Nov 102022

The Collaborative Writers’ Workshop

The wild wind raged across the open plain. It pushed through the cracks in the old cabin where Ali waited and shivered under a threadbare blanket.” So you like to write but need a supportive community to share your work with. Our workshop may just be what you’re looking for. We offer ideas, encouragement and support, and also share our own writing experiences.” Fridays, 9-11am.
April Edwards

Here are links to the various stories below.

Mar 052024

Sam’s athletically trim body was trembling all over with the crazed excitement of anticipation. He was desperately and passionately in love for, just above his shelter, which was the wheelbarrow in the garden shed, was his paramour, hanging on a beautiful big web. She was gorgeously huge, fat and sleek, and black, very black. Everything about her excited him. He spun his message out by text, because he no longer had the ability to lie. He could not deny his obsessed love for her, so he climbed up on to the edge of her silken web and plucked his message out in spider text. “I love you; I will be yours, yours only, from today and forevermore!”

Sam’s delicate arms strummed the geometric threads of her web musically, just like the troubadours of old when they serenaded a lady’s beauty with their guitars; and in poetry most prosaic, he declared his eternal love for her and his desire to sire a dynasty of the most superior descendants. With her, of course, his paramour, no other would do, no other was as obviously fertile as she was, or as ready.

A little while later, the sultry black seductress tinkered the strings of her web. The enticing message vibrated all the way through Sam, thrilling him; he was beside himself.

“What is your name my glossy black Gorgeous?” he strummed back to her on the wires. A little while later the reply came, “My name is Delilah, you handsome one!”

That was all Sam needed. He was ready! Slowly and carefully, he made his way up the sticky interlocking threads of her ladyship’s web to the arms of his beloved One and Only’, the one of his dreams.

He approached, made some advances, retreated, then teased her a bit with his thin and delicate arms, “Yes,” he gauged her reaction, “Yes, she really wanted him!”

Sam embraced her, she was a whopping big girl, huge in fact, but he had what it took, and after a few seconds of tussle, he had fathered a dynasty of spiders. He was euphoric. Now he would forever leave his mark on the world of arachnids!

Then Delilah grabbed him in a tight hug, and she whispered to him, “You are the soul of my children, their food, their sustenance, they will be nourished by your mind and your body”.

Then she bent down and nipped him gently. He tasted nice; she wouldn’t get indigestion from this, her latest lover!

Nov 142022

[The topic given was two people travelling in different class compartments on a train when an incident occurs.]

“Good morning Pickedy. Trust you slept well,” announced Lord Marshall Hickenbotham to his crumpled butler. Visiting from England, both had considered the overnight train a novel way to travel this mighty continent. They met on the platform in Sydney after a night separated by class. Pickedy, wincing quietly, leaned to his left, dutifully carrying his master’s ancient leather suitcase – with a handle but no wheels. Wheels were for people who had to deal with their own luggage.

The butler had spent the night in a seated compartment of the train – third class – while Sir Marshall passed his hours of slumber, toff that he was, in the smart-persons’ bit of the train, the sleepers – first class. Here he was able to languidly stretch out beneath the sheets in silk pyjamas while his good man sat upright fully dressed struggling to catch a wink of sleep.

“Thank you, sir, a fairly uneventful night,” Pickedy replied, his head awkwardly twisting away from his master.

“Are you quite alright Pickedy? Stand up straight man.”

“Funny neck, sir.”


“Actually, there were one or two events of interest.”

“Oh yes?” came the indifferent response.

“Old chap near me seemed to find the journey a bit of a strain.”

This old fellow had got on at Violet Town in a crumpled, once-black suit. After a bit of a mumbly chit-chat with Anthony Pickedy, he had retreated behind his newspaper from whence only his fingers could be seen. Not even the crop of wild white hair was visible. Silence soon greeted Pickedy despite his attempts to continue their conversation in the intimate setting of the night-time they shared.

Hickenbotham yawned at the story as if begging for a quick end to it. “What was he reading?”

“Not much as it turned out. After a little while his fingers scrunched the newspaper tightly and seemed to turn bluish. The light was dim though, so a bit hard to judge. I probably should have called someone, but thought he’d most likely just fallen asleep. Didn’t like to pull the cord and inconvenience everyone else on the train.”

“It’s a good thing you didn’t. There’s quite enough to disturb sleeping passengers without an abrupt halt of motion thrown in. I would not have been pleased.”

“Quite, sir,” continued the much-put-upon but loquacious manservant. “But the thing continued. I dropped off for a bit and when I woke the old bloke had leaned forward rather sharply and was strangely silent. His hat had fallen on the floor so I picked it up and put it on the seat beside him at which point the poor chap tumbled headlong to the ground. It was a struggle to wrangle him back into the seat especially since he didn’t move to help me. Thinking that perhaps he was dead, I tried to find a pulse. Not a flicker, sir. I was right – dead as a doornail. But still grasping the broadsheet.”

“Good Lord! Damnably uncivilized country – people dying in trains. My God! What did you do?”

“Probably should have called an emergency, but I thought, no-one can help him now and it’ll just upset everyone. So, I tucked him under a blanket till he looked comfortable enough. Then I fell asleep against the window. Eventually someone else rang the bell. Horrible racket and caused a great panic but then at least I could get the guard who came and took the old boy away.”

“You did right my good fellow. One ought not to pull those cords except for real emergencies.”

“Absolutely. How was your night sir? Not as eventful as mine, I hope.”

Lord Hickenbotham was fresh and springy after a comfortable night’s sleep. His slim jacket sported a smartly pressed white handkerchief tucked in the pocket. His curly hair neatly combed and parted on the left.

“Well, actually, it was no bed of roses for me either. Chap next door snored like a jet-engine. Not a wink of sleep to be had for me. After banging on his wall and shouting to no avail, I finally had to pull that cord. Sleep, Pickedy – one can’t cope without it.”

“No sir. It’s bad that you were so inconvenienced. So, it was you who halted the train, sir?”

“Had to be done Picky. Not called a ‘sleeper’, for nothing.”

Oct 272022

“Darl, I can’t find it anywhere.”

“Where did you last see it?”

“If I knew that I’d get it.”

Cheryl and I had been preparing our house for sale for months. After living there for 38 years, we were quite surprised at the items, particularly documents, that we’d collected or filed away during that time.

We hired two storage units, the larger one for sell or give-away items, the smaller one for keeping what we intended to take to our newly purchased apartment. However, by the time we moved, we would hire four storage units, and need three six-metre skips for rubbish and unwanted furniture.

Photos were taken and displayed in the local newspaper. Open for inspection times were set. Our house was for sale!

After a few weeks we had a reasonable offer, and decided to accept it. The potential buyers asked to see the Certificate of Title to the house. I got out the box of documents that we’d put under the stairs. No Title! A huge search commenced.

Our solicitor told us that the sale could not proceed without it. I called the Titles Office and was informed that they no longer held hard-copies. Originals were sent to solicitors who were advised to pass them to the house owners. To get a new Title, we’d have to apply, and pay a substantial amount.

We had documentation from the solicitors in Greensborough who had handled the sale. They were very helpful and searched their archives. One of the partners had moved to Geelong to start his own business. He would most likely have the original Title.

We eventually contacted the Secretary of the Geelong company. She told us that it had been sent to us ten years ago.

Cheryl was insistent:

“It must be in one of the boxes in a storage unit.”

“We’ll have to go through all the boxes. It has to be in one of them. If we can’t find it, we’ll have to order a new one, which will delay the sale, possibly making the potential buyer change her mind.”

A weekend was spent at the storage facility, going through each box with a fine-tooth comb. No Title.

We had kept only basic items in the house, and had placed a phone charger in my bedside table drawer. On retrieving it, I felt a piece of paper at the bottom of the drawer, obviously missed during the clean-out. It was a letter from the Geelong Solicitor from 10 years ago, detailing the return of the Title to us. A second sheet of paper was … the Certificate of Title!

Cheryl was downstairs in the rumpus room having yet another search through the box of documents.

I stood at the top of the stairs, and called out.

“Darl, guess what I found.”

Cheryl appeared at the foot of the stairs.


“The Title! I’ve been sleeping with it near my head for God knows how long.”

She ran up the stairs and looked at the Title.

“You bloody idiot” were the only words she could manage before bursting into laughter.

Jul 062022

He always said the walls were paper thin. Bless him. I used to laugh when he said that. It doesn’t seem funny now that Ted’s gone. He sat in his favourite armchair chair one day and simply didn’t get up. Snuffed it. Just like that.

Don’t be silly, Ted. Walls can’t be made of paper,” I’d say.

Well it sounds like it woman. I can hear thumping and banging. Hear when they have an argument. Hear when the coals are being heaped on the fire at night.

He was right there. The people next door shared a common wall with us, semi-detached we were, see. Two houses the mirror of the other. Turn ours over the other way and they would fit together perfectly like jigsaw pieces.

Since the new people moved in I’m telling Ted he was right.

There’s this kid, Ted, must be about twelve I reckon from the look of him. Skinny kid. He’s learning the piano. Up and down the keyboard with the scales, ascending and descending. Thumping the notes.

What would Ted have said I wonder? Probably marched in next door and told them to stop.

After a bit the scales become less and less even. The heavy touch of his fingers is apparent. It’s wearing me down Ted. All hours he’s at it.

Don’t be silly, luv. Don’t be getting in a take, have one of your turns,” Ted’s voice seemed to say.

It’s alright for you. No need to bang on the walls like you used to. Mind you the Jones’s, before this lot, were quite alright weren’t they? Just got a bit loud when they’d had too many bottles of stout. Still you could at least talk to them. Not sure the new neighbours even talk the King’s English where they come from. Not that you can say that these days of course.

Now, now, luv.”

Yeah, alright Ted. I’ve got to do something though. Wait a minute I’ve had an idea.”

Ted would probably have told me to stop and think. Always said I did things in a rush. Well this time I didn’t care. Putting on my hat and coat, setting off for the High Street shops, my mood had lifted.

* * * * *

Two days later a van drew up outside the front of the house.

Were you watching Ted?”

Three men carried various boxes inside and placed the contents next to the party wall in the back room.

The next day, when the piano practice finally ended, it was time to put my plan into action.

Seating myself comfortably on a leather swivel stool, feet firmly planted on the floorboards, my complete concentration was on the array of different sized timpani mallets lying beside the copper kettle drums.

May 312022

I’ve missed you every year
Every month,
Every week
Every single day.

It happened so fast. We met in a bar and our relationship developed. Lucy soon announced she was pregnant. I was overjoyed. We prepared a home and, at the second scan, Lucy wanted to know if you were a boy or much-wanted girl. I didn’t mind. We painted the nursery, searched in the second-hand shops for a cot, a pram, bought pretty clothes.

We’d sit on the couch, my head resting on Lucy’s ever stretching stomach and I’d sing. You’d kick and move. I was so in love. During this time Lucy became withdrawn and, unbeknown to me, turned to religion. I’d put it down to hormones and stress. After all, the whole situation was new to us.

There was such elation on the night you were born and the nurse handed over our baby. Lucy cried. I cried. You just lay calmly in my arms. After we brought you home, Lucy became very protective and when you were unsettled at night, insisted only she attend. One evening, I arrived home from work to silence. I ran from room to room calling,

‘Lucy! Josie!’ There was no answer, no cot, no pram, no baby clothes or toys.

It was some time before I calmed down and discovered the note.

My dearest Jack,
I can’t live this life anymore. It is sinful.
And I must be true to my beliefs.
Please don’t try to find me.
I will be well protected and Josie will be very loved.
Forgive me,

The scrunched note fell to the floor. I cried, screamed, beat the wall with my fists and finally collapsed on the nursery floor. Somehow, over the next days, weeks, months, I managed to pull myself together and life, although empty, went on.

I missed your first tooth
First words
First tiny steps
First birthday.

Becoming a war correspondent meant travelling overseas for many years. I’ve often wondered if there was also a death wish that the next missile would target me. Constant witnessing of the suffering, the carnage, the destruction helped distract me from the pain I carried. Traversing thousands of kilometres with only a cameraman for company, I’d grow sad and pull your tattered baby photo from my inner pocket.

I missed your first day at school
First tooth falling out
First inquisitive questions

First learning to read.

Each year a candle is lit on your birthday, and the day is spent dreaming of what could have been. Travelling to various countries where museums, art galleries, noted landmarks are visited – in my mind, you’re with me laughing, asking questions, pointing out things of interest.

Occasionally Lucy sent me correspondence with an update on your progress. She told me about your new Dad and how he’s so patient and loving; how the religious community took the whole family under its wing; how important it was not to make contact especially in the sensitive teen years.

I cried.

I missed your first day of high school
First debating team
First basketball final
First graduation.

Now my darling Josie, your father informs me that Lucy has recently passed away from cancer. I hear you are about to graduate as a Doctor of Psychology. I don’t want to miss any more of your milestones and I ask, adult to adult, if we could finally make contact.

I’ve missed you every year
Every month,
Every week
Every single day.

Your missing mother,

Sep 242021

“It’s not happening again!”

Will looked up from his bowl of cereal.

“I can’t believe it. Up, down, down, up, up, up! When will it end?”

Alice seated herself at the table and opened her iPad.

“Why don’t you focus on something else? Those numbers seem to be getting to you.” She added, “The trees along the side wall need trimming.”

This was met with a withering look.

“I could help,” she offered.

Will went back to listening to the news.

“Eight lives lost, but who’s counting?” muttered Will. “I think I’ll go and get the ladder and the clippers.”

“Would you like another cup of tea before you start?”

“No, that would be two before morning tea at 11:00.”

The backdoor clicked. Alice sighed, at least she could read the news in peace.

Will settled on a log in the sunny garden. A couple of dozen bees buzzed among the spidery grevilleas, the pink tea-tree blossoms and the showy bronze candles of the banksia bush. Noisy miners, seven he counted, competed for the sweet-smelling nectar that Will could almost taste. Two magpies carolled softly on nearby eucalyptus branches.

Whilst drinking in the view, thoughts meandered to the morning, which was nothing out of the ordinary. Woke up before the alarm at 7:00, rose at 7:30 and showered. Meanwhile, Alice performed Pilates and as Will shampooed his hair, he mentally counted 15 arm raises, 15 openers, 15 squats, 15 sit-ups. Water cascaded down his body washing away soap suds before Alice handed him the towel. His time was up.

As Will walked down the stairs, the metal hands of the antique clock showed five minutes past eight. This meant there was still 55 minutes to go.

Each day he hoped – often this hope was thwarted. It was all so frustrating. First it was 110 days, now another 90 and still counting. What annoyed him the most were the hundreds/thousands who protested about the right to freedom, the right to make their own choices, while the rest were responsible, caring and embracing of the system for the good of all.

“Damn ferals, why don’t they come to their senses?” he growled before entering the garden shed and extracting the clippers and gloves.

Seventy-five minutes later, six trees trimmed, Will stood back to admire his handiwork.

“That looks better. Now we have vision right down the side,” said Alice handing her husband a cup of tea and three biscuits.

“Did you see the latest?” Will asked.

“Yes, they’re shrinking but not by much. Still, it’s a hopeful sign, don’t you think.”

“Probably. But I’ve determined not to be so obsessed with numbers – well, not for the next three days.”

“That’s a good idea but you’ve lost me,” said Alice picking up some of the fallen foliage.

“Saturday night is TattsLotto night.”

May 072021

[Editor: Bill’s story reminds me a bit about when Jim Carrey was asked about how he survived the cold in Canada. Watch the video.]

We had a relatively large pantry, particularly considering the cramped floor space. It was windowless, unlit, very cold, with constantly damp thick stone walls which were always running wet. Puddles gathered on worn flagstones, but it did the job with the natural assistance of long winters. Our rented home had feeble gas lighting, and candles for when the gas was off due to an empty gas meter. There was no light in the pantry, so homemade candles were stored on the sturdy waist high bench across the back wall along with food and food processing equipment such as a hand-operated meat mincing machine. The Scottish national dish was mutton mince and tatties, because it helped to exercise our jaws, or so we were told.

Following the relaxation of food rationing after the war and season conditions, the two-yard square room, would be packed with ½ cwt (one half imperial hundredweight) or 56lb sacks of potatoes sitting on duckboards. Slats of hard timbers kept the potatoes off the constantly damp floor. Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589 and, in the late 1500s, the canny Scots had recognised the benefits of potatoes: easier to grow and cultivate than other staple crops, such as wheat and oats. Cuddling up to the potatoes were sacks of onions, turnips and carrots, all with their distinctive comforting earthy smells. This conflicted with bags of cabbages and Brussels sprouts that rotted very quickly, so that the whole building, including the communal stairwell, regularly stank with cooking rotting cabbage, mingled with the fragrance of cat’s urine.

Mar 242021

Hearing his voice
There’s only deep silence
Seeing his face
The space remains empty
Feeling his touch
The loneliness of memories

The world looks the same
But I am different

A fallen tear
An unspoken word
Love’s voice
A cry which echoes
Through all of my soul

The world looks the same
But I am different

Without you

Mar 092021

For him there is
No music
No fire
No anguish
Just the dullness of wooden thunder
Blankness of recognition
His skin is withered and shriveled
Crackling like frail tissue paper
The room lit with moving images
Like flashing strobe lights
There’s no space
Where the past and future come together
The endless loop is broken
The pallor of decay
Has touched the bony hands
The emaciated frame
She said nothing for a time,
Just ran her fingers along the edge
Of the human shaped hollowness that was him
But what was there to say except
Only that quietness and emptiness
Fitted together like stacked spoons
And then
He took her hand
And kissed it

Nov 092020

Well off the famous Ring of Kerry, Ballinskelligs is situated in its own quiet corner of south-west Ireland, hugged by the Atlantic Ocean. My first approach to this out-of-the-way little place was daunting. It was a Sunday afternoon in June and the blackening skies threatened rain. Having already travelled up and down impressive, sometimes terrifying, mountainous roads, I was surprised to find myself in flat empty countryside without another vehicle, house or person anywhere to be seen and unmarked tracks rather than roads. The signposts ran out. With no way of knowing which was the right direction, my ancestral land was feeling strangely alien.

Eventually, a few farmhouses appeared, soon gathering into the small village of Dun Geagan where there were cars and people, and joyfully a sign that said – Cill Rialaig. This was the art gallery that was today’s mission. It was late but a warm welcome was extended to me. Having previously spoken by phone to some of the staff here, I made myself known, was immediately recognised and given hot delicious food and drink. A proper peat fire burned in the grate. Their day had been dedicated to an exhibition of glass works which were all abstract yet accessible because they were visually stunning and emotionally moving. Also, it was the final hour of a glassmaking workshop where participants made their own glasses, followed by cocktails sipped from same. The atmosphere was full of fun. The guest of honour was a retired cocktail waiter from the famous Dublin Horseshoe Bar. He had written a book about the antics of the rich and famous as he had observed them over several decades. Here was a whole community of people whose lives were entwined with the arts. Out of that barren landscape, a rich paradise had materialised.

My next problem was to find accommodation for a few days. Marina, at Cill Rialaig, suggested O’Leary’s ‘just along the road’. Once I found it, I thought, ‘OK, a pub.’ It wasn’t my ideal but it was right on the beach. Making my way inside, I found it packed wall to wall with sport fans all gathered to drink, smoke and watch The hurling on the telly was deafeningly loud just like the crowd themselves, who were all shouting passionately at the screen! What had I walked into? No-one could help me. After struggling to the bar, I was informed that their accommodation did not open until July. Something inside me was relieved but still no bed for the night. Panic returned. After much misdirection from place to place, eventually I found my way to the sweetest B+B imaginable. Only one hundred metres or so up the hill from the gallery!

The ‘Tig An Rince’, with hospitable Jackie and Richard, immediately felt comforting. They were just making a cup of tea for the other guests and ‘would I like to join them?’ ‘Oh yes please,’ a cup of tea was just what I needed. Once ushered into the dining room, introductions were made. These were a friendly couple from Dublin. She was chatty and he was unassuming and funny. After a bit of friendly chit-chat, it emerged that he was the aforementioned cocktail waiter and writer. Over a couple of days, we chatted easily through lengthy breakfasts, and cosy evenings in front of a wood fire sharing our day’s adventures. When they left, before my hour of rising (always late), it was disappointing to have missed them. Nevertheless, the scrumptious breakfast, the most important element of which was the homemade soda bread and Kerry butter, soon compensated. After Richard’s breakfast feast, Jackie came in with a brown paper package. It was the book, signed and dedicated for me. What a lovely generous surprise. His stories were entertaining and, at times, astonishing. It’s amazing what inebriated celebrities can get away with!

The day after arriving, I went out to explore the area and quickly became entranced as if by fairy magic. As I drove around the townland, which did suddenly have its own hills, the sense of my ancestors was strong. The land was mostly steep, and scattered with huge pale rocks. This was a land that must be hard to survive on but the 19th Century potato famine would have made life impossible. How so many did survive is unimaginable. It seemed to me that the only alternative would be to leave the beloved homeland. Of course, so many did just that but thousands more tragically died of starvation.

Cill Rialaig consists of more than just the art gallery – there is also a tiny village high, high above the pounding ocean. This had been a ‘famine village’, where the entire population had died 150 years earlier. It was set for re-development risking the historic stone cottages. However, a wonderful feisty woman named Noelle, outraged at this idea, raised enough funds to purchase the little village for an artist’s residency and retreat. Artists from Ireland and the world over now came to stay and work in these restored stone cottages. One would not want to sleep walk though, as the cliff edge was very near. The road, or rather track, up to this place hugged the edge of the coast with a hair-raising view hundreds of feet down to the blue-green-purple swelling sea which seemed to be reaching up for me. How impoverished people must have been to reside here before any modern appliances and connections had been invented. Barely warm peat fires for heating, light and cooking, and wind that could blow a person over. Perhaps a few woolly sheep and some potatoes would keep a soul alive as nothing else could possibly grow there. Nevertheless, despite that sorrowful history, Ballinskelligs felt like ‘home’ and a sense of completeness filled my spirit.

Not only did Ireland’s past tug at me, but many other aspects besides. Following the road through Dun Geagan, along another very steep climb, was a high ridge where it was possible to see down across softened green fields ending in a distant haze to the right and the Skellig Islands to the left. It was a vast outlook that took my breath away – not only metaphorically but literally – despite the sun shining brightly in the sky, that wind was violent. I jumped back into the car smartly, admiring from within, but even the car was a little unsteady. Nature’s force was palpable here. This was on my way to Port Magee, a route that took me past Finian’s Bay. Down again at sea level and close to the beach, to my delight there unexpectedly appeared a chocolate factory. This was not to be resisted so it was a lovely surprise to find that it was also a cafe. Its panorama wall of glass enabled a direct view of the Skellig Islands just eight miles out to sea, and dear little Puffin Island to the right of the bay. It was the perfect place to sip delicious hot chocolate and daydream.

The Skellig Islands had been inhabited by Christian monks for six centuries until in the thirteenth century when they decided to escape the cold (and the Vikings!) and moved to Ballinskelligs on the mainland. However, their new abbey, the ruins of which still stand, is so close to the water that I wonder how it was much safer or warmer. Certainly, it wasn’t warm enough for me and so wild that my drawing paper kept blowing away from me – somewhere there are small half-finished grey-lead masterpieces floating around Ireland in those gusts! The long walk home was a battle against fierce, freezing wind which sneaked in under my warm scarf and cold weather gear, in this early Irish summer. But this road was happily laced with hedgerows of fuchsias all in full bud and no-one to stop me from popping them, bringing fun and colour to my journey.

There were many more enchanting surprises in the direction beyond the chocolate factory but the one that stays with me the most is the vertiginous hillsides in varying shades of greens and pinks – fields, all individually surrounded by yellow gorse hedges. And far off in the valleys below lay smatterings of pristine, white houses.

Port Magee was delightful. It’s a fishing town with a lively wharf filled with boats, fishermen and good cheer. Along the street of the port are houses in a stunning array of colours – pinks, yellows, blues, purples, reds, greens. It was like a sudden switch to the Mediterranean where this might be expected but not here in Ireland. It all looked happy, brimming with energy and life and it shook me from my reveries, bringing me back into the present and the sheer joy of being there.

The nearest town to Dun Geagan was Waterville, a narrow, whitewashed tumble of streets situated at sea level between two bodies of water – the Atlantic and Lough Currane. This was the nearest place in which to find cafes and small eateries. Finding my favourite ‘An Corcan’, I remained faithful, each evening enjoying a different meal. The food was all home-cooked, properly Irish and delicious. And yes, there were potatoes. This sweet little restaurant seated perhaps twenty people at a push.

Lough Currane was large and surrounded by more of those steep hillsides and small farms but the land was lusher than the slopes of Ballinskelligs. More verbiage grew and there were even dairy cows. Driving the entire circumference of the lake one slow afternoon, I took many photographs of its beauty. In my dreams of being super-rich (looking unlikely now), Lough Currane is one of the several places in Ireland where I would like to own a house. At its most inland end, for the views.

Waterville is best known for Charlie Chaplin who with his family spent a month here every summer. Happily, I have been able to return to Ballinskelligs a couple of times and it would be my choice right now if not here in Antipodean lockdown.

Oct 122020

A lipogram is where a letter or letters are left out of a piece. In this modern take of Jack and the Beanstalk, the letter 'e' was omitted.

Mama said "Jack, no food to cram,
Cupboard’s vacant, no oats or jam.
Daisy cow has milk abounding,
but milk's for tots, so I’m sounding
a wish for us to not want alms,
by taking Daisy, with no qualms,
For transaction, to a farm.
A good amount should fill our sack,
I’ll pack your bag, now hurry back."

So Jack and Daisy took a trail,
to Wilson’s farm, without travail.
But in transit ran into a man,
who had a big brown bag in hand
"tis magic pods within this bag,
I’ll swap for cow, now don’t you lag,
For growing opportunity is nigh,
plant pods now, gains mighty high."

Jack sold Daisy, and with bag in hand,
ran back to mama, thinking grand.
Mama in a fit of hurt,
flung pods out into dirt.
Jack was hit with rod of broom,
and told to go up to his room.

Morning sun brought Jack no shadow,
a giant stalk had grown to block his window.
Jack thought profoundly of how and why?
as climbing up on stalk to pry.
A cloud surrounding stalk on high,
a land upon, with mansion nigh.

Within mansion a giant lay,
with brooding fowl not far away.
But fowl was not a kind to pluck;
'twas in fact a diamond duck.
Upon command duck did hatch,
a diamond with a mighty 'quack'.

Giant lay back to catch a nap,
Jack took watch by door through gap.
Jack snuck in, caught duck and ran.
Giant shouts out "gadzooks! a human?"
Duck in fright: "quack, quack, quack."
Giant in angst: "Bring it back!"

"Foh, fim, fum fud,
is that an odour of British blood?
I'll run and catch him, bring him back,
grind him up to garnish snack."

To stalk and down, Jack with duck did scurry,
"Mama, Mama, you must hurry!
Bring a bowsaw, bring it quick,
I now know that stalk is thick."

Putting duck in mama’s shawl,
Jack cut through stalk and it did fall.
Stalk is down! Giant is slain,
Duck is ours, no forward pain.

Mama and Jack, with diamond duck, according to a book,
now had a happy, highly long-lasting outlook.

Sep 052020

[Kay Rennie writes novels set in the Regency era and publishes them on Amazon under the pen name Lily Milner. She also has a website This is the first chapter of her current novel, due to be published some time in September.]

London 1818

Tristan Rigal was aware he was being watched.

London was just as he had expected, foggy and dismal, streets thick with mud as black as ink and the people surly. He had arrived on the crowded docks three weeks ago, and for a time he was just one of the anonymous throng blending into the smoke and clamour of the great city.

Much had changed in the few years since he last visited London. It was now dirtier, noisier and taller. New buildings rose out of the mist, their upper stories lost to sight in the fog. Crowds gathered in the gloom and then dispersed, wraithlike, along with horses and carts and recognisable landmarks. November was the worst month for the evil humours that plagued the city. A million coal fires spewed smoke into the air, and rainwater accumulated into deep pools of filth.

Yet for all this, London was still as comfortable as an old coat, and he looked forward to living in a better part of town, close to the more respectable clubs and gaming halls. For the moment he had enough gold to keep himself living at the level of a gentleman, for that is what he chose to be here. In Paris it had been different. There the underbelly of society was more to his taste, as was the wine and the pleasures of Montmartre.

One day when the London miasma unexpectedly lifted, he had been surprised to be greeted by at least three different people. A very well-dressed gentleman and an elegant woman both bowed slightly as they passed, but said nothing. Neither did they smile. He returned the bow, not sure why he should, but obviously they had mistaken him for someone else. Why disappoint them? Later that same day, though, he felt a tap on his shoulder when leaving his lodgings in St James’s Street. Instinct made him reach for the knife under his coat, but he soon saw it wasn’t necessary. This time the fellow had definitely taken him for someone else.

“John. You here in London? Why the devil have you not called? And Julia will want to see you.”

Rigal simply stared at him, not yet sure how to respond.

“I say, you look a little out of sorts. Is something wrong?” Again, the man was extremely well-dressed. If Rigal had not been wearing his multi-layered coat, the rather frayed jacket underneath would surely have shown the fellow his mistake.

“Yes, well no.” He quickly decided to play along. “Business brought me here. And it is tiresome. I need a diversion.”

“Ah, well I’m sure you know where to go for that.” The man’s lips curled and he raised one eyebrow. “But you’ve been away for a while, so you may not know that Madam Maxine’s establishment has closed. No doubt she will open somewhere else when things go quiet. Of course, there’s always Ma Bonnington’s. Go there. They tell me they have new talent.”

Rigal was quick to understand the type of establishment the fellow was recommending. Obviously, this John he’d been taken for was no saint. Briefly, he considered exploiting the connection, but no, it would be risky. He had decided to stay out of trouble, at least until the money ran out.

“Perhaps I should,” he answered, affecting a disinterested expression. “But I must leave you now. I have a pressing appointment.”

The fellow bowed. “I’m glad I ran into you. I’ll tell Julia you’re here. Are you staying in Grosvenor Street?”

“Yes. For the moment.” Grosvenor Street was a very respectable address. His apparent look-alike was obviously a wealthy man.

“Well don’t forget me if you decide to have a dinner party, m’lord.” And with that the stranger smiled and walked off into the crowded street.

Rigal stared after him in wonder. He had been mistaken for a lord, by someone who obviously knew the man well enough to ask for a dinner invitation.

That had been almost a week ago. When the November fog closed in again Rigal was glad of it. So far, he had not chanced his luck at the high-class gaming tables. For the time being he had decided to confine his social life to the less than salubrious inns in the stews. Although he was initially bemused by the fact that he’d been taken for someone of high rank and privilege, the idea did not sit well with him. If it happened again, what should he do? He could deny all knowledge of this Lord John, who was obviously well-known in London society, or he could play along. It would be a dangerous game, but who knew what might be gained from a simple masquerade?

He had not come to a decision when the strange events that follow overtook him.

Food at the chop houses was usually vile, but instinct told Rigal he needed to stay out of sight, so he chose to eat frugally and save money until the persistent feeling of unease resolved itself one way or another.

“Boiled beef, roast beef, haunch of mutton, eel pie, steak pudding.” The decidedly unwholesome choice was recited in nasal tones by the waiter, standing at his side with a filthy towel slung over his arm. He decided on the steak pudding and a tankard of beer. At least the beer was good, but oh for some traditional Rognon au Vin at his favourite eatery in Montmartre. French food was like manna from heaven compared to this English pap, but he would have to get used to it. He didn’t plan on going back to Paris anytime soon.

Eating in London was very much a communal affair, with the customers seated close together at long tables, and it was hard to eat without rubbing shoulders with your neighbour. Tonight, an old man with faded yellow side-whiskers slurped a bowl of soup, not caring that he occasionally splattered Rigal with droplets of the greasy gruel. The man continually muttered to himself in repetitive tones between mouthfuls. Rigal caught the rhythm, but whether he was listening to prayers or curses he could not tell. He gave up on the steak pudding when only half-finished and rose to leave.

The old man grabbed his sleeve. “Not finishing it? I’ll ‘ave it.”

“Take it, with my complements,” Rigal passed him his half-full tankard as well.

“May the Lord be with you, yer honour. Mind how yer go.”

So, he had been blessed, and cautioned. That was payment enough. Now it was time to find out who had been following him, and why.

It was raining when he set out to walk back to his lodgings – soft rain that fell in a forgiving mist, hiding the nastier elements of the district under a fine veil. The weather briefly reminded him of country life, when as a lad he had enjoyed walking through such light mists across the wooded Swiss countryside. Now his greatcoat protected him from the damp. It also hid the fact that he had his hand on his dagger.

The streets narrowed to alleys where gas light could not penetrate. At the end of one of these twisted laneways he stopped and hid himself behind the jutting facade of a ramshackle house where the roof dipped almost into the mud below. It was not in his nature to be someone’s quarry, and he had no intention of staying confined to the nastier parts of the city for fear of being mistaken for a wealthy lord at the gaming tables. He would sort this problem out.

Rigal waited in the shadows, aware that his boots were squelching in some unmentionable muck, but he held his position. The wall he huddled against was thin, and he heard a man’s angry shout and a woman’s cry from within. In little more than a minute a shadow slipped past. Soundlessly, he caught up with the figure and slipped his arm around the man’s throat. At the same time, he used his other hand to prick the skin of the soft under-throat with his dagger. No not a man, a lad, he thought. The figure was slight and did not resist his choking grip. He leaned forward and whispered in the shadower’s ear.

“Start walking. Over there to the middle of the alley, where I can see you.”

They marched two together into the open lane. Rigal was confident no-one would come to the rescue. In this part of the city murders were many, and to try to help a victim would have been foolish indeed.

Still keeping his knife at the soft throat, Rigal grabbed the lad’s long hair and pulled his head back. What he saw startled him. This was no assassin, nor was it a lad as he had assumed when he dragged the offending creature away from the wall. His shadower was definitely a woman, and young. God’s blood, had he mistaken a doxy from the stews for a cut-throat, a poor light-skirt looking to make a quick shilling in the alley? He was losing his touch.

Aug 252020

While I sat looking out of the window, daydreaming instead of doing anything, it struck me how dirty the windows were. Tried to count back as to when they had last been cleaned. Some time before I went into hospital two years ago. No wonder they were dirty. Must arrange for someone to clean them as it is a no no for me these days.

Easier said than done. Two window cleaners both declined the job as one side of the house is double story. They couldn't work there. Too dangerous. Moaning about this to a friend she offered the name of a fellow who would probably take the job. I telephoned him and he agreed. Yes he could handle it, he was not worried about the height. A date was arranged.

He arrived on time. An enormous fellow, at least six foot eight and huge with it, a bandana holding his hair back. He checked out the terrain. No worries I was told. I could hear him setting himself up. What a relief.

Then I heard singing. He was singing opera – La Traviata surely. Yes he was singing the part of Alfreda. And he was singing well, very well in fact. I sat and listened. Smiled. How extraordinary. An opera singing window cleaner. The singing stopped as he moved on to the next window, then the singing started again. He moved around to the back of the house. Then came a knock on the back door.

"What is the fabric you have on the dummy in the side room?"

"The violet fabric? It's pure silk."

"Where did you get it? It's almost impossible to buy something like that."

I could only agree. I told him one of my sons had been teaching at the International school in Malaysia and that he lived in the Indian area where there were many shops selling pure silk. He purchased some for me, sent it home.

My window cleaner and his wife belonged to a local opera company, made up of people who loved to sing. They are invited to functions to sing and perform and would dress in formal clothes, if possible period clothes, to give a glamorous edge to their show. His wife made their garments, but buying the fabrics was becoming more and more difficult. Shops did not carry the velvets, brocades, silks they needed. He thought the silk was gorgeous. His wife had had the good luck to buy some red velvet which she was making into a gown to wear when they sang La Traviata.

So here was the reason for the singing while he worked.

I suggested his wife try a shop in Little Bourke Street, up near Spring Street, which had a wide range of fabric, much of it exactly what she evidently needed. He had never heard of it, noted it down, went back to the kitchen window, started cleaning and singing.

Next thing I knew he was at the front of the house and then finished.

He knocked on the front door. Told me I needed to get a glazier to seal one of the front windows where the sealing was breaking down and then he was off. Job done, singing stopped.

What an uplifting day for me. Did he do a good job? The windows have never been cleaner and the singing was an unexpected delight.

I smile whenever I remember it.

Aug 172020

In the mid 1980s, I frequently visited a Korean company, Mando Machinery, who manufacture automotive power steering for the burgeoning Korean automotive industry. I must have visited at least ten times over a three-year period to reassure the engineers who make the capital equipment purchases that we had a high technology machine that was made for their requirements. One time, our technical meeting was brusquely interrupted by a person who spoke in rapid Korean and the meeting stopped immediately.

The leading engineer, our two agents and I were escorted out of the meeting room and wandered through a labyrinth of oak panelled offices. At the end of a long well-lit corridor, the leading engineer, knocked, paused and entered. A few seconds later we were enthusiastically invited in. It was an enormous oak panelled room with both central and spot lighting. Off to the left was a desk that could seat a whole family and sitting behind was The President of Mando Machinery Inc., Mr S. D. Park. I knew this because I could read his nameplate from across the room. No question about who was in charge.

He wore a three-piece dress suit, quite unusual, because most Korean companies favoured a uniform, a jacket with long sleeves. It would be buttoned up the front, opening at the top two buttons with lapels and sometimes with epaulets holding with some indecipherable symbol. The jacket never went below the waistline and trousers were the same colour and material. The number of pencils in the breast pocket apparently determined the status of the wearer.

Mr. Park rose and gestured for us to move to a smaller, low, 3×4 metre coffee table off to our right-hand side and we shook hands all round, intensely examined business cards, with much hum’ing and ar’ing. He then moved to one side of the table, facing the door, the favoured position of the person with most authority in any room. Quotations and industry journals were cleared to establish his power zone. He invited me to sit directly opposite, flanked by S. H. Lee and S. H. Hu, our Korea agents, S. H. In’l on a large long, well stuffed Chesterfield. The two other participants sat on chairs outside the circle around the table.

The person, his room and power were not lost on our agent. The two partners were petrified, sitting on proverbial eggshells, whilst I hopefully adopted a casual, comfortable but attentive position taught by Sales Techniques for Australian Dummies. We bowed and talked, although Mr. Park, the President, did most of the talking in very good English, including infernal joking about Australia only being an agricultural country, selling sheep and cattle, digging up coal and iron and no history of manufacturing.

This happened initially with every company that I called on an Asia. I found that counting internally to twenty, then back, again and again, helped to keep my irritation under control. Then I remembered that S.H Lee had told me that Mr. Park collected stamps and coins. In a lapse in the conversation, I dug into my right trouser pocket, and felt around to find the familiar shape of an Australian 50 cent coin. To the horror of our agents, I stood up, withdrew my right hand from my pocket and presented my closed fist down to Mr Park.

As he shrank back in his seat, I opened up my right hand and gently showed him the coin.

"Forgive me Mr. Park. This is Australia’s coat of arms." I said, showing him the reverse side. "We have an emu and a kangaroo", pointing to each one, "and neither of them can walk backwards. They can only move forward. That's what it is to be Australian."

Pausing for effect, I continued. "It's my understanding in visiting Korea and my long experience in its technology, that Mando Machinery has the same attitude."

Mr. Park enigmatically smiled and thoughtfully nodded, "Yes, Mr Bill, we have the same attitude, Korea must go forward, there is no other way to consider."

Handing over the coin, fortunately a new shiny one, he perused it keenly. When I indicated it was a gift, he gently slid it into the breast pocket of his immaculate waistcoat. I didn’t tell him that we sometimes eat the meat of those two animals!

The next hour brought Mr Park up to date with what we had offered. He would interrupt me to confirm in Korean that the company engineers understood what I had said. They always knew.

"Mr Bill, I will ask them what they think of your machine. It will be in Korean, please forgive me." The conversation was short with fast responses to Mr. Park’s sharp questions. I could feel our agents relax slightly; they had not said a word during this whole time. Then there was a nodding of the three heads and the conversation stopped when Mr Park raised his hand.

"Mr Bill", the company President said, suddenly leaning over the table and out of his comfort zone, "please show me your passport".

He admired the colourful coat of arms, flicking through every page, making note of every time I’d been in Korea. He then asked for his assistant to bring the visitor’s books for all of the time that I had visited Korea. They checked the well-kept books or diaries and determined that every times I had visited Korea, I had visited his company.

"Mr Bill, I understand from my people that you have never forced us to give you an order. Your company has always answered our many questions. You have convinced me that you can help us. Your business should be rewarded for your patience. We will make an order from you."

We had a cup of ginseng tea, and that was it, about two hours. Needless to say, I would always take 50 cent coins afterwards, when travelling through Asia; just in case.

Jun 292020

In January 2001, Barb and I saw the most exciting ice hockey game played between the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames in Vancouver, Canada. Hockey’s (they do not call it ice hockey) place in Canadian culture is closer to religion than to a simple sporting pastime. The sport is part of the national identity, a rite of passage between fathers and sons and, more recently, mothers and daughters.

For novices to the sport, the two teams have six players on the ice at any one time – one being the goaltender. In a regular match consisting of three 20-minute periods, teams try to play and shoot the puck into the opposition goal. Throughout the game, players can be substituted on and off the ice for tactical reasons. There are 23 active players rostered on a team.

Hockey has the fastest tempo in team sports. Endurance, agility, and speed (up to 32 km/h!) is the definition of this sport. And the pucks can reach speeds at 160km/h. As a spectator, there is an adrenalin rush watching the speed at which this game is played and the way that specialist players come on and off the ice within the period. Many of these players are only on for a minute or two.

To the novice, it seems like mayhem out on the rink, with the speed of action being breathtaking. It is a contact team sport, in which two teams of skaters use their sticks to shoot a vulcanised rubber puck into their opponent's net to score a goal. Hitting and physical contact is allowed but if the referee decides it is too violent then it becomes a two-minute penalty.

The crowd at Canada Hockey Place in Vancouver erupted in the first period when Jonathan Toews opened the scoring for the Canucks following an assist from Mike Richards. The excitement in the arena cranked up a notch when Corey Perry doubled Canucks’ lead in the second period. But the Flames re-grouped with Wayne Jourdain scoring, and got a foothold back in the game. Then, with seconds to go until the end of normal time, Jourdain again silenced the crowd with an equaliser to take the score to 2-2 and the game to sudden death. The tension was palpable.

The Canucks went back on the attack. Seven minutes into overtime, Toews exchanged passes with Richards and slotted the puck between the legs of the Flames goalkeeper for a brilliant goal, delivering a win that produced joyous celebrations across the city and state. The streets of Vancouver were filled with ecstatic crowds who celebrated their team’s victory well into the night. The win sparked joy across the whole of British Columbia and Toews became a national hero. It was an unforgettable moment.

We were caught up in the celebrations and soon realised that these Canadians are madder than AFL fans at a grand-final. Talking afterwards to the Canucks fans, we asked what happened to the opposition. Their bellowed answer: "You missed the boat, Jourdain!"

Jun 082020
Current: 1975

A light rapping on the caravan door awoke me. Staggering out of bed, trying not to wake Jenny or the kids, I glanced at the digital clock on the way and groaned, it was only 3.15am.

I could see a shadow through the flywire and turned on the outside lights.

Archie the foreman was instantly illuminated and stood there waiting for me to come outside.

"The Marrs pumps have stopped," was all he needed to say. With that gem of information passed on, he turned and headed home to his bed. (The Marrs pumps are situated on level 10, six hundred metres below. They pump water from the mine 24/7 and if they stopped the lower sections would rapidly flood.)

I donned a set of overalls, my hard hat, a heavy pair of boots and reached for my electrician's issue butchers bike. The bike was painted black with a red electrical sign emblazoned across it. This was my main mode of transport to traverse the mining lease. I often carried electric motors or large parts in the basket as I peddled between mining operations.

Tonight I'm tired. This has been my third call out. Each one requires me to peddle 2km to the gate and raise the security to gain entry. Then find a headtorch and battery that is charged, before riding to the headframe to call the winder driver to pick me up when he has emptied his next load of ore. The mine works 24/7 and, as ore was the priority, I had to wait around until he completed the extraction operations. It stops and I signal 10 levels and away it drops.

When the cage is pulling ore it is travelling much faster than when hauling men and the drivers are supposed to slow the winder down. They never do and a quite a rapid descent is always guaranteed with much bouncing as the cage cables stretch then contract before it stops at your level.

In the eerie artificial light I walk towards the pumps. Cracking and rumbling sounds are all around. At this time in the morning all alone down here they tend to spook me. It's as if the very mine is alive.

I reset the pumps and wait for access to the cage again, before re-tracing my steps back to bed. Hopefully?

Past: 1974

In 1974, Warrego was in the midst of expansion and the main shaft was being sunk another 6 levels (360 metres). This entailed running and fixing steel wired armoured high voltage cables to the sides of this new shaft. At this stage, there was no cage access. The electricians were required to stand on the rim of a kibble bucket. This was a steel bucket three metres round and two metres deep fixed by three massive chains to an air winch set up on level 10 above. We were lowered on a steel cable connected to these chains, often with water constantly running over us from the workings above.

To service the winder we were tasked with fitting bells and controls to each new level. This often entailed hanging out into the shaft with a lifeline attached to you to fit off cables. Very tricky some times.

When we completed the preliminary works the winder was required to be halted while we disconnected the existing bell system and spliced in the new one. Three electricians working 23 hours straight completed this task and two of us remained to make sure it all worked when it was powered up again.

I was on level 10 when the winder began extracting ore once again.

Things seemed to be going well and I was just waiting for the cage to pick me up when a shadow fell across my headlamp.

It took a minute in my exhausted state to realise that it was fine dirt falling from the shaft. This was almost immediately followed by bigger stones then large rocks began to bounce out into the drive.

I found out later the winder had pulled away only half full and that the rest (three tonnes) came down the shaft.

I ran down the drive as crashing sounds followed behind me. I was soon passed by soccerball sized rocks bouncing off the walls and roof. Then an ear-splitting roar as an oxy bottle, its neck broken off in the melee shot past me like a torpedo. I managed to huddle into a switchboard cutout in the wall as a mass of detritus flew past.

I was finally lifted back out unharmed but shaken and rode my bike back to our caravan to tell Jenny.

"They nearly killed me", I said, before falling into a dead sleep. No call-outs after this.

Not for a few days anyway.

Future: 2020

A shadow will fall across Peco Wallsend, its glory days will be finished by 1998. It will become subject to takeovers by Pasminco and North Broken Hill and finally gobbled up by Rio Tinto. Court battles with the WA taxation office and the department of Aboriginal affairs will see the company delisted in 1988.

The mining operations will cease and the complete site be cleared away by 1999. The smelter will be refurbished in 2002 and come back into production briefly until 2004 when it will close permanently and be dismantled.

In 2018, we were in the Northern Territory once again and drove out to the Warrego site. All that remains is the headframe with two huge wheels sitting forlornly atop, still now forever.

The smelter has completely disappeared as have the works area, buildings and the powerhouse.

Such is the history of mining.

May 252020

She sat on the seat, tired, but satisfied with her day long walk, her hands holding the bag of rose-hips. Proud of what she had achieved. Her family had been against her attempting this walk alone, but she had insisted she could do it, persevered, and was proud of herself. It had taken from early morning and now was close to sunset.

Admittedly the last part of the walk had been tiring. Her old legs trembled at the steepness of the climb, but they held up, or rather held her up, she reminded herself whimsically. She had done what she had promised her mother she would do. Although it had taken a long time, years, before she was free and able to start.

The walk along the riverside, before the track leading to the hill, was delightful. Sun streaming onto the river, the plop, plop, plop of fish surfacing, ripples racing to the river-bank. The glorious smell of the gum trees overhanging the river. The birds swooping down, as was their habit, ever hopeful of a beak full of breakfast, or perhaps lunch. After all, it was some time since breakfast! Kookaburras laughing at them, or maybe at her. She grinned at the thought.

As the track veered away from the river, she found a path had now been cut taking her towards where the paddocks had been. The walkway was planted on either side with bottlebrush, which were now in flower. The colours were glorious: red, pink, yellow. Birds and bees taking advantage of this native kitchen of plenty.

She had seen the remains of the house where she had grown up, now a neglected ruin, a Soldier Settlement remnant of times past. Had scattered the ashes of her parents, kept by her for decades against the day she would return, fulfilling the promise she had made to them to take them 'home'. Time had not obliterated emotions. She wept as she thought of them, of the love they had for one another, for herself and her siblings.

The entrance to their farm still had rose-hip berries by the front gate. As kids they had gathered them, wrapping them in newspaper to take home for Mum to turn them into jam, rose hip tea. A simple life, simple pleasures, pride in their ability to help their parents.

She had passed the farm where her girlfriend Joyce had lived with her six brothers. Joyce had been so spoilt, always with the prettiest dresses, matching bows in her hair, the first girl in the class to be allowed to wear lipstick, the belle of the ball when she made her debut. She had died very suddenly after giving birth to her first baby. The funeral, the biggest ever seen in the town. Her own eyes welled up, even now, as she remembered.

John, her son, dropped her off in town to begin her walk, telling her he would pick her up at the top of the hill. He would see her at the end of the day. Advising her to take care as she walked.

Starting she passed close to the railway station. How swish it now looked she thought. An express train ran into Melbourne. You could be there in seventy-five minutes John had told her. Some people who live here work in Melbourne. Amazing.

May 102020

He gazes out the window at a fluttering bird, its bright colours in stark contrast to the dark sky, threatening showers. It is a helpful distraction from his writing where he is hesitantly putting pen to paper.

‘How will I write this letter and what will I say?’ he worries.

Once more he is distracted by memories of her. Her beautiful, long flowing, golden hair blowing across her freckled face as she ran on the beach. He, chasing her and laughing at his clumsiness, tripping over the sand ruts. It was a glorious day, not too hot, and they had already had a swim and a picnic on the white beach. They had fended off the seagulls swarming them for scraps. Had breathed in the salty brine and seaweed smells. Pretty sailing boats of every colour were bobbing in the distance and the air was filled with the squeals of happy children jumping in and out of the waves. What a wonderful day it had been!

He had seen her across the bar of the Coogee Hotel. She, serving the customers and him, waiting for a beer. Their eyes locked as she came to serve him. She was dressed in a trim navy and white hotel uniform, he in his officer’s attire. Her eyes captivated him. Pools of amber. The smell of roses. It took three visits to the bar over consecutive days for her to be persuaded to go out with him.

‘I will take you anywhere, a meal, a coffee, a drink.’

She had finally suggested the beach, on her day off.

Her name was Juliette (like the Shakespeare play) and he had joked that he was her Romeo. Their banter was enjoyable and their sexual chemistry infectious. He didn’t want to spend any time away from her.

His fellow soldiers wanted him to be with them, but they only revelled in drinking, gambling and visiting brothels. While she worked, he visited the many sites of Sydney, admiring the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. He rode the ferries around the harbour and soaked in the sunshine in this place that he might never see again.

But when she was free, he courted her, bringing flowers and gifts and taking her to interesting restaurants in the rocks or walks on the cliff tops. He found secluded pockets of sand in Vaucluse and Rose Bay, marvelling at the huge mansions which almost touched the shoreline. They caught the ferry to the zoo and wandered its paths, laughing at the antics of the monkeys and elephants. The waft of animal dung did not deter them.

She finally took him back to her apartment in Bondi. It was small and neat with purple and red scarves draped around the couch and windows. Scattered cushions of every colour on the floor and chairs. It looked very Moroccan. The furniture was sparse but practical. It only had one bedroom but that too was filled with many hues. A small kitchen and bathroom completed the space. It was light and cheerful, just like her.

They awoke the next morning, arms and legs entwined. It had been magical and memorable. The sunlight cast rainbows on the ceiling. Words were not spoken. Neither wanted it to end. He was being shipped back to Vietnam. The departure was imminent. They would write, they promised, but keeping up a long distance relationship from across the seas was impossible. The last time he saw her, she was waving him goodbye from the beach. Their favourite place. Shedding tears.

Ten years later, he re-reads her letter, in California.

My dearest Sam, I have finally tracked you down after months of searching. I know you would have built a new life since we spent that glorious month in Sydney’s Summer, but have thought of you often. I would not have disturbed you if this matter was not urgent.

You have a beautiful daughter, named Julie. She has your eyes and happy disposition and for the past 9 years she has kept me strong and enjoying life without you. But now she is gravely ill. She has kidney failure and despite all medical intervention, the only way to keep her alive is with a kidney transplant. I am not compatible, but you may be. I am hoping you can return to Australia to see her and possibly save her life. Please let me know what you decide but do it soon.

‘Much love, Juliette. XXX’

He picks up the pen and smells the roses.

Apr 092020

The last time she saw them she was standing leaning against the metal railing of the ferry. Her face turned into a ferocious biting wind, white crested waves crashing against the boat. Unable to focus on her destination for fear of losing sight of the land. Gulls circling in the grey sky like white flakes. Rain squalls blowing in between the small blue gaps. Leaving because staying had become an impossibility.

If she looked hard enough she could picture in her mind’s eye when this water looked like a coastal road in England on a busy bank holiday Monday. Solid with shipping during the evacuation from Dunkirk. Eight hundred and fifty boats. How did the three hundred and thirty six thousand men and women feel seeing those rolling white chalk downs, bitten by the sea, she wondered?

Living away so long away she realised everywhere had almost become home. Yet there remained a yearning love for a homeland that had forsaken her. Without the luxury of a comfortable past to reminisce about she still maintained many profound heart thoughts. The ache of hindsight leaving her with a craving for a journey that would lead her back home.

Now she would go home as a visitor, so wanting people to beg her to stay, not treat her with indifference. Always an outsider to be merely tolerated.

What was it Kate Winslett sang in the epic film ‘Titanic’? “Every night in my dreams I see you. Far across the distance and space between us.

Belonging there was never about blood and bones, it was being home on that island.

Ref: Mr. Google.

Apr 062020

The topic was at moments like these and the piece had to include the three words motorbike, whistle and footpath.

Gentle at first, then like the constant beat of a drum as it builds to a cadence – rain at last, on the tin roof. As it grows in sound and volume, water gushes down the gutters and the downpipes until the capacity is too great. The gutters overflow giving the sensation of standing close behind a waterfall without getting wet from the splashes.

Tanks, recently near empty, quickly fill under the deluge and soon brim over and add to the streamlets already snaking across the garden beds. Although sodden, the drooping mass of white flowers of the Dietes grandiflora continue to make a statement with violet tepals and yellow dashes of colour in their centres. Their role is to welcome visitors.

The large ceramic fish bowl situated in the corner, at the junction of two sleeper walls, is in danger of spilling over. Luckily the boarders, two red goldfish, swim safely below the surface.

The brick paving, under the spreading eucalypt branches laden down with heavy dripping gum leaves, is wet and slippery. The bricks remain dry in light rain, protected by the dense foliage, but today is different.

The neighbour’s dogs, with their persistent yapping, are drowned out. Usually they ramp up the noise when overcome with excitement at passing dogs but the rainstorm is too heavy and the dog walkers and their four-legged friends sensibly stay indoors.

The rain continues throughout the day, sometimes a cloudburst, sometimes just a sprinkle of raindrops. The water gauge creeps higher and higher and will need emptying before evening.

Small bubbling brooks course down the paths gathering pebbles and dirt, depositing them on paving around the house. The wind gusts, and rain spatters the windows, leaving pearl-like patterns that slowly drip, drip, drip.

Not only do humans rejoice but also the flora and fauna. Leaves, newly bathed, glisten and breathe as the remnants of summer dust are washed away. The birds delight in the worms coming to the surface making for an easy meal, the insects sheltering under leaves. In the near future, the welcome sight of green grass will appear.

Thoughts wander to the farmers desperate for rain to renew their pastures and feed the dwindling number of stock. The rivers that have run dry due to demands for water upstream. Fish left to flounder and die in polluted, algae– laden water.

My musings are interrupted by a motorbike mounting the footpath. A whistle blows but at moments like these the mail will only be collected after the life sustaining rain has ceased.

Mar 012020

One of the soloists of our
Writing choir is now silent.
Len’s was a clear lyrical poetic voice,
His words remained in our heads
Long after they were spoken.
As a serious writer and poet
His was a reality of many voices,
Some shared with the world
Of readers at large.
It was an effective voice for
The voiceless, giving speech to
Some of the tragedies
Engraved on his heart.
The words counted and savoured
Like pearls, with pauses
Sometimes highlighting them.
Len took the responsibility
Of telling a story or writing a poem
And ensuring he did it right.
He never wanted to be the loudest
Voice in the room, but his was
Always an exact and distinctive voice.

Dec 012016

Scarlet purses holding dreams
Dancing lulling the soul
Spreading vermillion bonfires
Burnt red mouths agape
Drinking the blood of the sun
Petals of pure excess
Lying bleeding on the ground

A brilliant yawn of fire
Appearing from a field of grass
A drowsy balm for each bitter smart
Holding a dream of every rapturous night
Over tired eyes which weep
Or are too tired to sleep
A meadow full of oblivion

Dec 012016

He sits in contemplation on an old oak Douglas chair, sometimes incorrectly called a Captain’s chair, with turned spindles for the back, a wooden panel replacing the cane seat. For warmth he’s placed a sheepskin off-cut on it. The chair is situated in the corner of his rustic workshop diagonally opposite the wood burning stove that transmits a gentle heat to every area of this special place.

Tools hang from the overhead beams. Clamps – quick release, metal and plastic, or solid metal – one under the other, grasp the edge of the wooden shelving. Chains with hooks attached, leather straps, all are suspended from nails on the front of the high Oregon shelf. Atop, old pattern maker planes, rebate planes and many more rescued from a skip at an education facility, sit side by side in an orderly row.

Above the beautifully crafted workbench, files – flat, round, coarse, fine – are lined up like soldiers on military parade. Hammers – claw, tack, ream – share the space with old wooden handled screwdrivers. Higher still are the metal hand drills secreting bits in their turned handles. Wooden and metal braces complete the picture in this space.

Old chunky wooden planes look similar to train carriages on the dusty window ledge, and spoke shaves, nine in total, ordered from smallest to largest, almost appear like crabs lying in wait. On a cupboard hoarding nails, screws, bolts, hinges and all manner of hardware hangs a red and black poster with the heading ‘Lost & Rare Trades.’

However he doesn’t notice any of this – his thoughts are elsewhere. Recently they, he and his wife, travelled down the Great Ocean Road visiting old haunts. Although winter cold was creeping in, the sun shone and the wind abated. The dark blue sea calmly rolled on its journey, only breaking into a mass of froth as it hit protruding rock ledges and cliffs. Little debris marred the beaches, reclaimed by the sea during high tide.

On the large bench in the middle of the workshop, he’s placed five flat wooden panels of differing sizes. Two of these are covered in diverse shapes and thicknesses of wood that’s been swept onto the sand after being set adrift from various vessels at sea. The panels display horizontal patterns, vertical patterns, patterns within patterns. Some of this water, salt and wind-affected wood is light, some dark, some deeply grained, some touched with worn colour. Each piece is cut, smoothed on the edges before being gently placed in position, arranged and rearranged – sometimes end grain, sometimes side grain.

Later, he’ll sit, soaking up the warmth, the quiet, taking time to contemplate his creation and how to proceed. In his mind he’ll picture the wall to be decorated and the overall affect he wants the panels to achieve. Only when he’s ready, will he proceed.

Dec 012016

There was a movie advertised in late August. It was to start screening on September 16th, slap bang in the middle of our overseas trip. I would miss it. It wasn’t one of those films that would have an extended season…it would have most appeal to the cult for whom it was created. Directed by Ron Howard…that said something. He wouldn’t be involved in anything not considered as worthwhile.

Perhaps it would be part of the screen entertainment on our flight. Alas…not a mention. Bus shelters in San Francisco and Vegas screamed at me with blazoned billboard posters advertising the show. But that isn’t what you do on a trip, not when Alcatraz and the Grand Canyon are begging to be visited. You don’t
go to the movies, especially when your husband hasn’t been part of the
cult. I let it go…there would be a DVD eventually. That would have to do.

On our return, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my film was still screening at selected cinemas. However, all was not coming together. None of my fellow culters were available. It wasn’t the type of film I could see alone. It needed to be shared with someone who understood. I watched its movement closely, watched it disappear from Palace Balwyn, watched it disappear from Kino in the city. Just one more chance- Palace Westgarth.

The extended Cup weekend holiday – everyone was going away including me. I was returning home on Monday evening, anticipating a quiet Cup Day. The phone rang – a fellow culter! Was I busy at 4.10 tomorrow? I certainly was not!

To our surprise, the cinema was quite full. Are there more of us than I realised?

It began.

I smiled and I didn’t stop smiling until the credits finally finished. For close on two hours, I journeyed through the touring years of The Beatles, remembering and reliving every song that they performed. I had been part of the hysteria, just as they had been part of my early teenage years. It was more than nostalgia. Their music and lyrics were linked with my life. Every mind blowing or catastrophic event was laced with their sound.

The film finished with their final live performance on top of the Apple Corps building in London in January 1969. I felt a certain sadness in watching that performance. The credits rolled to “Eight Days a Week”. No one moved. Then something happened that I have never before witnessed in a theatre. Everybody sang. They even added all the double claps in the right places.

Hold me … Love me …
Hold me … Love me,

Ain’t got nothin’
but love babe,

Eight days a week.

Finally, together, the entire audience applauded. It seemed irreverent to exit.

Dec 012016

I look at my hands. I see rough and weathered skin. I see fingers gnarled and twisted. I see fingernails chipped and bent. My hands, no longer young, no longer innocent with youth. Old hands speaking of my journey through life.

My life. So simple.

I was born to the land, to a mother and father also born to the land. My parents imbued me with their wisdom and respect for the natural rhythms held in the ebb and flow of the seasons. I live each day in harmony, feeling the pulse of my world, connected to all defining me.

So simple.

Inside this moment’s thought, I place my roughened hand upon my cheek and feel it transform into the silky smoothness of youth. With eyes opening anew I am standing with my parents on the hill above our home, watching the light of uncounted stars join the scintillation of the sunlight’s first slanting rays.

“Look down there son,” my father says, “See where the light sparkles as it touches the merest hint of evening held. Mark that place my son, that is where to plant for abundance in the coming season. Mark that place well.”

“Look into the sky my son,” my mother says, “See where the last vestige of the rays of our moon entwine with the sparkle of the belt of Orion. See where it reaches and touches our world. Take special care of that position my son, life’s love will always be there.”

So simple.

Passing suns within passing seasons are as passing clouds across my days. The hill where I am sitting is where my parents lie, and they mark each change in turn as is their way. I know they saw when my love walked her gentle path into my heart and into my life. I know they saw the dawning of my son and my daughter. I know because my love now lies alongside them, although in this moment, as with the next and the next, we are together always.

So simple.

My parents gifted me all. They gave this gift as a natural course, a gift given without conscious thought, but a gift given with total love.

This gift I now give to my daughter and my son, who with the light of this day fading, stand with their new born families surrounding me in love.

Once more I look at my hands and see they are again as they should be — old, so old. But now I see these hands full of the fruits of my care: they hold potatoes, tomatoes, zucchinis, and beans, gathered while the morning dew glistened. And I see them holding far far more. My hands are filled with the light and warmth of my parents — filled with future promise.

My hands encompass this gift.

In this my lingering twilight, my hands, my old hands, hear my smile.

As my sun sets this gift I have nurtured I now send to embrace the life of another.

Dec 012016

When I first left Australia, travelling to England, I sailed from Fremantle aboard the Italian immigrant ship Roma which was bound for Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Singapore, Bombay and ultimately to its home port of Genoa.

On arrival at Melbourne I travelled by train to Brisbane to spend a few days with my friend Gerry who was studying veterinary science at the University of Queensland. I stayed with him at a university hostel and when it was time to leave I invited Gerry and his friend Don to have lunch with me aboard the Roma. We arrived at the port of Brisbane, found the correct birth, but it was empty. The Roma had sailed an hour before we got there!

Panic stricken we raced to the shipping office only to have the shipping agents advise us the only option was to charter a private aeroplane and fly to Cape York and reboard when the Barrier Reef pilot left the ship.

This would cost a huge amount of money. When they realised it was not an option they had a more risky suggestion; that we drive the 90 kilometres to Caloundra and hire a fishing boat there to take us to meet the ship when it slowed down to let off the Brisbane River pilot. The shipping agents said they would try to organise a fishing boat for us and radio the ship’s captain of our intentions.

We raced back to the university to collect Don’s car, a 1938 ex-army Chevrolet, still liveried in its original drab green and, though in somewhat shabby condition, felt to be more reliable than Gerry’s car.

The atmosphere was tense as we battled the slow moving Saturday afternoon football traffic, but having cleared the city we began to make better time. As we relaxed a little we decided to stop and buy fruit from a roadside vendor — we had after all missed lunch aboard the Roma. Then our car refused to start.

From the faint ticking sound and the heat coming from beneath the bonnet we could tell the engine was overheated. For fifteen minutes we waited, anxiously eating our fruit, while we waited for the engine to cool. Then it fired up and the race was on again.

When we reached Caloundra and found the fishing wharf it was a huge relief to a see a powerful looking launch waiting, with its twin diesel engines ticking over, ready for a fast get away. We leapt aboard and off it ploughed down the Brisbane River.

My jubilation was short lived when I saw the huge swells at the estuary as the fast running river collided with the incoming ocean tide. The launch surged forward and effortlessly climbed the swell and surfed down the other side and I felt an adrenaline rush as we made for the open sea. We could see the Roma five kilometres in the distance. At the rate it was steaming it was clear we had missed the pilot exchange. Not giving up the skipper of the launch opened the
throttles. Eventually the Roma sighted us and slowed.

As we pulled alongside, passengers leaned over the ship’s railings, watching. A rope ladder was thrown over the side and I climbed aboard. I waved a final farewell to Don and Gerry whom I would not see for another seven years.

The day after this escapade the ship’s Captain invited me for a drink in his stateroom. Over the obligatory rum on ice he told me that in all his years at sea this was the only time he had been involved in such an escapade.

Smiling I thanked him for his part in what I now see as one of my adventures of a lifetime.