Musings and photographs from a man in a little house by a river, on a little island at the bottom of the world.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Peace - Bruny Island

A Blue Room Book Review - You – Joanna Briscoe

They were there at the entrance to my local shopping plaza, sitting/standing in front of an ATM. They were knowingly causing maximum inconvenience to anyone game enough to run the gauntlet of their presence to use the machine. There were ten or so – teenage bogans in boganwear. They were of mixed gender, the girls about fourteen or fifteen by the look of them, the lads somewhat more mature. Surely some of them should be elsewhere this midweek day – they all appeared of school age to me. It was apparent though why two weren’t – they were attached to strollers containing toddlers, one of them being the youngest looking girl. She had a fag hanging out of mouth, was running down some f****** c*** at maximum decibels, every second word another expletive – doing so presumably for the entertainment of the greasily acne-faced males in her presence, but also ensuring any passer-by (me) would not miss out. To use the parlance of a few of my clients during my teaching days, she appeared a total skank. She was totally oblivious to her red-faced offspring, bellowing for all he/she was worth – obviously in some form of discomfort. The other ‘mother’, a slightly older, larger lass had her enfant quite contentedly sucking on a dummy. In sum, many with faces par-hidden by hoodies, this collection were not the best youthful products of our local community.

Am I too quick to judge? For all I am aware the two young ladies may have been ‘looking after’ the children for their mother, or older siblings, inside shopping. But I suspect otherwise. Being a newly minted grandfather, my thoughts focused on the two infants in the untidy gathering. Were their teenage mothers competent to give them the care they required? Did they in turn rely on their own parents to do so for most of the hard yards, most of the time? What were the conditions like in their homes, given their own appearance? I think of my own beautiful, cherished granddaughter cosseted, doted on, and being given the most caring, careful mothering possible. She is continually being presented with the most imaginative stimulation possible in order to give her the optimum start in life. Bringing another human being into the world is such a blessed, but nonetheless daunting, task – were these young ladies up for it?

Contrast these youths with seventeen year old Cecilia, the axis of Briscoe’s engrossing novel, ‘You’. If the sophomore novel is a challenge, then this author has met it superbly. Her narrative of the consequences of a ‘forbidden’ affair rebounds on three generations of a Dartmoor family. Briscoe takes us from the alternative, hippified seventies to the present time’s more stringent, yet conversely, more liberal times. Depending on one’s point of view, both are on show here. When we first meet our teenage ‘heroine’ she is in attendance at a school befitting the times. Her mother, Dora, is a sometime teacher at the establishment, insisting her daughter be ‘educated’ there, despite Cecelia’s desire to be somewhere ‘normal’. Enter Mr Dahl, brought in to give the place a semblance of academic rigor, and for the first time Cecilia sits up and takes notice. She begins her extra-curricula relationship with him innocently enough, doing something that no student, female or otherwise, did for me in forty years at the chalk face. She expresses her feelings for him, firstly, in one of the senses of those two words; and then, increasingly, in the other – by quoting passages of the great romantic works of English literature. And being the twit he is, he quotes rejoinders back. This is a recipe for disaster, and sure enough soon married teacher was bonking his student. For besotted, naive Cecilia, the outcome was inevitable

Unlike with the presumed young mothers gathered in my ‘burb’, on birth, Cecilia’s family, operating outside convention, as it was possible to do with ease back then in that era, take it on themselves to find the unwanted one a ‘good’ home. As an adult Cecilia returns to her old stomping ground with an agenda. She confronts Dora, now suffering terminal cancer, about her actions way back when, in an effort to trace her lost daughter. Then she discovers that the drippily insidious Mr Dahl is still plying his trade locally.

Dora, tenuously attached throughout to a vague, pottering, potty hubby, to add spice, is intermittently romantically attached to a Dahl of her own – Elizabeth – the teacher’s wife. For this reader Elizabeth Dahl proved to be as intriguing a character as she was to Dora, and Briscoe’s best creation.

The third generation is represented by Izzie, Cecilia’s adopted daughter – she has other biological offspring. Who is the enigmatic older boy prowling around the moorland home, before inveigling his way into Izzie’s bed? Most deliciously curious!

This is a meaty book. I loved getting my teeth into it and loved the feistiness of the Briscoe women. Its ending is a pearler. All is not as it seems – and our astute author is not overly tidy in bringing it all together either – when is life ever tidy? She allows some wriggle room for the reader to ponder. ‘You’ is excellent, and I recommend YOU read it.

Well, I hope that life has some tidiness, some love and more than a tad of hope for the two little tykes outside the shopping plaza that autumn day. I have no wish for the world to go back to the ‘Call the Midwife’ days of yore but, gee, I worry for them and those of their ilk!

Joanna Briscoe's website =

Saturday, 27 April 2013

The Neck, Bruny Island

…..we will not be cowed

                                                                    Thomas Friedman
'Bing on the Marathon, We Will Not be Cowed.' thundered the headline of a think piece, penned by a New York Times opinion shaper from his stately skyscraper podium in the Big Apple, to his shell- shocked devotees, shortly after the twin blasts in Boston. 'Americans don't frighten easily any more,' he continued with bravura, and 'We tracked down Osmara bin Laden....and we'll do the same in this case.' Well he was right on that score, and to the country's credit. It was just the jingoistic call to arms that white bread America wanted to read over their bagels, as Thomas Friedman, the NYT scribe, urged his countrymen and women ' start training for the next marathon tomorrow.'

Of course there is much that is commendable about the US of A and their response to another unthinkable homeland crime. There is much that is commendable about Americans in general. Their nation is led by the very finest of Presidents – humane, erudite and not noted for knee-jerk reaction. What was instructional, watching the footage of the immediate seconds after the blast, was that as many bystanders went running towards the affected areas to give assistance, as went the other way. Many of the latter were clutching loved ones, getting them to safety – wherever that was on that bomb-fraught day.

I have much regard for Timothy Boyle, as a part time member of Friedman's profession, and because he is former fringe Hawthorn AFL player. He produces occasional scribbles for 'The Age', but his star certainly does not shine as brightly as his American counterpart. But I was impressed with his nuanced piece on the same disastrous event this weekend just past. It centred on Carlos Arrendondo, one of the first to react and start treating those indescribably injured by the blasts. Like the Tsarnaev brothers, he had benefited from the largesse of an essentially big-hearted nation, which is, in the main, welcoming to outsiders seeking to improve themselves. His heroic life-saving actions are the antithesis of the backpack toting execrable duo – and it could be considered he had even more reason to be anti 'the home of the brave' than the youthful 'terrorists'. He had lost one son to a sniper's bullet in Iraq, and another to suicide. No, he loves his adopted country, and cheered the runners on pre-bomb, holding up for all to see an image of his lost sons. This saddened man could see there was still much that was commendable in 'stars and stripes' land.

                                                                    Timothy Boyle
But why is it that so many, both within and without, desire to damage the self appointed defender of global democracy. We can point to the rampant gun culture and those Hawks – no, not my beloved footy team - but those 'good ol' backroom boys who still pull so many strings in Washington. But behind all that there is Hollywood. I blame Hollywood. Those Hawks follow the' tinsel town' line, along with so many of their countrymen, as do we, by default – they follow the crass propaganda crap that the film industry dishes out. It is taken as gospel and believed.

In the parlance of the film-making gods, for Yankee good to win out, there has to be an enemy, the bad guys – and Hollywood, as with some Presidents (Axis of Evil anybody?), is not backward in coming forward and pointing the finger as to whom they may be. They've been doing so right from the get-go – remember those dastardly dogs, those forever scalping Red Indians. From there the list went on – Mexicans, British, Spanish, Germans, Japanese, Russians, Chinese, Koreans, Cubans, Vietnamese, Muslims, Taliban. There is little nuance here. Multiple gun bearing, wise-cracking, gum-chewing and invincible – the All American hero – Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, Stallone, even a state governor – would give them their just desserts with overkill of high body count, and daring do. Many would dress in ridiculous comic book costumes to do so, or spray machine gun fire with naked, sweaty, six-packed torso to the fore.

As the Korean Peninsula teeters on a nuclear knife-edge, what does the world's movie capital do? Why it dredges up another toilet of dross called 'Olympus has Fallen'. Somehow the North Koreans have magicked themselves to be capable of destroying the White House and kidnapping the President. That is, until Gerard Butler saves the republic. And you think Kim Jong-un is just not mad enough to take offence and press the buttons?

How do you respond when you lose a son to idiots with bombs? The little lad, Martin Richard, who lost his life that Boston day has, rightly, become a symbol of a terrible event and captured the hearts of all his country-people. Consider this as well. How do you respond when an unmanned flying object takes out the life of your son or daughter from above, in our transition to war at arm's length? For the people at the consoles this is merely 'collateral damage'. To the best of our knowledge around 4700 Pakistanis, Somalis, Yemenis and diverse others have perished in this way, many just going quietly about their daily tasks without a sinister thought in their heads. 176 of that number were children. If one or more were yours, I reckon you'd soon have a few sinister thoughts springing to mind. They, maybe, would centre around which country operates these 'weapons of mass destruction.'

Obama, for all his fine qualities, has not stopped the drones – vital to war on terror you see. He is also seemingly incapable of toning down the nation's gun toting culture, despite attacks on schools, cinemas and shopping malls. Since the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary, 3587 Americans have lost their lives to guns. And despite this continued rampage, those back room Hawks, with no little assistance from the gun lobbyists, and with numerous Republican pollies in their back pockets, are really the ones who are invincible here. In Oz, for all Howard's destructive politics, he gave us peace from that at least. In the US far more young people have been slaughtered by armed neoliths than terrorist bombs. And I wonder just how it will pan out now that American scientists are actively developing 3D printers with the capacity to make cheap weaponry – will that also be acceptable to the pro-gun lobby as every American's right? From there, home made bomb production for every deluded teen, will just be a doddle.

And which American President was it who stated, 'I don't know why, but an American life is worth more than any other?' Can you guess?

 Friedman's Article =
Boyle's Article =
The American Gun debate, starring John Howard (very funny - if the consequences weren't so lethal) - scroll down to video at end of article = 

Friday, 26 April 2013

From Our Front Door by the River


'Elizabeth and Mary
Standing there side by side
Reflecting in silence
On the people who have died'
'She remembered our losses
She remembered her own
And in that moment
A seed was sown'

The new album wouldn't be his greatest, I would humbly submit. Compared to this songsmith's best work, some ditties on 'This New Morning' seemed, in their lyrics, to be a tad forced, with the heart on the sleeve overly overt - and I really am not a fan of his 'talking' songs. With 'A Seed is Sown' we have a classic Luka song though, one for the ages to rival his most loved. It relays his feelings, in subdued manner, on the first visit of a British monarch to the Irish Republic. It is his personal take on the import of Queen Elizabeth and President Mary McAleese being present, together, with heads bowed, at the shrine to the fallen of the 'Troubles'. In this new century the terrible history of the two countries has, as a result of that statement by the two nations' symbolic heads, been consigned to the dustbin of the past, along with all its mutual hatred and hostility

As related to his audience on a steamy Hobartian summer eve, Luka, a son of County Kildare, watched all this unfold from his Irish home. He related how his tears flowed freely viewing this historic moment, and then he sang to us of how Elizabeth...

                    'With dignity and grace
                     An eloquent silence
                    And softness in her face
                    She lowered her head down
                    And held the pose'
As I scribe this down this sunny Tasmanian afternoon, it is not Luka's album that is gracing my music machine, but the latest from arguably his Australia equivalent. Listening to Archie's 'Into the Bloodstream' (probably not his best either), writing the above words, recalls for me a similar ceremony, a ceremony when the national leader said sorry to Archie's brothers and sisters. Elizabeth, still our nation’s queen, essentially did the same to the Irish people. I wonder if Archie knows of Luka; I wonder if Luka knows of Archie.

I, along with several hundred others, was squished tightly into the showroom of the local casino – Luka quipped he hadn't played in too many of those before. I was on my tod and uncomfortably sandwiched. The big, big guy on one side of me was Luka's greatest fan. This gave him permission to sing along joyously to every song presented by the Irishman up on stage, right into my left ear hole, and to yell out his take on Luka's every word to all those assembled, including the performer. It didn't entirely take away from my enjoyment of the travelling minstrel's sublime guitar playing and voice, but it didn't help. If that wasn't enough, his wife/partner/girlfriend/date/whatever set about proving that she was not going to be outdone; that she was Luka's second greatest fan. At the commencement of every tune she opened her mouth and emitted rapturous orgasmic yelps of the pure joy of recognition, and then smiled beatifically on all us lesser fans around her. Oh dear! Because of the big, big man I was skewered to the opposite side of my already narrow seating allocation, pressed hard up against a beautiful young maiden – and, what with the heat and all, I was acutely aware of causing offence to her olfactory sensibilities. Oh dear doubled! Despite all this Luka strummed and warbled, sang and regaled, giving his utmost to provide us with value for money. He sang songs known, songs unknown (except, obviously, to his greatest fans opposite), and when he stopped, those assembled stomped for more, so on and on he went.

When finally the singing was done he graciously returned to meet his fans. He did me the honour of signing a couple of his recordings, then I complimented him on his endeavour and asked to shake his hand. He obliged me.

'Ah Hobart in Tasmania. It still affects me that this is where so many Irish people were shipped to as punishment for petty crime .But here and now, it is full of kind and gentle people, going about their lives; walking pretty gently on the earth. And it is buzzing with all kinds of creativity. A fantastic city, very like home. And so beautiful. And I met a great crew last night, to whom I say thank you, and see you soon ,Luka '

Segueing this piece together, the next day I asked of Martin after Archie's heath, knowing this polished wordsmith had written about him many times. Archie had lost his beloved Ruby a few years back, and had been beset by various ailments in the times since. Martin threw what light he could on this subject, and we moved on. The exemplary journalist was in Hobs for the annual writers' festival, and had the role of introducing the remarkable Anita Heiss to another assembling of hundreds, this time in the Town Hall. By way of doing so he talked us through, in laconic style, the history of his relationship with the activist/writer, and spoke of their collective revulsion of the odious Andrew Bolt. As is his wont, Martin didn't mince words. As Martin writes beguilingly of the Emerald Isle, in his columns, and of its diaspora to this part of the world – I wonder if Luka knows of Martin; if Martin knows of Luka. It is probable, as the love of that land runs deep 'into the bloodstream' of both.

As with Archie and Luka, Martin is a hero of mine. I devour his columns in the Age, I devour his books on footy. After his duties on stage, and while Anita signed books, Martin wandered to the back of the room. I took the opportunity to saunter over and meet him by way of holding out my hand. He gave it a good shake. I asked him what he was working on and he responded that he was busy with a tome on Essendon icon Michael Long. We talked of that and his hopes for a documentary on Tom Wills that was also occupying his time. I indicated to him my shared fascination with the bedevilled life of the codifier of our national game. He was interested in my provenance and I told him of my connections to the Huon Valley. Being Tassie born and bred, this was not the first time he had come across a Lovell from the Huon. Our time together was short, but he stuck me as 'genuine', certainly as 'genuine' as his beautifully wrought and communicated yarns in newsprint and on page would indicate.

So in one weekend I shook the hand of two of my heroes. I have hopes that one day I'll get to shake the hand of Archie Roach as well. Shaking the hand of someone you respect does not qualify one to boast that you are on first name basis with that person, particularly if they are well known, but, as I am over sixty, I'm taking first name rights with Luka and Martin anyway. Both have shared their talents with me and enhanced my life as a result. I daresay the two will have little recollection of your scribe after a short time, but the two handshakes will live with me. So thank you Luka Bloom and Martin Flanagan.

Luka's redition of 'A Seed is Sown' to footage of the event =

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Vale Chrissy

Torn net stockings
School girl uniform
Audacious, bawdy, confrontational, dangerous
There was a threatening adjective
For her
From every letter of the alphabet
And still
You couldn’t fully describe
That sense of menace

More pout than Jagger
As much strut as Freddie
She’d out writhe Iggy
Mix in a healthy dollop
Of J Rotten sweat, spittle and attitude
Throw in a handful
Of Doc Neeson intimidation
Add some Rocky Horror sensibility
And still
You couldn’t fully describe
Her presence on that stage

All the boys in town
Wanted her
Even knowing the risk
They knew from her would come
So much pleasure
If only they could take the pain

The Countdown studio
Couldn’t contain her
She’d move on
To conquer the world
Up theirs if they resisted

And even as she left us
She exhorted all women
To touch themselves all over
To be aware of their bodies
And discern insidious secrets
Hidden beneath their skin

YouTube the clips
Of Chrissy in her pomp
She paved the way for her sex
In the world of rock chickery
Braving all she told her gender
There are no boundaries
And we adored her for that

Rock It Powerful up there Chrissy

Sunday, 21 April 2013

About to Burst

A Man Like Ali

There is no way I want to be like Ali. Hopefully Ali is the complete antithesis of me. But I found him mesmerising – just as I find Dan Draper or Hank Moody mesmerising – that does not mean I want to be the type of men they are, at least not in totality.

Ali is a big, brutish being in his powerful pomp. He is the unlikeliest of romantic leads. Lumbered by his five year old son, who by some means came to him after being a drug courier in his mother's care, Ali is a frightening father figure to whom, initially, his son cannot find it in him to be affectionate towards – understandably. When Ali encounters hard times he imposes himself, as well as young Sam, on his sister and her husband, battling in struggletown themselves. In his hustling Ali gives a totally different view to the glamour and glitz of the French Riviera. We catch glimpses of Antibes that would appear on no tourist brochure.

Ali is the chief male protagonist in 'Rust and Bone', the amazing construction of director Jaques Audiard. Although Marion Coitillard has garnered most plaudits for her courageous role as Ali's partner in sexual activity, she is greatly assisted by some cleverly generated CGI, which I found not wholly convincing – to me her stumps did not look ‘real’. This is the only flaw in this tale of unlikely love, and we'll get to those stumps later.

Unusually for a relationship movie, despite Marion's truncated assets, for me it was her fellow player, Belgian actor Mathias Schoenaerts, who stole the show – a performance that has not gone unnoticed by Hollywood. After 'Rust and Bone' we may get to see more of his hulking torso up on the screen. Hopefully, in real life, Schoenaerts would little resemble the Ali he portrays in character, particularly in his treatment of the opposite gender. For him, until Coitillard's Stephanie unearths a kernel of sensitivity, woman are there merely to satisfy his primal urges in the most basic, animalistic manner possible, and then to be disregarded quickly. There is no emotional connection in his sexual predation, and in it this aspect of life his sheer brute strength is to the fore, as it becomes in the crude underground sport he takes on to earn a tidy sum – street fighting. Bare knuckles, anything goes – he pummels his opponents into bloody submission. It is difficult, at times, to watch when he is in action in this pugilistic ‘art’. But, as it turns out, it becomes a vital cog in his softening.

Stephanie becomes a double amputee as a result of an accident involving, of all things, an orca. Her reconnection with the beast that crippled her is as moving as it is beautiful - worthy of the admission price for that scene alone. Because of an earlier encounter, she turns to Ali as her carer, then 'fuck buddy' (in order to discover if she still 'has it'), and, finally, the relationship becomes something somewhat more. The film does enter Hollywood territory a tad at the end, but is none the worse for that.

There are undoubtedly men like Ali out there, at least the Ali before the Stephanie induced redemption. Are they so redeemable in the real world – I wonder? Some, with their bullying, aggressive overtness, backed up by zilch in the compassion department, have little in the manner of intelligence - if street wise, rat cunning is discounted. We read of them in terms of road rage, rape in suburban Australian streets and hideous acts on Indian buses. Heavens only know what these ogres are like towards their women folk in their own homes. I've seen the embryo of this acute misogyny in the schools I've taught in, thankfully in minority numbers, and worked towards moderating it in my teaching. Some of the events I've witnessed in the bogan suburbs near where I live increase the shame I feel of my gender. I abhor the numbing thuggishness of many a male.

‘Rust and Bone' is a fine, fine film for the performances of the two leads portraying, firstly, Ali, the dolt, who came to see a different way; and then there is Stephanie, his fractured guide. Ali proved his behaviour was not rusted on, but I suspect for every Stephanie who succeeds in reshaping their men, there are double the numbers who simply receive bruised faces, and shell-shocked minds, for their trouble.

An Interview with Mathias Schoenaerts =

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Cloud Burst

Our Place by the River – Once Upon a Time

A grey, gunmetal grey, late August morning; and the old man knew. He knew as soon as he pulled back the cloth material draped over the orifice in a wall that served as one of only two windows in his hut. He knew as he peered out with his rheumy old eyes soon after rising. What was to become known as the jerry enveloped the river, so it was difficult for him to see across to the other hut, but as soon as he did, he knew. William Prouse's squinting eyes discerned no smoke rising up from the tin chimney opposite, as it usually did, these frostfitful days. There was a tussocky paddock, separating the two shanties, and he knew that he'd have to go across to the other – as he usually did about this time. But he knew, in his very bones, what he would find when he arrived over there - something that would make this day very different from all that had passed before. By now his old mate was always up, heating up a brew, preparing for his arrival. Normally he and Prouse would sup together, smoke baccy together, plan the day, such as it was, together, and, inevitably, reminisce about their long history of togetherness on the river, together. But, he knew, not this morning – or any future morning, for that matter.

He dreaded what he would find as walked across the dew saturated divide. He peered across to the Derwent, grey as grey in its milky, misty surrounds. The few swans he could spot were seemingly becalmed, as if in wait for the milky sun that would appear later in the day, when the fog finally dissipated.  He dreaded what he would find as he pushed open the door and passed through Billy Bracegirdle's dark, dank cooking area to his sleeping quarters.

For months he'd known that this would be Billy's last winter by the river. Prouse had watched as Billy's creaking movements became more and more painful, although Billy would admit nothing. Prouse had quietly taken over most tasks they'd previously shared, and Billy offered no complaint. He could no longer pour the brew from the old billy, he could no longer prepare his baccy from the plug, and Prouse took over the cooking of the meals they shared. Their women, of course, had long gone. And so was Billy now, the proof was in front of him, on the bunk. The Lord had been kind, thought Prouse. He'd been taken in his sleep – or so it appeared. He placed his gnarled, hoary old hand over that of his mate's. He closed his eyes for a moment, and exhaled a shuddering, choking sigh. He then wiped away his tears, retreated to the main room, and lit the fire they'd set together the previous evening, to take the morning dankness away. He knew what he had to do, but he couldn't see that there was any hurry to start that walk up around the corner to let Reverend Timms, at the church, know. Prouse knew Timms would take it from there, but there was no rush. He pulled up a chair to the flames and sat. He wanted some thinking time – he'd brew up and think back over their story – of all those years together. Years that had now ended with this, his friend, gone to the Maker.

County Mayo boys, the pair of them – but gawd, he thought, times were tough as they grew up across the way from each other in the little village. They were both second sons, had no prospects, and their families were large, and each household’s starveacre existence was hand to mouth. When they came of age they didn't have to be told. They hit the roads of that moist, blowy western county together, looking for a change in fortune – but the Ireland of those times offered none for them, nor countless like them. Emaciated, though grimly still hopeful, they made a pact; William Prouse and Billy Bracegirdle. In broad daylight they stole a sheep. In broad daylight they lit a fire by the road. In broad daylight they skun and gutted their sheep. In broad daylight they cooked it and commenced to eat. In broad daylight, tummies full for the first time in months; they were caught and hauled before the magistrate. In broad daylight they were incarcerated. They knew it would go one of two ways as they waited his majesty's pleasure. They knew it could be the gallows if the judge was of that mind, or if he was of the other, they would, fettered, leave Eire behind for Botany Bay. They gave thanks their luck held, for it was the latter.

The voyage at sea, it seemed to Prouse, now by that fire, was a lifetime ago. It seemed as if it had happened to someone other than him. He only had to feel his ankles, though, to know that was not the case. Across the oceans he, and Billy, endured months of foetidness and foulness – confined, chained, retching, stinking, lice infested, semi-starved and helpless – almost devoid of all hope. They were surrounded by death on that leaky sailing boat out to Sydney Town, New South Wales. Eventually, though, the air grew sweeter, grew warmer, and then a strange smell entered Prouse's nostrils – eucalyptus. He had arrived, or so Prouse thought. He was no sooner on land than he was hauled onto another ship, the 'Sirius', and on it also was Billy.  Across yet another sea they went, and to a small island covered in pines – Norfolk Island. This place, they knew, could be hell – or, if they played their cards right, it could lead to heaven. If the Maker was of a mind, they would be granted the wish they'd had swapped blood for back on an Emerald Isle road.

Billy Bracegirdle and William Prouse kept their heads down on the island. They kowtowed to their captors in the most obsequious manner it was possible for two illiterate Mayo boyos to manage, and did, without a murmur, all that was asked of them, fair or otherwise. From dawn to dusk – pick, shovel, scythe – they sweated for month after month. Then for a year or three more. Then it was done, for in their hands they received the paper that was their ticket to heaven. With it, and a few granted acres, they were free, to a degree - and would be expected to work for the common good, which they did. As convicts they had watched and learnt the right way to treat the land, now they could put it to use for their own advancement. Again, heads down, they produced enough to keep the authorities off their backs.

In the Year of the Lord 1808 they were informed that the little colonial afterthought on Norfolk would be packed up and transported – to Van Diemen's Land. They were promised good, arable land equivalent to what they given up, and enough provisions to make a fresh start. So, lock stock and barrel, after another voyage on the briny, they arrived at a small settlement under the shadow of Table Mountain – yet to be named for the Waterloo hero. Most of the islanders moved up river to what became New Norfolk, but Prouse and Billy inveigled, aided by a little coinage, adjacent acres just a little further down the Derwent, on its eastern shore. On arrival at their land, they observed what looked to be fine pastures of native grasses, lightly wooded, with water frontage, and gentle hills as a backdrop. They knew they had to be on their guard as they were advised there were still some remnants of the natives around, and some convicts had gone bush, reputedly basing themselves around Dromedary, the largest of the nearby tors. There were also rumours of an ungainly native wolf quite partial to mutton. Their combined land stretched between a small cove to the east, and a small rise jutting up on their western boundary. They knew this would do, and it soon became apparent that the supposed dangers were overstated.

Diagonally across the watery divide from them was the hamlet of Black Snake, and another one within walking distance further down on their shore. Sweat, sweat; they planted seed, established a few sheep and dairy cows – and the land soon gave back. Sweat, sweat; from the timber they cleared they fashioned two adequate huts in close proximity, replacing the canvas, and, sweat sweat; constructed a boat of sorts to make river crossings with the fruits of their labours. There were fish in the river, plentiful swan, and up in the hills, 'roo and possum. They had enough, they were on their way to heaven, Prouse remembered by the gum-crackling flames, as a tot replaced a brew that chillsome morning.

As time passed so Black Snake grew, along with their crops and the multiplication of their livestock. The collection of rudimentary buildings just down river was becoming a starting point for journeys further north – to Pontville, the Green Ponds, Jericho and Oatlands. Canny Richard Burroughs opened an inn at Black Snake to compliment his ferry punt operating to the other side, and Prouse and Billy began to supply victuals and a distilled potent home made liquor to him. The publican knew the more he could delay crossings, the more the 'punters' would put down their gullets. It was all going very well until Mr Burroughs became too greedy, overloaded his little conveyance, and drowned eleven souls, including himself. Prouse, now with a warming measure of that very same rot-gut all these years on, found he could still chuckle.

With a new publican came more good fortune as the convict built road being laid up to New Norfolk reached the front door of his expanding tavern, with further benefits to the local provisioners in the way of a marked increase in passing traffic. That same Year of the Lord, 1818, was a milestone for Prouse. He was thirty-eight when he won the hand of the publican's daughter, Elizabeth – a comely twenty year old. She agreed to move across river and she gave him a son. It was short-lived, as she found life on the eastern shore too primitive for her taste, and soon returned, with the tiny lad, William, back to the comforts of her father's establishment. Prouse soon discovered his Elizabeth had made an arrangement with a government official, a wife back in the old country it was rumoured, to set her up in even more comfort in a Hobart Town house of some substance. The official did not mind the little fellow being part of the package.

Prior to Elizabeth, there had been Molly. She had a thriving business operating from a hut beside the inn. For a couple of pennies she offered a bonny fulsome breast to fondle, and some hand relief – no more - for all prepared to part with the fee. Except for Billy, to whom she took a shine, and Prouse knew his mate was privy to somewhat more for his tuppence. It wasn't long before Molly shared Billy's hut for much of the time, but still kept her lucrative side business going on the opposite shore. After his wife's departure, Billy wasn't averse to sharing Molly with him as well – after all, they were mates - and for a while he was content enough with that. He had a few other brief sorties on the side, but nothing stuck, and eventually Prouse decided all women were more worry than they were worth This was  especially so when Molly passed, after years of making Billy's life, and that of countless others, less burdensome. Prouse, now reddened and made mellow by fire and grog, thought that it may have now been of some value to have persevered somewhat more with those womenfolk who fleetingly passed through his life.

After the causeway was built, with its swinging bridge, Prouse and Billy, entering their sixth decade, eased up, deciding just to provide enough for their own needs. They weren't greedy. Their land and the river had been kind to them. They had squirrelled away enough for any little extras – evenings at the Black Snake, or the newer coach inn up around the corner. Once or twice they even took passage down river to Hobart Town. He’d heard there his son, now a man, had taken the new road north, establishing business opportunities up there with the backing of his powerful Hobart mentor. Mostly, though, the pair of them were content enough to potter, or simply just watch the passing parade of river craft, contentedly sitting and waiting for the sun go down over Dromedary. The river lulled, the river soothed, the river made for contentment.

The mist had by now lifted and Prouse knew, as much as the grog had addled him, that it was time. He walked, told the tale, and soon enough the body of his friend was taken care of. There would be a half hearted funeral in a few days, but he also knew that with Billy Bracegirdle gone, his life as he knew it was done. He knew what he had to do – a gun could be borrowed, pockets could be weighed down. He'd give it time – something may turn up to change his mind. He'd give it another summer, but he was dammed if he would spend a further winter of bonechill by the river alone. One more summer of watching the river, that's how long he'd give it. He'd wait for the sign. When the first milky mist descended to mark the passing of the warm days of his last summer, he'd have had the time to have thought it through and figured it out. He'd rejoin his mate, Billy Bracegirdle.

The river lulled, the river soothed, the river made for contentment – some things never change. The above is an imagining of what it may have been like here by the river in a spot I share with my beautiful Leigh and wonderful neighbours. The characters are real, some appearing on Leigh’s family tree, the publican in historical records. Their lives here are the fiction of my mind.

The former Black Snake Inn today

Thursday, 11 April 2013


The Ballad Of Tessa Tyger and Little Ford Man

I know a girl, and I know her well
There is no one braver, this side of the sea
All 'round the southern oceans, bells sing her name
Poppet Tessa Tyger, hero for troubled times

Heir to Boadicea, her Pict blood runs deep
A scion against all that is evil, soul so pristine and pure
Over this island, her concern patrols nightly strong
Keeping away our nightmares, sprinkling dreams with love.

A call came in - Tessa awoke, rose up
From far away Merseylands, trouble, she heard, had a-brewed
'Those gnarlish gnus', wailed doughty Grandma L
'They're at it again, will they ever, ever learn!'

'Rob Roy Daddy Bear – Awake. I have to leave
The gnus, the gnarlish gnus, are a-stealing once more
Taking little devils, a-crunching and munching most cruelly
I'll ride to the rescue - please don my gear with haste, virtuous Daddy Bear.'

Well Rob Roy Daddy Bear fetched the wooden sword, and paper shield
In colander armour he garbed his precious, precious girl
He knew her Valkyrie heart was a heart so very, very strong, but
She'd need help this day, against a heartless, pitiless foe

He remembered those times, long past, in days of yore
Days of striding the Highlands, overseeing the Glens Gordon
To battle he went – to rescue Cackle Mummy, a dragon he had fought
Pictured above mantelpiece- his courage, he knew, now was handed down

'You'll not fight this enemy alone, my gallant and beautiful girl
You need to make the call, and you know to whom you must turn
I'll saddle up Old Whitebelly, your fearless feathered totem
Speak to him, that Ford Man Bryn – you and he are team, one beyond bold'

On Roland's flanks, renowned of spirit, plucky Bryn made ready
A sturdy lance, his noble stead, a fursty flying ferret
He was off to make mealmeat of those frightful, frightful terrors
'Gnarlish gnus,' he yelled, 'let those poor, poor baby devils be!'

Over the hills of Aberdeen, Poppet and Ford Man swooped
Together, aboard their valiant and hearty beasts, keeping oh so alert
On Old Whitebelly, the eagle, and Cyrano, trusted fursty ferret
They scoured the land, every inch – searching, searching for a sign

In a clearing far below they saw – those dreaded gnus had gathered
To do dastardly deeds on quivering prey, unprotected
Mandibles a-masticating, they were preparing to mightily munch,
With bloody feast in the offing, no focus around did they hold

From the skies high above, down plunged our darling, daring duo
With lance gripped tight, and wooden sword held high
Together, Old Whitebelly and Cyrano, a blur in motion
The gnarlish gnus had no chance to defend, beaten before and beaten again

Up to the Plateaux they were smoted, belted and pummelled
The little devils plucked up, to sit astride those mighty beasts
A feisty, fursty ferret, and Old Whitebelly, warrior avian
By Tessa, and the Ford Man, back in their dens, so gently were they set

Hooray. Hooray for braveheart Bryn, of Sheffield steel you are made
Hooray. Hooray for Tessa Tyger, no more will gnarlish gnus go out to steal
With those little devils in their mummy's care, the bush, our bush, is secure again
And with Grandma L a-waving farewell – home, to back home, was now the go

Our Poppet of courage unbounded, with our ever staunch Ford Man
Over Kimberley Town they did part, for back they needed to soar
To exhausted slumbers so profound and so earnt, so steadfastly
Had they striven, to make our Tasmania safe, as safe as can be

Rob Roy Daddy Bear and Cackle Mummy dear, ever so quietly
Tiptoed in and, hand in hand, did look down on the sleeping, sleeping child
They wondered of the glass ceilings she'd shatter one day too soon
And in their very being they knew, she was like no other

Their Poppet. Their Tessa. Their Tyger. Born into love
She of sparkling eye and brave, brave heart.
Their little girl – theirs to hold and to nurture,
And to teach, to thoroughly teach, all that is good and all that is just

Friday, 5 April 2013

Fern Glade Reflections

The White Bikini

The Woman
She was escaping. Escaping the recent past, albeit just for a short time, but escaping nonetheless. Seated on a quivering plane at the end of a runway, she felt weightless, she felt perfect freedom. Soon BA 7312 would receive the all clear for take-off; it would plunge on down the tarmac and she'd be away – what she'd dreamt of for so long would soon be underway. Her Tonia was beside her. She knew how excited her daughter was; to be accompanying her mother on this adventure to the other side of the globe. But she was quiet too, as if she too sensed the import of these few seconds before the plane's dash to be airborne, the import of breaking away from all they knew.

The last seven years had not been easy. Financially it had all been so tight, but she knew that, even so, she was better off than most – and she would always be, so as long as the economy held. She and Ton still had their unit a stone's throw from Canary Wharf, and her job in insurance brokerage was reasonably well remunerated. The constant sniping from Rob, directly, or via his lawyer, over maintenance money, had been eroding at her in the years since the divorce. She'd had enough, but he was relentless. She knew he had a new life, new wife and a brand new daughter – but that wasn't the point. He still had a responsibility to Ton, and she was dammed if she was going to let him off the hook. The 'seven year itch' – what a joke! That's how long they were married, and it was the same number of years on now – and she still wasn't able to escape him – until this.

She had been Rob's PA – it seemed so long ago now – and it was her first job in the banking industry. At 38 he was more than ten years her senior. She suspected she attained the position for reasons other than strictly her experience and CV. She knew her looks, figure and 'front' counted for as much. Her small, slim stature, blonde bob and 'bounce', in that particular workplace, before she became 'involved', had made her immediately popular. The word 'perky' was, she knew, the one that came to mind when colleagues were asked to describe her. She took it as a compliment – she wasn't backward in coming forward – in her job, or in matters of the heart. She was soon giving out signals to Rob that she was 'interested', and certainly was 'available'. All too soon he had ditched his live-in girl friend and installed her instead – a whirlwind office romance followed in quick succession by a glorious wedding and Tonia. Of course, for a while he was smitten by both his girls, and it was all bliss. Rob was on an upward plane at the bank. He worked hard and provided well. They lived a good life enjoying the pleasures of London, as much as a couple with a young child could. But as the 90's drew on she started to notice a change in Rob, and that she and their life together were in trouble. She and Ton had become secondary to 'the greasy pole', so more and more evenings and weekends were given over to advance his ambitions. He was drawing away from her – sex became perfunctory, and then non-existent, and then, seven years in, the full circle had been reached. He announced it one night – and the 'delicious' irony – it was the woman that had replaced her. She was her age – back then, not now. She wasn't shattered. She didn't plead or beg. She didn't try to win him back when he walked out. She had too much pride – and she knew he could be replaced. She knew she didn't look her age – and in the time since she had ensured she never did.

As time went on she and Tonia seemed to grow closer – the reverse of the usual teenage/parental divide. Ton seemed to have little time for her father and her half-sister, let alone his new love. She assisted as much as she could in her mother's scrimping and scraping in order to put money away for the goal they were working towards. And now, they were on the brink.

This month away wasn't her first time out of the country, so she wasn't a complete novice. The previous trips to Spain, Greece and Morocco, though, were largely at Rob's behest. He saw travel to 'in' places as being a cog in his self-advancement. She didn't particularly enjoy those times back then. But now – this was entirely different. This was her dream – a dream that Ton grew to share. She'd been fascinated with the land she was visiting all her life, as long as she could remember – from 'Skippy', through 'Crocodile Dundee' to ‘Neighbours' and 'Home and Away'. Australia. She knew it would not be exactly like it was portrayed, but anything was better than the bitter winter to come, the signs of which were already evident this chilly autumn morning on their way to Heathrow. Yes, September, 2005 was going to be a month to remember.

As the plane started to rev up its engines, she began to repeat the mantra that had kept her going ever since she booked the journey 12 months ago. At times it'd felt that it would never happen; as Rob fought tooth and nail to prevent it, that mantra had been her crutch. She repeated it out loud now and Tonia turned to face her, her eyes sparkling. The craft lurched and took off down the misty runway, and Tonia joined in, getting louder and louder the closer they came to being airborne – Sydney, Gold Coast, Alice Springs, Sydney, Gold Coast, Alice Springs, Sydney......... As the ground diminished below them, mother and daughter hugged each other for all they were worth.

The White Bikini
The sun and I are not best mates any more. Once upon a time I lived for the feel of it on my skin, and in summer I'd turn a shade of brown resembling dark chocolate. But these last few years it's lost its allure for me. Maybe it’s seeing mates suffer as a result of their unprotected youth, maybe it’s the constant drilling in of 'slip, slop, slap' during my teaching years that has finally caught up with me, or maybe it's something as simple as growing old. As a result, the yearning for the beach is not as powerful as it once was. Back in the day I could spend, well, whole days disporting myself on a strand somewhere; nose buried in a book, or simply just watching the passing parade. These days I live by a river, not overlooking the sea. It's a fair haul to a decent beach – and it seems that now, beaches are for walking on, and photographing, always photographing. I may have a bit of the Rennie Ellis in me, even if the type of 'social reportage' he indulged in – a curvy topless woman front and centre – is now something definitely not acceptable in these censorious times. Yes, looking back, the last hurrah for me was that September, back in 2005!

It is almost politically incorrect to say so, but my love affair with the coastal littoral of Queensland, particularly the Gold Coast, has been with me since my teenage years, and I've lost count the number of times I have visited. Each time I'd pinch as much time as possible to be on a beach, to throw a towel down on some creamy sand. On the trip in question, my DLP (Darling Loving Partner) and I had eschewed more frenetic Surfers and Broady for the demure, matronly pace of Coolangatta. I indulged myself with long walks 'around the corner' into Tweed Heads, watching dare devil surfers brave the break at Snapper Rocks, and perambulating northwards towards Currumbin. I was in heaven. When time allowed, after touring around with DLP, I retired to my spot in the sandy cove, under the lighthouse marking the state line. It was peaceful, with just enough human activity to keep me interested between book chapters.

On this particular steamy afternoon I suspect I had dozed. When I came to, I sensed something had changed in my neck of the woods, for when I looked to the right and left, no one else was similarly prone on the beach. I sat up, and looked across to the water's edge. Everyone was down where the Pacific meets the land, looking out towards the horizon. I immediately thought someone was in trouble, but the gathered throng seemed more elated than agitated, so I made my way to join them.

On arrival I couldn't for the life of me see what was so untoward to cause such spectatoring, so I turned to the person next to me and inquired of her what was up. She turned towards me with a 'perky' smile and responded, 'Just wait. You'll see.'
I returned to watching the ocean blue, and then, to my astonishment, it happened. A huge whale's head emerged from the deep, seemingly just a few metres off-shore. I gawped as I had never gawped before, for it seemed to be as much intrigued with the assembled crowd as we were with it. It seemed at least a minute before the head disappeared, and shortly later a giant tail emerged to slap the surface of the briny. My new companion turned towards me and joyously burbled, 'Isn't that just so great. I've never been so close to a wild whale before. It's just so marvellous, isn't it?'

I had to agree with her. We stood and made appreciative noises as our cetacean friend made repeat performances, soon joined by a pod of dolphins, who proceeded to wave surf as well. Then the whale must have tired, for it vanished, not to return, with the dolphins soon after. As it became evident that the show was over, I turned to what I now realised was a very striking woman in a quite spectacular white bikini. I had picked up on her English accent, so I queried her provenance and her reason for being on this beach so far from Old Blighty. As she told me her story, and she was not backward in coming forward with it, I gradually understood that she was somewhat more mature than I had originally figured, judging by what she was saying. I took her to be late twenties, early thirties, but her saga made her into the next decade at least. And that bikini – it was very difficult to maintain eye contact, and as surreptitiously as I could I gave into my inclination to survey it, and the body it only just contained. Stunning, just stunning. If she noticed she didn't seem to mind. All her details were soon unburdened – the disassembling of her marriage, her pride in her Tonia, whom she was shortly due to reunite with back at their hotel, and her temporary escape to Oz. She told me her views on Sydney, where they commenced their visit, how fantastic she thought the obviously laid back lifestyle of the Gold Coast was, and how much she was looking forward to the Red Centre still to come. She told me how smitten she was with Australia in general, even if she'd only seen a small portion of it. Sydney she found very exciting and glitzy – almost too much so, but she loved the area around the Gold Coast, felt very drawn to the freedom and space she perceived to be in this part of the world. Her Tonia, she was pleased to say, had been similarly impressed and they were beginning the process of discussing the prospects of actually migrating here one day. I made supportive comments of course. I sang the UK's praises from what of it I knew from my travels, but concurred with her that Australia offered so much more. I told her, with what I could deduce from our brief encounter, that with her 'perkiness' (although that was not the exact word I used), she'd fit right in. I didn't think I was being too overt for trying to delay her for as long as possible, but she seemed engaged enough not to make motions to move on.

Eventually the conversation turned to myself and my story. I told her about my island in the southern seas; the Tasmania of which I was so proud. I regaled her with its beauty, its pristine wilderness, its definable four seasons and of the most liveable little capital city in the world. She seemed genuinely interested, questioning me at some length about what it was like to live there and employment prospects. Then I received, for my trouble, a glowing smile, and she was off to rejoin her daughter.

With my beautiful DLP also waiting for me, I had no desire for more in any case. There is no doubt I enjoyed my conversation with another gorgeous woman, but I am no philanderer. Maybe if I was a decade younger and unattached, then – well, yes. But I was more than content with what had transpired. She made me feel buoyant, and I suspect I would not be the last male she'd make feel that way.

The Return
The captain's stentorian voice instructed the cabin staff to make ready for landing, and so it was over. Her dream was realised, but she was not sad. Far from it, for now she had another purpose in life; a purpose Tonia and she and had spent most of the trip back discussing – did Australia provide a viable future for them? She felt that this dream she could also attain, especially with this now sleeping girl beside her as an ally.

During their waking hours in the air they pondered on what they had discovered, and where it would be they'd try and make a home, if a new dream eventuated – if she could only escape Rob forever. Maybe it was a dream she'd simply have to be prepared to wait for – just as she'd waited so long for the trip in the first place. They thought about Sydney – its energy, vibrancy – but they concluded they'd just be exchanging one big city for another, albeit for one with a much better climate and a magnificent, sparkling harbour. She smiled as she thought of her visit to Bondi. Beforehand she and Tonia had decided to outfit themselves at a Darling Harbour swimwear boutique. Tonia chose a skimpy bikini her mother initially thought would be too revealing, until she saw her daughter in it. Once she had appraised how womanly her daughter looked, it seemed quite an appropriate choice. She was also attempting to be daring, and had her eye on a black one-piece that she felt gave promising justice to her ample bosom. But then Tonia found the white bikini. She laughed, but her daughter insisted she try it on. She felt almost naked, but in this country no one knew her – so what the heck. Disrobing on Bondi had been a revelation – she could still turn heads all right.

She knew, despite how extraordinarily awesome it was, especially Uluru, that she'd never cope with the Outback heat. They concluded the Gold Coast was probably the go, especially as they had taken tours to the hinterland and down to Byron. It had felt good – but gee, the prices there were not cheap. As her daughter slept on and the wheels of the giant plane were lowered, she thought of that afternoon on the beach – that magic afternoon when she'd watched a massive creature of the deep perform. She thought about the guy there she'd met on the beach – how well he spoke of the place in Oz he came from, and obviously adored. Maybe that island would be worth considering as well. He knew the Tasmanian liked what he saw once he took an evaluative look at her in her white bikini. She didn't mind his type of examination. In fact she quite enjoyed the obvious pleasure he took in what he saw. She knew he was trying to be discreet, and appreciated him for that. She felt safe in his company, and sure enough, he proved to be gentlemanly and was good to chat to as well. Maybe there are more on his island like him, only a bit closer to her age. Yes, his home was definitely worth considering.


Organising another trip to the Gold Coast bought back memories of a beautiful, curvaceous English rose in a white bikini back, and the shared joy of watching a whale of a performance and a conversation about possibilities. A trip to Mangoland always makes the Mexican winter more bearable, and with the wonderful DLP to share the adventures as they come, I know I'll have a great time. I hope I am never too old to appreciate all women and how incredible they are, and look - white bikini or no white bikini. But I do wonder if she was able to unpack it permanently in this land of her dreams.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Contrast in the Garden

A Blue Room Book Review - Sincerely – Women of Letters – Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire (ed)

The title's a bit of a misnomer, as there are blokes in there too, and this, the second volume is an improvement on tome one. That is no mean feat as it was pretty impressive too. As with the original our editors allocate prominent Australians topics to address in letter form.

I had two complaints about the last time around and one of those, whether intentionally or not, has been addressed. There was a marked reduction in 'f-bombs' – only a few chose to sully an otherwise fine contribution with an injudicious over use of them – I have no problems with a judicious sprinkling. This, in my view, resulted in the collection being 'softer' – the letters were seemingly more heartfelt, even quite poignant in some cases. This time there wasn't so much stretching to be 'edgy', to confront, as in the original volume.

There were some special pieces here – I can think of only one effort I moved on from unfinished. Clever was Kristina Olsen's paean to the alphabet, and the same could be said for the way George Negus twisted his prose ode to 'the woman who changed is life'. Being a fan of the Go-Betweens, I was moved by Joe Laffer's epistle of tribute to the late, great Grant McLennan. From what I've already discerned about Joe, as well as a terrific singer, he is a young man of definite substance. His piece on the writer of 'Cattle and Cane' and other classics only reinforces that notion.

Julian Burnside's 'Dear Jenny', a tale of how his mother-in-law helped shaped the author's activism, also demonstrates how the meanspiritness of the Howard years has diminished the traditional Aussie axiom of a 'fair go' for all. It is yet to be revitalised by any current political leader. Did a Tracey Lehman cause Adam Elliot's sexual proclivity? In his letter the Oscar winner presents a convincing case that this may well be the case. The cruel streak of the ilk of that little miss in the playground, something I unfortunately witnessed many times over the course of my forty years' teaching, is a feature of my former calling I do not miss. Kamahl's undying love for his Sahodra is sweetly presented, as is Justin Heazleward's love for his Tasmanian nan. Deborah Conway’s description of  busy family activity is suffused with gentle humour, particularly when a most personable canine is added to give life some extra lustre of sorts. Emily Maguire's contribution is something I could have well used in my teaching days to counter the Tracey Lehmans I came across, for she was, according to her letter, inclined to behave deplorably towards her peers as well. The wonderful Samantha Lane, one of my favourite 'Agony Aunts', reminded us all just how important the right natural body smell is to relationships. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat you may exclaim! Read it, and see what she means.
For various reasons the above were the standouts for me, but truly there was hardly a dud. And the other complaint not addressed? Still there was the constant fumbling in the back pages that I had to engage in to get a handle on those personages whose contribution to our Australia I was not familiar with – so much simpler to give the potted biographies immediately after their wordsmithery, surely!!!!

Now it is a given that male fantasies and Marieke Hardy go hand in hand, do they not? She would definitely appear on this thinking man's list of the world's most alluring women – another Blue Room list coming up perhaps? Perhaps an indulgence, but can I daydream that, perhaps in a parallel universe, she could mistake me for George Negus –  not too much of a stretch I feel – and therefore ask me for a considered letter to 'the woman who changed my life'. If this were to be the case, it would go something like this:-

My Darling Loving Partner
I was tempted by your letter describing yourself and I was tempted by your phone voice all those years ago. Already we differed in one regard – you were/are a phone person, I am a man of letters – but when you sent me your first photo, all that was quickly irrelevant – I was smitten. It was a portrait taken in your capacity as a maternity nurse – and you were cradling a new born. I was in adoration before we had even met. I fell in love with a photo. I've had similar feelings in recent times watching you so lovingly cradle your grandson, the impish and highly personable Little Ford Man, as well as my own gorgeous Tessa Tiger. My wonderful Kate's pregnancy wasn't the easiest, but you were there for her, giving advice and the encouragement she needed. It meant something coming from someone so well versed in the area; it being a major factor in getting her through that difficult time, along with her own bravery, resilience and determination. How can I ever thank you enough for that? It was the same when my son was going through a tough patch of a different sort. Your soothing words and sage presence gave me the strength I needed to help him. How can I ever thank you enough for that?

As soon as we met I knew – I knew I wanted you in my life and I was so impatient with my own shortcomings that could mean I wouldn't measure up. Somehow I did, and these almost two decades spent with you have been the happiest of my life.

That photographic image all those years ago conveyed the essence of you as a person, and you have never deviated from that essence in all these years I've shared your world. First and foremost is your humanity- never more to the fore when helping friends going though tough times, such as when we were losing our beautiful Bev. There is your strength – starting from scratch from the ashes of a marriage with your Ilsa and Alex to guide through their young lives, and being there for them, and other family members, when loved ones passed on. As is your just desserts, as adults Alex and Ilsa are both a credit to you. There is your unfailing glass half fullness – your optimism is a daily fillip to all with whom you come in contact. There is your sense of humour, always there when I get above myself, always there to create laughter in any situation. Your ease with other people, and your ability to make those people feel special, are hallmarks of your incomparable generosity of spirit. I am so much a better person having you in my world.

There is so much more that I adore about you. There is your ability to make much from little, as nurses are so poorly remunerated for all their caring and skills. Your culinary expertise is impressive. You have created a wonderful home for me to share with our imperfectly perfect abode on the banks of the Derwent. There is the care you take with your self presentation that always means I am so proud to have you on my arm. You've even had a go at improving my lousy fashion sense. You have an artist's eye, and an attention to detail that escapes me. You see where I need to change and gently guide me there, not with haranguing, but with humour and encouragement. You have made me more tolerant and calmer – although you'd probably reflect there is still away to go.

When I met you I was a muddle, but now contentment fills my world. I know there are still challenges ahead, but with you beside me, I feel better equipped to meet them. I love the life we have together and I love that you know when to give me space to be me. I appreciate that you trust me, and, even though I may on occasions flap like a seagull or become Mr Wobbly, you seem able to put up with it.

When your hand reaches out and settles on the small of my back in the dark of the night, I know that heaven is truly here on earth. You are all I want, all I need till the end of my days. You are my love – now and always.                                                                                                                               Your man.

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