On 27 June the Diamond Creek OM:NI Group and Eltham Mens Shed lost an old and valued friend. Nick Grange sadly passed away after a battle with cancer. Nick was a long standing member of both groups. With OM:NI he was one of the early members, and with Mens Shed he joined later on, and here he was one of the driving forces in operating the bike repair group. Nick started this blog for OM:NI which has been an invaluable record of the history and activities of the group. He was a keen member of the cycling group, who encouraged members to ride further astray, and who we loved to share a coffee and talk with. All who knew Nick were influenced by his dreams – for the blog, the bike repair group, and the cycling peloton. He will be sadly missed by all, but his memory will live on via this story below, which is my personal feeling towards my friend.
My Friend Nick.
I have a friend named Nick, who I met eight years ago when I joined the Diamond Creek OM:NI – Men’s Discussion Group.
As in any group bound together by a commonality, we tend to focus on some individuals within the group, those we have common interests with, who we enjoy talking and listening to and those who for some reason we simply like from the start.
Nick was one of these people to me. We shared a few passions and dreams, mainly a love of cycling and cooking, in particular coffee brewing, as well as the same type of whimsical and quirky sense of humour, plus a keen appreciation for the sense of the ridiculous.
The group started a weekly cycling ride, which over the years grew into a small peloton. No Middle Aged Men in Lycra, on sleek shiny machines, simply a bunch of older blokes on a motley collection of bikes, wearing comfortable clothing. A bunch of guys having a leisurely friendly ride, the main concern finding a decent coffee shop to stop for a chat.
Nick became an enthusiastic member of the group. He progressed from riding an ancient touring bike to a proper road bike, a birthday present from his wife. I enjoyed riding alongside him, chatting about food, bikes, trips and life in general, and at morning tea comparing the taste of our home made muesli bars. He was a trained cook and had spent all of his life in the food industry, and this was one of his passions. I gleaned much about cooking as we rode, for example the difference between cottage and shepherd’s pie. I occasionally got a kick when I taught him something about cooking that he didn’t know.
About four years ago, the Eltham Men’s Shed formed a bike rescue service, where donated old bikes were done up and donated to local needy kids. Nick joined this group and quickly became the dominant force, progressing from a limited knowledge of bike repairs to a formidable amateur skill in restoring bikes of all ages and types. In the beginning, I taught him things about bike repairs, but he soon out skilled me.
He persuaded the committee to fund a full set of modern tools and equipment, so the group could repair modern bikes requiring specialist tools. Under his tutelage a steady supply of bikes were gifted to young kids. His only partial failure was in renovating an old electric bike, he made it roadworthy, but the battery could only last about ten kilometres, requiring the new owner to be extremely careful how far he travelled. He would impatiently sit through the weekly meeting, then hurry around to the bike workshop and start work.
With the cycling group, Nick took on the role of unofficial leader, sending out the weekly group email advising of the ride. He was the most adventurous of the group, suggesting different and wider ranging rides, rather than the Yarra or Mullum Mullum trails, where most of us were generally content to ride. We started exploring other rides, one beneficial side effect being giving us the chance to visit a wider range of cafes, where we would leisurely taste the coffee, comparing it to that from other venues, and enjoying this task over a good chat, along with the rest of the group.
A few years ago, Nick came up with the idea of a blog for the OM:NI Group. When he first mentioned this it was met with mostly blank stares. Most of the guys had no idea of social media, did not know what a blog was, some had Face book so they could see grandchildren photos, and a quarter did not have email.
Nick took up the blog with a passion. He thought the history of the group was worthy of being formally recorded. He persevered with the blokes, explaining what a blog was, and slowly encouraging them to upload stories and photos, mostly their local caravan trips and overseas travels. He managed to find local sponsors to fund the upgrade to a formal web site. Today the site is a fairly professional looking publication, containing eight years history – Xmas parties, special events, stories and poems by members, numerous group cycling shots. All this from a guy who only owned an ancient analogue Nokia mobile, is a tribute to his persistence, dedication and willingness to take on a challenge. Not a bad achievement.
Sadly, I now only have the memory of my friend Nick. Twelve months ago he developed lymphoma. The specialists were initially confident that plan A would work, but as they progressed through the alphabet, there were no more letters left, it was incurable and there was nothing but palliative care. My friend died on 27th June, 2018, two weeks short of his 71st birthday. After attending his 70th birthday one year earlier, where he was healthily and happily celebrating life, this was a sad sudden shock to us all.
As the disease crept forward, Nick continued to follow his dreams. He still attended the OM:NI group, still worked on the old bikes, and continued to come riding with us, although these became shorter and shorter, slower and slower. He still continued to develop his blog, maybe this passion helped him cope with the increasing pain.
There was no formal funeral, simply an open day at his home, where friends came to pay their respects to his family, while consuming much tasty food, which I think he would have liked. His ashes were gently scattered by his family in a peaceful bend of the Diamond Creek, next to the bike path where he rode each week, and where he and his wife would take the dog for a walk, and sit and talk on a nearby bench. We realised then how much the cycling outings meant to him. On our first ride after he died, we stopped at one of his favourite coffee spots and gave our friend a coffee salute.
Will Nick’s dreams live on?
We will certainly try to make this happen. A few weeks before his death he asked me to take over as the web administrator. This task I readily accepted as a tribute to Nick and to the effort he put into this passion. So the blog will continue, not as grandiose as Nick would have liked I suspect, but I will do the best I can. My first post will be this story.
The cycling group has decided to conduct an annual Nick’s Tribute Ride on the anniversary of his death. This will follow the route of his last group ride, a short one in the Eltham/Diamond Creek area, and we will stop at that gentle bend and reflect for a while on our friend, then the blokes from the groups who can’t cycle will join us for morning tea at a Diamond Creek cafe to quietly celebrate Nick’s life and passions.
Throughout my past 70 years, I have never been able to understand why mankind, (especially me) never seems to have the ability to gain enduring happiness and satisfaction.
There have been numerous occasions when I have experienced total engagement with life and had a complete belief in the fact, that, all the events of my past experiences have been favorable to me, and, for a short while that satisfaction of being completely fulfilled has been deep and at times even joyous, and possibly the closest to what I imagine to be complete satisfaction with life.
Conversely, however, those good feelings are continually interrupted with unforeseen and unexpected occurrences that have at times led me down the path to the deepest, darkest, caverns of my mind, where I have endured lengthy episodes of being incapable of dealing with the current circumstances of what life has served up to me, and, that pain causes me to ponder, will this period of unhappiness ever leave me.
Given the above description is universal and simplistic and can be deemed as “generic thinking” in written form for so many of us, the actuality of it remains comprehensively vast, and, at times insurmountable. These events are not unique to me alone, but in varying degrees and magnitude are shared by us all as an inherent aspect of the human condition.
One major concern for me is the gathering together of the sad times that visit me when trying to sleep,and, those thoughts keep me awake for much of the night, but, only to find in the light of day, whilst the nights mind games cannot be ignored due to their reality in my waking hours, they occasionally are not always as bad as the night portrays them to be and at times as bad as they can be.
As I am writing this, it is 7 am on a Sunday morning in early winter of June 2018, and one of those sleepless nights have again paid me a visit. I have just made myself a cup of tea and moved into my office, and, from where my desk is positioned, I’m able to see my front garden bathing in the early morning dew and sunlight that causes the leaves on my Maple and Silver Birch trees to exhibit the beautiful colors of late autumn in all their splendor.
The contradiction of all this beauty is that this magnificence is coming from a phase of the tree’s dying off period for their winter hibernation.
Farther past the two tree’s can be seen the pinkish/red clouds of a new day against a deep blue sky, all further enhancing the varying shades of red and yellow colors of the leaves to gift me a potential joyous welcome to a new day. This can provide me the opportunity to once again reset my thinking and strive to find the courage to enjoy the numerous non material blessings bestowed, but, to also reflect on ongoing reciprocal problems and occasional misfortunes.
This daily review of circumstances is my constant companion that takes me to the heights of joy and almost to the abyss of despair when some events are such they appear unresolvable.
I suppose that on both speaking and listening to many others life stories , I must somehow strive to reach an acceptance and conclusion, that, my emotional roller coaster is, in fact, an inherent aspect of being human, and peace will not find me until “maybe” I can accept the good and bad as being somewhat equal and in balance.
Life’ events could be described as “If that’s the way it is that’s the way it is“!
If only it could be as cut and dried as mentioned, for then, life may be more tolerable, however, our free will does offer us some opportunity to maybe lessen our lot in life. If we keep thinking and doing the same thing over and over again we will always get the same outcome, therefore, its not until we seriously stop, and take stock of our life and maybe reconsider, and, act upon other options we have previously never tried or said no to, we might just be able to bring change and more happiness and positivity into our life.
My final conclusions are that every one of us, at some time or another, are confronted with either physical, mental, emotional or financial anxieties, and in order, where possible conquer them, we must have the courage and endeavor to continually reach out of our present situation and make the necessary modifications to our life, otherwise nothing changes and life can pass us by!
Apart from that, it is still very good to be alive!
There comes a time when we all actually get serious about cleaning out our “stuff”, items we no longer need, but still retain for various obscure reasons.
We recently helped my daughter and partner move house and I was amazed at the amount of “stuff” they had accumulated after only eight years together. This prompted me to get serious about getting my own house in order, sorting out my historical detritus.
It’s a complex, difficult process, more emotional than physical. Particularly with sorting through old items of one’s parents. It’s as though your childhood is finally slipping away into the darkness, it’s a type of guilt about disposing of items which once meant something to them. But there is little stuff that I would personally use, and I know my children would not be interested in these superfluous snapshots of family history.
With Dad, I have many memories and reminders. The piles of his writing, the boxes of slides, and a few treasured old tools. With mum, it’s not so easy, she was mainly involved in the garden club. But thinking about her life, if there was one particular remnant I would choose to mentally retain it would be her cooking. It was her role in the family. The Sunday roasts, the apple pies, but particularly her famous tasty Christmas pudding.
From a young age I looked forward to Christmas day on my aunt’s farm on the Mornington Peninsular. For lunch, the huge dining table seated a horde of assorted uncles, aunts, grandparents, cousins, friends and other hangers on, to consume a massive meal. After the main Christmas course, all would keenly await the highlight of the day – the grand entrance of the pudding. This icon would be carried into the room by my mum, the maker, and would be flaming with lashings of brandy, (in itself a fire danger in the old timber cottage.)
We would devour the pudding, hoping to get a thruppence or sixpence, which sadly we had to return for next year’s pudding. There were second helpings, laughter and compliments to mum that this was her best pudding yet. Then onto the second highlight of the day, giving out presents.
This ritual lasted for decades. Faces changed, older family died, cousins brought new partners, grandchildren arrived, but mum always made the pudding. In October, the annual process would begin. Mum would spread the ingredients on the old timber kitchen table, and clamp on the heavy cast iron hand mincer. I played a critical role as the suet mincer, laboriously but proudly mincing up a huge pile of suet, at that young age not knowing what this tough sinewy stuff was. Mum would start up the big Sunbeam mixmaster; we would all give the mix a stir with the old wooden spoon, throw in the money and make a wish.
Dad’s role was to maintain a steady fire to steam the pudding for eight hours. Our old house in Clifton Hill had an outside laundry with a huge copper boiler.. He would rig up a device to support the pudding by its cloth loop at the right height, and every hour would stoke the fire and top up the water. Finally the pudding would be hung in its cloth ball in the laundry until Christmas day.
The huge family gatherings finally ended, but mum still made a smaller pudding for the immediate family. After she died, dad continued the tradition until he died. All this time, I never actually knew what the pudding contained, as mum refused to give away her recipe, and dad continued this secrecy. We were simply happy to enjoy the rich sticky tasty treat. When he died I found the recipe, scribbled on a piece of tattered paper in an old diary.
By that time I had forgotten about the suet, and was horrified to see what we had been eating all those years — slabs of saturated fat, plantations of sugar, chocolate, gallons of alcohol, all bound together by healthier mixed fruits, but topped by a sugary creamy custard sauce. Great for me as a diabetic. My wife was horrified at what her mother in law had fed her. I thought it best to keep quiet about the huge tub of lard in mum’s fridge, used to baste the rich Sunday roasts, which all enjoyed.
In honour of my dear old mum, I made her pudding, only once, the first Christmas after dad died when the recipe came to light. It was not as tasty as mum’s, as I left out the suet, and went easy on the sugar, but my family enjoyed it and I had fun telling the kids tales about their gran and pop and aunt May’s farm. It brought back happy memories of our big family, now dispersed, and about our times on the farm a long time ago.
The recipe? Long since gone. I recently spent hours searching through old recipe boxes, through my parents’ papers, and I couldn’t find it. I would not have thrown it out, and it must be somewhere in the house, and may turn up one day, maybe my kids will find it when I go. But in the process I had a beautifully poignant time, trawling through mum’s old recipes, dad’s old stories, ancient photos and the memories of my early life.
Out of curiosity, I googled “old fashioned plum pudding” and hundreds of hits came up, all with the same type of ingredients, including the suet. This was slightly surprising as I thought mum’s recipe was unique, but clearly many mums in that era were busily boiling up puddings pre Christmas, and their little kids were busily mincing suet. But I guess the eating environment gives each pudding its own unique flavour.
In mum’s memory here is an old imperial recipe which from my early memories seems to most resemble her one. For the fun of it, I may make it one Christmas, and we would greedily and guiltily consume the sinful product, but I reluctantly think not. Maybe a synthetic suet pudding will suffice.
The “could have been mum’s Christmas suet pudding.”
4 oz plain flour
2 oz dark chocolate grated
1 teaspoon mixed spice
6 oz fresh white breadcrumbs
10 oz suet ground
8 oz brown sugar
2 oz dried apples and apricots
2 lbs raisins, currants and chopped dates
2 oz hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds chopped
zest of one lemon and orange
2 teaspoons of vanilla essence
1 teaspoon almond essence
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon honey
qtr pint dark rum or brandy
On Tuesday, men from Diamond Creek OM:NI visited Ellis Cottage just north east of Diamond Creek. The cottage was built out of uncut local stone circa 1885 by William Ellis, who with his nephew Nathaniel Ellis, established a model farm on 150 acres on the site now known as Ellis Park.
In 1850 William Ellis purchased a large portion of land between Diamond Creek East and Wattle Glen. A successful farmer and businessman, Ellis also purchased land in Yarra Glen, Diamond Creek, Woodstock and Greensborough.
The cottage and grounds houses the Nillumbik Historical Society’s collection of historic photographs and documents of pioneering families from the area.
Unfortunately Daryl was unable to obtain the recipe for the delicious scones we had for morning tea.