A near miss and a delicious lunch

Despite these affirmations, my 73rd birthday the following week is a nightmare.

No longer glowing, Karl is distraught, frustrated and exasperated. As we turn off the final stretch of the country road leading to Lismore, he tries to pass a truck on the inside lane. I am sobbing and shrieking that we are going to die.

It is his second near-miss in the car in a week.

Anxious and furious, I spend most of that day meeting with the municipal planners, desperate to find a way to satisfy them and get the neighbors off our backs over their objections to our much-despised granny flat. (Channelling the modern-day rhetoric of Donald Trump, they regard our humble, architect-designed granny flat as the beginning of the end for the elite Jarlanbah Permaculture Village: heralding the inevitable arrival of high-rise slums, irresponsible renters, drug dealers, criminals and more…)

I ban all birthday celebrations and tear up Karl’s birthday card, spending the evening alone, poring over drawings, calculations and regulations, trying to figure out — for the hundredth time — how to legalize the granny flat and put an end to further Council and neighbor complaints.

The granny flat

Professional awards: a big question mark

One thing that really exasperated Karl was that our business had received so many professional awards, but no money ever accompanied them or ever seemed to flow from them. We did not have wall space in our Brisbane office to display all of them.


In August 2012, after we moved into our Nimbin house, Karl gathers together a pile of mounted certificates  (as we have no wall space to display them) and lays them out on the back lawn.

Then he calls up to me to look over the railing.

At first, I see only a jumble of awards certificates lying on the grass. Then I realize that Karl’s display ends with a question mark: What did all this acclaim add up to?

A burning question

Karl’s next step, after nightfall, is to pile the awards on the burn pile on our back lawn. And burn them to ash.

I join him, and we send our prayers up to the heavens on the smoke of our many acclaimed (but commercially unsuccessful) projects.

Karl often questions my professional practice. And applying for and getting awards puzzles him. He asks me why I have to do that — again and again. Receiving professional awards, he reminds me, does not put tofu on the dinner table.

I cannot imagine how things could get worse.

In early 2016, things are getting a bit tough in the Gratitude house. Complaints about our current tenant’s cooking are nothing compared to the exaggerated claims by our former tenant, a wild, demented and fearsome character who, not long before he became our tenant, had hijacked a taxi in Brisbane and forced the terrified driver to drive for two hours to the Gold Coast. After he and his partner abandon our granny flat because he’s spent their rent money on drugs and gambling, Karl formally “evicts” him, following advice from the relevant government department. 

The official advice is wrong, the evil madman sues, and we have to front up to the residential tenancies tribunal and explain how (and why) the illegal eviction had occurred. Karl is doubly furious, betrayed by the incorrect advice and infuriated by the filthy mess the tenants left behind in the new building. (He also abhors the taunt that he is a bad landlord.)

A Failure as landlords

Tenants ourselves, we are failures as landlords. We are broke, angry, frustrated, indignant, and exhausted. Wherever we look, new problems loomed. Our new accountant, a complete gem, is working overtime to protect us from our former accountant, who is suing to recover a debt we do not owe him. He accuses us of fraud and places the matter in the hands of a sleazy collection agency. His last rambling letter is 106 pages long.

I am at a breaking point and terrified by the criminal tenant’s threats of returning.

Small communities

Ahh, small communities. They can be so much fun! Unless I can manifest a statutory planning miracle to legitimize the granny flat, we’ll lose our tenancy, as we’ll be unable to meet Anne’s mortgage payments. And then, finally, we’ll lose the property for good. Karl, who continues to soldier on in this chaotic minefield, is showing signs of severe stress. He is subdued and withdrawn. A natural pessimist, he hates when his dire prognostications turn out to be true. He prefers to be wrong, rejoicing in the occasional accuracy of my optimism bias.

Community hostilities are at a boiling point. Peter, chair of the community committee, is scheduled to inspect our non-compliant granny flat on Monday. Before the weekend, we tear up with highway up to Brisbane to buy more IKEA furniture so that our tenant can lock away all evidence of her illegal outdoor kitchen. Karl spends the better part of two days on his knees on the verandah, screwing together three large items of flat-pack furniture. He hates IKEA, as most men do. Ingeniously, struggling for an excuse to avoid following the arrows on the IKEA floor, he discovered (or at least claimed) that the founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, was a former Nazi (or at least had Nazi ties).

Self-publishing disappointments

Saturday, February 6, dawns, like so many summer days in the Northern Rivers, with a cloudy sky and bursts of glorious sunshine. Karl always admired the billowing “sheep clouds”, as he calls them. That morning, I spend an hour on Skype with a self-publishing consultant in California. It costs me $USD500, and the outcome is terribly discouraging. Memoirs are notoriously unprofitable. But self-help books do sell. The consultant advises that my attempts to convert my memoir into a self-help book have failed. Miserably.

I have to start again from scratch.

With a sigh, I turn off my computer and head for the shower. (At least the solar water heating works and all our rainwater tanks are full.)

On the way to Mavis’s Kitchen

At noon, we climb into Das, Karl’s adored Volkswagen Golf hatchback, and head off for lunch with Kev and his wife, Lee-Anne. As we drive north-east along the narrow, winding Kyogle Road toward Uki, a soft rain begins to fall. Again, I beg Karl to slow down on the bends. Then I muse aloud that Karl is the perfect candidate (with a social work degree) to counsel a man nearing fifty, who is struggling with midlife and needs to talk. Lee-Anne has suggested lunch.

Lee-Anne and Kev Cracknell

They don’t know that middle age had nearly killed Karl. Kev is a dear friend and fellow activist. Some years earlier, Kev, Karl and I spearheaded a tremendous activist campaign together in a small Queensland mining town.

A Delicious Lunch

Our spirits soar as we reach Uki village and follow the Tweed River to the turnoff. As the rain clears and the clouds part, we glimpse the familiar, dramatic silhouette of Wollumbin, the sacred mountain.


My botched birthday will be redeemed after only a week’s delay. Mavis’s Kitchen, nestled at the base of the volcano, knows no peer as a restaurant in the Rainbow Region. We have booked a table on the verandah, hopefully protected from further rain.

It would be a great lunch.

Mavis’s Kitchen

And it would be our last meal together.