It started innocently enough. When I first became pregnant 4 years ago, I was surprised at how quickly I became overwhelmed by negative birth stories. I made a very conscious decision to embrace only positive and life enhancing stories about birth, so that I could stay centred and delighted in my pregnancy and birthing time. I left conversations, turned off the TV or just simply tuned out whenever I felt that instinctual feeling that what I was about to hear wasn’t truly supportive.

That worked well for me, so a few weeks ago when I chanced across the ‘final episode’ TV birth scene of what I understand to be a successful Australian drama series, I felt able to view it for what it was, and I was terrified. There it was in all its stereotypical glory, labour portrayed yet again as an angry, confronting, dramatic, joyless experience.

The hallmarks of a ‘ratings worthy’ TV birth would seem to be:

  • Woman screaming loudly and abusing anyone within a 500 metre radius – usually lying on her back in a bed surrounded by strangers and strange gadgets
  • A remark about squeezing out a watermelon
  • Dithering partner suffering an endless tirade of profanity for getting her like this in the first place
  • Over bearing, doom laden doctor threatening the worst case scenario all the time
  • An over-riding drama of some sorts which threatens everything
  • A ‘phew we made it’ ending with everyone gazing adoringly at the babe, and mother looking only slightly dishevelled

Why do we never see lovely, gentle, calm, flowing, spirited births on TV?

Yes, birth is a life or death experience and one cannot take for granted the very thin veil that can exist between these two extremes, in both the babes and the mothers’ experience. Birth can be gritty, hard, messy and demanding on a woman in a way she has never experienced before.

Yet each women’s’ experience is so very different and I know, through my own birthing stories, and that of many other women, that labour is heartbreakingly beautiful, challenging, joyous and expansive. Yes! The process of labour can be all these wonderful things…not just the end bit when the baby is placed in a mothers arms.

What message are we giving our women friends when such a negative image of birth is so normalised in the media today?

So many women must approach their own labours with only these images to inform them about

what birthing is like. And I can’t help but wonder what message we are giving our girls about their precious womanhood via this persistently negatively skewed portrayal of labour.  It is heart breaking that so much of what makes us women is not honoured by the world in which we live.

I am not looking to blame the media or a patriarchal culture for current attitudes to birth. More simply there needs to be some acknowledgement somewhere of a simple truth.

Society views birth from a place of fear, rather than a place of love.

The effects of this seemingly obvious, yet enormous, shift in consciousness about birth would be profound.

There are many implications of the entrenchment of negativity around birth. At the most fundamental level it denies most women the opportunity to know themselves as powerful amazing creatures, and to transform themselves, through their labouring experience, in an entirely new way – spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.  It denies our precious new children a passage into this world that is ushered by calm beauty. And on a larger scale this negativity denies women of their right to choose how they birth. The current move to criminalise homebirth serves as a poignant reminder of what happens when women, and men, lose the truth – that birth is love, not fear.

Meanwhile, in worse case scenarios,  some pregnant women have no choice but to work  until the birth, a time when rest and contemplation is preferable, if not vital. (Research suggests lack of rest may contribute to higher then necessary caesarean rates.) Doctors book dates for babies to be removed from wombs and childcare facilities are full as newly born mothers are forced back to work just to pay bills. Somewhere in all of this, the prevailing negative attitude to birth has a role to play.

And whilst our media cannot help itself but to resort to stereotypical birthing scenarios, we as informed and conscious peoples, can do more than just exercise our right not to watch.

We can attempt to bring some beauty to the world by talking more about our joyous births, by sharing our stories with anyone who will listen and especially sharing and supporting women who are yet to be mothers, but want to know a better way.

Birth is not a bitter experience, birth is a ‘once in a lifetime’ glimpse of the sacredness that is life.


Every morning, like millions of others, I partake in the daily ritual of fresh coffee. Earlier this year we bought a coffee machine for home and, after a brief Barista course, I thought I had some sense of the world of the humble bean, and all the varied elements that go together to create each perfect brew. Beans, grind, extraction, milk frothing and temperature, humidity, water quality – I think you’re getting the idea!

Well, that was until yesterday!

Cupping Bowls

Cupping Bowls. Photo Courtesy of Le

Enter our local Barista “B” who, as part of a “Come and Try’ day in Warburton, withlocals offering their skills to raise money for the Red Cross, invited us along to a COFFEE CUPPING session. Never heard of it? Neither had I.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that (horrendously) you could order a coffee and it was pot luck whether it was ‘good’ of not. A takeaway latte got handed to you in a polystyrene cup, and in many cafes a latte came with a napkin folded neatly around it, the coffee so blisteringly hot you could barely pick it up,

Melbourne knows coffee. Our Italian heart embraced real, good coffee with the post war immigrants who bought with them the knowledge and the passion for a great brew. Now those in the industry talk about a third wave of coffee houses – boutique roasters are popping up across our caffeine loving town like St Ali’s, 5 SensesSeven SeedsPadre or Brother Baba Budan.

Coffee cupping was once the domain of the growers, merchants, brokers and  roasters of the bean industry, which is second only to oil as the worlds most traded commodity. With the increasing sophistication of all things bean, it is now possible for latte lovers like you and I to learn about aspirating, slurping, and bean appreciation, in much the same way as wine tasters revere their grapes.

So back to the coffee cupping experience – 10 different coffees over an hour, and before your eyes start whirring in their sockets at the thought of such a caffeine hit, relax!

Coffee ready for tasting

Coffee ready for tasting – Photo Courtesy of Le

Lined up on the table are ten ceramic bowls. We are each given a soup spoon and a cup of hot water to dip it in. First fresh grinds (we tasted all single origin coffees) are placed in each bowl and fresh water bought to a precise temperature range of 87-92 degrees is poured over each one. (Good cuppers can even tell if the water has been boiled or heated twice – both big no nos!)They are left to sit and brew for a time and then we are invited to the first test.It is the olfactory (smell) function that most comes into play with coffee tasting. We are invited to breathe deeply into the bowl and inhale the wonderful aromas of each coffee. Its quite a surprise to smell how much variation there can be from one coffee to the next. One rich with citrus, the other roast beef, Bonox overtones in that one, plump vanilla or smoky chocolate aromas in that. A coffee wheel, much like a colour wheel, is given to us which shows progressively the intensity and classification of the aromas we can smell. And not a drop of coffee has even passed our lips!

The official Coffee flavor tasting wheel

The official Coffee flavor tasting wheel

With a hint of ceremony, B gently eases away the crust of coffee that has formed on each bowl and we are invited to approach each sample once again with our spoons in hand, this time to taste each coffee. But again the process is not so much about gulping a mouthful, as it is about slurping off the spoon. The rather fun technique of ‘the slurp’ ensures the coffee is aerated across the palate and throughout the mouth, once again engaging the olfactory sense in the tasting process along with the taste buds.

We try $200 kilo coffee called the Jamaica Blue Mountain Wallenford Estate (the Holy Grail of coffee for those who know), an impressive range from Jaspers, some home roasted beans from a local and, the unique Indian Monsoon, redolent with sweetness and cloves. There’s a great story to the Indian Monsoon bean. Legend has it that the beans are actually left out in monsoon season so that the inclement weather develops the flavours, a technique discovered accidentally when the beans were sent on long ship voyages during monsoon season.

Our session is full of wonderful information about the journey of the coffee bean. Two beans grow

My first taste

My first taste

snuggled in one coffee cherry (hence the flat side where they nestled together side by side) on a coffee bush (when does a bush become a tree I wonder?). Grown mostly in the warmth of our equatorial neighbour’s homelands, coffee growing is now also an emerging industry in Australia with plantings as low down as Byron Bay (Eureka Coffee), extending up into the North Queensland Tablelands. Quality has much to do with screening, a process that ensures uniformity in bean size, without which, roast results would be hampered by burnt smaller beans and green (unroasted) larger beans tainting the mix. There is also much to learn about the qualities of each single origin coffee and how they can be mixed to create well rounded blends – but that’s fodder enough for a whole other cupping session!

I am left with not only an appreciation for the variety in taste from one region to another, one season to another, but also a renewed respect for all that goes on before our daily grind actually hits our waiting cups each morning.

So much wisdom and energy goes into growing and perfecting the roasted bean, and it can all be destroyed in 20 seconds in the hands of an amateur coffee maker such as I!

Now, I am left wondering, which bean is going to make the perfect espresso for a Tiramisu? Perhaps something with sweet, dark chocolate overtones and a hint of vanilla…mmmm

Want to read more? Then try the following links International Coffee Organization, (ICO) coffee snobs , or google Coffee Cupping!

Photo Credit : Le Boatwood


It is fair to say that if you weren’t fortunate enough to make the connection to Lloyd Cole’s music in the mid to late 80s, – anyone remember ‘Perfect Skin; or ‘Rattlesnakes’? – you may have missed out entirely on his career, which now spans over three decades and fifteen album releases (and a few more in compilations and slash other).

As a singer songwriter, the last ten years of his career in particular, have been hallmarked by a return to a simplified acoustic approach, as he has taken greater artistic and commercial control over his music. In fact he seems to have skilfully avoided anything other than critical success, his desire to be authentic to his craft, and his long standing fan base, a kind of mantra.

Melbourne greeted him again last night for the fourth time this decade in a sold out acoustic show in the intimate surrounds of a mid suburban theatre. For over two hours, he filled the room with the sweet melancholia of the verses he has penned, ever faithful to each era which has defined his musical journey.

Usually I struggle to find others in my life that know much about Lloyd Cole, so there is something very poignant about sitting in a room with a few hundred other fans who must be as die hard as I, or they wouldn’t know to even be there. There we all were, regarding each other respectfully, as we silently mouth along with the lyrics we know so well – (it’s a little hard to break out at an acoustic gig I’ve discovered!).

His performance is heartfelt, many songs offered with a sense that he is perennially in love with them, but I suspect many of us enjoy the wry and often self-deprecating humour the peeps through mid-set just as much. As he stumbles on a lyric of a song he has sung, I imagine, thousands of times before, he breaks and says ‘if you ever saw a concert of me that was flawless, you’d be watching a tribute act.’

Now in his mid 40s that angst and melancholic disposition that provided the literary fodder for his lyrics in earlier years, has been refined to something that is more reflective and somewhat amused at the plight of middle age. He is open and real, offering personal asides such as ‘As you can see, I am in peak physical condition, about 5-6 kg heavier than I should be, which affords me sufficient self loathing to sing these songs, and padding on which to rest this guitar.’

So I don’t feel so embarrassed that during this week I found myself, like the 15 year old I was, tearing out adverts from the newspaper for Lloyd’s show. Or that I still have, tucked inside an old album cover, an interview he did with Dolly magazine, way back in the mid 80s, along side the autograph and photo I had taken with him in 2000, or the VHS tape with two of his film clips I taped from Sounds Unlimited (a Saturday morning music clip program that defined my teenage years), despite not having a VHS player for at least 15 years.

I am a lover of many genres of music but there is no other artist that has endured my admiration for more than 25 years. I guess many others would cite Dylan or Cohen as worthy, and at the risk of sounding like an 80’s hangover, many years later I do still enjoy the music of bands like The Cure or New Order. But this music still carries for me the feeling of my youth, whereas Lloyd’s music has changed and matured with me, and provides a kind of anthem which marks a passage of time.

For us fans, I imagine that is why we are ever faithful – that an insightful writer like Lloyd creates for us, a feeling of connection and being understood, in neat little three minute packages that form our own personal ‘life’ soundtracks.

And my shameless ‘Lloyd love’ seeded in me a healthy interest in ‘anguished blokes with guitars.’ Now I am a grown up, I have my own guitar bearing man, my talented partner Tex, who refuses to ever play me anything from Lloyd’s catalogue – and that’s probably a good thing!