This time last year I posted a haiku from my Haikubes set.

This year I challenged myself to use all the words that were thrown. Here’s what was created. Like a jigsaw without definable edges it has a sense of not quite knowing its boundaries. I admit, it loses its oomph towards the end … but I decided not to rearrange the top, so it is what it is.

I invite you to create your own version of a poem – which I will post on my blog.

For the sleuths: can you find the extra word I inserted into my poem, above what I rolled out initially?

First Preserves

2kg went into the apricot chutney, 4kg went into the plum chutney, and around 4kg of apricots were stewed.

There’s nothing quite like cooking up a storm on days of 35° Celsius!

We don’t have a deep freezer within which I can store my bulk produce in stasis until such time as a cold winter’s day would benefit from an extra 10° in the kitchen to complement our heater’s noble work … as my Mary Blackie cookbook advises. (It stands to reason that we also don’t have a cellar for natural cold storage because our house, like most Australian houses, is not built with such “innovations” – a ridiculous concept by any European baseline. I mean, it’s not as if we don’t have the room!) So I find myself cooking up my stone fruit when I receive it: in midsummer heat, in my dress that I reserve for the hottest of hot days and in which I still sweat from the extra – unneeded – 10° of calefaction. With the house shut up against the sweltering temperatures our kitchen ended up even hotter than outside … *sigh*

My good friend mentioned that she would “drop some excess fruit over” for me. What turned up on my doorstep were two enormous boxes laden with fruit the colour and taste of summer – so voluminous that I wondered whether she had, indeed, kept any for herself (she assured me she did, with more to come still on the trees).

Cue a glorious day of cooking: cutting up and weighing the fruit, adding the rest of the ingredients depending on how many times I’m multiplying the recipe, simmering it on the two most suited hotplates of my stove (back right and front left), sterilising the jars in a huge pot of boiling water, then pouring the flavoursome goodness into the hot jars and sealing them … all while singing along to the perfect music for the occasion. Taking a rest after being on my feet for a couple of hours, I find the *pop* of the jar-lids sucking into a vacuum as the jars and their contents cool down a VERY satisfying sound: the audible indicator of purposeful work, well-done.

With this batch of fruit I made chutney, because I depleted my home-made chutney store two years ago (especially since I discovered how it transforms an ordinary porridge into a whizz-bang burst of flavour – nothing less than alchemy in that!). Last year was a lean year for bulk fruit: not only was there little on the trees (probably due to lack of rain), I missed some of my “usual hauls” because I didn’t track the seasons accurately: working from home, along with the cancellation of all social events which customarily punctuate my calendar and delineate what time of year of it is, reduced my ability to “track my year” as 2020 seemed to flow into one long day rather than a series of days …

I am optimistic that this will be a great year for preserves, with this first batch already manifested in January! As my first-ever cookbook was titled, a taste of things to come …


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Our loganberries fruit in summer. Fresh from the vine they are delicious snacks, full of fruity wholesomeness. Every year some of the berries inevitably get fried in the intense heat – maybe a metal fence was not the best place for their trellis after all, although the vine does expand every year. New growth appears and the expanse of the vine increases, despite the old-season’s leaves shrivelling from sunburn.

The berries which have been ‘sun dried by nature’ (admittedly not within a regulated process) transform into hard lozenges akin to boiled lollies. No longer fresh-berry-soft they are nevertheless an interesting eating experience. They burst with flavour so intense it’s like a rush of blood to the head. One crunchy bite and I can positively feel my bloodstream coursing truckloads of Vitamin C all around my body, carrying renewed vigour and health to all my internal organs. It’s that powerful a sensation! Almost addictive after a handful in one grazing sesh**.

I pick these hardened berries and ‘reconstitute’ them by soaking them in water. Guess what! The resulting juice (with the remaining stalks and leaves strained off) makes the most delicious and refreshing drink! Just perfect for a hot summer evening, unadulterated or effervescent with added fizzy water (soda, tonic or mineral).

Then I add the now-soft-again berries to morning muesli. Delicious! And my evening fruit salad. Double delicious!

I don’t like to waste the produce our garden produces, so I’m pleased to have stumbled on this method of ‘rehabilitation’ of what looks like something too-far-gone to be useful… it was a moment of mad genius, a stray ‘what if’ thought that worked! (Just be careful of the prickles if you’re trying this at home … but then, if you’re trying this at home, you’ll already know that …)


*There is no apostrophe missing in this title. It’s simply the abbreviation of the full word loganberries, such abbreviations being a key feature of Australian English.

**Australian vernacular for session.

Ushering in the New Year

2018/19 – in the midst of the Black Summer bushfires

Many people are glad to see the back of 2020. For all our projections of 2020 vision at the start of the year, our hopeful plans of what was to come, our 2020 hindsight is vastly different.

I know that when Victoria opened up (in November, out of our second lockdown, after nine months of iso), social events appeared in my diary again and I wondered, “Where did I find the time?” And that was with only one or two social events! It was a really different feeling after such a long time to be driving somewhere to something … rather than grabbing another cuppa to Zoom something …

With its enforced complete change of routine, 2020 allowed me to catch up on sleep for the first time in at least 20 years (since I joined the Motherhood Club) or even earlier! Consistently having one hour’s extra sleep because I was not commuting, alongside no social engagements keeping me up beyond my preferred bedtime, turns out to be a highly effective solution for wellness.

I wondered about my need for social interaction versus how much I – ‘endure’ is perhaps too strong a word (even if the sentiment is accurate). Turns out, as long as I have my husband around to cuddle I don’t need too much face-to-face contact with others. Not that I don’t like it, just that I can do without it. Another valuable learning from the year.

I realise how lucky I am to have a Significant Other around (my friends who live on their own had a vastly significantly different experience of lockdown), especially my Significant Other whose company I enjoy, and who enjoys my company. Our imposed working from home meant we spent a LOT of time together … and it turned out to be a rediscovery of things I hadn’t been aware we’d lost along the way, the busy demands of a modern lifestyle revolving around our children having slowly eroded our time together. How lovely to have the time to chat at leisure rather than firing off a curt reminder as we’re rushing out the door to our external demands. How amazing to find, looking back over three decades, that we still have things in common and WANT to share our time, that we both feel happier for that. I am grateful that the global Pause button turned out to be a Reconnect and Rediscover button (as it was for many people): that’s something I don’t want to lose sight of again.

Statements that 2020 hasn’t been all-bad have flushed the media, and I am certainly aware of the gains I have made personally. I am equally aware of the privilege of my position: living in a first-world country with stellar health care and government support for my trouble-and-strusband‘s lost work; my work (therefore, our income and as a flow-on, our ability to pay all our bills) unaffected; in a secure house not damaged by the Black Summer bushfires which preceded the Covid-19 lockdown by mere months (many are still living in caravans one year later); with fresh vegetables from our country garden forming the base of our daily meals … I recognise that we are very fortunate indeed and I am immensely grateful for that.

In terms of ushering in the New Year, Sydney is the first big display on the international circuit of fireworks. The multi-million dollar display from the Harbour Bridge is watched around the world. The ‘northern beaches outbreak’ (that’s where the best views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House are from) has brought Sydney under lockdown again, over Christmas and into the New Year. This has necessitated curtailing of the New Year’s Eve festivities: no 9pm fireworks (the family-friendly version) and limited fireworks at midnight with few attendees, the “vantage points around the Harbour … reserved for frontline workers this New Year’s Eve to say thank you for keeping the community safe throughout the year“.

May we recognise – and appreciate – the positives of this incredibly difficult year.

May we give gratitude for the gains we made – and maintained – through iso.

May 2021 continue – and further – the blessings of 2020.


trouble-and-strusband: the equal opportunity version of trouble-and-strife?

trouble-and-strife: rhyming slang for ‘wife’. Rhyming slang arrived in Australia with the cockney convicts. No longer in common usage, especially in millenial generations, it’s still fun to use.

Covid Christmas

To end a Covid-constrained year we now have a Covid-constrained holiday period. My thoughts go out to all the people who can’t share festivities – from all cultural and religious backgrounds – with their families this year. My heart is heavy from the people who are no longer with us, due to Covid (and indeed from other reasons).

It’s certainly been a year like no other that I’ve experienced! A year of changes on many levels, both external and internal = an opportunity for personal and societal realignment, and consequent growth. Individuals have their own reflections on the impact of the devastation and generosity of this year, in equal or unequal doses depending on personal circumstances. May we all recognise the gifts that this year brought, alongside the pain.

May the environment – the healing of which made such great progress when the world stopped in lockdown – be able to maintain its momentum towards health. May we humans take note – and not wantonly destroy it again, just to get jets in the sky ‘because our pleasure is more important than the health of our host planet’.

With Australia having predominantly Christian-settler background the biggest Christian festivals (Easter and Christmas) are granted public holidays. These two Christmas-themed items sum up 2020 as a year like no other:

West Gate Stories

Lightbulb moment: the West Gate Bridge is thusly named because it is the Gateway to the West!

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet it’s something I never questioned: this feat of construction is something that was always in my childhood and I never stopped to think about its whys and the wherefores.

I had this elucidation mere months ago, while commuting from Melbourne’s northern suburbs (where my mother lives) to the western suburbs (where my son’s house recently burnt down). Traversing routes I don’t frequent caused me to reflect more closely on their names, and what they represent in the historical context of Melbourne town. Such as that Sunshine is the birthplace1 of the Sunshine Harvester, that piece of farming equipment that revolutionised the way farmers … you guessed it … harvested their crops, around the turn of the (19th to 20th) century. Who’d’a thunk?

Here’s a fun fact about Sunshine: I heard that Sunshine was called such because it has fewer rainy days than other areas of Melbourne. Lovely thought, isn’t it? However, it’s totally unverified – although the map in the link does support it…

When I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s the western suburbs were dangerous places, where a lot of crime happened: if there were murders or bashings on the news, they always seemed to come from here. The Italian and Greek immigrants who settled there after the Second World War were, as first-generation immigrants often are, impoverished and working manual jobs (regardless of what qualifications they had and what jobs they used to do in their home countries). The western suburbs were not the only places these people settled – many moved to the eastern suburbs where I grew up as they became more affluent.

The arrival of Vietnamese refugees (as a consequence of the devastation of the war) into the western suburbs gentrified the area – not so much in Sunshine, but in adjacent suburbs. These days it’s a mix of ‘residential suburb with a mix of period and post-War homes, with a town centre that is an important retail centre in Melbourne’s west’. I’ve never spent much time in Sunshine – it wasn’t a place people went to willingly during the ’70s and ’80s, and I haven’t lived in Melbourne since then. Spending time hanging out with my son, I have been impressed with this little area of Melbourne and can understand why he likes to live there!


The West Gate Bridge is a little scary to drive for people who are not used to it. With five lanes in each direction the volume of traffic it carries at any one time is impressive. When an accident occurs the traffic is often stopped across all lanes in one direction, for hours – not an incentive to use that thoroughfare, especially for impatient people with lots to do.

With Son as learner driver we were trying to get to a suburb we weren’t familiar with. Using GPS we approached the Montague Street intersection. (Everyone who listens to Melbourne radio would be familiar with this street name, regardless of whether they have seen it in real life, because it is always on t

he traffic reports with hold-ups…)

Long story short, we were in the far right lane and worked out – too late – we had to be in one of the three left lanes to get to our destination. We had one suburban block to do it … in gridlocked traffic. Son enthused, “That’s ok, I can do that!” as he switched the left indicator on. To his credit, he got across two lanes … but we were still one short, so we ended up going over the bridge. Never one to miss a teaching moment, I used it to explain about bridge-etiquette: “Don’t change lanes on a bridge – or in a tunnel, for that matter – because if there is an accident there’s no way out, and you can be stuck for HOURS.”

When we got to the other side guess what the lady in my phone asked us to do: turn around and go right back again! So that’s what we did.

We did eventually find our destination, and we had enjoyed the scenic route.

1 Actually it appears that Sunshine was named after the harvester company; that town (completely separate to Melbourne) was originally named Braybrook Junction. These days Sunshine and Braybrook are adjacent western suburbs, with Sunshine being more ‘recognisable’, no doubt because it’s on the trainline, whereas Braybrook is not.

West Gate Story

Fifty years ago Australia experienced its second-worst construction disaster. Here are my memories: my humble contribution to this story of national psyche.

The West Gate Bridge is shown with the Yarra River in the foreground and Melbourne's skyline in the background.
The West Gate Bridge today

The West Gate Bridge is a vital piece of infrastructure which connects Melbourne’s Central Business District to the Western suburbs. Prior to the bridge’s completion this route was slow and haphazard, due to the geography of Melbourne having water to traverse.

It seems like I’ve always known the story of the West Gate Bridge’s collapse on during its construction: it’s always been part of my understanding of the world, despite my being too young on 15 October 1970 to actually remember it.

A black and white photograph of emergency workers at the scene of the collapsed West Gate Bridge in 1970.
35 people died and a further 18 were injured

The fiftieth anniversary of the collapse, with its accompanying interviews of survivors and media releases of the time played on the radio, brought these memories of mine to mind:


The bridge was finished eight years after its collapse; the first cars went over it on 15 November 1978. I was in Grade Six, my last year of primary school. Our fantastic teacher, Mr Tyrell, took us on a school excursion to walk the bridge before it was opened up to traffic. Truthfully! It’s unfathomable, in contemporary times of government red-tape and legally-constrained risk management, that such a school excursion would be permitted … yet there we were, thirty ten-year-olds, walking around freely, 58 metres (190 feet) high in the sky, enjoying the view of the docks way down below, the cars like ants snaking through the streets … ‘protected from falling’ by a hip-height guard rail …

I remember taking it all in and saying to my friend, “You know how seagulls fly really high?” I waited till she nodded her affirmation, then continued, “Well, look at them way down there!” Her gasp of realisation confirmed my own cognition: This. Bridge. Is. High.

My Grade Six teacher was inspiring. However, I’m sure we were not the only school class to walk the bridge in the three months between its completion and official opening: still, a school excursion with ten-year-olds!! That would never happen today!

West Gate Bridge and Melbourne skyline, May 1978.
By about 3 pm it will be possible to walk across the bridge, from Port Melbourne to Williamstown. But it will be at least late August before West Gate is opened to traffic.

1978 was a different era: Melbourne was a provincial town with close-knit community and social interaction. Kids spent their days outside and were given responsibility to get themselves to and from places. My final observation is that my excursion – which we children took in our stride as something exciting and fun, yet not overly remarkable – occurred decades before the suicide-prevention fences went up.


Aniko’s inagural issue

I recently sent an entry in to a new online magazine, for their inaugural issue. The delightedly-overwhelmed (to clarify, that means that she was overwhelmed for all the right reasons) editor, Emily Riches, sent this reply to my submission:

Dear Annabel,

Thank you so much for submitting Mopping Up to Aniko Press Magazine. Unfortunately, we will not be able to include your submission in our first issue. However, we’d like you to know that your piece was a strong contender for a place in the magazine and made it onto our long list. 

Myself and the reading team were blown away by the quality and number of entries we received for our first issue (over 270!), and it was an absolute pleasure to read your work among them. I’d encourage you to keep writing and keep submitting, as it would be fantastic to see your work find a literary home. 

Once again, thanks so much for sharing your writing with us. And, of course, I would love you to submit again when we open for submissions for our second issue. 

All the best,

Emily Riches

Founder – Aniko Press

0466 717 824

It’s a common understanding that a rejection is a bad thing, that someone hasn’t made the grade that is required to be successful. However, Emily’s email does not feel like one written to a failure about a substandard product: in contrast, it feels like a HUGE encouragement award about a submission that, had Aniko‘s inaugural issue been 200 pages longer, would have fitted in seamlessly! And to be longlisted, at that! (That’s only the second time in my life I’ve been longlisted for anything … see this blog post to find out about the first time.)

My attitude to rejection is that it’s not a personal reflection on me: it’s a reflection on where my work sits in relation to others’ work, at a particular point in time. Maybe I’ve arrived at this point because I have often felt I’ve been walking a parallel road to others (rather than being in sync with them, on the same road), and yet my path has not felt wrong (just different). I’ve been acutely aware for many years that I perceive things a little bit differently to the masses … and that’s okay with me, because I’m finding that as I get older the people around me increasingly see things the way I do … which either means they’ve finally seen my light (the one I see or the one that shines out of me?), or we’re all walking the same misguided track in shared darkness … either way, it’s nice to have company.

Well that became a pleasant distraction ….

One thing I love about having the opportunities out in the world for me to submit my personal works to is that it gives me a good reason to revisit my ample archival works, and then rework them. It’s so much fun to talk a ‘raw product’ and edit and fine-tune it till it becomes a ‘public-worthy product’. Of course the difference between those two states is totally subjective, and others may not agree that what I submit is actually ‘public-worthy’, but they are those on a parallel path to me.

So I’ve taken the opportunity to put my Mopping Up poem into a local poetry competition: fire-fighting is, after all, an active pastime where I live in the country, that every resident can relate to, regardless of whether they are firefighters themselves or not.

Watch this space!


Issue 1 of Aniko Press Magazine is now available! 
If you’d like to check it out, you can purchase a copy from our website at:

Andrew James

What is the measure of a person’s life? How is someone’s entire existence encapsulated, their legacy summed up? It’s an impossible task … the effects of a life stretch far and wide, with ripples seen and unseen, in ways that can sometimes be tangibly recognised and more often amorphously, intrinsically, yet not definably felt.

Recently a very dear friend of mine passed away unexpectedly. Life events like this are guaranteed to bring questions of mortality to the forefront: especially when they concern one’s nearest and dearest, the select few individuals that fortunate people have, counted on one hand, who you know have your back no matter what … Mere words, mere images cannot satisfactorily express the depth of such a loss, the pulling loose – or tucking under and tying in – of the threads of my life that were woven together from our shared experience, which are no longer living and growing, supple and supportive and offering me protection … I am indelibly changed by my dear friend not being a presence in my life anymore …

Lior contends through beautiful music that “compassion is the measure of a man“. Although I agree with this it seems to fall short in terms of my life-long friend, whose influence on my life extended beyond our compassion for each other. Our unequivocal acceptance of each other in all our soul-nakedness built the foundation of the enduring unconditional love forged between us, which lasted more than thirty-five years. I’m sure that this is why mere words and images feel inadequate to describe and define him …

So, Andrew James Skadins:

I have been set adrift, immersed and enveloped in a sea of grief.

Such depth of loss that you are no longer here is replaced by equal depth of gratitude,

that you were in my life – playing such a pivotal role –

for such an enduring (in years and in quality) time.

I’m reminded of this post and Andrew, my dear friend, you can rest assured:

between us, we completed Steps 1-3 in abundance;

and I will not forget you … at least, not until I can’t remember my own name …

As Trevor Hall says, “you can’t rush your healing“. This loss will take time.

I miss you, my friend.

Reedsy Review #7

Renewal by Sandeep Nath

This book captures the zeitgeist: it has so many “Aha!” moments it benefits from re-reading. Its premise is a selected audience with Guru Pranachandra, whose message the author Sandeep Nath channelled. Through this forum ten habits of renewal in three areas (Self-Renewal, Symbiotic Renewal and Systemic Renewal) are presented.

The content is profound, and well worth the personal investment of time to read it and reflect on its messages: it’s a gift to yourself.

Read my review here: