Monday, 22 October 2012


If you are excited by the idea of losing money on fees while banking there are other means of getting rid of cash. The easy way. Grab your savings and follow me…

1 + 1 is nothing

From the moment you enter the Crow Casino, that curious cash register on the Yarra, that dimlit, dimwit, Hall of Hope, the emphasis seems to be on expressions of getting lost in opulence. This is to be my first ever visit deeper then a frontal look. I am about to enter the guts of the beastie. The place of money machinations. The glimmering dark where folk like to think they get rich. And unseen folk do...

The enticing entrance hall, three long black gleaming limos casually parked out front, is all glass, polished black granite, diffused lighting, Chandeliers, reflections, reflections of reflections, soothing yet energetic sounds of running water, lines of lights emphasising forms and blurring reality and sheets of light emphasising the expense of the architecture. To the ordinary punter all this is very impressive, to the throng it is the start to an Alice in Wonderland type of getting lost experience, down the black hole, down the black hole… goes the cash...

In the second hall, a little deeper into the dragon, we come upon the main portal of income doom. The sound of water, to silence the warnings of the immanent purse attack, increases. This space is darker, larger, is all reflections.

Off to the side of this Hallowed Hall of Loss, the godlike brand names of the retard retail industry strut their stuff. Here, anything from a humble pair of undies to the black shiny business case, aided by clever glass case presentations and state of the art lighting, is elevated to the level of High Art. That and the increased overlay of mirrors are there to remind us how ordinary we really look, and are. Better go and get some of that easy winning cash...

I move further into the monster and soon arrive at its heartless centre, the place where, in the main, my age group play havoc with their savings and food budgets. Having been fooled all their lives to toil for little they are now fooled, once again, out of the little they have left. This central space is huge and buzzes with a weird ambience. In its generosity this tribute to Jeff Kennett’s creative spirit has designed plenty of space for the income challenged. More then plenty of space. Here everything is based on the magic concept of ‘More’. Here also the concept of ‘Mirage’ replaces the expected concept of ‘oasis’. Now you see it, now you don’t. Now you have it, now you won’t…

In all this noise and coloured confusion the absolute calm and immaculate appearance of the croupiers mesmerises. Their hand movements beautiful and ballet like. Cards and coins tumble and slide with great precision. A almost Zen like feeling, next to which the mindless banging away on the slot machines is decidedly ugly...

I wander about in wonder. Where am I?  It is both fascinating and depressing, this central gaming room for everyone where it is neither day nor night, but where I experience the twilight zone of questionable comfort. Where am I? While hundreds are having fun loosing money I already experience despair. Here where many lights flash, where the sounds of water has now been replaced by that of cascading coins, where every surface is reflective, where a confusing soundtrack penetrates everything, a feeling of not knowing exactly where you are is cleverly created. Where am I? Anywhere, but definitely not in my own reality...

A black ceiling filled with starlike lights creates a heavy type heaven set amongst the sounds of hell. In all we, the public, are in a totally confusing and overbearing mind-numbing place which gets under your skin, into your bloodstream, takes over your nervous system so that, not long after arrival every possibility of rational thought has been banished by the keep-sane delete button.  An ambience of both stressed relaxation and hurried calm reaches into every corner of this cosmic cash space…

Well beyond the sounds of win and loss a hardly noticeable, but insistent, frantic modern jazz track adds to the feeling of general mental disorder, entices us along the seams of our purse into it, melts the credit cards, becomes careless with our coins and turns our notes into nothing. Trying to block out this maddening all-around sound, the small voice of reason has no chance in (this) hell…

Walking about this losers paradise I do not notice shame or any other expressions of emotion, such as frustration, anger, despair, annoyance, but a more an atmosphere of passive acceptance. After living life you die, after living gambling you loose, same damn thing, no? The addicted are all in the same boat, not up, but down that proverbial stinking creek, are all among family, though little familiar interaction or conversation takes place. The only exchange which seems to take place is solitary, the exchange of cash for the dubious fun of losing…

In this inner sanctum of madness there are of course the occasional winners, the coins rattle loudly into their metal containers for all to hear, there to be swept up and deposited right back in the false hope of more, more, more. The deadly chant of the gambler. But here more turns out to be definitely less, unless you mean the real winners, which are there, hidden behind the dark reflective glass of this feast of feral fun and parlour games…

However, there are positives, the food is cheap, there is totally comfortable seating everywhere, stewardess-like game flight attendants serve complimentary drinks to the reality disabled and, just like the size of the winnings, the drinks are miniscule. Quick refreshment, get on with the real stuff of the game, the two cent game…

Most of the machines attended are those of one and two cent games, there are others, but these seem to be the most popular. Just imagine, five games for only ten cents, FIFTY GAMES FOR JUST ONE DOLLAR. And, here you don’t need coins, those annoying reminders of your real earnings, of the hard work you had to perform to earn these coins. No, here we use play money, make-believe money, and just like the make believe money there are only make believe winnings, because you better not believe that you get out of there with more then you entered. Additionally, and as a real plus, the time it takes to play a game is about the time it takes to push a button. Two cents…two cents, an inventive way for the government to get its pensioner cheques back…

There are no clocks, but for me it is definitely time to leave. Now, where was it I entered, everything looks the same, there are no hints of where you are, everything is reflected,  same people, same loss ration, same hellish sound track…Arghhhh…

When I finally walk out into a glorious Melbourne spring evening, it is the outside which appears unreal. An unreal winner…

and I? I am the loser, I came I to the casino with my wallet and when I got to the train station I was san wallet. Lifted from my pocket. I didn't play a game but still lost, that is the true magic of the money munching machine……


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Breadmaking, a trilogy (3)

 While teaching a ceramic workshop in Ireland, 
and while we were waiting for pots to dry for firing
i thought it would be good to spend a day in a similar activity
that of bread making.
since we were going to be outside firing a wood kiln
the electric kiln was utilised for our bread making
the ceramic department never smelled so sweet
 Meanwhile, let’s have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the trunks of the birch trees with dappled shade, the sprinkler rains delight upon the vegetable garden, the soughing of pines is heard in the kettle on the boil. Let us dream a little, in this,  the present moment, and linger on the beautiful romantics of things.  

The Poet and Baker both nourish the world

A few weeks ago, after my story about making bread, a friend caught me buying a loaf in town. “Why are you buying bread?” was the question. That day instead of eating bread, I had to eat my words.

When recently, I took my latest loaf of bread from the oven the thought of: ‘I have finally arrived’ came about spontaneously and to my own surprise. This after years of messing around with dough. I thought the bread was finally right. I had achieved something with it. An ease of making.

The bread was beyond my wildest expectations and was the result of once again going back to the source, which was the use of basic food stuffs and the pure pleasure of creating beautiful things to eat. Bread in this case. Baked in a simple manner. No bread making machines. No bread making mix. The enjoyment and pleasures associated with wood-heated oven cooking. Attending the most basic expression of the ancient craft. However this time the bread had not been enhanced with fancy ingredients. Just an expression of the making and cooking of a strong and simple loaf.

Not long after this event took place, I attended a talk by Richard Perry on the meditative qualities of the Japanese Tea Bowl. As part of his presentation he showed a bowl which, in Japan, is regarded as a national treasure. Its title was ‘Fuji-san’ Fuji Mountain. A simple, and at the same time complex, Shino bowl. Its Beauty in its simplicity. My last loaf of bread, and I say this in all modesty, has a hint of a similar quality.

During Richard’s presentation, I recalled that my initial bread making, some thirty years ago, was originally inspired by traditional bread makers with their wood-heated ovens, which I had learned about as a result of my travels in Europe. Plus an initial interest in, don’t be surprised to see this in relation to bread making, Zen Buddhism. All this came back to me when Richard mentioned the concept of: ‘a good bowl leads the mind inward and outward’. Which I interpreted as: ‘A good loaf nourishes the inner and outer being’.

It was this last thought that made my bread making clear, even though I did not know this at the time. It has always been my intention to create objects of meditative quality. Now, as a consequence of attending the talk, I realised that I, as a baker also, have been practicing my skills and making bread in such a way that it has become an activity of simple yet universal proportions.

I feel that I have arrived, at the end of a seemingly circular journey, where I started. With, at the start of this journey not knowing anything and at the end knowing only that which is expressed in a simple loaf. A thing of beauty. A bit like a tree which finds itself all of a sudden, and to its own surprise, with blossoms and fruit. And the continuation of that journey now becoming one of producing more fruits and, consequently, seeds. The seeds for more bread-making. The seeds of meditation. The seeds of continuation.

The latest loaves then, which I took out of the oven this year, provided me with a stronger consideration of ‘the loaf of bread as one of the most beautiful meditative objects’. A loaf to get lost in, a loaf to lead the mind inward and outward. The reason why this thinking is somewhat difficult to appreciate for the layman is most probably because it is best appreciated in stillness, something our society of noise and speed does not do too well. A way of looking and consideration that is not a quality that has come with industrialisation, an event which also seems to have send the concepts of elegance and refinement of food, actions and manners out of the door. However, even people without the consideration of ‘quietly observing’ seem in the main intrigued by both the quietness and strength of a simple loaf resting on a flour dusted wooden table.

The loaves, finely made, are decorated, with and without intention, by the flames/heat of the fire. As the baker I have used the dough and the fire to tell the story of its making, plus that something extra.

In essence I hope to express, through this bread making, the delightfulness of that which exists. The pleasure of making beautiful things by hand and the expression of relatively simple skills to make wholesome food.



Monday, 1 October 2012


Four loaves of bread in a field

Here, after having received 
some interesting responses to my recent bread post 
is another meditation on the making of bread

During this time of year, when I plant my summer vegetable garden, I am always reminded of that other simple but beautiful and earthing activity. The activity of making one’s own bread. Two simple activities which seem to go hand in hand. Planting a garden and making bread.

When I think of ‘Bread’, I think of one of the most beautiful words in our language.

‘Nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven’

Although, nothing compared to the choices of bread available in other parts of the world, we here are also beginning to have all types of bread. From the nutty flavour of the complex whole grain loaf to the total blandness of white bread, from the romantic loveliness of the fancy bread croissant to the simple elegance of the down to earth breadstick, we are presented with enough choice to make us forget that bread basically is nothing more then a mix of flour and water, plus maybe a little salt, and that all else is extra. In this simple understanding lies the possibility of the act of making one’s own bread. An activity as simple as growing one’s own vegetables. We could greatly simplify an understanding of our lives if we re-connected with these two basic activities.   

“we need more cooks, not more cookbooks” (or, for that matter TV cook shows).

Bread making itself. Where we take flour and mix it with the correct amount of water to form a dough, roll it into a ball, flatten it a little and place it on a tray then bake it. It is that simple. Perform this ancient act once and feel connected to an inherent part of your history. Your traditions thought forgotten, but rekindled with this simple act. Perform this ancient act once and recognise a dormant skill. A skill which simply cannot be forgotten. Even if you have never done it before, you are able to remember the making of bread. Flour/water/loaf.

And, as a result of the inherently creative creatures we are, we will want to play with this amazing material. This dough, this stretchy, pleasant to the touch, claylike plastic material which lends itself to shaping in many different ways. We realise that we are able to make a mark and personalise this simple loaf, that it does not have to look like a thing from the supermarket, but can take any form. A loaf of bread comes in as many forms as there are individual creative people making it. And everyone who makes as simple loaf of bread, is involved in the creative act

Another interesting aspect of bread making is that we do not have to learn how to do it. We, all of us, already know how to make bread. It is part of our gene make up. Once we make a loaf of bread we recognise the skill within us. A skill which has existed from a time well before our intellect and emotions came into being. A primal skill which you recognise as an old acquaintance, an old and trusted friend.

Flour/water, thin mix for pancakes, flour/water, thick mix for bread. Simple. Easy. Now, as the basic craft of bread making is recognised, felt at home with, play. Play as understood in the basis of all learning. Simple, add some, take some away, try this, try that, observe, easy steps. Like walking on a new path you recognise. You cannot get lost making bread. You will be guided. Guided by your forefathers and theirs. You know everything already through them. Cook, create, express and above all be adventurous and remain playful.  

Making one’s own bread teaches. Teaches respect for ingredients, materials, tools and little things, plus an understanding of the economy of movement, which ultimately manifests itself in the concept of ‘no waste’. Making one’s own bread creates a connection to the real world by providing one’s own food. A connection we seem to have given away. And with that a basic power, a power which has been compromised.

Why is this important? You may well ask. Especially in this world where so much is unreal, meaning 'unconnected to the source'. That forgotten part of the world where we are able to centre ourselves and as a result become and remain strong. Thus the need to be occasionally connected. To be connected to the earth. The earth as the ultimate provider. The earth we are in danger of losing as a result of our unconnectedness, our carelessness, our indifference, our ‘want it now’, ‘have it now’ way of life.

Get reconnected, start with a simple loaf of bread. Plant one tomato seedling and plant it close to the backdoor. Then imagine this, a slice of freshly baked nutty bread with a slice of sun ripened tomato, on it a leaf of basil, plus a little salt. Beat that. Remember that you have always known both of these activities of growing intimately. You just forgot. Forgot to remember. And, if you need another reminder about the inherent loveliness of bread making, remember another thing you have not forgotten: “it is so nice to be kneaded”.