My Mother’s Bread Board


Breadboard top


We have a new bread board at our house.

It’s smaller than a sheet of A4 paper. It has curved edges and a raised rectangular surface for cutting. This surface, crisscrossed by knife marks, has been worn through on the long edges to erode a hollow. A deep split carries through to the underside which is marked by the tree rings of the pine from which it has been cut. This side is even more concave.

Breadboard Growth Rings

I was holding the board as I made my initial notes and thought tenderly of its long life and the kitchens it has worked in.

I think I remember this board being present for all of my life. It was always in the kitchen of 25 Church Street, Eaglehawk, Victoria, Australia, The World, The Universe where I grew up. When clean and dry, it leant next to a larger round board tucked beside the bread bin. As a child, I remember being told to turn it over if I wanted to chop tomatoes or anything other than bread. “We don’t want the bread to smell of onions.” I think you were allowed to chop butter for pastry on the top bread side.

What a lot of meals it has been involved in! There were six of us, and sometimes seven, when Dad’s father came to live with us. We always had three vegetables, white, green and yellow, served with whatever meat it was. I now remember the vegetable knife: small, fiercely sharp and with a painted red handle. No wonder the chopping side wore thin and hollow.

When Mum, aged 86, moved bravely from her home of nearly sixty years to her unit at Donvale Retirement Village in Melbourne’s outer east, the bread board came with her. Here, they settled into a new kitchen with wide benches, a noisy fan forced oven and the wonders of a double sink. Instead of being washed up in a single sink facing a wall, now the board could be washed and rinsed and sit in a dish rack in the afternoon sun facing a gravel courtyard and a bank planted up with diosma, grevillea, westringea and agapanthus. For years, since the advent of sliced bread, it had become mostly a chopping board. However, her lunchtime sandwich would still be made on the top. Gradually the board did even less work when Mum increasingly ate bought frozen meals as her sight and energy faded.

By the time she was 92, she was getting very tired managing on her own, even with a lot of carers coming in to help, so the painful decision was made to move into supported care where she would be safe and looked after. This time, her world contracted to a single room which she furnished with her special cedar chest of drawers, her very comfortable reclining chair and some pictures.

Again, I had to clear her house. Such of a lot of it was my life too because what she had brought from Eaglehawk was a crystallization of what was important to her and most of that was very familiar to me. I found that there were items that I could quite easily put in the skip as rubbish, even though I didn’t want to think about that too much, then there were better items that were clearly suitable for the Salvation Army. Last, there were the items that swiftly brought pangs into my heart and painful tears to my eyes. The breadboard was one of these.

It lives with us now in our flat which we moved into at about much the same time as Mum moved from Eaglehawk. I like to use it, even though it rattles and wobbles on our hard benches. Its lineage stretches back to those childhood Eaglehawk days and the memories of food and eating in that big, family kitchen looking onto the grevillea bush with honeyeaters hopping around inside it.


The board has worn and hollowed, as has my mother in her increasing frailty. But it has endured, still displaying its original growth rings. My mother’s brave inner spirit lives on in her worn old body generating respect for the strength and endurance of age. This thin old chopping board reveals the work and nourishing of a lifetime.

Who would have thought I would love my mobile phone so much!

 It was 4.31 am. I was lying on my back, wide awake in a hospital room. Both feet were in booties attached to a pressure pump, my two legs were safely strapped to a sort of block cushion and the pain relief was not exactly working. My new right hip joint was exactly thirteen hours old.

Aha! I switched on the light, picked up my phone and sent a rather grumpy text, full of emoticons, to my daughters. That felt good. I knew their phones would be turned to silent but just after 7 o’clock I heard the welcome pings of their replies.

That’s one reason why I love my phone. It provided comfort and relief from the claustrophobic post-operative three days in hospital.

That period was an extension of the almost daily contact that I, living in Melbourne, have with my daughters via text and Instagram. My son, in Perth, is more reticent . We text less and talk more. Our oldest daughter and her partner have recently adopted a rescued greyhound, Toby, who is now our designated grandpuppy. I receive pictures and comments about him and his enormous cuteness. We exchange chit chat about work, the weather- she rides her bike to work- plans, the TV we watch. Our younger daughter has two small children aged one and nearly five and lives on Phillip Island. Practically every day we talk via text. She sends pictures of the children, herself at Surfing Mums, shares stories about them and shows what she’s picked from the veggie garden.

I think back to the late seventies when I had the two girls and the late sixties when I had my son. My parents lived in Eaglehawk, one hundred miles north of Melbourne, and I would ring Mum once a week on a long distance call. It felt special as it was expensive to us at that time and I would have to wait for the cheaper evening rates. I would have loved to have had the casual, instant, easy contact that a mobile phone offers, especially when we went to the UK for three years with my two year old son. There were times when I really wanted to share something special or was lonely or bored and wanted to just talk to her about my children. Email would have been wonderful.

This family contact via smart phone continues with Instagram. I have a whole three followers, my two daughters and the friend who showed me how to do it. One daughter, who I introduced to Instagram, now claims that I have made her addicted to its curious pleasures. My friends are strangely uninterested in my Instagram efforts! My initial focus was plane trees and paths, both of which I, at least, am interested in. I’ve gradually extended my range of images as I developed my interest in urban nature on my writing website.

My daughters are polite with their ‘Likes’ but themselves are very unrestrained with their posts about family, dogs, guinea pigs and whatever they’re doing. I learnt how to do hash tags and was amazed to discover the number of people who are unable to resist #sunset and proceeded to ‘like’ my image. I then realized that I felt uncomfortable with complete strangers looking into my world and stopped hash tagging. Three viewers are fine!

I have two games I play by myself, Solitaire and Mahjong. These have filled in a lot of time in waiting rooms and so on. More fun is Word which I play with one friend living just 40 metres away and the other half way round the world in Wales. I enjoy sitting up in bed in the morning seeing what astonishing word my Welsh friend has produced overnight.

Mostly, however, I love and value the way my phone has enabled the relaxed, close contact with my family.





Return to Tango after Total Hip Replacement: Weeks 14-15

Well! I have actually returned to tango.

I decided that part of the process would be to have a private lesson with my teacher, David Backler, from Sidewalk Tango which is where we learn. I wasn’t sure of how strong I was or what my stamina would be like and wanted to test that with a very experienced dancer who would have a good feel for where I was at. I felt I needed to be kept safe.

I was nervous but the lesson went well as we gradually moved from walking to going into the cross. That was a test of my straight back leg which had got a bit timid over the last few months off the floor. It was good to focus on that crispness and also remember to focus the gaze onto my partner’s chest. Interesting that I’d lost a bit of that concentration. We did two twenty minute sessions and it felt really good and encouraging. I enjoyed doing an ocho which flipped around instead of me having to winch myself around.

Encouraged by that, I joined the Intermediate Class on the following Wednesday. That was harder. Not all partners wait for the lady to get on her axis and I’m very sensitive to that at the moment. We did voleos as part of the dance figure and my hip  and leg are not quite ready to do a lot of them in succession. I sat out for a few minutes about two thirds through but next time will stop for a break each 15 minutes. The nature of a class is repetition and that’s a bit tiring. However, I was pleased and excited to have managed it.

In the Practica following the class, I had a couple of good dances with friends who were thoughtful and considerate in their lead. That was enjoyable.

We went to the Practica the following Sunday afternoon where I had a pleasant time of dancing a couple of songs and then resting before some more. Partners were thoughtful and steady in their lead.

Generally, I can still feel the stiffness in my thigh muscles and am aware of needing to strengthen up.

I’m starting a clinical Pilates class this week and am looking forward to that very specific strengthening and stretching.

All I take now is a couple of Panadol Osteos before a class to help with the distraction of the thigh tightness.





Tiger Snake


Easter Saturday at Cape Paterson was fine and clear and Second Beach was just asking to be visited. I’d not been able to walk on anything other than footpaths for the last few months following my hip replacement in the middle of January. A whole summer had passed me by while I gradually built up my strength and flexibility.

The path to the beach stretched and wound between the banksia and tea trees. My legs and hip were able to walk on the soft uneven sand with enjoyment. The familiar dune vegetation honey smell hung in the air as I followed the path up to the top. There in the distance was the ocean, blue and bright, at the end of the stretch of green trees and bushes that the path threaded through. I was so happy to be on that soft, sandy path and even happier to reach the peak of the actual beach dune looking at the waves and water spreading to the horizon.

My family ran down the dune to the beach. I was very content to stay up there. I found a comfortable sandy slope where the sand had invaded and filled up the old viewing platform. The sand was warm under my back. Down below, the surfers quietly sat on their boards, apparently with no waves worth catching. The waves rolled in steadily and calmly, a few people walked along the beach. I watched some gulls flying towards First Beach and heard only the gentle roar of breaking waves.

I turned my head to the side. A snake, stretched half out of the low bushes, was looking at me. I saw its sloping, scaly face, low and front on. I could see its wide mouth and lips. Its tawny body was about as thick as my wrist and its stripes gleamed in the sun as if they’d been varnished.

We looked at each other for about a second. It turned its head and slid back down along its body to return sleekly to its green cover.

There I had been! On my back, only about a metre and half away from a tiger snake, low enough to have looked it in the face.

There, I was! Still there, but sitting now and looking at where the snake had been. I wasn’t frightened, more amazed and excited. It’s not often you get the chance to look at a wild snake from its level. We had each wanted to lie on the warm sand and I would have been quite happy to share the space with it if it promised to come no further. Unlikely, I know.

Usually, I’m very frightened of snakes when I come across them on a path. The speed of their quick flick away intensifies that fear of how fast and powerful their strike must be. This time, perhaps it was the quietness of the moment that made a tiger snake of about a metre in length seem interesting and not threatening.

Later, I looked up D H Lawrence’s poem, “Snake”, which I hadn’t read for years and was pleased to find…

                     ‘I felt so honoured.’

——————————————————————————————————————–This took place exactly where I took the new photo for the Cape Paterson page and on the same day.


Return to Tango after Total Hip Replacement. Weeks 11-13

These have been a good few weeks. First, I’m off the Targin. Probably I did it a bit too quickly, but who knows. I had a week or so of feeling a bit uneasy and unwell, a bit cold but with no pain so I was happy enough to put up with that. Now I’m fine- still on Panadol Osteo but starting to ease back on the anti-inflammatories. No hip pain, just muscular tightness which comes and goes with what exercise I’ve done.

I’m getting stronger and looser but it will take quite a bit more time to be any where near normal – whatever that is/was!

As for Tango – I joined the Beginners’ Class last week for the introductory walking section and enjoyed it hugely and it felt fine. However, it was interesting how much harder it was to walk in strict time and at a slower pace than just practising at home.

I actually danced last weekend at a wedding- a mixture of bopping around and some simple tango to very untango rock music. To my surprise, I found myself doing some good neat ochos. My new hip feels so much stronger than the poor old one which I now realize had no strength or support.