Boise, Idaho, more than just potatoes.

By Sue Trollip

I took a family vacation to Boise, Idaho a few weekends ago. An odd destination made apparent by the bold looks of disbelief I received whenever I mentioned it beforehand. (Why Boise? Well, it was a scientific decision as are all well-planned holidays … basically we calculated the amount of hours we could spend in a car together while still remaining friends and found a place no one had visited on that arc of the map.)

We tried to set off early so the munchkins could sleep … a most enticing theory.

Half an hour before we reached our breakfast destination I got pulled over by the cops. He took one look into the car, explained some law that was not applicable in the State where I got my drivers licence and, with a look of sympathy at our car resembling an African taxi minus the chickens, waved us off.

It felt Karoo-like. I loved the drive.

flatBreakfast pancakes, more driving. Hotel check-ins and a walk home from dinner. And the deliciously oppressive heat. Ah yes 40C at 8pm.

riverRiver rafting down the Snake River.

Visiting the Botanical Gardens.

botEating Idaho potato ice-creams at the Westside drive-in diner.

spudMeandering, relaxing, soaking up the sunshine.

Then we drove home.

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Acquiring Stuff, Letting Go of Stuff, Acquiring Stuff Again…

by Susan Roberts

From the time I made the decision to follow my sister to Australia, I cut back on acquiring stuff. I already had loads of things, and I wanted most of them to go with me to a new life Down Under, but there was the question of space in a container to be weighed against the cost of possible replacement.

I worked out, from what my sister’s container had cost, a rough cost per cubic metre, then added a bit to allow for inflation in the years before I would need to send my goods. I came up with a rough figure of R2000 per cubic metre of space. For the next three years, I calculated everything I owned in terms of how many I could fit into a cubic metre, and what the replacement cost would be if I bought those things anew in Australia.

For example, I could fit a lot of books into a cubic metre, whereas the equivalent of R2000 in Australia – about $200 – would not buy me enough books to fill even half that space. So all the books were definitely going. Or so I thought at the time!

On the opposite extreme my washing machine – a top-loading piece of junk made by a company that should have stuck to the manufacture of televisions – was just a wasted cubic metre. I knew I could pick up something better second-hand in Oz for a lot less. Of course, I was suitably cheesed off when the offending top-loader turned up its toes a few months before I left, and I had to splash out on a brand new one to tide me over the last six to eight months. Fortunately I was able to re-sell that one.

Many people had warned me not to take appliances or electrical goods, especially my TV which was probably what Noah and his family had watched footage of the rains on around the time of the flood. I had also been told by others who had gone to various places around the world, that one should only take what cannot be replaced. In other words, the sentimental things such as family heirlooms and precious memorabilia that no amount of money can ever buy back.

Being a sentimental type I had plenty of those. My mother’s Imbuia kist was filled with, among other treasures, her wedding dress, my first tutu, a ballet shoe signed by my favourite ballerina, several generations of photo albums and an ancient Bible containing the family tree dating back to 1799.

Also in the kist was a shoebox containing my grandfather’s hand-written World War 1 diaries. I had painstakingly transcribed those diaries word for word onto computer about ten years before, because they were too faint to be photocopied or even scanned, but nothing would induce me to part with the originals. It was here, between those worn leather covers that I had discovered, page by meticulous page, what my grandfather had been like as a young man not yet 21.

Here, etched in faded indelible pencil, was the person I resembled most in my family, not only in my pale looks, but in a shared desire to become a writer. His small, neat, legible (thank God!) handwriting alternated between that era’s customary yearning to go to war because it was the right thing to do, and the frustration of sitting in a tent in the desert, waiting for something exciting to happen. It never did.

I digress. Back to the more recent past.

All of my sentimental plans changed when I realised that I could not afford a full container. One whole container for a single book-obsessed individual seemed a bit over-indulgent and, well… greedy.

Enter the concept of the Move Cube. This was a much better idea for someone who wasn’t intending to take most of her furniture.

I let go of beautiful but shabby cottage furniture that I have gathered since I first started working in the early 80s. Some of it was hard to part with, but some had served its purpose and needed to move on as much as I did. The saddest loss was 60% of my beloved book collection. To ease the parting I made sure that most of the books went to organisations and individuals who would appreciate them.

Those of you who follow my posts on this blog will know that the remaining 400 or so books and other precious possessions (apart from my cats) were successfully loaded into the Move Cube back in mid-June. Inevitably, when the time came to pack my suitcases two weeks later, I had far too much stuff. I dissolved into tears and elicited a promise from my close friend Catherine to post me the excess. This she did.

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My cats arrived safe and sound towards the end of July, and they have settled in very well. As you can see from the photos, they are enjoying their new food bowls and new scratch post. Last week Catherine’s two huge boxes arrived via a freight company, and my cats and I spent a happy evening reuniting with some of my treasures.

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And the rest of my stuff? Well, the sands of time have run through the narrow waist of the glass, the ship with my Move Cube has already docked in Melbourne Harbour, and it is almost time for my worldly goods to be delivered to their new address. Soon, I hope to be unpacking and dusting off some precious memories.

Watch this space…!

Communication – The Broken Telephone

by Penny Mitchell – Communications that Matter

Broken Telephone is a party game we played in my youth. The purpose is to whisper a message person to person until it is spoken aloud by the last in line. The game makes fun of poor listening and language skills. For it to be effective, the final version of an original sentence should bear some resemblance in structure, but mean something hysterically different.

Invariably the outcome fails to inspire a belly-aching response, because people don’t get the point or follow the rules. Often a smart-alec mucks up the game by inserting a different mBroken telephone - freedigitalimages.netessage or hi-jacking the original completely. Others think the challenge is to speak so that the receiver cannot get the message.

As the self-conscious perfectionist and English lover I was in those days (now less of the former), with sensitive hearing and good diction, I found the game frustrating and usually avoided it.

Drag that through to today’s world, it is easy to see why a simple thing like reporting a breakdown and booking a tow might cause me some consternation. The process entailed several interactions. I contacted my friend and mechanic who came to my home to examine the car and see if it could be driven away for fixing – no problems there – I trust him implicitly.

The games began when I had to convey his instructions to my insurance service provider in order to arrange a tow (for a car with locked brakes) by a truck which was below a certain height restriction and available at a specific time the next day.

I called the insurance company and went through several electronic selections and a security screening, before speaking with a pleasant person in Customer Service, who seemed to have a hearing defect. Also the name, Penny, is not helpful in this context. I think perhaps I should space it out phonetically, like P—e—neeeee. We wrestled through the preliminaries, including the pick-up address (my home which is already on their system) and destination details. Fortunately, I was in no immediate danger and, to be fair, my request was non-standard.

After several repetitions, I was happy that I had conveyed the following message – book a tow truck, not a flat-bed because there is a height restriction, for 8.30 a.m. tomorrow morning, because the parking is communal and will be cleared by then, as will a space in my mechanic’s yard (destination). I must have stressed three times at least that the vehicle’s brakes were locked and the vehicle could not be moved. I also stated that I had to leave for a meeting at 9.30 a.m. – and so would all this be possible? I was assured that it was and advised that somebody else would contact the tow company to arrange everything. Wow, that was easy, I thought.

About half an hour later, I got a call from an indiscernible name and company who informed me that he was on his way and please could I give him my whereabouts. I assumed he was from the towing company, but was wary. A rough record of our conversation is as follows:

“But you are not supposed to be here until tomorrow morning.”

“I’m already on the M13, on my way to you. Please give me your address.”

“You should have my address and you’re not supposed to be here until tomorrow.”

“But I’m on my way.”

“But you’re not supposed to be.”

“Please call and tell them to call me.”

At that point, I wondered who was serving who? I called the insurance provider and spoke to a different person. I gave my reference number and the person confirmed the original booking time, apologised and said he would get the tow truck turned around.

At 8.35 a.m. the following day, the same driver informed me he had arrived and ‘please would I show him where my car was’. I went down to the basement parking to let him through the gates. Only then did I realise that he was driving a flatbed which exceeded the height restriction. I explained again.

“Oh, please phone … and tell them to send another truck.”

The driver disappeared with the flatbed and I called the insurance company. More apologies and a confirmation that they would contact the tow truck company to send a smaller truck straight away.

I got ready for my lift to my meeting, expected at 9.30 a.m., and returned to my car in the basement. The second truck arrived at 9.30 a.m., which is when I realised that the flatbed was also still there. More explanations. Don’t you just love it when people don’t believe you even when you tell them an expert has already assessed the situation? If I’d been a man, would this have been different?

The mini tow truck lifted my vehicle off the back wheels and successfully towed it outside without problems. As I finished the paperwork on which I had to record the pick up address and the destination address, the smaller truck lowered my car and left it for the flatbed which caused me more concern. Why switch vehicles? My lift fortunately arrived then and I left before my car was loaded.

According to my mechanic, the flatbed driver needed assistance to offload because he couldn’t drive my car off!!!

My version of the broken telephone game is much better – cut out the middle people and call the tow truck company supervisor direct. One lot of detailed instructions with an allocated reference number would have got the job done and cost less. But then perhaps I’ve missed the point.

car break down

Photos courtesy of http://www.freedigitalimages.net

Fields of Gold

By Jac Dowling

Susan Hill’s The Magic Apple Tree, read for the umpteenth time during a particularly dreary and icy few days recently, set me thinking of a country year we had some years ago, in rural Warwickshire. And rural it truly was. Our rented cottage apparently dated back to early Tudor. T 6a00d83451584369e2019b0037cc29970d-800wihe outside walls thick local stone, golden and totally weather-proof, the roof thatched: little windows peeping out from beneath heavy reed fringes were latticed with old lead work and the inside walls formed from traditional lath overlaid with daub and limewash. The owner, Norman, was a gardener at Ann Hathaway’s Cottage in Stratford-upon-Avon and finding it a bit of a hike into work each day, so he let it to us. The garden, as one might expect, was a mass of flowering shrubs and roses: an ancient apple tree stood in the centre of the lawn while on the other side of the boundary fence, milking cows grazed the days away and ducks swam on a neighbouring muddy pond. Just up the road an old cider mill had been turned into a local craft centre. A village green, Saxon church, village shop and pub completed the picture.

Arriving in spring, we had the full benefit of the Vale of Evesham’s magnificent blossom time. The trees so heavy laden their branches, in many cases, touched the ground. Pear, pink cherry, apple and plum as far as the eye could see. And fruit for the picking from the many farms in the area, as long as you were prepared to pick your own. Spring segued into summer when our bedroom window up in the roof opened onto fields of corn gold and lush. One night in August a huge harvest moon hung low, glowing deep saffron over the fields. So close, almost within reach – just a hand-span away. Whenever I hear Sting’s Fields of Gold I think of those magical times and how the seasons cast their individual character and palettes of colour across our small part of England.

On fine days I’d walk the two miles along the river bank with our small son who attended the local nursery school. Golden kingcups floated on the quiet water. Mallards and coots busied themselves among the reeds, and plump Hereford steers kicked up their heels against the gad flies biting their rumps. Clumps of gold buttercups sprinkled the fields: we watched calves being born. Two tiny hooves followed by a slightly tilted head, slid to the ground with a bump. Mothers licked the little creatures and guided them gently to their feet. Very soon they were suckling and flicking their tails. And on we went, over the stiles to school.

Our stretch of the Avon was popular with narrow boat enthusiasts, some of whom didn’t read their river maps carefully and either catapulted over the weir, with unfortunate results, or teetered on the edge yelling for help, rescue, a rope, something… We came across one such stranding which was actually very funny – from the bank. A large Welsh family were well and truly stuck, right on the brink of the weir, plumb middle of the boat rocking back and forth whenever anyone moved. The plan was to somehow ditch Granny, the tank of water, all the fuel and food, thereby lightening the load sufficiently for the boat to slide gently down the water-fall. At least, that’s what they thought. Granny wasn’t in full agreement with the first part of the plan, and there was a strong warning notice about polluting the river and she, at 99yrs+ had lost the knack of swimming against the tide. We eventually hauled them off with a steel cable attached to a Land Rover and sent them on their way, still arguing at full throttle.

Autumn came and went. Fallen leaves crackling with frost under our feet. And the east wind brought the snow. Our little world lay silent,deeply pillowed in white. We walked down to the river one night, crunching pristine snow under our boots. The moon shone silver-cold, snow sparkled and shadows purpled. There was no-one out, just us and a black cat tiptoeing along the bank, leaving tiny paw marks as it moved. We built snow-men, rode trays down the hill and tobogganed for hours, down to the now frozen Avon. It was very cold.

But – here in the Overberg, we have many fields of gold. It’s called Canola and is one of the most beautiful sights in spring when a whole valley turns brilliant yellow, the sun shines and the cold winds of winter move to another part of the world. It’s a good place to be!