Monthly Archives: July 2011

Cacoethes scribendi

Now that I’ve alerted you all to ANZ LitLovers, I thought I should put up my standard Sunday post.

A weekly series of riffs in 200 Words
Cacoethes Scribendi…I just love the way the Latin phrase rolls off the tongue. It means an insatiable urge [or itch] to write. Thought it might make for a great Website or Blog title, with a nod to Oliver Wendell Holmes Snr who penned poetically that even if everyone wrote until “all the pens and paper were used up/and the huge inkstand was an empty cup/Still would the scribblers clustered round its brink/call for more pens, more paper, and more ink”.
I soon discovered that, of course, there are plenty who have gone before me.  The interestingly named UK librarian and blogger Pandora has appropriated it.  As has LA-based Olivia Allin. Olivia appears to have gone so far as to have the phrase tattooed on her wrist. Malaysian political science lecturer Christopher Chong Eu Choong uses the title on his blog where he writes on a wide range of issues. There are many others: seminary students, lawyers, mothers.  
I have been told that the powerful American writer and poet Charles Bukowski wrote a short story or poem (or is it a poetic short story?) titled Cacoethes Scribendi.  I haven’t managed to locate a copy but I will keep searching.  Help appreciated.


Filed under 200 words, Writing

Guest Review – ANZ LitLovers

I have taken a Sunday morning detour from my regular 200 Word Riff to send my readers on a detour of their own.  

I was thrilled to be invited to review David Malouf’s short story collection Antipodes by Lisa Hill of the reputable and much-read blog ANZ LitLovers.

Here’s a copy of the review (posted 23.08.11)

My first reading of David Malouf’s 1995 collection of short stories Antipodes was perhaps a little too earnest.  I was desperate to like the stories as much as previously-read poetry and I hoped it would at least equal the much-read, much-talked-of and much-loved Johnno. 

              In a collection of stories so full of contrasts – the old world and the new, city and country, life and death, masculine and feminine – it is not surprising to find Malouf capably handling the prosaic alongside the poetic, leaving me searching – as in a treasure hunt – for those glassy-eyed bring-me-to-the-knees passages I longed for.

               In ‘A Trip to the Grundelsee’, for example, the background to a group of friends taking a car-trip is told in a very straight-forward – unpoetic – voice:  Michael is visiting two women who had been friends of his father’s before the war;  Gordon and Cassie were along because “Anick had invited them”;  Anick was offering female support.  Each explanation is succinct and unvarnished.

                But, later, a gem-like description of Cassie’s black depression, manifesting in thoughts like “the lake might contain unbearable secrets – drowned babies, or the records, deep-sunk in leaden boxes, of an era.”

                And, in ‘Southern Skies’ (a story about trust and mistrust, knowledge and naivety), the mundane of “nothing ever happened” and “we lounged and swapped stories” is offset by the evocative, when a young boy looks at a photo and recognises the Old Country that his parents dreamed of.  He thinks: “those flowers are the ones, precisely those, that blossom in the songs they sing.” Ah, the poetry!

                Throughout the collection, Malouf presents the Australian male in all his guises: at home and overseas; city or country; native-born or transported from the Old Country.

                The men in ‘Sorrows and Secrets’ are the embodiment of that old national stereotype, The Australian Legend. Taciturn, dry-humoured men, licking cigarette papers, using gestures rather than words; tough land-clearing, fire-building blokes like the foreman: “he was a sandy, sad-eyed fellow of maybe forty, with a grey-flannel vest instead of a shirt”; someone to be trusted, though not easy to get along with.  The men’s stories, “dense with the details of their lives” are kept in the dark.  Some secrets, it transpires, are beyond sorrowful.

                Malouf gives a nod to another stereotype – the Aussie Larrikin – in ‘Bad Blood’.  Uncle Jake is a charmer, a story-teller, a spender, a joker and a snappy dresser with his fondness for two-toned shoes and his Akubra worn “at an unserious angle”.  

                As easily as he brought us the legendary outback Australian bloke and the Larrikin, Malouf transports the reader – in ‘That Antic Jezebel’ – to  a classic Sydney Eastern suburbs socialite, whose elegantly tailored black dress and single piece of jewellery (heavy but understated  and “too plain to suggest ostentation”) belie the life she lives behind the closed door of her Elizabeth Bay apartment.  Her frugality is such that “she ate a great deal of boiled rice, was careful with the lights, and on the pretext of keeping trim, she walked rather than took the bus”.

                ‘In Trust’ reads like a fable to me with two anecdotes to illustrate its moral.  An American insurance assessor’s heart collapses at the moment he is confronted by his true lineage in Jerusalem and a young girl who, when offered a piece of family history by way of little trinkets and treasures, chooses a set of x-rays of a young man’s thorax and jaw.  The x-rays were Aunty Connie’s last memento of her boyfriend who died at Bullecourt in France in 1917.  As another Aunt holds the x-rays to the light, Malouf parts with more of that poetic imagery I craved: 

The young man’s adam’s apple rose in her throat.  A word it was, that he had intended to speak but could not, because he had to hold his breath for the machine; a thought that had sparked in the skull, travelled at lightning speed down that luminous cord and got stuck in his throat.  It was there, still visible. 

                Later, she thinks: “that lump in his throat must be my name”.

               This idea of people as custodians of objects touches upon my own experiences of items bequeathed, with their memories, truths, longings and imaginings.  

There are natural lines of descent in a family. They are not always the direct ones.  It is proper that the objects people care for should find their way down through them, from hand to hand and from heart to heart. 

             Antipodes won both the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and the Vance Palmer Award for Fiction.

 BOOK DETAIL: Malouf, David.  Antipodes, Random House, London, 1999.


Please click on the link below, check it out and let me know what you think.

   ANZ LitLovers Blog

The Answer to Fiday’s Fictionary Dictionary… Mutch is a close-fitting linen cap


Filed under Reviews

It’s Fictionary Dictionary Friday

What is the correct meaning of…MUTCH

Have a guess and check in on Sunday for the answer.

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200: Happy and haphazardly heading home

A Weekly Series of Riffs in 200 words

We are on the Gold Coast for a sleep-over with our favourite people – Number One Son and the ‘Pretend Daughter’ – after a fabulous seven days in Fiji.

Being big fans of capital A Adventure and neither of us finding relaxation a natural state, it was a daunting prospect to set off together to  a tiny country that doesn’t boast a huge ‘To do’ list.

But we went with it because it fit the budget and the time-frame and we knew we needed to force ourselves to rest.

I had a few computer withdrawal symptoms, relieved somewhat by my leather-bound journal and the usual stash of pens but, all in all, this relaxation caper is not so hard to deal with.

I snorkelled until my skin was pale and wrinkled and then laid on the massage table to have it soothed and re-plumped.  I walked on the beach for hours and sat in the fork of a tree writing poetry.

 Tennis, a daytrip to Suva, canoes and kava.  Pace was slow, stress was low and, if your budget is tight and time is minimal, it’s an ideal holiday destination.

Way too much food!

Noticing a lack of pics?…what happens in Fiji stays in Fiji

The Answer to Friday’s Fictionary Dictionary

Lallation is…a speech defect.


Filed under 200 words

It’s Fictionary Dictionary Friday



Have a guess and check in on Sunday for the answer

Leave a comment

Filed under Fictionary Dictionary Friday

200: When I’m Sixty-Four

A weekly series of riffs in 200 words

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?

As my partner and I mark our thirty-first wedding anniversary, I’m reminded of the 1966 Beatles Classic, purportedly written by Paul McCartney when he was just sixteen.

Young Paul McCartney

We’re nowhere near sixty-four yet but wedding anniversaries – like birthdays – are another way of reminding ourselves that Old Father Time continues his steady march (which is why I usually prefer to ignore such occasions).

The reason for mentioning it now is that, if you are reading these 200 words, it’s because I’ve escaped from my seven-day diet of snorkelling, beachwalking and  reading, to find a computer, click on the draft button and press ‘publish’.  And that will be the full extent of my computer interaction, as I lap us some much needed R&R in Fiji.

I could be facetious and say it’s typical of a man to worry about who would feed him when he’s sixty-four (you’d think he might have learnt how to feed himself) but I would never stoop so low as to have such a crack, would I?

Now excuse me: I’ sure I have a husband, a tray of fresh fruit and a masseuse waiting.  Bula!

The answer to Friday’s Fictionary Dictionary
Kobold is…a mischievous household sprite

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It’s Fictionary Dictionary Friday



Have a guess and check in on Sunday for the answer

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Filed under Fictionary Dictionary Friday


In place of my usual Sunday Post of 200 words, I thought I’d share this little fragment of memoir…

They haunt from a distance.  Lonely, mournful strains.  My footsteps halt, my head cocks to one side.  Some inner radar tries to pinpoint the source.  Anticipation causes my heart to skip one beat, then another.  I grasp my child’s hand and guide us toward the melancholy sound.  The music is louder now, caressing my body and sending tingling shafts down my spine. 
            And then I see them:  proud glorious men in their incongruous kilts and knee-high socks, marching slowly toward me, oblivious to the kaleidoscope of memories erupting in my brain.  My eyelids flutter to a close as I fall hopelessly under the spell of the bagpipes.  A mist of my own making engulfs me and I let go.


My mother had an uncanny gift for detecting these magnificent plaintive strains, long before anyone else.  Her eyes would light up and the hand that clasped my tiny one would stiffen. 
            ‘Listen!’ she’d whisper urgently, her head cocked.
            She’d tug my hand and I’d follow her, weaving my way through the stockings and slacks and dangerous looking shoes of the big people, as mother – frantically alive and excited – searched for the kilted men.
            Once she’d found them, she would become transfixed and I’d let go of her hand so that I could step away to watch her.  She stood, like a statue of a beautiful Roman goddess, the tilt of her head showing the graceful line of her long pale neck, eyes glazed and lips wearing a small contented smile.           

Magnificent Bagpipers

Sometimes, she would lift me up into her arms and we’d follow the marching band of strangely dressed men who produced such beautiful soul-wrenching music.  But reality always returned and mother would set me down and lead me away, back to our grocery shopping or bill-paying, her proud chin jutting and her lips set in their customary businesslike line.
            In the evening, I would sometimes wander restlessly from my bedroom and pass the open door of the lounge-room to catch a glimpse of mother – wrapped in her pale green dressing-gown – sitting in her favourite chair by the hearth.  I would peak through the crack of the door as the flames cast dancing shadows across her angelic face and watch the sparkle of tears making tracks down her porcelain cheeks.   


I am jolted from the maze of memories by a small, smooth, warm hand tugging at mine.  I fight off the mist with a sigh which sounds strangely familiar and my child and I continue on with mundane chores.
            Later that night – when all is quiet – I sit in the crook of the bay window and replay the plaintive strains of the bagpipes in my head.  The music has left a longing inside me: a strange, intangible yearning.  I grapple for understanding but it eludes me.  A tear surprises me by escaping over my lower lid and tickling my cheek.
            Is this my legacy?  This bitter-sweet haunting?

The Answer to Friday’s Fictionary Dictionary…
JARP is to strike or smash, esp. the shell of an egg.

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Filed under General Interest

It’s Fictionary Dictionary Friday



Have a guess and check in on Sunday for the answer


Filed under Fictionary Dictionary Friday

200: Don’t Mention the Dog

A weekly series of riffs in 200 words

Our dog Thor who left us last year for other dimensions would have been celebrating his birthday on 4th July so I planned a 200 word dedication this week.  However, I find it is still too raw.
          I changed tack and began researching some interesting facts about dogs but was soon reminded that  every single dog in the universe shares a commonality;  be it expression, whiskers, ears, stance or smile.  I cried and stopped looking for dog facts.
Finally I thought I’d write about cats or other animals but, guess what?  Virtually all the online sites have pictures and every single animal reminds me of Thor so, once again…it ended in tears.
         I ventured off to do the grocery shopping.  On the way, I passed two cute Scottish terriers chasing each others’ tails and a huge German Shepherd sitting in the passenger seat of a work ute , his snout poking out of the top of the window, drool marking a trail down the glass.
Avoiding the pet food aisle at the supermarket is a shopping strategy I still employ but it gets easier each day.
Then I spied the shampoo we used to wash him with:

‘No More Tears’ Shampoo

Crying again.
The Answer to Friday’s Fictionary Dictionary…
Ignivomous means spewing forth fire.
Ignivomous is also a Melbourne Death Metal Band [thanks to Bob for that info]


Filed under 200 words