Wednesday, October 1

Portrait of the old journo as a young lad

Card shows boy
Seventy. The big Seven-O. Your blogger has made it to 70!

The celebration could not have been more enjoyable – family and friends came together in a beautiful setting for most of last weekend.

I particularly appreciated this birthday card,from young friends who said it reminded them of the caricature I sometimes use to depict Old Grumpy

Our offspring, partners, and their offspring, along with some valued friends, set up a small tent village right on the Wangi Wangi Point. Others rented cabins in the adjoining Lakeside Tourist Park. For us – Merry and I – they provided a modern on-suite cabin on the hillside looking through the trees across Lake Macquarie.

caricature of blogger Ian Skinner
We took along two lovely small boats I've built, and they were a splendid sight as we sailed them out of the little bay and into the brisk breezes on Lake Macquarie.

We sipped beer and wine and soft drink, barbecued meat, nibbled salads, talked and laughed, and sat in camp chairs watching grandchildren bond with their cousins as they learned to mess around in small boats.

On Saturday night, we revived our traditional family recipe – Black Chicken – dating back to the days when everyone perched a grill or steel plate on bricks in a corner of the backyard and called it a barbie. Today, of course, it's de rigueur to have those huge trolley things with gas burners and dials and woks and rotisseries and hoods sitting on our patios – but they won't cook Black Chicken.

To make it authentic, our mob unearthed a family heirloom, a rectangle of woven steel mesh cut from some quarry screen we scrounged back in the mid-60s. You put it over an open fire, and lay out large chicken drumsticks and marylands (marinade them first if you want to be a bit fancy), turning them often as dripping fat makes the flames spit and flare while the skin darkens to near-charcoal. Messy, but delicious.

Sunday morning, I wake early, feeling great. Friends have given me a new book, Not The Costello Memoirs. Thank God it's not the real thing, and it's brief. Who wants to plough through the story of The Man Who Never Made It?

(Indeed, my friends appear delighted when I tell them the real memoirs are one of the publishing flops of the year. I point to this report in The Weekend Australian, headed “Costello outsold by a cookbook” and beginning, “Peter Costello's memoirs have been beaten at the bookstores by a children's fantasy novel and a book of home recipes that use four ingredients or less.”)

A most enjoyable book – the spoof, that is. Here's “Peter” talking about the early 1970s: "The immoral and discomfiting socialist agenda began – quite understandably – to destabilise me, as did an undiagnosed lack of calcium in my spinal column.”

But this is unworthy of me. How could I rejoice at Costello's travails on such a happy birthday weekend?

I put the book aside and walk down the hill to the campfire, where everyone is tucking into bacon and eggs and croissants. Overnight, the wind has changed and it's blowing strongly, so we decide against more sailing. Provided they stay well inside the sheltered bay, the grandkids may keep practising their newly learned rowing skills.

And so another happy day drifts by, talking with friends and watching children play, before we head home. Perhaps we can do it again soon – the annual Putt Putt Regatta at Davistown on October 26 might be next. Let's try for it.

LAkeside scene at Wangi Point

Above: The sheltered bay at Wangi Point. Our family and friends camped on the headland in background, and we stayed in a cabin just out of frame to the right. [The scenic image is from the holiday park brochure, while we''ll try to pay for our use of the birthday card image by suggesting you'll enjoy others on the publisher's website, which offers a free facility to send e-cards.]

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