P.S. on the Tyranny of Lists

It seems I was rushing so much to tell you about how much I had been rushing that I made some excellent typos! Which were kindly and gently pointed out to me by a lovely friend and loyal reader. Even though I printed off my post and read it aloud before sending, they still slipped through the net. Moral of the story for me is never to work on a post before dinner time when the working day is over, my stomach is rumbling and I am thinking about food!

But, of course, I meant I was ringing the AUSTRIAN railways, not the Australian ones, where speaking German wouldn’t get me very far, however much I got the grammar right! There were a couple of other clangers, but the main other change is that my friend in Japan tells me that WWOOF actually means Willing Workers on Organic Farms not that long-winded explanation I found on Google!

Over and out it’s time for breakfast and Bertie’s walk! Until next time.

A meeting of hearts


“The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

I aim to live as much from my heart – feeling my way through life – as from my (very busy) head . But, inevitably, living in such a mind-dominant world, my head often wins out. And I’m definitely with the Ancient Greeks who thought that the heart was the seat of intelligence and organ closest to the soul. On a physical level, our hearts are one of the most important organs in the body beating approximately 72 times per minute moving blood, oxygen, nutrients and waste materials in and out of our cells. But how many of us take our hearts for granted? I know I do.

So you can imagine how humbling it was to meet a young boy not yet six years old, let’s call him Tom, who recently had a heart transplant at the Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital. Tom was born with what’s known as a TGA heart, TGA meaning transposition of the great arteries. In other words the right side of his heart was doing what the left side should have been doing and vice versa.

This brave little heart warrior (that’s what HeartKids call children with congenital heart defects) underwent major open heart surgery just a few weeks after being born. His young life has been filled with trips to doctors, specialists and hospitals in a constant round of check-ups, cardiographs, echocardiograms, radiography and blood tests. By 2013 he had undergone four lots of surgery, the last one to replace a smaller pacemaker with a larger one.

But earlier this year his heart was showing signs of failure and Tom and his family moved into Ronald McDonald House in Melbourne to wait for a donor heart to come up. I am happy to report that a heart did become available and the operation was successful. Tom has now had two clear biopsies and might soon be able to go home and start school.

I met Tom’s grandmother, Susie, when visiting mutual friends at the end of last year. So when she called and asked to come and stay for a few weeks during Tom’s recovery phase I was only too happy to help out. In fact, she was my first post-renovation guest and so my small but perfectly formed spare bathroom came into play. And, this last weekend Susie brought Tom to stay for a night. It was a short visit – and Bertie dog had to go for a sleepover with his cousin, my brother’s dog, Rocky – but one I will treasure for a long time.

I had seen pictures of Tom before his operation and he looked frail, pale and delicate. So how wonderful it was to see a strong young boy now weighing about eight more kilos and bursting with strength and energy. This little man is a solid mass of muscle and, I kid you not, could easily wrestle me to the ground. Not that we put it to the test.

Instead we got straight down to the important things in life and played games and ordered fish and chips for dinner. My mother laughed at me when I shipped over some of my childhood books and games from England: “What will you do with them?” she asked. “They’re for when little people come to visit, of course,” I replied rather impatiently. Tom loved my game Mousie-Mousie (vintage 1960s) even if half the counters were missing, the mice now have rather twisted tails and we made up the rules. Tom had his own games too, all packed in his Thomas the Tank Engine suitcase along with this Spiderman PJs, and so we played Snakes and Ladders and Monkeys before nipping out to the fish shop.

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Before breakfast the next morning, I read to Tom and reconnected to some of the wonderful books published by Frances Lincoln Ltd, in London where I worked back in the 90s. Animal Parade is wonderful read-aloud animal alphabet book and The Leopard’s Drum, a stunningly illustrated African creation story.
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Tom tucked into a cooked breakfast of bacon, eggs and mushrooms and was as bright as a button. He kept up a steady stream of questions – how old was I? (THAT old, he questioned, adding a nine for good measure), where did I work? (home? Why didn’t I work at Woollies? I think he must have been chatting to my family who don’t think freelance writing is a proper job!) and when would he see me again? Tom and his family had travelled to Melbourne from out of state, so it may be a while before I get to play Snakes and Ladders with him again.

He gave me a big kiss and a hug when he said goodbye and when I went back into my house, I shed a little tear (well quite big actually) for all that he’s gone through, for all that he is and for all that is growing up to be; a fabulous and spirited little boy.

Life Lessons at the School of Life

“Lost for words, copywriter ditches job and calls it a day.”

I wrote this mock headline as part of a wonderful class – How to Stay Calm – at the School of Life in Melbourne. The exercise was to coin a headline summarising a situation where we lost our cool and did more than just feel our anger, we acted upon it.

For those who haven’t come across it before, the School of Life was started by philosopher, TV presenter and author Alan de Botton and has its headquarters in London. To quote from their website: The School of Life is devoted to developing emotional intelligence through the help of culture. We address such issues as how to find fulfilling work, how to master the art of relationships, how to understand one’s past, how to achieve calm and how better to understand and, where necessary change, the world.

Melbourne’s School of Life is located at the Spencer St end of Bourke St and has a small cafe framed by natural wood bookshelves stacked with everything from the classics and contemporary literature to self-help, philosophy and the humanities. The lecture-style classroom leads off the cafe and is also book-lined, intimate and inviting.

Copyright: School of Life

Copyright: School of Life

For three hours last Wednesday Elise Bialylew, founder of Mindful in May (www.mindfulinmay.org), led us in a wonderfully rich discussion drawing on the works of some of the great philosophers and thinkers from Kierkegaard to Buddha as well as contemporary thinkers, psychologists, neuroscientists, futurists and researchers.

I’ve explored all sorts of therapies, attended different types of retreats and experimented with various styles of meditation and ways to stay balanced, but there’s always more to learn and re-learn. It’s not as if we were taught how to manage or relate to our emotions at school or university, at least not when I was in the education system. Elise reminded us that emotional wellbeing is a skill and takes practice just like a sport. So, as well as going to the gym, we need to make time for training our minds.

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Emerging research shows that mindfulness – training our minds to focus on one thing at a time and staying in the present moment – can actually develop our pre-frontal cortex. This is heartening as our brains haven’t kept up with the pace of change and evolved to cope with the demands of modern life. But a little mind training can help update the software. Want to know more? Try reading Daniel Siegel’s The Mindful Brain or do what I did and download some guided meditations onto my phone. I love guided meditations as I find it much easier to still my mind and focus.

During the class we also reflected on what it is to be human, and the fears that we all share. According to Buddhism, mankind’s five greatest fears are: fear of death; fear of illness; fear of losing your mind; fear of loss of livelihood; and fear of public speaking. Who hasn’t experienced one or all of those at some stage in their life?

Given our inherent human vulnerability – it’s time we learnt to listen to the likes of researcher and author Brené Brown who writes that owning our vulnerability can be a strength and actually connects us to others – the last part of the class focused on five key prescriptions for living. (If you’ve not yet discovered Brené Brown, I highly recommend one of her TEDTalks http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame?language=en) –

The Five Prescriptions

1. Acceptance – survival stories – Elise recounted the story of a shipwreck survivor entitled the Sinking of the Trashman which is part of a collection of extraordinary stories called The Moth (more about the Moth in a future blog). What emerged from this tale of survival was a belief in a higher power, a conscious choice of focus (expressed as a sense of wonder at the sky, the stars etc), a talisman (she threw a black pearl into the sea as kind of offering), a determination to focus on positive memories even in the face of death (two crew members were eaten by sharks), a great deal of resilience and lots of common sense practicality; for example, she used seaweed for insulation.

2. Discernment – mindful awareness – a recent study showed that five hours of mindfulness actually changed the body’s genetic expression and can help with inflammation and chronic pain. What’s more, it can even boost production of an enzyme that protects against ageing. Forget botox and collagen…

3. Surrender to the Ascetic or Aesthetic – perhaps losing oneself in nature or becoming absorbed in a work of art.

4. Compassion – empathy and identifying with others – which can sometimes mean simply holding the space for another person rather than trying to fix them. But equally important – and it’s not valued in our culture – is self-compassion. How can be kind to others when we insist on beating ourselves up and criticising ourselves?

5. Communion and Connection –this is about connecting to others. I’m reminded of that famous John Donne poem – ‘No Man is an Island’. Where would we without friends and community?

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

Under Pressure

A bit of fun from a fellow blogger. Sometimes a pile of unread books can seem like another pressure. I was very lucky to receive a Kindle for my birthday last year. Having long resisted reading from a screen and letting more technology encroach on my life, I found the transition remarkably smooth. When I go overseas in October, it’ll be great to load up the Kindle rather than lug books around. And, owning a Kindle doesn’t stop me from reading ‘real’ books or buying them!

Critical Dispatches

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The bookshelf above my bed is now beyond overloaded and I’m quite certain that it’s going to collapse any day now. We’re at breaking point. One of the screws on the bottom left corner is looking particularly dodgy, and despite my best efforts I can’t get the damn thing tightened back into the wall. I can only hope that if it’s to go then it goes while I’m out at work, otherwise I’m afraid it could kill me.

What a way to go. I wonder which book would do me in, who would be the publisher? Assassinated by Abacus; a Faber & Faber finishing; rubbed out by Random House; massacred by Pan MacMillan; ousted by the Oxford Press. Would it be a hardback that delivers the final blow? 1984 or Brave New World? One of those weighty paperbacks, the copy of Infinite Jest or the Hunter Thompson anthology, would definitely…

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A trip down memory lane

At last I return to my blog. This time it was work that stopped play. I’ve had a couple of assignments that have proved tricky and overwhelming. From an article on aged care legislation to a government tender and a newsletter for a university, they’ve all been a bit dense, brain-clogging and writers’ block-inducing. Anyway, today I’ve come up for air and, so far, have celebrated by going out for lunch at one of my favourite cafes and reading the paper over a bacon and egg sandwich. There’s some so comforting about bacon and eggs – I think it must hark back to childhood.

Talking about childhood, I’ve now got to the fun bit of my home renovations and am unpacking boxes of ‘stuff’ (there is no better word) that I shipped from the UK about 18 months ago. As well as books, plates, ornaments and decorative bits and bobs, there’s quite a bit of memorabilia. The Life Laundry gurus might disapprove but I’m really happy that I held onto some treasured items before I moved to Australia. Unpacking them years later (I was too deluged with work to celebrate but, as of last Wednesday, 9th July, I’ve been in Australia for ten years) I’ve smiled, laughed, cried, felt amazed, incredulous and deeply respectful for times past.

I’ve got quite a few letters spanning about three decades – remember those beautiful hand-written items we used to pop in post boxes before electronic communications took over? I’ve got some of the first letters I wrote to my parents in the late 60s when they were away and I was staying with family friends. The spelling is atrocious, there are no punctuation marks anywhere and the words on the page are jumbled reminding me of magnetic scrabble letters on a fridge. But I’d been to the sea and thrown sticks for the dogs and was excited about going with Susie and Gillie to the laundrette and having hot chocolate from a machine. Then there are letters I wrote home from my brief stay at boarding school (where I was miserable) telling my parents: “I love Queenswood. It’s just at night the people in my dormitory talk till about half past ten and when the horrid old house mistress, who is equal to the size of four elephants, comes along at night she says I should be asleep otherwise I’ll have to go to the doctor for some tablets.” Later on I insist: “I am extremely happy here,” and I concluded another letter by saying: “Don’t forget I’m tremendously happy here.” Methinks that I did protest far too much.

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Letters from both grandmothers brought tears to my eyes. My maternal grandmother told me she was expecting lots of guests over the summer and shared her menu plans with me. Memories of her signature dishes came flooding back. I must ask Mum for the recipe for Granny’s Bombe Surprise made with blackcurrants. A tactful letter from a boy I had a crush on in my teens let me down gently by asking about my love life and sharing holiday plans to go to America where there would be “lots of lovely girls!!.” Another male friend (I wonder if he ever realised I had a thing about him?!) wrote me a long, long letter in 1978 full of his pre-university adventures (toad racing, potato picking and meat packing) travelling up the East Coast of Australia. He sent me a special full-colour fold-out souvenir of the Great Barrier Reef (when it was still pristine) and apologised for his writing style: “Out here everything is said backwards or abbreviated.” He was in Queensland at the time… Little did I ever dream that I would end up living in Australia! Back then it was a faraway land, dry and dusty, and full of kangaroos called Skippy.

I’ve also got many of the letters I wrote from Vienna in 1982 when I was an au-pair girl for a family. A bit like at boarding school, I was terribly, terribly homesick not helped by the crushing routine of having to walk the two little girls every morning in the Stadt Park whether it was minus five or plus 30 degrees. But I did enjoy Vienna itself and still have programs from the Opera House (Carmen, La Bohème, Arabella etc) complete with the playlist for that day. You could get a standing ticket for six Austrian Schillings – a bargain! I’ve also got programs from the Volksoper (the less fancy ‘people’s opera’ where I went to operettas by the likes of Offenbach), brochures from Schönbrunn Castle, a poster advertising a Festival of Clowns, a postcard of the Prater (the famous Ferris Wheel) and a glossy program from the Spanish Riding School (those wonderful Lipizzaner horses).

The Opera House Vienna - this postcard looked dated even in the 80s!

The Opera House Vienna – this postcard looked dated even in the 80s!

The Spanish Riding School, Vienna

The Spanish Riding School, Vienna

There are years of diaries in my boxes including a lockable five-year diary that I wrote for three years, love letters, papers and magazines marking special occasions such as Royal Weddings and much more. Some of it will undoubtedly end up in the attic or the shed and I’m not mourning the things I threw out – such as folder of beer coasters and matchboxes of every restaurant I went to in California in 1984 – but I’m happy to have created a small and meaningful time capsule.

Postcard from Anglesea

Now that my return to the Big Smoke is imminent – in between writing this I’m packing boxes, cleaning out cupboards and trying, and failing miserably, to clean the front windows (WHAT is the secret?) – I thought I would share some photos of a few of my favourite coastal views, things and places. So sit back and take a little tour with me:

Morning view of the 'Back' Beach - popular with surfers, walkers and dog walkers

Morning view of the ‘Back’ Beach – popular with surfers, walkers and dog walkers

Bertie on his  morning walk

Bertie on his morning walk


 I have a collection of stones at home, but in the interests of de-cluttering left this one on the beach.

I have a collection of stones at home, but in the interests of de-cluttering, left this one on the beach.

Point RoadKnight

Point RoadKnight

Can't see the wood for the trees? Moonah Woodland along the coastal path.

Can’t see the wood for the trees? Moonah Woodland along the coastal path.

Anglesea River - a very different vibe from the beach

Anglesea River – a very different vibe from the beach

Life by the river was very tranquil until Bertie noticed there were ducks in the water...

Life by the river was very tranquil until Bertie noticed there were ducks in the water…

Leafy glades, butterflies, birdsong, dappled sun and trees bring fairy tales to mind.

Leafy glades, butterflies, birdsong, dappled sun and trees bring fairy tales to mind.

Anglesea General Store - I recommend their breakfasts, ginger and lemon hot toddy and take-home meals such as slow-cooked beef cheeks. Yum!

Anglesea General Store – I recommend their breakfasts, ginger and lemon hot toddy and take-home meals such as slow-cooked beef cheeks. Yum!

Freshly picked olives at McGain's Organic Shop

Freshly picked olives at McGain’s Organic Shop

Not quite Vidal Sassoon but they  rescued my hair from a previous hatchet job!

Not quite Vidal Sassoon but they rescued my hair from a previous hatchet job!

My love affair with op shops continues. Here I found books, an Arzberg bon-bon dish, a drape for my sofa and an ovenware dish for Shepherd's pie, my menu du jour when I had visitors.

My love affair with op shops continues. Here I found books, an Arzberg bon-bon dish, a drape for my sofa and an ovenware dish for Shepherd’s pie, my menu du jour when I had visitors.

Looking towards Aireys Inlet and the Lighthouse

Looking towards Aireys Inlet and the Lighthouse

The garden at Mr T's café in Aireys Inlet - 'Easy as a Sunday morning'...

The garden at Mr T’s café in Aireys Inlet – ‘Easy as a Sunday morning’…

And the last word goes to Bertie - Do we have to leave tomorrow, Mum?

And the last word goes to Bertie – Do we have to leave tomorrow, Mum?

Owning your (my) own style

I haven’t seen my house for a few weeks but the renovations are nearly finished and I’m dissatisfied already! But only in my head, you understand. I think it’s a case of renovation envy. It all started when I visited a lovely new friend in Anglesea – she’s a writer and artist – and had lunch in her beautiful home. You can see her artist’s eye at play everywhere; the triangular patterned tiles echoing the earthy shades of terracotta and blue on the walls and in the boxed shelves, the art on the walls, the huge (and well-fitting windows) framing views of gnarled and forked gum trees, the marble-top kitchen and chunky pottery dotted around, the funky butter dish, the lime green weighing scales, the brightly coloured mosaic tiles in the bathroom beautifully toned in with the sink, a colourful Mexican-looking ceramic bowl. And then there’s the wood burner with the sliding glass front warming the room and adding another stylish touch.

If only I’d seen her house before I chose the white subway tiles from Bunnings, I thought going all Discontented Pony (anyone else familiar with the Ladybird Books story from childhood?), and maybe I should have persisted in getting the shelving unit in the living room re-done the way I wanted. And then what about my kitchen bench top fiasco? In truth the kitchen tops are the only part of the renovations that have gone a bit ‘off message’ and it’s one of those situations where it’s not really anyone’s fault. My builder – and I can’t praise him enough; he’s absolutely meticulous, punctual, professional and gentle with it – noticed that the laminex pattern I had chosen was 30 per cent more expensive than the standard range. So he hunted around and found a match from another company. He showed me the sample when I went up to the house at the end of March, and I approved it.

What neither of us noticed (the sample was the size of a match box) is that it had a strange indentation which, over a large area, looks like a series of scribbly scratch marks. While it’s not what I would have chosen, I’m going to make the best of it. The bottom line is that changing it would stuff up the budget bottom line by $2000. And once all my things are dotted around – yellow lemons on my grandmother’s green cake stand, my Italian ceramic fruit bowl (also featuring lemons), my blue and white candlesticks and all the other paraphernalia and memorabilia currently stacked floor to ceiling in various cupboards, the strange scribbles will fade into the background.

My spare room cupboard packed to the gills

My spare room cupboard packed to the gills


And that’s the thing. My style is my style. Although I am a little restricted by a modest budget, my choices reflect who I am and where I hail from. I’m not an artist with an eye for the Tuscan look and triangular tiles, but I am a homemaker through and through, and the interior of my house is a somewhat eclectic mix of classical English meets country cottage meets suburban Melbourne. I’ve got some treasured antique pieces from both my grandmothers, a fair few bits of charity shop chic, a bit of IKEA and lots of pictures on the walls, none of them which could be described as modern or abstract. So when I embarked on renovation plans, my aim was to keep a classical, if slightly quirky, look. Hence the claw foot bath, black and white tiles and hand-crafted cloche light in the bathroom, and the white painted shelving unit on either side of the fireplace so I can – at long last– display all my treasures from an antique ginger jar to more modern glassware, favourite books, tea cups, jugs and ornaments.

In fact the older I get, the more I love antiques, not just the look of them but the stories behind their design, creation and use. I’ve been watching a British program on SBS called Antiques Uncovered hosted by an historian and an antiques expert. In the last episode they went to Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire to look at the history of tea cups, sofas, Georgian glassware, chandeliers and more. It’s all a bit broad brush as they cover so many items in one program, but I particularly enjoyed the bit about the history of porcelain. The Chinese, of course, developed porcelain in the tenth century, but it was not until the British discovered the magic ingredient, Cornish soapstone (talcum powder), that porcelain or, ‘White Gold’ as it was known, became all the rage in the eighteenth century. And it said something about your class as to whether you drank from translucent china which held hot water without leaking, or from a rough, porous earthenware cup. The upper classes could pour the hot tea straight into the cup and then add the milk, whereas the lower classes had to put the milk in first to prevent the cup from shattering. That’s why the ‘right’ way is still considered to be the tea first method.

Tea cup

It’s like Downton Abbey – I’m an unashamed fan (although the last double bill episode of Series Four was terribly implausible and a big anticlimax) – it’s all about class and what’s going on Upstairs and Downstairs.

To that end, I also saw a program featuring Downton producer Julian Fellowes going behind the scenes at another of England’s huge stately piles, Burghley House. Burghley was built by William Cecil, treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I. He was the one who ordered the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. The house is still owned and run by his descendents today. It was a fun program looking at parish records, letters and diaries to unearth some of the stories of the lords and ladies and their servants. As Fellowes said, “we’ve all got ancestors that were giving or taking orders. History belongs to all of us.”

On sea dragons, mindfulness and writing in bed

I’m so excited! Well no, I haven’t spotted the Easter Bunny but, even better, I’ve seen a weedy sea dragon. Sea dragons, despite the fearsome-sounding name, are the most beautiful and delicate marine fish belonging to the same family as sea horses. In fact, the weedy sea dragon is the marine emblem of the State of Victoria. I was walking along the beach with Bertie dog (thankfully he was too taken up with his new ball to notice the long-snouted creature washed up on the sand) and there it was. What struck me most apart from its elongated form were the amazing colours on its body: reds, pinks, yellows and oranges. What a wonderful creature to behold!

A weedy sea dragon

A weedy sea dragon

Later that same day I was reminded of the deep red patches on the sea dragon as I was slicing beetroot to roast for a salad. And, for once, I was really absorbed in what I was doing. I noticed the marbling inside the beetroot, the shapes reminding me of the knots and rings you find in wood. There’s something so richly rewarding about slowing down the mind and its incessant chatter so that we notice and really see what’s around us. And our focus and concentration improve dramatically.

Much as we think we’re getting ahead by multi-tasking, research in neuroscience shows that we’re actually creating scrambled wiring in our brains when we do two or more tasks at once. And, apart from damaging our brains, the bottom line is that it’s impossible to give our full attention to two things simultaneously and do them both well. To quote from Mind Gardener (mindgardener.com) the average person has up to 50,000 thoughts and 12,000 internal conversations a day. It’s amazing we manage to get anything done at all!

And so I was fascinated to hear Sir Michael Dobbs, author of the best-selling House of Cards and, more recently, his Winston Churchill novels, telling Phillip Adams on Late Night Live that he does some of his writing in bed. Dobbs described going back to bed in the morning when the family house is quiet and he can write with a pen and paper without being interrupted by flashing icons on a computer screen. Of course, as Phillip Adams reminded listeners, Barbara Cartland was famous for penning (churning out) her romantic novels in bed wearing one of her pink negligees. Incidentally, according to Wikipedia she left behind 160 manuscripts which have now been published as ‘The Pink Collection.’ I don’t like taking to my bed to write as it reminds me of being ill and confined to barracks. However, I like to take a notebook around with me and write long hand in a café or park. I often find it overcomes writers’ block and frees up the flow of ideas. Staring at a screen – especially one with distracting emails and messages popping up – does little to stimulate creativity.

I can fall into the mindless, multi-tasking, rush-rush-rush, go a million miles an hour habit as easily as the next person. But when I tap into a bit of mindfulness, I remember why it feels so good. Although our natural tendency is to speed up to get things done, slowing down actually creates more time and brain space. And that’s when we spot treasures like a sea dragon on the sea shore. Wishing all my followers a mindful and restful Easter. Watch out for the bunnies!

Late_for_Easter

Sniffing out employment opportunities for my dog

Sometimes I joke that Bertie dog should get a job and help pay the mortgage. And I’m only half joking. As a feast and famine freelance writer, some form of canine contribution wouldn’t go amiss. He has lots of potential, you see; it’s simply a matter of how I direct it. It all started with Christine who sold him to me. She fed Bertie and his nine totally adorable chocolate brown roly-poly snuggly, squeaky, nipping and biting siblings on Advance puppy formula. Now Christine, bless her, is big on ideas (lots of them, all at once and in no particular order) but rarely follows through. I, on the other hand, am a list-ticker and like to get things DONE. So I emailed the advertising people at Advance with my proposal. I suggested they might like to photograph the chocolate brown babies and use them in their marketing collateral. I could already see something along the lines of ‘Premium Pet Food for Premium Pups’ and an ad with my boy and his siblings romping across TV screens. Suffice it to say that nothing happened; I didn’t even get a reply.

Then last week as I was working on something, I heard a rustling kind of noise. I ignored it for a bit but then it came closer. Bertie had gone into the bathroom, got hold of the loo paper and pulled it around the door, through the laundry and into the dining room. Aha, I thought. Here is another modelling opportunity. We all know that toilet advertising and cute puppies go together. Some of my all time favourites are the Andrex ads in the UK featuring plump baby Labradors. The trouble is that I couldn’t get a shot of Bertie in action, only one of him sitting admiring his handiwork with a guilty look on his face.

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Today I treated myself to a delicious lunchtime bowl of potato, kale and celeriac soup at McGain’s, the gorgeous nursery and cafe in Anglesea. I drank my soup slowly and leafed through a few copies of Country Style at the same time. One of them fell open at an article about truffle farming in Tasmania.

Deliciousness at McGain's

Deliciousness at McGain’s

A few years ago I had truffle-infused custard at a friend’s dinner party and, foodies will be in up in arms, but I’m not really sure what all the fuss is about. But what I do know is that you can’t harvest truffles without dogs to sniff them out. Reading the article, it sounded like truffle hunting for dogs is pretty much a scratch and sniff affair. Bertie has the keenest nose ever – he can sniff out food from a hundred paces or more – so what am I waiting for?!

A Google search has just come up with an organisation called Aussie Truffle Dogs – ‘Our business “nose” your truffle needs’ – and there’s a dog like Bertie on the front page of their website. What’s more, there are training classes in Geelong and the Macedon Ranges. Oh, but wait, reading on it says that Aussie Truffle Dogs was formed to ‘provide purebred registered working dogs to fill the harvesting needs of the truffle industry.’ Looking at Bertie, I’m sure his breeding is impeccable but I don’t have any papers to prove it. And I would have had to start his training when he was a pup. Regular readers might remember that he turned one just before Easter meaning that in human years he is about 15.

However, there is something else he excels at: paper shredding. I’m not sure why I bothered to buy a paper shredder when Bertie does the job with such gusto. Today, he demolished a paper bag in seconds. The only trouble is that he doesn’t clear up after himself. He leaves that to me. Typical teenager!

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