Tasting Your Way Back Home

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Between the age of 6 and 12 life was full of adventures. In one day my friend and I might have ridden across the desert on our horses (mine was always a palamino), fought the baddies in the jungles of South America, sung at the tops of our voices in the Armadale railway station – the best acoustic studio in town  – and then morphed into one of the Secret Seven on a particularly thrilling case. And then, to fill in the 15 minutes before dinner, we would choreograph a roller skating routine to show off to our mums later.

The house I lived in was a clinker brick, two story place in the suburbs of Melbourne. I can see the rooms as clearly as if I was still living there today – all the nooks and crannies and hidey holes, all those secret places where adventures begin. We infused that house with so many good memories that I’m sure our young selves are still there today, still having our wonderful adventures. The secret passage behind the wood panelling in the front hall, the box room with a tiny door that led out under the roof, the jungle of overgrown plants at the side of the house, the wood shed where we would hold club meetings with the unimaginative name The Animal Club. And then there were the highly dangerous places like the secret underground cave my brother and I took months to dig (we could easily have been digging our own graves), the Slippery Dip, the Whooshing Whirl, names we gave to places on the roof. One false move and we would have plunged two stories to our deaths. Life was dangerous but it was oh so good. Of course, these adventures would not have taken place if we had stay-at-home mums or dads which is why it is an essential ingredient of any children’s books to get rid of the parents as soon as possible.

I didn’t know it then, but these were the moments that I would draw upon decades later to create my stories.

Recently, a friend came to stay from Seattle and he revealed something to me that rocked my world. He told me that his first childhood memory began at high school. I couldn’t believe it. I asked him if he had suffered any trauma when he was young but he didn’t think so. He said he had a normal childhood, he suffered some predjudice because he was Jewish but he was resilient.

As part of the tour around Melbourne and its environs, I took him to St Kilda, an exciting seaside suburb with a special flavour. As we were driving down Acland Street, with its many restaurants and Jewish cake shops, he suddenly became excited. ‘Stop the car!’ he said, agitated. I pulled over thinking that he was going to be ill. ‘I want to look at the cakes. Do you feel like coffee?’ He looked as if he was possessed. It was too early for me for cake, we’d just had breakfast, but he was the visitor.

When we entered the internationally famous Monarch Cafe, my friend’s eyes were bigger than ever. He grew excited and ordered far more cakes than we could possibly eat. He didn’t talk, but smiled and mmm….ed his way through every mouthful as a particularly delicious memory surfaced. He was eight years old, sitting on the front step of his friend’s house in Detroit eating Mrs Weisenbuam’s cheese cake, vanilla slices and chocolate kooglhoup.

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