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)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Quest for Wholeness

Cormac, I’m quick off the mark again because I love this week’s story prompt. It’s right up my alley and so the story just wrote itself. A story about madness with a happy outcome.

FridayFlashFiction #39 starting with the prompt: “She knew time was running out, fast, but opening that door was Pandora’s Box all over again.”  Here's mine:


She knew time was running out, fast, but opening that door was Pandora’s Box all over again. What was this door that was so dangerous to open? Or more to the point, where was it? It was inside her own mind, and on the other side lay what people call madness.

She had no choice but to go through it. A person can hear only so much bullshit and so many conflicting messages before cracking, and her time to fracture had come. She didn’t actually walk through that doorway voluntarily. She was pushed. Yes, Pandora’s Box was an apt term for it because, the door having been opened onto that “black hole of chaos”, she couldn’t close it back up again.

It started off dreamily, trippily. It was like living in a state of “grace”, but without the theist connotation. Her daily life took on a sense of “rightness” and she was aware of thoughts and actions flowing from one moment to the next. A “religious” quality took hold of her.

She had read about psychosis, so recognised the signs when they began. But experiencing it from the inside was a completely different matter. It all made perfectly good sense now.

You might think that a “lunatic’s” mind is completely without order. That wasn’t the case for her. Her intelligence and personality remained untouched throughout. When a person has a physical problem, such as a broken arm, the rest of the body can still function. So it was for her. All the time she was experiencing mind states that conventional wisdom might call crazy, she watched the process with cool objectivity and deep interest, just like a scientist.

Not only did she watch herself, she also watched the behaviour of those around her ... like the woman with a psychology masters who asked if she hadn’t drunk the glass of water because she thought it was poisoned. “I’m the mad one here, yet this supposedly well-educated person doesn’t know the first rule for dealing with people in highly suggestible states – don’t put ideas into their heads” she thought, but kept it to herself. "If she's not aware of such basic errors by now, she never will be."

We all experience coincidences in our lives and usually don’t give them a second thought. But her life became nothing but coincidences, like, while walking the dogs, she saw the gravestone of someone called Jane Ann Salmon, and then meeting someone by that name at a dinner party only a few hours later. It was what she called “synchronicity overload” and she became mentally exhausted by it.

It was as if the universe was saying “Hi, I’m real, I’m here”. But what was she to do about it? All she could do was to be swept along by this huge powerful wave. Where it would take her, she did not know. She only knew that there was no escape. The “messages” were everywhere – personally for her and urgent. Just from looking at a pencil she found lying on the road, she “understood” that, if she didn’t find a calm mind soon, the whole world would suffer. The micro is the macro. The inner is the outer.

It was not a thought, but an awareness, that seeped into her consciousness. She was incomplete, the rest of her mind/person/consciousness existing in some other dimension. It was suffering too because they were not together and whole. (She gave this other self the name “Annica”, which is the Buddhist word for impermanence.)  Her quest was therefore to reconnect her divided selves into one whole person. The terror she felt was indescribable when she thought that perhaps this goal was unattainable.

In time, and with some chemical help, the terrors disappeared and “normality” returned. The psychiatrist assured her it would most probably never recur. But she would never be the same again. She had seen and experienced many things, previously unimagined. She had taken a trip to the “other side” where she had journeyed through chaos. But a wonderful thing had happened. A lot of the chaos, having been exposed to the light of day, had now disappeared forever. She was not completely whole, but she was a lot closer than she had ever been before. And she could understand so much more now – about herself, her relationships and the bullshit she would never tolerate again.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Miss Mac - a short story

Miss Mac was my English and French teacher at high school.  She was the only teacher to ever give me any advice for my nervous disposition.  "Eat more Vegemite.  It's good for your nerves."  I guess that's what passed for counselling in the 1960s.

My commercial teacher, Miss O, brought me to task for my slovenly dress.  "It doesn't matter how poor you are, you can always look neat."  And the senior mistress said, if I were a boy, I would have been sent up to the office.  Can't remember why.  But I do remember that she believed in the hostility of nature.  "A piece of bread always falls jam-side down."

But mostly my teachers ignored me.

Oh, until the day Miss Mac had to take us for a maths lesson because the regular teacher was away.  She was cranky because she hated maths, so instead, she stood me up in front of the class and bawled me out.  "You are the most brilliant student ever to walk into a high school."  My thoughts were divided between "Yes, I know that" and "I'm not that clever".  She went on:  "You're wasting your time playing sport and running around the oval.  You should be writing poetry".  Then she became dramatic:  "You have written the final chapter of my life."

I didn't give her outburst much thought and went back to watching the second hands of the clock, imagining how many long strides I could run in five seconds.  This was how I spent most of my final two years at high school.  Not long afterwards, she ran away to England with my history teacher, but he later returned to his wife, and Miss Mac died.  I have been told recently that she committed suicide.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A child in postwar Brisbane - PART 2

"Everything with a place and everything in its place." My mother adhered to a shorter version of that:  Everything all over the place.  She was chaos on two legs and never put something in the same place twice.

She was forever tearing the house apart saying "Where is that damn thingamajig?  I know it's here somewhere."  She spent so much of her life looking for things.  It never seemed to occur to her that a little order would go a long way.  No, that would mean having to discipline her mind and that was something she avoided at all cost.

She was a gentle person and everyone loved her (especially those who didn't live with her), but she drove Dad crazy.  He was exactly the opposite.

When they were first married, he had only one place in the house he could call his own - his lowboy.  He kept it tidy, knowing exactly where everything was ... to the millimetre.  He was paranoid that Mum might touch something, so he measured where he put everything and then strategically placed a single hair.  Oh yes, he would know if she had moved something while he was at work.

As you can imagine, their marriage was not a happy one.  Neither of them gave an inch (or a millimetre).

Mum was just as chaotic in her speech.  Near enough was good enough; it was the listener's responsibility to figure out what she was actually talking about.  For her, there was nothing wrong with saying, for example,  "radio" when she meant "television".  So long as it was roughly in the right area, she had done her job.

But most of the time she didn't even bother with an approximation.  It was "thingamajig" or "whachamacallit".  The listener would suggest a string of words with Mum going "No ... No ... No ...".  She could be infuriating.

I understand her inability to find words.  I suffer from the same problem, but I use techniques like forming sentences in my head before speaking and almost "manually" bringing my brain to attention.  I don't have the same problem when writing and neither did she.  She was a good writer and, before the world of blogging, she would send her short stories and poems into women's magazines under her pen name "Morning Carol".

Despite her chaos, she could actually think clearly.  I noticed this when I was very young, and I respected her because I could not find fault with her reasoning.

(To be continued)

Sunday afternoon walk

I felt pleased with myself as I stepped out into the late afternoon sunshine.  I could have stayed sprawled out on that lounge, watching an old movie on TV, but instead I found myself heading out the door.  I didn't actually choose to take a walk.  Something just sparked inside me and, without a thought, I jumped up and put on crosstrainers, a hat and a backpack.

I headed for the fruit shop to get some supplies.  (We call them fruitshops but they actually sell more than just fruit - vegies, cheese, milk, bread ... lots of things.  Just like in New Zealand where they have small shops called dairies, but there's not a cow in sight.  The name doesn't really reflect what they are.)

Jap pumpkin - 69cents a kilo; Butternut pumpkin - $1.99 a kilo.  I chose a bright orange piece of the Jap, feeling proud of my economy, then bought some over-priced basil pesto that I could have made myself.

The walk to and from the fruit shop is only around 2km, so I continued on past the old Boggo Road Gaol instead of going straight home.  (I know, why didn't I spell it "jail"?  Well, "gaol" is how I learnt to spell it back in the dark ages before so many Americanisms crept into our language.)

The sign on the building says
The first two lines are centred, but the word "MEN" is offset to the right a bit.  It used to be the women's prison, so when it became an extension of the men's prison, they merely knocked the "WO" off the word "WOMEN".  In 1984, it was found that the prison did not meet the United Nations minimum requirements for imprisonment.  It continued to operate for a few more years all the same.  I remember the riots.

As I headed for home, the sun cast long shadows across the grass in the backyards - the grass and the clover, that is.  I don't know why people worry about clover.  It's a nice bright green and fixes nitrogen into the soil; and the flowers can be mown off.  The other day as my aunt and I walked through the clover in her lawn, she said "I just had it sprayed with poison."  Aaagh!

But, back to my walk.  I heard the sound of four tiny feet coming up behind me.  As she passed, I noticed her prominent teets and asked the owner if she had recently had pups.  He responded with a sound I didn't recognise as language. I guess he didn't want to discuss his dog's family life with a stranger.

The sun had dropped down behind the buildings on the hill by the time I reached home.  Some noisy miners (birds not workmen) were chasing off a white ibis that must have ventured too close to their nest.  Noisy miners are communal birds and, in a single nesting season, one female may be helped by up to 24 males to feed and protect the chicks.

I had bought musk lollies to sustain me on my walk and now the bag was almost empty.  Any ounces I might have lost from the exercise were soon back on again.  I rooted through my backpack for my front door key.  Oh, that's right, I had put it in my pocket to avoid having to do just that.

Ah, home again and back on the lounge watching TV.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sam Neill, eat your heart out

The cattle grazed peacefully in the paddock.

"Flora, weren't we clever to manipulate those humans into providing us with all we want to eat and then a relatively painless death?"

"Yes Daisy, we wouldn't get it so good in the wild."

"Look, isn't that Sam Neill over there having a chew on Uncle Charlie's leg?"

"My goodness, so it is.  One day, if he keeps eating red meat at this rate, we'll have helped to despatch him.  It's always good to return a favour."

"But I'm afraid his death won't be as quick as ours.  Eating too much of our flesh can cause a myriad of unpleasant, fatal  illnesses."

"Oh yes, but just think how comforting it will be for him in his final hours to know what a big brain he has."

"Absolutely, but it's a pity he never used it.  I mean, who in their right mind would do an ad for red meat with a primarily vegetarian orang-utan?  Although they sometimes eat small creatures, fruit is their favourite food and it makes up 65-90% of their diet.  On top of that, they also eat leaves, seeds, tree bark, plant bulbs, tender plant shoots and flowers (source: Wikipedia).  If humans ate as little red meat as an orang-utan, the industry wouldn't survive.


They like to boogie ...

Friday, August 13, 2010

A child in post-war Brisbane

Me, Mum and Dad - at a wedding May 1949
I grew up in an old highset timber house with painted tongue and groove walls and lino on the floors.  It was not quite what is called a "Queenslander", which has a verandah right across the front and sometimes down one or two sides.  Our house was a style commonly built in the 1920s, the verandah going only halfway across the front.  My parents bought the house for 300 pounds (around $600) in 1947, the year I was born.  A lady came around on foot to collect the instalments and it took them a few years to pay it off.

I could lay in bed and put my feet up on those timber walls or do head stands up against them in the loungeroom.  The floors were good to play games on and, if we spilt something, it could just be wiped up with a wet cloth.  When I discovered that some houses had plaster on their walls, I couldn't imagine how people could live in them with ease.  They didn't seem like real homes with their walls made of royal icing.  Just one bang would dent them, not the kind of place to bring up children.

Under the house was a great place to play tea parties or Beam, a game consisting of bouncing a ball off the wide wooden beam.  When it rained, water flowed through as a stream and I enjoyed building dams with the mud.  And it was good for keeping us out of Mum's hair.  Grandma lived with us and she drove Mum crazy running backwards and forwards reporting to her on what us kids were doing under the house.

Born in Brisbane in 1889, Grandma was my connection to a world which no longer exists.  She was half Scottish, half Danish, but called England home.  Her maiden name was Andersen and there were other families with Danish surnames living nearby - like Hansen and Lorensen.  We formed a remnant of a Danish cohort that had first come to the area in the 19th century.  She was the only person I have ever heard pronounce "vase" as "vorze", not "vahz" or "vaize".

She had been a school cleaner but had the bearing of an old dowager.  She lived with her sister in New Zealand for a few years and returned with her middle and last names hyphenated, an affectation she seemed to love.  Her snobbishness seemed out of place in our working class home.

There was a time in the 1950s when I thought the old house would blow away.  A cyclone came close and it rattled and shook all through the night.  During the wet season, the roof would leak into waiting buckets and saucepans until my parents could afford a new roof.

Of course, there was no air-conditioning.  We didn't even own a fan or heater.  The house was poorly oriented to the sun so it was hot in summer and cold in winter, the August westerlies blowing through the gaps between the floor and walls.  My mother felt the cold terribly in winter, but it didn't seem to occur to anybody to actually close the back door and louvres.  The doors were left unlocked, even at night - well, they didn't have locks - until one night when my sister was followed home from the tramstop.  But that was much later when she was a teenager.

This was a time before television and computers.  We had a Bakelite wireless on which we listed to serials and the hit parade; and a windup phonogram that played old 38s - thick, black records - by people like The Inkspots.  Guy Mitchell singing She Wears Red Feathers and a Huly Huly Skirt was in the Top Ten and we laughed at that larrikin schoolboy, Greenbottle.

My first day at school was also the first time I became aware of letters and numbers.  "A" like an apple on a twig.  We learnt to write using slates, a slate pencil and a wet sponge to rub it out.  Later we used paper and nib pens which we dipped into inkwells.  I still have a "tattoo" on one of my fingers where another child accidentally jabbed me with her pen.

I thought our school readers were quite exotic because they used words like "van" and "chicks", words I had not come across in my home life.  In geography (or social studies as it was then called), I would pore and wonder over magic words like "isthmus" and "promontory".  It was like being transported into another world, almost like Oz or Narnia.

I was inoculated against almost everything; the fear of illnesses like polio and hooping cough was real and present.  Tonsils were removed as a matter of course.  I was a child prone to chest infections and removing mine actually improved my health.  I had been a poor eater, but once the pain of the operation had subsided, I became ravenous and haven't stopped eating yet.

(Continued in PART 2)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Jumping to conclusions

I recently borrowed a library book on Australian Indigenous languages in which I read about the Ngiyampaa language from central NSW - Ngiya meaning "word, talk or law"; and paa meaning something like "world".  Ngurrampaa means "camp-world or country".

Every language contains single words which embody a concept/idea or which describe a set of circumstances.  They can offer an insight into a culture.

I was amused to find that in Ngiyampaa there is a word to describe an unsuccessful attempt to light a fire - maynkiyamali.  Another word - mayngkali - means "fail to pierce" or, as I would put it, "Shit! My spear missed that kangaroo again."

None of the other languages in this dictionary recorded "failure" words, and I was beginning to get the feeling that this tribe might have had a problem with everyday tasks.  In fact, they were also the only group with a word for incompetent - mayaal.

I wondered if the neighbouring tribe had a special word which means "Damn! Here comes that mob to borrow our firestick again."

This light-hearted look at someone else's language is intended to draw attention to how, looking from the outside, we can often draw wrong conclusions about someone else, using selected "facts" to prove our case.  I fear that a lot of what passes for academic research is guilty of this sin.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

POTATO AND CABBAGE - Almost a limerick

A Frenchman once visited Ireland
to research the local cuisine
he left after one day
saying "I've had enough
of this boring pomme de terre scene".

The Irish are proud of their humble spud
the source of their culinary skills
they plant them in rows
all over the land
and mound them up into hills.

They mash 'em and bake 'em
and even add cabbage
and that's about all that you'll get
so if you're looking for a book on their haute cuisine dishes
I'm afraid it ain't been written yet.

Monday, August 9, 2010


I never read Evelyn Waugh's book "Brideshead Revisited", but I did see the television production.  And tonight I watched a recent programme about it.

What I remember most was Lord Marchmain's death scene.   After having rejected Catholicism for most of his life, in his dying moments he accepted the last rites from the waiting priest.  The scene seemed to go on forever.  Would he or wouldn't he?

I was rooting for him to stick to his guns and remain true to his non-beliefs to the very end.  I couldn't believe it when he relented.  The fear of death and the unknown had won over reason.  I was deflated and disappointed.  What a weak-minded hypocrite!  I watched the rest of the series without enthusiasm.

Up to that moment, I thought the author was questioning faith.  Lord Marchmain's backflip left me confused.  It was only later on that I discovered Evelyn Waugh was a Catholic convert.

Years later, something similar happened in my own life.  My father, who had been a confirmed atheist all his life, towards the end asked my brother-in-law, an Anglican priest, to pray for him.  I was disgusted.  It was like having a bet each way.  Religion shouldn't be about gambling.

I have been close to death myself but didn't call out to the god of my youth for help.  Going back was impossible - I had seen the emperor was naked and I couldn't unsee it, no matter how desperate the situation became.

A life lived without authenticity is no life at all.


As I walk by the river, nothing in particular on my mind, thoughts come seeping in.  Words bubble up and I write them down in my head or scribble them onto the backs of receipts.  Sometimes I draft them into my mobile phone or onto blank pages I have carried in my pocket for this purpose.

Yesterday, when my writing frenzy was over, I realised that I had walked a kilometre or so completely unaware of my surroundings.  The river, trees, birds, sunshine and other walkers had all receded.  But even with this fresh awareness, I then proceeded to write again in my head about this very thing, so insidious are those words in their need to escape.  I caught myself in the act and gently allowed the offending words to melt away.  I returned to the moment.

Ah, the song of the bird.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Due to madness, other illnesses and just plain laxity on my part, I hadn’t caught up with my schoolfriends, Noeleen and Tamara, for 27 years. After reconnecting via our high school’s alumni website, we got together at Tamara’s home in a leafy, riverside suburb.

A few weeks ago, I had met up with some of my cousins after a break of several years and we just laughed and laughed for hours. This meeting was to be the same.

It was a gorgeous, late winter morning in the subtropics. I had recently returned to my daily 6km walk, so took the opportunity to walk the 3km or so to Tamara’s place. And I hoped that maybe I wouldn’t look quite so fat by the time I arrived. For me, such occasions are always fraught with concern over my appearance. I was at least 20kg heavier than the last time I saw them and had quite a few more wrinkles. But these fears just all melted away when I saw Tamara’s smiling face and we hugged.

Noeleen arrived a few minutes after me and we settled in for a wonderful few hours. If laughter makes the world go round, then we must have kept it spinning for quite a while. Tamara’s memory is phenomenal. She recalled shared events which, to me, sounded like somebody else’s life. “Remember the time you ...?” “No. Did I really do that?” I found out that I had even jumped onto the railway line in order to retrieve a 10/- note. What kind of a lunatic would do something like that? Me, apparently.

Life had probably brought deep changes, but on the surface, they both seemed the same. Tamara is very sentimental. But she still says exactly what is on her mind with no space between thought and utterance. What you see is what you get. Noeleen is a more laid back soul, gentle and thoughtful.

Growing up, it seems, we weren’t really aware of the problems in each other’s families, thinking that ours was the only dysfunctional one. Noeleen’s father was a real joker. I remember him once serving me up a plate of live garden snails for Sunday lunch. Tamara’s family were originally from Russia and going to her home was like a trip to exotica for an Anglo-Aussie child from inner suburbia.

In the 1950s the three of us had attended a small primary school close to the city centre. South Brisbane State School.  We talked about how grateful we were to have been to such a multicultural school. Our school photos look like the United Nations. I was sent to another school for my final primary years and it was so boringly monocultural. The one Greek boy in my class really stood out in the sea of Anglo-Saxons.

They were both widows now. Noeleen’s husband had died after a long illness, but Tamara’s had died suddenly after an operation. They had both gone through difficult times adjusting to being without their life partners, but seem to be OK now. I never married so cannot imagine the pain they have been through.

Five hours later and promising to keep in touch, we said our goodbyes. I won’t wait for another 27 years next time.

Friday, August 6, 2010


He trimmed her roots, wired her pruned branches into shape, stuck her in an all-too-small pot and said : "There! I prefer my woman bonsaied."  She would require some maintenance, but that was better than letting her grow wild and free.  This way he could control her.

Inside her shrunken brain she knew she was trapped.  Desperately, she thought about how to escape.  If she dropped her leaves, he might think she was dead and throw her away.  At the tip, the rain would come, her leaves would return and her branches would grow and spread. Her roots would go down deep into the big earth, eventually cracking the small pot into pieces.

Her plan worked perfectly.  She was free.

He found another woman, but he didn't try the same thing on her.  He couldn't ... because she got in first and turned him into a garden gnome.

MAGICAL MORNINGS - a short story about childhood

Some other children she knew went to daycare. Get up! Get dressed! Quickly! Hurry up! Don’t make me late for work! She felt sorry for them, they were so regimented.

Her mornings were magical. Calm and quiet. Her father at work, her sisters in school, she enjoyed the soft sunshine in the garden or, if it was raining, playing in the mud and water under the house.

She loved being alone. Her mother was around, but she didn’t intrude on her solitude. Her mother had a self-contained, quiet nature. Her ideas and attitudes made sense to her. She couldn’t find fault with them and so she respected her. Also, she felt that her mother respected her.

Sometimes her mother cleaned other people’s houses in the neighbourhood. She was lax with her own housework, but a cleaning dynamo in their homes. They would walk together to her jobs: the dressmaker’s flat; the flat above the shop; the sweet little house with the goldfish pond and brass dinner gong.

It was strange being in these homes when they were empty. Strange but peaceful. The owners were present only in a kind of ghostlike way and she imagined that they were almost enlightened beings.

It was her self-appointed task to pick up the pins from the carpet in the dressmaker’s sewing room. There were hundreds of them and she attended to them attentively and lovingly. Once she even cleaned the bath with Bon Ami. She never forgot those magical words. Bon Ami.

At the little house owned by the childless couple, she enjoyed sunny times in the garden watching the goldfish in the pond. The house was very ordinary in the sense that it was not a big, expensive one, but it enthralled her with its small rooms, cool shadowy corners and knick knacks from all over the world. And it was a very orderly house, unlike her own.

She found the dark timber panelling of the flat above the shop a bit oppressive. She loved unpainted wood, but this place did not please her. Sitting on the back stairs, she met a dog and cat who were actually friends with each other. She hadn't known this was possible and it did please her.

When the rest of her family was at home, the atmosphere changed. Her father was often drunk but all his verbal and physical abuse was directed at her mother. She felt her father loved her but not enough to provide that much longed for emotional security. He seemed incapable of behaving any other way. Her two sisters were older than her and bossy. No, they were more than just bossy. She was small and thin, the runt of the litter, and they were big and tough.

So her mornings were magical. Calm and quiet. Alone.

F-F-F #38 The heist

I didn’t really want to burst their bubble, but it was unavoidable. They had searched for so long in that large pile of rubble, but I knew their toil was all in vain. You see, I had already removed what they were looking for.

Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I would take pleasure in seeing their faces the moment they discovered the truth. That awful, gut-wrenching truth.

I watched them through my binoculars from my vantage point overlooking the old quarry. Sweat poured off their bodies and they were getting mighty cranky, each accusing the other of pulling a swifty. They had guns and I knew this might get ugly at any moment. But did I care?

They had planned the heist so carefully, those three. But there’s always one idiot who has to go and spoil it all by getting drunk and boasting about it in the pub. I knew what they had done and where they had hidden their loot.

I heard the chopper approaching from the distance. I had timed its arrival just right. Excitement was mounting and my hands were sweaty holding onto that precious bag. I could retire on that lot.

A fight broke out in the quarry. Gunshots! One of them was down, wounded but not dead. The other two were scrabbling in the dirt. As the chopper landed close to where I was hiding, they all looked up in astonishment. They recoiled in horror as I waved their bag of loot before their eyes - their sad, disbelieving eyes - and climbed into the helicopter.

And yes, of course I returned it all to its rightful owner. You do believe me, don’t you?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What I did today

I went on yesterday's 6km walk; did the washing up; had a bath; posted some stuff on my new blog; didn't do any paid work, which I have left to do tomorrow.

All in all, I feel content.


He had never been physically violent, but his cunning manipulation of words had left her nowhere to live inside her own mind.

She had to get away from him for a while. Her body and mind were both aching from built-up tension and she felt like a finely-set rat trap about to go off. It was early winter in the subtropics with cool nights and glorious clear warm days. The perfect time for camping out.

It felt so good to be out walking in the forest. Where she was headed was still on their property, but it seemed a world away from all the arguments. And what were the arguments about? She couldn’t even remember. All she knew was that he always woke up in a foul mood and blamed her for all the fights. “If only you could be more like so-and-so. She knows how to handle me”.  She thought she mustn't have been pretty enough, clever enough, slim enough.

Climbing the mountain with camping gear and food for several days on her back was hard and slow, but with each step she felt she was becoming herself again - the woman she had known before he had filled her mind with his ideas of who she was.

Reaching the small clearing she dropped her heavy load.  She was completely alone.

After setting up the tent, she did a quick "reccy" of the area.  Just below her campsite she discovered a freshwater spring in one of the gullies.  Finding running water so close to camp filled her with an almost religious feeling.  A simple, wonderful feeling beyond words.  Her life began to take on a quality like that pure flowing water.  Everything seemed absolutely right, just as it should be.

Simple actions became meaningful.  She slowed down.  Her mind was still racing and crazy, but something new was happening - the chaos wasn't completely in control any more.  She made a fire and cooked a simple meal of rice and vegetables with soy sauce.  Then as darkness fell, she settled down inside the tent to read the book she had brought with her.  It was Arthur Miller's "The Crucible", which was about Salem witch trials and was, apparently, an allegory to McCarthyism.  A heavy number to read while camping out in the bush alone.

Living with him had been like one long witch trial and she didn't even know what the charges were.  After a few days by herself on the mountainside, she knew she could not return to him.  She moved to a place in town where her life took another major turn.


Note on THEN AND NOW - a short story

This was an experiment.  I decided to write (in my head) about whatever was happening to me at that very moment and in the minutes/hour that followed, not knowing where it would lead me.  This short story was the result.

THEN AND NOW - A short story

She sat at the cold metal table outside the windswept bakery, wishing she hadn't bought that too-sweet tart. Grabbing a shopping trolley, she scurried inside to the warmth of the supermarket.

Walking home, her shopping in her backpack, her thoughts returned to when this familiar route was lined with busy little shops. It was normal for housewives to walk to the shops then, carrying a basket or trailing their tartan shopping trolleys. Before affluence gave them cars. Before plastic bags and bottles. Before a hundred different types of milk. Before, before, before ...

She thought of starting a "Walk to the Shops" movement, but dropped the idea because people "just don't have the time". After all, many say they don't even have the time to do their own housework or raise their own kids. They'd probably just pay someone to walk to the shops for them. And she'd have to put a "weight loss" or "carbon neutral" spin on it. She preferred that people did it because it felt right, it felt good. It slowed the clock down and made us more human.

It was late when she got home, but there was enough light to check on the vegies she had planted earlier. But that's another topic

The concept of zero

During World War II a Japanese Zero fighter plane crashed onto Aboriginal land in Northern Australia.  That started me thinking about the mathematical concept of zero.

Historically, the concept of zero as a number did not exist in western mathematics until it was introduced from the east via Spain, I believe around the 11th century.  I wondered if the concept had originated way, way back in a culture like that of traditional Indigenous Australians.

It's worth remembering that modern technology is made possible only by 1 and 0, on and off, west and east, coming together.

Australia's forgotten war

No words engraved in stone
Australia's forgotten war
lies under the soil

Walking past the small park, I read the words engraved on the war memorial:

"To the memory of the fallen

Standing next to it was the Aboriginal gardener, his T-shirt reading "Alice Springs".

There are no fine stone memorials for the unrecognised war between Europeans and Indigenous Australians.  As they say, history is written by the victors.

Valued only as
a tourist attraction
Indigenous past

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What I did today

This should read "what I didn't do today".  I didn't go for my 6km walk.  I didn't do the huge pile of washing up waiting in the kitchen.  I didn't have a bath.  What I did do was set up this blog.  So my day wasn't completely wasted after all.

Friday flash fiction F-F-37

I've re-written this as I had misread the rules - thought it was a minimum of 250 characters not words. So here's my latest version with more words.

"As with juggling, the key to life is to keep the procession moving steady and don't look down." That's what he told her. He had never been physically violent, but his cunning manipulation of words had left her nowhere to live inside her own mind.

She had to get away from him for a while. Her body and mind were both aching from built-up tension and she felt like a finely-set rat trap about to go off. It was early winter in the subtropics with cool nights and glorious clear warm days. The perfect time for camping out.

It felt so good to be out walking in the forest. Where she was headed was still on their property, but it seemed a world away from all the arguments. And what were the arguments about? She couldn’t even remember. All she knew was that he always woke up in a foul mood and blamed her for all the fights. “If only you could be more like so-and-so. She knows how to handle me” or “You’re too sensitive/dependent/whatever.”

Climbing the mountain with camping gear and food for several days on her back was hard and slow, but with each step she felt she was becoming herself again - the woman she had known before he had filled her mind with his ideas of who she was.

She was juggling all his crazy words inside her head as she proceeded steadily up the ridge. And she looked down. She had to. If she didn't she would trip over the rocks and tree roots. Then all his words came tumbling down and she was free.


Urban forest
silent walk
a whipbird calls

The stillness of the forest
broken only by
a rustling in the leaf litter

Creekside walk
through the suburbs
sound of traffic in the distance

Beans at the back door
growing from a seed
accidentally dropped

Spring rain
after a dry winter
frog calling

Fingernail moon
looking down
after the rain

Spring rain at nightfall
sound of water
trickling into the tank

origami potential

growing legs

in the pathway

Between the dry bush
and the rainforest

My new blog page

This is my new blog page.  I didn't know it would be so easy to set it up. I've been putting it off for so long.


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 ...