The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

A few weeks ago I read   David  Mitchell’s Black Swan Green  where the story is told as seen through the eyes of a thirteen year old boy. Paired with this I have now  read  The Sweetness at the Bottom of The Pie by Alan Bradley, this time narrated  by an eleven year old girl.sweetnessatthe bottomofthe pie

We’re taken back to 1950 where eleven year old Flavia de Luce lives in a grand old house in the English countryside

I don’t remember the book mentioning where Flavia was receiving her education but she had this wonderful, ancient, private laboratory at the top of the house, complete with bunsen burners,  test tubes, beakers, flasks and   glass retorts,  as well as the contents of a vast array of  stoppered bottles and a library of old-fashioned chemistry books. It had been set up by an earlier member of the family, and, left so much to her own devices Flavia became an intelligent self-taught chemist.

When a body is found in the cucumber patch Flavia’s analytical mind springs into action and  she is off on the chase to try and find out what has really happened.  How Did He Die and Who Did It ‘

So where did the author get his detailed knowledge of chemistry.  One has to assume that everything he has written is accurate if he wanted to maintain his credibility. And thankfully it is given to us in small doses so that it doesn’t distract from the story line. Chasing the author on Google shows him to have a quiet but  interesting background.

Flavia scampers all over the place on her bike Gladys. It made me realize I miss  seeing that in my town.  Most of the few children I see on bikes are of primary school age.   These days I rarely see a schoolgirl on a bike and I no longer  see groups of boys on the corner of the streets, ogling the girls as they go by ! Bike culture has changed.  At weekends you will see family groups of Mum, Dad and the littlies going for a sedate ride wearing the required helmets. Then there are the serious lycra-clad exercisers, heads down bottoms up eating up the roads.  Bikes are now an extra to a life, not an essential part.

From the Family Album – Young Ladies and their Bikes 1950

Bendigo Teachers College Residence 1950

While growing up I used to ride everywhere even out into the country side .One favourite destination was a fire-watching tower in a pine plantation. These towers were manned by people in the summer so that any column of smoke showing a potential bushfire could have its bearing taken to be triangulated with sightings from other fire towers.  Many of them are still in use.

Within town boundaries there was the swimming dam, sometimes used in preference to the small concrete town pool.  The dam was great, both socially and for the lovely dirty brown water. Well worth the ride to the outskirts of town. But no matter where you went there was that final steep hill to  home which defeated me every time.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the wanderings it induced in my own mind.

Grandpa and his bushfire

At this time of the year Down Under there are many reports of bushfires.  Some are quickly controlled but others go on for days or weeks.   My grandfather was caught by one but that was a long while ago..  The dry weather had brought swarms of locusts and by February 1, 1898  Beech Forest was described as being ablaze, just one of the many fires that had been devastating the Otways, turning day into night.

Grandpa and his father and brother had come down each year from central Victoria in the off season to clear land for a dairy farm.  It was in the hills above Apollo Bay, then still known by its original name of Krambruk.  They had built a house and Grandpa was settling in well.

The Otway Forest was fast coming into prominence as a coastal tourist resort. That summer distinguished visitors to the various small communities were reported, as were the balls and Sports Days. On Tuesday, February 8, 1898 it wasn’t a particularly hot morning, but the wind was gusty. And when the wind swung to the north the burning-off which had been  started by the Beech Forrest settlers as a precaution got out of control and headed towards Apollo Bay.

About 11.30 in the morning my grandfather was helping his next door neighbour, William Methven. They saw the fire making for their houses at the top of the ridge so they began to hurry home.  Grandpa reached Mr Methven’s house first and stopped briefly for a drink of milk, the older man having lagged behind, then hurried to his own home.

There was little Charles Fricke could do to save his home.  The fire was so intense he crouched behind a table with a bucket of water for five hours, tearing the back out of his waistcoat to dip in the water and cover his mouth.  The table was too small to cover his feet and the heat drew the nails out of his boots.  His horse was the only one of his animals to survive the fire, even though his mane had been burnt off.

Alone, blinded by the heat, he decided he would rather die on the road to the township where his body would be found more quickly.  And so, feeling his way with a stick, he set off on the three miles to Apollo Bay.  Mrs Costin took him in and put him to bed and nursed him back to health but his neighbour had died trying to reach the sanctuary of the creek.

As the telegraph line was burnt down the news of the fire had to be taken out by horseback.  The coaches could not get through as the track became blocked and the corduroy was burning. So it was Friday before the outside world knew what had happened.

After eight years of clearing scrub, splitting palings, fencing, building, and creating a farm, it was a case of start again.  First priority was shelter. Grandpa built a  temporary humpy using the roofing iron from his burnt home.  .  And so, full circle, he started again. Dear Grandpa.

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Grandpa and his humpy