The Mulberry Tree

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    Such a delight to come and see the forum restored and your continuation of your fine stories.

    As a owner builder it is very sweet seeing the journey of the two primary characters and their ever expanding circle of friends and family.

    I am keeping a note page of Aussie terms I do not understand. Being an uncouth English speaker from the Americas I am tickled to read the the beautiful vernacular of your country.

    I was very concerned in regards to your health woes and am ever so glad you are on the mend.

    We are having what you might call bush fires here in Northern California. School has been put off for two weeks due to the the horrid smoke and a state highway road closure.

    Thankfully I retired last June so I do not have to take the detour to work.

    Thank you so much for adding to your story.

    Take care dear sir,




    Finally another installment – Please not that many words that may appear to be mis-spelled are actually correct… if you live in Australia, LOL.

    Arriving at the restaurant ahead of their friends they ordered pre-dinner drinks and had barely taken a sip before Rob and Reb arrived and made their way to the table, with Reb being slightly confused to find Dirk and Sally sat there when they were supposedly going elsewhere. Rob grinned and admitted that he had invited them to help celebrate her birthday
    With a deft bit of footwork Sally surreptitiously managed to move Reb’s present from Rob from behind her own chair to the side of his without the birthday girl being aware of it, and when the call of “Happy Birthday, Reb!” was made he was able to pick it up and pass it to his very surprised partner. Encouraged to open it as soon as she’d finished reading the attached birthday card she quickly tore off the wrapping paper and found the box it covered contained a lovely dark brown and furry Barnaby Bear, with a red ribbon around his neck and a gift card wedged between his paws. Although able to conceal his surprise at Sally’s choice of gift he was a bit put out when Reb burst into tears as she took Barnaby from the box and held him in her arms, but was greatly relieved to find that they were tears of sheer happiness.
    “Oh Rob, he’s just beautiful! I’ve always wanted a teddy bear, and I almost bought one after I saw Sally’s Paddington, but I was afraid you’d think I was being childish if I did.”
    “Well, I do seem to remember you waffling on about it after you’d seen her bear sat in his own seat in Dirk’s truck. I suppose I’ll have to make a seat for him in the ute now, though it might be a bit of a squeeze to fit one in,” said Rob grinning at Sally as unseen by Reb he gave her a wink and mouthed a thank you.
    “Are you going to give him a new name, or stick with Barnaby,” asked Sally.
    “Barnaby is fine, though I’ll probably end up calling him Barney, just like you shortened Paddington to Paddy.”
    “This is from me,” interrupted Dirk, with Sally adding “And this is from me,” as after fishing out the gift-wrapped parcels concealed beneath their chairs they each handed one to Reb.
    “Oh honestly guys, you really shouldn’t have,” exclaimed Reb who despite the feeble protest took the parcels eagerly and with a broad smile hefted each in turn in her hands, thinking perhaps she might be able to guess their contents by their weight and feel.
    That both parcels contained some type of clothing she was fairly sure but was surprised to find that rather than a sweater or some such, one parcel contained the mismatched top and bottom of a pair of winter-weight pyjamas, the left feet of two pairs of thick bed socks, and the left foot of a pair of Ugg boots. Needless to say the other parcel contained the right feet of the bed socks, the right foot of the Ugg boots, and the tops and bottoms needed to match up the pyjamas in the first parcel. Rather unusual, said Rob, but all good fun.
    “And very practical too, with winter to face,” Reb added. “I’ll probably want to stay inside the van all day once I’ve got these on.”
    “You can’t afford to do that if you want to keep the farm going, Reb. Sally and I decided that if it does get really cold we’ll wear ski pants and parkas when we’re working outside, and we were lucky enough to get some of last season’s stock for a reduced price at the sports store.”
    “Gosh, I didn’t think of that; Rob and I each have a set of pants and parkas. We bought them a couple of years ago when we went down to Kosciusko on one of those ski tours, and we haven’t used them since. We’ll have to give them a good airing before we wear them though because they’re packed away with moth-balls.”
    “You could wear them and air them at the same time by standing in the veggie garden keep the cabbage moths away,” suggested Dirk with a laugh.
    Rob laughed at the joke too but the two girls just stared at Dirk as if he was some kind of idiot, then after telling him as much suggested that perhaps he and Rob could stand in the garden in their normal clothes and scare the crows away.
    “Are you suggesting that we normally look like scarecrows?” Dirk asked.
    “Good heavens no: That would be demeaning to real scarecrows,” replied Reb, and this time it was the girls’ turn to have a laugh.
    They hadn’t had a chance to have a good look at the surprisingly extensive menu so when the waitress came around to take their orders she was asked if she wouldn’t mind coming back a little later… Unless there was something good that she could recommend.
    “I don’t mind coming back, though I should warn you that some of the dishes can take a very long time to prepare,” she said. “We have a brilliant chef though he’s finicky to the point of madness at times I’m afraid, but while there’s no such thing as fast food here, I can recommend several very good dishes that won’t take an hour or more to prepare.”
    They were quite amendable to the suggestions she made regarding the menu and when she returned to the kitchen to hand in their order conversation continued, not surprisingly about Rob and Reb’s imminent move to Stringer’s Farm.
    “You guys have done so much to help get us set up that we both think it’s about time we spent a bit of time helping you with work on your cottage,” said Rob.
    “You’ve got to be kidding,” Dirk replied. “Honestly, the help you and Reb have already given us is far and away more than the little bit we’ve given in return, and I’m sure that in the future we’ll all continue to work on things together anyway.”
    “Actually,” put in Sally. “I’ve been thinking that it might be a good idea if Reb and I did the painting and decorating of the van while you guys work on installing the cottage’s kitchen: That way both projects would be done by those best at doing them.”
    “It is a good idea, Sal: I know that Reb doesn’t want me to start swinging a paint brush around the van and I’m sure I’d be of some help to Dirk, like passing him tools and stuff as needed. What do you think mate?”
    “More like lifting and holding fixtures in place while I secure them. Which reminds me: I was planning to build the kitchen cabinets from scratch, or refurbish any I could get from the recycling centre, but I’ve now decided that it’d be much easier and faster to use flat-pack units that the hardware store has in stock.”
    “No problem. We can drive over in your truck and leave the ute for the girls.”
    “That’d be good,” put in Reb:” I don’t have paint in the colours I want yet and I don’t think the paint store’s open tomorrow, though the garden centre is, and as Sal wants a few more plants we can go and get those instead. That OK by you, Sal?”
    “Sure is, but how about we swing past the hardware store too: They have a large paint section and maybe you could find the colours you want there. It might even be a bit cheaper there too.”
    “How about you hit the hardware store at the same time as Rob and I are there so you can pick out a nice bench-top for the kitchen? There are several patterns available but if you left it up to me I’d probably pick one you didn’t like.”
    “I doubt that love, but we’ll come at the same time anyway.”
    While they were talking the waitress arrived with the first of the three courses they’d ordered, plus a bottle of an appropriate wine that she thought they would all enjoy, especially, she added with a wink, that it being a birthday celebration it was ‘on the house’.
    The meal, plus the bottle of wine and two more that followed, was excellent, and when they finally left the restaurant, though it was not overly obvious that Dirk had consumed more alcohol than would be considered by the police to be safe to drive back to Stringer’s Farm, he and Sally were invited to stay over at the flat.
    Sally having anticipated that such might be the case had had the foresight to ensure that Paddy had accompanied them in the truck, and when they all arrived at Rob and Reb’s apartment he was sat together with Barney on the sofa between the two girls. While the girls chatted the boys got comfortable in the two arm chairs on either side of a small round wine table and while talking of manly things managed to get through nearly half a bottle of port before being persuaded by their partners that enough was enough and they should all get some sleep.

    * * *

    When the girls arrived at the cottage, following a lengthy shopping expedition after leaving the boys at the hardware store next morning, it was to find that they had already returned with the kitchen cabinets that Dirk wanted, and had begun installing them. A short break was taken from the job to help unload the ute which, apart from the plants that Sally bought, also carried quite a few big pot plants that Reb bought to place on the caravan’s deck.
    “I saw some very nice planter boxes, though they were a bit on the pricey side,” said Reb, “but Sal suggested that maybe Dirk could use a few of the fence palings he has to make up some rustic looking ones that would suit the look of the van.”
    “Good thinking,” replied Dirk. “I should make up some for our deck too. It’d be good practice for making those we could sell at the markets… Don’t suppose you could use a wishing well too, do you?”
    “I could,” said Sally. “I think one would look really nice in the garden near the bottom of the zig-zag path. Oh, and that reminds me: I think we’re going to have to make a proper path from there to the cottage.”
    “Why’s that?” Dirk asked.
    “Because when it rains the path becomes just a muddy track. I thought perhaps a path of wood-chips might be good, but do you think they’d get washed away?”
    “No; they’d be OK, provided they were put down thickly and kept contained by, say, logs of wood for example. It’s something that’ll have to be put on the back burner for a while though because there are several more important projects that need to be done first.”
    “Oh sure, I understand that, but I thought it was worth mentioning.”
    “Once the bathroom, kitchen and front deck of our cottage is finished we’ll be able to get stuck into things like that so just write it down on the list and we’ll get around to it eventually. Speaking of the bathroom, how long do you think it’ll take you and Reb to tile the shower recess like you wanted?”
    “We had a discussion about that and decided that it’d be more practical to tile it the usual way as doing the mosaic I wanted could take weeks. Reb and I’ll do that, plus paint the kitchen after you and Rob have finished installing the floor cabinets and counter tops.”
    “”Dirk, do you think you could make up a schedule that includes Rob and me helping with everything?” Reb asked.
    “I’ve pretty much done that already,” Dirk answered. “You and Rob should be reasonably comfortable in the van while we all work together to build your cabin, but that’ll have to go hand in hand with building the workshop and working on the vegetable garden.”
    “Perhaps you and I could build the workshop while the girls work in the veggie garden’” put in Rob. “You also mentioned some time ago that we’ll need a green-house, so maybe we could build one of those too. Do you have any plans to work from?”
    “Won’t take me long to draw up a plan, Rob. I wasn’t planning to build a fancy one like the one that Dave and Bron have though. I was thinking of simply using poly irrigation pipe arches to support lengths of shade cloth, much like a tunnel.”
    “I know someone who has one like that. Maybe we could go and have a look at it sometime.”
    “That’d be good. Now that we’ve stopped work we might as well have some lunch and afterwards get stuck into finishing the kitchen.”
    They were all in agreement with that plan and by Sunday evening the girls had finished the main painting of the van and the kitchen cabinets had been installed in the cottage by the boys, thankfully in the precise positions dictated by Sally who was pleased to note that the countertop where the gas range would be fitted was also at the height she wanted. She was very impressed that Dirk had chosen to buy units with pot drawers rather than shelves as it would be much easier to find things without having to kneel on the floor and look through cupboards.
    All in all, they decided, it had been a good effort over the weekend, with Rob claiming that he really needed to go to work next day so he could have a rest!

    * * *

    Because he’d been asked on the previous Saturday morning if he’d be able to help Frank with another fencing job and would be out of the picture for a few days, it had been left to Sally to paint the kitchen and bathroom. A fit and healthy Reb, who had supposedly developed a raging fever and had applied for a couple of days of sick leave from her job, was able to help her with the final touches. Together they also finished the painting in the van, and on the Friday carefully laid the cork tiles in both van and cottage, and while they made a really good job of it, the smell of paint and adhesive was so strong that all were glad they were booked in to the Bull & Bush for that night as usual.
    With Saturday morning and a bit of the afternoon taken up by training and the barbeque afterwards for the two boys, Sally took advantage of Dirk’s absence by having delivered the gas fridge that she’d ordered and which had arrived at the store on the previous Tuesday. The driver who delivered it was able to assist in installing and connecting it up to the gas line that protruded from the wall behind into the cupboard beside it, where it fed the gas range on the bench above. A ‘T’ piece was fitted to the line and a hole drilled through the side of the cupboard to take the flexible gas hose that came with the ‘fridge. After testing and confirming that it was operating as it should, Sally immediately stocked the ‘fridge with the food and drinks from the esky, also placing all the ice into it too, hoping that doing so would help it reach its operating temperature well before the boys returned from fire training.
    When they did return, neither had a chance to see the new fridge as they were directed by Sally to go straight to the van where they were to get stuck into begin erecting, lining and fitting out the 5’ x 8’ shed for the bathroom and toilet on one end of its deck. By working hard for the rest of the afternoon and most of the next day they were able complete that job, and though Rob and Reb would initially have to use their solar hot water bags for showering at home, they had ready access to the facilities at the recycling centre so weren’t too fazed about that.
    In fact, on the Saturday night they all took advantage of the unlimited hot water supply at the recycling centre to shower, and it wasn’t until the next morning when he came down from the loft for breakfast that Dirk pushed past a grinning Sally, who was blocking his view until the last moment, that he saw the new ‘fridge for the first time. She laughed at the amazed look on his face when he saw it, then proudly opened the door to reveal that not only was it already stocked but it was even colder than she’d hoped it would be.
    “We’re going to need a larger gas cylinder than the one it’s hooked up to now,” she said. “They do use quite a bit of gas so it’d probably be a good idea to get one at least the same size that Dave and Bron have at their house.”
    “Two, if we can afford it. Maybe I’m developing a prepper mindset, but I think it’d be wise to have an extra cylinder in case there was a problem with supply.”
    “Yes, I think so too. The guy who delivered the ‘fridge said that you can buy cylinders outright and it works out to be a lot cheaper than renting them, but the downside is that the gas companies won’t swap out cylinders that aren’t rented, so we’d have to take them into town for refilling.”
    “I’d be doing that anyway: The fewer people coming here the better.”
    “Absolutely. The delivery guy was quite surprised to see this place and said that he never knew it existed,” Sally said with a laugh. “And after the tip I gave him for coming all the way out here in his own ute he said he still doesn’t know it exists.”
    “What tip did you give him?”
    “You mean apart from advising him to always be kind to his mother? I gave him the carton of beer I bought just for that purpose.”
    “Strange, isn’t?” Dirk replied with a grin. “But when it comes to a reward or a tip, a carton of booze seems to be worth a lot more than the dollars used to buy it.”
    Rob had managed to source four clean blue plastic barrels which he and Dirk plumbed together before running a hose down from the bank above the van where they’d been placed and finally, after filling them with water obtained from the recycling centre’s mains supply, the van was ready for its occupants.
    The four friends celebrated the occasion of Rob and Reb’s move into their new but temporary home by having an evening barbeque on the van’s deck, where the very happy couple had placed their Weber.
    “You know, I think it’d be good if together we could purchase the van outright and keep it here even after our shack is built,” said Rob. “That way we could use it to accommodate friends who wanted to stay for a weekend.’”
    “Excellent idea, Rob,” agreed Dirk. “Archie said they were seriously thinking of selling, so maybe the four of us could make a collective offer to buy it.”
    “I agree,” put in Reb. “But maybe we should do that before Archie or his dad sees the van as it is now because it’s possible the asking price would go up some once they saw how good it looks.”
    “No, I don’t think Archie and his dad are the type of people who would do that. Why don’t you guys ask them at training next Saturday?” Sally suggested. “If his family is agreeable and the price is reasonable give them a deposit and shake on it. And as our cottage is finished, apart from tiling the bathroom and putting up the front deck, which we’re doing over the next two weeks anyway, we could invite the brigade to have their barbeque over here on the following Saturday. We could use that as a house warming party.”
    “Even if we invited only the people who know about the cottage it’d be a pretty big party,” said Dirk with grin. “Apart from the brigade we’d also have to invite Dave and Bron, Frank, Richard, Terry, and probably a few others.”
    “You know,” said Rob, “While all those people know about the cottage, apart from the four of us plus Archie, his dad, and Richard, nobody else actually knows the van is here too. I’m thinking that it might be a good idea to keep it that way, at least for the time being.”
    “At least until you’ve got your cabin built,” Dirk suggested after a little bit of thought. “And when it is, it might be explained that it had once been an old fishing shack that had been put up a very long time ago, and that you guys had simply found and refurbished it.”
    “Though it’ll still be a fishing shack,” Reb laughed.
    “Ooh, yes!” Sally cried, “With perhaps an old anchor and a few crayfish pots at the foot of the steps leading up to the deck as decorations.”
    “And a lifebuoy hanging on the deck’s railings would look really good,” added Reb as she warmed to the idea.
    “How about a ship’s bell mounted somewhere close to the top of the steps?” Dirk put in, “So that visitors could announce their arrival?”
    “Before asking for permission to come aboard!” added Rob gleefully.
    “Not to put a dampener on things, but there’ll be a lot of work to be done before that,” Dirk warned. “Probably about six months worth, and that’s only if you can apply yourselves fully to the project during your days off. And keep in mind that you’ll have to add extra time to that every time you take a day off to go fishing.”
    “We’ll be pitching in to help of course,” Sally added, “but remember that to become self sufficient we’ll all have to spend time working in the veggie garden and on several other important projects too.”
    “That doesn’t bother me at all, Sal. But I reckon a day off now and then to go fishing could easily be justified by Reb and me putting our catches on the menu.”
    “And because we’re both really good at it, I guess you’ll have to get used to eating lots of fish,” Reb added.
    “Sounds good to me. Don’t forget that we’ll be able to raise chickens for meat too. And Dirk’s seriously considering raising rabbits for the same reason.”
    “Why not just set traps for the rabbits that live in the bush around here?”
    “Because we don’t know what, if anything, they might be carrying in the way of diseases. I’d be worried about myxomatosis too, and though it’s not supposed to be able to be passed on to humans, the sight of rabbits that do have it can be very off-putting Anyway, that’s won’t be for quite some time yet: We’ve already got too much on our plates as it is, pun intended,” laughed Sally.
    After another hour of conversation they decided to call it a night, and Dirk and Sally headed for their cottage and a good night’s sleep, though of course not before they’d hacked out a rough plan for the work to be done in the two weeks before the house-warming barbeque/party.

    * * *

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