Monday, 31 May 2010

Travel - Murphy's Law

I'm being a bit cheeky here. I confess to a slight forcing of the prompt in this post. But after 15 Magpie's I just couldn't not keep playing. to read other writers take on the magpie prompt this week click here.

Travel - Murphy's Law

Beginnings should be easy. I’ve been packed for a week. Flights are confirmed. I’m just standing still, marking time.

Out of frustration Andrea checks the weather forecast for Singapore, London, Lisbon, Seville and Granada on a daily basis. This also helps with last minute packing. We don’t want to be caught out. Googling the weather doesn’t really help as London is hovering around 11 degrees Centigrade and Seville is 39 and rising. I take the middle road and pack one warm item and hope for the best. Andrea is still shopping at 5pm on the Friday. She and her sister-in-law, who is travelling with us, phone each other three more times in the 24 hors before we leave to share wardrobe notes. For months its been shoes now its tops and bottom combinations which seem to be the hot topic.

Saturday is last minute details day. Murphy’s Law is about to kick in. Andrea is going through her bank cards checking which ones she’ll carry and which one’s she’ll leave behind. We’ve discussed this a number of times and come to a different decision each time. We’ve finally decided to buy a travel money card to outwit those Gypsy pickpockets and thieves which our more travelled friends tell us run amok in Europe. We’ve decided to take our standard ATM cards as well in case of an emergency.

I’m on the phone saying goodbye to a friend when I hear a scream. Oh shit. I know Murphy has struck. We’re experiencing meltdown in the kitchen I tell Denis and hang up. I glimpse Andrea bent over the kitchen rubbish bin looking like she’s about to throw up. She’s distraught. Scissors in hand, she’s just completed carving up her ATM card. She’s staring disbelievingly at the pieces in the bin. She’s mistaken this card for her out of date credit card which she had quite wisely decided to destroy. We’ve got enough cards to build a small raft and sail to Europe I remind her helpfully. My advice doesn’t seem to be the salve that I had intended.

I go back to the computer screen to check-in on line for our flight. Such a great use of technology. Anything which avoids queues gets my vote. I log on, fill out the fields, change our seat allocation to a double by the window and hit PRINT to get my boarding pass. The screen goes blank and tells me I’m an idiot. I decide to call QANTAS for advice. To my surprise I get a real person. A real person who is, unfortunately, unable to help me. She can’t access information about my flight tomorrow but she can allocate me the last two seats together for our Singapore to London leg next Tuesday.

It feelsw like a win of sorts – Andrea is amazed that this inadvertent blank screen ‘idiot’ moment has resulted in actually getting seats on that flight. I assume this makes me less of an idiot and , in fact, vaguely psychic.

That evening my beloved LIONS AFL football team (1oth on the ladder) beat Collingwood (2nd) by 8 points in a thriller. And while I’m out at the footie Wayne (whom I’ve never met) turns up at my house to take away our unregistered Peugeot which has been sitting outside our house for eight weeks since I sold it to his mate in South Australia. It’s been a saga. Fittingly, Garry, the bloke who bought the car and has been somewhat difficult, turns out to be a Collingwood supporter.

Is this life balancing things up?

Sunday, day of departure. Our kids deliver us to the airport, almost getting lost amid the new maze of overpasses, underpasses, bypasses which are rendering forty years of driving in Brisbane useless. I may as well be a newly arrived migrant taxi driver. It’s getting to the point that I need to buy a new street directory each year to get around my own city. Perhaps the department of Main Roads and the publishers of the UBD are in cahoots.

At the airport things go well. My check-in from the previous day is in the system. We have our window seats. I ask an innocent question in passing about flights from Heathrow (London) to Portugal which uncovers that our scheduled connecting flight to Lisbon has been cancelled. The British Airways (BA) cabin crew are on strike. As we’ve booked QANTAS as our primary carrier we trust that they will work it out with their BA mates.

What do I need to do? I ask. Fiona, our neatly blonde and totally uninterested check-in attendant hands me a piece of paper with a BA phone number on it. Andrea and I stand rooted to the spot looking at each other both thinking the same thing. But we decide against murder and slink off to call the number which, of course, is a recorded message telling us what we already know – disruptions, some flights cancelled etc and gives us a website to visit for more information.

Life’s yin and yang then come to the rescue. From where we are sitting we spy a Flight Centre desk. Flight Centre, the company who we booked through just happen to have a desk at the airport and it’s staffed. Serendipity. We’re in luck. The boy who knows how to drive the computer system turns up as we tell our tale of woe and he walks his young assistant through the booking minefield. Yes, that flight has been cancelled but there is another flight late that same evening and it has some spare seats. We book it and thank them profusely – marveling at the contrast in customer service we’ve just experienced.

Serendirity is breaking out all over. The bounce of the ball is starting to run our way.

We descend the escalator to the customs area. Andrea almost loses her shoulder bag in the x-ray machine when it takes 5 minutes longer than her other tray of paraphernalia to emerge – I knew that x-rays could see through things but I wasn’t aware it could make them disappear. While I'm helping calm her rising panic I suddenly get whisked off to a quiet room for a quick body search.

Are you nervous asks the young Indian Customs Officer feigning a casual approach but sensing that his day might be improving as he obviously has me picked as a baddie. I don’t help as I fluster and fumble with my camera, computer, MP3 Player, wallet, glasses case and money belt all of which conspire to make me look suspicious by refusing to fit back into their alotted compartments.

Finally our flight is called. We make our way to our seats (windows as promised). It’s all good.

Except for Andrea’s back , which has been in great shape over recent months, and now decides that another long haul flight is not to be embraced gracefully. This time Andrea is prepared. In her bag is an arsenal of drugs – Mobic anti-inflammatories to reduce the symptoms, paracetamol to knock out the pain and valium as a relaxant. she asks for a glass of water and swallows a handfull of pills the combination of which I am vaguely fearful may be lethal.

The holiday has begun. We taxi down the runway.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Magpie 15 Pool

A story inspired by the Magpie Tales website. Writers from across the globe write poems, short stories and vignettes inspired by images posted as prompts on this site. Click on the fish to find them all.
I will be travelling in Europe for the next seven weeks so my Magpie's will either be non-existent or inspired by Spain and Portugal.


Another deluge. I am in Far North Queensland on a wet November day. My wife and I have arrived at the Barron River National Park mid morning. We've had a wonderful week in the tropics. It has rained in the rainforests, flooded the floodplains and held me in a steam-bath of humidity as only the tropics can do.

At this point the Barron River surges through a ravine downstream from the majestic falls upstream. It crashes over precipices, drops into whirlpools and flows around huge boulders smoothed by millenia of irresistible floodwaters.

We leave the car swathed in raingear, hats on our heads, determined to enjoy the walk to the rock pools we are confident we'll find upstream. After two hundred metres it is obvious that we are beginning to become part of the landscape. Water finds its way past every barrier. It seeps then flows down our backs, fronts, up sleeves, under hats, into shoes - it seems that we are submerged.

We cross a wobbly suspension bridge, squeezing past other walkers all of whom are making a dash for their cars. We turn a corner and are greeted by nature performing for us. The rain sheets down. The river slaps and slides, racing to its destination. There is a deep pool on the lee side of a group of gigantic boulders which eddies silently and still.
Andrea takes this in at a glance and decides to turn back.

I have decided to take the plunge. I have no swimming costume with me but there is no way anyone else is going to be here in these conditions. We are alone in this majestic forest.

Gingerly I clamber down to the small gritty beach. I strip off my wet T-shirt, drop my shorts and slip my undies to my ankles trying to discard them while keeping them above the pooling water at my feet. I wrap everything in the towel I've brought in case this opportunity arose. They sit forlornly under an overhanging limb hiding unsuccessfully from the drenching. I don't waste time. Even though I'm sure I'm alone I still have a sense of urgency, partly a residual guilt about nakedness in public.

Crouching, I slip into the swirling water. It's freezing. The rain is warm by comparison. I am quickly in deep water and luxuriate in the cold playing on my body, my arms, my legs, the joyful feeling of water curling around my genitals across my backside and sluicing across my shoulders. I strike out for the other side of the pool and catch a faceful of wash. This is heaven, and it's all mine. For the next five minutes my senses are alive to every sound and sight around me. Then I remember Andrea and wonder if she'll be worried about me - imagining my body swept away by the raging torrent, cast up on some damp rock downstream.

I turn and begin to dog-paddle towards my beach when voices alert me to the presence of humans. A group of Japanese tourists is lined up 0n the ridge above the pool. They are having a wonderful time, cameras clicking, voices calling to each other excitedly. I notice for the first time that the rain has eased. I am stuck. As I tread water I debate with myself the options. Do I nonchalantly emerge from the water as if I do this every day? Do I swim around in circles entertaining them like a seal, occasionally duck-diving to flash my whiter than white bum their way? Being a squib, I choose neither. I tread water, and tread water some more, having decided to wait them out.

My balls are freezing. My eyeballs begin to cramp. I find a ledge to stand on as the cold seeps deeper into my bones. And still they click and chatter. Everything around me is still except the school of tiny fish who have discovered my feet and are intent on having a meal of my flakey skin. I see them. I feel them nibbling and tickling. Sunbeams slash the pool.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Letter writing

I'm not a habit of browsing antique shops as my wife will confirm.
However, recently in Adelaide, I found myself browsing in such a shop (with my beloved) and stumbled onto a collection of postcards dating back 60 - 70 years.
They were not "new" but all had been written on and posted to loved ones, friends etc. Not a collection of one person's cards but a collection of cards from many sources. Each held a succinct story capturing holidays, family business, joys and troubles.
They captured the feelings and quality of their era. Each was hand written, invariably in beautiful running script. I felt like I'd become a part of the private lives of these strangers. How amazing that such simple everyday pieces of communication could be so powerful and evocative.
I am very lucky. My mother kept many letters she received and even made copies of letters she sent to her distant sisters in some cases.
I discovered that she had kept almost every letter I had written to her in the years I was away from home. It was only after she passed away that I discovered these in a box at the back of her dresser.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Magpie 14 Kangaroo Paw

it sits
hidden from view
an heirloom with no currency.
Hidden from guests
fearing inferiority
among the modern and the tasteful.

my mother's love affair
with wildflowers
and things domestic.
the emblem of the western state.
not opals or
aboriginal artifacts or
hand spun wollen scarves.
but a plate.
red and green Kangaroo Paw
Anigozanthos manglesii

never used
never feted
never mentioned
always present
hung on the living room wall
of the war service cottage
for fifty years.

I had to have
that one piece
of my mother.

For more writing inspired by the 'Blue willow" plate click on this image. This piece is part of the writing website magpie tales.

For more stories about the War service cottage see the previous post:
"That Ordinary House - Hopes and Lies" Click here.

That Ordinary House 19 Hopes and Lies

This is part 19 of a story following my brother and I as we try to sell our late parents house. We are do it yourself real estate agents. You can find the first 18 instalments under 'short stories - domestic' in the side bar. We've just spent quite a few instalments exploring the house and the memories it triggers as we escort this family through on our first open house afternoon..

Hopes and Lies

How big is the property again?

Sixteen perches I hear my brother reply.

We love the place.

We’d like to get a builder in to do some costing on a few extensions out the back.

I can’t believe my ears. “We love the place!” They’d even improve on the old cottage. Perhaps do the extension that my father had always refused to do. A strange sense of pride pulses through me. And hope. Maybe we’ve hooked a buyer on our first cast.

I could see what they could see. Push out the back wall a couple of metres to double the size of the kitchen and add an outdoor eating area, my mother’s dying wish. How ironic.

This could be a neat ending.

What are you asking, the elder enquired innocently. Four hundred to four twenty I said on a deep breath. The official valuation had been three forty to three sixty.

That sounds about our price said the younger.

We’ve got a couple of other people interested I lie. We’ll take the best offer.

I felt a surge of power. Wow! Could it be this easy? Maybe we should be asking for a bit more.

Then I see the message in my brother’s eyes. Steady. Play them gently he’s saying. He knows me too well. I’m ready to jump. Don’t want them to spook and throw the hook. Reel them in slowly. Our eyes meet over their heads. He’s right.

We’ll get our builder around here in the next couple of days.

We’re keen, so if he’s happy and the figures add up... the daughter proffers her hand confidently and grasps mine in a firm Germanic handshake.

Here’s my contact details says her blue eyed mother and hands me her card.

My heart sinks. She’s a bloody real estate agent. Cripes! We’re dealing with professionals. My bravado is shaken. My mind races back over the past thirty minutes. Had I missed a vital clue? Tracking back at high speed rewinding, I’m looking for clues. Are they really interested? Had I overplayed my hand.

Then my paranoia kicks in. It becomes clear. She’s been leading me around like a puppy. It’s been a great piece of team work. Two blue eyed women beguiling me while their husbands do the real inspection below decks.

They’re the ones who’ll make the decision. I still haven’t exchanged a word with them. The two women are just the decoys. The blokes talk to each other but in muted tones. Their words are coded. Full of builders terms and engineering references. I haven’t got a chance. I’m a public servant who manages feel-good community projects. I don’t know where the wheel jack is in my car to change a flat tyre. My brother is a soil scientist for god's sake.

Then like a school of fish they turn and head for the exit.

I shake their hands as we reach the front door but it’s not with any meaning. I may as well be the dignitary at a state function clasping anonymous hands. My heart’s not in it. It’s all formality. I fake a smile.

We’ll be in touch once we’ve done the figures, the real estate agent says from the bottom step.

I join my brother on the settee as the afternoon shadows fill the sun room.

We sit and wait.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Magpie 13 - Gaze


The 192 takes a less trodden path
down by warehouses and development sites.
You can smell the brackish river
see the majestic moreton bay figs
glimpse the mangroves
sucking on mud

Stop 12 always presents a surprise.
A mother with two children and a pram
struggling towards the city;
the man who gives the driver
the same directions each morning;
plastic girls
as shiny as their recently built riverside apartments,
and a man shepherding a young girl to her seat.

The plastic girls have short skirts
legs shining from recent depilation
hair flowing over sunny shoulders
they talk to each other
and to their mobile phones

The man cranes his neck
pretends to make eye contact with his teenager
but his gaze slides past
to the plastic girls
one seat behind.
His eyes disguise nothing
they can't stop their crawl
from painted toenails
to calf and thigh
drinking in the plastic girls
blink by blink

His neck hurts
he withdraws his straining eyes
finds the front of the bus
then as if compelled
places his arm
along the seat back
a fractured line.
his gaze
disguised as neutral and natural
begins the trawl once more

He leans towards the teenager
whispers in her ear
she giggles.
A father's intimacy
a predators breath.

The plastic girls
the passengers
the bus
steam their way to the city
on a sweltering humid morning
in this tropical metropolis.

Twenty pairs of eyes soak up
the scene
or feign disinterest
behind the morning tabloid headlines.

Click on this image for more work of writers from across the globe responding on this theme.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Hats Hats hats

People with passion and creativity are everywhere. Since going live in 2008 I've been amazed, not to mention overwhelmed, by the number of creative people out there in the universe. My main challenge has been which creative people to folllow and where did I fit.

As time went by, particularly this year, I have linked to a range of writers and in particular the writing group facilitated by Madame Willow of Willow Manor and her writing group Magpie Tales. Who'd have thought that I would be networking with a bunch of people from New York and surrounds. I'm in Brisbane Australia. Where's my local network I ask myself.

But I digress. Creative people abound and here is a local one. A milliner - JeniB
The short story is that my wife and I spent a weekend on the north coast last weekend. We were helping mind a house at Dickie Beach for Jenny who was away at her son's wedding in the southern states. Her garage is her studio. Her car is relegated to the world of rain and burning sun. Its a messy magic room full of feathers and ribbons and striped pill boxes and every woman who entered that room on the weekend could not resist trying on Jenny's hats. So without further ado here is Gerry, Loani and Juiliette looking every bit the catwalk models they dream of being.

Magpie 12 Peter-Otto

'But I want a dog.' Seven year olds can be so insistent. And deep down we wanted a dog too. Our family had almost everything. We lived in a lovely old timber Queenslander in a cul de sac overlooking the interstate passenger and coal line with trains passing through our living room at eight minute intervals. But I shouldn't whinge. We had breezes from the bay, glimpses of the city, almost weekly fireworks displays presented by the local council with flybys by jet fighters crossing the night sky at tree level, after burners flaring; plenty of on street parking allowing visitors to the local Boggo Road Jail to stop by in their stolen and often abandoned cars. It was perfect.

But we didn't have a pet. Dogs need a lot of attention we explained to the seven year old. They need to be walked every day; they need someone at home to love them; they can't come on holidays and need to stay in very expensive dog motels. We would probably never ever be able to have another beach holiday and Christmas presents would be out of the question. Was that unfair? Was I overstating it? Isn't it important for children to have access to the full facts to help them understand just how cruel life can be?

So we got a fish. My research led me to believe that fish in bowls on kitchen tables with no aeration do not have long life expectancies. We figured the potential trauma of early bereavement would be another good lesson in life and so on the next birthday a package duly arrived. One goldfish in a plastic bag; one glass bowl, diameter about the size of a dinner plate; one fliptop box of food flakes. Outlay, about fifteen dollars.

The fish, who became known as Peter Otto for reasons unknown to me, was not unattractive. He (or she) came with a long feathery tail, golden fins and a white pot belly. He made the transition from plastic bag to luxury prison without a hitch and proceeded to explore his domain. That is, he swam in circles. I don't know if fish are, like humans, prone to favour right handed or left handedness but Peter Otto was definitely a one way anti-clockwise swimmer. Perhaps in the northern hemisphere he would have been the opposite. I never got the chance to test this theory. Though I might have as, unbeknown to me, there was to be plenty of time.

There is not a lot to tell about the escapades of fish in bowls. We did everything required - changing his water every time we could no longer see him through the ever darkening murky water; feeding him the same diet day in day out; letting him out for a little flip in the vegetable colander every time we drained his benchtop pond; and passing him off on friends whenever we went on our annual holiday to the beach. In short he was much loved.

Our seven year old ignored him after two weeks of feeding and watching, having discovered that Peter Otto's repetoire was sigificantly limited.She loved P-O in a kind way but slowly grew tired of him, perhaps understandably, in that she was under the impression that after P-O's demise the dog would follow.

Which may very well have been true but for the fact that P-O was a stayer. He was a resilient little bugger and despite developing a serious scoliosis condition due to his anti-clockwise journey 24 hours each day, he continued to threaten to outlast his owners. His demise came, perhaps inadvertently, 14 years after his first dive into his lap pool when a friend who was minding him for a week mistook his floating on his back, distended white belly to the ceiling, as rigor mortis and humanely, she thought, despatched him to the freezer. We had forgotten to inform her of P-O's tendency in his old age to place himself into a state of suspended animation to conserve energy. His trance, she should have realised, could be broken with a simple tickle with a fork. There was some low key mourning and some consternation about the effect of arthritic pets on food stored for human consumption in freezers. Suffice it to say that the family survived.

And the dog?

Well our daughter was now 21 and with imminent plans to move into independent accommodation with very little liklihood of a fenced yard or parents to feed her beloved pet, the idea was dropped.
Click on the image for more Mapie Tales from writers across the globe.