On Yer Bike!

The trouble with golf courses (when you’re out for a nice cycle ride) is that many of the little paths just come to an end and you find yourself on the green. Windaroo Lakes (near Brisbane, Australia) is a prime example, which is where I was yesterday morning, and what a lovely ride I had. It was all so beautiful and wonderfully kept. Really, you’d never think that they would allow cyclists to ride amongst the golfers; but I wasn’t too worried because I had on my cycle helmet over my baseball cap.

I went down every path, circumnavigating all the greens and fairways (is that what they are called?) and reached as far as I could go without having to climb the fence into the adjacent golf course, which is separated but still part of the same club; and both conveniently border the Windaroo Memorial Peace Park, which is where I was at first – and from whence I had become intrigued to find my way into the course.

My first stop for a bit of photography was where a couple of elderly gentlemen had drawn up in their buggy only a few minutes before and they were setting up on the green. One of the chaps saw me taking photos and, no doubt concerned about all his chattels in the unattended buggy, he asked:

“Are you a photographer?” (Isn’t it funny? I often get asked that.)

“No,” I said smiling (and quite pleased that I looked so professional), “I’m an artist looking for beauty.”

“Where are you from?” he smiled back.

“Well, I’m Australian but I live in England,” I responded.

“I can tell that,” he said, “where abouts in England?”

“Devon,” I answered and he smiled and nodded as if that was good enough for him.

“Do you know Devon?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “but it’s a nice place – isn’t it?” 

“Yes,” I said and, obviously satisfied with my answer, he turned back to his pals and the game underway.

 

“What a nice old golfer,” I thought to myself before continuing on around the course.

 

Farther on around the other side I had to stop where the path divided a green and two very smartly dressed young Japanese men were about to tee off.

“Try not to hit me!” I joked.

“Do not ‘wolly’,” the handsome one in a pink polo shirt called back, holding a thumb up to indicate in case I couldn’t hear.

Some minutes later I was around the other side of one of the lakes and observed a gaggle of geese heading towards me. Of course I simply had to hang on until they were closer so I could get some good shots of them, which I did until I heard loud whistles… It was my nice Japanese golfers, no doubt “wollied” that they might hit me with a miss-shot if I didn’t move. No trouble, I had enjoyed my photographic session and promptly cycled on to the next bit of green.

Yesterday’s ride was so good that this morning I decided to cycle around the other part of the course that I couldn’t get into previously. There was a way in from end of the housing estate (what luck!) and I made a special point of getting off my bike when walking over the nicely tended grass. The path led me to an intersection where a young groundsman was busy repairing a post. I thought he looked a bit surprised to see me so I decided to speak.

“It’s so beautiful,” I began, “and I take it you don’t mind me cycling through here?”

“Not at all, Darling,” he said, “just not between the hours of six-thirty and five o’clock!”

“Well, I’ll just mosey on down that road,” I said (not mentioning yesterday). “Does it go back to the main road eventually?”

And it did.

Where Have all the People Gone?

Back when I was very young and the world population was only a mere 3 billion there never seemed to be a shortage of people. Even out in the bush at Gumdale, where I spent my first ten years on our three and an half acre property, you could look out of the window or be in the garden and see people: Mrs Hersom might be out by her gate, chatting to Mrs Conelly and Mrs Hood might call out to them, “No time to talk, I’m on my way to Wynnum!” and she’d hurry on walking down our dirt road for about a quarter of a mile to the bus stop by the main road; or Mr. Bark, always dressed in a dark grey suit and tie, might be cycling past on his way to Crockford’s shop at the corner by the main road – he used to wear bicycle clips to prevent his good trousers from getting greasy from the chain – and if he saw us children, for a bit of fun he would hold his hand out for shake, which we always responded to (if we were quick enough); or the drivers of the water trucks would stop to fill up at the mains water tap (set high for the trucks) just up the road and mad Rosa would come out wearing a mini-skirt and swinging an empty bucket as an excuse to flirt with the water-men; then there was eccentric  Mr. Arundel driving past – he’d slow down to greet the ladies with a nod or a “Good morning”, and they wouldn’t get so much dust in their faces; and there was Mr. Shilling, drunk as usual, and ugly as sin with a huge nose covered in purple broken blood vessels; and there was smiley Mr. Holland who drove a VW Beetle (which could go through floods without breaking down) and stopped at everyone’s letter boxes by their gates, which, come to think of it, is probably why people lingered out by their gates – Mr. Holland always had time for a cheerful few words about road access (in the floods) or news about the neighbours.

Now the world population is around 7.6 billion and I’m house-sitting at my friend Lorelle’s place on the Sunshine Coast about 70 miles north of Brisbane but not one person is in sight. There are houses to the left of me, houses to the right, to the back, and across the road…. I know there are people here – from my bed I can hear them banging doors and starting engines from around six in the morning – but I don’t see them. There are no ladies out by their letter boxes, I guess the wives and mothers are part of the weekday exodus to the roads. Thibault, the young Frenchman (Lorelle’s other guest) is still in his room (and it’s lunch-time).

There are thousands of cars on the roads. You don’t see many people walking, except up on the beach path (and most of the keep-fitters drive there). A few cyclists make it to the beach path for a spin early in the morning but after nine o’clock it is too hot. I don’t blame them.

But where are all the cars going? Are they all working people, driving for a living, driving to work? At all hours? There must be a heck of a lot of sales-reps in Australia! Where are all the retired people? No need to conjecture, actually, I know the answer to these questions.

The truth is that everyone is at Kawana Shopping Centre a few  minutes walk from here. I went this morning. Kawana Shopping Centre is a haven for people of all ages. It  is beautiful and cool, and there is everything there that you could possibly want – even watch a film there after your pedicure and massage, after seeing the bank manager and booking your holiday. But you must leave early in order to find a parking spot (hence the early exodus). I was there before the last few spaces were filled, and there was a queue for my spot as I left.  Yes, I know I could have walked… but it would have been hot walking back… with the ice cream. 

Deep in the Jungle

Deep in the jungle, in the rainforest at Springbrook, which is down the coast from Brisbane, beyond the Scenic Rim, and past Canungra (famous for its pies and hangover cures), there are all sorts of strange and marvellous sights to behold. Here are some of them…

And now my “Tarzan” is back in frosty England, probably yodelling from the cold!

What Kind of Fool am I?

You may be like Sammy Davis Junior (well, similar) and Barbara Windsor, by thinking that the late Anthony Newley was “the most consummate performer” but, sorry, neither Chris, Roland nor I would agree with you. We three each remember Anthony Newley as Matthew Mugg in the 1967 version of Dr Dolittle. Call me a fool if you must but I still recall the disappointment, when as a young child, my ears first encountered the strains of “After Today” sung in the inimitable fashion of Anthony Newley; and, of course, there was that silly giant snail! 
 
Actually, Chris does rather a good impression of Anthony Newley singing “What kind of Fool am I?”, as I found out a couple of days ago when we were discussing Dr Dolittle for some strange reason. Our friend Roland, with whom we are staying in Brisbane at present, confessed also to be being disappointed with the much vaunted film of the time starring popular actor Rex Harrison; the sixteen-year-old Roland, wearing a groovy white denim jacket and brown flares, had thought he was going to see a wild-life documentary. Needless to say, a fake giant pink snail did not live up to his wildest expectations! And he was beaten up after the film, hopefully not because he sneered at Anthony Newley’s rendition of “After Today” (which he was to remember ever after).
 
And yet, it is the song, “What Kind of Fool am I?”, which stands out foremost in our minds; perhaps everyone over fifty in the Western world have vague subconscious memories of Anthony Newley singing with the stars of the time – like Shirley Bassey and Sammy Davis Junior – on those Saturday night television programmes of the sixties.
 
“What kind of fool am I?” Chris, Roland and I crooned, warbled and droned before bursting into fits of laughter. Then, in between hiccups, and maybe feeling a bit unkind for making fun, I said:
 
“I’m a nice person really.”
 
“Only ten percent of woman are as nice as you,” said our friend.
 
“Oh thank you,” I responded quite pleased.
 
Roland paused before adding dryly:
 
“The rest are nicer.”
 
Then we all cracked up again.
 
 

Anthony Newley What Kind Of Fool Am I? (Best Version) – YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJN7TEC0UYM

 

 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gm-J2yxZog
Jul 29, 2017 – Uploaded by Erin Shoop

The joyous song “After Today,” sung by Anthony Newley, From the 1967 musical film, Doctor Dolittle …

 
 
 
 
 
 

Not in the Doldrums

Just because I haven’t been very active (or not at all) on my blog for a while (ages!) it doesn’t mean that I’ve been in the doldrums. Actually, a stiff and somewhat turbulent wind brought us swiftly to Australia and it seems as though we haven’t stopped since.

Chris and I recovered at Bill and Lita’s in Brisbane; bought a shiny new red bike from a garage sale for just $10 (looking foward to riding it); and went down to New South Wales – all in the first week.

Then it was “Out West” to Toowoomba and the Darling Downs for a taste of both city  and country life; perhaps I’ll tell you about our adventures with Gary, our self-appointed tourguide when I have more time.

Back to Roland’s not far from the Gold Coast we did spot of fishing and enjoying the wildlife, then on to the Sunshine Coast to see my old friend Lorelle. And now I’ve run out of time… as we’re going out.

But before I go I’ll tell you what Chris said when I asked if I had spelt “doldrums” right…and I added:

“That is the place where there’s no wind – isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Chris answered, “It’s the place you want to be when you’re referring to gastric conditions.”

Ever the wit!

All I Wanted for Christmas

“What would you like for Christmas?” Chris asked of me.

“Nothing. I have everything I want,” I said, “except… perhaps?”

“Yes?”

“Perhaps you could write me a poem?”

That’s approximately how the conversation went just before our first Christmas together twenty-one years ago. Since then I’ve a poem for every Christmas, birthday, Valentine’s Day and even those days when nothing was special but I needed a lift. To date I have seventy-five poems from my beloved. Most are humorous, some are romantic and they chart our life together. All show how well Chris knows me.

I wasn’t disappointed this year, either; I had all I wanted for Christmas and more – he wrote me two poems! And here they are below… Hope you’re all enjoying Christmas!

Also see the additions to the family this year, including two day old little Lillibet.

 

BIBI’S BEAUTIFUL BABY   (Bibi is me – Grandma!)

                  Well, nearly my baby!)

 

My sweet baby Penny, she’s top of the tots

with her velvet brown eyes and her freedom from spots

and her giggling laugh in her baby culottes

she’s the cream of the crop, and the queen of the cots!

 

She’s cute and adorable, my baby P.

and I’ve waited so long for her sweetness to see

But now that she’s here I’m as proud as can be

She’s put  joy in my heart, and she’s my cup of tea! 

 

When she beams me a smile I can feel my heart melt

it’s as though all along she would know how I felt

and of all the fine aces that could have been dealt

She’s just so “Pennylicious”, (and that’s not mis-spelt!)

 

She’s a real “fashionista”, all thanks to her Mum

dressed up to the nines, she’s as sweet as a plum

and when she’s all sleepy, to dreams she’ll succumb

while I gently ponder on what she’ll become

 

 

As I gaze in her innocent eyes I can see

all the life and the love that was always to be

and I know that this beautiful child is part-me

she’s so nearly my daughter, this sweet Penny P.

 

So, Lady Penelope, always be sure

that your BiBi will love you, whatever the score

and when you’re grown up and have boyfriends galore

I’ll still be there for you, it’s you I adore!

 

 For Penelope, and Her BiBi Sally, on Christmas Day 2017

     

 

 LEISURE – REVISITED 

A Pastiche,  with apologies to W H Davies

(A Christmas poem for Sally  -December 25th 2017)

 

What is this life if, full of woe,

we have no time to take it slow

 

No time to stop and take our ease

enjoying leisure as we please

 

No time to lose ourselves in song

and feel the music all day long

 

No time to lay amongst the flowers

and make sweet love for hours and hours

 

No time to pause in Life’s mad rush

to seek the peace of gentle hush

 

No time to gaze in wonderment

at Nature’s beauty, heaven-sent

No time to share our happiness

with  all the friends who we possess

 

No time to take our exercise

to shrink our waists, which we despise!

 

No time to spend a day alone

and carry on without the phone

 

No time, even, to write this verse

(which as you see is getting worse!)

 

A poor life this if, full of woes,

we’ve barely time to blow our nose

 

So…please remember, it’s just fine

to take a break at Christmastime!!

 

 

 

The Story of Bluey – the Retired Cattle Dog (an Hilarious Poem From Australia)

 “A great poem – you can’t beat Oz bush poetry”, was all it said on the email I received a couple of days ago from Barry, who was the elder child of Mr and Mrs Conelly, our immediate neighbours at Gumdale where I lived until I was ten year old.

It was bush at Gumdale in those days and Barry’s mum and dad had built their house themselves from the trees on their own land. Nearly everyone up Molle Road had a dog, cats and chickens (and snakes). The Conellys had various farm animals on their smallholding, plus a blind horse called Duke and a pet calf called Bingo – until he was old enough to be meat on the table (I wasn’t hungry the night that June brought over some steak!); and they had a dam on their property, which was a great boon for cultivation before the town water came to our road. We Porches didn’t have a dam and Mum and Dad had to water their strawberry crop by filling buckets from the tank at the back of our house. Just as the strawberries were turning ripe… a mob of kangaroos ate them!

Our families kept in touch over the years (and the oceans) with letters, phone calls and cards at Christmas; there were occasional visits from the Porches remaining in Brisbane and, of course, visits from those of us living in England on our return trips to Australia. Mrs Conelly became “June” as I matured and times changed. June passed away about a year ago. I had been thinking of June when Barry’s email arrived in my in-box. Thank you for the laugh and the memories Barry.

 The Story of Bluey – the retired cattle dog

 

 

Great poem – You can’t beat oz bush poetry. 

 

We pensioned off old Blue 
when old age got him down
We sent him for company
to old Grandma in the town

But while Granny was elated
Blue still craved the great out doors
and he would roam the town exploring
while old granny did the chores

So it was this Sunday morning
Blue was fossicking about
through the paddocks near the township
on his normal daily scout

When a canine gourmet odour
overpowered his sense of smell
though his eyesight had diminished
his old sniffer still worked well

And the sense of his excitement 
was reposed down by the creek
where a sheep had met his maker
for the best part of a week

For its woolly corpse was spreading
and the air was far from fresh
from this rancid flyblown carcass
with its seething greenish flesh

It was a dogs idea of heaven
and old Blue, he rubbed and rolled
till he ponged just like the sheep did
and with ecstasy extolled

Then an idea formed within him
as he gave a gentle tug
and he found the carcass followed
like a matted lumpy rug

He would take it home for later
it should last a week or two
if he stored it in his kennel
he could keep his prize from view

So he gripped the carcass firmly
proudly into town he went
but his load proved fairly heavy
and old Blues energy soon spent

And the only shade on offer
was the building with the bell
and he dragged his prize towards
with its flies and feral smell

Then the dog and sheep both rested
in the front porch of the church
old Blue looked up the gangway
at the parson on his perch

He was revving up the faithful 
to repent to save their worth
and said satan was the culprit
for all the rotten things on earth

And he roared of fire and brimstone
and redemption for the throng
up the aisle came satans presence
in this godforsaken pong

And they all cried “Hallelujah”
and they fell as one to pray
but by now old Blue was rested
and he hadn’t time to stay

He proceeded up the roadway
with the woolly corpse in tow
with a shortcut through the nursing home 
the quickest way to go

Where the matron, in a panic
counted heads in mortal fright
with a smell like that they’d surely lost
a patient through the night

And the members at the bowls club
lowered all their flags half mast
doffed their hats in silence 
for the funeral going past

But old Blue lugged his prize on homewards
travelling past the bowling club
till he took a breather under
the verandah of the pub

There old boozing Bill was resting
sleeping off the night before
to wait the sunday session
when they opened up the door

When the stench awoke his slumber
which was highly on the nose
and he thought his pickled body
had begun to decompose

And he missed the Sunday session
when he ran home to his wife
to proclaim the shock announcement
he was off the booze for life

Meanwhile Blue could see Gran’s gateway
at the far end of the street
so he started up the pavement
with his ripe and tasty treat

But there was movement in the backstreets
as the town dogs sniffed in deep
they broke chains and climbed high fences
for a piece of Blue’s dead sheep

And Blue felt the road vibrating
from the stamp of canine feet
as this pack of thirty mongrels 
came advancing up the street

But he wasn’t into sharing
so he sought a quick escape
and he spied a nearby building
with a door that stood agape

Through this door he sought asylum
but his presence caused a shriek
for he’d chosen the local deli
that was run by Nick the greek

And Blue shot beneath a table
where the sheep and he could hide
but the dog pack was relentless
and they followed him inside

Now the table Blue had chosen
was a double booked mistake
with the law enforcement sergeant
sipping coffee on his break

And the sergeant sat bolt upright
with a dog between his feet
and his eyes began to water
from the dead decaying meat

Then the sarge leapt up in horror
but in his haste he slipped and fell
falling down amongst Blue’s mutton
with it’s all embracing smell

And he lay somewhat bewildered
in the gore, flat on his back
when the mongrel pack descended
in a frenzied dog attack

With first thought self- preservation
from the rows of teeth he faced
the sarge fumbled for his pistol
in it’s holster at his waist

There were muffled bangs and yelping
as random shots rang out
and the whine of bouncing bullets
off the brickwork all about

As he blasted in a panic
from beneath the blood and gore
a front window and the drink fridge
were both added to the score

And the cappuccino maker
copped a mortal wound and died
hissing steam, it levitated
falling frothing on it’s side

And Nick the greek, the owner
grabbed a shotgun in his fright
blasting into the confusion
of the frantic canine fight

At short range it wasn’t pretty
dogs were plastered on the wall
there was laminex in splinters
clouds of dog hair covered all

Then the smoke detector whistled
with the gunsmoke in the air
which set off the sprinkler system
and a siren gave a blare

And the echoes still were ringing
when beneath the dying heap
there emerged old Blue, still dragging
at the remnants of his sheep

It’s head was gone and several legs
but it hadn’t lost it’s smell
in the armistice that followed
Blue decided not to dwell

He leapt the fence at Grandma’s
for his feet had sprouted wings
pure adrenalin propelled him
fleeing dogs and guns and things

Now old Gran had influenza
and had lost her sense of smell
with Blues sheep in the garden 
that was probably just as well

And she looked out from her front fence
at the town in disarray
at the ambulance, police cars
and the rspca as well

Then the fire brigade rushed past her
flashing lights of rosy hue
and she hugged the old dog tightly
he’d protect her would old Blue

You just stay here like a good dog
Grandma told him with a frown
“ ‘cause you’ve no idea the trouble
you can get into in town”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hapless in London – A Tale of One City

It may not have been the best of times but it was certainly almost the worst of times. It was the season of Darkness alright…

But yesterday began well. I awoke in darkness (not so bright but early) in Brighton to the sound of Penelope cooing and laughing. She was soon out of her cot and into my bed for a bit more sleep and cuddles; and when she awoke again my baby granddaughter touched my cheek and smiled. What at darling! Yes it was a good start waking up at Jaimy and James’ place. 

We all kissed goodbye at Brighton Station. I knew I would probably arrive at Australia House on The Strand well before my three-fifteen appointment but I thought it best to leave plenty of time and maybe they would let me in early. Chris’s excellent maps and timetables made for a trouble-free journey into the city and, indeed, I had a couple of hours to kill. First stop Australia House to see if they could fit me in… Buzz. Please? No? But I could enter a half an hour earlier and wait inside; my appointment would be at exactly three-fifteen.

No problem. I’d buy a chocolate milkshake at McDonald and have it for lunch in Trafalgar Square, right down the other end of The Strand; and en route I’d pass the Strand Palace Hotel where I worked for a couple of months as an accounts clerk when I was seventeen; and I’d talk to the doorman. Richard the doorman was rather impressed that I was so interested in the place and he informed me that employees may still have their breakfast, lunch and dinner there if they wish. 

The first sign that all was not going to go to plan was the long wait at McDonald only to find that they were all out of any milkshakes. I took my McDonald “coffee away” down to Trafalgar Square and I took photographs in spite of the grey day. It was nevertheless exciting to be in “town” with the tourists, the city folk, the pigeons and the street performers; the air was alive with the music from a violinist playing electric violin in front of the National Gallery.

I was just standing in the square with my mobile phone camera poised when a handsome man, possibly Egyptian, walked down the steps. He wore a smart navy woollen overcoat and a red scarf. He broke into a beaming smile when he saw me and I smiled back. What a lovely greeting from a stranger! We didn’t speak, though I thought he wanted to (you can tell), and he gestured that he’d take my photograph for me. I waved my “No thanks” and he understood. He walked to the fountain and lingered there a long while, perhaps hoping that I would join him. Instead of joining him I took his photograph when he wasn’t looking. He didn’t look quite as handsome without his winning smile (which didn’t exactly work this time, but only because I’m married). I stayed the other side of the fountain and eventually, I was drawn by the music up to the road. The sun came out while I watched the musician and the crowd, and the man dressed up as a Star Wars creature.

At length the time came for me to wander back leisurely to Australia House.

I was number 84. Numbers 85, 86 and 87 all went before me while I waited. I had a feeling that the Chinese Australian young lady would be my clerk.

“I don’t like these photographs,” she said, looking at the multiple choices from slightly grim to extremely grim. “You appear to be smiling!”

Oh no!

“What about these?” I handed her more.

“I check,” she left and returned. “No, the quality of the paper isn’t good enough and one is slightly blurry, you’ll have to get some more done and be back by four o’clock – we close at four.”

“But it’s half past three nearly…”

As soon as I stepped out of Australia House I was hit by a bucket of rain. It continued to pour in torrents as I raced down The Strand to Charing Cross Underground Station, which is where I had to locate my specified photographer – the closest to Australia House. The pavements ended in puddles that wet my socks and my smart cerise coat was soaked.  I entered the subway from the wrong way and had to ask a couple of hobos if they knew the photo place; they seemed surprised to be asked such a question by a drenched, panting woman. They wanted to help but didn’t know. At last I met a railway man who pointed me in the right direction.

Like a whack in my face, the shop was closed! I had visions of spending the night with my hobo friends and was about to cry when the railway man turned up with the photographer. Hurrah! But could he open up, take my photos, print them and take my eight pounds in less than seven minutes?

Yes, he could. He kindly gave me a tissue to wipe away the streaks of mascara all down cheeks and suggested that I look in the mirror. Wet hair stuck to my head, no makeup and water still shining all over my face. But time was running out! 

“They want me to look ugly,” I said defeated, “they can have me just as I am.”

And the nice photographer took me at my word. A few minutes later I was running through the puddles back up to Australia House; in my pilot case (Chris’s) were six of the ugliest photos I’ve ever seen of myself.

The clock at the end of The Strand chimed four o’clock. It was quite a long chime and I wondered if I could make it to the Passport Department door, like in the films… where they always make it in the nick of time. The chimes ended two seconds before I buzzed. the receptionists were still there.

“Go to the Consulate door around the corner,” the bearded receptionist suggested.

 

“Calm down, Sally,” said the nice older Aussie gentleman who received people into the embassy.

And he gave me a tissue to wipe off the wet black ink that had got onto one of my new photos. And he called the Chinese Australian girl to pick up my gorgeous photos. She pulled a face and so did I. But she accepted them. She had to after all her previous objections… and all I had been through.

I arrived home at eleven-thirty at night. Some trains had been delayed, some were too full to squeeze any more into – there were problems at Waterloo, a very appropriate place for battles of all sorts. Some people were extremely kind and rallied round, as you might expect from people on the same side. Richard the audio man from Chichester was lovely and helpful – he has three brothers, one of whom is an ascetic minister who spends two months a year in a Swedish retreat (so interesting, the things people tell you on trains). And Nigel, the civil servant from near Salisbury, was my constant companion when I needed one most – after the packed train departed the station without me. He was an interesting chap, too; a world traveller who had worked three hundred miles “out west” from Brisbane when he was in a different profession – something to do with gas deposits. My Chris, too, was one of the stalwarts. He picked me up at Exeter St Davids and bought me a chocolate milkshake before driving me home.

My new Australian passport should arrive on Saturday. When I arrive at airport Customs in less than three weeks I guess I shall have to joke about the photograph. I know what to say – it’s what a Customs officer told me many years ago:

“If you look like your passport photograph, you’re not well enough to travel!”

Vis-à-Vis

“Have you got me a visa yet?” I inquired of my better half just last week.

“Oh,” Chris pondered for a second before the look on his face confirmed what I had been thinking, “no!”

My Aussie passport had expired in March and Chris had told me very confidently that I need not worry about applying for a new one until we’re actually in Australia – ” no point in going up to London when it’s so easy to nip into a post office over there” – and I could travel over on a visa, as Chris does. Being an agreeable and dutiful wife, I went along with this idea, even though it rather went against the grain; it’s a bit strange having to obtain a visa to enter one’s own homeland.

It seemed a bit odd, too, when I couldn’t enter my citizenship of Australia on the E-visa application form. My computer didn’t like it either and it played up all the long while that I filled out the form and filled out the form again… several times.

Apparently Chris’s visa had taken only a matter of hours to appear (months ago… when he had applied and forgot about me!). I waited and waited for the good news. In the evening of the second day I received the email – “Terribly sorry but we don’t give our citizens visas; they have to renew their passports.” (Or something like that.)  But I’m supposed to be going in less than three weeks! Or perhaps not?

“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” my beloved asked bringing in our morning cups of tea. 

The look of horror on my face was not to be borne and Chris hurriedly explained. Passport applications normally require up to four weeks to process… Oh no! But it should be alright because they have a priority service. Thank God! Good old Australia house!”

No doubt feeling guilty, Chris had been up for hours ahead of me finding out all the information I needed from the Internet. However, I was still feeling sick to my stomach with anxiety.

“How can I help you?” came the reassuring voice of a middle-aged lady with a familiar sing-song accent.

I must have been the first person to call her; it was one second past nine in the morning.  From that first moment I knew that I was in safe hands and I could breathe more easily.

So tomorrow I shall be off early on the train to Brighton to see my darling Penelope Sweet Pea (now over six months old) and on Wednesday I’ll break the journey home by calling into Australia House on The Strand ( or is it Memory Lane – I used to be an accounts clerk at Strand Palace Hotel when I was seventeen). You have to make an appointment and apply in person. Getting an Australian Passport in England is strictly “Vis-a-vis”! But, hopefully, there will be no unpleasant confrontation. And Chris avoided that by arranging my whole trip beautifully. Bless him!

And here are some photographs of my friend Reuben’s new gallery in Teignmouth where I did a bit of drawing last week…

 

 

Ah, Speech to Text is a Good Idea

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to write many blog posts recently – something which I’d like to rectify. Now normally I like to stand at my easel and listen to my favourite psychologist and philosopher Jordan Peterson while I’m painting as I find it quite easy to multi-task when all is going well and I don’t need to concentrate too hard; and if I miss too much over a difficult area I may listen to the lecture again. However, there is no way I could write a blog post whilst painting… unless, of course, I could dictate my post.

“What a good idea!” I thought very loudly yesterday. I was waiting for paint to dry at the time. Actually I was yearning to write a post I had been considering during my morning shower (and which has been superseded by this) but I suddenly became so enamoured with the notion of “Speech to Text” that I resolved to become au fait with the technology.

Cortana, my little used laptop guide, proved to be constant in her ability to be of little use to me and, as usual, I went to Google to find out how to install the programme. Somehow, I managed it (don’t ask me how) after installing a months free trial of Word 2016 (my old one’s no good apparently) but our printer wouldn’t print out the fourteen pages of Windows Speech Recognition commands…until this morning. Chris has just brought them out to me – not much use now.

So I’m in my free trial Word 2016 with a virtual blank sheet of paper and the Speech to Text doo dah  at the top of the screen, and I can’t think of a word to say; the post formulated in my head just a little earlier would not leap into my mind or my mouth. 

“I know,” I said to myself, “I’ll dictate one of Dad’s short stories”. For years my sister Mary and I have been talking about typing out Dad’s many writings and turning them into books; Dad would have loved that when he was alive but over twelve years ago I couldn’t type to save my life or use a computer (although I have a diploma from an office course I took back in 1986!).

I run downstairs, find Dad’s black briefcase and grab the first short story that comes to hand – “The Hunchback and Harold Smith, A short story by Charles Porch”. Great! I’m back at the screen and looking at the virtual paper and “Sleeping” microphone.

“Start listening,” I say, a bit louder than normal because I suspect that the microphone is hard of hearing.

“The Hunchback and Harold Smith,” I say.

“What’s that?” the text part of the microphone device asks. It is deaf, or stupid.

“The Hunchback and Harold Smith!” I enunciate perfectly but with a bit of irritation.

“That hunt back a barrel with”, appears on the page. I delete.

“The,” I say clearly. 

“Tar,” it appears. I delete.

“Theee,” I say loudly.

“Eee,” it writes. It’s scared. I’m getting fed up.

“Tha,” I correct and add a “Bloody hell!” under my breath.

“The body well,” it writes.

“You swine,” I snarl.

“Do we mine,” it responds sarcastically.

 

And so it went on… Slowly and frustratingly… while the paint dried. It wasn’t all misery though. I laughed a bit, both at the original story and some of the hilarious Speech to Text mistakes; e.g. “Warning was 41 years of age nine; a dwarf; and a hunt back.”; or “The circular tin had once contained toffees he hasn’t been a pretty one”; or “Indeed if one ignored the dull rusting interior, it was downhill 2010”.

Tired of “spelling it” again and again I corrected most mistakes manually. I didn’t have the full commands so sometimes the whole text was lost… then found. The Speech to Text gizmo did learn eventually to produce the word ‘hunchback’, and even ‘Harold Smith’ but I fancy I shall make little use of those words when I write my blog posts in future. Besides, these days my typing is about thirty times faster than a lunatic gizmo with a vocabulary of fifty words and learning slowly (that office course must have been lying dormant all the these years!).

For those of you who’d like to read “The Hunchback and Harold Smith” by Charles All Porch I shall paste it below. In case you wonder, my father worked as a male nurse in Devizes Mental Institution in Wiltshire after the War. It is based on real characters and incidents, and this is its first public airing.

 

THE HUNCHBACK AND HAROLD SMITH

A short story by Charles Porch

Wally was forty-one years of age; a dwarf; and a hunchback.  One side of his face was paralyzed and when he laughed the loose skin on the afflicted side sank lower still, and drew his shaggy fair moustache down with it.

He couldn’t remember a life outside of the Institution although sometimes he received vague flashes of memory of how his life had been before his committal.

One is these brief mental pictures that recurred periodically was to do with newspapers.  Large piles of newspapers fresh from the presses.  The hunchback could see them stacked in an orderly row upon a wheeled, wooden table.  Above the table and running the length of it was a wide shelf quite bare except for a lidless tin box that was half-full of coppers.

The circular tin had once contained toffees and had been a pretty one.  Indeed if one ignored the dull rusting interior, it was still a pretty tin.  Around the outside of it fat, pink fairies chased each other through a woodland glade; and the scene was lit by pixies that peeped shyly around the boles of warted trees.  Wally liked the pixies because they wore funny red hats and made him laugh.  He liked to laugh and was oblivious of the sound he made; the low pitched “Aw, Awa-Awa-Aw” that pulled his moustache down and made him dribble.  He didn’t laugh very often, only when the pictures came.  There were the odd occasions when something immediate brought a spontaneous “Aw, Awa-Awa-Aw”.  Like the time when Mr Ted the Staff Nurse lost his temper and hit Harold Smith on the head with a dessert spoon.

Wally didn’t like Harold Smith!  He hadn’t much reason to like him.  Harold Smith’s main activity was following Wally around Ward 3 and waiting for him to laugh.  When Wally laughed Smith would thump him upon his hunched back.  When that occurred the funny pictures left Wally’s mind and wouldn’t come back again.

Harold Smith was a lunatic.  “Old Moses” said so.  Wally liked “Old Moses” because he had a big white beard and was boss of the dinner squad of which Wally was a member.

At twelve o’clock midday on each day of the week except Sunday Wally got a thump on the back from Harold Smith.

At that hour “Old Moses” would stand near the door of Ward 3 and shout at the top of his booming voice “We shall break bread Christ holy!” and Wally’s face would contort and he would articulate perhaps an “Aw”; and if he was lucky an “Awa” too before being cut off short.

The dinner squad, preceded by one of the staff, would leave Ward 3 and go down the long corridor, through a doorway into another corridor; through a doorway into a vast wall; through yet another doorway and emerge finally into a quadrangle.

Wally liked the jingle of the Staff Nurse’s shiny keys as they were thrown deftly into the various locks, but he liked best of all the big kitchen with its huge, shiny cookers and pans, and he was careful to make sure that its lid was snapped down “nice and tight” as directed by the pretty girl who smiled at him and called him “Wally”.  Wednesday was the big day of the week for Wally.  It was the only day on which he was heard to speak.  He received more thumps on his hump on Wednesday than the other days quotas put together because it was his happiest day.

On Wednesdays hot, thick nourishing soup was served midday for dinner and Wally had a great passion for it.  As soon as he had groped his way out of bed on Wednesday morning he would shout at the top of his voice “Zoup today!” and the young male nurses shouted back “Zoup today Wally!”; and Harold Smith was out of bed like a flash of lightning; with his fist raised and looking like a crazy, night-shirted Joe Stalin, he would position himself behind the hunchback.  When the doctor made his round on Wednesdays Wally always took up station near the door of Ward 3 and waited for him.  Hovering in the vicinity would be the relentless Harold Smith.  The doctor would be greeted with “Zoup today! Aw, Awa-Awa, Aw. Zoup today!”.  The hunchback could laugh with impunity only because Harold Smith had beside him Mr Ted who was significantly smacking the palm of his left hand with a dessert spoon.

The doctor would reply and nod smilingly to the trio, “Zoup today gentlemen!”

Nursing staff passing in the course of their duties would greet each other on Wednesdays with “Zoup today” instead of the conventional “Good morning”.  There was “Zoup today” in the laundry, in the kitchen and in the Medical Superintendent’s quarters.  Calendars were found with “Zoup today” instead of Wednesday printed upon them.  Wednesday was a great day for wits and half-wits alike.

The hunchback was always cold.  His hands were like those of a corpse.  When he felt exceptionally miserable he would climb up on a hard settle at the end of Ward 3 and sit dejectedly with his little legs swinging rhythmically.  Beside him, ever watchful, would be his Demon escort.

Harold Smith knew that on these occasions it would only be a matter of time before Wally sat on his hands.

The movement was an involuntary one on the part of the hunchback, and with it there was an involuntary association that gave him one of his happy pictures.  This scene was set on the pavement of a corner of a busy city intersection.  Crowds of people wrapped in warm overcoats passed laughing and talking in front of the news-stand.  Some would stop and buy an evening paper and say “Hello there” and give Wally some coppers.  The happy dwarf liked the pennies that were fished from the big men’s trouser pockets.  They had body warmth and he would nurse them lightly in his little fists for a minute.  Occasionally he’d be given a copper bearing the bearded head of King George.  Wally liked those especially, and he would laugh before putting them carefully into the pretty tin box.

Opposite his table-cum-barrier there was a sweet shop, brightly lit and full of Easter eggs.  Such lovely eggs!  Some of them had big bows of red, blue and yellow ribbon around their fat waists.  Others were chorus lines of portly ladies in sequinned dresses; and there were happy snowmen eggs that the dwarf liked best of all.

The snowmen wore gay bow ties, and black lips on their cotton wool faces, and red-ribboned bands were around their black top hats.

Pockets of warm air eddied around the news-stand as crowds of people waited on the pavement for the lights to change, and the newsboy could smell the men’s tobacco and the perfume of the women.  That was very nice.  When the people moved off they took the warmth with them and replaced it with bitter cold wind gusts and loneliness.

When Wally’s fingers were unbearably cold he would return to his little stall and thrust them deep into an oven of late edition newspapers and revel in the transferred heat.  By the end of each evening the dwarf’s hands would be black and polished with printers ink and look like the hands of the funny snowmen in the sweet shop window across the pavement.

That made the hunchback feel happy and when Wally was happy he laughed; and when Wally laughed he got punched for it.  The punches didn’t hurt him but they drove the happy pictures from his mind.  He hated Harold Smith!  Harold Smith was a lunatic!  Old Moses said so.  Mr Ted the Charge Nurse of No3 Ward had been responsible for Wally for twelve years.  He knew the hunchback well.  He knew all of the patients in his charge and made certain concessions for their wellbeing.

For instance, there was Wally’s old brown jacket.  It was very old, very worn and four sizes too big for him but Wally became upset if it was taken from him.  Therefore Mr Ted saw that Wally was not deprived of it.  When the garment became too evil smelling Mr Ted would confine the hunchback to bed for 24 hours and get the coat washed.

First of all he would empty it.  There were great holes in the sleeve and pocket linings.  From the former he would remove half a bucketful of various treasures – a strip of brown linoleum; two childrens painting books; long twigs and dead leaves; and a piece of waxy rag.  From the pockets would come bird seed; pieces of coloured stone, toffee wrappers, a spoon; Gillette razor blade wrappers with pictures of a bearded man engraved on them; and cut-out pictures of the bearded sailor whose countenance used to grace the front of the old Players cigarette packets.  There was often a handful or two of old boiled potato.

When next Wally wore the coat it would have the piece of lino’ and a fresh painting book in the sleeves. The pockets would contain a new Players cigarette packet, some fresh Gillette wrappers and the case of an old golf ball.

Harold Smith and no coat.  He was clad in a strong canvas overall from neck to toe with brass locks instead of buttons.  He wore boots with brass locks instead of laces.  He was very fond of his canvas suit and spent a lot of his time trying to tear it to pieces with his strong hands.  There was a broad patch across the upper half of the garment where the frayed fibres showed white against the brown material that had succumbed to the frenetic clawings of Harold Smith’s thick nails.

The seat of the overall was a padded cushion of a motley of materials woven into the canvas.  The cushion was a birds nest of paper, rag, straws and twigs. The reluctant weaver of the conglomeration was Wally the hunchback who, under threat, made holes in the seat of the canvas suit and threaded into it whatever materials Harold Smith had to hand. Surreptitiously and painstakingly, Wally had unravelled about two feet of wire from the old bird cage at the end of Ward 3, and this was used as a bodkin to poke holes through the strong canvas. After a weaving session, that usually took place in the lavatories, the wire itself was threaded finally into the padding and hung in a loop like a bucket handle.

The proud owner of this fantastic overall, wholly pleased with himself following a new weaving, would parade around Ward 3 and demand admiration from his fellow inmates. He sometimes got a kick in the cushion instead!

The inner staircase to the dormitory of Ward 3 led up from a lobby adjacent to Mr Ted’s office and pantry. The door into the dormitory from the landing on the top of stairs was kept locked by day.

On Wednesdays Wally used to sit nearly bent double on the third stair from the bottom. He used to take up position at least five minutes before midday, eagerly awaiting Old Moses’ call of “We shall break bread Christ Holy!”, so that he would be first in line when the dinner gang formed up in the lobby.

One Wednesday in July 1950 at a few minutes before noon Wally had one of his dreams. He was sitting on his hands at the foot of the stairs as per usual.

In the dream he found himself in a small shabby room. Daylight struggled valiantly to penetrate the string of washing in the back yard. Undaunted, it assailed the dirty windows and the grubby lace curtains that screened them. The hunchback was sat on a very worn, loose-hair sofa that was angled before a large iron stove. There were hot coals to gaze into. The door of the oven was open and several socks were draped over it drying. Wally could smell the familiar odour, not unpleasant, that rose with the wisps of vapour from the drying articles. Around the hearth was a black iron fender enclosing a black iron poker and a pair of long brass tongs. From the mantel-piece hung a fringe of tasselled cloth. On the mantel shelf were several gay coloured cards that gave a homely touch to the sombre room.

A big red-coated gentleman wearing a funny red hat smiled at Wally from one of the cards. The gentleman had a big white beard and looked like Old Moses.

The dwarf smiled to himself and returned his gaze to the hot coals, at the same time becoming aware of a vague figure; of a hand that began taking the pretty cards from the mantel shelf and throwing them, one by one, into the fire. “Oh no!” The paper flamed for a second or two and then subsided. “Not the funny man in the red coat with a beard!” He could hear himself shouting and then he was crying, as the flames consumed the folded card, and the red coat and hat became a grey etching on the black coals. The hunchback was standing now upon the bumpy old sofa, sobbing and beating with his little fists against the back of the obscure figure.

Wally’s dream was rudely shattered and he was brought quickly back to reality by the blows that were being delivered to his own humped back. He heard rather than felt them. He turned toward his assailant. Harold Smith leaned over the balustrade in the lobby of Ward 3 and gave the dwarf another thump for good luck.

“Sew up my bum!” he commanded, handing him six inches of bright green wool.

The dwarf took the piece of wool and Harold Smith bent down and rammed his cushion against the bannisters. The little man, ever obedient, put his hands through the iron rails and removed the threaded wire. Then he stood up, leaned over and punched his tormentor.

The man in the canvas suit was only half-straightened when the wire caught him around the throat. The little hunchback hauled backwards with all his strength and held on for half a minute before taking the wire ends a couple of turns around the handrail. It served Harold Smith right! He shouldn’t have burned Wally’s funny pictures, especially the one of the man in a red coat, with a beard like Old Moses.

It was Old Moses who saved Harold Smith’s life.

Wally was waiting as usual when Old Moses led the dinner squad into the lobby. And there was Harold Smith with his feet drumming weakly against the bare floorboards…

The hunchback didn’t bring the tea back from the kitchen that Wednesday. He has been removed to another ward since then and has his meals taken to him now. Sometimes even he has a room to himself.

Mr Ted wanders down to see him occasionally and takes him a picture book, passed on from his children; and Wally and he have an “Aw, Awa-Awa, Aw” together.

Harold Smith misses the hunchback more than anyone in Ward 3. His cushion has lost its former splendour because it’s mostly a “Do it yourself” job these days.

I am happy to report however that Wally the hunchback is safe and well. He enjoys his food as much as ever he did. He especially enjoys his dinner on Wednesdays when the hospital reverberates with the cry of “Zoup today!”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~