Category Archives: General Interest

Soapbox # 3 Road Signs

Every now and then, I wander off my usual writing topic when I feel the need to vent about something. I’ve been doing a spot of driving of late so from my soapbox I have these four points to make:-

  1. In Australia, there is a very simple rule when driving on our roads: Keep left unless overtaking. At least I think it is simple, but it seems to me that every second driver cannot grasp the concept.
  2. Why, oh why, must we have lights flashing constantly to tell us to pay our tolls, watch our speed, don’t drink and drive! The lights give me a headache which makes me dangerous on the road. Yesterday, I copped Distracted Drivers Die flashing till it almost blinded me in one eye. Well, if distracted drivers die, why are you distracting me by flashing these words when I’m trying to concentrate on the road at 110ks per hour?
  3. Speaking of distractions, it might be time to outlaw the erection of crosses and flowers and other monuments on roadsides. These sideshow alleys of mourning on public property do not enhance either our concentration or our driving skills.
  4. Speed Camera ahead. Okay, if you must raise extra revenue. For Road Safety. What the? Every time I come across a speed camera sign, I see people jamming on their brakes (even though they were not speeding in the first place), putting other drivers in jeopardy and slowing the previously perfect pace of the flow of traffic. For Road Safety indeed! Really? At least be honest.

I’ll climb down of the box now and go and have a nice cup of tea.

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People and Places Exhibition

I was delighted to attend the opening of the latest exhibition at the Stanthorpe Regional Art Gallery.  It is always a pleasure but the level rises when the artist is local, and even more so, when the artist is known to me which is the case with this exhibition, Franco Arcidiacono’s People and Places. As someone who is incapable of sketching or painting anything remotely realistic, I am in awe of artists and love to bask in the reflected glow of those I know.

Franco Arcidiacono is a local artist whose talent is phenomenal, according to many of the admirers at the Gallery gathering on Friday night.

Elspeth Cameron acted as Emcee in her inimitable classy fashion and Counsellor Vic Pennisi gave us a rather lengthy rundown on Franco’s achievements (to be fair, said achievements are vast so it would be hard to condense).

One look at the artwork so carefully and thoughtfully hung, and you realise there is no need for words anyway.  Franco seems rightly proud of his portraits, of which there are many, and it is fun to spot a face in the crowd and compare it to the one framed on the wall.  But it was the landscapes in all their variety of location, medium and style that struck me the most.

I sometimes refer to myself as a synesthete and certainly, when I look at artworks, this affliction (or gift, depending on your point of view) comes to the fore.  So, in the spirit of that old adage that you don’t have to be an art expert to know what you like, I’ll describe my reaction to my favourite painting.

I saw it as I ascended the stairs and stood motionless until someone bumped me up a step.  I couldn’t have spoken if you’d asked me to.  Fellow art-admirers disappeared into a whitewash of blurred images around me as I stared at the 202 x 52cm Granite Belt Landscape in Greys.  I heard its music instantly; a distant haunting harp.  It spoke to me of seasons, silence and secrets.  The silveriness of some of the greys suggested a frosty morning to me; to someone close by, the same colours were “scary, almost sinister”.  Yet another admirer remarked that it was like the aftermath of a bushfire in reverse.  I got to listen to all these comments as I stood, rooted to the spot, hearing the music and whispered voices, the hairs on my arms at attention, shivering with goose-bumps and temporarily transported to a place created by my reaction to the landscape.

I believe Granite Belt Landscape in Greys was quickly nabbed by an astute buyer.  If I find out it was a local, I’ll be angling for an invite to coffee.  In the meantime, if you’re looking for me, you’ll probably find me at the gallery, all glassy-eyed and distant.

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Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane: Book Review

Many thanks to ANZ LitLovers for the opportunity to read Purple Threads, winner of the David Unaipon Award.  Check out Lisa Hill’s Review and also Sue’s on Whispering Gums.

Purple Threads brought to mind some of those feminine-centric American stories that focus on the resilience and camaraderie of women.  Stories like Fried Green Tomatoes and How to make an American Quilt, the sort of tales that remind me how inspiring and loyal women can be.

In Leane’s novel, the characters are strong Aboriginal women, Aunties and a Nan who are made of strong stuff, who know how to laugh and how to love, women who adopt and nurture stray or injured animals, in particular the little black lambs not prized by the farmers.

 A fair portion of Leane’s debut novel is told through dialogue and what lively and convincing dialogue it is:

 ‘…youse hafta look respectable jus’ like me an’ Bubby an’ all the other Aunties did when we were little.  An’ white people, they think churches are respectable an’ sometimes ya hafta go along with what other people think, jus’ to stay outta trouble.’ (12)

 That was Auntie’s standard reply when Sunny (from whose viewpoint the story is told) questions why she and her sister Star have to go to church. The fear of being taken, the spectre of the stolen generation, is never far from the surface.  When Sunny persists in her questioning, Auntie admits that the grown-ups don’t have to go to church because ‘big people can’t get taken’.

Occasionally I wished for more background narrative, something that Leane can nail when she wants to:

Sometimes the howling gales from the south rattled and shook the flimsy tin on our roof like paper, and our house groaned and shifted so much that the tin mugs and plates on the dresser jangled and clanged as the women’s voices rose and fell.’ (41)

The love of ‘place’ – of ‘home’ – is clear in Leane’s poignant portrait of Sunny’s homesickness:

Sometimes the snowy breeze from the Brindabella Mountains catches the thin bleat of a new winter lamb and carries it clear across the frosty paddocks to the outskirts of my city. I hear it and it takes me home. (156)

 Leane paints her women with love and a great dollop of humour so that I came to care about them all deeply, even Petal the wayward mother who seems so callous in her abandonment of her two children.  The vibrant personalities of Nan and the Aunties linger long after the final page.

BOOK DETAIL:
Leane, Jeanine. Purple Threads, University of Queensland Pres, St Lucia, 2011.
ISBN 9-780702-238956

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Make Every Day Special

Happy Mothers Day. 

I’m not always one to celebrate specific days with presents or flowers.  I like to think any day can be Mothers Day.  When you see a special top in your mother’s size in that perfect purple colour that she loves AND it’s on special, then grab it.  When you cook a delicious lamb and rosemary casserole from one of her recipes, remember to ring and tell her about it.  When you see an article she might like in a magazine, snip it out and send it to her.

Thoughtful gifts are welcome any time throughout the year.  Phone calls and letters are always special and, if you live close by, then the best gift you can give your Mum is some precious time. 

I wonder if my mother breathes a sigh of relief on mother’s day when she remembers that her children are all grown up and she won’t have to endure soggy vegemite toast squares and a lukewarm cup of tea in a chipped mug for breakfast.  I think she’ll have herself a very civilised breakfast before spending precious time with her youngest daughter (a mother herself), probably enjoying some roast pork and crackling.  I will be with them in spirit.

To all mothers…whatever you do, wherever you are…Happy Mothers Day.

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Birthdays

November is my birthday month.  I used to love birthdays and often had grand ideas for parties that never come to fruition. 

I had planned a big half a century bash a couple of years ago and did pretty much nothing instead.  Last year, I fantasized about have a party with the theme of playing cards, once someone suggested that, at fifty-two, I would be a ‘full deck of cards’.  Yet again, no party.

Fifty-three is a rather boring number and, anyway, I have stopped kidding myself.  I’m just not that into birthdays any more and I’m not much of a party person.

Instead, I’ll just list a few famous people who celebrate their birthday on the same day as me.

 Allen Tate, American poet and critic.  He was the founding editor of the verse magazine The Fugitive.

Indira Gandhi, Indian Prime Minister.

Larry King, American TV personality.

Ted Turner, media mogul and philanthropist who has had a long-running feud with Rupert Murdoch.

Sharon Olds, award winning poet.  She famously turned down an invitation from Laura Bush to attend the National Book Festival, because of the government regime of “blood, wounds and fire”.  From the open letter to Mrs Bush, published in The Nation: “I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.”

Ann Curry, television news journalist.

Calvin Klein, designer

Actors Jodie Foster, Meg Ryan and Nigel Bennett.

And the answer to the FINAL Fictionary Dictionary… ZEGEDINE is a silver drinking cup.

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The Nightmare that is Shopping

A weekly series of riffs in 200 words

I spent five hours in a shopping centre yesterday and I have a few things to get off my chest.

  1.  Isn’t it time Just Jeans changed its name?  When they opened, however many eons ago that was, I think they really did sell ‘just’ jeans.  These days, they’ve got tops and dresses and shirts and all sorts of apparel.  Could they be ‘Jeans and heaps of other Stuff’ or ‘Apparel [including jeans]’?
  2. Do all shoe-makers (Diana Ferrari excepted) think that everyone who wears a size nine-and-a-half or above really wants to draw attention to their feet by flopping around in unflattering boats in boring colours?
  3. Can shop assistants half my age, please stop calling me ‘darling’ or ‘dear’?  Even people I know don’t get away with that without ducking a slap.
  4. On that same note…when did we start using Ma’am?  If I want to hear that sort of nonsense, I’ll go shopping in New York if its all the same to you.
  5. Once you’ve said hello and offered your assistance, please continue on with your business.  I’m sure you have plenty to do and I know where to find you if I need help. Cheers.

The answer to Friday’s Fictionary Dictionary…Xylocarp is a fruit.

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Reflecting on a New World Order

Years ago – after 9/11…after the Bali Bombings – I wrote this poem, wistfully imagining a better world, or at least better humans.  Today seems like a good day to share it.

A NEW WORLD ORDER

Vertical dominoes collapse, compressing lives,
making molehills from monoliths.
A stark realization of death.  An unexpected deliverance
unto evil lurking in the collective soul.

 Chasing shadows over dunes and finding children
building castles in the grey sand.
Sympathy looms beneath the surface. Bewildering waves of empathy
crashing loudly over long-held dogmatic moulds.

Rose petals scattered overBali’s sand in remembrance,
turning holidays into ash.
A sharp reminder of transience.  An unexpected transcendency
from the apathy feeding the collective whole.

 Chasing terror through tunnels and finding mirrors
reflecting human grains of truth.
Free will hovers precariously.  Freewheeling tides of activity
demanding an eye for an eye if truth be told.

 Green haze, thunder and light shows televised each night,
six degrees of separation
No need to face reality – for this is true Reality TV
and we grow cold and watch the ones who won’t grow old.

 Searching for answers to questions that are not asked
except rhetorically
Knowing the futility yet trying to face responsibility
of nurturing a kinder fairer collective soul.

The Answer to Friday’s Fictionary Dictionary:- RAGULY is…having an edge with oblique notches (but thanks to those who, tongue in cheek, voted for C and made me laugh)

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Legacy

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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Countdown to Cohen: No. 3

Well, the year might not have turned out quite as well as expected with the release date for 8 States of Catastrophe still not set in stone (we are talking January but the publisher can’t confirm the date). 
           But, hey, the year isn’t over yet.  As of posting time, there are just 34,143 minutes before Leonard’s Brisbane concert. 
           It keeps a smile on my dial.

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Goodbye My Friend

How do you say goodbye to the most faithful friend you ever had?
How do you find a way to let go?
Look at my dear boy Thor.

Surely the most handsome Labrador in the world

And you should have heard him sing when I played the harmonica.
But his bones got old. 
He was too tired.
The pain was too great. 
His big brown eyes, dulled by a milky tinge, looked up at me pleadingly.
We gave him more tablets, stronger tablets that made him sick. 
The vet gave him more injections which seem to spark him for about an hour and I wonder now if it was just the placebo effect because he knew how hard the young Vet – dear Holly – tried to help him with her potions and powders and jabs and suggestions.
Years ago, I heard of a Labrador who lived to be twenty and I thought that sounded a most suitable innings. 
But Thor’s German Shepherd hips said otherwise.
Over the past few months, he had days where he reverted to a puppy again, prancing around in the back yard with a ball in his mouth, one puppy ear flipped back, clear puppy eyes laughing, big puppy mouth smiling, hips moving with the ease of youth.  But then, the next day, he’d limp around like a worn-out old man, groaning in pain when he had to lift himself from the comfort of his bed.
And Old Father Time marches on. 
Mother Nature takes her course. 
Fate does what it will.   
Today, the hours ran out. 
We’d travelled all the avenues, overturned every stone. 
Puppy Thor’s time was up.
Goodbye old Friend.                                                                                                             

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