Ride The Dream (For Nick)

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.

The Lost Recipe

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

A Chance Encounter

The ride had started nicely. It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon, my solo riding day; I can ride where I like, explore trails, without having to follow the wishes of the Thursday cycling group. That day I had suddenly decided to explore a new trail, branching off from the main track to Warrandyte, reached by a wide gate.

To my delight it began well; the track was a gently winding dirt one, following the river on my left, so according to my calculations I could casually ride back to Fitzsimmons Lane, a fairly short distance.

However, the track steadily became rougher, steeper and rocky, seeming also to veer away from the river. After a while I lost my bearings, but hoped the track would eventually head back to Eltham. But the track petered out into a steeply hilled area, with power lines leading in a straight line into the distance. Definitely lost, but feeling safe, I reasoned it would be too far retracing my steps, the power lines must lead to somewhere familiar.

A rocky four wheel drive trail followed the pylons. I had to walk up the steep rises and carefully ride down the descents. The thought flashed into my mind about what was I doing here, a seventy year old man in a deserted location, with no help around if anything went awry. My Cyclo Cross bike was certainly designed for severe off road riding, but maybe the rider was not designed for this purpose.

The outcome was predictable. On a really steep descent, I took a chance and began to carefully ride down but lost braking control, started skidding and finally crashed. Fortunately I came to rest on top of a four metre high embankment leading into a steep gully. One metre more and I would have been in serious trouble.

The bike was undamaged, but my knee was badly swollen and painful, I must have knocked it on a rock. The only option was to keep following the trail to civilisation. Finally a fence and house appeared, then another. To my relief, the trail then ended at Beasley’s Nursery, and I rode slowly and painfully home, where after checking the Melways I realised I had gone the wrong way, upstream rather than down, straying into a Parks Victoria reserve. Heading away from Fitzsimmons Lane.

Later that night, I reflected on the event, ruefully realising that it had happened entirely by chance — Why?

Because two months earlier, on the same ride to Warrandyte, at that gate, I had answered my mobile. As I remounted my bike, a man walking past suddenly stopped and started a conversation, mentioning that past a nearby gate, over a bridge, there was a track along the other side of the river that cyclists used. In all my years of cycling this area I had never seen that track, nor seen cyclists on the other river bank, so I thanked him and rode off, convinced he was mistaken.

So on that sunny fateful Tuesday a month later, as I was passing this same bend heading to Warrandyte, on a pure whim, thinking about what the stranger had said, I stopped at the gate, which was normally locked. Now the padlock had been changed to a latch. Naturally I passed through the gate and rode to the bridge. To my surprise, I realised the stranger had told the truth, because a bike trail began. Naturally again, I decided to follow it, as every good cyclist would, with my crash being the unexpected end result.

If my phone had not rung at that exact moment; if the stranger had not appeared at that precise time, if the gate had been locked; I would have remained blissfully unaware of that bloody trail, would have casually continued to Warrandyte and safety home, looking forward to the Thursday ride with the guys.

Instead, as directed by my doctor, who diagnosed a knee hematoma, and prescribed rest, I have been dolefully sitting inside on the healing couch, leg elevated, ice compress in place rather than being cheerfully perched on a bike seat, eagerly traversing familiar and safe trails with the Thursday peloton.

Curiously enough, the topic for the week’s writing group was the expression “chance would be a fine thing.” A fine phrase, meaning ‘it would be lovely if something was to happen, but it most likely won’t.’

It sadly occurred to me that this definitely applied to my unfortunate episode. As I was precariously riding down that steep rocky hill, the thought furiously flashed into my mind was that it would indeed be a lovely thing if I could not crash, but this looked more unlikely the further and faster I descended.

Hopefully, I should be back on the bike shortly, having fun with the Thursday peloton pedalling on our familiar safe trails. The lesson has finally sunk into my

Septuagenarian brain that sometimes it’s not worth taking a chance.

Ya Gotta Get In

Progression                                                                    Bruce McCorkill November 2017

Conceived, formed, born

Mystical gateway gently opening

A turmoil of forms, spilling

Onto the carpet, answering the call

Seeking the distant door

 

The lucky ones run

Fleet of foot, fast and sure

Dancing, bouncing, playing on the pile

Deft scampering from door to door

Positive pleasurable progression

 

The hopeless hapless try, intend

But get mired in the mud

The carpet can be treacherous

Sticky tentacles reaching up

To suck the unfortunate

Down into the morass

A miserable angry sodden trudge

To a mean shabby sunken exit

 

The middlings – a great messy mass

Strive to do their best

A confusion of aimless ants

This way, that way, diversions, tangents

Crawling and scrambling, sometimes dancing

Striving to avoid the suction of the bog

A journey to some meaning somewhere

 

Is there a purpose, any rhyme or reason?

Who cares, all end at the final portal

None can escape, like it or not

The snuff man is nigh, gently beckoning

Patiently waiting, waiting, waiting

So start the race, begin the journey

It’s the only one that counts

Life’s a bitch and don’t we know it

Way too short and way too hard

The bad is bad, but the good is good

You gotta get in to get out

Words, writing and me

Author’s Note.

The article below is a copy of a talk given by me to the OMNI Liaison Officers’ meeting at COTA on 27th March this year. I was asked to talk on how I learnt to write stories and articles.    I did this, but also took the opportunity to publicise our blog in the hope of encouraging more men to put pen to paper.

Bruce McCorkill March 2017

From an early age, I have always loved reading.  At primary school I had special rights to borrow more books than the other kids.  At home after tea we would sit around the kitchen table reading.

In school my skills were in writing in subjects such as English, but I was hopeless in subjects like maths.

I spent three decades in the public service, much spent in writing reports. While supposedly factual, many of these were fantastic creative works of fiction.

So when I retired I took up writing.

I started in 2012 in Living and Learning Centre writing classes. This was an eye opener, because I had thought that authors just sat down and wrote. But no, writing can be hard work. You need to think of a good topic, will the story be character or plot driven, will it be past or present tense, told in first or second person. Then you have to make the story come alive and interesting, so people will enjoy reading it.

For example, a simple two page piece can sometimes take me ten hours of hard work to finish, by the time I think of a story line, draft it, find the right words, type it, change it, read it to my wife, then start again.

Some authors claim that writing is an art. I would argue that writing is just as much a craft or a trade, which you can learn. Building a house needs careful planning, use of the right materials, sound construction and attractive finishing. So with a story. A writer uses words as the building blocks of writing, and carefully places the right words in the right order to make the story stay upright. A good story should make the reader want to come inside and follow the author on a guided tour.

When I write, I like allowing the creative side of my brain to get loose and develop unusual tales with characters getting into strange situations. I enjoy developing plots having unexpected endings.  I particularly enjoy creating good strong decent characters, but who are flawed, yet are still likeable. I have also started writing poetry, which is a whole new challenge.

Since 2014 I have belonged to the Eltham U3A creative writing group. In the group I’m interacting with like minded people, who enjoy writing and understand my feelings about writing. Sometimes you mention to people that you are a writer, and they look at you in a very strange way. But in the group, you feel like you belong, similar to being in an OMNI group; everyone is on your side.

In my group, led by a very competent published author, we write on a variety of topics, fiction, nonfiction, prose and poetry. Tim belongs to the same group. We give each other feedback, and this makes me a better writer. Like an OMNI group, I come home with a smile on my face, thinking about the stories I have listened to that day.

Which leads me to our blog. WWW. OMNIDiamondCreek. Along with a few here, Daryl, Tim, Ron, Ken, I regularly post stories on the blog. The blog shows the history of the group over the last six years, and contains travel stories, Xmas party pictures and short stories and poems. This is a great chance to get your work out into the wider world. 99% of writers will never be formally published, but the blog lets us get our work out there into the public domain. For example I have written a short 20, 000 word novel, and it’s on the blog.

On a serious note, posting on the blog enables you to publish something about which you may have really deep feelings, which you want to share with many people. For example, my first serious poem in 2012, was about sexual abuse by priests, and this poem is still relevant now. Then again, some of my poems are more in an amusing style, such as the one about the dog on the tucker box which John passed out. So the blog gives us a chance to let the world know how we are feeling.

So this is a summary of my feelings about my writing. I would encourage other people to give writing a go.

I will finish by quoting a passage a friend gave me when I started writing.

The Joy Of Writing.

Only a writer knows the intense joy one can get from painting their life’s picture in words.

Our stories are just that – “our stories’ – they are us, they are our passion, our hopes, our disappointments and our opportunities.

Our words are merely the fabric we choose to describe out being.

The Eye In The Sky Bruce McCorkill

eye in sky

 

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

Possessing an insatiable need to know

He requires us all to meekly comply

 

Do we ever wonder why?

Or do we just leave it so

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

 

How many times do we try?

Resisting his relentless undertow

He requires us all to meekly comply

 

Our private selves are just a lie

We secrete our lives in a steady flow

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

 

His watchers, all so cunning and sly

Data banks stretching row after row

He requires us all to meekly comply

 

When we all finally die

Where will our secrets go?

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

He requires us all to meekly comply

The Dog On The Tucker Box

The Dog On The Tucker Box.                   (As told by the dog)

 

I’ve been sitting on this box for years and years

Now I’m finally realizing my worst fears

My master’s gone away, he ain’t coming back

Looks like the bastard’s given me the sack

I’ve been guarding his tucker for such a long time

By now the steak is surely past its prime

 

The big buses come along every single day

A bloke stands up and has his say

Gundagai, clear blue sky, a sheila named Mabel

To me this sounds like a silly old fable

The tourists throw coins in the box at my feet

Why don’t they know I much prefer meat?

 

So I forlornly sit in the hot summer sun

Itching fur, drying throat, not having much fun

The cold winter nights raise my ire

I should be inside in front of the fire

Contentedly curled at my master’s feet

Now that would indeed be a canine treat

 

Drovers stop by with kelpies who scorn

Their withering looks make me forlorn

You should be out earning your keep

Come and help us round up some sheep

Sorry boys, I can’t go for a run

There’s a bloody great bolt screwed up my bum