a seniors’ moment

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There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the problems Australia faces as a result of our aging population.

But too often senior members of our community are characterised as a burden when it’s more likely grandma or grandpa are holding things together for the busy modern family.

Almost half of all children who regularly attend some kind of child care are actually looked after by their grandparents, according to ABS statistics. People aged over 65 also do the bulk of looking after people with disabilities.

And, if they are not helping out their own family members, they are helping others, with 35 per cent of people aged between 65 and 85 working as volunteers.

In fact at the last census more than 1 in 10 Australians aged over 65 were working, with 15 per cent of men and almost 7 per cent of women in the 70 – 74 age group employed.

To celebrate Seniors Festival (October 5 – 12) let’s meet a couple of older folk who continue to seize the day.

Ian and Marie Morden have the very world at their fingertips.

As the owners of MapWorks, one of only two businesses in Melbourne dedicated to all things cartological, they’re also whizzes on geography quizzes.

It is a second career for the couple, who opened their North Essendon shop more than two decades ago to keep active in retirement.

Ian, a former corporate personal manager, and his primary school teacher wife, had travelled extensively and also enjoyed a shared interest in antique maps.

We started out framing old maps and selling them at family history expos,” Marie, 81, reveals.

Then we got a little shop and as soon as we started putting maps in the window people started coming in and saying, ‘I want to go to the Cotswolds or wherever, have you got a map’?”

Today MapWorks stocks a full range of Michelin maps as well as family history maps, topographical and gold-prospecting maps.

There’s also what Marie, 81, calls the “huntin’, shootin’ fishin’ section” and off-the-beaten-track guides for the growing number of four-wheel drivers.

It’s a wonderful business to be in,” Marie says.

Everyone who comes in here is happy.

They are all going somewhere, planning something.”

Anyone in search of some sound advice need look no further than Terry Cartwright.

The energetic 84-year-old is something of guru, having volunteered at the Essendon Citizens Advice Bureau for more than 30 years.

It’s a role that’s changed dramatically during the intervening decades, reflecting increasing numbers of people falling below the poverty line.

When I first started you’d get people coming in on their way home from bingo that might just want a bit of information about this or that,” Mrs Cartwright reveals.

Now there are a lot more people coming in wanting financial relief because they just can’t make ends meet.

Increased utilities have caused an awful lot of angst.”

Mrs Cartwright and her fellow CAB volunteers help broker extended payment plans for clients as well as providing $50 vouchers for food, clothing, petrol and parcels of donated food distributed by Helping Hands.

It’s a tough gig, but Mrs Cartwright, a recipient of a Spirit of Moonee Valley award for outstanding community service, finds it rewarding and has no plans to retire any time soon.

We all need a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” she laughs.

Ain’t that the truth.

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about face

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You should never say never.

Last week – after years and years of vociferous declarations that I’d sooner gnaw off my own leg than sign on to the most ubiquitous of social media platforms – I joined Facebook.

Am I the last living person over the age of 15 to do so? Well maybe not, but there have been times when I felt the conversational isolation as keenly as the teenager whose folks refused to let watch Number 96 or Alvin Purple.

Perhaps my stubborn defiance of what has become a new social norm might have continued if it were not for The Running Man.

I was introduced to the man fondly dubbed the Forrest Gump of Moonee Valley by Christian Lonzi, who offered him as an example of one of the extraordinarily galvanising examples of Facebook.

The none-too-sharp photo of an old man running past an advertising hoarding in Essendon attracted an astonishing 1147 likes and 187 comments when Lonzi posted it on his Moonee Valley Memes site a year ago.

It’s a compelling example of how a stranger can intersect so many lives over decades, wearing a track into the very heart of the community and yet, few even know his name.

Judy Swanson wrote: “I first saw him 43 years ago whilst travelling on the No 49 from Airport West on my way to business college in the city. Saw him again recently with my daughter, couldn’t believe he was still running.”

Aldo Farfalla confirmed: “The guy is a legend and runs from Flemington to Essendon every day and has been doing since I was five, possibly longer. Around 40 odd years that I know of.”

While Joe Barbalaco observed the running man was “the first person who said hello when we moved into the area 14 years ago and still running. Inspiration!”

I love this guy. He would run past my shop twice a day and always said hello,” Ljuba Hegedis posted.

And so the comments run on and on.

It’s clear The Running Man has been garnering friends for many years longer than Facebook first began fomenting in Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm.

It’s unnerving to think Zuckerberg’s baby – initially called Facemash and devised as a way to rate fellow students as “hot or not” – should have become so embedded in our lives.

This year Facebook turned 10 – it’s not even old enough to sign up for its own account.

The Facebook statistics are extraordinary.

Allegedly one in every 13 people on earth is on Facebook and it has consistently rated as the most popular social network in Australia for years, with 13,400,000 users as of last month. (August)

Australians also spend more time on Facebook than anyone else – an average of 8.5 hours a week – with 75 per cent of users visiting the site every day.

One in four check Facebook first thing in the morning and last thing at night, they log on at work (34%), school (18%), in the car (13%), in bed (44%) and even in the toilet (6%).

The majority of users are women and 50+ is the fastest growing demographic … which I guess is where I come in.

Clearly there’s no running away any longer.

 

takes the cake

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‘Tis once again the season when the much-loved lamington turns from teacake to time bomb on the highly competitive turf of the show circuit.

Even as I write women and men across Victoria are slaving in their kitchens to perfect their plates of four absolutely uniform lamingtons.

This year the Royal Melbourne Show cookery folk have added a little extra icing on the cake by introducing a new “creative” class to celebrate 60 years of lamington competition.

Pitting lairy lamingtons against the traditional is certain to upset the purists who even scorn the inclusion of jam; saying this benign Victorian variation is nothing short of scandalous.

Sharon Douglas, the winner of best lamington in show in 2013, welcomes the addition of the creative category, but will unfortunately not be contesting this year.

But, the St Arnaud farmer and CWA cookery judge offers a tip that could prove the winning edge.

It is important your cubes are actually cubes and the angles are right angles and that your edges stay sharp when you put them in the chocolate mixture because when you put them in the chocolate they can round off,” she reveals.

Instead of using an icing mixture for the cake I use a chocolate gelatine mixture.”

Who will triumph in the Royal Melbourne Show’s 2014 Great Lamington Challenge is almost as deep a mystery as the origin of this little Aussie icon which is shrouded by the dessicated coconut of time.

Despite feeble attempts by the New Zealanders to swipe the “lemington” in addition to the pavlova, there seems no doubt that the great coated cake originated in Queensland.

According to legend it was there in the late 1800s that someone either accidentally dropped or deliberately dunked a block of sponge or butter cake, which may or may not have been already stale, into some chocolate, then rolled it in coconut in a bid to overcome a catering problem at Government House.

The incumbent Governor, one Charles Cochrane-Baillie and 2nd Baron Lamington, was said to be deeply unimpressed to have his good name given to a cake and called them “those bloody poofy woolly biscuits”.

A far more prosaic but plausible story containing no profanities or politically incorrect inferences is that the lamington was invented by Amy Schauer, a teacher of cookery at the Central Technical College and named it in honour of the Baron’s wife – an enthusiastic patron of the school.

Indeed, there is a recipe for a whole cake dipped in chocolate icing and sprinkled in coconut in the 1909 Schauer Cookery Book.

Just as there are Jack the Ripper experts who have devoted themselves to the great murder mystery so, too, are there lamington scholars who have applied their learned minds to the cookery conundrum.

Foremost is Towoomba academic, historian and author Professor Maurice French who produced a 272 page tome on the subject titled: The Lamington Enigma: a survey of the evidence.

The first record of the cake being cut up into little squares appears in the Kookaburra Cookery Book, produced by Adelaide’s Lady Victoria Buxton Girls Club in 1912.

Like pre-sliced bread, this was the making of the lamington. It swiftly spread across the land to become the staple of fund-raising cake stalls, Australia Day parties and citizenship ceremonies.

And this is why, blue ribbon or no, we eat this little cake hand on heart.

pursuit of hirsute

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The husband was incredulous.

“I just can’t believe you would ask any man to do that, let alone a virtual stranger,” mine own sweet Samson spluttered.

Keep your hair on! I’m no Delilah.

I merely observed truthfully that an up-and-coming young actor would have more chance of securing a coveted Weekly Review cover sans the free-range facial hair.

The publicist, being a discerning woman with a son of a similar age, concurred and she spoke to the actor’s agent who in turn established his client was not really all that wedded to his wild west whiskers.

Just what is it with the outbreak of facial hair and so many lads styling themselves after Wolverine’s kid brother?

It’s disconcerting to find your barista looks like he’s auditioning for an Edward Lear limerick. Just what’s in there: two owls and a hen, four larks and a wren?

It’s not that I’m a beardist. Not by the hair of my chinny, chin, chin.

It’s just that the current fashion seems to dictate that beards command exactly the same amount of attention as underarm hair – indeed some look like exactly that … transplanted.

The nearest and dearest male folk in my family are bearded. My dad first grew his when he took on his first major management role back in the ’70s to try to lend some gravitas to an excessively boyish face.

My brother has sported various facial hair configurations since his last year at high school and I have never known my husband without a beard.

Indeed he’s been a proud defender of facial fuzz since he was 18 and the manager of his newspaper told him he would have to shave off his beard if he could not find three people on the street who were similarly hirsute.

Of course, he made a few phone calls and rigged the afternoon challenge.

Perhaps it is the fault of Communists that facial hair provoked such suspicion for the best part of the 20th century.

Even today it attracts some fuzzy logic.

Last year British broadcaster Jeremy Paxman briefly became the poster boy for the Beard Liberation Front after he defied BBC convention and presented the Newsnight program with a neat salt and pepper goatee, causing a social media storm.
Paxman went so far as to accuse his bosses of pogonphobia, reviving an archaic term derived from the Greek word for beard (pogon) and fear (phobus).

But then he left many of his long-bewhiskered brothers to wonder what all the fuzz was about when he shaved clean 147 days later.

Closer to home 16 Victorian police officers recently lodged an application with the Supreme Court in a bid to avoid the razor gang.

The application is for leave to appeal the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) finding that Chief Commissioner Ken Lay’s no beards edict was not discriminatory as it specifically exempted those grown on medical, cultural or religious grounds.

While I’m not quite sure where this would leave Conchita Wurst, the bearded Austrian drag queen who won Eurovision, it seems to me very perverse to allow the growing of beards for any reason except for actually wanting one.

And quite frankly, on the face of it, when it comes to promoting positive policing, better beards than fascist black shirts

 

set them free

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The walk to the summit of Tomaree Head is not the easiest, but the climb has its own reward.

Standing 160m above the entrance to Port Stephens it offers one of the most stunning views on the NSW North Coast and is one of the reasons when people holiday, as we are now in Shoal Bay, the summit walk tends to become as much a part of daily routine as breakfast and breathing.

But, the last time we came here my husband was still not quite well enough to make the climb, which seemed all the more reason for me to do it – carrying the aspirations of both of us in my backpack, along with an engraved padlock to mark our 20th anniversary.

I’m still not quite sure what came over me. I’ve never had the slightest inclination to carve names in wet cement, etch initials into the bark of a tree or even take out a Valentine’s Day message publicly proclaiming Lambkin I Love You.

Whether it was the seductive power of all those other sweethearts clamped to rails around the uppermost viewing deck or perhaps even altitude sickness, truth is I committed a small act of vandalism in the name of love

Love hurts, so much so that it is destroying some of the world’s great attractions.

The combined weight of thousands of engraved love locks have already caused significant damage to the landmark Paris bridges the Pont des Arts and the Pont de l’ Archeveche and the craze is spreading down the Seine.

Panels and even lamp posts have been weighed down by expressions of ardour, and it seems the City of Love has finally reached its limits, launching a campaign to stop the locks with signs proclaiming “Our Bridges Can No Longer Withstand Your Gestures of Love”

Paris in not alone, though it appears mainly over-water bridges are troubled. The craze has afflicted the Ponte Veccchio in Florence, the Ponte Milvio in Rome, the Humber Bridge in Toronto, the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin, the Hohenzollern in Cologne, the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, the SeaCliff Bridge near Wollongong and latterly the Pony Island footbridge across the Yarra.

While it has only been in the last decade the love lock phenomena has really taken hold, the tradition is said to date back to World War I when a young woman deserted by her soldier-lover in the Serbian spa town of Vrnjacka Banja died broken-hearted.

Other young women keen to avoid her fate locked on to their lovers by placing padlocks on the town’s main bridge.

Climbing the stairs with the man this holiday, I carried with me the key and fully intended to unchain my heart now that my wish had been granted. But on reaching the top I discovered all the locks were gone.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service staff who removed the lock explained that locks made of different metals were causing electrolysis, corroding and damaging lookout railings.

However, realising they hold significance to some people, the NWPS has have kept hundreds of love locks that have been forcibly uncoupled and even returned several on request. The NPWS is now considering erecting a sign to deter the practice, which could be followed by fines for those apprehended in the act.

Yesterday we climbed the summit again and there were five new locks clipped in place.

It’s a deadlock then, for now.

 

 

something is rotten

Hamlet taxidermy mouse

On the faux stone fireplace wall of our wildly misplaced 1960s-70s Austrian ski chalet there is the stuffed and mounted head of a rabbit.

This extraordinary trophy was presented to me one birthday by my husband who explained that the space was too small for the ubiquitous stag head and, in any event, he couldn’t afford one.

Another woman might have told him to get stuffed, but for once in my life I was completely speechless.

You could call Colin a comeback.

A smallish white and grey long-dead cockerel of indeterminate breed, I had Colin mounted on an upturned KFC “backyard bucket”.

It took some doing to persuade the suspicious pimpled “customer service leader” to hand over an empty, unused bucket for which I was prepared to pay $5.

He said it was policy that only people who bought a super-sized vat of deep fried chicken pieces could have the container and got quite stroppy when told in that case I’d still need an empty bucket to throw up in.

Colin came from the kind of shop filled with taxidermied animals, distressed Ukrainian garden implements and ancient dentists’ chairs that seems to be popping up everywhere.

While it’s nice to be on-trend in the stuffed animal department, I think maybe we are approaching peak taxidermy after stumbling across a site called Rest In Pieces.

Rest In Pieces – described as Australia’s largest taxidermy workshop in Thomastown – runs DIY day-long introductory classes which are routinely sold out.

The $500 classes are led by Natalie Delaney-John – an attractive, well-groomed blonde who doesn’t exactly scream mouse mortician.

According to the Rest In Pieces website “everyone will be given their own mouse to work on as they are guided step-by-step through the correct technique and process to skin, preserve and mount a standing specimen.

Everything is supplied, including mouse, tools, aprons, lunch and a glass of bubbles to celebrate the end of a day that promises to be like no other.”

But the best part is you get to go home with your own dead mouse, only now it’s standing on its own hind legs begging to be given a decent burial.

Presumably if you stuffed enough mice you could make a mouse chess set, or cutesy diorama of dancing mice or tableaux of mice playing tennis.

This taxidermy craze has already taken hold in the UK where there are now DIY kits available for $50.

Each kit contains everything a budding taxidermist needs, from surgical gloves, scalpel, PVA glue, long needle-nosed pliers, galvanised wire to Liquacure Tanning Solution and Borax.

It’s the same thing in New York where people are reportedly enrolling in “anthropomorphic taxidermy” classes in droves.

Now mice are pests, but it seems most of the critters being transformed into bizarre coffee table ornaments like “the Hamlet mouse complete with cape, ruffle and mini skull” were commercially bred for the purpose of feeding reptiles.

What if all this extra demand is inflating the cost of mice, leaving the poor pythons out of pocket?

I definitely smell a rat somewhere.

It seems like you can’t turn round these days without finding a dead animal peering at you from some quarter, I observe to the hubby in the shadow of an orxy watching mournfully over proceedings in my local.

If that fell on you, I wonder, would they’d say you were impala-ed.