ouch !!!

The competition between the My Kitchen Rules contestants was nearing its weekly zenith.

Who would win the sudden-death cook off? Could Angela and Melina’s roast duck with wild rice and honey carrots beat out Jake and Elle’s classic vitello tonnato, or would the Melbourne housewives big, big hair get in the way?

There could be no missing this even on a getaway to the beach.

The drama was on full boil when a young Englishman entered the caravan park entertainment room.

Do you mind if I Skype,” he asked politely.

Not if you don’t mind if we drool over molten chocolate cake with fig and coffee ice cream, I telegraphed mentally.

No, not at all – go right ahead.

Why do people talk on Skype as if they’re in a spacecraft orbiting Mars? Houston, can you hear me? Oh yes, and they’ve got audio in Airey’s Inlet too.

The young man’s connection kept dropping out, but by the time he spoke to his little niece we were all up to date on the family gossip.

Then came the question. “Why do you look so sad Milly Moo?” he asked.

M-m-mummy h-hi-hit me. Mummy hit me hard on my face,” wailed a little voice that seemed to momentarily silence even effervescent television chef Manu.

Oh, she’s was just being a total pain. I’ve had it with her today,” came the exasperated voice of the mother over wracking sobs.

No one had tuned in to watch The Slap.

We left the discomforted English lad holding his tearful niece in his hand.

Suddenly, we’d lost our appetite.

Stan & Wally

stan & wally

When Wally & Stan Phillips were born in 1922 weighing a scant 2.5lb (1134g) apiece, their mother was told not to bother taking them home. No one counted on the fierce love of a country woman with a pantry full of condensed milk. Photographer: David Field


My parents had two sets of twins. The first set of twins died shortly after birth. They were boys too. Then we came along and we weren’t doing so well either. When Mum wanted to take us home from Pyramid Hill Hospital the doctors said: “You know you won’t rear them.” Mum said: “Well, I left the first set of twins up here and they died, so I am going to take these home and give it my best shot.”

We had terrible trouble keeping the tucker down. There was an old matron who lived next door and she said: “Feed ’em on condensed milk. That’s very easily digested.” So that’s what Mum did.

I can remember when we were about six or eight dad bought a Model A Ford. We went for a ride in the new car up to Pyramid and were driving past the hospital when Mum said: “Let’s call in here and show them the twins I wasn’t going to rear.”

When I first left school I got a job up at Gunbower on a diary farm up there. I was up there about six months and then I came home to help Dad on the farm until 1942 when we were called up in the draft.

I wound up in Darwin about a week before the big bombing raid. We were digging trenches or something in our camp a few miles out of Darwin. I remember we heard this droning, humming noise. We looked up and there was dozens and dozens of aeroplanes. They were heading for Darwin and we thought it must be the Yanks. Then a couple of minutes later we heard the “Boom! Boom!” and saw the smoke rising and woke up to the fact it was the Japs.

It was up in Darwin I met a chap called Ron Hamley. When I came out of the Army in February ’43 to help Dad get the harvest off, Ron said: “You’ve got to go and see my parents and tell them how I’m getting on up here”. They lived at Dingee, so when I came home I went up there to meet the family including Ron’s sister Melva, who everyone called Tot.

We had a drought in ’43 and it turned out Dad had no harvest at all, so Mr Hamley got me to help him with his clover harvest. Of course I finished up marrying Tot. We will have been married 65 years next year. We’ve got four children, three boys and a girl. We’ve got 13 grandchildren including two sets of twins – all girls – and 14 great grandchildren.

And I still love condensed milk.


Don’t get me started on condensed milk. I’m not meant to touch it because I have the sugar diabetes, but I wish I could. When I was in the Army I used to go down to the canteen of a night and I’d get a tin of condensed milk and put a hole each side of the top with me bayonet and I’d down the whole lot.

It can’t have done us too much harm. Very few twins both make old age. Before poor old Mum died she said: “After what I learned from rearing you boys, I know I could have saved the first two. Instead they just put them in a shoe box and let them die.”

I went into the Army on the 5th of November ’41 just as I turned 19. It was supposed to be for six months, but after about six weeks the Japanese come in and I didn’t get home from the Army until halfway through ’46 – they kept me back because I wasn’t married.

I didn’t mind the Army. I was in the 38th Battalion. They picked the 39th Battalion to go up to New Guinea first. To bring the 39thup to full strength they lined us up and picked every second man out of the 38th.

The men either side of me are still up there. They ended up on the Kokoda Trail and never came home. We went up to the islands about a year after the 39th – they sent us in to Bougainville to push the Japs out. We were outnumbered by about 15 to one. We would have got a terrible hiding, but the bomb saved us.

I eventually come home and all the girls in my area were all taken or married so I was a lone cocky. There were a couple of us lads who decided at the end of harvest we would go on a trip together, so we had an eight-day bus tour to Adelaide. On that last afternoon we were at the Grosvenor Hotel and I saw a nice girl sitting on a piano stool. That’s how I met my Lil.

We went for a walk and I asked if she would write to me. Trouble was I had no education and could barely write my own name. She was such a brilliant girl and it took a while before I plucked up the courage to write back. We wrote for about 12 months. Then dear old Mum died and Lil had a big goitre operation done by Weary Dunlop and after that we decided to get married.

She was such a wonderful person. We didn’t have children because of how the goitre operation affected the hormones, but we were very happy. She loved the farm, but then she got very sick because the goitre came back and we came off the farm to get treatment.

I lost her in 1996 and I still miss her every day. That’s one thing life has taught me – just how short it is. I don’t know where the 90 years have gone – they have just flown by.

command delete

The graffiti carried a certain resonance. “You can’t backspace life.”

Too right, I thought, slinking to the train wearing a large hat and sunglasses.

It was the morning after the email of the night before.

I’m still not entirely sure how I managed to upload every email address in my computer to a professional networking site.

I’d read the handbook on what not to do on such sites, but somehow managed to transgress every rule with a click of a button. Well, maybe a couple of buttons in nuclear sequence.

The first sign something was wrong was a perplexed email from the dog groomer wondering if I was setting up in opposition. This was followed by one from my old Dad.

I’d love to be part of your ‘professional network’ dear, but couldn’t get past the question how do I know you? There was no box to tick for fruit of my loins.”

With sinking heart I reviewed my sent invitations and saw my life flash before my eyes.

A former Commissioner of Police? OK! But an outlaw motorcycle gang – that shares the name of a well known sporting goods company?

But there I was complete with my best glossy magazine editor photograph and CV including years as a crime writer asking politely to “share updates” with … the Rebels.

The next three hours were spent frantically withdrawing invitations. I’m still not sure how many actually reached their destination.

I’ve not heard from the ex-Commissioner of Police nor the menacing rumble of Harleys, but I have learned the hard way when to click “ignore”.

thyme for sage advice

The continuing flurry of TV cooking shows has shone a light in some very dark cupboards.

Take the colleague who recently confessed to harbouring condiments that had survived transportation from England – making them at least 20 years old.

When I smirkingly told her they were unlikely to become collectible she retorted: “Well, how often do you use your garam masala?”

Not enough evidently, as the evacuation of the entire contents of the kitchen for a recent renovation revealed.

The garam masala had gone grey and become a grandparent while we seemed inexplicably to have cornered the market on yellow and brown mustard seeds with packet after packet including one pre-dating the millennium.

Hands up who has had spices lurking in their cupboard for more than three years?

OK, so dried herbs and spices don’t go “off” or become rancid, but they do lose flavour and aroma.

This is often hastened by the fact we tend to store them in precisely the wrong places: above the stove, near the sink or on a window ledge, exposing them to heat and moisture.

While the cynic might suggest that putting use-by dates on herbs and spices is a clever way for the companies that produce them to sell more, they do contain volatile oils that need to be properly stored.

Eighteenth century poet William Cowper nailed it when he said: “Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour.”

But this doesn’t mean you have to go to life-changing extremes.

At a pinch you can put the pep back into your pepper and a little extra zing into things with a timely visit to a good spice merchant.

careers changing


A colleague recently attended an information night at her son’s school and came away with a mind-boggling mud-map of his future.

Her 10-year-old son, she was told, could expect to have at least six career changes – that’s distinct careers, not jobs – in the course of his working life, which would extend into his 70s and quite possibly beyond.

It’s hard to fathom that it was only a generation or so ago people remained in the same occupational group, if not the same job, for life.

It was actually a source of pride for many to remain with the same employer until they reached pensionable age and it came time to collect the gold watch

Anyone who started work today with the expectation of remaining in the same job for the term of their natural working life would be regarded – at very best – as deeply unimaginative.

As veteran Jobshift careers counsellor Rosemary Eckholm puts it: “There are many jobs that exist right now which are going to become obsolete almost overnight and some of the jobs Gen Z children will wind up doing have barely been dreamed of, much less created.”

There’s many talented, clever Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers people who remain in the workforce who can intellectualise this, but like dinosaurs post-asteroid strike are having difficulty adapting to the changed world.

It’s no longer enough to do your job well. The emphasis is growing, improving, developing, learning, striving, engaging, contributing, volunteering and taking on every challenge headlong.

Anything else and you really are just marking time.

And there will be no gold watch.


here today …

Old people say the darnedest things.

And given that 72 is the new 30 – in terms of post-caveman lifespan – maybe we should start listening.

Take Geoff, one of my mum’s nursing home neighbours.

The tea lady backed out of his room the other day as I was walking past.

She was really quite upset.

Why didn’t someone tell me Geoff was dead?” she appealed.

He’s not, said a passing nurse.

Well, why is he lying there with a sheet over his face?”

We all creep into his room. The nurse, doubting herself now, oh-so-gently pulls back the sheet and asked the waxen, completely motionless form: “Are you OK, Geoff?”

Sure, he replies with a cackle. Just practising!

He has a point. Isn’t that what life is … a very long dress rehearsal for the final performance, the very last reception.

Good nursing homes are surprisingly cheerful places.

The nurses have that droll, slightly black humour that comes with acceptance of the absurdity of a life that sets you up for death.

Still, I can’t understand how they can cope.

Change shifts and the lovely little bird-like Austrian woman who has been there since the home opened in 2009 isn’t there.

Ask, where’s Gertie? and when someone answers “gone” you know they don’t mean out for some Vienna cake.

Robert, one of the newbies in the nursing home, has a cute plush frog taped to the frame of his walker.

What’s the story with the frog, Rob?

It’s to remind you all I could croak any time,” says he.

Ain’t that the truth.