Sunday 31 October 2010

A sailing story - Double Triumph

I am a tragic sailor. As opposed to a sailing tragic.

My brother and I started sailing in our mid forties when my daughter was looking for a hobby that would define her as 'not being in the shadow of her younger brother'. This has been a fabulous success as she is still sailing 15 years later and has become an accomplished skipper and sailing instructor. Her brother found the rigging and the waiting for the winds to arrive all too slow and boring. He preferred to chase balls. Sailing was a good choice.

As often as we are available on a Saturday we ageing siblings hitch the boat to the back of the car and drag it the 850 metres from my house to the riverside clubhouse. Our boat is almost as old as us. It's a 30 year old 14 foot dinghy with timber deck, timber mast. timber boom, a fibreglas hull and sails that were made in the 70's. It's old technology. There's not a sniff of carbon fibre on board.

The boats we compete against are incredibly light and float on top of the water while ours more wallows in the water. Theirs have aluminium masts and sails made from from fibres developed by NASA to help navigate to the distant shores of our galaxy.

Every week we come last. Except this week. And herein lies the double triumph.

We beat a boat home by almost a lap. We were pretty excited. Triumph number one - champagne all round.

It wasn't until we queried who was skippering the boat we had vanquished that our triumph was put into perspective. It turns out that the other boat was skippered by a bloke with a visual impairment. Now his feat too is something to celebrate. Quite remarkable really. Our club has a policy of supporting people with disabilities but this was quite special. It turned out that one of our gun sailors had chosen to act as crew for the day and was talking his partially blind skipper through the three lap course. The river was crawling with pleasure cruisers, high speed ferries and we were all battling a strong incoming tide.

We zig-zagged from bank to bank, struggled with the current around the top mark, nearly got collected by a CityCat ferry and managed to stay upright - but we couldn't shake off our nearest rival for that plumb spot at the tail of the fleet. We felt fully satisfied with our effort. Our legs told us we had worked hard for over two hours. And we had the advantage of all five senses.

The wonderful thing about sailing is being so close to nature. Your senses are your guide to every decision and the visual cues are incredibly important. The change in the surface of the water heralds an approaching gust which the skipper must take advantage of. The piece of wool flying from the sidestay tells you the direction of the breeze and where you need to be pointing. There is no time to lose concentration. On a good day it's magnificent; on a bad day it's miserable but still memorable. Do it with your eyes half closed? No thanks.

I have often wondered what the lack of one sense does to the others. I imagine that our arch rival has a fine sense of the wind across his cheeks and hence of wind direction and a heightened sense of motion and balance. Perhaps I should sail with a blindfold. I might learn something.

Theirs was the true triumph. We need to share that bottle of champagne.

Dead Men Talking - Magpie 38

100,000 Irish sail to British North America
in a flotilla of coffin ships destined for Quebec.
One out of five die from disease and malnutrition.

4000 young female orphans
from Irish workhouses are shipped to Australia
to meet a demand for domestic servants.
The girls frequently die in poverty

The last convict ship lands at Fremantle
carrying the final 279 of 160 000 felons
transported from Britain over a period of 80 years.
40 000 Irish - many transported for political activity.

What terrible times
drove you to seek a new life
risking death and starvation.

What harsh political regimes
condemned you
to these desperate solutions

What environmental disasters
provoked this exodus
from your native lands.

A mere three or four generation past
yet we have lost contact -
your voices buried and silent.

Gravestones marked and unmarked
ravaged by storm and tempest and time
your stories broken and fragmented.

And now a generation too late
I'm listening for your voices
Your dialect carried on the winds
Tangled tales lost in overgrown fields

I am following the rivers to their source.
I meditate on your fate
I am a vessel waiting to resonate with the sound of your voice.

For more from the Magpie Tales diaspora of writers click here.

Post script.
217 Italian migrants arrive in Sydney
100 less than had embarked on their ill-fated voyage
seeking a new life in the South Pacific.

The Irish and Italians of New South Wales intermarry
My heritage lies buried in the lush forests
and coastal sands of the Richmond River Valley.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Magpie 37 The hole he left behind

There is a sense of sadness in this image. A sense of things discarded. Of lives and time forgotten.

He was a regular visitor.
Like clockwork - every sunday he'd arrive at 4pm
apologising for his intrusion, apologising for being early.
A giant lump of a man; a wool bale of a man.
His ruddy complexion and giant hands
in stark contrast to his older brother
my father

I never knew where he lived only
that he travelled by tram every sunday to have a family meal
and came bearing gifts - lollies and chocolates mainly,
except during 'ekka" week when he'd arrive laden with show bags.
Two of everything
Minties, Allens Sweets, Licorice and a Magic Bag to share -
for us his two nephews.

One sunday he wasn't there
Uncle Nat regular as clockwork failed to appear.
It was a minor change to routine. The family meal went ahead -
Uncle Nat was not coming today we were told.
His gravy covered roast beef sat forlorn on its white china plate
congealing before our eyes.

His place was set the following week, his plate of food remained untouched.
Our questions were answered with a lift of the shoulders
"I don't know love. He's probably gone on holidays'.
We missed the chocolates but got used to their absence
as we got used to the empty chair at the sunday roast.

The riverside wool stores became bric a brac markets
then upmarket apartments for the young suited aspirationals
transforming Uncle Nat's wharves to industrial chic.
The ekka became a distant country ritual.
Childhood led to adolescence then independence
and adult life and parenthood
and the moments of panic at the possibility of loss.

snippets of family stories emerged
of Nat's troubles, of Nat's disappearance as a teenager
and the sense of the hole he left behind.

Week by week
month by month
ekka after ekka
Uncle Nat had just slowly
slipped away
beyond reach
beyond family
to seek
a peaceful place.

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Saturday 23 October 2010

The house next door

There's only one car next door I remarked to my wife. I haven't seen the kids around for a while.
It was the end of school holidays so I assumed that perhaps they'd extended their stay away. The weather had been terrible and now, as the school term began again, suddenly, it was clear skies. I'd have extended my leave if I'd had the option too.

At the end of another week the silence continued. There were glimpses of a car entering and leaving and occasionally the dog returning from a morning walk. There were moments of familiarity. But there was no noise. No lights in the kids bedroom, no laughter. The pool failed to erupt with squeals and games each afternoon. There was no constant flow of cars dropping and picking up kids. It was an absence of laughter. The house seemed to have died.

I'm not one to give houses personalities but when the rhythm stops it feels like a loss. This was exacerbated by the relocation of our other neighbour of more than ten years, and a close friend, to a distant suburb. There was a mourning feel to the neighbourhood.

Yesterday as I pulled up outside my house my disappeared neighbour was stepping from her car. She'd parked on the other side of the street outside her own house. I'd never seen her do that before. Hi. I called. Havent seen you for a while. And then she began to cry. And some of the tale tumbled out amidst apologies for the tears and some embarrassment. I moved out in May she informed me.

Oh my god. This was the middle of October and it had taken that long for the penny to drop. I felt stupid. Admittedly we had been overseas for June and July but three months, five months? How could that happen?

When was I going to ask? If ever? Was it any of my business? Perhaps not. But if neighbourhoods have any life., any real sense of community when and how do we share these stories. How do we make sense of them without being intrusive. Without it being gossip.

The boys visit three or four nights a week. But something vital has gone from our street.
My house mourns that loss.

Sunday 17 October 2010

Post Rain - The Battle begins

There is a battle looming. I have dragged out my lawn mower. I have mixed a new batch of weed killer. I have gathered my rake and trimmer. I have liberated my yard hat from under a pile of old rags and have my battered boots lined up outside the door. I have wandered the yard and planned my attack.

As usual the mower refuses to start. I pull the starter cord fifty times. I cajole, ignore, use reverse psychology, pretending to give up for the day and walking away. I fiddle with every adjustment but the air filter. I am in air filter denial. I don't see why my once new mower should need that much of my attention every month just to start. It's not too much to ask.

The filter takes only three minutes to clean but I am impatient and have high expectations of my machinery. I know that I will lose, but yet again I pit my will against this inanimate object in a vain effort to assert my superiority. Eventually I change the filter and the mower sputters to life on the next pull of the cord. I am again humbled.

For the love of rain

It seems it's been raining since the dawn of time. After years of drought, of installing rainwater tanks, of one minute showers, of hand watering the garden and watching the landscape turn brown, then bare, then barren, the once empty dams are disgorging water and threatening us with inundation. It was feeling like 1974 again. The year the city went under.

And now the days and nights are silent. The sky is unbearably blue and the vivid green weeds of spring seize their opportunity to establish a new world order.

At night I wander the house feeling lonely, missing the sounds of dripping and tapping. As I drag myself off to bed my heart lifts as I hear a familiar sound. A tiny rumbling and the soft swish of water. I feel everything lighten. I move to the window of the kitchen to take in the sight of a drizzling sky only to find its my dishwasher on its rinse cycle.

I am missing the rain like I miss a lover. No more is there the comforting murmur of her soft voice. No more the knowledge that each time I roll over in my bed I will be reassured by her presence. No more the sense that I am enveloped in her embrace. The rain has left me and like an abandoned lover I catch sight of clouds on the horizon and a flash of hope surges through my body. I listen to the weather report hoping to hear news of a new low pressure system moving in from the west. I look at the long range weather forecast in the vain hope that she will realise her
mistake and return to comfort me

Saturday 16 October 2010

Magpie 36 More to ants than meets the eye.

I'm down here on the floor
my compound eyes
blinded, times over, by the light flooding my domain.
The energy of a million ancestors burning bright.

There's food everywhere
crumbs, scraps, flakes of skin .
And dirt.
I skirt the piles of rubbish,
I ignore the siren calls of dust mites and
head towards the brilliance before me.
I am drawn in that direction.
It is my drones destiny.
My mission:
"feed the masses".
I drag a dead weight,
a corpse,
100 times my mass behind me.

There are two of us on this job.
My pinchers ache.
I can't use my arms or legs
I need maximum traction on the floor.
This is a tough assignment.
We're weaving across the boards like drunks.
Why did we get given this task?

I'm thinking I need to polish up my social skills
in the presence of royalty.

We'll need to dismember this beast
before we can get it past our front door.
And why a daylight run?
Everyone knows its safer at night.

Large pads of flesh land close by my head.
I freeze.
Take evasive action.
I've heard the stories of these monsters.
I'm exhausted.
I yearn for a bit of shut eye.

Yesterday I got brushed
into a corner.
A huge moon with eyes and a gaping mouth
breathed a foul odour in my direction
then flicked me,
against the wall and
onto a plastic tray.
My head was spinning
I had the eeerie sense of flying,
breadcrumbs and silt flying beside me
towards a hole deep and dark
My dreams of flying were never like this
spiralling down, flipping end over end
to the bottom of a pit.

It took me the best part of half a day
to find my way back to the human cave.
My task is not complete.

This place is bigger than I remember.
I love the wide open spaces but
this is rdiculous.
Polished floors so shiny
I can see my reflection.
I'm quite impressed with my abdomen
sleek and round.

So here I am
toiling across this great expanse
dragging a corpse.
I've travelled this path a thousand times.
Always the same path.
I must ask about the allocation of shifts at the next ant forum.

Little wonder my smile is a little pinched.
Years of work, repetition, and high risk take its toll.

© Steve Capelin 2010 . All rights reserved.
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Saturday 9 October 2010

Magpie 35 Negative Affirmative

Behind the cracked leaves
blue sky fights for my attention
creating Polonious like images
demanding affirmation -
a dog's snout sniffing
a catfish snuffling
dad's big nose snorting.

Between the crumpling leaves
other shapes shoulder consciousness aside
negatives outmuscling positives
truths outshouting truth
silences screaming stories unsaid
the in-between lives exposing
the superficial lies.

For more writing on this Magpie Tales prompt click on the stamp.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Mapie 34 Extinguished

through my darkest days
your light burned bright in my life
now the flame is dead

For more writing on this theme click on the Magpie stamp.