Friday, December 16, 2011

Replying to the lovely Elephant's Child, repeating myself, I speak of Daniel: a splendid looking, over 6 ft tall 16 year old boy.  His speech has a defect - why wasn't I told before he started?  If I had known, I wouldn't have wondered if some kind of deafness, or some reverse babel fish, had struck me.   Or , I wouldn't have disturbed him by asking him to repeat himself.  "I can't fxxing talk" he would shout in self loathing and frustration.
These days I can understand him, instead of pretending by interpreting a word or two, which I used to do.
He is quite an intelligent person, with  a great interest in the biological world and its workings:  the function of krill in the mighty panoply of the cosmos, eg.
 Confined to lower school classes with less intelligent or interested students, because his written work is even far less intelligible than his spoken, which is difficult enough,  he is locked into a communication prison.
"My friend would think that I am trying to give myself a blow job," he said, when I showed him how to lean over a glass to drink to cure his hiccups.
I have been told that my response of slight mirth  was inapproptiate,  that I should have conveyed some message of disapproval to him.  I still can't quite understand why. 
But I find it piquant that a 16 year old boy would say this to a woman 50 years older than himself.  It sort of seems like a "good thing".
However, when by conversational rambling we arrived at the Vietnam war, and I discovered that he was not only convinced that "we" won it; but he was also absolutely convinced that Vietnam had invaded Australia, I was appalled.
He volunteered the info, and was adamant, that guerilla warfare was disgusting, and therefore the Vietnamese brought Agent orange onto themselves. 
Talk about blow jobs is not going to rattle me.
Ignorance about our history will offend and disturb me.  And it did.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Temper, Temper.

I like to think that at last I now have a quite equitable temperament: seen it all, been there, experienced that, moved way past emotion and passion as it were.  Not so.
Recently I've become aware that I have a temper that flares and dies quickly, like a match lit in a draught.  I say a sentence and the anger has gone before I've reached the full stop, and indeed will possibly be instantly regretted.
Relatively Retiring speaks of those who phone to tell you that your pc is compromised:  with just your credit card details they can fix it for you.  Some unfortunate rang me at a most inopportune time to tell me this, and my response was to tell him that he was lieing: - ok;  and to ask him what kind of way was this to earn a living, by cheating people:  not ok.
I hung up the phone and instantly hated myself, because I knew that, short of killing people, I would once have done whatever was required, including deluding rich 1st world people, to support my children, if that were the only way open to me.
Does Rebecca*  have a temper?  (*name changed).
Recently I have accepted 3 students from a charitable organisation.
Rebecca is 12 -13: tall, fair, slim, athletic:  looks a little like a young Rachel Hunter. She is in her first year of High School, where she is only allowed to attend 90 minutes a day, because her behaviour is so.......
Rebecca always attends with a carer - a trained social worker - because her behaviour is so.....   She lives in a young person's refuge.  Apart from her 24 hour carers, - and someone in charge of them - she has a case manager and team at the charity, a case manager and team at a govt agency, ongoing sessions with a psychologist, and, I am told, huge help from a concerned circle including the counsellor at her High School.   Her care  - possibly all too late - must cost thousands and thousands a year.
I have learned that R was so maltreateded as a baby/toddler that her hard wiring is wrong, and can't now be changed:  that is the reason she will do anything now - ANYTHING -  to attract attention:  good, bad - it's all satisfying to her.  And that the details of her subsequent life are horrific.
"Can she eventually attain a normal life"? I asked her case worker.  "No, " he said.
"Can she attain a sort of functional life that is satisfactory to her"? I asked.
"That's what we hope for." he said.
I guess we should pencil R's children into our calendar for future treatment and support.
End of story - I hope. Rachel and I fell out.
When, for a variety of reasons, including nonsense such as that we were fighting for control of the mouse and keyboard,  R left the tutoring session - as she does quite often - and proceeded to swing on metal rafters, as she does quite often, and which I don't think would be covered by my insurance  -  I suggested that she find another tutor.  My temper, although I expressed it calmly.  There have been plenty of other occasions when she has behaved just as poorly, and I haven't reacted.
The fall out from this is not hopeful.  Oh dear. They manage R, which I certainly couldn't do:  yet, their approach  - ie, they want her to apologise to me..for what?   -seems to me to be wrong. 
I really don't want to tutor her further, although the money is tempting...( see above).  The agencies, at a loss for tutors, will really try to push it.  I don't know what outcome I wish for.
Other children from the agency.
D. "A gentle giant", I was told.  16? At over 6 feet, and well built, he is certainly large enough to be potentially intimidating. . I'm stupid, he says. I can't spell, I can't write, I can't talk properly:  certainly I initially tried to hide the fact that I couldn't understand anything he said.   F.., he says constantly, and writes as his user name, but I am well past reacting  to a mere f.
 I am quite interested in his, some decorating site, where you could go baroque, Victorian, ....pimp.  "Pimp? "say I.  "What's that?" " Oh, retro, " he says, "All zeebra bedspreads and big ass spas.  Not pimps and hos." All educational to me.  For the next 2 weeks he is absent on a cruise.  How this fits in with his damaged background, I have no idea. "I'll bring you back a souvenir," he says.
J. Still primary school.  A beautiful, refined  looking, very well kept child - with foster parents: so his background can't be good.
Lovely, polite, fun...but, evidently he makes obscene sexual remarks to other children.
Ten minutes after R left, I walked from my office to go to the newsagency.  On the way I met an old friend - I hadn't seen him for 20 years - and we went for coffee and a lovely nostalgic chat.  He told me that he has a terminal cancer.
R's caseworker evidently called at my office in the interim, and was alarmed that it was unlocked.  It's really hard to explain to someone that I think the chances of an opportunistic thief dropping by and stealing my aged computers is slight, and the chances of a foolish teen damaging herself/the building by showing off and swinging from metal beams not meant to be load-bearing are much higher.
Since its flare with R, my temper has been lying low.  But I know that it's still there, lying in wait to cause trouble.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Enough already

I see this on the news.

I don't like to see anything caged, no matter that the cage cost millions.  That caging them may preserve them from humans seems, well, not a good solution to an issue.
I recall, decades ago, seeing the first gorilla at Taronga Park zoo.
His arrival and his display was greeted with noisy pride and acclaim.
He was in a small enclosure.  He sat, legs crossed, leaning on his fist,  and looked like an (obscene)  middle aged CEO. He stared back at us with contempt, rage, extreme boredom and deep, deep despair.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Small Mercies

As I slammed the boot down on my groceries, I saw, too late, my car keys sitting where I had thrown them, on its floor. Fortunately -70/30 - I had left the car unlocked, so could open the boot to retrieve them.
Coming home from shopping, I found that I didn't have my house keys. Fortunately, by chance I not only had the key to another door, but had left it unsnibbed:  a rare occurence.
After leaving work I realised, at my car, that I no longer had the work keys. I retraced my steps in this very poorly lit area and saw a tiny, slightly denser area of blackness: the keys.
Small problems which could have wasted frustrating hours and hours.
When Mark was painting my house I told him that he had to accomodate the fact that this front window had previously been painted closed, and couldn't be opened.
"No it's not," he said, and used one finger to open the window

So, for 15 years or so, in this area which has quite a high burglary rate, I could have been easily burgled.  But wasn't.
Small mercies. Big gratitude.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


After my husband died, quite a long time ago, I had a dream in which I was driving along an aquaduct..(aqueduct?) like this, from Cooma to Canberra.  It was perilously narrow, but, thankfully, straight for the 100kms or so.....(yes, I hate that incorrect construction:  I should say, "I was thankful that...").
The dream seemed symbolic:  I was alone on a fraught, narrow path to somewhere different.
Canberra,  I had some association with, but why Cooma I have no idea - maybe a suggestion that I didn't feel that I was starting from  home.
After that dream, I developed a phobia of driving over bridges.
Prior to that, I would have been unsympathetic to phobias: now, I had to grip the steering wheel, keep my eyes focussed on the other side, blot out everything else, and hold my breath and wait to reach solid ground.  As I did...(although sometimes I strayed far too near the middle of the bridge, to the deserved hostility of other drivers).
It wasn't the fear of the bridges that was the only problem:  it was the limp, sweating, weakness after I crossed that compounded the issue.
And the fact that it was irrational and illogical was maddening.  I had driven for decades with no issues.
To be honest, there was also an issue with my car.  Many had been recalled because of a computer error:  the company had writen to me, but the local dealers refused to recognise it.  I spent many  $oos on trying to fix the car on its habit of stopping abruptly.  I was a silly air-head woman.  Barbie-headed. And then at last it happened to them when they were returning it to me.  And then they fixed it.
After this, for some years, I challenged the phobia by driving my children here and there.  On the whole, the phobia won the challenge.
From which, I can assure you that getting back on the horse after you have fallen may work for the moment, but it can also suggest that  finding a different method of transport is a more sensible option.
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," is a typical platitudinous lie that they tell children.  What doesn't kill you can make you weaker.  And weaker.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Shawn Achor, previously referred to, speaks of the pressure for "success", such as the pressure, the commitment, the devotion, the sacrifice of self and other interests or other aspects of your personality, or gifts or tastes, in gaining entry to Harvard.
He cites a mum keeping each baby and childish scrawl because "it will be in a museum one day."
Now, that's putting pressure on your child.
He demonstrates the problems for half the Harvard students, once they've arrived, in accepting that, in spite of these immense sacrifices, their great abilities and their extraordinary achievements, they are below the (Harvard) average.
There seem to be some flaws both in our system and thinking.

A Happy Woman

Happiness precedes success: not follows it,as we are taught, says Shawn Achor, who has written a book re same.
Ann Moyal seems a perfect example of this.
An Australian academic historian born in 1926, she seems, according to her autobio I have just read, (Breakfast With Beaverbrook), to have loved learning from an early age, and been successful in, by and through it.
Her last and 3rd husband was Joe Moyal, mathematician, whose early work in physics was so before its time that it is now far more highly regarded and understood than when he first wrote it. Her previous marriages and break ups do not seem to have been at all traumatic or unfriendly for either party.
Ann's academic work and writings are exemplary and highly regarded. Rational, pragmatic, evidence based.
So, I enjoyed particularly her recount of staying, courtesy of an American colleague, at the former home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, in Sussex.
A huge admirer of Virginia, she was given V's garden study in which to sleep. With doors and windows closed, she was woken during the night by violent bangings of things being thrown around the room. Too frightened to move , it was only morning that showed her bits flung around the room. She quotes the distinguished biographer and expert on the Bloomsbury group, Leon Edel, as saying: "I'm certain that that was Virginia herself."
I am impressed that Ann Moyal has published several books this century. In photos she certainly appears to be still a happy, vibrant, interesting woman.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Way We Were

Altho' it's so long ago, I can still recall bits of orientation week back then. The women's adviser, whom because I thought that it was about time that I did the recommended thing, I went to see.  She seemed annoyed to be disturbed and told me that my subject choices were rubbish and that I had no future other than to be a school teacher, so should only do Eng/history.
Only ever able to do bits of the right thing, I ignored her advice and did anthrop and Psychology as well as Eng:  in fact is was the former two that gave me both freedom and employment.  And I did philosophy, which she seemed to regard as as an indulgence like McDonald's Happy Meals. 
On the other hand, I didn't do my other choice, archaelogy:  and still regret and yearn for that.
I also remember some of the people I met then, in Orientation week, and I am thinking of D. She was a tallish, rangy convent school girl with short brown wavy parted brown hair.  Not particularly pretty. but when I met her there was something so personal in her meeting that I thought:  this is a very nice person. 
Perhaps I particularly remember her because she kept popping up;  before long her hair was golden, sparkling as dark subject to peroxide initially twinkles, and she and a handsome blond college boy were a dazzling couple.  Before too long after that she had left him. She had left the hearties to join the arties.
She was not one of the most beautiful women around the place.  S.U. was stacked with them:  Tania Verstak became "Miss International" or something, but she was unremarkable around a place where there were many beautiful young girls.  D was quite an attractive girl - aren't most young women? - but just that:  "quite attractive."  I don't think that anyone would have called her beautiful.  But:  she had a huge impact.  She cut a wide swathe.  I wonder, in retrospect, if any of it was due just to the fact that, when she met you, you felt as if it mattered to her.  As it had felt when I met  her.
This was an era in Syd Univ  hot with such as Clive james, Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes ...(and all the other local buzzes).
5 or so years later...her hair like straw...(she looks so used, we used to say in our bourgeois way)...D still had that appeal.
She married  "well", but in fact badly.
She was photoed inernationally. Life magazine.  Or/And Vogue International.. 
As it all fell to pieces - as of course it does if you've grown up in a backwater and you are expected to be riding high waves in a big surf it will -that marriage ended .  Just as Lawrence Olivier chose the miserable option of portraying a demeaning aspect of Vivien Leigh's last hours, so her internationally famous husband chose to record demeaning and degrading behaviours of D.
Reading it, I felt gratified that life hadn't offered me the opportunities that it offered D.
She returned to oz, lived and died, young, in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney.
I feel regret for her.
I feel regret that all her intelligence and all her knowledge, scholarship, intuitions went to nothing, evidently.

Can It Be true

that Sarah Palin said, "If we hadn't won the War of Independence, we would all be speaking English now."

I think, actually, that SP has shot her bolt, so to speak. She has inspired and then been overtaken by more ambitious, prettier, better groomed, more outrageous, younger women, now that she has demonstrated that ignorance is not a disadvantage.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Izzy, 10, tells me that her best friend has the wonderful name of Halley O'Malley.
An 8 year old boy I knew felt that he was being bullied by another boy, whose name was Shannon Sloe.  One would have thought that might have provided ammunition for some retaliation.  Having that name, of course, might make a boy bitter - being a bully could be the only option.
The death notice in the paper was for an elderly man called Jack Spade.  I can imagine a small, daring, adventurous boy called Jack Spade.  Or an elderly man who might mend your saucepans, clean the guttering and dig the vegetable patch, giving bigger yields than you had ever dreamed of.  The middle years are harder to envisage.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


is about new experiences and places.
Once we drove back from Brisbane the long way, going several hundred kilometres west before turning south.
My son - about 11? 12? - complained: "We've just  been at the beach, I don't want to look at more sand."
We drove for about 700 kilometres past the Darling Downs through scrub.  Scrub, scrub, endless scrub.  No towns, no villages, no farmhouses.  Scrub.
"What do you think of the sand?" I asked him.
"It's an optical illusion,"  he said.  "Everyone knows that the interior of Australia is a desert."
The scrub was so, so boring:  one could imagine how the poor swaggies went mad walking these unchanging miles.
We stayed the night in a motel at Cunnamulla, the 4 of us sharing a room:  double bed, two singles.
During the night, like a good parent, I moved over to allow someone  in to nestle in to me.. 
Finding myself both too hot and too squashed, I started resenting the child.  Why wasn't their own bed good enough?  Which child was it?  It's feet touched mine, it was my body length, so it had to be my son.
But my face was full of a cloud of hair, so it had to be my daughter.
Yes, a woman had come into our room and climbed in to bed with us.
Oh dear.   She was drunk or drugged and heavily asleep, and not easy for my husband to get rid of.  (And yes, I do notice that although I had let her into the bed, he had the responsibility of turfing her out.  Oh dear).
We suggested to the owner, as we left, that having the same lock on each door was perhaps not the best idea.
Fussy southerners!  He took the suggestion good humoredly, in his stride.
We didn't go that way again.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Currawongs and other things

Currawongs are quite large birds - about twice as big as magpies.  Glittering and black, they fly down to us when it gets too cold in the hills that are their homes.  There is something rakish about them: they chortle and yammer and soil clothes on the clothesline, but they have the most beautiful bell like song that rings out like a celebration as they cross the sky.
I quite like spiders - mine, anyway.  My house has daddy-long-legs: sizeable but having a fragile look, and harmless. Occasionally I sweep them down, feeling unpleasantly like the wrath of God as I wipe out their homes and larders.   I also have Bruce.
Bruce is blacker, stronger than those, with bigger, hairier legs, and looks more threatening - tho' he's not.  Over the years I've only seen one of him at a time, which is why he is named, and why I continue to see him as the same spider reincarnated, even tho' I've not only seen him dead, but on occasion have caused it....I've felt somewhat like Arthur Dent and the rabbit.
 Bruce appears unpredictably:  on one occasion he was on my leg in the shower. Flicking him off, I saw him balled into a tiny heap, saturated with hot water: well and truly past it.  Half an hour later, when I went back to the bathroom, Bruce had revived and was attempting to climb the tile step to the exit.  Repeatedly, he climbed, slid down the glossy surface, picked himself up, climbed again, slid down....Of course I put a towel down to give him a foothold.
Then a newcomer appeared outside.  He was quite fearsome looking: about 12 cm long, and with a huge abdomen.  His web went from the roof to a tree - close to 3 metres - and, unfortunately, above my route to my car.  I consoled myself, as his web and he grew, that spiders have a firm grip on things and don't fall.  Then, while I was typing away on the computer, Bruce fell onto my face, rather shaking my confidence in this.
Then the currawongs arrived, and in a wink the interloper was gone.
At my father's small funeral, 29 years ago, currawongs sang and rejoiced across the heavens, like a tribute. Both he and I couldn't have wished for better.
Kingsley, a 16 year old schoolboy, played the last post on his trumpet, arranged by the old soldiers assoc.   I really still don't know how they knew that he was a veteran. It was not something that my father cultivated or even spoke of much.  "It was a famous victory," he would quote.
K and Linda were together since way back then.  She was a 10 year old in a netball skirt when I first knew her.  They married young, and now, middle aged, live down "my" lane - a few doors from where L grew up -  had two sons, the second of whom has Down's syndrome. 
Living in a smallish town -20000 when I arrived, 60000 now - one can feel a little like a Miss Marple.  Minus the murders, of course, because there was only one of those - ok,  two - that I had any contact with, and there was no mystery about them at all.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Spring has sprung..." Maybe.

One of my rare but blissful luxuries once was to escape to the tropics at this time of the year.
Our home, like most others,  always had  a fire of some kind that took the worst chill off the air in one room only, even though the house was like an icebox.  Shops and cars were not heated. It was a privilege as a senior,  in my last year at school, to sleep on an open air balcony.  It was winter:  it was cold.  I huddled miserably through an endless, interminable winter.
Term 2 finished around August 20th.  What absolute delight to go somewhere hot and lush.  Two weeks later, on returning, Spring had arrived.
I haven't had the heater on here for days....(15C is quite warm enough for me, of course).
As I walked past a neglected corner of the garden, I suddenly realised that the 2 or 3 metre high pittosporum had disappeared.  Where had it gone?
Jasmine is a merry, romping little boa constrictor.  It covered the pittosporum like a dust cover. It was covered with its pretty white and cerise flower buds:  a week later and I would have been fighting the bees as well as the tendrils.
Abutilon is also a thug:  it's lanterns are blooming, so its execution has been stayed.   Ditto periwinkle, that push-me-pull-you that roots itself at both ends.  I enjoy its delightful blue blossoms for a few weeks, and spend the rest of the year pulling it out.  Thanks for the offer, Mr Monsanto, but I decline your help.
Looks like Spring.  Confession:  I still haven't raked up all the autumn leaves.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London et al

My sympathies....

Witty, warm, clever, learned...

Facebook sometimes suggests him to me as a friend.
Why don't I link up?
Because he died earlier this year.
I wonder how many others of Facebook's millions have departed?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Giving a Damn

Louise, a kindergarten teacher, overheard 5 year old Zac telling someone to piss off. "We don't use those words at school," she reproved, quite kindly.
"Bullshit!" he replied. "Year 4 say it all the time."
For me to use these words is somewhat like my wearing a bikini. Of course people wear them,  (although I might find some decisions re this to be  flawed), and I can find it enviable.    But unseemly, unattractive and inappropriate  for me.

"Damn" is well within my repetoire, plus "bugger".  But not the above, or further up the scale.   Not because I'm prim.   Not because I'm female:  my father was in the trenches, logging camps, ships et al, and I never heard him say as much as "damn": my standards are lower than his.   A student at Manchester Grammar early in the last century, my father was fortunate enough to  be presented with  classical role models which guided his life,.  My husband may have used lurid language on his farm for all I know, but not at home.  Going to a private school, my husband was indoctrinated? with the same idealism that my father was.
"A man is someone who can control himself," says 30 year old  Fred, and one can make of that what one will.

But, probably it's because I'm older.  Perhaps, in the past, words were more of a social divider, and these were the words of the lowest classes, so one eschewed them. I see many of these words as coarse and vulgar.  They are not that way for the younger, and they can use them with quite a different spirit, and with an exhilirating outcome.
Plus,   the now quite ubiquitous  "f"was simply obscene  Irrespective of what Tsolkias said in his anger,  no one used it.  Simon  and Garfunkel's "four letters on a subway wall" portray this exactly: this occasional scrawl at a railway station was an act of sexual aggression, a virtual rape,  by an anonymous, dysfunctional and perverted thing.
 For me to say this carries no particular weight, so I am happy to say that Nora Ephron, who carries a lot more credibility, says pretty much the same thing.
I can also say that I am happy  that the power of this assault  has been dissipated by the contemporary ubiqiuty of the "f"  use.

Because, by and large, I have no issue with other people swearing...I can find it funny, tolerable, interesting or unnoticeable... and I am sometimes  quite fascinated by it.  Fascinated that "f" and "c" first came to acceptance through literature and other high places.  Fascinated about the unwritten rules:  it is acceptable to swear across or down the hierarchy , but not up:  Zac's error. 
Fascinated and frustrated that it can express such a range of emotions, or none.  Rather appalled that it is a social issue:  one can be charged and gaoled evidently, for using language that is commonplace on tv.

 I wrote a flash fiction of 300 words, moving from him initially calling her "sweetie" to referring to her as a "manipulative bitch".  It occurred to me that, in contemporary mores, he should have referred to her as  a "f"ing " "c".
Stronger?  Why are those expletives "stronger", when they are so comonplace?

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," said Rhett Butler. A scathing sentence.
Oh, the patronising tone of "my dear".
And;    "I don't give a..." gives all the contempt possible, irrespective of whether it was a damn or a f.
The power of words.   We seem to have given  up on that.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Temper, Temper

"...they exercised the old middle-class male prerogative of being permanently in a most filthy temper," writes John Mortimer in his autobiography, "Clinging to the Wreckage".
I don't know whether he's writing re the 40s or 50s, but I certainly encountered it later than that:  men in senior positions whose bad temper swirled around and radiated from them, so that one approached them, on the most innocent mission, with trepidation and something close to obsequity.  Girlish deference, anyway.
Management is much more enlightened these days, I am told.  However, I read:  "Since when did displays of rude, aggressive behaviour get you ahead at work? .....according to research from the University of Amsterdam, people behaving badly often.....forge ahead in their career." (The Age. 4/7/2011). 
I was reminded of this this week when I saw the unaccustomed photos of Rupert Murdoch smiling.  Yes, I know that the files may be full of such, and the newspapers have chosen not to print them.  But, these were current.  I speculated as to whether the smiles were saying, "What, me worried?"  Or perhaps, "I'm a nice person, really."
I was reminded also of ex Prime Minister Paul Keating saying of him:  "He's a big, bad bastard and the only way you can deal with him is to make sure he thinks you can be a big, bad bastard too....the only language he respects is strength".
Then RP returned to the USA.   He announced that the crisis had been handled absolutely faultlessly.   The photo accompanying this story had his usual grumpy expression restored.  Whew!  Everything back to normal.

It's certainly true that some senior women have now perfected these techniques also;  taking them, I'm told, to a new level of viciousness.  What a pity.  They all need to learn to play nicely.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

When Failure Opens Doors

I imagine that many people have completed this Guardian quiz in which you judge whether a passage has been written by a male or female.

My miserable score was 3/10.   It came with the comment:
"Awful.  What are you, a girl or something?"
I think that my poor score demonstrates that I am an ideal person to judge literary competitions, because I would obviously be completely unable to favour one sex over another.
I wonder where I go to apply?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fare thee wells

Is "The Bufffalo" the old ship I saw near Glenelg in South Australia?
How unbelievably tiny these old ships are.  They look too small to serve 176 people afternoon tea, let alone transport them for 6 months around half the globe.
Sea-stuff: buoys, nets, boats, figureheads,  promote reflection and excitement and the taste for adventure.  Many figureheads are of women: enigmatic and staring.
The figurehead of "The Buffalo" is that of a poor cow: terrified, eyes rolled.    Bovines do not care for swimming.  I feel for this poor buffalo, breasting the oceans from England to Oz.  He looks as if every moment was a moment of fear and trepidation.
I have said my farewells to people again and again and again:  the same people, my dear ones, over and over, as they came and went.  Bye!  Take care!  Have a good trip!  The voice can send different messages than the heart feels.
Once, people leaving were probably never to be seen again.    The emotions left behind are too big to be spoken of.
"The Dunbar", 81 days out of London, turned in at "The Gap", an opening in the cliffs that was easily mistaken for, and just a couple of miles from, Sydney Harbour and safety.  All but one perished.
 Such sad old stories.

Being Tough

His photo shows him to have wavy hair - (ugh) - with a distinct part - (yech).   He wears a cravat - (yikes) - and has, in one hand a cigarette IN A HOLDER, as if he were Holiday Golightly. Under the other arm he holds...wait for it....a poodle.  What a wanker.
Of course, it's a quite old - 1950s? - photo of Nicholas Monsarrat, on the dustcover of his book recounting his years in escort vessels, during WW2, across the north Atlantic, with unimaginable and prolonged cold, hardship, fear and peril.  Icy, dangerous seas.  Constant alert and fear of uboats determined to kill you.  Grief of loss.  Death a constant shadow.  Intermittent catastrophe, as another vessel is targeted and sunk.  A monumental and prolonged endurance trial.
If you survived, or even as a coward lived through it, you had no need to strike macho poses later.  You could confidently wear a part in your hair, carry a cigarette holder or a poodle, and wear a cravat. You had proved yourself.
Times have changed, as they do.
Locally, (and I suspect that this is wider spread than here), there is an emphasis on making boys "tough".
I would like them to change this word to "strong", the quality that allowed such as Nicholas Monsarrat to endure.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Times Past, (Or Not, As the Case May Be)

As a child  I once visited, with my mother, some new friends that she had made.  They were European immigrants.
Bored, I wandered around the room.  In their small glass-fronted bookcase, I was surprised to see a copy of "Mein Kampf" in pride of place.
I didn't mention this to my mother, but as she was rather pro-communist at that stage it seems little wonder that the friendship did not develop.  Though I believe they may have had a certain authoritarianism in common.
Years later I mentioned this to a friend of long standing.  I knew that he was born in Germany during WW2, and that his father had been in the German army.  However, I was surprised by the vehemence of his reaction.   His mother, (a very beautiful woman), had worked closely with Hitler, he said - (some of her best friends were Jewish, he defended her).  Why shouldn't they have a book that had meant so much to them?  A book that was as precious to them as a bible?
Taken aback, I didn't ask further.   But it still intrigues me that they valued so highly something which I thought was completely discredited.
Other immigrants I came across:  Italian and Maltese.  Bare footed, poor, impetigo scaling down their legs, school lunches of a hunk of bread and a raw onion.   Some of their surnames are now blazened over hugely successful and well-known businesses.

Talking To Myself

I have been told that comments can no longer be left here.  This is no doubt due to some alignment of the stars, some malevolence of the mysterious web, or an accumulation of personal failings.
However, I will continue to chortle away to myself.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Secrets and Stories

I once, after the death of both my husband and mother in law, asked a sister in law what I thought was a rhetorical question.
"Oh, I can tell you that, Frances," she said, and proceeded to tell me a confidence that her mother had once shared with her.
I was shocked. By the information - not that it was so shocking, but because it was so out of character with the woman that I thought I knew - but that she would reveal what was obviously meant to be a secret. Does death negate this?
I didn't pass this on. However, the sister in law told her own daughter, who told all the cousins, etc etc.
My own daughter has said that, irrespective of the ethics, she is pleased to have this information. A valid point.
The urge to confide is both strong and puzzling. My mother in law had not told her other daughter, who sometimes seems disbelieving of the whole story.
Are the dead non-people whose wishes no longer need to be respected?
Perhaps they are. I don't think that I will share any information that I regard as among my secrets.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Our Hearts Were Young and Sanctimonious

Once I had summer holiday work as a live-in waitress in Perisher Valley, a winter ski resort. At that time an Australian summer holiday meant the beach, so the guests here were all European migrants sensibly seeking the cool. I had never before come across women who were both mature and pampered.
We wore dirndls with eidelweiss (!) and long socks; we were well paid, well fed, and, apart from serving three meals a day, had plenty of leisure time. The guests were exquisitely courteous, and undemanding - until She arrived. At one of "my" tables.
Beautifully coiffed and Elizabeth-Ardened though she was, I could not estimate her age, sensing that she was not as old as her facial lines suggested.
Guests had a choice of 3 entrees, main courses and puddings. From the start she wanted more. Her eyes would skim around others' selections, and she would whisper: "Can I have some xxxx also? And a little....xxxx? Perhaps some xxxx? And xxxx?" This gave her some very odd combinations, but she ate every crumb.
I was sanctimoniously appalled by her greed.
Instead of adopting the numerous small ways a waiter can undetectably disadvantage a customer, I went to the other extreme: no matter what she ordered, I suggested more. I offered her cutlets to go with her roast beef. Apple pie to go with her souffle. They were often accepted.
I was of course ridiculing her.
When she left she sought me out. She tipped me generously, and thanked me lavishly.
She had, she said, been in a Siberian gulag for many years. The cold? You get used to that, she shrugged. But, the hunger: you never recover from that.
I still feel a little ashamed.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

More Short Stories

I've been reading "The Best Australian Stories 2010" edited by Cate Kennedy. There is more variety than in the Scribe collections that I read previously, but very few that I enjoyed. Louise Darcy, yes. Meg Mundell, yes. Maybe some others.
No doubt this is a reflection on me: the stories were deft, polished, and I certainly couldn't write anything like them.
One example: "I Forgot My Programme So I Went to Get It Back or 101 Reasons", by Joshua Lobb. This was in fact 101 reasons in numbered one sentence statements, and by about reason 57 I was truly tired and bored and turned to the end and found that it had been published previously in The Bridport Prize - a distinguished endorsement. I could see that it was clever, but it had no interest for me.
I also read Jane Gardam's "The People on Privilege Hill", because of Relative Retiring's suggestion. As soon as I started it I remembered it. I must have read it 4 or 5 years ago, but each story sprang to life when I read the first words. Oh, Pangbourn. Oh, Mr Jones.
His dogs. "Their tails curled briskly over their backs and their eyes were optimistic." With 12 words, I know those dogs. Brilliant.
Rather like Joyce Carol Oates teenage girl, who is mute when asked how old an older man is. JCO says something like: ""old" was to her like "dead": you were or you weren't". I had forgotten that young perception, but remember it now. So few words: says so much.
What does make good writing? I read in "The Guardian" of Philip Roth awarded an International Booker prize, and the journalist praising the "raw sexuality and raw anger his books". I've only read Portnoy, and although I'm not uninterested in raw this or that, they are not great preoccupations of mine, and I've chosen to read other writers.
Obviously being popular and readable are not good criteria for literary merit - otherwise Danielle Steele or Dan whathisname might be at the top of the pantheon -but I'm rather at a loss as to what are. I wish I knew.

It's Autumn Here

I do need to get this maple off my house, don't you think?
(it enlarges when clicked - but, I'm sure that you knew that).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where's Bigggles when you need him?

"What did you think of the death of Bin Laden?" I asked Zac, 15. His face clouded. "Terrible," he said. "We should have tortured him."
"What did you think of the death of Bin Laden?" I asked Ryan, aged 11. He clenched his fists. "We should have tortured him," he said, in a rage.
"Why?" I asked. "He tortured us," he said.
"Who tortured you?" his mother asked, with a smile. "Well, not me, but...."

Once war was all about the fact that the others were bad, but we were good. Decent. With high standards of courage, morals and fair play that always won out in the end. Fine, brave chaps like Biggles endorsed such. Torture? That was the action of the low, evil enemy.
Of course that was probably tosh, but it wasn't a bad idea to put some kind of standards of behaviour into the little barbarians' minds.
Of course Biggles was unacceptably racist, but one would think that judicious editing might clean that up, and make him acceptable again as a kind of role model. The only adult role model for boys these days seem to be, Heaven help us all, footballers.

But Biggles has gone, along with Grace Darling, Father Damien the Lepers' Friend, Oates, Scott, Florence Nightingale et al.
One consequence in Australia of the Vietnam war was the lowering of the age of majority from 21 to 18. This was because of the protests about 18 year olds, unfranchised, being conscripted. It's odd to recall that rather pleasant interlude between leaving school and reaching 21: privileges without responsibility. It's odd to think that that stage of life no longer exists, and I wonder what the ramifications have been. Certainly I find it absurd to read in court reports that "an 18 year old man was charged with...". I don't believe that there is such a thing in our society as an 18 year old man.
I wonder how the ghastly news and images that they have seen from Iraq and Afghanistan will shape these modern kids?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Moving Right Along Now

Like many of the many people who have had smaller or larger esp experiences, I find it possible and probable that there are lives beyond this one.
I know that such experiences are explained as brain blips. But, what if present reality is just one such blip? Why not? A different reality, if you glimpse it, is as real and tangible as this everyday world. Sounds like rubbish, of course, until it happens to you.

Perhaps this is a case where my ignorance stops me coming to a more rational conclusion.
I am not talking about some kind of judgement day, or old testament thunderings. Sorting out the sheep from the goats? I've never been sure who were the good guys here: sheep and goats are both enormously useful and valuable, and both probably quite nice too.

Friday, April 29, 2011

I Am Watching

some people getting married.
I didn't think that I would bother, but the fact that the British do pomp, ritual. spectacle and ceremony better than anyone else, (in my opinion), easily swayed me.
Catherine looked like the strength in the relationship, just as E Bowes Lyon was and Diana wasn't.
Astrologers say that they selected a disastrous day.
Why did the Queen choose yellow?
What did Charles think while his son repeated those celebrated vows that he once made evidently having no intention at all of keeping them?
The royal wave used to be a regal wave...wave...wave: now it was flapflapflapflap.
As usual, as traditional, a stupid amount of guff that influences noone and annoys many, is spoken.
I won't be buying the DVD, but I assume that some will.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Last Week

I had to go down town to open an office to the electricians who were working nearby.
I was impressed - no, enormously impressed - by their aplomb, courtesy, consideration.
Twenty years ago, as tradies, they would probably have been at least slightly gauche. Now they weren't.
But what impressed me most was a quiet but obvious happiness radiating out from each and every. From each and every. Radiating. You could see it. An almost tangible happiness. Made me think.

Most of my beloveds are not in these areas.


My maternal grandmother lived in Bourbong Street, Bundaberg, Qld, Aust, etc.etc.
This was a long way from where we lived, just over the Blue Mountains from Sydney. Visiting her took taking the local steam train to Sydney, then the overnight train - in a sleeper!- to Brisbane, then the Rockhampton Mail to Bundaberg. Once, lying on the upper berth, I idly kept pushing an unlabelled button to see if it did anything. Yes, it did: the attendant eventually arrived, flustered, sweating, red-faced, irritated to tell us that this buzzer summoned him. He was eventually quite kind about it. I was deeply humiliated.

From the moment I saw, during that first endless boring journey, the stilted Queensland houses I fell deeply in love.
My grandmother's house wasn't on stilts as tall as I would have chosen, but they were there, with the omnipresent staghorns and elkhorns adorning them. I forget much about her house except the wide verandahs, the large kitchen with its ell verandah to the backyard, the sitting room, with its extraordinary orderliness and the intricate needlework in its cushions, the warm clean sweet air. Her cocker spaniel called Paddy, who caused her eventual and ultimately fatal fall, as so many of these loving beings do. The bedroom I shared with my sister: waxed floors with pristine mosquito nets tied into loops around the hoops above the beds during the daytime. French doors, always open, to a verandah.
I was five the first year that we went. When we were shown our bedroom there was a large toy rabbit decked in long angora hair on one bed. For some reason this caused me to remind my grandmother that it had been my birthday only a week ago, and she immediately endowed me with the beautiful rabbit. I loved that heap of wool passionately for many years.

Always banana trees in the backyard to pick from. A large mango tree - but, none of us liked mangos: they were endemic, a bit of a nuisance, like the omnipresent cane toads. I totally loved the colours: the vivid grass shoots running across the orange earth towards the asphalt of the road. Lime green of the sugar cane. Scarlet, emerald, sky blue, turquoise seemed to match the rich flower scents. And orange. Vibrant.
I know little of my grandmother except glimpses. I enjoy the glimpses.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Literary fashions

I have been reading short stories and more short stories. Of these were two large Australian collections published by Scribe.
I was surprised by their homogeneity.
Only three stories stood out for me: one by the master, Cate Kennedy. Two by Sunil Badami.
I am not a careful or informed reader, but I don't think that I could recall what most of the other 60 or 70 stories were about: no doubt this is a reflection on me, not on the writers, whom I could see were very skilful.
In the Atlantic, Tim O'Brien wrote ".. writing workshops, in which I've noticed, almost always to my alarm, that classroom discussion seems to revolve almost exclusively around issues of verisimilitude." I gather that this why present tense is so ubiquitous: it was easy to project this comment onto the stories that I read. It was interesting to see in the author bio's how many had degrees in creative writing, or taught creative writing.
In contrast, I also read "Wonderful Town New York Stories from The New Yorker". They were wonderful stories indeed: rich, light, dark, heavy, funny, sad, wistful, dramatic, written in a range of styles and voices.
Of course they had an immense range of great and famous authors to select from, but what stood out was the intelligence and interest of the stories, even when the subject matter was slight. I want to read the collection again.
In the Australian stories, what stood out was the style.
This surely can't be A Good Thing?

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Rather improbably, the solution to the classic impenetrable mystery story of the dead man in the isolated railway carriage was that he had been gored by the horn of a bovine on a passing train.
This is not how it is written in a famous story, or how my mother read it to us. The word the author uses is "steer", and this proved to be my mother's stumbling block. If it had been bull or cow, there would have been no problem: she evidently just had insuperable difficulties in explaining the word "steer"as relating to a desexed bull calf. "What is a steer?" we asked at the story's climax. She clamped her lips, and we were awed and silenced by the import of her inability to offer any further words.

I thought, at the time, that the man had been gored by some amorphous, unspeakable horned creature and this strange, evidently murderous being/thing lingered in my imagination.
If spaying/desexing had been explained, I think that I would have taken it in my stride, without a second thought. And the story would have made sense. But, the zeitgeist of the times was that the world was wicked, and that the best protection for children was ignorance. (cf).

"Gender" was the everyday substitute for the embarrassing, risque word "sex". Masculine, feminine, common, neuter -
there was no category for such as a "steer", so it rendered my mother mute.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Being Efficient

I installed a new DVD player, and much to my surprise it worked. This was not a hard task: the plugs were colour coded, (although there were too many), and I ignored the instructions about "if your system is..., then do this ...; but if it is...then do that.... "

But, I certainly didn't expect it to work, and the thought, "You are not incompetent" leapt (leaped?) into my mind when it all operated perfectly. This astonished me, because although I bewail the contemporary complexity of technology, I have never thought of myself as incompetent, and if I search back through my treasured Pandora's box of ancient accusations and insults, I can't find an apt one. I can only assume that it was a judgement I took upon myself as a youngest, who, by position, can do most things slower, more fumblingly and clumsily than everyone else in the family.

But it made me consider how differently I would have lived my life if I had thought of myself as competent and efficient. For a start, in my married life I would have cleared out all my mother in law's detritus from the many cupboards. This means I would have tossed out curiosities like a small box of penants printed with tributes to QE2 on her visit here in 1954 - (Our Radiant Queen) ; dull books which turn out to be old diaries; the bill for a sister in law's wedding in 1952 at the Savoy in London: "Couverts" - what is that? - @15/6: 77 pounds 10 shillings. etc. They drank a lot more whisky than gin; plus 70 bottles of Freminet for 122 pounds 10 shillings.
What difference would it have made if I hadn't kept them? None at all that I can see. They are of slight interest to some people, and none at all to others.

One of my sister's in law is a most efficient woman. She had most of the family's written records in her keeping and when she left here she efficiently cleared them all out and burned them.

None of these things actually matter, as far as I can see. (see Leonard Woolf).

Although I had not thought of myself as incompetent, I certainly didn't think of myself as efficient. That I had never cleared everything out, after living here for 40 years, did seem, from time to time, a cause for a little self-reproach. Then I read that a letter from J M Barrie to one of his "boys" , written in 1927, had been recently found at the back of a drawer, and was reminded of that wonderful truth that there is always someone who has done a worse job than you.

In which vein, I always recall during my third year at S Univ, where I was inattentive, missed lectures, harrowed myself with my own shortcomings, and was therefore totally chuffed by Bruce Beresford, entirely without self consciousness asking me the times, days and sites of the Anthropology lectures in Michaelmas Term, 5 or 6 weeks before final exams.

I don't know whether he passed or failed, but I would think that this made little difference to his future as a film director.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Short stories

I have been reading and enjoying two Scribe published collections of short stories. One can't help but be struck not only by the skill, but also by the homogeneity of style.
And by the homogeneity of the author biographies,which can loosely be summed up as: has done/ is doing/ is teaching a creative writing course; has won/ been shortlisted for (insert distinguished literary prize here); has been published in Meanjin/Southerly/Overland etc.
They sent me to my old copy of "Australian Short Stories" which was a school text in the 1950s. Now, assuming that the contemporary authors are possibly within a 15 year age bracket, the ASS has a diversity in that age range from Marjorie Barnard to Douglas Stewart, each with their own distinctive, identifiable style. Of course, the age spread among the contemporary may be even wider.
I wonder why this has happened? Smaller, more proscriptive markets?

Visual artists seem to practise a wide range of styles. The public and the cognoscenti seem not only to accept this, but to expect it. The artist's style is recognisable: he is valued for it. Why the difference with words?