The System

Allora Queensland
Allora Township

Angus shuffled through a pile of bills and sent one fluttering to the floor.  His son Steve stood beside the dining room table, arms folded, watching him.  Every week Angus misplaced an important piece of paperwork.
“Told you it wasn’t far away.”  Angus held up an electricity account.
“You should have a proper filing system, Dad,” Steve said.  “One day the electricity will be cut off and you’ll wonder why you’re in the dark.”
“It’s you who’s in the dark, my lad.”  Angus tapped his nose, an obscure family joke.
Steve gave a brief smile.  “Let me buy you a three-drawer filing cabinet with suspension files and alphabetical tabs.”
“My manila folder is just fine,” said Angus, holding up a battered cream folder with various names crossed out and a succession of dates which finished at 1998.
“You’re damn lucky I haven’t forced you into owning a computer,” said Steve, stacking old invoices, “otherwise I’d make you pay bills online.”
“The only line I like is a fishing one,” said Angus, his mouth twitching at the corners.  He couldn’t resist adding “Just ‘cos you program computers doesn’t mean I have to like ‘em.”
Steve gave a good-natured harrumph and went in search of his mobile phone.  He gave a whistle and his dog Fancy raced in from the garden with her tongue lolling and eyes gleaming.  “Come on, girl, it’s time to take the old bloke shopping.”
Angus knew that Fancy had been foraging in the garden by the dirt clinging to her paws.  “Glad someone likes my little courtyard,” he said.  She placed a paw on his bony knee and he ruffled her ears.  “No treats yet.”
Before they left, Angus surreptitiously swallowed a blood pressure tablet.
They took Steve’s car and drove into town, parking on a broken two-hour meter.  At the shopping centre, Angus went straight to the rawhide-smelling pet store and bought a packet of dog treats.
“One hundred percent pure beef,” he read.
“You spoil the dog,” said Steve.
Angus jutted his jaw but said nothing.
At the next stop, Angus purchased postage stamps and talked with the postmaster.
“Steve’s going to make me a grandfather in a couple of week’s time.”  His thoughts strayed and he said quietly, “That will certainly change things.”
Steve tapped his watch and mouthed the word “Coffee”.  Angus knew he had just two minutes to pay the electricity bill.  He said to the postmaster, “Can’t miss out on my Café Bijou treat.”
Leaving the post office, they walked a short distance to the café, pausing once for Angus to catch his breath.
“When can we eat at a healthy place?”  Steve sounded like a five year old child.
“When I’m gone,” said Angus, taking off his sweaty Akubra and fanning himself.  The steps going into the café were uneven and he tripped.
“Steady.”  Steve offered his arm but Angus shook his head.
Café Bijou served a wide range of high fat, carb-loaded meals and well sweetened desserts.   Angus enjoyed the never-ending cups of coffee served by the eighty year old waitress Dita.  Her hands had started to shake but she didn’t spill their coffees.
“Dita, you’re a living treasure,” said Angus.  He took a swipe at her apron bow as she ambled away.
“Ah, ha,” Dita crowed, “you never could hit me backside.”
“Don’t know why––it’s broad enough,” said Angus in an aside to Steve, who hung his head and started tapping on his phone.  Angus handed the menu to him.  “I bet you’ll check which sandwiches have the least amount of red meat.”
“Do you have the slightest idea what cholesterol is?” asked Steve.
Angus ignored him and leaned over to take a newspaper off the top of a bundle.  “Same stories, just a different way of writing ‘em.  If sporting heroes stopped screwing up their lives, the media would be stumped for ideas.  Look, one of them died from a health-nut overdose.”  Steve rolled his eyes.
As they were leaving, the treasurer of the bowls club halted Angus in the doorway, asking for a donation for their sponsored charity.  Angus obliged but the chitchat got to him.  Shifting his weight from foot to foot, he said “I’m going shopping with my boy Steve.  He’s pretty busy these days.  Every moment counts.”  With apologies, he pursued Steve’s figure down the street, heading in the direction of the supermarket, his least favourite place.
Fancy had been asleep in the car but woke when she heard their voices returning.  They loaded the grocery bags into the boot.
“We’ve got time to look at a new filing system,” said Steve.
“Let’s do it another time.”
“It would help keep your records more organised, Dad.”
“It’s just how I like it,” said Angus and slipped a dried treat to Fancy.
Once on the road, they travelled in silence until Angus saw Steve glance at him in a melancholy way.
“The doc said my new pills are working just fine,” said Angus, aware that his illness hung between them, an unseen yet active enemy.  “I don’t have another appointment until next month.”
Steve nodded. “Good.”
Angus didn’t add that the surgeon had said he may not be allowed to drive again.
He watched Steve negotiate a corner.  “You’re a good driver, Steve.  Shame I never taught you how to drive a ute across a furrowed paddock.”
“I was too young.  Then the farm was sold.”  Steve toyed with the digital controls on the dashboard.  “You did more for me in other ways.”
After awhile, Angus said, “Can we take a different route home?”
“That sounds ominous,” said Steve but obliged by turning off the main highway.
The rural landscape was sparsely treed with very few farm buildings.
Without warning, Angus said “Stop!”  He asked Steve to pull over outside an old barn-like warehouse with an adjoining timber yard.
“I reckon we could make our own filing cabinet, don’t you?” said Angus.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Bright Cherry Walk Cafe 01
Cosy

Council Meeting

 

IMG_0078
Happy
Lightning Bolt
Sad

REPORT

It is going to be an uncomfortable meeting.  The aluminum-lined tin roof of the old scout hut has Christmas lights still hanging from the beams but no ceiling fans.  In the slowly increasing heat, city council employees stand around fanning themselves with official paperwork, sweat running into the collars of their creased jackets.

A gathering of various ages and nationalities, husbands, wives, old friends milling about, young children already fidgeting, and teenagers comparing notes about being awake so early on a Saturday.  And me, taking notes for a writing class.

My brief:  Go to an unusual place and observe people and surroundings then write about it.

I tread the worn linoleum flooring, past bare walls, seeking a vacant chair.  Instead being lured by chilled water jugs, beaded with droplets.  The moisture runs onto trestle tables covered with plastic cloths and neatly stacked glassware.  On a corner table, ignored, a tea urn, china cups and sugar.  “Too hot for a cuppa,” hisses a woman “but a biscuit would be nice.”  No such luck, it looks like it will be all business.

I chose this council meeting, billed as a Community Centre Public Consultation, hoping for a good cross-section of individuals.  The focus is an old disused council depot just up the street from the scout hall which is ripe for redevelopment.  Possibly a venue for arts and crafts, retired folk or out-of-work men with carpentry skills.  Doesn’t sound too threatening but you never know with hot tempers and hotter weather.

There are not enough white plastic chairs so a frantic search gets underway to find more seats for late arrivals.  By now, attendance hovers around 45 humidity-affected people.  Craggy old veterans, highly-perfumed women, groups in casual shirts and shorts, retired types perhaps looking forward to the proposed construction.  One woman commands attention with a loud voice, passionate about protecting her home from noise and extra traffic.  A male voice tells her “It hasn’t started yet so shut up.”

Registration sheets are handed around and duly completed, information leaflets handed out, a welcome speech, introductions all round and the meeting starts.  The Councillor and various council departments take turns talking about the proposed community centre site and how it will benefit the general public.  A white board and black pens are used to draw proposed plans, stressing that existing trees will remain and more planted.

I put my reading glasses on as a slide presentation illuminates but some gruff local residents butt in with irrelevant queries.  A young, flushed council assistant is hassled by senior homeowners out to protect their land values, citing added burdens on the already strained infrastructure.  “Traffic is bad enough now, this street can’t cope with extra cars.”  And “If an event was on, numbers would treble and we couldn’t get out of our driveways!”  There is a smattering of applause and a red-faced toddler starts to cry.

The Councillor is getting agitated, stern faced and unhappy about these interruptions to her pet project.  She rises, retorts in a firm, concise manner “Questions and answers will be held at the end of this session.  Please refrain from interrupting” then she sits down and furiously scribbles a note.

Feeling overheated and drowsy as the meeting drags on, I’m shaken from my lethargy by an unusual break in the proceedings.  Oh dear.  A plus-size young lady on a wobbly plastic chair is starting to slip.  Slowly, her chair sinks as the legs buckle and she gracefully slides to the floor.  Plop!  The Council officials gasp as one.  Embarrassed, she rolls over and stands up.  Everyone is fussing, offering her sympathy and cold water.  The weakened chair is quickly replaced and a sturdier one supplied.

More words, blurring in, old ground is covered then comes audience input time.  An outpouring of emotion from local residents, more fervent than factual, practical comments are overruled by zealous objections.  Limp council staff organise the tables and chairs into groups and hand out sheets of butcher’s paper and pens for the audience to scrawl down comments about traffic, parking issues and the type of structure they would like to see near their homes.  I don’t attempt a drawing, unlike the person next to me who is lavishly embellishing a castle-like structure.  Hardly acceptable but she is about six years old.  My hand melts the thin paper and the felt-tip pen smudges as I write a couple of comments.

The Councillor stands, looking strained, and addresses the gathering with a formal thank-you.  Her politeness is wasted.  It’s time to go and already people are moving towards the rear doors.  Outside the air is heavy with the smell of eucalyptus.  I fold my notes, not looking forward to my hot car and a long drive home.

AFTERWORD:  Jump ahead in time, eight years to be precise, and the derelict sheds are revitalised and re-purposed into a community centre, a thriving hub for group activities.  Men’s Shed displays are held yearly, artisans can be commissioned for special projects.  The perceived threat to peace and tranquility did not materialise due to sensible planning and a carpark.  Feathers were hardly ruffled … unlike the storm brewing over old homes being demolished and their sites redeveloped for high density box-like dwellings.  Now that really will affect their suburban infrastructure …

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Community Connection
People Power

Simmering Manuscripts

Typewriter 02
Strange Truth

My documentation is office-organised but my writing approach is organic.  I will have four or five manuscripts simmering away then one will bubble to the top.  That’s The One.  I pursue it to the end.  Sometimes those left simmering, sink to the bottom.  Other times a new thought will be added and not even stirred into the mix, it will shine immediately and have my full attention.

You gotta love what you’re working on, right!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Saucepan
“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble”