It’s March and that means Wales Readathon time! Book Jotter has launched this exciting yearly event with an eye-opening post featuring a Royal Welsh Fusiliers regimental mascot, a Great Orme goat named Fusilier Shenkin IV. You can read his life story and details on #dewithon21 in the following post… oh, and perhaps join us as we Read Wales…
Dewithon is an opportunity for book bloggers around the world to discover Welsh writers and their works (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, in fact anything written in English or Welsh with links to the nation of Wales).
We will begin our 31 days of celebration on Monday 1st March 2021 (St. David’s Day), with an official page appearing thereafter to display all your Dewithon-related posts. There are plenty of useful links and reading suggestions at DHQ (Dewithon Headquarters) and in our Wales Readathon Library, but please do not hesitate to ask for help if you are struggling to get started. You are free to read and write on any literary subject relating to Wales, so please dechrau darllen (start reading)!
Dewithon With a Difference
It became apparent quite recently that some members of our global book blogging community were having difficulties obtaining certain UK…
This famous duo looked mighty cosy together when they were snapped in a local barn on Saturday night. Supposedly both happy in their marriages, renowned sitcom star Franny Flamingo and movie stud Gunsynd Greyson II sat in a quiet corner, endeavouring to hide from prying eyes.
But it was too late for that, the locals were agog, all eyes on the glamour couple.
Staff reporter L. K. Wombat
Echidna Network News : Monday 22 February 2021 : 1350hrs
As soon as the long-legged bird and the grand stallion entered the wood-panelled room, a hush had fallen. The rumour mill started to grind. The celeb twosome were closely watched as they settled themselves on a hay bale and ordered drinks.
It is reported they sipped wine from a galvanised bucket and nibbled on shared apple pieces. Franny nervously adjusted the jaunty silver bow in her latest hairdo and, by all accounts, Gunsynd had difficulty controlling his swishing tail even though no flies were in evidence.
Tony Galah, barn manager and family man, was obviously perturbed by his VIP patrons. It is common knowledge that Gunsynd’s mare is due to foal within the week but this seemed the furthest thing from the superstar’s mind as he tossed his mane at a chirpy comment from Franny.
A group of hens, on a humans night, noticed that Franny’s trademark pink feathers were swept in a carelessly alluring style but speculation was rife as to whose feathers would be ruffled by this hot encounter.
As the evening wore on, apparently Gunsynd’s horsey chuckle made quite a few barn patrons go weak at the knees. His coat gleamed in the candlelight, unhindered by a saddle, and his trademark white blaze shone. Several people noticed his hooves had a mirror polish rather than his usual in-the-paddock look. Consensus was he only had eyes for Franny but one Shetland pony was heard to swoon “Oh, if only I had a lead rein right now…”
It is hoped that during this intimate rendezvous, the cashed-up couple were discussing their latest venture, a joint movie project featuring mixed animals working together to find a way to stop humans contracting Covid-19. The pandemic had rendered millions unable to care for their beloved family pets.
With a flap of her wings, Franny had said “The flight, er, plight, of every species nests, er, rests, on the whole entire world working together. Every chick deserves a clean, healthy place to live.” A profound statement and perhaps the longest words Franny has cheeped since being told her fourth series would not be renewed this season. The studio cites budget constraints while producers suggest a “younger, fresher” approach is needed.
Gunsynd, who previously fought and successfully quashed doping allegations, yesterday released a press statement saying the funds from their new movie would go towards human research. “After all,” he said “they are dependent on nature and animals for their continued survival so it is the least we can do to help them help us.”
A kangaroo waitress, busy bouncing paparazzi, refused to be drawn into conjecture but did let slip “Insects outnumber everyone so they better get them on side.” Wise words from an animal well versed in tourism, being eaten and featured on the country’s coat-of-arms.
The couple were believed to have left the barn around midnight in separate vehicles, a custom-made cage and a luxury trailer. Next day, Franny was seen frolicking in the water, eating crustaceans and molluscs with her flock, and being criticised for her unchanging wardrobe. In breaking news, it is believed Gunsynd is in lockdown at his farm hideaway preparing for another big race aptly titled “Save the Humans from Themselves Fundraiser”.
So there you have it, dear reader, a love-tryst destined to put the cat among the pigeons? Or a meeting of two creatures about to organise a world-wide campaign to save the humans before they do more damage to our shared environment?
You be the judge.
Logged by L. K. Wombat, Esq.
Lasiorhinus Krefftii Wombat has been a newsreader and journalist for 20 years, give or take time off for digging burrows, and is a celebrated carrot critic for “Veggie News”. He is reputed to be a friend of famous children’s author Jackie French and is acquainted with the wombats featured in her work. He knows he’s an endangered species and advocates State protection.
Typesetter ♥Gretchen Bernet-Ward
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Gunsynd Greyson II courtesy of trainer Dot Bernet. Franny Flamingo courtesy of PetBarn Australia.
My reading was floundering until this gleaming gem came along! ‘The Animals in That Country’ is a novel with strange overtones and intense undercurrents. Certainly a distinctive story with fear, confusion and confronting chapters involving the catastrophic side effects of human zooflu virus and the subsequent fallout for the animal world.
Kind of dystopian, kind of quirky, this book made me think, it made me cringe, it fascinated me, it troubled me, and it will stay in my mind for a long time.
People succumb as the virus spreads across the country, or they try to outrun it, and some eventually arrive at the animal park where alcoholic ranger Jean Bennett works. Her initial despair permeates these early chapters, both for the animals and her wayward son who causes problems. Jean is careworn by events and decides to leave the native animal sanctuary with Dingo Sue to find her runaway family.
I may not like the disarray Jean and Dingo Sue get into as the pandemic spreads but it certainly makes riveting reading. I trekked with them along dusty outback roads via devastated townships to reach the ocean. They meet rough characters and conmen but Jean believes in Sue’s unerring instincts leading them towards the hypnotic seashore.
With a singular writing style, author Laura Jean McKay tackles a pandemic from a different angle. The animals and birds are not anthropomorphised in the usual sense, and definitely not suitable for children. At first Dingo Sue is unintelligible until gradually Jean understands the patterns of mind matching physical dialogue, and ‘speech’ is cleverly enhanced by page layouts.
The subtle yet resilient nurturing instincts of both human and animal infuses the story and this primitive and powerful connection twisted my brain. I was gripped by the overwhelmed and distraught characters who learned that we are part of nature, dependent upon it for our existence and survival but it can drive us mad.
As I was nearing the final chapters, I heard that author McKay had won the coveted Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2021. In a statement McKay said she had been writing a draft several years before coronavirus devastated the real world. Apparently she was unwell with malaria-like symptoms while writing and said this may have accounted for the creeping darkness of the story, the uncertainty and panic is eerily similar.
An earthy, supernatural tale, a reminder of Earl Nightingale’s quote ‘Never compete. Create’ and Laura Jean McKay has excelled.
Contrary to what my friends, bloggers and book club think, my leisure time is not totally filled with book reading, instead I puzzle over crossword puzzles.
In downtime, my relaxing go-to fillers can be television, radio, YouTube, walking, things on my iPad, things on my phone, even talking to a real person, anything that comes under the banner of time-out.
But my big love is crossword puzzles. I have been doing them in newspapers and magazines for years. When I was a young girl sick in bed, my mother taught me how to solve a crossword in the Australian Women’s Weekly and I was hooked.
A favourite puzzle is the one with only numbers as clues. Yet my long abiding dislike is Sudoku which is numbers.
Not so long ago I tried puzzles online.
It didn’t suit my hand-eye co-ordination.
There are hundreds of crossword puzzle books but I discovered Take 5 Puzzler booklet.
I will try most challenges and styles so I am in seventh heaven with a recent January edition of the Take 5 Mega Puzzler with 130+ puzzles, some I have not seen before — of course, Alphabet Sleuth is the best!
A bit of background on this stunning Grey Gum eucalypt I photographed during an afternoon walk.
Eucalyptus propinqua Grey Gum MYRTACEAE
Known as Grey Gum but there are many eucalypt trees given this name on the east coast of Australia, because there are rather a lot of grey gums. About half a dozen are members of the Grey Gum Group – rather obviously named for their grey bark. All members of the group are prized for the strength and durability of their timber, and in the early days of European settlement were heavily logged for use in construction.
The tree can appear to be a small mallee in tougher sites where the soil doesn’t quite suit, but on the Central Coast of New South Wales it is generally a beautiful tall, elegant tree, 35 metres or so high, with a tall, straight cylindrical trunk.
The name, Grey Gum, is a giveaway in what to look out for in the tree, but in February each year they can surprise. Most of the time the trunks are a rather uniform, granular surfaced, mottled grey, but once a year the bark is shed in slabs and displays new colours, ranging from pale cream to light orange.
Then, more occasionally, when the rainfall has been heavy over spring and summer, the same process is carried out – but this time displaying a most vivid orange trunk.
This gumtree seems to like being perched on the side of a hill in the suburbs of Brisbane.
Comedy gold—-I have discovered Jerry Seinfeld’s jokes, or tiny stories, are even better when read. I can fully absorb the nuances leading to a smooth punchline, being taken by surprise, and bursting into laughter. Fortunately in the comfort of my own home.
Of course, reading a Jerry Seinfeld book filled from cover to cover with his observational comedy written over five decades is best taken in small doses.
There is nothing truly personal in this book so don’t expect an autobiographical exposé of his life. The best you are going to get under the heading of About The Author is “Jerry Seinfeld is a stand-up comedian. He lives in New York City with his family.”
However, his life does subtly unfold throughout the book via his comedy routines, both on and off television. I can relate to most of his observations. Admittedly they don’t always mirror my experiences of life, but do cover a large, unavoidable portion of my existence as a human being.
It is fascinating to read through the decades from 1970s to 2010s. Small bits, longer bits like “The Chicks and the Checks”, an ordinary event turned monumental. And there’s the condensing, the immediacy of his transference, the reveal, the audience reaction he craves on stage. He couldn’t hear me laughing at the six lines of “Earthquake”.
If you’re wondering, the book title “Is This Anything?” is taken from what comedians nervously ask each other about a new bit they have written.
Seinfeld’s stand-up comedy style is a clean, straight-forward, perfectly paced delivery. Always on the funny side, in his 452 page book plus index, he goes from being a young man to a mature adult with a family. Gradually the content and tone of the jokes change, a kitchen sponge talks, technology invades and “Device Dictatorship” rules but the entertainment is always there.
It is not necessary to have watched his television series “Seinfeld” but as I read, I heard his voice in my head.
When I read a good book by an author whose work I always enjoy, it is hard for me to express my thoughts without going overboard so I tried to apply self-restraint with Garry Disher’s ‘Consolation’ and hope I convey my message. For the full impact, I suggest you read the first two books but Tiverton’s only police officer Constable Paul ‘Hirsch’ Hirschhausen conveys his job and lifestyle with great clarity so this story can stand alone.
Constable Hirsch does a huge amount of driving given the vast distances of his country South Australian beat. He is calm, diplomatic, intelligent, sensitive, and has a lovely woman in his life. Several threads run throughout the story; Hirsch gets stalked, good characters die, ordinary people are murdered and baddies steal money. Not as mundane as it sounds. For starters who are the goodies and who are the baddies? There is more going on than I first thought.
This story is populated by a fair amount of unstable people, at the very least people with problems. The Ayliffe family are atop the big-problems tree. They snake in and out of the plot, stealing from homesteads, frightening farmers, bent on their own personal rampage. Hirsch moves ever forward, ever thinking, trying to stay one step ahead, or picking up the pieces after another tragic crime has been committed.
Hirsch knows the land better than the city cops sent to help in their black SUVs with matching attitudes. A high wind chill factor features throughout, rain turns the roads to mud and cars bog, naturally conditions are not conducive to high speed chases. Also, someone is nicking knickers from ladies clotheslines, and elaborate extortion schemes are in play with devastating repercussions, each investigated by Hirsch with Redruth police back-up.
There are tough themes: child abuse, parental negligence, childcare system. The abuse of the elderly, not so much physical but extortion, dishonesty and controlling behaviour. The harsh reality of criminal behaviour, and its impact on Constable Hirsch’s rural beat, is an immersive experience. He combats the weather on his early morning foot patrols. Quote “There was ice everywhere on Thursday morning. Hirsch tramped the streets of Tiverton in the saw-teeth of another frost.”
Author Disher’s rural characters have personality, and naturally not all are good honest citizens so it is gratifying when they are caught. The master of Hirsch’s POV, Garry Disher is also the master of the neat transition. Instead of slowing down the action, backstory came when “As Hirsch reconstructed it later…” so important, so human.
An absorbing story with everything unfolding in an almost lyrical flow of actions and emotions, and a series well worth reading.
“Consolation” Format: Paperback Extent: 400pp Text publication date: 3rd November 2020 ISBN: 9781922330260 AU Price: $32.99 NZ Price: $38.00 Categories: Crime & Thriller, Rural Police, Australian, Fiction https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/consolation
Happily I only spied one typo on page 368 when “Vikki Bastian, who’d had been on her knees flicking…” GBW.
Author Info: Garry Disher has published fifty titles across multiple genres. He has won multiple German Crime Prize and Ned Kelly awards, including the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award. To quote from Text Publishing interview “The dryness, the heat, the sense of space and the sparseness of human presence inform every page and drive every action. It is a quintessentially Australian setting for a quintessentially Australian subgenre of crime – it’s been dubbed ‘rural noir’ and Garry Disher is one of its pioneers. In fact, without him, it might not exist at all. Farming country in the mid-north of South Australia is where Garry Disher grew up, and although he hasn’t lived there for years, the area still holds a special place in his heart…”
Why does Google dismay me? Make me groan, make me feel deflated? And what’s Star Wars got to do with it?
Give me five minutes and I will tell you why…
Google images can show me anything and anyone from anywhere in the world. Every famous person I ever knew when I was growing up in the 20th century. Every one of the legendary, beautiful, talented, celebrated people who shared my life (vicariously) now have their lives electronically, digitally, chronologically recorded for all time—and not unexpectedly they have all grown old.
But it is unexpected to me.
They were my idols, my inspiration and now they are looking like my grandfather or my grandmother. Eek! Am I shallow?
Okay I’m older too, but (discreet cough) less so…
Every single person born on this planet has the prospect of growing old. Sadly, millions don’t make it due to many varied and tragic reasons; one of which the world is currently experiencing.
Ageing is a normal occurrence in life, and while celebrities may try to subvert nature’s course (I am not a fan of surgical enhancement and 82 year-old Jane Fonda is finally quitting) ageing is a dreadful fact we all have to acknowledge.
That doesn’t mean I have to like it.
It doesn’t mean I should stop using Google.
Hang on, there are distinguished vocations which seem to be exempt, the more august their features, the better their kudos. Even authors seem to be allowed a few saggy features. But I digress.
I should not (cannot) ignore it.
What old age means to me is that I will never ever get used to seeing a vibrant, happy, slim, trim, gorgeous male, female, androgynous (term used back then) human being with a fabulous personality, body, voice, career, sink slowly into their old age, creeping ever closer to the eternal departure lounge.
I am callously referring to celebrities of stage and screen, actors, singers, bands, artists, e.g. the upper stratosphere of very public stardom.
With or without their cosmetic surgery I am trying to maintain the love and respect. But those dreaded Before and After shots. Gosh, these days I wouldn’t even recognise most of them in the supermarket.
“Hold on,” you shout in an agitated fashion, “don’t be so cruel and superficial! They still have their brains (hopefully) and their photo albums, family, friends and big mansion. Stop making out they are turning into something akin to Frankenstein’s monster.”
Relax, dude. All I am saying is that when I see a wrinkly (another 20th century word) I am looking at the face of my own mortality. That’s what I will look like eventually. So will you. Is it fair? Of course not. Ageing can be slowed but will only cease when we do.
The best we ordinary citizens can hope for is an active life, good health care and a reasonably good digestive tract. After all, I can hide away, I can grow old without someone shoving a camera in my face and asking me about a 1980s indiscretion I can’t even remember.
Hmm… I vaguely recall that night when…
Captain’s Log, Star Date—oops, wrong ship.
In a city far, far away, a young couple finished their late night coffee. They strolled past the refurbished Regent Theatre cinema complex where earlier they had been unlucky not to get tickets to see the star-studded Australian premiere opening of the latest greatest movie, that box office smash, the record breaking 1980 “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” still in-session behind closed doors.
A cool August night in Brisbane City and the main street, Queen Street, was quiet. Back then it was a through road not a pedestrian mall, no trees in planters, no CCTV, no security patrols, no shops open, just dull street lighting and carparks which closed before midnight.
Apart from her shoulder pads slipping, the young woman had to adjust her big fluffy hairdo every time she was pitched forward when her high heels jammed in the brickwork pavement. As the couple reminisced on some of the amazing sci-fi special effects they had seen in the first Star Wars movie, a doorman (possibly the manager) said “Good night, gentlemen.”
This young couple turned and saw a short man and a tall man (both in tuxedos) walk through a side door of the closed cinema and step onto the pavement in front of them. These two gentlemen looked left and right, assessed the situation and while not exactly puzzled, they obviously expected to see a limousine waiting.
Dazed, the young couple stopped and smiled at them. The taller of the two men, who looked remarkably like Billy Dee Williams, aka Lando Calrissian, smiled back and said “Is it always this quiet around here?”
The young woman nodded.
She wanted to say “As soon as the pubs and cinemas close here’s nothing for it but go home.”
The young man said “There are usually some after-parties. You could try Lennons.”
The shorter man, Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker, laughed. “Maybe that’s where we’re headed.” Seconds later a small dark blue car zoomed down the street and pulled in beside the group.
“That’s our ride,” said Mark, “nice to meet you.” He opened the back door of the car and hopped inside. He gave the couple a cheery wave and turned to speak to the driver.
The Lando Calrissian look-alike (possibly bodyguard) shook the young man’s hand and said “Great little town you got here” and he opened the car door and sat in the front seat. Before he shut the door, he added “Have a good night.”
The couple responded by returning the remark, feeling silly and star-struck. They stood like statues until the vehicle and its celebrity cargo disappeared into the night. At that point, they turned to each other and shouted “Yippee!” and proceeded to make happy noises like “Wow” and “Can you believe it?” and “That was Luke Skywalker!”
This couple had met and spoken to Mark Hamill, and a man who looked curiously like rogue Lando Calrissian. What a bonus, right outside the movie theatre where they had yet to see the Brisbane screening of “The Empire Strikes Back”, a George Lucas film franchise destined to spawn an empire of its own.
The young couple, er, mainly the woman, squealed “Wait till the others hear about this!”
This second instalment of the original Star Wars trilogy features Luke, a Tatooine farmboy who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the greatest Jedi the galaxy has ever known, and Lando who is introduced as an old friend of Han Solo.Newspaper archives report the Brisbane premiere was Saturday 2nd August 1980 and other States followed.
My point being?
In September 2021 Mark Hamill will be 70, and in April 2021 Billy Dee Williams will be 84—and that is “Senior” class.
Where did the time go?
I will have to find the phone number for Dr Who’s call box.
ABC News and Lucasfilm are both part of parent company Disney.
Radio personality Laurel of Radio 4KQ had a similar encounter that night. As a teen, Laurel was inside the Regent Theatre with autograph book at the ready. Her experience was more tangible than mine but nevertheless both memorable moments.
Spreaker Podcast of Laurel meeting Mark Hamill back in 1980.
Supposedly on a short holiday to check out the healing benefits of mineral water for returned soldiers, while staying at Mooltan Guesthouse in the health spa town of Hepburn Springs near Daylesford, Phryne Fisher and Dot Williams bump into nice and not so nice individuals. A cunning murderer gets to work killing men in broad daylight, while throughout the novel the Temperance Hotel and knitting entwine with a strong sisterhood bond.
In the adventurous 1920s, fabulous Phryne Fisher is a wealthy, upper-class, down-to-earth lady detective who lives in bayside Melbourne, Australia. She solves all kinds of crimes with the assistance of her dour maid Dot (also sleuthing companion) and is occasionally helped by the mighty Bert and Cec who are wharfies and stirrers, plus two stalwart policeman, Inspector Jack Robinson and Dot’s suitor Constable Hugh Collins.
The Honourable Miss Fisher features in this long-running series of novels, and on TV and cinema screens, whilst recently author Kerry Greenwood has included keen young Tinker and adopted daughters Ruth and Jane who get their fair share of investigative work in “Death in Daylesford” although not in the company of Phryne. A suspected murder arises for them back in Melbourne while Phryne and Dot roam the countryside.
Kerry Greenwood has nailed the era. Apart from a doubtful reference to broccoli (was it available then?) and later a toilet roll (in an outside dunny on a country farm no less) she writes with vigour and a lust for life, and has the knack of enhancing a scene with extra intrigue. Chapters are populated with a variety of characters like luscious barmaid Annie, copper Mick Kelly, handsome Captain Spencer and gun-toting suffragette Miss McKenzie.
My favourite quote “Alice glowed like a hurricane lamp. ‘I am so pleased! Do you think that Violette…’ She left the sentence hanging in the air, like a house brick under the influence of anti-gravity.” Gems of this type are used sparingly yet with great effect, especially when I knew hanky-panky was afoot. Miss Phryne Fisher is more risqué than her on-screen counterpart.
Real locations are used in this story and I don’t remember but apparently I visited the mineral springs as a child. “Death in Daylesford” is the 21st book in the series. I have read Kerry Greenwood’s contemporary series featuring baker/private eye Corinna Chapman but self-assured Phryne keeps luring me back with her fast driving, rule-flouting and cheeky disregard for social conventions. Always with her brain ticking over and a winning smile.
Martin Scarsden is the central character but in “Trust” he shared the limelight. His girlfriend Mandalay Blonde’s story was just as valid as Martin’s but I found events lacked drama when it came to poor-girl-makes-good-gets-stuck. She did get her act together when a group discussion propelled her into action. Unbeknown to Mandy she would soon face major problems from an old-boy network, creepy co-worker, money laundering and large scale corruption. Two major questions swirled around Mandy regarding her former fiancé and her place of employment, viz, “What was Tarquin Molloy playing at?” and “Where are Mollisons missing millions?”
Backstory is not the story and I started to lose interest in author Chris Hammer’s exposé on Mandalay and her stressful life. She arrived in Sydney and quote “She wants to flee, to get back to her son, to protect him. And yet the past is coming, it’s here, she can’t carry it back to Port Silver; she can’t risk it getting a trace of her boy…” The ship had sailed on that one. In previous books, she and Martin were in the media, the talk of the town, easily found by adversary Zelda Forshaw.
Halfway in, I wanted to shake up the action and indirectly Mandy obliged even though she was on an emotional rollercoaster. She met a dodgy cop in a dingy café in a tunnel under Central Railway station without a companion, without telling anyone where she was going. I said “Organised crime, Mandy, people were being murdered!” Thus the script-writing elements showed with Chris Hammer’s talking heads and scene-setting rather than people who moved through their surroundings. Ancillary characters were great, from the homeless to corporate high-flyers, a computer geek to a retro assassin and, of course, ruthless newspaper men.
Anomalies were Australian judge Elizabeth Torbett with Tory politics; Martin, a seasoned journo who relied on technology and a laptop but made novice mistakes; Mandy did not regularly check on son Liam in Port Silver; Martin had coffee with Montifore in Chapter 33 but “Goffing returns with the drinks…” Oops.
“Trust” the perfect title, and Chapter 28 and Chapter 29 alone were worth the price of the book. Martin visited Justice Clarence O’Toole of the New South Wales Land and Environment Court and asked him a few questions. The old judge was very ill but talked at length about his membership with The Mess, a private club, and the sudden death of Martin’s mentor and friend. Afterwards Martin thought about his journalistic career and the slow agonising demise of print newspapers. I went straight out and bought an edition of The Courier Mail.
Chris Hammer future-proofed his crime novel with coronavirus, and mentioned the pandemic several times, but it flopped for me. Covid-19 was not over when I read the book. At this point in time, Sydney still has coronavirus outbreaks and restrictions. “Wash your hands, wear a mask, keep your distance”.
Martin and Mandy’s ordeal took place over seven days and I would not have enjoyed being in their shoes, but I enjoyed the Australian setting and frontispiece map of Sydney. There was a wonderful iffy, dicey feel to the plot which at times stretched tropes and credibility, like the ASIO meet-up, or the dance of death, however a clever twist enhanced the story and the ending was unexpected. On the whole, I liked this third instalment, quote “some huge story, some grand conspiracy” so cheers to more books and great reading in 2021 New Year.
Part Three of three parts over three days, this Christmas story is a semi-humorous collection of reminiscences from an adult when he was a teenager. He said it is a fictional recollection – but is it? I have retained the way it was imparted to me, with minimal alterations and formatting so readers may find it a bit unconventional. GBW.
Dad had his specs on and was reading the newspaper, to see if his shares had risen, while listening to the cricket commentary on the radio. The others had flopped in front of that boring ye olde traditional stuff on television, so I went into my bedroom. I checked my new tan in the mirror, then checked to see if the flat parcel was still there. I felt around inside the pillow slip but couldn’t feel anything. Where was it? I felt all around the area, my wooden bedhead, under the sheet, under the bed, down the back of the bed, but it was gone. My heart rose into my throat before plunging down into the pit of my stomach. Someone must have found it. When would they come forward to quiz me? I had been dreading the thought of my fingerprints being on the envelopes until I realised that my fingerprints were not on any police file. Then I grasped the next fact. They would dust the prints then check my actual fingers. Sprung so soon when it was only an hour before the bonfire, one hour before the evidence would have been incinerated. I collapsed onto my bed.
Eventually I got up from my bed and walked slowly out into the backyard, around the dusty cactus rockery, and towards Dad to help him chuck stuff on the accumulating bonfire pile. He had finished with his newspaper and was already twisting it into wicks and setting up sticks to encourage a good blaze under our discarded remnants of Christmas. That was a good metaphor and I mentally made a note. Everyone was told to stay inside as Dad lit a match and the bonfire flames licked at paper plates, wrapping paper, cardboard boxes, cellophane, plastic cartons, plastic cutlery, bonbon hats, tooters, streamers, tangled decorations and a disposable cooking apron which twisted and writhed and finally melted in the red-hot flames. A steady column of acrid black smoke rose into the sky.
In the intense heat, a molten puddle began to form, and in this inferno I thought I saw a text book shrivel into ashes. A donation from Roslyn? The high temperature would have kept us back, but we were never allowed to toast crumpets or marshmallows on sticks because Dad said the air was too toxic. I hoped our neighbours had their windows closed and I thought of Mr Bad Neighbour’s gravelly voice. If everyone burned off, I reckon the air would turn to ash and breathing would be difficult. The sun would be blocked, the rivers would turn to sludge, the trees would lose their leaves and the temperature would rise.
Shocked at my own imagination, I turned to the old mango tree growing in the opposite corner of the garden near the paling fence. Suddenly I wanted to stop the burning. It was my favourite tree and it was getting ash on its leaves. I was turning to run for the garden hose when Bitzy ran passed me. Instantly I saw what he had in his mouth but as I reached down, he veered away and headed towards the bonfire. Two awful things happening at once. It was hopeless to try and stop the blaze now, so I concentrated my efforts on Bitzy. I shouted to Dad. “Stop Bitzy! He’s got my book in his mouth!” With one sweeping gesture, Dad reached down and took the parcel out of the dog’s mouth, holding it above his head. Bitzy did a wide arch and ran back toward the house and his water bowl.
“Thanks, Dad,” I gasped, “it’s too important to be scorched.” He raised an eyebrow. I didn’t stick around to offer an explanation. The house was cool after the extra heat outside and I welcomed the quietness of my bedroom. I pushed aside Philip’s swap cards and sat down at my small student desk. With coloured pencils, scissors and glue I made a paper angel, wrote on one outstretched wing, then folded it across the body. I glued the angel to the packet and before I could think any more about it, I ran out of my room, flung open the front door, raced down the patio steps, along the crazy paving to the front gate and headed towards Mr Bad Neighbour’s dumb, er, distinctive letterbox.
I slipped the flat parcel into the posting window of the Swiss Chalet and turned away. I ran slap bang into Mr Bad Neighbour. He steadied me with one wrinkled hand. In the other he held a Christmas-looking parcel. “Here.” His face was pale, his voice was wheezy. “Save me a trip. This is for you and your family.” I stuttered my thanks, which he waved away saying “It’s only shortbread.” I smiled. “That’s my favourite.” He nodded. “Mine, too.” This was getting a bit embarrassing for me, so I muttered another thank you and stepped around him, racing back home quick sticks.
It wasn’t until I was sipping leftover eggnog and munching shortbread biscuits that I realised Mr Bad Neighbour did not appear from his front gate. He must have come down the street. There was a ting sound as Mum hung up the phone. She came bustling down the hallway full of gossip. “Well, guess what, my lovelies?” I shrugged and the others just waited for her announcement. “Mr Bad Neighbour has been delivering tins of shortbread to all the homes in the street. Francesca says you could have knocked her down with a feather she was so surprised.” Dad said “Well, that’s nice of the bloke. Maybe he’s not as bad as we think.” Mum tapped her chin and said “You know his health is bad.”
Roslyn and I looked at each other over the top of Philip’s chlorinated head. I knew from the gleam which flared in Roslyn’s eyes that she was the one who had given Bitzy the envelope parcel. She must have had her fingers crossed that the dog wouldn’t make it to the bonfire. She said “Just another Christmas miracle, I guess.” I wanted to wink at her but it seemed too corny. And how could I tell her what I had felt in the split second beside the bonfire? It was like I saw the world being choked by our own careless actions. When I go back to school next year, I know I am going to be really interested in geography and social studies and definitely telling people to think about where all their rubbish goes. Into the ground or into the air, I am sure it is going to cause long term damage one way or the other.
It was about half an hour before bedtime and Bitzy growled in his sleep, Philip picked at his flaky nose, and Mum and Dad were being mushy, hugging on the couch in front of the television with the sound turned off. We’d had a good laugh about the time Dad put the dining table directly under the ceiling fan and turned it on full blast when Mum had just finished laying the table decorations. Red, green and silver flew everywhere! Roslyn and I sat on the floor reading really old Blinky Bill comics. I bumped shoulders and said “Thanks for being a good sister, Ros.” She grinned. “Oh, I just have to be patient. You always work things out in the end.” She sounded a bit like Mum and I groaned theatrically. Holding up a bowl, I said “Care for one of Uncle Mark’s nuts?”
All in all, it was a pretty good Christmas. But that was months ago, and you know what? Since then Mr Bad Neighbour has not held a loud party. In fact, he doesn’t have parties any more. He also stopped smoking and takes healing art classes in the church hall. His speciality is angels and he is considering launching a business called Angels of Forgiveness or some such soppiness like that. I certainly hope he never talks about my note or mentions the archangel called Gabriel because that just happens to be my first name.
You know what Gabriel wrote on the inside of that angel’s wing? It was a quote he’d heard on Christmas Day And it goes something like this “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other.” Colossians 3:13
Part Two of three parts over three days, this Christmas story is a semi-humorous collection of reminiscences from an adult when he was a teenager. He said it is a fictional recollection – but is it? I have retained the way it was imparted to me, with minimal alterations and formatting so readers may find it a bit unconventional. GBW.
This may have been a threat but I reckon Mr Bad Neighbour wouldn’t take it further because he was mostly in the wrong, most of the time. I’ll never forget him taking a kick a Bitzy just for walking past his front gate. What he didn’t know was that he was surrounded by neighbours who pretended to ignore him while keeping a dossier and thinking “He’s a bit suss. He’ll trip himself up sooner or later.” Of course, they hoped he’d trip and fall straight into prison. There’s a slim chance that could happen. But, in the meantime, they politely pretend he didn’t exist.
I hung up the receiver and it clattered into the cradle in such a way that I hoped hurt his eardrums. As I turned, I saw a pile of white envelopes someone had dumped in the cane basket beside the telephone which usually held keys and junk. I brushed aside tiny plastic charms from the Christmas bonbons we had at school on the last day and started to shuffle through the bundle like a pack of cards. I recognised some of the handwriting and was pleased to see an overseas stamp. My brain stopped my hand. My eyes locked on the address in a long window-faced envelope. It wasn’t addressed to my parents. It wasn’t addressed to me. It was addressed to the man nextdoor. We had received Mr Bad Neighbour’s post by mistake.
Tentatively, I recommenced shuffling the white business envelopes and was amazed to see that three others had his name and address on them. I read a bank return address, a doctor’s return address, a government office return address and an investment corporation return of address. There was no way of knowing if they held good news or requests for payment. Maybe the doctor’s one said he had an incurable disease. “Oh no,” I thought, “that could mean he’s highly contagious.” I shuddered. My next thought was to toss the envelopes back on the pile and let Mum or Dad sort them out. They’d probably seen this happen before, especially at Christmastime when the post office had relief staff sorting the mail. Mum might even slip a striped candy cane in with the bundle. She would think it was a nice gesture but I preferred to think it was hinting at Scrooge, or more likely the Grinch.
My mind seesawed but my hand stayed firmly clamped. There were many things I could do with these four envelopes and they were all illegal. I couldn’t open them, I couldn’t bin them, I thought about re-posting them so they took longer to get back to him, and finally the nastiest option. I could drop them in the soapy kitchen sink, maybe walk on them, then popping them into his letterbox. He’d never know. Or would he? The postman may have realised his error and would be prepared to testify in court that he put them in our letterbox, unsullied.
The more I mulled over ways to annoy Mr Bad Neighbour by delaying or partially destroying his mail, the less grip I had on reality. The right thing to do had slowly evaporated and I knew there was no way I would simply put his mail straight into his stupid Swiss Chalet letterbox with its plastic Rudolph on the roof. I wanted to get back at him for pushing over my bicycle, puncturing my football, telling Mum I trod on his flower bed looking for snails. Well, it was for a school science project.
Re-posting mail at this time of year meant long delivery delays, quite possibly he wouldn’t get the four envelopes until the New Year and by then he may have advanced lung cancer. The rational part of my mind said “Surely the doctors have already booked his hospital bed?” No, there was nothing for it. My finger prints were all over them, they had to be destroyed. It wouldn’t be my fault they accidentally fell into the bonfire we always had in the back corner of the garden on Boxing Day afternoon. Mum liked to clear up and burn the rubbish left over from our festivities. Occasionally items, unwanted or otherwise, were accidentally broken or scrunched up or drooled on by Bitzy, so what did a handful of paper matter?
It may have been Aunt Zilla’s Christmas plum pudding and brandy custard, but I did not sleep well that night. Cousin Philip’s parents were on a grown-ups break so Philip stayed in my bedroom, snoring like a diesel train in a sleeping bag. First up, after I had wiped the envelopes down like they do in the movies, I secured them in some spare wrapping paper and sticky-taped the sides. Unsure if they would pass as useless overflow or a forgotten gift, I tucked them safely into my pillowcase. This made my pillow crackle all night and that didn’t help my sleep either. My mind replayed our Christmas Day family fun over and over, but instead of focusing on my great haul of goodies, and Dad whacking a six over the garage, it kept circling back to the hall telephone table.
Over Boxing Day breakfast, mainly leftover lychees, cheesy bread and dips, I casually asked Roslyn what she thought a person would be fined if they destroyed someone’s Christmas mail. She looked away from the sight of Philip spooning plum pudding and custard into his mouth and onto his chin. After swallowing a chunk of ham, slathered in mustard pickles, she said “Depends what was in the mail?” then took a big glug of orange juice before continuing. “If it was birthday money or bank cheques, it would probably mean a stint in the lockup.” This was not what I wanted to hear. “Er,” I groped for a reply. “What if it was an accident?” She laughed. “Then nobody would know, would they?” And I knew I had my answer.
I tried to keep the jubilant tone out of my voice, while tucking away the word “jubilant” to dazzle my next English teacher, and said “Better not work in the post office, I guess.” Roslyn gave me a funny look, as though she was going to ask if I’d got a holiday job. I quickly jumped to my feet. “Hey, Phil, wanna come to the pool with us tomorrow?” Philip nearly choked in his eagerness to accept the invitation. It was nice being a younger kid’s idol. “That would be great!” Roslyn raised her nose and said in a haughty voice “I wouldn’t come to that lukewarm pool if you paid me.” I pulled my Velcro wallet out of my board shorts. “I have moneeey.” I waggled two five dollar notes. “Ice creams are on me.” They both responded appropriately but I guessed Roslyn had worked out that Uncle Mark had been unfair and given me more than he had given her this Christmas. Should it matter? It did, and I felt bad about it. I made a mental note to buy her a packet of Smarties.
Philip’s holidaying parents left instructions while they were away; games of Scrabble were meant to be the kid’s calm Boxing Day entertainment. Yeah… At the chlorinated council swimming pool, I let Phil slide down the slippery slide into the blue water about a hundred times and eat too many jelly snakes which made him sick. Even when Roslyn forced him to wear a daggy t-shirt in the water, and he got a sunburned face which made him look like a drunk on Saturday night, he loved every minute of it. “You forgot to apply his sunscreen cream,” wailed Mum. “Don’t worry, Auntie June,” said Philip. “My skin will peel off soon enough.” She left the room still wailing but I couldn’t work out if it was because of Philip’s skin or because her own sister would skin her alive. Little did I know that I was minutes away from my own personal disaster.
Part One of three parts over three days, this Christmas story is a semi-humorous collection of reminiscences from an adult when he was a teenager. He said it is a fictional recollection – but is it? I have retained the way it was imparted to me, with minimal alterations and formatting so readers may find it a bit unconventional. GBW.
Another stinking hot and humid morning, classic Queensland December weather. Another sweltering Christmas Day lunch was coming with its overload of perfumed aunts, sweaty uncles, sweaty sliced ham, burnt potatoes and sickly sweet desserts squabbled over by squealing cousins. One year, all the aunts brought pavlova, sunken in the middle and piled high with Golden Circle tinned fruit. The cream on top had started to curdle and Mum had given up trying to swish off the flies. This year Aunt Hilda brought the sweetest dessert, a huge glass bowl of rocky road trifle. I thought cousin Philip’s head was going to explode with excitement.
The entrée was always nice. Usually Jatz crackers, cheese cubes, carrot and celery sticks and maybe olives or cocktail onions. If Uncle Mark attended, it was guaranteed there would be salted peanuts, salted brazil nuts and salted cashew nuts. Not that he was particularly generous, it was just that he liked nuts with his chilled beer. He drank a lot of chilled beer, summer and winter actually.
Uncle Lucas said what he said every year. “The person who invented the festive punch bowl was a drongo. Talk about a foolish way to serve yourself a drink.” The main reason he didn’t like it was because Mum never poured alcohol into the bowl because of the little kids. But I had to agree. For a start, if chunks of pineapple are mixed into the lemonade and cordial swill, it is very hard to ladle the liquid into your glass without splashing. If my sister Roslyn, who hated stuff in her drinks––even those paper umbrellas––spied a slice of lemon or a glacé cherry floating around, she would spend half an hour trying to fish it out with a toothpick she’d pulled out of a boiled cheerio. Of course, the linen tablecloth got pretty sticky but our dog Bitzy enjoyed his snack. On the whole, he did very well out of Christmas lunch. He’s only sicked up once so far.
In fact, Bitzy was ready and salivating when we all trudged home from the universal Christmas Day morning church service. I think it was invented to delay the opening of presents under the tree. The best present I got was Cluedo and I kept asking everyone to play it with me. Anyway, we had to walk there and back because the almost-Christians always filled the carpark at Christmas. The first thing I noticed was that Bitzy had romped through most of the gifts under the tree. Probably bidding our cat a fond goodbye for the next couple of days. Fortunately there was no food in any of the presents so he didn’t do much damage, although the bows looked a bit wonky, and I could see a skinny Barbie arm waving for help through a snowman-wrapped box.
Snowmen, holly, red robins, can’t we move on? Even Father Christmas, or Santa Claus, or St Nicholas wears a red hot thermal suit. In this temperature! Come on, those cards on the mantelpiece are weird, why would he get togged up, harness the reindeers and deliver pressies to kids in the outback wearing that outfit? And why does he fly over Bondi Beach or Ayers Rock? Most of us live in three-bedroomed houses in the suburbs. I vaguely thought of the song “Six White Boomers” about kangaroos instead of reindeer. Those reindeers are a worry, surely it’s not their only seasonal job. And what if Santa got a ute?
This got me thinking about the Sri Lankan family at one end of our street, and the Indigenous mob at the other end where me mate Gazza used to live. I will have to ask Dad if they exchange gifts and celebrate like we do with decorations and excessive food. Before school starts again next year, maybe I can ask Gazza. He’s been outback but hopefully will swing into town at the end of January around Australia Day celebrations. Well, maybe not, he burns the flag, so I’ll probably see him in February.
I tweaked the tinsel holding another load of gaudy cards and they bounced violently but didn’t fall off. Mum always wrote Christmas cards even though she said it was a chore and Dad said it was to keep in good with people. Our tree this year was a bare branch from a local gumtree, stuck in a flower pot and decorated with crafty things Roslyn and I made at school while the teachers took a break in the staff room. It was strung with twinkly coloured lights and looked good leaning forward, sort of humble, like Mary and Joseph in the cowshed. Sometimes Roslyn would make a little manger, padded with dry grass, and wrap one of her dolls in a facecloth to look like baby Jesus. She didn’t like it when I used my toy dinosaurs as lowly cattle.
In the lead up to Christmas, we always visited the local Christmas Lights display. Lights were plastered all over ordinary homes in ordinary streets, creating traffic chaos but giving everyone an eyeful of how much electricity there is to waste. Roslyn thought I was weird because I liked the plain twinkly lights in the trees, not the big bold brightly coloured ones that beamed from roof-lines in the shape of the nativity. This year a couple of families had lined their driveways in a successful imitation of an aircraft runway. I guess it was an incentive for Father Christmas to visit, reserved parking, no chimney fuss. I half expected to see a bale of hay for Rudolph and the team.
When I think of lights and decorations, I think of the time when Roslyn was a toddler, she popped a small glass Christmas tree decoration into her mouth and chomped it. Everyone went hysterical and she had to spit it out and rinse her mouth and get a lecture. It was only Uncle Mark who muttered “Damn glass manufacturers” which is probably why the world went plastic. In hindsight, it has proved to be just as dangerous.
Dad usually asked “Could we have a barbecue this year, love?” but Mum always vetoed the idea because “It’s Christmas, Merv, not Melbourne Cup Day.” He grumbled as he stirred the rich dark gravy he always made for the roasted leg of lamb. Which he always had the honour of carving right after we said grace. This meat was my favourite and I couldn’t understand why my best friend Redmond was a vegetarian when there was such a variety of food on the planet. I’d often ask “Why restrict yourself, Red?” and he’d snort and go and sit on another side of the shelter shed, muttering “carnivore” and filling his mouth with mung beans.
Anyway, on this after-lunch, over-heated Christmas afternoon, the phone rang. Due to the little kids still playing in the paddling pool, everyone lazily keeping an eye on them, their aluminium chairs sinking into the lawn as they digested the food they’d gutsed, I was the bunny. I raced towards the house, scaring a scrap-watching magpie, ran along the hallway and skidded to a stop in front of the telephone table.
“Hello,” I said and held my breath, wondering who it would be. A gravelly voice said “Would you stop making so much blasted noise.” I blinked. This was our nextdoor neighbour who always made the most noise in the street. Loud parties, squealing women, swearing men, breaking bottles, knocking over bins, and revving his Holden Monaro GTS twin exhaust pipes at one o’clock in the morning. I swallowed and composed the reply Mum had drilled into me. “Thank you for calling. I’ll let my parents know you rang.” His cleared his cigarette smoker’s throat. “You better, or else there’ll be trouble.”
“Troubled Blood” is based on old school detective work and hours of hard slog. An expertly presented narrative of a cold case investigation, seen through the eyes of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, private detectives with their own agency. The dynamic duo interview a diverse range of suspects while battling family upheaval and relationship problems in their private lives. World-building is not needed when London is the backdrop and the book is based on excellent characters, their actions and personalities.
Author Robert Galbraith’s fifth crime novel in the Strike series is a distinctive portrayal of family, close friends, co-workers and suspects in the mysterious disappearance of Margot Bamborough, a doctor who vanished in 1974, leaving behind her daughter Anna who now wants answers. Every lead, every word, every movement, every coffee is documented (I am sure some readers will skip) and sections in an out-of-print book and archived police reports are analysed and compared. Yet serial killer Dennis Creed remains tight-lipped.
A body was never found but press reports and layers of dross from obsessed former police officer Bill Talbot are explored. Talbot penned reports in shorthand, astrological diagrams, horoscope and zodiac signs and unusual drawings which, by the way, were illustrated by J K Rowling. A killer could be on the loose, but nabbing them now seems impossible. Robin is the fact-finder and Strike leads the interviews, of which there are many, until he is called away to visit his sick aunt. Galbraith has been kind enough to subtly recap events at intervals so I could refresh my mental Who’s Who.
The setting starts in December at Christmas time (I read this novel in 2020 festive season) and apart from facing inept matchmaking and a sleazy co-worker, gift shopping is fraught with uncertainty for Strike and Robin. As a wiser world comes out of Covid-19, it is unsettling to read about the pre-pandemic holiday season and Strike’s bad case of ‘flu. His prosthetic leg is not often mentioned; he avoids emotions and text messages; and loses brownie points from me when he increases cigarette smoking. Not sexy, not sensible, give up smoking, Strike!
Aside from the niggling aspect of a ready-made screenplay, dialogue is what I loved most about “Troubled Blood”. Dylan Thomas wrote a play for voices and this book compares in that the bulk of it is revealed through speech. Although sprinkled with the obligatory f-word, thankfully catchphrases and recurrent behaviours are out, and a kind of interview intimacy is used throughout the book. It is like sitting next to Robin and Strike as they conduct café interviews in venues like Fortnum & Mason and Hampton Court Palace.
British to the core, this story of 927 (real) pages brilliantly achieves the traditional crime ensemble with a modern set-up. I enjoyed both the solid content and the easy visualisation. Definitely a multi-layered plot with lots of upsetting domestic drama and soul searching which, in many ways, are things a reader has experienced and can relate to. That aside, I found ye olde English chapter excerpts from “The Faerie Queene” by Edmund Spenser (c1590) to be charmingly relevant yet tricky to decipher.
A lengthy book merits a long review, and “Troubled Blood” is what I call a heavy weight novel in more ways than one. I think this Galbraith/Rowling offering is much better than the last instalment in the series, and it was a pleasure to read a well-bound typo-free hardback. Perseverance is needed with the word-bombing when reading late at night, but all in all a great book for an internet-free holiday, just set aside a solid chunk of reading time.