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.

    * * *


    “You guys’ve done a wonderful job on your cottage, Sally. Seems incredible that you got all this done in such a short time too,” said Uncle Bob as with a can of beer in hand he and a couple of mates sat on plastic chairs that, along with a table the brigade had brought along for the house-warming, were arranged under the pergola of the only-just-completed front deck. “It’s only been… what?… about three months since you and Dirk came here?”
    “Yes; eleven weeks and six days to be precise,” Sally replied. “But we couldn’t have done it without all the help we’ve had from the friends we’ve made around here, and that includes you and the brigade of course. Mind you, we used a lot of that time to do other things like go fishing and diving, and even go shooting once, plus Dirk’s being doing quite a bit of work for Frank. Don’t tell him, but when he was away working with Frank I managed to get my MR Driving Licence, which means I’ll be able to drive his truck now. I actually pinched it a few times when he was training with the brigade and drove it around the village and even into town to get enough confidence to drive it on the main highway. Mind you, it turned out to be a lot easier than I expected and I reckon I could go on and get an HC licence.”
    “Good for you. You’re certainly not Silly Sally now! And we really appreciate Dirk training with the brigade. So what’s the plan now that you’ve settled in?”
    “Well, we still have a number of projects in mind, but I guess a lot of our time now will be spent getting the vegetable garden ready for a big spring planting. Feeding ourselves will be the first priority of course, but we figured that if we go about it properly we might eventually be able to supply a couple of restaurants in town with fresh organic produce.”
    “Why not the village? There are Jay-Jays, the Cock & Bull and the Tan’s cafe who’d all probably buy your veggies.”
    “Because the local shop that already supplies them relies a lot on their orders to survive, and we don’t want to get off-side of anyone in the village. If the town’s restaurants aren’t interested, Dirk has the idea that we might be able to supply individual households with boxes of vegetables in season on a weekly basis.”
    “You could supply them with eggs too, seeing as you have quite a few chickens. Mind you, all that’s probably going to mean a lot of hard work.”
    “You know hard work doesn’t frighten us Uncle Bob, though once everything’s in place it really shouldn’t take all that much to keep it going, especially with Rob and Reb helping. Providing eggs is a good idea, but to maintain a regular supply I reckon we’d probably have to double or even triple the number of chooks we have at the moment.”
    “How’s it going with those two?” Bob asked. “Rob and Reb in the van I mean. They showed it to me when I came over to top up your reservoir so I refilled their barrels at the same time, and they seem to have made it pretty comfortable.”
    “They love it, which is just as well because building their own place is going to take a bit of time considering they both have full-time jobs.”
    “Well, as Rob’s a reliable member of the brigade the boys and I will be happy to pitch in and help where we can, same as we did with your place. What’ll they do with the van once the fishing shack’s refurbished?” Bob asked, going along with the entirely fictitious story that was quietly but cleverly being spread around about ‘that old fishing shack down by the beach’ that was being done up by the pair.
    Not that anybody could ever remember having seen or known of such a shack before of course, but while it would eventually become an accepted fact that it had stood there for many years, it was thought by most people to be too far out of the way to be worth checking out for themselves. And anybody that did try would have been hard put to find anything anyway as apart from a pile of stumps and pegs marking the positions where Richard was to use his tractor-mounted auger to dig the holes for them next week, there was no sign of any structure at all.
    “Archie didn’t tell you? Last week the four of us here got together and bought it outright so that we’d have somewhere to put up guests in the future. Before then though, I’m thinking of asking my Uncle Geoff and Aunt Eileen to come and stay in the cottage for a while, and Dirk also wants his parents to come so he can show them what he’s been up to for the past few months. Which reminds me: We’ll be travelling down to Sydney next week to visit our families so Rob and Reb will be looking after the place until we get back.”
    A couple of weeks previously Sally had written a long letter to her aunt and had included a large number of photographs of herself and Dirk working on the cottage and its gardens, and described in some detail what she’d been doing since leaving home. The response she received from her auntie after revealing that she was in a relationship with the handsome though bearded man in the photos – auntie disliked beards – probably wasn’t quite as bad as she’d feared, but nevertheless included what amounted to a summons to return as soon as possible with the partner she and Uncle Geoff would like to meet. And no doubt closely interrogate, thought Sally to herself with an inward grin.
    Dirk’s parents were more sanguine in their reply to his letter and the photos he sent them however, and they immediately expressed the desire that he bring his lady home to meet them soon, and hopefully be able to stay for a few days at least. That being the case, he suggested to Sally that, especially in light of the letter she had received which did not offer any such invitation, it might be a good idea for them to stay at his parent’s house and visit her auntie and uncle from there. Sally, having re-read the letter from auntie several times, agreed that that would probably be best, and a quick ‘phone call was made to advise Dirk’s parents that they would be able to meet their favourite son’s lady sometime around mid morning on the following Monday, and that they’d be able to stay for a week if that was OK.
    The fact that Dirk was their favourite son was due solely to the fact that he was their only son, though any advantage that that might have had was removed by his having three older sisters who each seemed to believe he was their personal lackey. During the trip down South his wildly exaggerated stories of the torments he’d had to endure under their reign when living at home had Sally in stitches; however it was obvious to her that Dirk had a lot of love for them, and in fact it appeared that he came from an altogether very close family. And one that she was suddenly very much looking forward to meeting.
    The front driveway gates of Dirk’s parent’s house had been kept open so that he could drive straight in when he and Sally arrived, and no sooner had he entered and turned off the truck’s engine that his mother, wreathed in smiles, appeared on the front porch and ran excitedly down the steps to embrace them both. His father followed at a more sedate pace a minute later and shook hands with his son before giving Sally a bear-like hug, which seemed quite appropriate as his nick-name was Bear, and a kiss on both cheeks before his wife ordered them all inside.
    “I’ve just put the kettle on so there’ll be a cup of tea coming shortly. I suppose you’ve been on the road for quite a few hours so if you need to use the bathroom Sally, it’s the second door on the left down the hallway there,” she said, using her chin to point the way as both her hands were supporting a large plate of cakes.
    “Thank you Mrs Fischer, but we made a potty-stop less than an hour ago and I’m OK for now.”
    “Mrs Fischer? Good heavens Sally, I think only the students I once taught at primary school ever called me that. And the headmaster too of course, because he was very Old School, and a thorough gentleman to boot I should add. It’s Bryony, though of course all the family calls me mum. Dirk’s father’s name is Björn but he’s known to everyone as “Bear”, which is really not so much a nick-name as what Björn actually means in English. And “potty-stop?” I must admit I’ve never heard a rest-room stop called that before.”
    Sally laughed and said that she hadn’t either; it was just something that had suddenly popped into her head as they were driving down the highway and she needed to go, and it had made Dirk laugh too when she asked him to stop.
    From her writing desk Bryony had retrieved the photographs that Dirk had sent her and laid them out on the kitchen table, and was now directing a stream of questions at both him and Sally regarding the goings on at what she called their little farm, despite having been informed that it was known as “Springers” Farm. She and Björn had been quite impressed when they saw the photos showing the cottage and its gardens as several that had been taken before work had commenced were also included, and they both seemed keen to take a drive up north as soon as possible to see the real thing for themselves.
    Sally was happy to hear the questions directed equally towards her and Dirk, with any worries she may have had about meeting his mother quickly dispelled by the happy chatter that accompanied them. Much later, after they got to know each other, Bryony confessed that at that time she was probably talking a lot to hide the nervousness she felt when she met Sally. Surprisingly, she’d never given too much thought to the inevitability that Dirk would eventually meet a girl and settle down, however now that it had happened she was glad that it was with Sally as it quickly become obvious that they were well suited to each other.
    Björn was equally impressed with his son’s choice of partner, not just because she was intelligent, well spoken, and of course attractive, but also because she had thrown herself wholeheartedly into the physical work needed to help construct the cottage and the gardens he’d seen in the photographs. She also appeared to be completely at home in a kitchen too, helping Bryony with preparing meals during the time she and Dirk were staying at the house, and on the last evening had taken it upon herself to turn out a beef Stroganoff for the family. This also included Dirk’s three sisters who, after hearing from their mother that Dirk had brought home a lovely young lady had “just dropped in to say hello”, and then stayed for dinner. It was a dish Sally had never made before however all agreed that she had done a marvelous job and that it was absolutely delicious.
    Out of earshot of the couple naturally, mother and daughters agreed that Sally was a much better choice for a partner than the glamorous harpy that Dirk had previously dated, and even Björn chipped in with his opinion that she would also be a good mother sometime in the future. And whilst beforehand that idea had been even more remote than the thought of Dirk finding a partner to settle down with, it did set Bryony to thinking about the likelihood of having grandchildren.
    Dave Morgan had previously phoned the owner of the hardware store where he had once been a manager and had asked him to look after his good friend Dirk, who with his father was now looking at the range of generators on display. Dirk wouldn’t require one as large as the unit that Dave had towed to Brocklesbury, however he did want one that generated a decent amount of power and would be able to run for extended periods without interruption. Bjorn, an engineer with a wealth of experience gained by working at remote sites, had quite a good idea of what was needed and after some discussion it was finally decided that the 8KvA diesel powered unit standing at the rear of the display would be the best choice: It would be capable of powering the cottage and all his tools at the same time, and still have power to spare, which meant it wouldn’t need to be flogged.
    While he also spent time checking out air compressors, and did find one that would have been ideal for what he wanted, he decided against purchasing it at this time as the generator he was definitely going to buy would consume a considerable amount of his now fast dwindling finances. Björn had other ideas however, and despite Dirk’s protests had the shop load the compressor onto the back of his truck, along with two air hoses on retracting reels and both a brad and a framing nailer.
    “You can pay me back when and if you start earning money with it,” Björn told him. “I think your idea of making furniture from fence palings is a good one, and the brad nailer will be much better than the framing nailer for that type of work.”
    “Thanks Dad. I do appreciate it, but it really wasn’t necessary for you to buy it. And it’ll probably be some time before I get into the furniture making business.”
    “You told us you and Sally will be helping your friends build a cottage, and I imagine the framing nailer will come in handy for that,” said Bjorn, deliberately ignoring the protest. “And the money saved by not having to hire one could be put towards the payback.”
    Dirk laughed. “I’m sure Rob and Reb would be happy to go along with that when I explain it to them. I think you’ll like them both when you get to meet them. Speaking of which, do you have any idea as to when you and mum might be able to visit us? Stay for a while perhaps?”
    “If we go up there for a weekend we’d be able to do it just about any time. We could leave here on a Friday after I finish work and return on the Sunday. I’ll talk it over with mum and see what she wants to do.”
    It turned out that mum had already decided what they would do as when the men returned to the house they were told that she and Bear would be following Dirk and Sally when they left for home. They’d be leaving very early on Friday morning and would stay with the couple until midday the following Monday because, she reminded everyone as they had obviously forgotten, it was the Easter weekend and holiday traffic would be quite heavy.
    Sally was thrilled with the plan, especially as she felt that her Aunt Eileen and Uncle Geoff wouldn’t be nearly as keen without first having time to plan for such a trip… And for a hasty retreat if necessary. Of course, she needed to introduce Dirk and gauge their reactions to meeting him before inviting them to visit, and so it was that the following morning found her knocking on their front door, with her man standing two metres or so behind… And to Sally’s mind looking like he was ready to make a run for it should her uncle appear at the door with a shotgun.
    Dirk’s initial reception seemed to be somewhat cooler than the warm welcome Sally received when the door was opened, however it wasn’t too long before he had her aunt practically eating out of his hand. His politeness, good manners and the fact that he was well presented in clean shirt and slacks – and although he did have a beard it was neatly trimmed and actually suited him well – soon mollified most concerns that she and Geoff had about Sally’s well-being. Most concerns that is, as Dirk was to them still an unknown quantity at this stage, and they both felt they would need to visit the cottage to find out for themselves not so much about where but more about how Sally now lived.
    Fortunately, considering Dirk’s family would be visiting at that time, Geoff and Eileen had already made plans for the Easter weekend so they decided that they would make the trip up north on the Queen’s Birthday weekend in June. Sally was pleased with that idea as it would give her ample time to organise things so that their visitors would hopefully be impressed by her and Dirk’s efforts to become reasonably self-sufficient.
    During conversation over lunch it turned out that Uncle Geoff, also being an engineer, had actually met Dirk’s father at a convention some years previously. Apparently the two had spent several hours together discussing and helping each other successfully resolve a couple of problems each had encountered on projects they were separately involved with. Not that it should have made any difference where family is concerned, but human nature being what it is; it seemed to be enough to tip the balance just a little more in Dirk’s favour.
    However it was quite obvious to Sally that her aunt still had some reservations about her and Dirk’s relationship, and despite the offering to make up a couple of beds for them she could sense that auntie was not put out, and if anything seemed quite relieved when it was revealed they’d be staying overnight at Dirk’s parent’s house. Geoff’s attitude, as he firmly told Eileen right then, was that Sally was old enough to make her own decisions, and as they had done the very best they could to instil in her the morals, ethics and values needed to live a respectable life, he was confident she’d do just that. Even if her chosen partner did have a beard!
    That she was old enough to make her own decisions was Sally’s opinion too, and by the time she and Dirk returned to his parent’s house she somehow felt that now, thanks to Uncle Geoff’s words of support, she was really free to do so. Not that she hadn’t been free before of course, but for some reason she’d always had a vague feeling of needing her aunt’s approval to do anything that was out of the accepted norm of society. Maybe, she thought, she was a lot like Dirk, who wasn’t anti-social but simply felt that keeping away from the rat-race made life a lot less complicated, and she too wanted to keep pace with the beat of her own drum.
    On Thursday Dirk hied off to meet up with some of his old workmates, leaving Sally to go shopping with Bryony, who wanted a new washing machine. Her old machine wasn’t really old – in fact she’d only had it for eighteen months – however she knew that she couldn’t just up and buy a new machine for the couple because Dirk would reject the idea as being too expensive, so this was her way around that problem: Dirk would be hard put to refuse the offer of the not-really-old second-hand machine, especially as he and Sally now had a generator with which to power it, even if he did suspect that it was the main reason for his mother buying a new machine for herself.
    While they were engaged in the shopping Dirk was ensconced in the upstairs lounge bar of the Metropolitan hotel on the corner of George and Bridge streets, a stone’s throw away from where he used to work. His old mate Neil Strongarm met him there for lunch and deciding that he’d take the rest of the afternoon off asked one of his co-workers to let the boss know that when he went back to work. Dirk grinned and said that Neil was lucky that his position was secure enough in the company to get away with doing it.
    “Yeah, I guess I am,” Neil replied. “Though to be quite honest I’m getting jack of the job. Have been for some time I suppose. I often think of chucking it in and heading for the bush like you did. Must admit I was pretty envious when I looked at the photos you sent to show me what you’ve been up to. You seem to have quite a large veggie garden, and your cottage looks really neat.”
    “Were you impressed with the cottage, or the girl sitting on the deck?”
    Neil coloured slightly. “Well, I have to admit that I think she’s quite a stunner. How you managed to catch her is beyond me, what with you being so ugly and all, but at least it gives me some hope for my future.”
    “You’re not quite as ugly as me Mate, but I reckon you’d have a better chance of finding a girl if you spent less time on flow-charts, programming and kow-towing to management, and more on what you want to do for yourself. At least, leaving all that sort of stuff behind seems to have done the trick in my case.”
    “You make it sound really easy. Problem is that whenever I voice any thoughts of leaving the department manager tells me how important I am to the company and how my going would be a big set-back for them.”
    “Do you really believe that crap? Look at it this way: If you were run over by a truck on your way home today, how long would it take for the company to replace you? Within two days, three at the most, they’d have your position filled, and a month later you’d be a distant memory with the company still raking in its obscene profits without the slightest pause.”
    “Now you’re beginning to really depress me. How about giving me some ideas about how I can go about doing what you’re doing?”
    “It’s not all that hard Mate. Look at Jimmy Olsen who left the company about three months before I did: Chucked it all in and now runs a nice plant nursery in Neutral Bay. I dropped in there to see him this morning and he reckons he couldn’t be happier.”
    “You mean that place on Military Road that used to be a petrol station? Jimmy owns that?”
    “Yep. He’s doing pretty good for himself too. I even bought a few bare root fruit trees from him while I was there. Didn’t let on that I already knew how to do it of course, but the all advice he gave me about how to plant them out was spot on.”
    “You’re a master of diplomacy Dirk. Anyway, what advice can you give me?”
    “Depends on what you want to do: If you want to do something like Sally and I are doing I’d suggest you start building up your bank account as much as possible because without a regular income you’d find it hard to survive for long. You know, it might be a good idea to come up and visit us for a couple of days when you get the chance, and that way you’d be able to see for yourself what it’s possible to do with relatively little coin. Our cottage is pretty small but we have a lounge we can make up as a bed, though we also have plenty of camping gear you can use if you want to rough it a little.”
    “I think I’ll take you up on that. Probably do me good just to get out of the city for a while anyway, and I’ve never been camping before so that’d be an experience in itself. Ahh… Any nice girls up that way?”
    “Can’t promise that you’ll find a girl like Sally as quickly as I did of course, but there are plenty around who don’t care too much if their man isn’t all that good looking… provided he’s a decent sort of bloke naturally, so don’t give up hope.”
    “I’m won’t. By the way, and speaking of nice girls, your old flame Veronica got herself a new boyfriend. He’s a professional footballer and she was bragging about how fit and strong he was, not to mention also thoughtful, kind and handsome, until one night he got drunk and punched her in the head a few times. Broke her nose, gave her a black eye and supposedly knocked out one of her front teeth. Her picture was in the papers and in the photo taken just after the beating she looked a terrible mess.”
    Dirk was shocked: Veronica may have had her faults but he didn’t believe any woman deserved that sort of treatment. His father had long ago taught him that a man never hits a lady…. unless she hits first, in which case she would no longer be considered a lady and the rules might be changed, however he couldn’t imagine Veronica striking anybody.
    It might have been sobering news had they not made a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit a few of the drinking holes they used to frequent before Dirk left town, and during what in essence became a pub crawl they managed to cover nine more bars, having a middy of beer in each, before parting company. Unfortunately more than a little worse for wear than Dirk had been for quite some time, by the time he arrived at his parent’s house his gait showed that his condition hadn’t improved much since boarding a train at Wynyard and then walking the two miles from the local railway station.
    On the positive side he’d arrived in time for dinner, over which he was able to tell Sally and his parents about his venture into the city without slurring his words or rambling on as the not-so-sober are often inclined to do. Not that he fooled them into believing he was even half sober, and soon after dinner he was packed off to bed for a good sleep before attempting to drive back to Brocklesbury in the early hours of the morning.
    Come the time he was roused out of bed he looked, as Sally teased, like death warmed up, and was told that Bear and Sally would be driving in the truck and he would be getting a bit more shut-eye by travelling in the family car which would be driven by his mother. He was about to protest that he was fine and would be OK to drive however when Sally crossed her arms and he saw the set of her shoulders he reluctantly agreed, but not before suggesting that after he’d rested a bit perhaps they could swap around at one of the truck stops along the highway.
    With one person in each vehicle knowing the way it wouldn’t be absolutely necessary for them to travel in convoy, and if they did happen to get separated the plan was to take a break at one of the stops where they could meet up again. When they left the house Bryony took the lead driving towards the highway in the family car, with Dirk settled back in the reclined passenger seat and Bear at the wheel of the truck behind. Not that Bear was to drive very far because as soon as Bryony had driven through a set of traffic lights that halted the truck and was out of sight he and Sally quickly changed places, thus putting her in the driver’s seat.
    It took Bear a mere half hour of seeing how Sally handled the truck to feel completely relaxed with her at the wheel, and while she took great pleasure in driving the rig it was nothing compared to the pleasure she got from seeing Dirk’s face when she drove into the truck stop to find him and Bryony waiting for them.
    “What’s up, Love?’ she cried through the open window of the driver’s door as she pulled to a stop alongside the car. “Never seen a girl drive a truck before?”
    Grinning broadly she leaped from the cab and before he could say anything waved her recently and secretly obtained MR Licence in front of his face. Bear added to his obvious confusion and amazement by declaring that he found Sally’s driving to be extremely smooth and at least the equal to if not better than Dirk’s.
    “I suppose she could demonstrate her ability for you too, but you have to show mum the way to your farm and as Sally’s a good driver there’s really no need for you to swap around anyway, is there?” he said.
    “You could travel with mum while I drive the truck,” Dirk suggested to Sally.
    “Or you could travel with Bear in the car while your mum comes with me,” was her reply. “But whoever’s in the passenger seat, I’m driving the truck.”
    “How about Bear and I travel with Sally in the truck while you take the car?” Bryony asked, and whilst Dirk wasn’t sure whether she was joking or not it was obvious that his parents were siding with Sally and either way he’d be travelling in the car. “It’s an automatic but I don’t think you’ll have a problem with it if you want to drive.” she added, and when they all laughed at that the issue was settled.
    Following a big truckers’ breakfast at the stop and after filling petrol tanks and checking the truck’s load, during which Dirk discovered the washing machine that had been loaded, but about which he hadn’t been informed, their trip was resumed. Dirk checked the car’s rear vision mirror for the truck more than he would have if Sally hadn’t been driving it but the rest of the trip was uneventful, and despite the increasing holiday traffic they arrived at the cottage just before midday to find that everything was as they’d left it. There was no sign of Rob or Reb but the growling sound of a tractor, presumably Richard’s, came from the direction of the fishing shack site indicating they were probably there, and they could be introduced later.
    The first job was of course to get Dirk’s parents settled in, and to that end their luggage was hauled from their car up onto the deck and then inside, where Sally found a basket of multi-coloured dyed hens’ eggs, an Easter card from Rob and Reb attached, sitting on the kitchen bench. Luckily she had thought to buy several large boxes of chocolates when in the city and would hand one of them over on Sunday, knowing that they’d jokingly complain about having their figures ruined despite the fact that both had about as much fat on them as would a bean pole.
    As Bear climbed the steps and entered the cottage he was quite impressed to see the careful joinery that his son had done both inside and out during its construction while Bryony was equally enthusiastic about its interior layout and decoration, with the kitchen’s bay window and built-in herb garden drawing her immediate attention and admiration. Dirk admitted that many of the ideas, plus a considerable amount of the actual construction work was attributable to Sally, and having got to know her they were not at all surprised.
    A covered Tupperware cake tray which Sally found in the fridge also had a card attached and finding that the zucchini cake on it was an Easter present from Bron and Dave it was decided that a cup of tea was in order before a tour of the farm was made. The cake was just as good as the first one that Bron had given them not long after they’d first arrived and after having a slice Bryony immediately asked Sally if she had the recipe. She didn’t, but was fairly sure she could get it before the weekend was over.
    Following the tea and cake they donned warm jackets and commenced a tour of the veggie garden, chook pen, other bits of infrastructure that had been either finished or were under way, and the fishing shack site, where they found that their friends had not been idle whilst they were down in Sydney. During the afternoons after they’d finished work Rob and Reb, with the help of Richard and his tractor, had managed to dig the holes and put in the stumps for the fishing shack, and were now in the process of putting the bearers, joists and perimeter beams in place.
    Most of that work had been done but after introductions all round Dirk and Bear offered to help with the rest, leaving Reb free to join the girls at the cottage, and with four men on the job that comparatively easy task was completed in a couple of hours. Dirk returned to the cottage and drove his truck up to the shack where Rob was astounded to see the generator, compressor and air tools loaded on the back.
    “The compressor’s light enough for one person to handle,” said Dirk, “But the jenny’s much heavier and it’ll need the four of us to lift it off the truck safely.”
    “Why not leave it on the truck Dirk?” suggested Rob. “I wouldn’t be running it without you being around, and it’d save us having to lift it back on again when we’ve finished using it.”
    “Hmm… Maybe a good idea for now Rob, but it’s a key-start model and pretty simple to operate so there’s no reason for you not to use it if I’m away, helping Frank with a fencing job for example. We won’t be using it tomorrow: Sally and I will be showing my parents around the village and town, but as the air nailers will save us a lot of time when we put down the floor and knock up the framing it’ll give you and Reb a chance to take the day off to go fishing.”
    “You talked me into it when you said go fishing, Mate,” said Rob with a grin. “How about you, Richie: Want to go fishing with me and Reb tomorrow? Invite Linda and we’ll go to the Cock & Bull afterwards.”
    “Yeah, I’ll be in that. Linds was thinking we might take in a movie tomorrow night but there’s not much on so I think she’ll be OK with going to the pub.”
    Leaving Richard to load his tractor onto its trailer before heading off home the others piled into the truck and returned to the cottage to find that Sally and Reb had fired up the earth oven, and were demonstrating to Bryony just how effective it was by preparing a large beef casserole with an herbed savoury scone topping. Rather than just sit and look at the oven they had arranged themselves around the table on the cottage’s deck and were busily engaged in conversation whilst at the same time lowering the level of wine in the glasses they held. Not that their men-folk had been forgotten of course, however while the large esky on the deck at one end of the table held half a dozen long-necks of beer with which they also could relax they decided to join the girls in drinking wine.
    The casserole turned out to be a great success and as Bryony and Björn had never tried, let alone heard of using herbed scones as a topping it wasn’t surprising that Sally was asked for the recipe. It was a good way to end the day and after the meal was finished and Rob and Reb had gone, the pull-out bed in the cottage’s living area was made up for Dirk’s parents. Bryony had decided that the staggered stairs might be difficult to use in the middle of the night if she needed to go to the loo and had declined the offer of the bed in the loft, and after quick showers they all turned in.


    I’ve enjoyed reading the latest installment, shin! Can’t wait for the next one!


    Shin I love your stories, I think you should work on these 3 stories and get them on Amazon kindle.


    Hi Fans,
    Just a small addition to the story. Thanks for the encouragement Cajun, but at the moment I’m only writing for all my followers here – both of you – but perhaps when I retire…. 🙂

    * * *

    When Dirk’s parents returned to the city on the Monday afternoon it was after having seen the town and the village plus a good deal of the surrounding countryside, and met many of the friends he and Sally had made, all of whom had left a very good impression. Bjorn had also helped his son knock up some form-work for a concrete pad for the generator which, it had first been decided, was to be positioned where it could supply power to both the cottage and the workshop without the sound of its operation being intrusive to either.
    Sally’s opinion being that it should be set up close to where power would be needed most, with a long extension lead used whenever she needed to use the washing machine, was taken into consideration and resulted in the pad being laid down close to the workshop.
    The workshop itself would need to be enlarged, said Rob, and would not need to be triangular as suggested some time before by Sally: He’d enrolled to do a Small Engine Maintenance and Repair Course at the TAFE – (Technical and Further Education)- College and would need a workbench of his own. He had done this after learning that the mower repair man in town wanted to retire and for some time had been looking for someone to buy out his business, but so far without success.
    “I find that rather surprising,” he added, “because he always seems to be busy and has lots of customers lined up with machines that need to be attended to. Not just lawn mowers but also whipper-snippers, brush-cutters, chainsaws, log-splitters, generators and Lord knows what else. You’d think there’d be quite a few people wanting to take it on and be their own boss, wouldn’t you?”
    “That’s because he wants to sell the building along with the business and his asking price is considered by most to be way too high,” said Dirk. “Frank and I were over there last week to have the post-hole digger looked at – gear box is stuffed – and got asked if we knew anyone who might be interested. Mind you, he’s apparently being saying that he’d like to retire for the past ten years, so maybe no one’s taking him seriously.”
    “How much does he want for it, did he say?”
    “He told me he’s hoping to get around $32,000 for the whole shebang. It’s well known that he always pays all his bills on time so his accounts payable would be minimal, and as he usually gets paid promptly for the work he does his accounts receivable wouldn’t amount to much if anything. From what I understand he doesn’t keep much in the way of sale-able stock other than spare parts, and if you take out that, plus any equipment that goes with the sale, and the market value of the premises, I think his asking price would be based a lot on goodwill.”
    “$32,000 is way more than I’d want to pay even if I did have the cash. Just out of curiosity, what do you think the building’s worth?”
    “No idea, but I suppose I could find out for you if you really want to know.”
    “Nah. I haven’t even started the TAFE course yet and I reckon you’d need quite a bit of experience in the field before approaching a bank for a loan, and I’m not thinking of getting into that business anyway. I’m doing the course mainly because I’m concerned about having nobody around here to repair our machines if they break down after he finally does retire, though admittedly it might also be way to earn a bit of pocket money further down the track.”
    “It’s a good idea, but if somebody did want you to work on something it’d be best if they dropped it off and picked it up at the recycling centre rather than have them come here.”
    “Oh, that’s for sure,” said Rob who in truth hadn’t given any thought to that aspect until now but would in future be careful to keep it in mind.
    With the days now noticeably shorter and cooler there was less call for Dirk to assist Frank with fencing jobs, which meant more time could be devoted to projects around the farm, and all agreed that work on the veggie garden plus establishing a productive food forest of fruit and nut trees would take priority.
    Close behind that of course was the construction of the fishing shack with the intention of having it ready for occupation by next summer, giving them a good six months during which they would all work like Billy-o to complete the build.
    A greenhouse was a structure that would need to be put up soon and to that end Dirk and Sally drove into town a couple of days later and purchased the HDPE pipe and star pickets to be used for the arches supporting its shadecloth covering. Whilst not selling either product themselves the staff at the irrigation shop advised them that they should also use poly-carbonate film in combination with the shadecloth to help retain heat, and they were fortunate to find that it could be purchased in wide rolls at the hardware store where they were buying the shadecloth.
    Rob had taken it upon himself to visit the person who he knew had the type of greenhouse that Dirk wanted, and after spending some time examining it and talking to the owner was able to provide some sound advice when the group’s own was erected on the following Sunday. He turned up at the greenhouse site early that morning with thirty-five pre-drilled wooden battens and all the nuts and bolts needed to attach them lengthways between the arches, both to make the structure more rigid and to help prevent the covering from sagging.
    Oriented so that its length ran East-West, a perimeter of 2 x 6 inch treated pine sleepers was laid down and would be used to secure the shadecloth around the base as well as contain a thick bed of coarse woodchips for the floor. A full truckload of chips was to be delivered FOC – (Free of Charge) – by Dave’s mate Charlie who had contracts with the local council and the power company to do tree trimming, and until he’d met Dave had had problems trying to offload the chips and mulch produced by his big machine. Dave had offered him the use of his farm to dump some of the stuff with the idea of using it himself, but without realising just how much there would be… And there was literally tons of it.
    Measuring ten feet by twenty it wasn’t an overly large greenhouse, but it would not only be sufficient to begin raising the many seedlings they needed for later transplanting but also house several plants that didn’t grow well in the full sun of a hot Australian summer. During that time the polycarbonate film could be removed to turn it into a shade-house, although it was later agreed that the more practical suggestion made by Reb after the fun of putting the film on in the first place was shared by all, a second structure should be built for that sole purpose. Ventilation, needed to lessen high humidity within would at this time be achieved by simply rolling up the covers at each end, although Dirk’s plan was that sometime in the future flaps that could be opened would be placed between the arches along the length of each side. He’d also have to knock up several trestles to support long planks that would run the full length of the southern side to be used as a potting bench and support seed trays, leaving space on the opposite side clear for pots containing advanced seedlings.
    Charlie turned up with the woodchips and his two sons, Adam and Troy, on the Tuesday just before noon, and with all wielding mulching forks and rakes it took a mere half hour to have the entire truckload spread evenly throughout the length of the greenhouse. Whilst they were doing that, and despite Charlie saying it wasn’t necessary, Sally had prepared a large plate of sandwiches and big mugs of hot soup for them and as they all sat around the table for lunch Dirk told Charlie that if he ever had more woodchips and mulch than Dave could handle he’d be welcome to offload it right here.
    “Dave wouldn’t have a problem with that at the moment,” replied Charlie with a laugh. “I don’t think he had any idea how much our chipper turns out each week so I’d be happy to bring it here until he decides he needs more than he’s got already. But what are you going to do with it?”
    “Just let it rot,” said Dirk, and then laughed at the look on Charlies face. “No, seriously, Charlie, that’s what I intend to do, though maybe I should have said compost it. You’ve seen our veggie garden and to you it probably looks good, but believe me, it took a lot of work to get it to where it’s at now. The soil here is really sandy and we had to add lots of grass clippings, horse poop, loam and store-bought compost to begin turning it into relatively good gardening soil. I figure it’d be easier if we were able to make our own compost on site, and that’s where you come in: If we make a long pile of woodchips and add grass clippings, horse poop and blood and bone meal it’ll eventually decompose into a good additive we can mix with the dirt here.”
    “Sounds like a long-term plan, Dirk.”
    “We don’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon Charlie, and I think if we do it right we could be using some of the compost as early as next autumn.”
    “The chips I delivered are quite big because they came from the old machine we use now, but the new model we’re getting at the end of next month turns out finer mulch which will probably be even better for what you want.”
    “Actually the coarse chips can be put to good use Charlie, and we’d be happy to take all you can deliver until you switch to your new machine.”
    “That’ll be no problem ‘coz we’ve got quite a lot of work lined up at the moment. How soon can we start bringing it in?”
    “Just as soon as you like. I’ll mark out an area alongside the chicken run where you can offload, though you’ll have to remember to leave a bit of clear space around the gate on the side so I can get my wheelbarrow through.”
    “You said you also used grass clippings. Where’d you get those?”
    “The grass here was pretty long when we first arrived and that gave us a good start, but unfortunately the beautifully manicured weeds spread before you now aren’t going to yield nearly as much so I don’t mind at all if you want to add your own lawn clippings to the mulch.”
    “Not so much mine: A guy I know has a lawn mowing business and he pays me to take bales of the stuff off his hands on a regular basis. I toss them in with the loads I take to the council’s tip where I have to pay a fee for the service, so if you want them it’d save me a few dollars. A win-win arrangement if ever there was one I reckon. Well, apart from the council that is.”
    And an arrangement that Dirk and Sally were happy to agree with.
    “Where’d you get the horseshit?” asked Troy, earning a glare of disapproval from his father for speaking, to his mind, indelicately in front of a lady.
    “We get it free from a woman who runs horses on the other side of town,” Dirk told him. “We’d like to get a lot more than she can give us but at dollar a bag from most places around here it’d work out to be too expensive.”
    “Why not see if you can get manure from the stock sales yards at Maitland or Singleton?” said Adam, but emphasising the word manure with a cheeky grin at his brother and a sidelong look at his father.
    “We didn’t think of that. Brilliant suggestion, Adam,” said Dirk.
    “Yes, especially as it’d be mostly cow manure, which I’ve read is even better for growing fruit and vegetables than horseshit,” added Sally, and the emphasis she’d placed on the last word set the two boys to laughing so hard that even Charlie had to join in.
    “I don’t think I’d put cow or horse manure on my strawberries though,” she added when the sound died down.
    “Oh really? What would you put on them?” Troy asked, and her answer of
    “Cream” sent the boys into another paroxysm of laughter.
    Dirk having pointed out the area where he wanted the woodchips dumped Charlie drove off saying that the first load would probably be delivered early Friday, which was much sooner than he and Sally had expected but nevertheless good news.
    “Do you remember telling me how you wanted to use those old pallets you got from the hardware store to build bays for making compost?” asked Sally. “I thought then that it’d be quite a job turning the material over from one bay to the next, but how do you propose to turn over the amount of mulch than Charlie will bring?”
    “I was thinking that we might be able to get Richard to do it once every two months or so with the bucket on his tractor.”
    “That’d work, I guess. At least in the short term. In the long term though, we might have to think seriously about getting our own tractor.”
    “Yeah, I was thinking that too. We’ll see how it goes. When the finer mulch starts coming we could barrow a lot into the run where the chooks would enjoy turning it over in search of worms and grubs.”
    “Aha! Chicken tractors! Yeah, I know that’s not what’s normally meant by chicken tractors, but it’s a good idea. And we could dump all our food scraps in there too.”
    “No: I’m going to set up the insinkerator to grind our own plus Rob and Reb’s scraps for our worm farm.”
    “We don’t have a worm farm.”
    “We will by this time tomorrow: I’m going to use those old bathtubs to build one in the chook run, alongside the coop.”
    “I thought that’s where you were going to put the compost bays.”
    “It was, or rather, still is: The worms are just an addition to my grand plan. Of course I’ll need to buy a box of compost worms from the hardware store to get the system going, but I can do that tomorrow morning.”
    “I know where you might be able to get plenty, and probably for free.”
    “Really? And where would that be?”
    “At one of the Primary schools in town. I heard a couple of mothers talking about a big compost bin that the kids have to put their uneaten food scraps in, and one of them said that there are so many worms in it that dozens of them are crawling out from under the lid and down the sides looking for more food. She was hoping that the school would clean it out soon because to her it was rather disgusting. If they haven’t done so already maybe we could drop in and offer to do the job for them.”
    “Do you know which school? There are two that I know of.”
    “There are three actually, but I think the one she was talking about is the big one on Lakeside Road. Maybe you should check them all out in case they each have one. I can go with you and help, though depending on what’s available we might have to get some large plastic garbage bins to put the contents in first.”
    “Sounds like a plan. We’ll check out the schools first thing in the morning, but if you can give me a hand we can at least put the bathtubs in place now.”
    Working together it didn’t take them very long to have the two bathtubs set up side by side and supported at a convenient working height by a well braced frame of treated pine sleepers that Dirk cut to size and put together on site. At the same time the wood from the old pallets he’d scored was used to form the compost bays he wanted, and despite it being an ad hoc effort the completed structure looked as if it had been well designed and carefully built. Sally never ceased to be amazed by his being able to work from go to whoa and get a project done in double quick time, especially when he was all fired up as he was now, and with each one completed felt more and more confident that their aim of becoming self-sufficient would be realised sooner than later.
    In this respect they were well ahead of Dave and Bron, although to be fair that couple did have paying jobs that took up much of their time, so Sally suggested that perhaps she and Dirk they could give them a hand establishing their vegetable gardens. Knowing that the extent of their friends’ work so far in that direction had been somewhat limited, and being in full agreement, Dirk said that when he went over to the village for training with the brigade next Saturday he’d put the offer to them.
    “Why not call in on them tomorrow on the way back from the schools in town? We could also check out the school in the village and see what they do with the kids’ food scraps.”
    “That’s a good idea. I’d better call in and see Frank too, just in case he’s got something coming up.”
    “Strange isn’t it? Not having jobs means we have more time to work.”
    “Yeah, but I reckon the level of satisfaction we get by working for ourselves the way we do is way higher than any we’d get from a regular job.”
    “And helping others. What do you think it’d be like if everyone was able to do the same as us?”
    “Everyone? Thankfully that’d never happen. Think about it: Who’d be there to serve you when you went shopping, for example? In fact, who’d manufacture all the goods that are sold, and which we need? And going back even further, who’d produce the materials needed to manufacture goods? To quote Thoreau, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” and in a way we have to be thankful that most accept their lot and try to make themselves content with it as best they can. If everyone did as we’re doing, the world we know now would probably slowly grind to a halt.”
    “You seem to have given that a bit of thought. What do you think makes people accept their lot?”
    “Indoctrination: Beginning with parents who tell their children they must go to school, study hard and get good jobs, followed by an education system that reinforces the concept, and then by big and small businesses that employ them to keep the money rolling in. And that’s not being cynical: It’s just the way it is, and I can accept that, knowing I’m free to choose another path if I want to.”
    “And that’s a path we’re both taking. You mentioned Thoreau: I’m rather surprised because most Australians would never have heard of him. Did he have much influence on your dropping out of mainstream society?”
    “Not really. Well, perhaps he may have touched a chord but I couldn’t really say his work influenced me a lot. I used to read books that my English teacher at high school recommended, probably because he understood that studying Shakespeare wouldn’t appeal to me at all, and Thoreau’s Walden just happened to be among them.”
    “Hmm… My English teacher had a thing for Francis Scott Fitzgerald and because none of his novels were in the curriculum she went out and bought some for the class to read. She was admonished by the headmistress for doing so but as she’d used her own money to buy them the matter was dropped, though they did tell her to stick to the curriculum. She was a real sweetie, and the class decided that each of us who wanted to keep a book would buy it from her. Not everyone wanted one though, and I ended up with copies of his first three novels, each of which I still have.”
    “I’ve read The Great Gatsby which I know was his third, and you probably have that one. What are the others you have?”
    “This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and the Damned, which were his second and third. I’d like to get a copy of Tender is the Night which was his fourth and final but somehow it always seems to slip my mind when I’m in a book store.”
    “That happens to me too. Not so much with books but mostly with hardware stores. I’ve should get into the habit of writing everything down, but ten to one if I did that I’d get to the store and find I’d forgotten to bring my list.”
    “Maybe you should do what Dave does and always carry a small notebook and pencil in your shirt pocket.”
    “Good idea: I’ll try to remember to get those the next time we’re in town.”
    * * *

    “Told you we’d have a worm farm by this time today, didn’t I?” said Dirk as he laid a piece of old carpet over the second bathtub filled with the contents of the primary school’s compost bins that they’d managed to secure.
    “Never doubted you for a moment,” Sally replied in all honesty, though she had been surprised by the large amount of worms that inhabited the contents.
    A quick trip to the shopping centre to buy three large plastic garbage bins had followed an agreement made at the school on Lakeside Drive: The mother she’d overheard telling a friend that there were dozens of worms crawling out of the bin had not been an exaggeration, and fortunately Dirk’s and Sally’s offer to clean it out had been gratefully accepted by the principal. It had taken them half an hour to do the job, including washing out the bin and cleaning up the area where the bin was installed, however that was nothing compared to the dollars they would have to have paid for worms purchased from the hardware store or the garden centre. Impressed by what they had done the principal even asked if they’d be able to do the same at the end of each term, and before Dirk could reply Sally told him of course they could.
    The second school they approached had no such bin and were quite OK with having their student’s scraps put in the bins collected by council each week, and the third school already had arrangement in place to deal with theirs, however the primary school at Brocklesbury yielded something entirely different: That school not only had a compost bin in place, but it also had a worm farm and a number of vegetable garden beds.
    Unfortunately the teacher who had encouraged the school to install what the students had once described as their farm-sans-animals, had been transferred to a school in the city, and without her encouragement it had fallen into disuse. Sally somewhat impulsively volunteered to take over where the teacher had left off, at least as far as the gardening was concerned, and before he knew it Dirk was also roped in to help. It would only be temporary, Sally told him on their way to visit Dave and Bron, as she had an idea that might keep a number of people very happy but wanted to talk to their friends first. Whilst Dirk was a little dubious at the moment he decided he’d go along with her plan if it was a sensible one, which of course meant one that he felt wouldn’t interfere too much with the plans they already had for their own farm!
    Checking at the hotel to find that neither of their friends was working a shift they proceeded to McKenzie’s Farm where they received a warm welcome and a lunch consisting of cottage pie topped with sweet potato, followed by another of Bron’s experimental cakes. The first topic broached in the conversation that accompanied the meal was gardening, and their offer to help establish the raised vegetable garden beds that so far Dave and Bron hadn’t had a lot of time to do themselves was gladly accepted. That also reminded Dave that he hadn’t gotten around to having Frank install the chain link fencing, for which job he’d given Dave a quote, and after some discussion agreed with Dirk that that job should be left until after the garden beds were put in place.
    That wouldn’t be difficult or take long either, Dave told them, as he had previously turned over the soil with a rotary hoe he’d hired and, as Mondays were the only day that he, Dirk and Sally could get together, the next one was decided upon to begin the job.
    A description of what they were doing with their own gardens, and getting a good laugh from Bron when she told her that that morning they’d been out collecting worms, led Sally to explain her idea regarding the Primary School’s now neglected garden.
    “I don’t suppose you know of any retired people around here who are into gardening do you?” she asked them. “Vegetable gardening I mean.”
    “I do,” said Bron. Two of my regulars are pretty keen: At least they spend a lot of time talking about their gardens, and I believe they help each other from time to time. I reckon they come to the pub more for company than anything else because they don’t drink much, and sometimes I think that without the pub, the darts club and gardening to keep their minds occupied they’d probably feel quite lonely. It’s a pity really because they’re both very nice old codgers.”
    “They sound just like the type of people I have in mind.”
    “And in this case I think I can read your mind, Sally. Correct me if wrong, but are you thinking they might be interested in taking on the job of getting the school’s little farm going again, and teaching the kids a bit about gardening?”
    “Spot on, Bron! I’ll have to go back to the school and talk it over with the principal, and the P&C Committee will probably have to be advised, but it would be to the benefit of the school and the two men. Do you know their names?”
    “Of course I do: Barmaids at the Cock & Bull are renowned for knowing all the regular patron’s names, which in this case are Pete and Don. Bit early for them to be fronting the bar at the moment but they seem to have a ritual of meeting there at seven on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and if you drop by on one of those nights around then I can introduce you to them.”
    Sally didn’t know if Dirk was simply relieved by their not having to commit themselves to hours of free labour for the school or if he was suddenly and genuinely enthused by her plan, but she figured it was more likely the former when he suggested that maybe the P&C committee could organise a parents’ working bee to get the garden beds rebuilt instead of doing it themselves. But either way she was confident that the school’s students would soon be growing and enjoying not the fruits but the vegetables of their labour, and even Dirk seemed to be amused by that one when she told him.
    “You know, I thought worms would be rather slimy things but after handling them I found they’re actually not. I bet Reb will say they’re repulsive though.”
    “If she does think they’re repulsive, wait till I start breeding Black Soldier Fly Larvae,” Dirk replied with an almost malicious grin.”
    “I’m almost afraid to ask: Is this something I really need to know about?”
    “Maybe eventually, but for now I just want to grow worms because their castings and the liquid they produce will benefit the garden beds. The books I have don’t have much information about Soldier Flies, though I did read about them when I was back in the city, and I want to learn more before beginning another project. And of course there are also meal worms to consider.”
    “Not another word! I want to enjoy the dinner you’re about to help me with.”
    Preparing meals was something they now often did together, though on those occasions when Sally needed no assistance Dirk always washed and dried the dishes, and vice versa. And it sure made for a happy home, Dirk reflected.


    Thank you so much for the latest installment, Shin! I can see the threads of the different stories coming together…

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