how terrible it was and hoped they would be found soon safe and well. I wasn't listening.

My thoughts went back to the day I saw that van. 

The bell on the door broke the spell. In front of me stood a burly man, some 6 foot tall, thick necked with strong masculine hands, sporting a ridiculous handlebar moustache and a sort of pointed goatee which made absolutely no sense together. His clothes were baggy and dishevelled, though clean.  He gave the impression of an oddity rejected from the Moscow circus. 

" Can I h-help?" I stuttered. 

He stood there for a moment, eyes surveying,  in deep thought.   When he finally spoke, it came as a surprise. An unexpected  soft cultured voice enunciated. 

"Good afternoon, my good Sir,” I was wondering whether you could help me. My colleague and I are conducting a little business in the apartment block across the road and we require a few odds and sods, props that sort of thing to liven the place up.  Is it all right to browse?"

"Certainly!" I said.

He walked around the shop muttering to himself, inaudible to me.  Returning to the counter often, he collected an eclectic assortment of items.  Curtain stays, a set of candle sticks with candles, a roll of packing tape, an old make up artist case, a paint brush, a large brown leather strap, the type you secure a travelling trunk with and an ornate 19 th century Persian ceremonial dagger. 

All in all it came to well over 200 dollars, the best sale I'd had in weeks.  I was pleased. When finished he paid promptly, gathered his purchases and scurried across the road.
Just as he was about to disappear into the apartment block, a white van pulled up in front.  He walked over to it, and after a short conversation with the driver, jumped in and they sped away towards the city. 

"Argh,  so he was one of the characters I saw that day," I thought to myself.

A week or two later, I happened to catch sight of the same white van pulling up out front. Two men got out, one I recognised as the man that came to my shop earlier and to my utter astonishment, a young girl with long flowing chestnut hair.  My heart missed a beat as my thoughts focused on the missing girls. 

"Get a hold of yourself," I said aloud. 

They walked up the flight of stairs to enter the building.  She seemed perfectly at ease, laughing and chatting with both men. The other man was not as large as his friend, but like his friend, he wouldn't have seemed out of place in a foreign circus.  Bald as a bagger, wearing a strange peaked Robin hood like felt hat that made him look like a court jester from a medieval castle.  He did a kind of a skip and a hop gig as he circled his companions, exuding an abundance of excess energy. 

I wasn't sure what to make of it . The puzzle in my mind was coming together. Why would such a young girl be hanging around with ageing men? She being so pretty and they so strange.  He bought that odd collection of items from me. It just didn't add up. 

I stared at the shop wall. My spider was sitting in the middle of the web waiting for its next victim. 

I was fighting with myself, my head was telling me I was reading too much into this.  My gut told me there was a room full of young girls - dead or alive!    They were up to no good, I was sure or was I ? 

A cold sweat engulfed my forehead.  I can't just do nothing, but that was just what I did.  I slumped into my office chair.
Deep down I'm a coward, scared of my own shadow; bad things happened to others, not me.  I'm a runner, not a fighter.

Betty walked into the room and stared at me.

"Whats wrong with you? You look more miserable than usual."

" I'm ok, just tired," I snapped back. 

"Suit yourself.  I'm going home to eat. By the way, a white van is blocking our drive. Go tell the owner to move it.  Stupid place to park, trying to shove a rolled up carpet square into the back that obviously doesn't fit."

The blood drained from my face, rolled carpet, body inside being disposed of. 

I was sure now. How am I going to deal with it... 

My spider was examining a fresh victim tangled up in fine gossamer  threads as I made my way to the front door. 

Gone!  Nowhere to be seen.  There was an immediate sense of relief not having to confront them, my hands wouldn't stop shaking.  Ohh what a yellow bellied snivelling  coward I am. Do something.

Call the police, that's what I'll do.
No wait, it's none of my business. Not my fault they're over there. They could have been anywhere in this city. Why did they have to be across the road?

Stop it right now, you have a public duty to tell the police. Think of the girls, the poor girls. 

No hang on a minute I don't have any proof, the police will think I'm a trouble maker, trying to get my name in the paper.


Ridiculous, I'm deluding myself or maybe this will make me a hero. 

“TOO MUCH!" I cried out loud.  

My head was pounding I was frozen into inaction.  Wait until tomorrow now.  Another night won't make a difference.  It's too late for that poor girl in the carpet anyway.  I soothed my nerves with these thoughts. 

Always been a procrastinator ever since I was knee high to a grasshopper.  My dad used to say that boy would take a life time to make up his mind, has a permanent indentation on his backside by spending too much time sitting on the fence. 
I showed him though.  I made a snap decision to ask Betty to marry me and, well… we all know how that turned out. 

I had a dreadful night’s sleep and arrived at the shop early. 
My spider was now devouring its victim bit by bit. 

The van arrived about nine and to my unbelieving eyes, two young women jumped out with those brutal beasties of depravity, laughing and giggling without a care in the world. The smaller of the two men wearing another farcical hat escorted the two women inside while the other parked his van around the back.

Two more entering the spiders den. I was dizzy with indecision. 

This is it. I need to do something now.

Plucking up all the courage I could muster ( almost none), I dashed outside.  Seeing a policeman on his passing bike, I frantically flapped my arms like a duck who had been shot in its final death throes to gain his attention. 

“Officer, officer I think...I know… I don’t really know but I think there has been a great injustice committed in that apartment building.” 

He looked at me with eyes that said, “Here we go, another nutter.”   And was about to say something to me when his radio crackled to life. 
“All active units need to proceed to 32 Baker Street New Town immediately. Re missing teenagers, suspected multiple homicides in house, suspects detained.”

Without further ado, he gunned his bike and disappeared down the road.

I stood there with my jaw dropped and in shock.
Before I could gather my wits, the burly man with the ridiculous hand bar moustache and goatee that looked out of place walked from behind the building.

“Hello, my good sir,” hand outstretched “ Aren’t you the shop owner from across the road?” 

I feebly nodded 

“Oh good oh. Those props I bought off you the other day worked like a treat.  Pity we have to rehearse here and not in the theatre but those bloody renovations aren’t finished yet,” he cackled. “Beggars can’t be choosers as they say and we actors are surely beggars, ha ha.” 

 “Actors?” I sputtered out. 

"Yes old boy, the girls were having a ripe old giggle about having to rehearse in a flat. Not enough room you see. Had to remove that old Indian carpet because they all kept sneezing due to the dust or cat’s hair or something. Ha, Ha, what a hoot. Every time we killed our victim he’d start sneezing. Ended up in hospital, poor chat with asthma."

“Murder?”  I chocked.

“Hang on my old boy, Just had a thought. We need a new murder victim. You would fit the bill perfectly. Can you play dead? ha ha”

With that, I let out an almighty scream of "Noooooooooo" and ran across the road slamming the shop door behind me.

Old Handle bars looked perplexed, “What a strange fellow. Takes all types I suppose.” 

On the dirty dusty floor of an old nondescript run down secondhand shop, lies a dead spider.




Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Not So Super Supermarket

I am sure most of you have experienced the pleasures of shopping in a modern air-conditioned supermarket with everything you could possibly want on the well-stocked shelves. This is not a story about that. This, my dear friends, is about reality in the deep dark Palm oil jungle of Borneo. 
My local supermarket, I've been told, came into existence a mere 20 years ago, but to the uninitiated, it appears to be at least three score years plus ten. (older than me)

The owners haven't felt the need to modernise with a coat of paint or a dab of plaster since construction. The interior has the ambiance of a post nuclear apocalypse, cans and packets of food are strewn across the aisles as the highly motivated staff ( cough, cough)  unpack to stack the shelves during all of the opening hours. This would normally not be a problem, but the two-and-a-half-foot wide aisles don't cope well. Large sections of the supermarket are unreachable on any one visit, so this clever marketing ploy, coupled with the unavailability of most of the common produce on a given day ( tomatoes maybe on a Monday or if not Wednesday or if you're really unlucky the next week. Lettuce to go with your salad, on the other hand, never arrives the same day) makes you return again and again to enhance the shopping experience.

Yes, it's a total lottery; as a behavioural psychologist would put it - intermittent positive reinforcement. Nothing like it to make you salivate. 

Talking about fruit and veg, the produce, all of it is tightly wrapped multiple times in plastic film. You can look but not touch. This gives the appearance of conformity. The only way to recognise a bulk of it is by colour. Impossible to tell if it's fresh or not - plastic all smells the same. Needless to say, we do have some little surprises when we open up at home.  

The plastic thing reminds me of the time I found cheese with mould growing inside an unopened  plastic wrapper. Expiry date was ok. That's real skill you must admit.

May have something to do with the leaking freezers. The tiles or what's left of them next to the deep freeze bubble and burp with what I think is rising damp. The owners do their very best to ignore it by throwing broken down cardboard boxes over it. They, in turn get saturated and disintegrate. Word of warning here; never wear flip flops or sandals. Body weight will force the brown fluid over your toes. My wife says it smells like rats urine. I told her I didn't think so. Never seen more than a couple of rats at anyone time, the stench being so strong it would rot your socks off. You would need an army of rats to create that smell, but I must admit it's hard to identify. What does concrete cancer mixed with effluent smell like? 

Buying sliced bread is a bit of an art form. I used to, back home, feel the bread to see if it was soft and springy to the touch. Being warm was a bonus because it meant it was very fresh; doesn't work here though. It's always hot because it sits in the window with the tropical sun as company. 

You know what I think?

I have a sneaky suspicion the uncooked dough is placed into the plastic bags to bake by solar energy. How's that for efficiency!

Check out is well... slow to.... well you know. The cash registers are only a few feet from the first row of shelves and you thought traffic in Kuala Lumpur was bad! No useless modern conveniences like scanners here.
 The shoppers who don't like carrying too much tend to drop off their growing list of items onto the cashiers counter. So when you arrive to pay for your own groceries the counter is already full with others. Very messy indeed. Oh well I only need to do this 5 days in 7.........

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Kudat, Two Hotels And The Tip Of Borneo

School holidays, how sweet they are. Looking forward to escaping the clutches of Sandakan City for a few days, we decided to fly to Kudat. 

Kudat is the last major town before you reach the tip of Borneo - Tanjung Simpang Mengayau. It’s isolated and relatively small with a population of about 85,000.

It is a 7-hour drive from Sandakan, a little too much for the old car, so we decided to fly. My wife had never been to this part of Sabah and I had only briefly transited on a flight to Kota Kinabalu.
The mighty Twin Otter

To be honest, I was looking for any excuse to fly in the Twin Otter again.  It's real flying and reminds me of my own relatively short experience as a private pilot over 30 years ago in Adelaide. The noise of the engines, the smell of aviation fuel and the rather uncomfortable seats add to that exquisite feeling of the gentle floating sensation you don't get in a heavier jet aircraft. 

"Sit anywhere you like." I was told when we boarded - it's that sort of flight. You see the every movement of the pilots, observe most of the flight instruments and the monotony of the job ( for them) after the takeoff and before the landing. Nothing like watching the knees of these young men bouncing up and down like nervous school boys who are longing for the home time bell to ring. It instils a sense of confidence in the passengers, I can assure you!

The flight lasts a mere 50 minutes over low lying mangrove and palm oil plantations - not a lot of jungle left in this part of Sabah.  

The airport is really only an airstrip with a single green storey one-roomed building for arrivals and departures. The fire truck/van with its small water trailer has its attendant in an easy chair next to it, whiling away the time, waiting for the airports only daily flight.  What a life.

Originally we intended to use these few days to just veg out and relax, but I wanted to hire a vehicle for a day for a little exploring. The hotel we intended to stay in, the Ria, seemed very casual about obtaining any information other than my wife's name for the booking. They just said to call the morning of the departure to confirm. It's interesting how you get so used to pre booking online and instant confirmation. This was very refreshing.  

As it turned out, close friends of ours were spending the weekend in Kota Kinabalu and decided to come up the day of our arrival to take us to the tip of Borneo. They wanted to stay in the Kudat Golf and Marina Resort, consequently we agreed to stay there for our first night. After picking us up at the airport, we drove there to check in only to find the rooms were not ready. We decided to have a bite to eat at the hawker stalls near the town centre. The ambience and the odour weren't the best, but the food was superb - a comprehensive collection  of local seafood with rice and Chinese tea.

Fruit and Vegetables, cheap and good
Arriving back to the hotel we were informed that the rooms were ready; gathering our bags we trundled down the corridor when a strange thing occurred. From some 10 metres away, I noticed a man in his swimming gear leave a room that I thought was ours. Not being sure, I opened the door to find to my horror, the room was strewn with clothes on the bed and shoes in the entrance. How embarrassing! My friend's room was 2 doors down, so they entered using the electronic card provided. There just behind the door stood a man with an electronic card in hand. For a second or two, both men stared at each other speechless - a mini Mexican standoff.  The occupant in the room felt indignant that his private space was being invaded and my friend astonished that the hotel should have stuffed up so badly.

What I find interesting is the hotel staff feigned indifference. This only made me mad to the point that the rest of the stay in that hotel was tainted by it.          

Another 30 minutes  past before we managed to secure our this time empty rooms. I did knock on the door before entering to make sure!

The hotel is only average, full of youngish families that entertained their children in the pool. The rooms are nothing special, dated and small. The shower or should I say a fountain with a peeing Cherub which surged to 4 separate trickles between periods of inactivity. (think of 4 young boys relieving themselves into a puddle of water ) Not in many showers can you watch an individual water droplet travel down your body without interference, turn the shower on and wait; a 2-minute shower that took 10.  Marvellous! 
Map of Borneo at the tip
After freshening up, kind of, we piled into the car for the journey to the tip of Borneo some 23 kilometres away though it seemed further.  

Kudat was for a few years in the 1880's the capital of North Borneo and an arrival point for many immigrating Hakka from China to escape persecution ( Taiping rebellion) or for economic reasons. Many cleared the area for coconut plantations before becoming farmers themselves.
My wife's paternal ancestors arrived in this way before finally settling in Sandakan a number of years later.
Sunset at the Tip
The roads were of a similar standard to else where in Sabah - barely adequate; the reason most people here drive larger four wheel drives, especially if they travel outside  of the major towns.

Kudat is still growing a significant amount of coconut, a pleasant change from palm oil. This area is still famous for its coconut virgin oil. The small kampongs swarmed with small unkempt children, mange ridden dogs and traditional local  Rungus women weaving baskets on their wooden dilapidated thatched roofed verandas.

Just before the tip there is a long stretch of beach that is now the home to a few tacky tourist resorts of sorts. The beach would have been magnificent in years gone by, but like a lot of coastal regions in this part of the world is littered with mainly plastic objects. Nevertheless if you didn't look too closely, it was a pleasant enough scene.
The Tip of Borneo
There is a car park 300 metres south of the tip with a few nondescript shelters to sit and admire the view. Just before the tip is a large concrete model of the world showing Borneo in all its glory. A plague with a brief description of the site and mentioning of Ferdinand  Magellan's circumnavigation fleet stopping there in 1421 for repair. (He himself was actually killed in the Philippines before this.)

The land finally peters out into a narrow stretch of sandstone jutting into the ocean to divide the South China Sea with the Sulu.  

A number of islands can be seen on the horizon, one with a lighthouse and interesting sandstone formations adds to the spectacle. The obligatory selfies were being taken by the 50 or so visitors there at the time which is always a distraction, but it's isolated enough to find some space away from the masses and go for a walk along the long sweeping beach. 
Interesting sandstone formations

Seafood again on the Kudat esplanade rounded off the day. Great meal, inexpensive, in a ramshackle timber restaurant that hangs over the water / plastic bottles. You can have too much of a good thing. By the time we left Kudat a few days later, I never wanted to see another prawn, fish or scallops during the rest of my life. ( feeling didn't last long of course) 
Ria Hotel
The following day our friends left to drive back to Sandakan while we moved  to the Ria hotel.  Compared with what we left, it was like chalk and cheese. A clean, smart and newly painted building in the centre of town. In fact it stood out because it was the best kept building in town. The staff were efficient and polite to deal with. The room was twice the size of the one in the Kudat Golf and Marina resort and a lot cleaner and in better repair.  The view out of the window was across some roof tops to the harbour, not perfect but pleasant enough. 

We ended up spending 2 more memorable  days being driven around to explore both sides of the peninsular.  The beaches on the South China Sea side had the least pollution. 
Boat in a sea of plastic
To top off the visit, a friend of my wife took us to a local business man who amongst other things produces bird nests for the local market, but that did not interest us. He is the owner of a collection of relics from an old  Chinese junk that had sunk only 400 metres form the tip of Borneo over 1000 years ago. He had obtained them off the fishermen that had found the wreck in 2003.

There is something magical to hold in your own hands pieces of pottery and bronze plaques of such age. Who made them? For Whom? Where were they going to?  Questions that have no answers; lost in the midst of time.

All goods things must come to an end, so after a seafood meal or two it was time to return via the twin otter.

So, would I go back again? Yes, for the seafood, the hotel and of course the twin otter.


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Death In The Morning

It was a morning like every other morning. I crawled out of bed to the sound of the alarm, 5 am to prepare for my 35-kilometre journey to work. At the time, I was working in Bangkok and though I didn't start until 8:30, the traffic and the distance necessitated an early start.

After a quick shower I dressed and prepared to leave when I decided to check my email. 
And there it was as bold as brass. Title : Mum has died.

 It took a second or so to register. I wouldn't say disbelief, for it wasn't totally unexpected she was 86, but a surreal feeling of being momentarily detached. My mother was dead, full stop, end of a story.

I spent years wondering how I would react when one of my parents died. The moment had come and to be blunt it wasn't the way I expected. After the initial surprise ( my brother sent the email and is always direct and straight to the point) I gathered myself and went to work as usual.

Never being close to my mother, I had over the years minimal contact. When I lived in Adelaide I would go visit my parents maybe 3 to 4 times a year, for half an hour or so. Anything longer and we used to get on each other's nerves, never seeing eye to eye. Arguments broke out easily, the visits were literally short, sharp and shiny. We just never connected as adults, let alone mother and son.

Anyway, I found myself spending that day thinking about possibilities. What if  we had been close? Would my reaction be different, how different? What if she had died 30 years earlier? Does your own age dictate the way you react?  Lots to ponder and reflect on. 

More importantly, that day I thought about my own childhood, when I was young and my mother wasn’t an old lady. I remembered things I hadn’t thought about for years. Little things that don’t really matter, but reminded me of the tenuous link we shared as mother and son. She wasn’t a natural mother and in hind sight I think she struggled with her 4 children’s upbringing. Not to say she neglected us, we had more than adequate food, shelter and was looked after, but she lacked an emotional connection with us all - empathy. She was mechanical in the way she did things and that extended to the way she brought up her children. I assumed she loved us, but I never felt it. Nothing was ever said or done to demonstrate it or if there was; I just don’t remember.

The reflection only lasted a day and then life went back to normal for me.

As the old adage goes, we are a product of our upbringing. I look into a mirror these days and see my mother’s face as I get older. I notice the way I act at times is the way my mother did; the way I detested as a youth. We should all learn by our life’s mistakes, though fighting powerful inherent forces that lie within is not so easy. 

It’s interesting to talk to others about this. Some feel it's strange that I never grieved about her death, in fact I was and remain rather neutral in my feelings; somewhat empty. She occupies my thoughts only when something reminds me of my youth. Like all of us, unless we become famous we are only remembered through living memory; children and maybe grandchildren then forgotten for all eternity. In the grand scheme of life, individuals mean very little, the specious propagates unabated through numbers until itself is eventually replaced by something more adept to life.
And circle of life continues on.

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on a carousel of time…

Joni Mitchell  1968


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Nectar Of The Gods

Courtesy of Bing

What makes a good wine?  Ask a dozen people and get a dozen answers.  I'll state from the very onset that I have very limited knowledge about wine, no  connoisseur here, I only drink the stuff, so that puts me with the 99% who haven't a clue either.  Am I qualified to make comment then?  I think so, because it’s the 99% that drive the industry.  For these people only one criteria that matters - liking the taste or not.  

I was brought up in an area surrounded by some of the better wine growing districts in the world. (The French might not agree.)  Neither of my parents drank alcohol, so it wasn't until I became an adult that I started drinking wine.  Beer and spirits never appealed. One you had to drown in lolly water to make it drinkable, the other was bitter and bloating.  Wine is neither. After developing a palate for the reds tannin in preference to the mostly sweet whites, I found red to be the most satisfying to consume.  By volume, it doesn't  bloat and usually complements the food I ingest.  A glass of Shiraz goes down well with a McDonalds hamburger! (Philistine I hear you scream.)

This brings us to last night. Our friends invited us for dinner at their place and I was specifically asked not to bring a bottle as the host had a cupboard full that needed to be drank.  Been given the honour of deciding what to drink,  I inspected the 10 bottles on show and earmarked 2 for immediate drinking. Both were close to 10 years old. One of those, a Merlot 2005 from my old home town was opened first.

As most of us know, proper storage of wine is critical if you want to create the conditions necessary for it to reach its full potential.  You couldn’t imagine a worse case scenario in this case, storage in a non air-conditioned room standing up right.  

My worst fears were realised when the cork started to disintegrate during removal.  In fact, it broke in two and I could not get enough purchase on the remaining cork, so I did what any good wine expert (cough,cough) would do… use a knife to push the recalcitrant cork fragments into the bottle.

Finding a tea strainer and plastic container I filtered as much of the floating cork particles from the wine as feasible.  Two attempts later, all of the contaminate was removed or as much as the naked eye could tell.

Oddly the wine had little nose.  In other words, I couldn't smell anything that clearly resembled any wine I knew, just a nondescript slightly sweet bouquet.  The colour was unusual as well, chocolate brown with a dash of blood red.

All this pointed towards a tasting disaster, but to our utter astonishment it was tasting extravaganza. What a pleasure to the palate, smooth and silky, sliding down the throat, leaving a delightful after thought behind.  Even the non drinkers were impressed.  And to top it all off, we displayed no after effects the next day.


So it goes to show, in this case what should have occurred didn't happen. 

In the end it's the taste to you that matters and not any extensive wine knowledge.
Having said all this though, I have recently witnessed wine being mixed with coke! Now there is a limit to everything.

À la vôtre