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Mountain moments

When I wrote my first book, The Woman on the Mountain, I originally intended to illustrate it. After all, if Gerald Durrell could have illustrations in books for adults, why couldn’t I? In the end, the book having grown longer, we decided not to use the pen and ink drawings.

I still have scans of them, and as I hate waste, I’ve decided to share some of them with my blog readers, accompanied by relevant extracts from their chapters.

This one was meant for Chapter 3 – ‘Close to the elements’, as we certainly were, living as we did for fifteen months in a small secondhand tent. Except for wet weather, we really only slept there; all the real living space was outside. 

‘Yet despite the extremes dealt by the elements, that first year here, living mainly outdoors, remains the happiest of my life.’

My three-year-old daughter and five-year-old son loved it… and so did I.

‘For dining, under the spreading arms of a white mahogany tree we had set up a card table and canvas director’s chairs, with holes dug in the ground for the uphill chair legs so diners didn’t roll down the slope when eating, as several unwary visitors had done. As they were a little tipsy at the time, they rolled easily and didn’t hurt themselves, although the sight was so funny that the sides of the callous and equally tipsy spectators ached for some time.

‘Our chosen clearing had appeared to be a gentle slope but actually was relentlessly unflat, as each small area that needed to be level soon proved. Everywhere involved walking uphill, to or from, and we got very fit, especially carrying buckets of water up the steep incline from the spring. That was excellent for deportment too; only my straightest back would keep the buckets from bumping into the slope ahead and spilling.

‘My cooktop was an old fridge rack balanced on four rocks, my cooking equipment was disposal store cast iron — camp oven, frying pan and saucepan — and one heavy soup pot. From our Merriwa camping weekends I’d developed quite a collection of recipes for one-pot or one-pan dishes. For those weekends I used to cheat a little to compensate for the absence of bench space, like making the dough and rolling the balls for chapatis at home, in which form they’d happily sit until I was ready to flatten them and cook over the fire to accompany the Saturday night curry. Now I had the luxury of the card table as a bench.

‘The camp oven, buried in hot ashes and coals, worked well, but I could only bake one thing at a time in it. We bought a rusty fuel stove for $10 and set it up close to the big tree above the ‘kitchen’.

‘The first time I used it I wrote (in my diary): 

Took a long time for oven to heat up but finally cooked pitta, pumpkin pie and two veg. strudels in it. Flue melted its joins and blew off.

‘Here’s another baking morning.

Lit fuel stove — baked cookies first, then two loaves bread, then prune loaf, then Rieska [quick rye bread for lunch]. Used top to warm yoghurt, de-candy honey, cook chickpeas, etc. All done by 12.30. We got sand and rocks for last trench. Finished that by evening.

‘Was that me, that so-organised, energetic young woman? Where did she go?’

I have copies of The Woman on the Mountain which you can buy at a special price here.

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