Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bedhead - not just a hairstyle

I love cast iron and brass bedheads; I'm an antique and collectibles freak anyway and had longed for years for a lovely old brass and iron bed before I bought one for myself in 1996. It's a double bed, more than a metre high off the ground at the top of the mattress, blissfully comfortable for a single woman and a cat or two. However... not big enough for two people who are used to sleeping on their own and value their personal body space. Aside from which men seem to generate a lot of heat while they're sleeping.

So when my husband-to-be and I moved in together 3 years ago, we used his queen sized bed and parked my beautiful antique, art nouveau bed with its brass filigree at my Mum's house. It's our bed when we stay there overnight and believe me isn't the same as it used to be. I used to sleep bang in the middle with Hamish MacFlea my silver tabby snoring gently on my right arm, under the covers with his huge head on the pillow beside me. Now I sleep perilously on the edge just to stay cool enough. Hamish has gone over the Rainbow Bridge (and I miss him dreadfully) and now we have Charley and Annabel jumping up and sleeping on my feet. Unlike Hamish they don't like getting under the covers. It's probably a blessing.

Anyway, back to the queen bed. No bedhead. Just a mattress and base. It felt wrong. Cheap, almost; my mother believes firmly in bedheads making a bedroom look finished and I think I've inherited that. I loved waking up in my old bed, putting my hands behind me, gripping the iron bed and indulging in a superb stretching session. Do that at our place with the queen bed and you bang your knuckles on the wall.

Until this week.

Yes, I now have an iron bedhead, courtesy of eBay. It's not antique (remember, they didn't exactly have queen sized beds a hundred years ago), and it's not as heavy, solid and classy as my lovely art nouveau bed, nor does it have the brass decorations apart from knobs on the top. But it's much nicer than most repro stuff you can buy. According to the seller it's around 25 years old, and there's not a mark on it. Not a scratch or a dent. It's like new. And my husband, who between me and the interweb isn't the most diligent DIYer (Mum still brings up the time he put her stereo cabinet together and had three screws left over from the flat pack), got it attached to the mattress base (with the help of Charley and I) without a hitch.

So here it is. Bedtime bliss. I can't wait to get into it tonight and reach back and feel it there. That's Charley on the covers, exhausted after "helping" us and sniffing every bit of it. If one of the bedside lamps looks a bit squiffy, it's because Charley broke it last year; we've mended it but it will never be the same again. However, Charley is beyond rubies; and at least he can't break an iron and brass bedhead.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Shopping with Basil

So far I haven't loaded up both my Basil bags with groceries, but we went for an early morning cycle today when the dew was still on the grass and the sun was low and gently warm. Everything felt newly-minted, there were no cars on the roads and the weekend noises of leafblowers and lawnmowers hadn't stared. I had the Postmenbag attached to Penelope as we needed to pick up a few things after our ride - namely 1.25 litres of soda water (in this hot weather it's bliss with ice, grown-up lime cordial and a squeeze and slice of fresh lime) and fruit/veg, in particular mangoes for our breakfast.

I'm desperately unfit at the moment - that's another story - and after a 45 minute cycle it was slightly hard going pedalling up the hills to our place with about 4kg of shopping on board. Not that the weight made any difference to the bike, her balance or handling; she was very stable and I didn't notice the bag was even there except that the last hill was a real bugger!

Here's my little haul of groceries; there was still plenty of room in the bag but not plenty of use left in my unfit legs so we stopped after getting these essentials. My husband doesn't have a front or rear rack on his bike so the load was all mine. Penelope weighs 20 kg so with the shopping my bike was precisely twice as heavy as my husband's. No wonder he powered up the hill ahead of me. Next time I'm putting a backpack on him so he can have some load too!

How do I know this was 4kg? I didn't do anything scientific such as put it on the scales. That's too much hard work. I used the Animal Method. If we want to get a rough idea of how much something weighs, we compare it to one of our pets. The dog weighs 10kg, the Birman boycat 6.5/7kg and the Birman girlcat 4.5 kg. It felt about the same as the girlcat when I picked her up and then the bag. :-)

As for the unfitness, I might have to head to the gym for a bit as well as ride some more. I caught a bug six weeks ago and felt like crap for almost a month. I still have the cough. Then the weather was either too hot or too wet to go riding. Wimp? Yes, unashamedly. Any fitness I had ran away and joined the circus, where it would have been appreciated. T'other half and I keep muttering that we should ride each morning before breakfast, but so rarely do. It's so hot and humid at nights at the moment we both have broken sleep and wake up late, all bleary-eyed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

One person's trash and all that

My mum has lived for 50 years in a suburb which over the last 35 years has been 'discovered' and is now home to people with more money than taste (or sense). This is evident by some of the bloody awful monstrosities they build. Also by what they throw out. It's household clean-up time, when you put your unwanted goods on the footpath and the Council truck comes around and collects them for landfill. There are ripe pickings to be had for the quick and eagle-eyed, as people in that part of town throw out stuff which is perfectly serviceable.

I don't know whether they can't be bothered taking things to a charity shop, whether they don't want to be seen in a charity shop, or have an air of "If I don't want it I don't want anyone else to have it". But I've always been able to pick up something useful around the area. Once it was a cane shelf set that now houses my DVDs. Once it was a tumble drier, identical to Mum's which had just broken. Nowt wrong with it; the owner was chucking it as she was moving to a place that already had one. THAT was whisked into my husband's car with aclarity and replaced Mum's busted one. I've picked up a brand new cat cage for my stepdaughter, an as-new golf bag (I don't play, but gave it to a charity shop for someone who might) and more terracotta pots and garden stuff than you could poke a stick at. I've forgotten about most of the stuff I've picked up, but it's all been in working order.

This year's haul has just started. Yesterday I rescued a rug from the neighbours opposite Mum. It's big, it's cobalt blue and I doubt it has been used as there isn't a mark on it. Its brand indicates they paid at least $200 for it. Just perfect for the downstairs 'rumpus room' at Mum's which has walls in a similar hue but a lighter shade. Doesn't suit the colours at our place.

The neighbours next to them are moving, and I suspect their chuck-outs have only just begun. From their pile I picked up this painting:

Original, unsigned, and not one I'd hang on my walls even if I had room to be honest, but look! It's in a frame, undamaged. No foxing on the mount, the wire at the back is excellent. It's going to my local charity shop. What a waste throwing it out! Someone will want it and be happy to hang it. The painting itself is about 10" x 8" plus the mount which is about 3" all round.

And for me, a splendid bit of kitsch. A cast iron doorstop in the shape of a dachshund painted with folk art touches. Gilding on the ears, a pink bow and, poor dog, flowers growing on its tail. Not, to be honest, what I'd choose myself for a doorstop, but again too good to go to waste, and we do need a doorstop for our front door on those breezy days. Any ideas for naming this little chap? Given his flowery nature and his Teutonic ancestors Fwitz springs to mind.

I wonder what else I'll find in the next ten days? Stay tuned...

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Basil Bags - initial thoughts

I was a greedy pig over Christmas and bought myself not one but two Basil bike bags for Christmas.

I'd been taken with the super olive green design on the Postmenbag, but decided initially to get a Basil Mirte shopping bag (slightly bigger) in Rose, which Penelope Pashley is wearing below.

Having ordered that I then saw an olive green Postmenbag for a good price on eBay and splurged on that too. Both bags have arrived now and I have used the Postmenbag today for a very small shopping trip.

Initial thoughts are the quality is excellent. Well stitched, well lined. The white detachable strap on the Postmenbag offers lots of opportunities to get dirty, but I think could easily be cleaned by soaking it in Napisan or any other nappy wash product (no, I don't have kids, but these products are great stain removers). Cleaning the white binding around the bag, as it's bound to get dirty, would be a job for Orange Power upholstery cleaner. Only available in Australia at the moment but absolutely brilliant on fabrics as well as carpet and sofas. Digressing, my husband regularly drops chocolate on our white sofa and Orange Power gets rid of it in a flash.

My brother-in-law has used cycling as his preferred form of transport since a teen (doesn't and won't own a car), and has had experience with all manner of bags. Bearing in mind the comments on the interweb about the plastic clips breaking, he had this to say once I'd shown him photos of the bags: "Those clips look familiar, and should be good for a few years unless they get very cold. And they appear to be removable/replaceable. Karrimore used to use alloy clips and they broke with great ease. Their plastics were an improvement..."

Very cold isn't likely to happen where I'm living. And while the bags don't look huge, they do carry more than you think they might. I think loading them to the point where the clips would break would make for a slow cycle back home in my case. The hills would be murder. In short I can do grocery runs for two people a couple of times a week with these bags. Easy peasy.

Talking of the clips, they fit easily onto the Plescher rack of the Pashley. Top tip is to feed the velcro strap underneath first otherwise you fumble a bit trying to loop it around. I'm guessing the velcro is merely insurance, but did find it difficult to do it up tightly, ie to a point where I felt it could hold the bag on for a little while if the clips ever broke (just till I got off the bike and slung the bag over my shoulder).

On today's shopping trip I only had to get a kilo of Cat's Delight (yes, the local pet food shop guy actually calls it that) for They Who Have Claws, and a packet of tea, without which I will have trouble functioning. I popped the Postmenbag on Penelope and set off. The bag sits well on the rack, doesn't rattle, doesn't interfere with the spokes. Here's what my shopping looks like in the bag. You can see there is a ton of room still there in this 12 litre bag. The goodies rattle around near the bottom.

Laden with this little haul plus a full 750ml water bottle in the bag, I headed home and the bag stayed secure and didn't move on the rack. Unlike my rear basket which tends to slide towards the back of Penelope's rack!

The Postmenbag closes with a flap and a clip; the Mirte with a zipper. I can see it would be very easy to transport objects like celery and leeks in the Postmenbag. It's deep enough for them to go in at an angle with their tops sticking out, and not overbalance and fall out of the bag. Likewise with the Mirte you can zip them into an attention stance, again with their tops out of the bag unless you buy very small leeks.

As both my bikes have racks, I tried the bags on Petunia as well. She looks pretty funky with the green bag - surfer bike!

It fits nicely on her rack and rests against the struts with no danger that I can see of interfering with the wheel.

She looks a little strange with the Mirte bag though - it's definitely more a Pashley bag I think.
And for not only aesthetic reasons. Laden with full baskets, both bikes behave very differently. Petunia has a distinct unsteadiness, a slight wobble at slow speed that Penelope doesn't. However, I will try a shopping trip using both baskets to simulate a pannier situation and therefore lower centre of gravity with Petunia and see if the ride improves. After all she's a touring bike and built to carry panniers. Maybe it's the weight on top of the rack in the form of a full rear basket that makes her very twitchy. Penelope, on the other hand, with her weighty steel body and innate steadiness, handles laden baskets back and front with barely a shimmer.

More thoughts forthcoming after a bigger shopping trip using both bags. But initially I'm impressed with the quality and capacity of the bags.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Safe ride, Elke

A lovely German woman came doorknocking to our house tonight. The curry was cooking, I had a glass of wine going and was nose in a book and didn't expect anyone to come to the door. Nor did our dog who as usual went ballistic.

When I opened the door I saw a woman who would have been close to seventy, and she said she was seeking sponsorship to ride from Sydney to the Gold Coast on the Queensland border as part of a Rotary fundraising project. This is no easy ride. It's close to 1000 km and uphill a lot of the way. I was impressed by her strength of will and her fitness - no way would I contemplate a ride, and I'm easily a generation or so younger. T'other half and I scrounged through our wallets; we'd been grocery shopping today and were low on cash, but gave her what we had.

Her name is Elke, and Birman boycat Charley demanded to come outside and meet her too. While he charmed her we spoke about bikes and saddles and tyres. She's riding a hybrid bike with a gel saddle so I hope she doesn't feel too much pain if she spends long hours pedalling each day. She's been training around Sydney, which is a hilly place anyway, and has noticed the difference between suburbs; from where she lives which is pleasantly middle-class and where yobs don't break beer bottles in the gutters on Saturday nights, to the area where we live, and yobs do. I recommended Schwalbe Marathons, which she knows of, but didn't know where to get in Sydney (I told her a bike shop who sells them).

So, brave Elke, good luck on your marathon ride. May you ride safely, without incident, and may cars notice you and avoid you. You're braver and fitter than I, and I hope you make the journey in good health and importantly, without a sore bum!

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Eve Sydney Style

My mother is fortunate to live near the water in Sydney... and it's only a short drive or a 15 minute cycle to a fab place where you can watch the New Year's Eve fireworks on the harbour. I grew up in this house and do miss it, particularly when it's party time, as it's a lot bigger than our little shoebox t'other half and I live in, and has a great balcony for parties. One of which I threw for some friends on New Year's Eve.

A muggy summer evening, the clouds had rolled away by the first round of fireworks at 9pm (for the kids, really). Because it wasn't raining we did the traditional thing and cooked a BBQ. I augmented this with a Tourtiere, the wonderful French-Canadian pork pie which is traditionally a staple on Christmas Eve for Quebecois (I discovered this recipe courtesy of an old Quebecois boyfriend). If I get my act into gear and it's not scorching weather I make it for Christmas Eve, but realistically we usually serve it on NYE/Hogmanay, when the Christmas turkey feast is long digested and our stomachs are ready for another round of amazing comfort food. I also offered a massive potato salad and green salad.

No celebratory Aussie BBQ would be complete without a Pavlova, the meringue dessert named after ballerina Anna Pavlova, and made in her honour when she visited Australia back in my grandmother's day. A Pav is a flippin' great round meringue decorated thickly with whipped cream and whatever fresh fruit takes your fancy. This 12" Pavlova I chose to decorate with strawberries, kiwifruit and blueberries. It was just delicious; and somehow not too rich or sickly either.

Then it was time for the fireworks and we loaded into cars and headed down the road. We hadn't brought the bikes with us - 2 cats, a dog, overnight stuff, and all the food to feed the hordes was enough we figured. I was happily oiled on Domaine Chandon NV by fireworks time but sober enough to hold a camera. I've photographed these fireworks every year since 1988. I've gone through film SLRs and digi SLRs on tripods, lugging my heaviest tripod in recent years in case of wind. I have so many photos of fireworks from this particular place they all blur together after a while. This year, I almost convinced myself to just watch the display instead of obsessively taking pics of it. I couldn't do it. I took more than 200 photos. I'm insane. Here are some of them anyway. These are all handheld on my compact digital, by the way, as I left the tripod at Mum's. So I used the 'take a deep breath and hold it' technique and the results aren't too painful. I won't be doing anything with them (I've entered competitions in previous years with fireworks pics).

Boats rock on their moorings in the gentle, almost non-existent breeze. You can't hear the tinkle of their rigging above the stomach-rattling booms overhead.
A myriad of colours. 3,000kg of fireworks went off over Sydney this time. Waste of money? Maybe - but damn it was good!
Blue and gold together.
That's the Sydney Harbour Bridge; it gets festooned in fireworks and traffic is stopped for the duration of the display.
In between 'Boom"s you could hear a chorus of "Ahhh" from the hundreds we shared our little not-well-known spot with.
Getting near the end now... more of them were set off together, and the sky became ablaze.
The mix of colours was enchanting; these pics almost capture it, but you had to be there, as they say.
Heading for the grand finale...
With fireworks exploding from the Bridge and this year a first, exploding either side as well. Not a great photo as I zoomed in and held my breath but it sorta kinda grabs the moment.