Carpet Ride

I HAVE NEVER been one for shopping lists or planning weekly meal menus. And nor, it seems, warehouse furniture shopping.

I have proven that I approach warehouse shopping in exactly the same way I approach food shopping: with spontaneity and according to what is on special.

Of course, I will buy the sensible basics, but it’s the other miscellaneous items that often become a little blurred and spur of the moment. This means I am always short of shopping bags. I always go in for rice and come out with an extra large pack of ‘on special’ toilet paper or mountains of bread that was marked down to a mere 99cents.

In exactly the same way, I found myself in a furniture warehouse clearance store with absolutely no idea how to get my large purchase into my dinky toy of a car.

Here is an absolute fact: A grown woman can carry her own body weight if determined enough to shove a large, heavy-weight carpet the size of a netball field in her car made for scooting around the city, not carrying a carpet consignment.

We are not talking little dhurrie rug here. This carpet was a heavy woollen creation that was so dense it must have required an army to remove it from the loom.

‘I think a small animal could live in there,’ a fellow shopper had commented earlier.

Determination, however knows no bounds, and I managed to squeeze the carpet in the car with boot barely closing and the driver’s safety severely compromised. I convinced myself that it was absolutely acceptable to drive while pressed up against the driver’s door, bottom off centre. This was an emergency.

Warehouse furniture sales, if one is not disciplined and focussed can cause one to lose every ounce of good sense and style the minute one enters the zone. It’s nothing like buying toilet paper on special. You will always use the toilet paper. You will not always have use for a decorative urn.

The secret is discipline. New shopping rules apply. I’ve discovered that while I pride myself for spotting a bargain a mile away, it is only a bargain if I really need it. The way to remain focussed is to make a list prior to leaving home and thus limiting spontaneous buys.

A bargain hunter like myself is on dangerous ground when they end up with a heavy weight carpet when what they’d really come for was ….what was it again?

To be fair, it is easy to lose good sense when confronted by a sea of shoppers and an entire shipment of sale items a fraction of their original cost. Pack the consignment into a capacious warehouse and you have confusion.

The annual warehouse sale had caught the attention of the entire population of bargain hunting Brisbanites and competition was fierce. In supermarkets, there are usually enough bargains for everyone. In warehouse clearance sales, there is limited stock. The winner takes all.

There were those quick off the mark – the sensible one’s clutching catalogues and shopping lists so they could hone in on the desired item and leave without fuss. They were seasoned warehouse shoppers. They knew what they wanted and departed with exactly that item – no more, no less.

This elite group were untempted by the wall of radically price reduced vases, the piles of velvety cushions, sensual silk sheets and luxurious bath towels. They were unmoved by the heaped bric-a-brac, designer homeware and decorative (read useless) well, stuff.

Then there were those mere mortals like myself and my fellow confused friend who became unravelled, unbalanced and unable to see the wood for the trees, as it were.

Or, as another friend commented about her warehouse clearance experience: ‘dizzy, overcome with indecision.’

My friend observed a dangerous, recurring pattern – she didn’t like an item until she saw someone else walk off with it.

‘A bit like suddenly liking an ex boyfriend again because he found a new girlfriend,’ I commented.

It is also very easy to be influenced by a For Sale sticker that once said $400, and now says $20, no matter that the ottoman in question is canary yellow. Creativity and possible justification for purchase is a common characteristic of a rabid bargain hunter.

The trick is to self talk. A two-seater Fanta orange couch marked down from $800 to a mere $99 was reduced in price for a reason: It is hideous. I have to repeat this self talk several times over and sensibly remain unmoved by the tempting slashed prices.

I came oh so close to falling for a bright green ottoman the colour of mushy peas. ‘Think gracious classic colonial, think gracious colonial,’ was my mantra as I perused the vast warehouse, scanning it’s bowels for a touch of class.

The carpet, admittedly, was a compromise. It caught my eye as I realised the warehouse rug supply was fast dwindling and I may miss out on a bargain all together. My poor children would forever sit with their cold little bottoms on a worn old kilim rug, threadbare and way past its prime.

The monstrous floor covering was made up of square shades of sludge: Sludge brown, sludge cream that although not quite fitting my classic colonial picture, was a good foil for messy children and their friends.
It had tufts resembling a bed of sea urchins – or fat little grubs I’d seen coming out of my lawn. The label promised it was pure wool and hand woven. My heart went out to the weavers.

It was comfy quite beyond expectation. Like stepping on marshmallows. My sad old kilim had nothing on its cushion-like softness. Several shoppers were eyeing it out. They were coming closer, remarking on how lovely it was, what a bargain marked down from a cool $1400 to a mere $150.

Sold! To the lady squatting like an urchin on the sludge brown worm carpet.

And so it was that I came for a couch and left with a carpet. And a curvaceous bamboo urn that had my husband ask, ‘What is it? I would never in million years have imagined you’d choose something like that.’ And a teal coloured wicker footstool worn and yes, rather colonial, I self-talked. For just one dollar, I was not about to haggle. I also found pastel green camping cups. And dare I admit it, another rug. Black, with orange, sage green and rust squiggles. Pure wool, marked down from $499 to $50. An absolute bargain.

Soon to be auctioned on Ebay…

And the sludge slug carpet? My children love it.

One has already spilled an entire mug of Milo on a chocolate sludge square and it blended beautifully…

Copyright © 2015 by Lois Nicholls

A Bone to Pick with Paleo

Paleo

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA — The beleaguered Pete Evans of paleo persuasion might just have an ally on the far-flung side of the world. His name is Professor Tim Noakes and I truly believe he and Pete should chew the cud, so to speak.

The renowned Cape Town based professor you see, is also under public scrutiny for his dietary views. He is a great protagonist of the Banting diet (very similar to Paleo but says yes to a little dairy). Sugar is pure evil. He’s also the author of The Real Meal Revolution. His original notoriety, however, was gained from a heavyweight book he once wrote, The Lore of Running.

Noakes’ recent media scrutiny stems from his complete backflip when it comes to his former high carb teachings. He’s been pretty vocal about his new high fat, low carb diet. He, like Pete has been publicly bashed by dieticians and worse, fellow Cape Town University academics. The public is also fed up, judging by a reliable source of scandal, Facebook.

Years ago, every running enthusiast I knew loaded with pasta pre-race because the professor told them to. They devoured his heavy tome and in pursuit of running excellence, ensured they followed his diet plan to the last pasta shell.

I was one such devotee, particularly when it came to pre-race diets and training plans. If Professor Noakes said it was true, so it was. He was a renowned sports scientist after all – not to mention a participant of 70 marathons and ultra-marathons. And now, all these years later, he has come out and said sorry, I was wrong. You know that bit where I said: let them eat pasta? Well, they should have eaten steak instead.

But really, is that enough? Just sorry? Sorry doesn’t quite cut it for the thousands of well-meaning runners who hosted hundreds of pre-race pasta parties.

Most deserving of a special apology, however, is the old man of the road, Wally Hayward. A former Olympian, he won the infamous Comrades Marathon five times (a gruelling 90 kilometres).

He completed his last Comrades just shy of eighty-one. His secret? Legend had it that he consumed a rather generous pre-race steak. Everyone thought he was slightly unhinged at the time. What would an old man know about diet anyway? What about carbs? How the tables turned. A decade or so later, steak became hero and carbs were unceremoniously dumped.

Coming back to Pete, while he and family did look marvelously healthy on their recent Current Affair plug, I couldn’t help thinking what sort of food recollections his sweet children will have.

My nostalgic food memories include ravenously devouring freshly baked white bread sandwiches oozing with butter and marmite. Will beetroot cake evoke the same warm and fuzzies?

The bone I have to pick with both Pete and the venerable professor, I might add, is that both diets are ever so slightly self-absorbed. Not to mention time-consuming. Pete’s bone broth, for example, not only involves a commitment to drink, but it requires pure fortitude to make. A health nut friend tried it for a while and seemed to spend her life shopping for organic chicken carcasses and bones. Note, organic. Sustainably farmed. Not any old chicken and beef bones would do. And they had to simmer for hours before the real goodness could be flushed from said bones.

Anyone who can keep this ritual up forever deserves a medal. More importantly, they must be well-heeled. To truly follow the diets, one must preferably buy organic. My dear husband who is slightly on the gullible side with the odd food fad, is currently dabbling in Paleo. By dabbling I mean he’s cut out sugar and is drinking sludge. It started when told by a friend that berry and kale breakfast smoothies kept him alert and super-charged. Not any old berries, mind you, they had to be organic because ordinary blueberries were ‘doused with pesticides’.

Turns out organic berries are exactly double the price of their non-organic cousins.

The same applies to anything given the ‘organic’ blessing.

The real good news to emerge from all of this is that finally, my chocolate stash is quite safe. For now, it seems I can indulge in my daily fix all by myself. It may be short-lived. If history repeats itself, I give Kale Man two weeks max.

And as for Paleo Pete et al, I would take them with a hearty pinch of salt. Just make it Himalayan.

© Copyright Lois Nicholls 2015

Oil Spills No Tonic

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—When a day starts off really badly, I sometimes feel the most sensible option is to go straight back to bed. I say this with conviction as this week, I had not one but two major mishaps before the day had even properly begun.

First, I filled the steam iron with tonic water. Yes, tonic water. Should have drunk the gin and gone back to bed. The ironing board is permanently set up in the garage for easy access and ironing on demand. Tellingly, it is not a pastime I enjoy. The tonic water had been sitting there for some time, right next to the spare fridge that tends to freeze up. I only recalled later that I had removed the frozen bottle of tonic water some months earlier.

Hurrying as usual, I grabbed a shirt and eyeing the tonic water bottle, proceeded to top up the steam iron. Seconds later, an aroma best described as burnt toffee, wafted through the room. The iron then began spewing caramel-coloured liquid all over my clean shirt. Careful not to raise the alarm, I quietly rinsed out the caramel water and was rather relieved that the iron didn’t seem to have suffered any lasting damage. I simply retrieved a fresh shirt and continued as normal. As it turned out, it would take a tad longer to rid the iron of caramel residue.

Next I decided the slight ‘misfiring’ of my car engine was certainly an oil deficit. I know nothing about cars. As one of the three girls growing up in a household, I wish I’d listened when my dear dad was doing his seasonal oil change. The only technical car word I recall was ‘sump’.

I headed for the car and in my defense, this was probably one occasion where my family should have taken notice of what I was saying. I cheerily announced to no one in particular that I was “going to fill up the car with oil”.

As I later learned, you fill up a car with petrol and merely ‘top up’ with oil. That’s why there’s a marker on the dip stick. It’s meant to indicate when to stop. I filled it up like a kettle.

I felt quite emancipated until I drove my son to the bus stop and noted a slow trail of smoke wafting from the bonnet. Too embarrassed to stop, open the hood and pretend to know what I was looking for, I waved my bemused son and his mates goodbye and left under a cloud, as it were.

Still reluctant to reveal to the rest of the family that I may have permanently damaged a very valuable mode of ‘uni’ student transport, I did the next sensible thing after searching the entirely unhelpful car manual. I quietly Googled ‘what happens when you overfill a Yaris with oil’.

Good old Google – seems other dummies have done it too. Most of the commentary was not too encouraging. Engine damage ‘could’ result, said one. Another bright spark suggested sucking the excess out with a tube. This was the practical option I chose. I cut off a short length of garden hose and proceeded to suck. Surprise, surprise. There’s an obstructive metal plug that prevents such pastimes.

The only other alternative was draining the oil by locating that pesky little sump. Google called it a ‘sump plug’ and again, there are people out there in cyberspace looking for theirs too. I tried squeezing my head under the car to search for said ‘sump plug’ but the low carriage clearance was a little prohibitive.

Note to manufacturer: Make allowance for head under car. The obvious solution was to jack the car up. It was only now that my husband fortuitously lifted his head from his very important document and asked what the heck I was doing. Close call. It could have been a beautiful climax to a catastrophic morning – Yours Truly found squashed under the car, head positioned inches from the sump plug. Strangely, the car righted itself. Engine seems fine.

The heartening aspect of being ever so slightly dippy is that there are others out there with similar traits. I was relaying my dramas to a very trusted friend who, unlike many sensible people, can totally relate to the slightly offbeat episodes that plague me. In other words, things that don’t happen to the average ordinary person. Bless her.

She doesn’t, for example, ask why I didn’t just call RACQ. Or: did I not know that the tonic water was tonic water given that it was in a tonic water bottle? Near the fridge. As a fellow and perhaps a far nuttier nutter than myself, she always comes up with a far more rewarding story. For example, I told her about our Golden Orb spider that had taken up residence, complete with the resplendent web, in the inside corner of the front windshield. Unlike most families who would possible screech in unison and remove or squash the spider, it remained there for two days because no one wanted to break its beautiful web. That’s not normal.

My friend, whom I’ll call Sally, on account of work colleagues regarding her as the picture of efficiency and normality, didn’t flinch. Just that week she had had a run in with a different sort of creature. She had pulled on her jeans in a hurry, noting that they were a little tight from a recent indulgent holiday. While seated in the car with her family she felt something wriggling near her thigh.

With great difficulty and hysteria, on account of her constricting pants, she managed to grab hold of the wriggling creature while frantically sliding her other hand down her jeans.

Screeching, she revealed to all that she thought there was a cockroach in her jeans. With great difficulty and hysteria, on account of her constricting pants, she managed to grab hold of the wriggling creature while frantically sliding her other hand down her jeans. “I pulled out a gecko,” she said, deadpan. Of course, she did. Better than knickers. She’s done that too.

She’s also been party to her husband’s car careering into the fence of an unsuspecting family’s home. Police were called. When my car rolled down the hill sans handbrake, it was only a gentle incline, so it simply ramped the curb, scared the daylight out of a man walking his dogs, and stopped by itself. While it’s always comforting to have someone with whom to share such stories, there are times I’ve wondered about some familial link.

My mother did, after all, once hurriedly open the left-hand double garage door to reverse her car, forgetting she was parked in the right. It’s the only time I ever recall hearing my dad use the F-word. I’ve also pondered whether these quirks are not perhaps part of something more sinister. Like the dreaded ‘A’ word of the early onset kind. Seen the movie, Still Alice, read the book.

It does seem, however that I’m off the hook. I read an article recently that said the reason we lose our keys, vacantly put the shoe polish in the fridge or fill up our steam irons with tonic water (Ok, no one else has actually done this), is that we have too much going on in our brains. We have passwords, work agendas, school pickups, teacher interviews, texts to send, finances to juggle, emails to read, people to phone, stuff, stuff, stuff all going on in our overloaded grey matter. It’s no wonder we sometimes have a short circuit.

After some reflection, I decided that what the experts were really saying but were far too politically correct to reveal, was in fact that nutty was the new normal. I’m sticking with that.

© Lois Nicholls June 2015

Photo courtesy: http://www.schweppes.de/

Ugly Fruit and Veg – bring it on

ugly fruit and veg

BRITAIN–Jamie’s done it again – taken the road less traveled when it comes to food and exposed that lo and behold, consumers in Britain and surely elsewhere, have no problem buying what he terms ugly fruit and veg.

Tons of fruit and vegetables deemed not perfect enough for consumers is dumped each year or turned into animal fodder. At one Norfolk farm he visited, up to 10 tons of imperfect vegetables were dumped a week. As Jamie pointed out in his Food Revolution series, this is perfectly edible fruit and vegetables, with exactly the same nutritional value as its prettier peers, it’s just a bit more gnarly and quirky than its commercially acceptable counterparts.

Testing his theory about ugly fruit and veg

To test his theory that consumers were not averse to buying deformed vegetables, he placed cameras at a particular supermarket and viewed customer reaction to the not so perfect vegetables which were marked 30% off. To his delight, consumers bought with gusto – they understood that not all vegetables grown are perfect and they were definitely not repelled by their appearance.

I sincerely hope he starts a revolution, particularly with many families struggling to put fresh fruit and vegetables on the table. It starts with major suppliers. What large supermarket chains are failing to get is that not all consumers want picture perfect carrots. Ask any organic grower. Consumers are more informed than they’re given credit for. Many of us grow our own veggies and know that the tastiest tomatoes, for example, are not always the prettiest.

‘Beautiful on the Inside’ ugly fruit and veg

asdaTo prove his point, in January this year, Jamie approached the UK chain, Asda to test his theory and launched his ‘Beautiful on the Inside’ range. It’s working – consumers are buying. And why shouldn’t they? In a survey, 65% of people said they would buy the ‘wonky’ fruit and vegetables and 75% said they would if the produce was marked down.

I would choose wonky any day. As a child, I remember pulling out carrots from my mum’s garden that were downright comical. Often, at least three roots curled around each other in a carroty embrace – quite unlike the straight as a pin packaged carrots in our supermarkets. They were eaten anyway. Potatoes often had extra knobs on them and the insect nibbled bits of cauliflower or broccoli florets were simply cut out.

Most of us are fine with a little imperfection. And if ugly fruit and veg comes at a reduced cost, even better. Best of all, our farmers could get a lot more value out of a crop rather than having to dump perfectly good fruit and veggies simply because it didn’t make the supermarket grade.

Jamie, I salute you. I, for one, will be first to sign up for the “ugly” fruit and veg revolution.

Bring on the gnarly, the discarded and disenfranchised produce.

Their time has come.

© Lois Nicholls 2015

Carrot image credit: Twitter

A House of History

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—The humble simplicity of a quaint little wooden cottage in the leafy Brisbane suburb of Kelvin Grove belies its illustrious roots with the source of its building material from one of the world’s densest woods, Darwin stringy bark milled in Napranum, Cape York and salvaged from vast mining tracts in the area.

The home’s owner, environmental scientist, Mark Annandale helped run the saw mill in Napranum, Cape York. Western Cape York traditional owners had previously set up a venture, Nanam Tawap Ltd with Queensland Government which included operating the sawmill, a masonry block plant and sand quarry.

Job Photos (Aaron Building) - 35 Victoria St, Kelvin Grove_Shoot_2-3

Under conditions of their lease, mining companies can mine the area with the proviso that existent timber can be cut before mining begins. Approximately 1000 hectares of forest is cleared by Rio Tinto Alcan prior to mining operations each year. Without milling, invaluable wood is burnt and lost for good as this is the cheaper, quicker option.

Job Photos (Aaron Building) - 35 Victoria St, Kelvin Grove_Shoot_2-16

Mark’s idea to build a home from wood salvaged from Cape York has been four years in the making. “I wanted to build a recycled house and carted around 45 tons of wood looking for an opportunity to build for four years. It took two semi-trailer loads and a loader to transport it.”

By then, the wood was well and truly dried out and ready for use. “Most posts were too heavy to lift so had to be rolled on the ground – each comes from a tree some 200 years old,” he said.

Job Photos (Aaron Building) - 35 Victoria St, Kelvin Grove-16

There’s been a fair amount of curiosity from passers-by in the tree-lined suburban block where the two-bedroomed wooden house has been taking shape over the past eight months. It’s been a long haul, with builder, Craig Riddle of Aaron Building and his son, Zachary overseeing the age-old method of post and beam construction with an expressed hard wood frame.

Carpenter, Darren Smith had his work cut out for him as handling this rare hardwood was not an everyday occurrence and construction was often challenging. Some joints took up to five and a half hours to cut and chisel in order to fit two large pieces together. The pieces of timber were too big and heavy to ‘trial fit’, and had to be cut correctly within one to two millimetres, allowing for the natural features like twists and bows.

Job Photos (Aaron Building) - 35 Victoria St, Kelvin Grove_Shoot_2-12

Taking this type of care cutting the joints allowed two pieces to be joined together, and not impose unnecessary tension that might distort the structure. “This also favoured the building, that it would remain straight, square and level. The special joints meant steel plates and bolts were not required to connect these large timber pieces together,” said Craig. Instead, 25 millimetre dowels were used to secure load bearing Mortise and Tenon joints.

Job Photos (Aaron Building) - 35 Victoria St, Kelvin Grove-1

All material used in the construction was hardwood which included posts and beams, floor joists, wall and roof framing. Even the timber for the window manufacture and door joinery, carport decking, chamferboard cladding and tongue and groove flooring all came from the same logs. The only digression was plywood used for the wall and ceiling linings.

The end result is a beautiful, lovingly created home that sits comfortably alongside neighbouring Queenslanders. The natural insulation means it’s warm in winter and cool in summer and isn’t reliant on costly heating and cooling. Best of all, there is history and longevity in the solid beams and trusses – each with its own rich patina and story.

“It will be here for way over 100 years and definitely won’t rot or blow away – and if it floods, it can simply be hosed down,” says Mark.

Hope amidst the heartache of Ebola

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIAWhile the Ebola crisis sweeping through West Africa is easy to ignore, a Brisbane woman has refused to turn a blind eye. She has started a charity for an orphanage in Sierra Leone that will bring hope to innocent orphans who have become the tragic fallout of the deadly virus.

Jane Shakespeare is a feminine, blonde, slim, yoga-loving graphic designer, wife of IT consultant Jeremy and doting mum to 13-year-old Harry. The family lives in a comfortable, tree-lined suburb of Brisbane with their lovable pooch, Holmes and enjoy all the comforts hard work in their adopted country of Australia has brought.

The family moved from England in 2007 for Jeremy to take up a new job with his company and the family fell in love with the sun-drenched beaches of Australia and the friendly, laid back lifestyle of Brisbane. The contrast between life in West Africa’s Sierra Leone and this lush little pocket of Brisbane is extreme. Yet Jane maintains a soul tie with this war-torn and more recently, Ebola-ravaged country.

Inexplicably, it was while living in the quaint, historic town of Warwick, England – that she had her first introduction to one of the poorest countries on earth. While studying for her economics degree at Warwick University, Jane became interested in micro-credit and the impact it had on women’s lives. She was put in contact with an organisation called One World Link which already had ties between her home town of Warwick and Bo Town in Sierra Leone. The country had been through a brutal civil war during the Nineties and thousands of young men were murdered. Women had become the backbone of their society and increasingly, the only hope for their children’s education and future.

St Mary's Children's Home 2

“They basically had a very powerful influence on the country as so many of their men were killed in the civil war. It was important for them to have skills to support their whole family. Their little businesses meant the difference between them being able to educate their children and sinking into a cycle of poverty,” says Jane.

Her university agreed to sponsor Jane’s trip to Bo Town, Sierra Leone and in February, 2006, she spent two weeks visiting women’s groups interviewing individuals and discovering how they managed to support their families. In spite of the apparent poverty, Jane witnessed how women eked out a living simply by being given a small kick-start loan. Back in England, she didn’t forget these resourceful women and immediately set about encouraging her friends, colleagues and community to donate sewing machines.

“I placed an advert in the local Leamington Spa/Warwick paper asking for non-electric sewing machines to be donated to send out to the women’s groups I’d come across. It was obvious to me that if the women had their own sewing machines they could make their own fabrics into garments to sell, cutting out the middle man. This allowed them to earn more money for the groups. I sent the sewing machines out in a container with other materials that were sent over by One World Link in Warwick. I thought I might get 20 or so but ended up collecting 176 which was quite overwhelming,” she says.

I was so concerned about the home’s long-term survival that I subsequently offered to set up a website so people could donate

While in Sierra Leone, Jane had also met Father Peter Konteh, founder of St Mary’s Children’s Home, an orphanage in Bo Town, Sierra Leone. He was also president of the Desert Flower Foundation that fights against genital mutilation of young women, a practise still rife in parts of Africa. Fr. Konteh later traveled to England and the two became good friends. So much so, that Jane and Jeremy began the process of adopting a young girl from the orphanage.

“At the time, I was having problems falling pregnant but the international adoptive procedure was very complicated and expensive, I realised we could do far more to help many children, not just one, by sending money to the orphanage. It was the only way I knew how to help. I was so concerned about the home’s long-term survival that I subsequently offered to set up a website so people could donate.”

SMCH Photo

Little did she know how important her gesture would become. In March, 2014, the Ebola virus disease outbreak took hold of West Africa. Starting in Guinea, it spread across land to Sierra Leone and Liberia and by air to Nigeria and again by land, to Senegal. According to the World Health Organisation, it was “the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak” since being discovered in 1976. Sierra Leone was not left unscathed and soon became ravaged by the devastating disease.

As at 24th December 2014, WHO estimates Ebola has claimed the lives of close to 7,588 people, although more realistic figures are believed to be more than 12 000. As at 27th December there have been more than 2,366 confirmed deaths in Sierra Leone. Again, these figures are always far higher, given the remoteness of some affected regions and the fact that many of the dead are buried without cases being reported. The number of orphans grew to thousands and Father Konteh relayed the problems his orphanage was experiencing. Their resources were stretched to capacity and raising money became increasingly urgent.

While the orphanage was supported by donors, grants and contributions from organisations such as the Healey Foundation in New Jersey, Jane felt powerless to help. She realised that the only way to assist was to set up an Australian-based charity and raise awareness here. Through her constant interaction with Fr Konteh, and hearing first-hand how shocking and far-reaching the impact of Ebola had become, she knew the more money raised, the more children could be rescued. “My objective was to show ordinary people around the world how they could help in their own small way.”

WHO estimates Ebola has claimed the lives of close to 7,588 people

She began posting haunting, confronting images about the Ebola crisis on Facebook, giving a face to those impacted by its cruel cycle. Often, her passion was met with cynicism and occasionally, open hostility, especially when she started campaigning for governments to step in. She refused to give up her quest and slowly, the message seemed to be getting across. Yes, the disease was on another continent, but it was a world problem, not one that could simply be dismissed. The Australian government was slow off the mark, but help began trickling in.

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The more she spoke about her relationship with St Mary’s, the more people took notice and before long, Jane even had fellow yoga class members offering to donate. “I was overwhelmed by the generous hearts of everyday Australians,” she says. “All I wanted was to get some of the orphans off the street and into a happy, safe environment where they could be educated. Every little bit helps towards that goal.”

As if this wasn’t enough to take on board, Jane’s heart had capacity for far more. While visiting Bo, Sierra Leone, she had also encountered Josaya Bangali, who had written poems revealing his sentiments about the 10-year civil war that had destroyed his country.

“I made a promise to him that I would put his poems into a book, get them printed and sell them on his behalf. In 2008, I did a graphic design course, set myself up as a self-publisher and got 500 books printed. I currently sell them for $20 AUD each or £10 GBP each and send 100% of the proceeds to Josaya. I also created a website to sell his books but I’ve found that it’s easier to sell them by speaking to people.”

Children at SMCH

Her relationship with Josaya didn’t end there. He happened to have a daughter, Manjia, a community nurse in Sierra Leone who expressed a desire to further her nursing studies in a developed country. Jane was her contact with the Western world. Again, this slight, big-hearted, adoptive Australian woman stepped in to help.

“I helped her apply to the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane and she received on offer to do a Bachelor of Nursing degree. To do so, she would need funding and a sponsor, something that was proving increasingly difficult to facilitate. “

It all could have ended there, but Jane sat down with her family and discussed the possibility of financing Manjia—paying for her studies and opening their home to her while she completed her three-year degree. After careful thought, the family decided to offer sponsorship—a move that was not without its concerns and difficulties.

“It was not a case of this wealthy, spoiled family deciding to do their bit. We’ve had to make sacrifices,” says Jane. That included inviting Manjia’s young son to come and live with them too.

“In the course of our communication, (hampered by dodgy internet connections), I discovered that Manjia had a two-year-old little boy, Kingsley, and I just couldn’t let her leave him behind so he’s coming too,” she smiles.

That’s if they can get in the country at all. With the understandable hysteria surrounding Ebola, (Australia has banned all travel from Sierra Leone), for now, Manjia’s plans are on hold. It’s taken nine months of jumping through hoops, visa applications and other red tape and they are not quite over the line, particularly with the indefinite ban imposed. However, Jane is confident it will all eventually work out. And she hopes her story inspires others that everyone is capable of contributing, no matter how small the steps are.

“It is inspiring to think we are capable of reaching out and helping in whatever little way we can. I consider myself an average person—not particularly special—all I did was to help the only way I knew how,” she says.

SMCH-logoTo donate, contact www.stmaryschildrenshome.com

Organisations such as the UK-based charity, Street Child estimate ‘an excess of 20,000 children’ have already lost their primary care giver to Ebola. ‘And clearly that number is growing daily’.

Feature photo – Jane, her son Harry and husband, Jeremy

Photos courtesy of St Mary’s Children’s Home Charity Facebook Page

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Leaning Towards Christmas

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA—The tree is up and our feral feline has already been seduced by its baubles and bling and attempted to climb its fake Canterbury pine branches and make off with the flashing star.

He made the same ascent last year with, pardon the pun, catastrophic results. He snapped the top clean off resulting in an eternal leaning due to two taped stakes connecting the tree top to its piny nether regions.

Admittedly, this leaning does give the tree a certain authentic ‘I was harvested on a particularly blustery winter morning’ appearance. Instead, it was made in China with the only real similarity being that, this one, like its genuine counterpart, has a definite shelf life.

This Christmas, I fear, will be its last. The rest of the Christmas decorations have also taken on a rather forlorn air, mostly because the chief festivity officer, namely my daughter, has taken off to Europe. She’s enjoying a bracing start to a European winter while we begin the slow melt into summer.

While we may not have all the trappings of a picture book Christmas, an Aussie Christmas has one definite advantage: Sunshine—lots of it. We can take full advantage of nature’s own energy source and go mad with solar lights. That’s if they’re not all snapped up by greedy solar shoppers. There never seems to be enough to go around. I managed to salvage the last bucket of white icicle lights (irony there) at my local supermarket which I proceeded to excitedly drape over our entrance wall. They showed great promise until I realised they were six metres long and the wall was twelve. Half the wall looks dazzling but the fun stops there. Reindeer

To make up for the lack of lighting, I hung up last year’s wreaths made from my old passionfruit vine and sticks I found in the bush. Rustic festive charm is the general theme. I also had a couple of wooden reindeer lovingly crafted by my husband. However, these seem to have landed up in the fire pit when a certain teenager insisted it was too late to gather his own wood when friends were arriving ‘any minute’. All that remains of Rudolph is his log head and a rather faded red bow.

All that remains of Rudolph is his log head and a rather faded red bow.

Shopping at Christmas is universally manic. Each year I resolve to avoid the mayhem by adopting the clichéd yet sensible ‘shop through the year’ approach. It never works. I know without a doubt that with a week to go I will be the vague shopper pacing the lofty, festooned and fake marbled hallways of my local shopping mall.

I will be the wild-eyed woman manically humming ‘Jingle Bells’ with mounting hysteria. And unfortunately, I will have only myself to blame. If the truth be told, weeks ago, I specifically went to buy a particular someone a Christmas present only to be drawn like a magnet to the sale rack of a rather enticing clothes shop. It ended right there.

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I do, however, have a rather canny and last ditch trick up my sleeve. It’s called online shopping. That’s if I haven’t already missed the deadline. Let me check … oops, one week to go. So online it will bein the cool comfort of my own home, a glass of festive cheer on hand.

I will cleverly avoid the onslaught of shoppers, sweaty Santa’s or sneaky sale racks. Sounds blissful. All that remains is the food shop which will include a tray of luscious, sun-kissed Bowen mangoes. Instant sensory, festive euphoria has to be the sight of these golden nuggets nestling in air-conditioned comfort on the kitchen counter.

Then and only then will I be perfectly set for an Aussie Christmas.

Let the joyful countdown begin …

Wishing you all a blessed and bountiful Christmas!

© Lois Nicholls 2014

Dexter

Letter in Post for Putin

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA―While the G20 leaders were ensconced in Brisbane’s Convention Centre yesterday, flexing political muscles and espousing views on solving the world’s problems, they may have been better off visiting the City Tabernacle Baptist Church for a rather more honest and sobering take on where the world is at.

Surely they would have been enlightened and relieved that former Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Hon John Anderson AO, had the gall to tell it like it is in his message,’Resurrecting Order Out of Chaos‘. (Audio – http://goo.gl/FeCjD5) They would have also been inspired and uplifted by a host of angels―the church choir. And rather than having to mingle with puffed up politicians, they may have rubbed shoulders with some rather interesting characters.

Behind me, for example, looking a little flushed and flustered was a delightful young guy with a disarming smile and, it turns out, chutzpah to match. He had just risked arrest by brazenly approaching a ‘cop’ at the Hilton in the hope of hand-delivering a letter to Putin as he left for the Convention Centre. It transpires that he has had a heart for the formidable Russian leader for years and has been faithfully praying for him.

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Unfortunately, the bemused and sweaty policeman guarding the hotel dignitaries was having none of it. He wasn’t about to lose his job over a letter even when delivered by a charming young man in a rather dapper black velvet jacket and leather shoes that had seen better days. The fact that the letter bearer was also battle-scarred from a skateboarding incident a day prior, didn’t help his cause. He looked as though he’d been crash tackled by a policeman in a previous encounter.

Mate, I really don’t know what’s in that letter

Commemorative-G20-BibleThis little interlude was probably the most excitement the poor policeman had seen all weekend and he was congenial in his rebuttal, offering: “Mate, I really don’t know what’s in that letter,” in spite of the young man’s insistence it was simply a heartfelt note explaining his sentiments.

I’m encouraged, however that perhaps the carefully crafted message will land on the Russian leader’s desk after all. You see, undeterred, the young scribe is intent on getting it to Putin.

“I’ll just have to use snail mail,” he shrugged, flashing that disarming smile.

Watch this space …

PS. I hope the G20 Leaders are enjoying their gift of a commemorative G20 Bible―they’re bound to find pearls of wisdom in its pages.