Friday, October 22, 2010

Meeting with an "artist"

She called herself an artist and showed me a piece of pottery she had made some time ago.  Obviously proud of it, she kept it on show in her living area.

"I call this the Witch's Hood.  It is my depression."

Why did she keep this thing hanging around?  This dead thing of the past.  Hadn't the creation, the act of making it done its job of catharsis?  Surely now was the time to smash it to smithereens.

But no, it was displayed where she could see it every day and show it to all her visitors.  This I do not understand.  What was its purpose now?  Hadn't she let go of her depression once it was over?  Is something else going on here that I don't know about?  A few theories pop into my mind:

*  Depression was part of her identity.
*  Even though depression had gone, the experience still had some kind of psychological hold.
*  The piece represented who she was as an artist.
*  Her ego was tied up in the piece.
*  [Please add your own theories if you have any.]

I have often been impressed by people who create works of art that are intended to survive just for a single event.  Hindus make likenesses of deities for a procession at the end of which they will be toppled into the river.  Cake icers spend hours making gorgeous creations just to be gobbled up at weddings and birthday parties.  And buddhist monks can spend days carefully making a sand painting with the intention of destroying it.

I'm not suggesting that this should be the fate of all art ... but I'd love to have taken to that Witch's Hood with a hammer.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Getting the knives out

A bunch of us - ladies of a certain age - were Sunday lunching in a boardwalk cafe.  The topic of conversation turned from "recent overseas trips" to "job interviews from hell".

We recounted our tales, each hoping to beat the other in the horror stakes, but Jane had hung back until the rest of us had spoken.  Then, in her quiet way, she told a story that left the rest of us standing at the starting gates, so to speak.

"In the late '60s, I was looking for a second job" she said.  "Just part-time so's I could save some money to go to England.  A friend lined up an interview for me.  I didn't know what the job was, but I was told to bring my bikini along."

Now, this would have rung a gazillion alarm bells for me, but not for Jane.  Either she was devil-may-care when she was young ... or just plain stupid.  In any case, she went along.

She was asked to stand, bikini-clad and very still, with her back against a large board and her arms outstretched, crucifix-style.  At this point, the "interviewer" started throwing knives at her - real knives, sharp knives.

"Aaaaah" she thought as day dawned slowly but surely into her brain.  "I'm to be a knife-thrower's target girl, am I?  Not bloody likely!"

Then from the depths of our open-mouthed silence, someone piped up:  "But did you pass the interview?"

"Well, I'm still here, aren't I?"

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Twitter etiquette

I've recently taken to writing in the bath.  In my head, of course, because paper gets soggy.  Only trouble is, there's no SAVE button on my brain.  By the time I'm dried and dressed, I've forgotten all my "priceless" gems.  What happens in the bath, stays in the bath.

However, I did remember this and am writing it down, bare-bottomed, before it vanishes, like the two stories I thought of earlier.

Oh, hang on, I've just remembered what one of them was about - Twitter Etiquette, or more precisely, the etiquette of re-tweeting, probably not something yet taught at finishing schools.

First, the tweeter (AKA the re-tweetee) thanks the retweeter for their retweets (RTs).  Then the retweeter replies with something like "My pleasure" or "No worries".  Usually it ends there, but on rare occasions, the original tweeter will round off the exchange with yet another tweet.  "Cheers", "OK" or the like.

When I first joined Twitter, I observed these unspoken rules of etiquette (twittiquette or tweetiquette, take your pick) in case I was thought of as rude.  Then I became slack with my tweetiquette, just checking what was being RTd and by whom - my favourite part of the day, my ego-boost.

These rules have just manifested on their own without discussion (to my knowledge) or a vote.  They just are.  Maybe there's a hashtag somewhere where people discuss these pressing concerns.  But I don't think I'll bother checking it out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

English words and their meaning

English is my native tongue, but really, I stand outside it, just looking in.  I use its words, I know what the sounds mean in today's world, but in fact, they are mysteries to me, especially their origins.

Leafing through the Oxford Concise Dictionary of English Etymology, I happen upon "pall-mall".  This is where our shopping "mall" comes from, but what it means has nothing at all to do with shops.  Pall = ball; and mall = mallet.  They were used in a game of the same name in which a ball is driven through an iron ring.  Hence, the name of the London alley where this game was played became known as Pall Mall.  From there, a mall became a shaded walk and a shopping complex.  The disconnect from its roots is now complete.

My own name, Gaye (or Gay), has also changed its meaning through the centuries.  Once meaning merry or brightly-coloured, in the 17th century it meant dissolute, dissipated, and was often used to describe a prostitute or "fast" woman.  More recently, it is both noun and adjective, referring to male homosexuality.

Originally, an epicure was a glutton, whereas today it describes someone of refined taste in food and wine.  "Nice" comes from the Latin root for ignorant and originally meant "foolish".  "Pretty" meant "crafty; wily", coming from the West Germanic "pratt" meaning trick.

So many words have travelled far from their roots.  Here are some more original meanings:

display = unfold
generous = nobly born
hussy = housewife
jest = deed
minister = servant
minx = pet dog
quaint = skilled, clever
startle = kick, struggle
uncanny = malicious
uncouth = unknown, unfamiliar
undaunted - untamed
vibrant = agitated
wistful = closely attentive

So, if someone says:

"She was a generous hussy, quaint and wistful in household ways, without uncanny jests, her minx by her feet, she became vibrant when confronted with the uncouth."

... what they are actually saying is:

"She was a well-born housewife, skilled and closely attentive in household ways, without malicious deeds, her pet dog by her feet, she became agitated when confronted with the unfamiliar."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When compasses go crazy

Hi again Cormac, I'm so selfishly happy you've decided to start another site.  And welcome to Coraline (or is it Nicole) in her new role as co-moderator.  I'm confused.  Anyhow, here's my first story for the new site, "Icarus' Flight to Perfection", it's Premiere Session, October 2010.  I've chosen to write using the four words: Trip. Triptych. Pick. Tropic.  Here it is:

A trip to the tropics.  North Queensland.  As the train sped up the coastline, the accumulations of my old life began to fall away.  A sense of freedom seeped in with every mile.

Magnetic Island, or Maggie as I call her, drew me to herself at these times of my life.  Times of recovery, healing, refreshment.

But there was someone I wanted to visit on the way.  A friend from down south had married and was living in one of the sugarcane towns.  Married.  This was not the woman I had known.  She had been a free-loving, free-spirited hippie; the one who had admonished me for being jealous when she enticed my boyfriend into her bed.  "We" don't try to possess people she had said.  Our "set" was open-minded, new-thinking, experimental.

She had gone north for work, met a local mill worker and married.  A jealous, monogamous guy, not one of the "set".  She was now trotting out localisms with ease, like describing a young woman as "the town bike".  She had slotted right in without a backward glance at her old liberal ways.  Living her cane town life, she had taken on a cane town persona.  It seemed that, wherever she went, she mirrored the values and ideas of those around her.  She needed acceptance.

Like a three-sided triptych, it was "Take your pick - which face do you want me to show to the world today?"  Or a Rubik's cube with endless combinations of clicks, she was capable of chameleon-like changes to suit her surroundings.

But she didn't need to recolour herself like this.  She had a lot to offer from inside her own being, and this continued to shine through.  She had a beautiful nature and I'd learnt so much from her about organic gardening and vegetarian cooking.  I wish I could have told her that at the time, but I was just confused then.  My swirling thoughts and feelings have only now coalesced into words.

After a few days in the cane town, I continued on my way north.  Captain Cook had so named Magnetic Island in 1770 because his ship's compasses went awry as they passed by.  My mind's compasses too were now all over the place.  I didn't know north from south, east from west, so to speak.  But dear old Maggie would enclose me in her arms and work in the opposite way for me.  A few weeks amongst her huge boulders and blue bays helped to sort through my swirling thoughts and put things right again.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Running the gauntlet at the supermarket

I risked another trip to the supermarket yesterday.  After last week's fiasco with the nit-picking mother (see my story "At the Checkout" on ThinkingTen"), I was understandably uneasy.  But, after pushing my trolley uneventfully for a few minutes, I began to relax.  Maybe I could, after all, run the gauntlet of the aisles without seeing or hearing something that would send me into paroxysms of inappropriate laughter this time.

But as I went past the deli counter, the shop assistant called out: "No. 1?  Do we have a No. 1?  No?  How about a No. 2?"  I couldn't stifle my laughter, but everyone else remained unsmiling.

No-one owned up to being No. 1 or No. 2, probably from embarrassment, but when she asked for No. 3, a woman said: "Yes, that's me".  Clearly, she had never watched Miss Jocelyn, the English comedian, who has at least up to No. 4 for things you can do in the toilet.

Maybe such euphemisms are a bit twee, but I knew a family who went to the other extreme, saying things like: "We'll stop for a urination break soon" or "Mummy, I need to defaecate".  I kid you not.  I heard it firsthand while on a picnic with them.  Those kids had never wee-weed or pooed their pants in their lives.  It would have been linguistically improper.

Anyhow, I managed to finish my shopping and escape through the checkout without any more trouble.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The kitchen gallery

A row of matching blue and white striped mugs hung neatly in his kitchen.  As I reached out to grab one, he said "No, don't touch those.  I never use them.  They're just there to make the kitchen look nice."

I found this quite odd.  His kitchen was a modern one, so he didn't have oodles of storage space.  He certainly didn't have enough room to devote to these functionless "works of art".  The mugs that he did use were kept, inconveniently, inside a cupboard.

But just now I found myself reaching up high for an old saucepan because I didn't want to ruin the display of my new Baccarat set hanging on the kitchen wall in an orderly progression from large to small.

This sort of thing has happened to me quite often.  Looking at someone's behaviour and thinking "How strange!  How weird!", only to realise later on that I shared their foibles.  But I try to hide them from other people so that they don't think I'm a little queer.  I don't think it's working.

The case of the empty toilet roll

He was the kind of person who never seemed to notice when the toilet paper ran out.  One time I decided not to fill the holder with a fresh roll myself and waited to see what would happen.

Well, he ripped off the wrapper and tossed it onto the floor, then hid the open toilet roll in the cupboard - just to spite me.  You see, in his mind, it was simply "his due" that I was the one deigned to replace the toilet roll.  By neglecting my duty this one time, I'd become an "uppity nigger", a revolting peasant, a runaway slave, a striking worker, a disobedient subject.

And we were only flatmates after all ... but not for much longer.  I kicked his Lordship out onto his royal backside, chucking his imaginary crown out after him.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Frog tells it as it is

A sandwich and a cuppa at the cafe.  Reading old magazines.  My eye catches an article title - What Men Really Think of Pregnant Women.

Just ask The Frog (ex-BF).  He'll tell you.

He and a mate were waxing lyrical one day on how disgusting and repulsive pregnant women are.  "Cowlike" was the word they used while smugly nodding to each other in their "manly" agreement.  (And he wonders why I didn't want to have a child with him when he was more than happy to "donate his sperm in the old-fashioned way", as he put it.)

The "cow" who had prompted their comments was a young woman with bright eyes, clear complexion, bursting with good health and a beautifully rounding belly.  But all they saw was a fat, slobbering milker.  Not fuckable.  Not attractive.  I didn't say anything at the time as I thought it might just be some kind of evolutionary protective device ... but now I know that they were just immature arseholes.

Are these guys typical or are there any men out there who go weak in the testicles at the sight of approaching maternity?

Such good mates

Geoff was a dope smoker.  He grew enough for himself and his friends.  He always had friends dropping by.  Mates.  Good mates.  Smoking mates.  Mates he could talk to about anything.  Knowledgeable.  Open-minded.  Radical.  And how they talked.  They did nothing else but bloody smoke dope and talk.  They solved all the world's problems but none of their own.

Possession was an imprisonable offence.  When the police cars swept in that fine morning, Geoff nearly shat himself.  They had guns.  They swaggered as they searched through everything - bank statements, letters, books, clothes, rubbish.  They found an innocent hand-drawn map and were sure it was where Geoff grew his plants.  It wasn't.  But they made him conduct a tour of the area anyhow.

They didn't find anything.  They missed the seeds hidden in the jar of lentils and the pot plants in the long grass.  Dogs would have found them.  But these were men ... men who had probably asked their wives to find their car keys for them that morning.

As their cars reversed off the grass onto the drive, a small plant that was growing from a carelessly dropped roach was exposed.  Geoff tried to look bland.  The police didn't see a thing and sped away with joyless looks on their faces.

They were drug squad from the city, accompanied by a local cop.  A long way to drive on the offchance.  A tip-off?  One of Geoff's mates who was on remand at the time on a pretty serious drug charge was let off without a custodial sentence.  It seemed like more than mere coincidence.  Had he sold out his mate to save his own neck?

But Geoff would never ask, never know.  But boys could talk about anything, couldn't they?  Well, no.

There seemed to be unwritten, unspoken rules when it came to their relationships.  You never said no to a joint, and you never criticised your mates or put them on the spot.

So Geoff avoided the topic.  He probably couldn't even admit his suspicions to himself.  That would expose the absence of a real connection and he didn't want to go there.  Things just continued as though nothing had happened.  Such good mates.

Boys are like that - not judgemental - tolerant - don't hold grudges.  Well, that's what they say.  I reckon they're just scared.

Scared of appearing uncool.  Scared of losing friends.  Scared of not being a man among men.  Scared of looking into that big empty chasm.  Scared, scared, scared.

There's a silence
between men
the unspoken gaps
kept closed
by fear
while they talk
so freely
of other things
of science
the latest discovery
in outer space
of risk taking
while close to home
the obvious
goes unnoticed
their big ideas
big things
big plans
certainty borrowed
from generations
of men
who went before them
passed down
from father
 to son
never questioned
just assuming they know
what it's all about
preaching uncertainty
for others
they think the universe
is looking at them
always at them
only them

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Man overboard

Years ago I saw Do Re Mi with Deborah Conway as the lead singer perform.  It was a free concert and it was fabulous.  This poem is inspired by their song "Man Overboard".


man overboard
because he slipped
and dipped
his toes into the water
the cold water

And all the while
I'm drowning, drowning
dragged down
by his heavy bag of death
pulling me under
and he says he needs air
but I've got none
to give him

I pierce
his bag of death
and its lies
spill out
and sink down deep
as I float upwards
and breathe
the sweet air
of freedom

The peasants are revolting

My over-riding feeling when I read Shakespeare's "Macbeth" as a 13 year old was that it was an awful lot of words just to say: Grabbing power over other people is an empty pursuit and it will bite you in the bottom in the end.  A poster would have sufficed.

And it seemed like such a backward step to devote so many beautiful words to obtaining the kind of insight we should have been born with.  Been there, done that, why are we still talking about it?  But humanity doesn't seem to have learnt from its mistakes.  They're just repeated - over and over again through the centuries.

In history class, it was obvious from a cursory glance that, if you put enough pressure on the peasants, they would always revolt.  Dictators do not last forever.  There is a kind of swinging pendulum effect.  It's just physics.  So why do they still pop up with regularity?  Haven't they read how the story always ends?

What are they thinking?

The same goes for mini-dictators; people who but for the opportunity to rule over nations, simply bully those within their smaller spheres of influence.  Children rebel against bossy parents; wives leave or murder their abusive husbands; and so on.

Most of us are exposed to these facts at school, but how many of us actually take them on board in how we live our own lives?  Probably not even the teachers do.

It's a strange, strange phenomenon.

Perhaps it's because we don't think of ourselves as the dictator.  It's always someone else.  So, if as you read this, you're thinking: "You've just described so-and-so", THINK AGAIN.  It may apply to you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Some of life's gifts

We stood in the queue at the city hall when they were giving measles shots.  Me and Mum.  I didn't cry, but a boy I knew, Donny, was bawling his eyes out and they hadn't even touched him yet.  And he played with dolls.

I never played with dolls.  Couldn't understand why anyone would bother.  Bor-ring!

I had a toy train set.  And a Davy Crocket hat that I wore to death, even through the hot days of summer.  But the most exciting present I ever received was when Mum bought me a present for doing well in my exams.  "I want grass clippers" I had said without hesitation.  I ran with them all the way to Pamela Toohill's place two blocks away.  Thrilled to bits.  Had to show them off.  She wasn't impressed.  Another time I asked for a garden hose.  Again, I couldn't understand why my friends looked at me strangely when I waxed lyrical about it.  Their problem.

My mother gave me a doll for my sixth birthday.  Don't know why.  It was the only doll I ever owned.  Still, I never invited any of my friends over to play dolls or, in  my case, doll; or house; or mummies and daddies.  Not like Nancy Turner from down the road, who was remotely related to me via my Danish great grandfather.  [A lot of the people in my neighbourhood were remotely related to me as the result of a Danish cohort which had moved to the area in the late 19th century - the Hansens, Andersens, Lorensens.]  She had a gazillion dolls and even a pram to push them around in.  She said: "Let's play dolls".  I didn't know what to do with the bloody things.  Those lifeless, useless things that just lie there and stare at you.  She never asked me again.

I preferred my dancing black man made of painted tin.  Not PC these days.  But he was great.  His arms and legs dangled and jangled.  A post-war version of Michael Jackson.

But I wasn't a tomboy.  I was sweet, timid, quiet, a "little doll" as the lady in the shop called me.  I wore pretty, frilly dresses and ribbons in my hair.

Before Christmas one year, Mum took me to town to pick out my Christmas present and see Santa Claus, even though I never believed in him.  [The Easter Bunny, however, was a different story.]  She called it "town" and I still do, but everyone else calls it "the city" nowadays.  Brisbane's grown a lot since the 1950s.

I still remember catching sight of the child-sized table and chairs.  It was bare, unpainted pine, exactly what I wanted.  My china tea set would look real nice on it.  That Christmas morning was one of the rare times I got angry as a child.  There on the verandah were my wonderful table and chairs.  But Mum had got "young Colin next door" [not to be confused with his father "Big Colin", yet another remote relative] to paint them.  The natural wood I loved so much had been smothered.

Blind fury!  Betrayal!  No words to express my hurt!  My mother didn't understand me after all.  Now I knew just how Jesus had felt when his mother didn't think to look for him in the temple.  [A bit of poetic licence here.  I had not even heard of Jesus at that age.]   I grabbed one of Dad's tools and smashed into the table.  Again and again and again!  They didn't punish me.  Why should they have?  It was "her" sin.  I did play with it over the coming years, but it wasn't what it could have been.

I am writing this in shorthand at my intarsia woodwork class, in between sanding small pieces of wood.  A lady has just walked up to me and, admiring the cockatoo wall plaque I am making, said:

"Are you going to colour him?"

Glancing briefly at a very pointed tool, I simply smile and say sweetly: "No, I want the wood grain to show."

A Bex, an orange and a nice lie down

I wasn't cut out for motherhood.  I didn't have the right lingo.  My mother didn't have it either, but "real" mothers were supposed to say things like:

Don't go upsetting your father again.
Your not gettin' your pudding till you've eaten up all your vegies.
Put your socks where they belong in the drawer and not on the floor.
Have you done your homework yet?
Don't talk with your mouth full.
Where do you think you're going, Miss?
Boys won't respect you if you let them ....

Mercifully, my mother was different from everyone else's.  A friend of mine had to roleplay "the mother" in a psychology class and her portrayal sounded more like that of a witch.  I wouldn't really know how to roleplay a mother.  Mine didn't fit the stereotype.  The closest I could come would be to have a nice lie down with a Bex, an orange and an Agatha Christie novel.

It's Mum's birthday today.  She would have been 93.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MUM.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Adventures with Aunty

We drove up from Brisbane to Maryborough for the engagement party.  Arriving at Elvie's place early, Aunty announced: "We're going to the RSL for something to eat."  Years ago, she swore that she'd never eat Elvie's cooking again after witnessing her wipe her sweaty brow with a teatowel while she was drying up.

That was her all over.  If she ever saw you do anything that might be even a little bit "off", she never forgot, reminded you of it for years after, and told the whole world about it.  She's still spreading the rumour that I didn't bathe as a child.  So, writing about her is my revenge.  Sweet.

At the party, Aunty sat stiffly along the wall while the rest of us hoed into the buffet.  "Not eating, Aunty?"  She sniffed.  "There's nothing here I can eat!  The coleslaw doesn't even have celery in it."

Unless a dish is prepared according to her own long-time recipe ... exactly ... it's just plain WRONG and inedible.  I had the audacity to make coleslaw at her place recently.  Never again.  I couldn't quite make out what she was complaining about to the person sitting next to her, but it was something about the onion.  I mean, it was her onion; her knife; her chopping sheet.  Where did I go wrong?  Where can a person go wrong chopping up onion for coleslaw?

Actually, it was a miracle that she had eaten at the RSL at all.  She deplored eating out for fear of the food containing rat droppings.  Or maybe, unbeknownst to her, someone in the kitchen may have licked their fingers before chopping up the vegies.

Aunty is in her 80s, but she still goes on her Wii each morning.  And she is super competitive, always checking her scores against everyone else's.  "Ha ha, I beat ya!"  With the meditation practice, she doesn't quite get the idea that it's not about defeating an opponent.

But watching her flap her scrawny arms in the flying exercise was too much for me.  It was the funniest thing I have ever seen.

I still find it hard to believe that this woman is actually my mother's sister.  This strange, vain woman who introduced her own sister as her mother because she didn't want anyone to think she was that old.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A particular breed of woman

History may look back on you and say: "Oh, you poor downtrodden housewife.  Your ghostlike form trolleyed the aisles of the supermarket, unnoticed, unseen."

Hah!  You don't fool me.

History casts its eye over the scene and sees all these huge rocks.  But I look down deep into the cracks between those rocks to where the gold lay hidden.

I'm not saying that this sort of woman didn't exist - she certainly did - but, look beyond the Tupperware and often a different picture emerges.

She may have paid lip-service to "the man of the house", but she was the real boss of the home and family.  I've watched her "type", attentively listening to her husband's viewpoints and ideas, seemingly absorbed by everything he had to say.  Every now and then, as if on cue, she would offer a sing-songy "Yes, dear"; "You're absolutely right"; "What a good idea".

This was just one of those interruptions to the flow of her life that she had to put up with, like obligatory sex, in order to maintain her position.  She treated him in exactly the same way as she would treat a small child proudly presenting their latest artwork.  "Oh, that one's going straight onto the fridge door."

The husband, swelled with manly pride, never seemed to notice how he was being hoodwinked.  She was a good wife.

Afterwards, it was as though he hadn't spoken.  His words had not even penetrated her consciousness and she just carried on as usual.  She prided herself on these "feminine" ways, her skill at keeping her marriage on an even keel.  To her it was just how women behaved if they wanted to keep their place in the world.

But she was just all front.  She had constructed her persona around what she thought femininity should look like.  She may not have had the opportunity to pursue a high-powered career, but she certainly had a strong power base.  She ran her life, her husband's and her children's with military precision from behind her frilly apron.  In fact, a friend's mother provided a hint of how some women actually perceive themselves.  Shortly after her husband had died, she said "I feel just like a general without an army."

So, don't be fooled, you historians.  Things aren't always as they appear on the surface.

The BOGI Spring Fair

Note:  BOGI stands for Brisbane Organic Growers Inc.

This was my first BOGI Fair where it rained.  Last year, armed with potted plants to donate to the BOGI stall and home-made cheese muffins destined for sale in the "cafe", I had turned up very early to help.

Penny had made special pinnies for us kitchen workers to wear.  How superior I felt wandering around in my official brown and green apron that announced: "Yes! I am indeed one of the kitchen ladies."

How different it all is this year.  I had been feeling "quite poorly" of late.  Without the usual cardboard boxes full of plants and muffins, I arrive around 10am and excuse myself from kitchen duties.  Walking from stall to stall without my uniform, I am now a non-entity, a nobody, just one of the crowd.  I had even left my BOGI badge at home.

Some people recognise me and stop for a chat.  I'm not good with names.  When the sweet-faced lady says: "Colin Campbell was supposed to open the Fair at 11:00, but it's now 11:25", she looks familiar but I have no idea who she is.  One of last year's kitchen ladies, I suspect.

Colin Campbell is an Aussie TV and radio garden guru and pin-up boy to us earthy set.  Second only to that Tasmanian, Peter Cundall, he is a sex symbol to the thinking octogenarian gardener.  I spot him not far away and point him out to the sweet-faced lady.  He's wearing "old man" brown trousers, navy jumper and cocky's hat - an ensemble sure to set the hearts of us old chooks a-flutter.

He's sitting at a table signing copies of his latest book, "Garden Something or Other".  He's certainly changed his tune since I first heard him on the radio years ago.  Back then, I don't think he would have been caught dead at anything of the organic persuasion.  His usual advice was "just spray the bugger with this nasty chemical guck".

Two fat ladies have got his ear and I wander off to look around.  There's a sign on the Rare Breeds Exhibit that says: "PLEASE USE THE HANDWASH BEFORE PATTING THE PIGS".  Not "after".  Before.  They obviously don't want their pristine pigs soiled by nasty human hands.

I do a quick round of the stalls - vegan living; Northey Street City Farm, permaculture, native bees and the like.  A man is giving a talk on worm farms but I don't stop to listen.  I consider myself quite knowledgeable on this subject, having Googled it to death when I first bought mine.

The same two fat ladies are still talking to Col.  My inner tiger wants to stride up and say: "Move over, bitches!  He's mine."  Instead, I crook my basket sweetly on my arm and head for the car."

I'm not really up to the Fair today.  I'm going home to bed.  Next year.  Next year.  I should have my prize-winning herbal display ready by then.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The exciting story of the tax refund

As I was going out, I grabbed my mail from the letterbox and ripped open one envelope.  Without my glasses on, it read:

"Keep this notice for future descendents"

"Isn't that tautology?" I thought.  Putting on my reading glasses, it then read:

"Keep this notice for future reference."

Ah, that makes more sense.  It's my tax assessment.  Oh, jolly good - I've got rather a respectable refund.

[What's going on?  I've never used the word "jolly" in my whole life.  But it's the sort of word you might hear Stephen Fry use, so I'll leave it in.  You know, when his visitor arrives and Stephen says: "Jolly good!  You've brought breadsticks.  What would our Ancient Greek themed sleepover be without them?"]*

Returning to the tale of the tax refund ... oh, bugger it!  I'm all out of ideas now.

*  Reference:  Fry, Stephen. date unknown. Ancient Greek bread dildos. Q.I. London: ABC.

Lesson of the Burrum River

She grew up along the banks of the Burrum River.  I don't even know if it was in a real house.  Probably just a shed.

This was in the 1920s.  My mother was the eldest of seven children.  Her mother had married a much older man who, by the time Mum came along, was an invalid pensioner.  So there wasn't much money about.  But all her memories sounded like happy ones, (at least the ones she told me about).  Like walking three miles to the school in Howard each day.  Or eating the pigeon pies her father had made.

This was orange orchard country.  Back in the days before chemical sprays.  At dusk, she and other kids would help out in the orchards, lighting the lamps that hung in the trees.  Bugs and moths would be attracted to them at night and die when they fell into a pot of something or other.  To repay the kids, the farmer would turn up at the school with a large port full of big, fat oranges.

Mum always loved oranges.  I think it was her comfort food.  She'd eat them in bed while she read Agatha Christie novels, leaving the peels amongst the sheets.

She often talked about how beautiful the river was:

"I remember the violets growing along the banks of the Burrum River."

There was a railway weir with steps going down to the water where they swam after school.  Probably unsupervised.  But it felt safe.

By the time pension day came around, there wasn't much food left and the kids went to school without their lunch.  Early in the morning her father would catch the train to Maryborough to pick up his pension and buy supplies.  Then he'd return home and bake bread in the ashes of an outdoor fire, using his home-made potato yeast.

Mum would look out for him bringing his still warm bread up to the school for their lunch.  Probably bread and dripping.  A real treat.

Mum didn't say much about her mother.  Her stories were mainly about her father.  She loved him.  He was a quiet man.  But she did tell me how her mother would cut some shoots off the gum trees when they were flushed with pink new growth and put them in a vase.  These were her "flowers".

School was a happy time for Mum and she was a good student, but her family's situation meant, of course, that she didn't go beyond primary school.  She was not, however, good when it came to singing.  Her teacher would implore her to "Eat some sugar, Carrie Davis, to sweeten your voice."  Still, her strange, droning songs lulled all of us to sleep as babies.

Many years later, when I was grown up and owned my first car, I took Mum back to the banks of the Burrum River.

Gone were the violets

Gone was the railway weir

Sadly, Mum turned to me and said, philosophically: "You can never go back".


Ah, it's now time for breakfast.  I stop writing and put down my pen.  Sitting on the back stairs with my bowl of Weetbix, I look wistfully at the carpet of native violets growing in my small Brisbane garden.

At the pet shop

I pulled up in front of the building that announced itself as "PETWISE - from noses to paws".  What I was after had neither noses nor paws.  Well, as far as I knew, fish had neither of these, but maybe David Attenborough knows differently.

I needed some PBEs.  That's Pacific Blue Eyes for those without a garden pond full of mozzie wrigglers.  The last lot had died.  I don't know why.  But the three fish in my other pond were still doing well after nearly a year.  I had hoped they would produce some young which I could transfer to the second pond before the wrigglers came back.  No luck.  And it's started raining.  Wriggler heaven.

As I peruse the array of fish along one wall of the shop, an assistant asks if he can help.  "I'm after some Pacific Blue Eyes."  He too starts to sweep his eyes from tank to tank when another assistant whispers to him: "We don't have any."  This message is then relayed to me by the young man, only louder.  "WE DON'T HAVE ANY."

"Will you be getting them in?" I ask.  Again, a whisper followed by a louder relay: "We're fighting to get them added to our database."

"Fighting?" I ask.  "Who?  Some government department?"

The whisperer then speaks to me direct: "No, we're fighting to find room to display them so that we can add them to our database."  I don't see much fighting for space going on.  Half the tanks are completely empty.

Fishless, I grab a supply of flakes for the tadpoles.  They love fish food.  And it's easier than remembering to freeze lettuce.  The woman ahead of me in the checkout produces her Petwise customer card.  "I'm sorry, madam, your Petwise card won't work anymore.  We're Petbarn now."  Ah, but for a change of four letters, she could have had her usual discount.  "But if you will fill out this form, you'll be able to get a discount next time."

"But I'll be in the database" she pleads.  "I'm afraid not.  We don't have the Petwise database any more."  At that moment, I swear I heard the ghost of Franz Kafka giggling his head off.

I considered suggesting that she may have a good case in law because Petwise was still the name proudly displayed in very large letters on the front wall of the shop.  I remained silent.  I've already upset my quota of people for this week.

My turn next.  "Would you like to fill out this form and become a ... [drum roll and flashing lights] ... Petbarn customer?"  "No thanks, the odd bit of fish food wouldn't justify it."

I still have another pet shop to try.  I wonder what adventures await me there.

Life's little mysteries

Why does the TV cop always press down on the head of the "suspect" as s/he climbs into the back seat of the police car?  Is there some genetic defect among the criminal class which prevents them from getting into a car, unaided, without bumping their heads?

How strange that the jewel thief, who so skilfully and gracefully abseils down through the skylight of the museum to grab that huge diamond, cannot even duck low enough to avoid hitting the car's door frame unless, of course, there is a police officer at hand.  I mean, even old ladies can still do it without help.

I lie in the bathtub and ponder this mystery.  I am sure that when it is solved, the very secret of life, the universe and everything will also reveal itself, opening up like a flower kissed by the first gentle rays of the morning sun.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Grandma Bear

Grandma Bear was a bit of a snob.  After living with her sister in New Zealand for a few years, she returned home to Australia with a double-barrelled surname.  Somewhere between Gisborne and Brisbane, she had acquired ... a hyphen.

I don't know where her uppity ways came from.  We were a working class family and she had been a cleaner, albeit in a posh private girls' school.  She often started a sentence with: "When I was at Somerville House ...".  By her dowager-like bearing, you would have thought she had been the headmistress.

We all loved her.  There was, after all, more to Grandma Bear than her social aspirations.

Born along Lower River Terrace, Kangaroo Point in 1889, she had witnessed Brisbane's 1893 floods and also remembered Aborigines camping in her back yard.  Her mother, in typical European style, gave them flour and tea.  Grandma's mother was a strict, upright, God-fearing Scots woman, and a "bit fey".  Her father was a Dane who had run off to sea at a young age.  Despite being Australian-born of a Scottish mother and a Danish father, she still called England "home".

Grandma lived with us for several years.  I used to sit with her in her bedroom listening to her stories of the past as dust danced in a shaft of sunlight coming through a high window.  I don't recall much now, but I do remember the sound of her deliberate voice as she talked about "the Miss this" or "the Misses that", as she referred to the young women of her youth.  She didn't have a distinct Australian accent, but I don't think she was "bunging it on".  It was probably just the accent from her era.

One of her favourite memories (or was it partly a romantic fantasy?) was of the Italian count - Count Catanzaro - who would have returned to Australia to marry her had it not been for the torpedo that ended his life in the Mediterranean Sea.  Strangely, her sister in New Zealand shared this same fantasy, but with herself as the intended bride.  She even went so far as to give her son the middle name "Catanzaro".  How must the poor kid and her husband have felt.

I remember seeing an old postcard the Count had sent to Grandma.  In the shaky handwriting of her old age, she had added the word "darling" to his greeting.  This, I guess, was intended to add strength to her story that it was, in fact, she who he wanted to marry and not her sister.

In a photo she kept of Count Catanzaro, he looked like a real dandy with his perfectly coiffed hair and clarinette for a prop.  Maybe his title of "Count" had also been just a prop, added to impress the local colonial ladies.  Although, a glance at his foppish appearance had me wondering if he might have actually preferred the local lads.

Ah, what would my childhood have been without Grandma Bear?  And who else in the family could have provided me with such amusing writing material?

Often when I write flash fiction, I draw on real life for ideas, but use a bit of poetic licence.  However, this story needed no embellishment at all.  Every word is absolutely true.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In the "pocket handkerchief" garden

Plink ... plink ... plink.  Raindrops shiver the surface of the small garden pond.  In a protected spot, a raft of bubbles, each containing a black spot, will soon become hundreds of tadpoles.  The striped marshfrogs were busy in the night.

A racket of noisy miners flies past, hot on the tail of a blue-faced honeyeater.  They must be nesting nearby.  The "Mickies" leave and the honeyeater settles in to feed on the red pom-poms of the calliandra tree. There's a splashing in the birdbath - a noisy miner has returned for a good wing-wash.

I sit on the back stairs, self-satisfied.  The flowers I planted at the start of Spring are blooming between the herbs and fruit trees.  Pansies, petunias, blue salvia and daisies.  And the year-to-year "stayers" are also flowering ... gay yellow nasturtiums that always make me smile; the strong red statement of hippeastrum trumpets; and many others.

The Greek spinach and amaranth (glitha), given to me by my neighbour, still self-seed every year, as do chillies, cherry tomatoes, mustard greens, flat-leaf parsley and lots more.  And they usually do it in the pathways mulched with coconut coir - oh, like the zebra bean I've just noticed growing between two stepping stones.  The smell of freshly laid lucerne mulch, now rain-soaked, fills the air.  The earthworms will be loving this.

The newly planted avocado and strawberry guava trees seem to be settling in well.  The gramichama planted last year looks grand.  It and the lilly-pilly get a gorgeous flush of pink new growth that gradually changes to a glossy green.  They have all joined the tamarillo, lemon, lime and pawpaws planted a lot earlier.  I have room for one more tree I reckon ... a pomegranate perhaps.

Soon my tiny back garden will be a food forest with its understorey of herbs and passionfruit vines.  A canopy of green creating a cool space in the suburbs.

A pumpkin vine has self-seeded from buried scraps.  Even though there is no room for it, I'll let it grow towards the fence where it can climb and stay out of trouble.

A turtledove has secreted itself among the leaves of the calliandra looking for a nesting site; and a red pom-pom dropped by a  pale-headed rosella has been caught in the leaves of the tree fern - an early Christmas bauble.

Ah, a cup of peppermint tea and herb muffins would be perfect now.

Tweeting Boy George

How many times can George read tweets about how beautiful his eyes are without going spare?

There's far, far more to this man than his hats and makeup.  There's far, far more to this man than his music.

I have looked into his eyes, past his eye shadow, deep into his soul.  Makeup and clothes are part of who he is ... but they're just one small part of a many-sided human being.

He is not the image you have created of him in your own minds.

They seek him here
they seek him there
never to find him
within the constructs
of their own minds

Monday, September 27, 2010

My writing process

I never sit down with blank paper or laptop and try to command my brain to write.  I wouldn't know how.

The spark of an idea just pops into my head and I run with it.  Often I don't have any idea where it's heading.  Like on Saturday, I looked out the window and saw raindrops falling off the end of a kookaburra's beak.  I just knew that a story was brewing.

Now, having said that, I have recently started writing flash fiction to given prompts.  This is a totally new approach for me and I'm finding it to be an interesting experience.  All the same, I still don't try to push my brain uphill to squeeze a story out.  If an idea doesn't come to mind without effort, I just don't do it.

I remember seeing an interview with a professional artist.  He was in his garden enjoying nature when he said, self-critically: "I should be inside painting".

Oh, for God's sake, creativity doesn't recognise the word "should".  It's not something you can just whip into shape.  His whole identity seemed to be tied to the idea of him "being an artist" instead of art being just part of his life.

comes from

Others may disagree with me, especially if they see writing, painting or whatever as a discipline to be practised daily or if it is their "job".  For me, an amateur in the true sense of the word, it happens when it happens and I wouldn't want it any other way.

I don't know how to kick-start the creative process, but I suggest that you record your ideas as they come, whether you're out shopping or watching TV.  And keep a pen and paper by your bed because how often has an eloquent expression come to you in the night, only to be forgotten by morning?

I sometimes sit quietly observing what is around me, not thinking about writing, not thinking about anything.  Just absorbing the minutiae of my environment like a sponge.  If something comes to mind, I write it down, then put down my pen and return to just watching.  I begin to see things I hadn't noticed before.

Elegantly written in simple words, observations of the everyday can take on immense power.  The mundane becomes absorbing.  The ordinary acquires presence.  I mean, you only have to think about how much a cricket commentator, in love with the game, can say about a man hitting a ball with a stick.

For me, the power of haiku, for example, is in succinctly drawing attention to a moment in time that could have been easily overlooked.  Not necessarily a "big" moment, but a single moment looked at intently.  My favourite all-time haiku is a modern one, unconstrained by 5-7-5 syllables, posted on Twitter by Hermonhermit:

Snowy road
the emptiness
of the school bus

For me, it is perfection.  Simple words, an everyday moment.  But what power!  It explodes into my mind. *

I can't remember who said "Learn the rules, then ignore them", but I like it.  You can start a sentence with "and".  It's called style.  Don't be afraid.  Let the words flow out in their own way.

Although, once that initial outpouring is over, go over your draft ... and not just once.  You will always find unnecessary words or think of a better phrasing.  SLASH AWAY!**


* I've just read another haiku that blows my mind.  It's by @cirrusdream on Twitter:

empty playground
... but the wind
rippling the puddles

** Unless, of course, you're Bertrand Russell who, it is said, never re-drafted.

Facing the facts

"You're not funny and your problem is that you can't face the fact."

"You always sing off-key."

These things didn't matter to her.  She didn't live inside her ego, so his jibes didn't touch her.  But what did matter was knowing that he wanted to hurt her.  What did matter was discovering that he wanted to destroy her confidence.  What did matter was realising that he didn't understand her at all.

After all these years, he had no idea of who she was.  The teller of corny jokes, the offkey yet joyful singer of songs, she was love.

He thought that he owned language, humour, sex ... and that she only borrowed them.

The things that she had known since childhood, he fed to her as though she were completely without understandings of her own.  He handed her a book.  "This will be good for you."  Its pages were a reflection of her own soul, her inner self ... but he never noticed.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Highgate Hill Dreaming

It was a warm spring day.  The little girl, not yet of school age, lay down in the furtherest corner of her back yard to watch the insects in the grass.  She watched with great intent and lost all awareness of the world outside the land of the tiny.

Eventually, the heat of the sun brought her back to her surroundings.  But this was a very different world from the one in which she lived.

The suburban houses, gardens and fences of Highgate Hill had all disappeared.  Instead, she found herself in a dry eucalypt forest.  It was quiet except for the sound of cicadas and the leaves crunching under the feet of a goanna lumbering slowly  along.

The words "Bennung-urrung" seeped into her consciousness, but she had no idea what they meant.

Seamlessly, her familiar scene returned.  She could hear a car's motor and a dog barking in a back yard.

The next time it happened, she ventured up along a ridge.  Near the top of the high hill, she found a small creek and, further over, a couple of cool lagoons.  She sat down on a rocky outcrop at the very top of the hill and, again, the words "Bennung-urrung" came gently to her mind.  But this time she understood.  It was the name of this place.

She saw kangaroos grazing on the slopes and koalas sleeping in the trees.  The lay of the land reminded her of where she lived, but the resemblance ended there.  She headed off downhill towards a swampy area.  Several people came towards her but they passed by, unseeing, towards a small hill.  She followed them and, on reaching the top, saw where they were heading - a bora ring.

Once again she slipped back into her "home" reality.  Her mother was in the kitchen, cooking, and everything was completely normal.

She didn't have the words to explain what was happening to her.  In any case, it wasn't the sort of thing she would tell anyone.  She just "knew" that time was a strange thing and it didn't always tick-tock around the face of the clock in an orderly fashion.

She had once heard another child who, on learning about octaves, had looked up from the piano and said "Yesterday, today and tomorrow are the same thing".  The adults had dismissed this as just childish nonsense, but those words had stayed with her.  Now she understood what they meant.

She was living in the same place at all times, but split between two different time zones - one called the present, the other called the past.  She wasn't afraid.  It just seemed perfectly natural.

She returned to the "forest time" often, watching the people hunt, dig for yams, gather fruit, make fire by rubbing two sticks together, and once observing a youth stand very, very still for several minutes before quickly spearing a fish. Their songs were not tuneful like the ones she heard on the radio, but she found them strangely absorbing.  Their dances, too, were very different from the ballet her sister was learning, but the moves looked just like those made by kangaroos and the other animals.

As she grew older, her forest visits came less often until, by the end of Grade 3, they had stopped completely.  But when she read about the Dreamtime in the school library, she discovered that the Aboriginal view of time was similar to hers.  The creation of the world in the Dreamtime happened "then", but also in the "now".  It is always with us.


Bennung-urrung, the place of the frill-necked lizard, is now called Highgate Hill.  The bora ring at Woolloongabba has been cemented over to make a carpark in the grounds of the Holy Trinity Church.

Suburbia has buried the past, but every now and then a small child catches a glimpse of it through a tear in the curtain of time.


Another world

After a couple of hours flicking between Twitter and my blog, my eyes were tired.  I turned away from the laptop screen and looked out the window.  There was a whole other world out there.

It had been drizzling all morning, but now it had started to rain.  A kookaburra was perched stoically on the overhead cable, drops of water occasionally falling off the end of his beak.  Drip ... drip ... drip.

A very wet blue-faced honeyeater flew up to him making accusative noises.  Kooka merely fluffed his feathers.  Then three noisy miners flapped around him threateningly, asking him to "please leave the area".  Kooka didn't even register their presence.  He just maintained his steadfast stare at the ground.

Beyond the drama of the birds, yet another world existed.  In the distance, a plane from Sydney containing many people and many stories had begun its descent to Brisbane Airport.  Framed by my window like a painting, this scene appeared on the surface to be an undivided whole.  Yet there was layer upon layer of reality in it, each seemingly unconnected.  A million different stories were looking back at me.

In one part of the scene, an ant had suddenly altered its direction for a reason known only to the ant.  Inside the plane, a flight attendant was looking forward to the end of her shift.

And inside each individual creature, a myriad of events was also taking place.  The blood flowing through our bodies; the endless chatter of our brains; an itchy toe.  Yet all these things go towards making a whole, apparently unified, person.

Is that scene through my window also many parts of one whole in some strange as yet undiscovered way?  Trying to answer that question through thought will lead merely to surmise, but it's an interesting thought to ponder all the same.

Friday, September 24, 2010

DOGS, DOGS, DOGS (A piece of fiction)

Her home was utterly caninised.  The visitor was greeted by the smell and barking of the dogs; the old carpet was soil encrusted from the pad-pad-padding of many feet; and doggie blankets furfully festooned the sofas.

Here a dog, there a dog, everywhere a dog-dog.

After the initial excitement of my arrival, they all settled back down into their regular spots.  The big old black labrador climbed onto the end of one sofa and dropped her head onto the armrest, her gentle brown eyes following me around the room.  Another one, a yellow dog of many breeds, sat on his bed on the floor, leaning against the wall with the curtain draped stylishly over his head.  He had some kind of a fabric fetish.  An assortment of different breeds and colours dotted the room.

No, dotted is not the right word.  They monopolised the room.  They were the room ... its decor, its atmosphere, its very raison d'etre.

When I couldn't find a free spot to sit down, the woman rooted around under a chair and pulled out a plastic lid.  She placed it over the bin of dried food and beckoned me to sit down.  She squashed up with the dogs on a sofa and, after some grunting, one of the dogs reluctantly moved onto the floor.

You've never been somewhere like that?  I have.  Many times.

"How many dogs have you got now, Maisie?"

"I reckon about 12."

"You know you're not supposed to have more than three?"

"But who'd look after the dogs if I didn't?"

Maisie was one of a special breed herself.  An older woman on a pension, living alone (humanwise, that is), she somehow accumulated stray dogs.  Lots of them.  I'm not going to offer a theory of why she does it.  All I know is that the dogs are her entire life.

"I don't know what we're going to do about you, Maisie."  Sometimes I just hate my council job.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


She hates the old suburb.  "It's dirty and rundown".  Was she really talking about those streets of interesting shops and colourful people that I love so much?

Where she sees death, I see vibrant life.  Where she scurries, I wander happily.

The buildings aren't flash and modern, not like a shopping mall where you can buy a hundred varieties of plastic thingies.  The small shops are mainly one-off, not part of some super chain.  Mick's Nuts is cramped and they only accept cash, but people come from all over this city to shop there; even royalty had sent a minion to buy some nuts.  Reverse Garbage is my second home and I've turned lots of their industrial offcuts into art and useful items.

The smell of Asian greens wafts out of the Vietnamese deli and the footpaths are full of people eating at the many cafes.  From an upstairs room, the sound of "hare krishna" floats out of the window of the vegetarian restaurant.

The old suburb has heart.

"No-one could find Barbara Streisand's nose beautiful!"  She was so sure in her black and white world.  I shrank back into myself like a mimosa leaf that had been touched.

Your harsh dismissal
of the beauty
I see in
the old and unusual
our hearts never meeting

SPRING AND RAIN ... some poetry, mainly haiku

Rain always brings
a rush of poetry
to my heart

With spring comes
a livening
of the spirit
and I feel one
with green things

Winter is over
I sit on the stairs at night
 once again

Rainy day
the soggy earth
squelching underfoot

Spring brings
an outrage of
nasturtium flowers

Nasturtium flowers
looking back at me
through the rain

the violet flowers
for itself

Spring in this land of
its subtle changes

Dark glossy leaves and
the tender pink flush of spring
lilly-pilly tree

Here a small pansy
clinging close to the earth
and there a tall tree

City pollution
disappearing for a while
as the rain comes down

The sweet earth
the falling rain
 and her children

Soft leaves of green herbs
nestled in straw coloured mulch
catching raindrops

In the gentle rain
bright green mint leaves quiver
as the drops fall

Rusty guttering
rain water drip-dropping
onto the earth

Marigold circle
bright yellow flowers smiling
at the sun

My soul lives down where
the dark moist leaves decompose
on the forest floor

Forest floor
wet leaves
return to the soil

The oriole calls
to remind me that spring
is here again

The paper-thin skin
on my old woman's hands
softly wrinkling

This cracked old wall
toeholds in the crevices
for mosses and ferns

Spring returning
the dragonfly bends the reed
 of the bulrush

Friday, September 10, 2010

WHAT THE ALIEN SAW ... or ... "It's a Wrap"

One fine spring day, the alien called Zop landed his craft in invisible mode on a quiet suburban street. Zop’s mission was to observe and report on the cultural behaviour of the local homo sapiens. His findings would earn him a PhD on his home planet if he was lucky.

He heard a noise coming from what looked like a community meeting place. “Ah, I’m sure to see something here of academic interest to my head of department”.

When Zop saw the assembled group of women, he knew he had hit paydirt. Their “leader”, probably the high priestess, was showing the others how to wrap what looked like very long bandages around and around their bodies, this way and that, then twisting and pulling a long “tail” over their heads from behind. Then they bent their knees, bending forwards slightly, and stomped round and round the room.

Zop had of course studied the cultural practices of earth for his undergraduate degree. He reached the obvious conclusion that these women were worshippers of ancient Egyptian mummies. This ritual was apparently designed to bring the mummies back to life. His theory was strengthened when he read the title of their pamphlet “Bones for Life”, although it would have made more sense to him if it had read “Bones brought back to Life”. But where they stored the old Egyptian bones was still a mystery to him.

This discovery was certainly very exciting for he had never read about such a sect existing on modern earth. But one facet confused him. Their “dance” was more like that of the American Indian than that of the Egyptians. In fact, he heard the priestess mention the name “Pocohontas”. Clearly, there was an as yet undiscovered connection between those two cultures, which he could enlarge on in his thesis. Yes, he would certainly impress his professor back home.

The dance was followed by communal singing in a magic circle. Then, exhausted by their dallying with the gods, they all laid down on special mats on the floor. The building itself must have been a power source as they all pushed their hands into its walls to get some sort of a recharge.

All in all, Zop found the experience most enlightening. He returned quickly to his home planet where he wrote up his observations and submitted his thesis. He was awarded a First and became a renowned, much respected professor of anthropology.

The ladies continued to meet weekly for their Bones for Life classes, completely unaware of Zop's visit and their effect on a distant alien civilisation.
TO READ MORE ABOUT "Bones for Life" classes, visit

Monday, September 6, 2010


"It's a little tricky at first cause sometimes you have to give it a bit of finger."  That was Doc's suggestion for this week's (#41) FridayFlashFiction's starter sentence, but it didn't get enough votes.  However, it has inspired me to write this story ... not fiction, it's true.


"It's a little tricky at first cause sometimes you have to give it a bit of finger."

That’s how I would have begun the lesson in making æbelskiver, or ebelskivers as we say in English.

Æbelskiver is a Danish word meaning “apple slices”. Well, “slices” doesn’t really fit the bill. Wikipedia describes them as: traditional Danish pancakes in a distinctive shape of a sphere. Somewhat similar in texture to American pancakes crossed with a popover …

I watched the “training” video on my laptop. It all went so smoothly. There was an air of monastic meditation about the almost buddha-like demonstrator as she calmly went through the steps: mixing the batter, heating the pan, brushing the butter into the little round recesses, dropping in the batter, turning them with non-metal skewers when they were cooked just so. Not a drop of batter out of place, either on her immaculately clean clothes or the counter top. It was like watching the Japanese tea ceremony.

She made it all look so-o-o-o easy. Her and her “I’m just floating through this demo” manner.

Now it was my turn. Surely I too could achieve enlightenment this way.

My sister had sent me an æbelskiver pan for my birthday. I grated apples and cooked them with brown sugar, butter, spices and lemon juice.  So far, so good.  I mixed up the batter with plain flour, baking powder, buttermilk, sour cream and so on.  So far, so good.  I heated the pan and brushed the wells with unsalted butter.  So far, so good.

I added blobs of batter to the sizzling wells, not always elegantly.  I got batter in more places than I was supposed to.  My hands are a bit shaky at the best of times.  Then I added a bit of apple mixture to each one, still not always elegantly.  Bits of apple clung to the spaces between the wells.  Finally, another blob of batter ... and wait for them to cook.  The bottoms were burning before the tops started to firm up. I turned the flame down as far as it would go without blowing out.  The timer said they still had a minute to go on that side. I turned them anyhow, using two bamboo skewers, one on each side of the pancake and ... over they went.

They didn’t always land neatly on the other side.  This is where I suggest a bit of finger is needed to position them nicely ... and that is what I did.  When the pancakes looked nice and brown, I up-ended them onto a waiting platter and waited for them to cool down a bit before hoeing in.  I dusted them with sifted icing sugar mixed with cinnamon and served them with cream.  Hmm, some are not quite cooked inside. I think I need to try another one.  Yes, that one was good.  Maybe just one more to make sure.  I ate all 21 of them in a matter of hours.

I had uncooked batter all over the counter top; and me; and the frypan; and the floor; and the utensils.  In fact, everywhere in the known universe had batter on some part of it.  It seemed, then, that this was not going to be my path to enlightenment.

I made another batch the next day. Yes, the next day. I know, I’m a guts. I made them under the pretext that I was going to share them with other people. I didn’t.


I’ve never felt at home in this dimension.

I always knew there was something else and felt that, if I just held my mind in the right way, I’d connect with the universe and “real” life would begin.

I was three years old when I expected the big “happening” during a ferry ride to a nearby island. It didn’t come. I was deeply disappointed and felt that life had passed me by.

I never spoke to anyone about this until now. I have just found the words. And I thought that no-one would understand or they would make me feel spiritually "dirty". Other people seem so at home in this dimension – getting married, having children and careers. I’ve never understood how they did it. I want to scream: “How can you be so comfortable and normal? This isn’t real life! Everything and everyone are just ‘Mickey Mouse’ – your religions, institutions and marriages.”

I still think this way but life has brought a series of small “enlightenments” instead of the single big one I had anticipated as a child.

Normally, these gems of awareness have come about through difficult life experiences – times of rejection, pain, loss and confusion – what many people would describe as “negative”.  But these gems have been far more precious to me than the things I had been clinging to.

I don’t have a “philosophy” of non-attachment. I think that is foolish. Letting go just happens. When the object of desire is unattainable, there is pain, struggle and turmoil as the brain continues to grasp for satisfaction. It devises all sorts of ways to try to get what it wants and doesn’t want to accept that “the door has been closed”.

But there comes a point where magic happens. An awareness sinks in that the brain’s activity has become like a stuck record. Seeing the whole process of desire as it is, without rationalisation or the need for fulfilment, understanding comes. Then desire with all its turmoil simply falls away. Choice plays no part.

Another major turning point in my life came unexpectedly with such simplicity, without fanfare. Walking back to the office after lunch, a workmate said, as we were passing a garden: “I love daisies”. Those three words changed my life in a huge way – my essence, who I am. You might say it was the moment the penny dropped.

My initial reaction was to squirm inside. I felt like spitting out the words: “Daisies! They’re just a common flower!” But something stopped me. I heard her honest words, saw her joyful face and looked at the daisies. They were white with dark centres and I was touched by their simple, elegant beauty. The “commonness” existed only inside my dull, ugly brain. We walked on in silence, but I had been transformed ... forever.

I could go on and on, but I will stop here. I hope I have communicated at least some of where I’ve come from and who I am today.


A burst of haiku
as spring's buds swell open
flowers in bloom


Spring rain
washing away
the dust of winter


Spring rain
marshfrog welcoming
the new season


Winter's white arms
turning pink
in spring sunshine


The feel of sunshine
burning into bare skin
now that winter's gone


In the small garden
spring sunshine burning down
fresh beans on the fence


This oh-too-short spring
a time to rejoice before
the heat of summer


Past due my tax forms
past due a myriad things
I'd rather not do

Friday, September 3, 2010


This week's Friday Flash Fiction #41 starts with the sentence : "He walked in and slid the photograph across my desk."  Here's my version:


He walked in and slid the photograph across my desk.

“You swine! You rotten swine!” I spat.

His sickening leer deepened into something that could not be described as a smile. More than a smirk, this look had oozed up from the slimy recesses of his dark brain. It did not belong on someone’s face. “I’ve got you now” he thought. “You are in my power.”

I’d been working in the office for about a month. I thought he was cute and was kinda thrilled when he asked me out. He’d been oh-so-charming when he wined and dined me. I’d always been a sucker for a smooth talker and, having drunk a few glasses of wine too many, had giggled my way back to his place.

Thinking back, I blamed the alcohol for my lack of inhibition; but hey, who am I kidding? I would have had sex with him no matter what. It was only afterwards that I realised what he was really like and had spurned all his further advances. But mistakes made in the heat of the moment always come back to bite you in the bum.

He revealed that he had a hidden camera in his bedroom. Sexual blackmail was his game and he was threatening to post the pic on the office noticeboard and to email it around. “I’ll leave this lovely photo with you to help you contemplate your future” he said.

My brain went into a spin ... but then I had an idea. He would regret trying this one on me. “Thank God for modern technology” I thought. I scanned the photo into my laptop and did some “strategic” manipulation. I reduced “that part of his body of which he was most proud” to miniscule proportions and replaced my face with the face of the boss’s wife.

Now I was the one who was smirking.

I walked in and slid the photograph along his desk and said “How would you like to see that on the office noticeboard?”

“You swine! You rotten swine!” he spat.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Frank and Norm headed down to the local job centre.

"Let's see what's on the board today, Norm."

"I've left me glasses at home, Frank. Can you read some of them out to me?"

"Orright, Norm. Here's a good one:


Applicant must be able to heal the sick, raise the dead and reduce ear wax in the elderly."

"How the hell do you reduce earwax?"

"Let me finish ...

Equal opportunity but must have own beard and sandals.
A limited number of disciples and other hangers-on can be provided on request."

"Does that mean I'd have a religion named after me?"

"No, but you get four weeks unpaid leave a year."

"What's the pay like?"

"Says here you'd be working for love!!!"

"Anything else there I'm qualified for?"

"Yeah, here's another one:


You still got that old particle accelerator in the shed, Norm? It could double as a vacuum cleaner."

"No, sold it at the flea market a while back. Anyhow, I'm done with sucking up other people's black holes for a pittance. Can't you find anything other than dead-end jobs?"

"How about dogwalker?"

"Yeah, yeah, now you're talking. Take down the number."

"Let's have a look at the free DIY courses on offer. Hey, ‘Build your own Universe using Scrap Metal’ sounds good."

Monday, August 30, 2010


If you meet the buddha on the way, kill him.  (Zen saying)


The stranger stopped to ask: "Are you the buddha?"

"That's a strange question.  Why do you ask?"

"Because I need to find the buddha so that I can attain enlightenment.  I've given up attachments like he said, but I still don't seem to be getting anywhere."

"There's still one attachment you're holding onto."

"No, I've given up everything ... possessions, sex, money, you name it.  I've nothing left."

"Drop the buddha!"


"You're clinging onto the buddha, his words, his being, his dharma.  They're weighing you down, holding you back."

"But without them, I am completely without hope,"

"Then, just be without hope."

"But I'd despair."

"Then, just despair."

"Bah!" spat the stranger.  "What do you know?  You're just a nobody."

The stranger continued on his way, leaving the buddha alone again.  Ah, what a beautiful day for a walk.


I didn't know where my Sunday walk would take me this morning.  My feet led me down to the river just a kilometre away and across the Goodwill Bridge to the old botanical gardens - a wonderful green space in the heart of the city.  Some of the trees are over 100 years old.

From there I went on to the city centre where I lunched on Mediterranean vegetables, pesto and rocket on toasted ciabatta, while reading the new book I bought on the way - The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.  Tears came to my eyes as I read the first story.  It was about a woman whose balance system had been almost completely (and seemingly permanently) destroyed by the antibiotic gentamicin.  Her life was hell.  With the use of a device, her brain learnt to use new pathways and her balance was restored.

I grabbed a strawberry icecream as I left the food court and headed down to the nearby Roma Street Parklands, another large green area in the city.  As I sat down to write the haiku that had formed in my mind while walking, I looked around.  In the distance, children were playing happily with big balls and the nearby restaurant was full of noisy diners.  But sitting opposite me was a man angrily barking into his mobile about money, investments, tax.  He ended his conversation with "Well, what time do you open on Monday morning?"  It felt incongruous in such a relaxed scene.


Cement wall
fern roots taking hold
in the moss


City park
bamboo grove
another world


Green sedges
in the lake's shallows
white ibis


Peeling paperbark
its weeping branches hang low
over the water


From under the bridge
pathway opening onto
beds of bright flowers


The young man running
to greet his waiting lover
carrying flowers


Walking through fern gully - cool with tall trees over birdsnest, elkhorn and tree ferns - a stranger spoke to me as I past.  She just had to share the joy she felt in this beautiful place that had been rescued from the detritus of the city.

I went back across the river via Kurilpa Bridge and along the boardwalk past the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the State Library to Southbank.


By the river
city traffic droning close
blue fairy wrens


At the Southbank Markets, I bought a large lemon juice (real lemons) and, I hate to admit it, a chocolate coated frozen banana.  I settled down onto the cement steps of Suncorp Piazza to read some more of my book while waiting for a free concert - 1000 Gongs - to start.

Writing about stroke rehabilitation, the author said: "Traditional rehabilitation exercises typically ended after a few weeks, when a patient stopped improving ..." But it could be argued that "these learning plateaus were temporary - part of a plasticity-based learning cycle - in which stages of learning are followed by periods of consolidation.  Though there was no apparent progress in the consolidation stage, biological changes were happening internally, as new skills became more automatic and refined."  Again, I was moved to tears.

When the gong concert started, I closed my eyes and just let the sounds flow in.  I went into a trance-like meditation.  On the home stretch, I stopped at the lolly shop.  They were playing music from the 1960s and I couldn't resist dancing along.  How quickly and seamlessly I changed from buddha to bopper.  The shop owner reminisced about past innocent times spent dancing at Cloudland in the 1960s in a drug and alcohol free environment.  He used that hackneyed phrase "Kids these days ...", but I silently thought "Weren't your parents saying the same thing about you back then?"

Then, after 7km and several hours, I returned home to a nice hot bath.  Ah, city life ain't all bad.

Friday, August 27, 2010


This week's Friday Flash Fiction #40 on Cormac Brown's site uses the spooky line: "I heard footsteps on the wet sidewalk and the sound of keys."  Hell, this flash fiction is becoming addictive.  Thanks to everyone involved.  I love it.

Anyhow, here it is ...... 

It had been raining.  The pavement and road were washed clean and they glistened darkly in the light of the street lamps.

I heard footsteps on the wet sidewalk and the sound of keys.

Swinging around quickly, I saw no-one. The street was empty. It took a while for me to realise that the footsteps were my own and that I was jingling the keys nervously, mindlessly, in my coat pocket. “God, I’m jumpy tonight” I thought as I edged my way along the forlorn street. And no wonder, for what I was about to do would put the bejesus up anyone.

Yes, the keys ... those keys in my pocket. Why did I pick them up? Why did I agree to do this? And why was I out on this cold wet night? I’d much rather be watching TV, snuggled up under a doona and clutching a nice mug of hot chocolate. But they said it was my turn. I had to do it.

Big Jules was a mighty scary character and this was my first time on the job. The tales the other girls had told filled me with dread. “You’re all older than me. Can’t you let me off the hook?” My begging whine was met with blank stares all round – stares that didn’t need the word “NO” to be articulated. The “boss” had taken the phone call: “I need it BAD and I need it NOW!” said Jules. I’d be mincemeat if I didn’t deliver.

I buttoned up my coat and braced myself against the wind and the daunting task ahead. But with only one block to go before I reached Jules' apartment, my knees were knocking and my teeth were chattering ... mainly from fear, not the cold. The apartment loomed before me all too quickly. “Just get it over with.”

After several shaky attempts to get the front door key into the lock, I entered the lair of the beast. Big Jules was waiting in the front room ... impatient and hungry.

“Hello Grandma” I said. “I’ve brought you your dinner. Sorry I’m late.”  Mrs Julia McTavish-Scott, the dowager of our family and the "boss's" mother, merely snorted as she grabbed the still hot casserole from my hands.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


For more details, visit the Fair page on the BOGI website at


The rain had not long stopped.  The forest was glistening and plump drops were still falling off the leaves onto the litter beneath.  Fallen branches, twigs, leaves and flowers were fast returning to the hungry earth.  As I breathed in the sweet smell of green life, I felt at peace.

~ ~ ~
Urban forest
silent walk
a whipbird calls
~ ~ ~

It had been too long since I had last walked in the forest.  I had almost forgotten how it uplifted my spirit.  There was little about life in suburbia that did that.

~ ~ ~
Silence of the bush
broken only by a rustling
in the undergrowth
~ ~ ~

The sun came out and I sat down to read a book.  A big old goanna lumbered out of the bush and headed towards where I was sitting very still in the clearing.  At the last moment, it saw me and changed direction ... but very slowly.

~ ~ ~
Between the dry bush
and the rainforest
~ ~ ~

As the day grew hotter, the smell of eucalyptus joined that of the wet vegetation.  An Australian smell.  How I had missed it when I was overseas so many years ago.  I had been in countries where the trees were green, very green, Sherwood Forest green.  On my return to Oz, I saw the grey-green of the bush, it seemed, for the very first time.  Its peculiar beauty took me unawares and my eyes were opened to what newcomers to the country must see.

My forebears had come from Europe in the 19th century, but I couldn't imagine living anywhere else but Australia, not because of the culture or the people, but mainly because of the land itself.  More particularly, it was the sub-tropics I felt at home in, not the dry inland or the temperate climate down south.  But that was probably just because I was born here.

There is much I love about the culture and the people, but there is an unsavoury element.  Since World War II, Australia had become a more multicultural society and that had knocked some of the edges off its "ocker" culture.  But it could still raise its head and make me want to crawl into a hole.  Like the time in a Cairns pub when this guy, by way of introduction, grabbed my travelling companion's breasts.  He described me as "the nun" because I wasn't amused by this type of behaviour.  But my companion was impressed and she went home with the creep.  The next morning, she said he was a drug runner and "a nice man".  Heaven help me if I should ever become so desperate.  I realised that she was the kind of female ocker that I thought had disappeared years ago with the arrival of feminism.  We parted ways.  Yes, the ugly Australian still exists.

The clash of cultures hit me while walking in a nearby riverside park full of Sunday picnickers.  The first group I walked past consisted of a few "Mediterranean" families - mums, dads, grandparents, teenagers, kids.  Some of the fathers were playing cricket with the youngsters.  There was lots of food on the table and not a bottle of beer in sight.  It was almost like a Norman Rockwell painting of perfect family life.  The next group were two "Anglos", and all they had was a carton of stubbies.  Admittedly, they were just a young couple, but the contrast affected me deeply.

(to be continued)


As I walk by the river or sit in my tiny garden, not thinking of anything in particular, thoughts sometimes seep into my brain. If you'd like to read my seepage, here it is ...