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Breakfast Creek, a memoir

Breakfast Creek

Breakfast Creek, Marayong | Blacktown Memories

The cricket pitch was mowed on a part of our property, because we had the largest place in the area. My brother and I would mow the back part of the property by hand, and the 22 yards in the middle just a little bit closer to the ground than the other grass.

The boundaries would be the fence along the creek on the off-side, the blackberry brambles on the on side, and the back-street fence which was long over the bowler’s head. The “wickey” was the fence behind the batter’s end. This barrier fenced off either a vegetable garden, or a duck yard. It changed as we grew up. If you nicked it and it went on the full into the fence, you were out. The creek side fence was six and out, the other two sides were not out, but you had to help find the ball if it got lost.

Illustration Featuring Kids Playing Cricket Royalty Free Cliparts, Vectors,  And Stock Illustration. Image 31678306.

The back streets made up of two cross cul-de-sac streets which were a new development after the Fergusons sold their paddocks and the houses built. Immigrants were amongst the people who occupied the new houses there. The kids of the neighbourhood were diverse in nationalities which included Scottish, Maltese, and Sri Lankan.

Cricket in our back yard was one which united the kids of the neighbourhood. It didn’t matter where you came from, or how old you were, as long as you could catch a ball or hold a bat, you were welcome. On a Sunday afternoon, the men of the neighbourhood would put down their beers and join us. Being a little under the weather, they were the source of laughter and mirth as one father would try to bowl, with a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth falling as he released the ball, which then went bouncing in the general direction of the wickets. It was great to be in bat at that time, as the balls were dispatched to various corners of the ground. The challenge was to lose the ball long enough for the men to regather their beers and retire to one or other of the garages, leaving us kids to get on with our game.

Derek was a good batsman. He was built like David Boon; very solid with wide shoulders. He and his brother Clifford who was lanky and thin, were Sri Lankan and always envied for their skills with the bat or ball. Jamie was the eldest of the Scottish kids. He was the same age as my younger brother and came with his own pads in Summer, or with his own football during the Winter when the pitch was transformed to a footy pitch of many codes. Jamie was fearless and would not hesitate to jump the fence to follow the ball down the creek, or chase it into the blackberries, not fearing the thorns as they scratched his legs.

The game was often called off after someone looking for the ball amongst the blackberries came across a snake, or the blackberries were in season, and we all decided to eat them rather than slog a cherry ball all around the yard. The game was ended for the day when the lights came on in the back streets, which meant that all the kids were due inside. Last over would be called and the one in bat was declared the winner for the day, regardless of the scores kept by Clifford, the mathematician in our midst.

Girls were allowed to play too; as long as they didn’t play like girls. No such thing as being politically correct or inclusive back then. Tanya could bat but really couldn’t throw and Mellissa could play like a boy until she turned around fourteen then lost interest in cricket, choosing the swimming pool instead. Little kids of all ages and sexes dotted the infield, and it was up to the bigger kids to look out for them. We would pick them up if they got knocked over, wipe their noses, and wash off their apples, but if they cried, the game would be postponed as they would be taken home.

Cricket was not the only thing that united the families. There were bar b ques for everyone’s birthdays. These would be a feast of the nations, with the best Pastizzies, curries and baked goods and salads. It was at one such BBQ that marinates for meat and flavoured sausages were introduced. My father, an Englishman, who claimed Aussie heritage, was shocked when someone suggested marinating meat, until he tasted it.

Bonfire night was an annual event also held in our backyard. For weeks beforehand, nothing got burnt in the incinerator, or thrown in the garbage, or taken to the tip without the scrutiny of the neighbourhood kids. We deemed that anything being thrown out was suitable to go onto the bonfire on the corner of our soccer pitch. It would grow as wood of all sizes from a plank to a stump were piled on. The pile kept together by discarded sheets; we would burrow into the bottom of it to make our cubby house until that cold night in June when we could light the fire. The blaze would light up the yard for the night, enough for us to see when lighting our Catherine wheels or rockets, and adults sat in garden chairs swigging beer, supervising the little kids, keeping them far enough back to not get burned.

Each family would celebrate Christmas apart, but afterwards we would compare presents and have turns at using each other’s gifts. Then New Years Eve would provide another excuse for the adults to get together for a booze-up. At midnight we would all be gathered at the Scottish family’s house and after Auld Lang Syne, the sing song was led by the scots and their friends, while we kids would go around the back streets banging on saucepans.

People move on. Brad and his family moved up the hill, beyond the Czech cucumber farm where I worked after school and during the summer. I would get five dollars for an afternoon’s work, plus a cucumber in my pocket for my mum and one in my hand to eat on the way home. When I had turtles, I used to take them to the Chinaman’s market garden to show them and get a lot of worms to feed them with. It was the Chinamen who taught us how to catch carp from the creek, in a more efficient way than a bobby-pin on a string.

How To Grow Vegetables On A Hillside

After Brad moved, there were a number of sales in the back streets. High school being over, we older boys all got jobs and cars and the younger ones weren’t really into playing cricket. My father became an honourary Pop, Papa, and my mother a Nonna to many of thee little kids in the back streets. But with all of their own kids grown and moved on, it was time for my parents to subdivide the land and retire, moving to the south coast.

That was 40 years ago. I have never found such a bond between neighbours like my childhood home again. I miss the innocence of youth.

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The world beyond: Friday Fictioneers

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

It was an unassuming door in an unassuming building but what went on inside was fascinating, even amazing. The door tinkled when opened and tinkled till closed.

Once inside, you had to adjust your eyes to see through the gloom and dust, to make your way past the piles of hessian bags and stands to the curtain made of pasta strings at the rear. It was clean back here, lighter and on the floor of polished oak, one could see all manner of creatures, sitting in a circle, playing cards with a dealer who really was a snake.

word count 98

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I’m out of here: Friday Fictioneers

PHOTO PROMPT © Na’ama Yehudah

Word Count 100

The taxi was finally here. My bags are packed. I know I am leaving a lot behind, but I need to get out. I can’t live with the violence anymore. The coming home late and pissed, then the shouting, things getting broken. The children asleep, or pretending to be, upstairs. I can’t handle them being afraid anymore.

So I am leaving. He has told me many a time to leave.  He and the children will be better off without me if I was to continue drinking. I left a note. First stop Central, then detox. I WILL be well again.

 

  • Domestic violence is never ok. I wanted to write a story that reflected that, but I wanted to highlight the mostly hidden domestic violence scenario of the man being abused, and the woman being the abuser. This does not discount that mostly it is women who are on the receiving end of that abuse.

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Literature movements of the twentieth century

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The twentieth century saw the rise and fall of Literary groups, as different perspectives on importance had become realised. After the first world war, many groups wanted to distance themselves from the mainstream. Artists and musicians also aligned themselves with literary movements. This essay seeks to summarise these movements or separatist groups and explain why each was unique.

A change in literature really took place during the First World War, with poets either being realistic, showing the true horrors of war, or trying to gloss over the details, promoting the romanticism of fighting for ideals.

The Dadaist movement was a movement where sense and nonsense were both considered of equal value. Kafka told a story of a man becoming a bug in the Metamorphosis. It made no sense of course, however his brilliance was shown in his ability to write nonsensical content. The Dadaist movement used exercises which took words of a known piece of literature or even a newspaper article and rearrange the words to make a nonsense verse. In this way it defined its group and made it unique.

The surrealist movement was a natural progression from the Dada movement. Rather than emphasise sense however, it was aligned with Freud to explore conscious and unconscious states and used exercises which promoted writing without thought, putting pen to paper and letting whatever came out to flow (BRETON et al.). The Surrealists also used collaboration in exercises. This collaboration involved members writing a sentence or phrase following another, without knowing the context of the sentence before. These were amusing for members, but it also helped Andre Breton to define the movement.

Breton was somewhat of a bully and dictator within the movement which he claimed to have founded. He wrote the Surrealist Manifesto, stating what was and was not acceptable to the group. He used this manifesto to exclude members who did not line up with his own ideals. Breton did not like the novel and longer works. It was perhaps socialism and communism which caused rifts within the group to see it dissipate.

The existentialist movement was primarily interested in self, and his own existence or the importance of it. The games, puzzles and exercises which the surrealists used were not active within this group. Paul Satre was far removed from some of the ideas of the surrealist movement. Satre praised the novel and longer works as utilitarian but poems as useless. He did not see the point of writing for writing sake (Elsby).

The Beat Generation arose from the existential movement and protested against the commercialisation of society. Commercialism and consumerism being the focus of the general public following World War Two.  This group came together to discuss ideas in cafes and bookshops and again didn’t really use games, puzzles or exercises to define their group. The beats did not censor themselves or their writings and much of their work was banned in some countries and heavily censored in others. This made it very attractive to younger people who were also rebelling against the society norms.

The beat generation was instrumental in the 60’s hippy movement as it promoted free love, in any form, and the use of mind-altering drugs. The hippy movement also believed in protesting, but their protest was aligned much against violence and war. While this movement was not necessarily considered a literary movement, some very poignant poetry was written in this era, much of which was used for the cross purpose of music and song. Bob Dylan for example was recently given a Nobel prize for literature for his work which encompassed not only his poetry but also his songs.

If one were to investigate the lives of those prominent in literature groups up till this time, one would see not only eccentricity of some members but also a rebellious nature. The use of mind and consciousness altering drugs was prevalent during these eras, and it was only in the early seventies that this attitude changed. Opiates and acid-based narcotics were preferred until this time, whereas from the 70’s drug culture changed to a more organic base, being hemp and marijuana as the drug of choice. In 1970, after John Lennon split from the Beatles, he wrote ‘The dream is over in his song God following the symbolic end of the hippy movement at Altamont and Woodstock.

It was during this time that the Oulipo movement was created. It continues to this day. What made the Oulipo movement different from others, is that they are disciplined far more than previous movements. The movement aligns mathematics with literature forming strict constraints which members of the movement are encouraged to adhere to in their writing (Queneau, and Stump). All members have input into the group monthly, with all members having equal value. Membership of the group is for life. No member can be expelled for differing views, and although members can choose to become non-active, their work is still considered valuable to the group (Roubaud). This group also differs from earlier movements in that they place no value on the use of drugs or mind-altering substances to enhance their writing. The membership of this group is very exclusive, however public readings are given for those who have an interest in their practices.

Each month new constraints are proposed to be adopted by the members. These are mostly a marriage between arithmetic and literature with an example being the N+7 exercise (Roubaud). This asks the coherent to take a known work and replace each noun with the seventh noun following it in a dictionary. Of course, constraints of this kind can be altered or adapted for a particular work or use. The importance is not on the actual code, but the adherence to a mathematical alignment to literature text.

In modern times many literature groups have been birthed. Community groups are common adopting some exercises from earlier groups and creating their own. Fellowships of writers have emerged to offer critiques of unfinished works prior to them being sent to publishers and online groups which promote the use of constraints in style, content and time.

Each writing group has had agendas which have defined their parameters and engaged its members with exercises to enforce them. Each group has sought to separate itself from the mainstream literature circles of the time, thus creating a separatist group. With the coming of a new century, one hopes a new mindset is now in place for groups to be inclusive and welcoming, promoting literature in all forms.

Works cited

BRETON, André Robert et al. Manifestoes Of Surrealism. PDF given as class notes.

Elsby, Charlene. Clio. 46th ed., Purdue University, 2017, p. Introduction to the special issue, “Existentialism and Literature, https://www.academia.edu/39876070/Introduction_to_the_special_issue_Existentialism_and_Literature_. Accessed 9 June 2020.

Queneau, Raymond, and Jordan Stump. Letters, Numbers, Forms. University Of Illinois Press, 2007.

Roubaud, Jacques. The Oulipo And Combinatorial Art. 1991, Accessed 9 June 2020.

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The offering: Friday Fictioneers

PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

Word Count 100

I always ate my lunch on the same bench, under the same tree. I watched the dogs catch frisbee and the kids chasing them trying to get it back. There were birds here. One particular bird would swoop down. We had an agreement. He would keep all the other birds away while I ate. I didn’t like begging birds that hovered around your feet for the smallest morsel that fell.  When I finished eating, I would leave the offering. It would be eaten gratefully, and the clever bird would put the paper in the bin while I returned to work.

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Crimson’s Creative Challenge: Taylor’s Cottage

 

There was nothing scary about old Mr Taylor. He was my friend until he died last year. All the other kids used to creep around, wanting a glimpse of the old man. Then once sighted, would run away screaming and laughing.

“Did you see him? I told you he is ugly and scary”.

Yes, he had lumps on his face and hair that grew out of his ears. Yes, he grumbled in response to those who shunned him. But really, he was kind-hearted and lonely. We waved when we saw each other, and if I was alone and had some time, I would sit and listen to how it used to be in the old days.

I found the basement hatch and knew how to open it. I turned my flashlight on in the dark as I ascended the stairs.

“Hello Jake”, said Mr Taylor smiling. “It’s been a while.”

 

Thanks Chrispina for the prompt. I had fun writing this.

Word count 150.

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Trench talk

I have been concentrating on some assessment tasks for Master of Arts, Creative Writing and Literature. The following story is one of those assignments. It incorporates words and nuances, colloquial language from the WWI trenches in France, where Australians fought alongside English, Canadians, French and Americans. I hope to bring to light some of the horrors and atmosphere of trench warfare in WWI.

I hope I stir some hearts.

Dave

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In the Trenches

Private Tommy Cooper was laying in the foetal position alone in his trench. The tympani bass of bombs, the percussion of explosions and the rat-a-tat of gunfire raged overhead. Something mashed into the parados at the rear of the trench. Tommy screamed fearing that the end had finally come, he was going west to the Blighty with a wound, or worse, cop a bellyache that would send him west of hell. He would be found in this pothole, making another batch of ANZAC soup. He had to push two stiffs out of the hole to occupy this small space at the front. He curled tighter waiting for the explosion that usually accompanied the thud of a bomb in the earth. It didn’t come. What came instead were grunts and groans. Tommy unfurled himself to look over his shoulder. Laying in a twisted heap was his mate Johnny Knots or Woody as he was known as by the troops in his battalion. Woody had jumped over the bags to avoid being killed after throwing a couple of close-range grenades into the Jerries trench, then scarpering the 100 feet here. He had a bloodied wound in his thigh and blood oozed from his ear.

“Fook” he said, “that was close. The Jerries nearly had me with that last burst, but I think I dodged the main hate how does my bloody leg look.” Woody was shaking, but whether from shock of losing blood, cold from the continuous rain, or just plain scared one could not tell.

Tommy scrambled to Woody, grabbed him by the back of his collar and dragged him toward the front wall of the trench. A bloke was less likely to be hit by any strays there. Tommy lit a candle stub and got a bandage from his pack. Tommy Cooper was a sniper. He was right on the front. There are no medics up this far. They were about 50 yards behind them in the camp. He put the pressure pad on the wound in Woody’s leg and bandaged it to stop the bleeding. It was all that could be done till daybreak. He looked at his friend’s ear, and besides cleaning it with a putrid rag, dipped in a puddle of rainwater, there was nothing could be done.

“Can you hear me old mate?”

“Yeah” shouted Woody grimacing. “I still got one good ear, this left one is done in though.” His head was most likely too close to a bomb when it exploded but not close enough to kill him.

“What was the score out there?”

“There’ll be a few fresh faces in hell tonight Tommy, that’s dinkum”.

“Bonzer mate. Your leg is no bellyache to send you to Belgium. We’ll get out of here tomorrow when my relief comes.  You’ll be fine.” Coops tried to make light of Woody’s injuries so not to make his mate despair.

“I might get a holiday back in the Blighty with this. English girls, English beer, the life mate. But save a few squareheads for me mate, I’ll be back”. He didn’t want to be thought of as a leadswinger

“No worries cobber, you just hang in there.” All thought of fear and giving up had departed Coops as he cared for his mate. At last there was something else to focus on besides the grey sticky mud, the smell of death, flesh and blood and the loud continuous assault to the ears of shells and gunfire from over the top.

The constant noise was something that was not discussed on the flyers or posters asking young men to join up. “Do your duty for King and Country”, the poster said. Nothing about shooting the hell out of unseen enemy on the beach or in mud up to your armpits. Nothing was said about digging up some farmers field, not to plant potatoes, but to live in, then plant bodies afterwards. Destroy, kill and then move on, To watch your mates fall around you and wonder why the bullets hadn’t chosen you that day; wondering how long it would be until one came over the top with your name on it. Its better to be shot than to die on the end of a bayonet. That was just plain cruel. He had seen his father gorged by a rogue bullock and to be killed on the end of a bayonet, as Tommy had seen before, reminded him of that, and he prayed to never have to christen a man by a bloody pigstabber. Better to be shot than bombed. Being killed by a bomb was bad luck but getting shot meant that someone wanted you personally dead. The enemy saw you personally as a threat to their war effort. I was stopping them from advancing, thought Coops, and they hated me for it. “Fook em”, he thought, “no Jerry’s gonna tell me how to live or when to die.”

Bells continued ringing in his ears. It was so distracting it made a bloke want to yell. But if you do yell it just gets lost in the cacophony of all the other noises. The symphony of war. A bloke could hear the grass grow back home but here he couldn’t even hear himself think. Back home, you sat quietly in the grass waiting for a rabbit or roo. Then you slowly moved and aimed your rifle and pulled the trigger. You only got one shot, then they would scarper. Cooper couldn’t waste a shot. Shot was expensive and hard to get when his family lived so far from town. It’s why Coops made such a good sniper. He picked his target and was able to pick ‘em off and send ‘em to hell quick as a flash.

Here was different to home. Back home when you shot at something, it didn’t shoot back. Here, you shot your rifle at the Jerries until the barrel was too hot to handle, then you wrapped your hooks in some stinking socks and started again. Bayonet always fixed, but you hoped like hell you didn’t have to use it. It would mean that Fritz had got too close or you had been ordered over the top. That was worse, exposing yourself  to the enemy to just pop one in your guts and leave you to someone else to come drag your body back from no man’s land.

Two in a pothole or t-sap meant that one could rest, eat an ANZAC wafer, take a leak in the hole that you had dug a little deeper for the latrine, and hope to God you didn’t need to shit before you got back behind the lines.

Rain, piss and blood meant that you were walking in and sitting in putrid mud most of the time. Back home, mud was welcomed because it meant that the rain had finally come to the brown dusty ground. The little kids would jump in the mud puddles and not get frowned at. You would take your kit off down to your drawers and have a wash. Mum would throw you the soap and it was the cleanest you could be. But this mud smelt like meat that had gone off. You put your coat down on top of it where you wanted to kip. Sometimes you had to fight for a dry patch with the trench rabbits (rats) and hope they didn’t gnaw on you while you tried to get a bit of shut eye. The crawling and jumping louse were bad enough to make you keep one eye open, and a hand ready to slap some to death.

Coops sat up all night while Woody slept or tried to. The ghosts got him in his sleep, so he thought it was safer awake than asleep most of the time.

“Hey Coops, he said, Got a gasper?”

Coops threw over his pouch with the makings in it.

“Ta mate, your blood’s worth bottling”

Coops heard scurrying around in front of his trench, so he popped his peri over the edge, then tossed a grenade in the general direction. Yells and screams of anguish and sudden pain of at least two Jerries followed. A burst of cover fire was heard while the enemy recovered their injured. Coops thought about picking off the ones who dared show their face in front of Coops trench, but the groans coming from Woody distracted him for a bit. Coops looked through the peri again. All clear for now.

It went quiet for a bit. That is to say, the bombs still flew and exploded somewhere, but the local gunfire had ceased after that last grenade .Tommy sat back down and after rolling a fag of his own from his returned pouch, fumbled inside his jacket for his paper and pencil. He’ll write a letter to his mum, and he’d get one back in a month or so, telling him all was fine at home. He knew what he wrote was bullsh, so did his mum he reckoned, but just getting a letter meant that one party knew that the other was still alive. Better than not knowing.

“Writing home?” asked Woody.

“Yeah, thought I better, I got one from mum yesterday, dated a month back. If I don’t write, she’ll go batty with worry.”

“What does your mum have to say, share it with me then, you know I ain’t got no family at home. I don’t get letters except from the Red Cross ladies”.

Tommy reluctantly opened the many times folded letter and read to Woody.

Dear Tommy.

How are you son. The little kids and me all miss you and pray for you while you are away. Jacob is getting good at milking, and John collects the eggs now, if there are any to collect, Henrietta has gone broody again, so we’ll have plenty of chickens for Sunday roast in a couple of months. We still have the whites that are laying so eggs for breakfast a few times a week anyway. The rooster scares the pants off John, so he’s taken to carrying a stick in the coop to ward off the rooster while he collects the eggs. We sold some salted beef in town last week and got some other produce, like flour and sugar. But with you over there and your dad gone, we don’t use that much sugar.

There was a snake come from the bush the other day looking for a feed. Jacob wanted to kill it, but I said to leave it, he is only hungry. The kids are big enough now to know not to bother it, and it won’t bother us. Rusty chased it off though. He doesn’t bark much but you know how he can go on if something has got him stirred up. Never shuts up. But he is a good dog really.

Mrs Jones in the post office said that her son Patrick writes home every week, so how come you can’t do that?

“Cause he is a bum brusher”, said Tommy to Woody who was listening. “Works at HQ for the top brass. I imagine he’s got access to despatches whenever he wants”.

Tommy read again from the letter.

I shouldn’t complain though, they tell you not to. Some families in town have got the telegram. Nobody has heard from Jacky Johnson. His mum is getting a bit worried.

“Have you seen Jonno around Woody?”

“Yeah, he copped a smack to the arm, he’s back at the bunkhouse playing pontoon with the lads and making a motza. If you can’t see him, you can always pick out his laugh, then follow the line of downcast faces until you see a bloke with a wad of oscars.”

“I better tell him to write to his mum.”

Cooper folded up his letter and put it back in his pocket, along with his pencil and paper. Reckon I’ll write later, he thinks.

“Where you from back home Woody?”

“Everywhere and nowhere really. I’m a shearer and a drover, so I go where the work is and where the beer is cold. Anywhere I take my hat off.”

“So, you could even stay on here to live after. Help the locals get their farms back up?”

“No bloody way mate, my hat is back home. It has honest sweat and blood on it. The one I wear here belongs to the brass nobs. They can bloody have the thing back when I am done with it.”

It went quiet after that, and in between trying to get the lice off, Tommy Cooper and Woody took it in turns to have a few minutes shut eye.

Just after Reveille, and with it, daybreak, a scurrying could be heard behind them and then four diggers jumped into the hole with them, nearly landing on Woody’s leg, which he found he could no longer bend. “Nice day for it” was the greeting.

“Oi, let up”, Woody said, “can’t a bloke coil up without being jumped on?” He scrambled to his feet, then collapsed again. “Worse than I thought I reckon”. Then he promptly fainted.

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The Sommelier

This is the creative piece which I wrote from that initial prompt from Friday Fictioneers. The original was just 100 words, this is a little longer (about 3000). It may seem that the writing is slow and drawn out, This is intentional, given the subject. I hope you enjoy the longer version of the story,

Dave

The Sommelier

When I identified my dad at the morgue, they gave me a bag of his personal effects. His wallet, phone, handkerchief and comb, and about $2.70 in change. The wallet was still full of all cash and cards. The handkerchief was iron and neatly folded. The comb plain, black.

The phone was a smart phone that I had bought him a few years earlier. Dad mastered the phone, but not so much the smart side of it. His computer at home, which stored all the photos that mum had taken over the years was now just used to play solitaire, mah-jong and spider when he got bored reading. The photo gallery on the phone held memories of places he had been and people he had been with. One such photo in his phone was a selfie. I didn’t know my father had even known what a selfie is, and while the phone obscured his face, his body was perfectly replicated in reverse as the selfie was taken while facing a mirror. I knew the scar on his stomach, the bulge of his navel as well as the mustard coloured work shorts which were the only thing he was wearing in the photo. While this photo intrigued me, I closed it and put the phone in my pocket for safe keeping.

When I returned home, I connected the phone to my computer to look through everything with ease later. I cried, using my father’s own handkerchief to wipe dry my eyes and mop up the snot which came involuntarily as I wept. I put the comb next to the computer, and the change on the counter, then went to bed.

On the Tuesday, I called into work, saying I was working from home that day, my father had died, not telling the details. I wouldn’t take compassionate leave except for the funeral, which I had yet to arrange. The funeral home called and said they would drop by later that day to arrange things with me. Then I tried to finish the article I had been working on before I got the news that my father’s body had been found. I found it difficult to remember the nuances of the wine I was reviewing, so poured a glass from a fresh bottle to write.  Colour, deep and mysterious, Swirl, even and smooth. Sniff…sniff. The room in which my father lay was very sterile. Very unlike the usual smell of my father, He loved his aftershave, was proud of the manly smell it and his hair oil produced. Sniff, dark and fruity, like a Christmas cake. Sip, I took one and couldn’t gauge it, so I gulped the whole glass. And Savour, yes, the taste is lasting, like the memory of seeing my father. His pallor pale, unnatural. That was not my father on the table. That may have been his body, but his spirit had gone, it did not stay around.

They asked me who I wanted to invite to the funeral. I really had no idea. Dad and I had sort of drifted since mum died. He kept to himself but was always happy when I visited, taking me to the golf club for dinner.

I always drove down to the shops first thing in the morning, via the beach and the river to look at the view, I stopped at the newsagents, then the garage, where I bought the bait for a fish later in the day. The mechanic at the service station always asked the same question.

“You’re Frank’s lad, aren’t you?”

“Yes”, I replied.

“Say hi to your da’ for me, haven’t seen him around much. He going fishing with you?”

“Yes”, I replied.

“Oh Aye”, he said “tell him to take you to… he knows where… Jock caught some good size bream there last week.”

“Ok” I replied, gave a wave and went back home; well to dad’s place, it was never home to me. Mum and dad moved down here when Dad retired.

Dad sat on the porch, having his first cup of strong black coffee and cigarette to start the day, while he spoke to the parrots who came to feed, and look out over the blue blue bay to see if he could spot any whales. He thanked me for the paper and told me that the coffee was on the stove if I wanted some, giving me his own cup to refill. Later that day, Dad directed me in my car, or took the 4 wheel drive out, to his secret spot, which was always the same. I hated the four-wheel drive and vowed to sell it at the first opportunity.

Dad still had a companion when mum died. Shadow, the trusty German Shepherd was about 20 years old, was in terrible pain with arthritis, and dad had to get him put down to be kind about two years previously. He didn’t tell me that he was going to do it. I was still in the city and not planning on going down to see him for a month or so. I made my usual call on a Friday evening, in May, and he told me just like that; so matter of fact, so stoic and upright. Never shed a tear, never tell someone you are hurting. It is a sign of weakness.

Dad told me that when he was a child, he was in the choir at church. He sang his heart out as a boy and got rewarded. He was the first boy soloist at the cathedral. This was a position he kept for three years, until he was 13. Then when his voice was breaking, he was kicked out of the choir. The boys lined up either side of the entry to the apse and beat him and kicked him as he walked through on his last day of choir. That was when he had decided to leave the church as well as the choir. Dad hated it when I wanted to go to church as a boy, and when I was said to have a golden voice, he hated it more. I would go to church of a morning and be back by breakfast. Dad would be at work then, so I didn’t see him until after rehearsal at night. He never asked me about church or the choir. But I knew he was secretly proud of me, as he did turn up to performances again and again. I worked it out later. He was just scared that what had happened to him when his voice broke would also happen to me. I was lucky though. My choir master was one who kept me going through the transition, and I continued to sing with the choir, no longer as a soprano but now as a first tenor, just like my hero Aled Jones.

I wiped the tear from my eye, again with dads folded hanky, which was next to his phone on my desktop. The question remained. Who would I invite to the funeral? His brother of course, Uncle John, and his two sisters, who were still alive, one having died around the same time as mum did, some ten years before. I picked up the phone and pulled the charger plug out of it. I turned it on and started to scroll through the contacts on his list. There weren’t many; maybe twenty. I invited them all.

The funeral people knew I was not able to make choices. They were good at helping me decide on flowers, on the booklet and the service. I needed to go down to dad’s to find something for him to wear in the casket. I rang into the newspaper and told them that I had changed my mind, I was taking some time off after all. They could use some of the columns that I had in reserve, and then repeat some from last autumn. Nobody would know the difference. I packed some clothes in a bag and started the long drive down, even though it was after 8pm and I wouldn’t arrive until midnight.

I slept in the room that was always mine when I was down. I was tired and that was good, It meant that everything could wait till the morning, and I fell back on the crisp white sheets, covered myself with the featherdown doona and drifted to sleep listening to the wind through the palm trees and the waves lapping at the beach.

I woke at 6 on the Wednesday morning. I padded out to the kitchen and thought that this was the first time I had ever been alone in this house. The first time, that the cuckoo clock had not been wound before I rose, and the first time that the aroma of strong coffee was not permeating through the house. I opened the rear door and said good morning to the kookaburras that had congregated. My father went every morning to his worm farm, and after putting the food scraps from the day before in it, scooped out some worms to feed the Kookaburras and crows. I did the same, although soon, the birds would have to find their own breakfast.

I put some shoes on and did the ritual drive around the beach and the river. I made it a longer one this morning, wanting to look at the lake as well. It was the lake I came to when I was down here, to read and relax, with just the occasional pelican landing with a whoosh to interrupt my reading. This morning I didn’t relax but drove past just to assure myself that my spot was still there, just as it always was when I was ready to relax and read. I drove to the newsagent and got the paper, and then stopped by the garage. I didn’t buy bait today, I just wanted to see the mechanic, whose name I didn’t know.

“You’re Frank’s lad aren’t you?”

“Yes”, I replied.

“Say hi to your da’ for me, haven’t seen him around much lately”.

“Dad passed away” I said.

“Oh” said the mechanic.

“I wondered if you would come to the funeral, invite some of his friends if you will”.

“Oh Aye”, said the mechanic “You’d better be giving me the details then”, he said in a subdued voice. “I’ll invite the lads, we’ll be there. A good man was your da”.

I nodded and muttered my thanks before getting back in my car and heading up the hill. Today it would be me on the balcony drinking hot black coffee, reading the paper and feeding the parrots their seed. I looked up from my paper to the ocean, in time to see a whale breach and fall back into the water out near the island.

“Fuck” I thought to myself. All these tears, my dad would wonder if he raised a son of a daughter.” “Toughen the fuck up Allen, there are things to be done”, I drained my mug, folded the paper and went inside.

I selected Dad’s suit. It was one that I had seen him wear to other funerals so I knew it would be suitable for his own. I polished his shoes and mine, finding the polish where I thought I would. It was the same place that it was kept in my childhood home, on the bottom shelf under the sink. My dad taught me to polish his shoes and it was my chore to polish his and my own every evening before going to bed. Some days, when he wanted extra shine, he had me apply the polish when he first got home from work. “Big meeting tomorrow son. I have to look spick”. I left the polish to soak in before I brushed it off then buffed it before bed.

I started to clean up his bedroom, discarding old tissues, newspapers and taking coffee cups and whiskey glasses to the kitchen. Most of the clothes were in the hamper where they should be. Do I wash these and give them to Vinnie’s or just send them to landfill? I certainly didn’t want them. I could not imagine filling my father’s clothes or boots, nobody could do that. I stood up and saw myself in my dad’s full-length mirror behind his door I was shocked to be looking at a younger version of my father. I didn’t have the same scars but I have some of my own.

Later, Jock called on dad’s mobile phone.

“Hello”, he said, “I knew it wouldn’t be your da’ answering, didn’t I?” he said.

“I just wanted to say, well how sorry it is that he is gone, but we all knew it was coming didn’t we?” he said

“I want to talk at your da’s funeral” he said “give a eulogy, that’s it. Yes. Can I talk to you about it?”

I invited Jock to the house.

“Come fishing wi’ me,” he said. “I can talk free when there’s only the fish and the birds to hear.”

Jock picked me up at 3pm. “Just in time for the outgoing tide,” he said, “we might catch a good haul, or we might catch naught, but we will have time to spend talking so that’s good isn’t it?” He said.

We stopped by an old pier and fished for a couple of hours. Jock didn’t say much, but we enjoyed each other’s company, in our shared solitude. It wasn’t until we took our fish to the cleaning table that he opened up.

“A good man was your da’. He knew right from wrong and was not slow at saying his piece when he thought it needed to be said. He stuck up for women and loved your ma with a love I never seen matched by another man for his wife. He loved you too Allen. He were so so proud of you boy. He liked your wines alright, but he preferred his whisky.” He smiled with tears in his eyes. “Tradition I guess.”

Jock passed me an envelope. My father had asked him to give to me on his passing. It was yellow with age and the glue on the back old but stable. It had my name on the front in my father’s hand. I thanked Jock for it and took only one of the fish we caught for my dinner, allowing Jock to take the rest for bragging rights at the club.

I left the fish marinating in lemon juice and black peppercorns while I had a shower and changed into clean clothes. The envelope remained unopened on the table. That letter will need a good red after dinner, perhaps a whole bottle.

After eating my fish and potatoes with a bottle of Hunters Dream Sauvignon Blanc 2017, I put the dishes in the sink for later. I looked through dads LP collection and chose Songs of Scotland by Alastair McDonald and set it on his antique HMV player. It skipped a little until I found the sixpence near the turntable to set on top of the needle.

I took the letter given to me by Jock, opened a bottle of Carmel Road Pinot Noir Drew’s Blend and sat in the armchair that was designated until recently to be my father’s own. I needed to adjust the light over the side table, so I could read the letter he had written me. My fingers trembled as I tore the seal on the envelope.

The letter was in my father’s hand. His writing reflected his personality. It was very straight, not much of a flourish. Dad insisted on writing important letters by hand. I remember him sitting at the kitchen table in my childhood home. He would spend hours drafting and rewriting letters until he thought it was perfect. I shook as I opened the delicate paper. The date at the top of the page was not long after my mother had died. I gulped a mouthful of wine, ignoring sommelier protocol of swirl, smell swish and then swallow. Pouring another glass I started to read.

My dearest son Allen,

Since your mum died, life for me has just stopped. I can’t think, I can’t move, sometimes I can’t even breathe. Shad is not well, and I think I will lose my faithful friend soon. I wish you weren’t so far away, or, should I say it, so successful with your own life. Then you would want to spend more time with your old man. But life goes on. Sometimes I wish it didn’t. I continue to live because of you. I m very proud of what you have achieved. I think back to when you were in school plays and in the choir. Do you know I didn’t miss one? Even when I couldn’t get there for your year 10 solo, your mum took a mobile phone and called me when it was beginning, so I didn’t miss a note.

I looked up, wiped a tear and took a gulp of the expensive red.

We nearly lost you once son. Do you remember? You were riding that darn silly motorbike on a rainy night. Six weeks you spent in hospital. The first six days in a coma. When you were released, you were still so tired. You fell asleep in the car, so I carried you to your room, undressed you and put you to bed. It was the first time I had prayed since I was a child. I made light of it afterwards and told you if you were going to ride, you should get a bigger bike so it can get you out of trouble. And you did, you beggar. At least then we got to see more of you. You had your own transport and came and went freely.

I remembered the bike, but sat dumbfounded, until then unknowing how I had got to be the day I came home from hospital.

We had some good times didn’t we son. Fishing trips with a load of blokes from the club, and their families. You always managed to make and keep friends easily. Are you still friends with Brad, and Michael? The three of you were thick as thieves all through primary and high school.

Girls were a mystery to you though. As much as we wanted grandkids, I knew that our dreams would not be fulfilled. Yes, Allen, I know. I knew all along. I never told your mother and we never talked about it, but I think she knew too. As much as I don’t like poofs, you are my son and if you like men, then that’s ok. Nobody is going to say anything bad about you while I am alive. Thanks for protecting your mum though.

Well son, I don’t know how much longer I can live on this dear Earth. As you know, I am not a well man. I guess I just didn’t want to go without saying goodbye. This letter is in case I don’t have the chance. Have a great life Allen. Be successful in everything you do. Now that I am gone, find yourself a good fella and settle down somewhere.

Love always

Your Da

And he signed his name on the bottom of the letter as if it were just another business letter.

I sat back and began to breathe deeply, letting the tears run down my face unabated. I didn’t have to hide anymore. I picked up the phone.

“Simon, hi.” … “Yes, yes, I know I have not been answering your calls.” … “Simon, listen, my dad has passed away.” … “Yes, honey, I am down making arrangements now.” … “Honey, the funeral is Friday, can you come down?” … “Thanks, see you soon. Yes, I love you too. Bye”.

 

 

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Time is ticking away

I have been studying the use of time in literature, and the use of it in my own writing. A little while ago, I answered a writing prompt with a piece I called the Somellier. I mentioned at the time that I was using this prompt to write a longer piece for my assignment. It turned out ok, but what it also produced was an exercise in the study of time.

The Sommelier Exegesis.

The idea that time is in fact in a circle instead of a ‘timeline’ is not a new one. In the holy scriptures of Judaism and Christianity, the religions of Egypt, Buddhist, and Hindu texts alike, the idea that time is not a line is confirmed often. The theory is known as eternal return. It is the intent of this essay to show that time must be thought of as not linear, but as a circle. The exegesis will explore how this idea was manifest in the creative work and reflect on works studied and not studied in class to strengthen the argument.

Christianity shows that life itself continues beyond the grave, in the quote, “one must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven” (“Biblegateway” NIV John3:2). Of course, the quote is not referring to rebirth of a known human kind, but that of an infinite kind. God himself said, “If they ask who sent you, tell them that I am” (Exodus 3:14), using present tense, not past. God says he is “the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end” (Rev 21:6) while both David and Daniel say, “His Kingdom is everlasting” (Psalm145:13 and Daniel 7). The prophet Ezekiel said of his vision that he sees everything as a wheel, within a wheel said that “everything has a season” (Ecclesiastes 3)

Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;

and God will call the past to account. (Ecclesiastes 3:15)

 

Eternal return has been used as a theory of time for centuries and by many different religions. The Ouroboros is pictures as a snake eating its own tail to suggest that life goes on in a circle. The flower of life looks like a series of smaller circles inside a bigger one to represent the cycle of life being eternal. In Indian religions the belief in reincarnation is itself a belief in the circles of life. In tantric Buddhism the wheel of time is known as the Kalachakra expresses the idea of endless cycles of time and knowledge (“Eternal Return”).

The eternal return is an idea that was expressed in recent times by Friedrich Nietzsche (Ross). However, Nietzsche saw this as a burden rather than accepting it as inevitable. In Thus spoke Zarathustra the dwarf states that “straight lines hold lies, the truth is crooked, and that time is a circle” (“Thus Spake Zarathustra, By Friedrich Nietzsche” XLVI The Vision and the Enigma pt 2, line 9-17). This statement was said to be oversimplifying things. But the author of this essay and creative work feels that sometimes things need to be simplified to be understood.

In thinking of the cosmos as microsections of time, we can look at the minute, being 60 seconds. What happens when that minute ends? It starts again. 60 minutes make an hour, and then the hour starts again, and so on. It is why the clock is designed as a circle. The sundial tells the time in a circular pattern. The days, the years, the centuries are all repeated.

It makes sense then that humans each have their own circles of time. There is a season for each of us. The question is regularly asked. ‘How has your day been?’ meaning that the circle of time for the person asked differs from the one who has asked. When one meets an acquaintance, one might say ‘we have to catch up’ which means there is a need to synchronise the circles and recall and relay any news that has happened to each over a period of time.

In the creative piece this is also true. For the main character, Allen, he sees that his father’s circle has ceased to turn on the earth. Allen himself operates in his own circle of time, which includes wine, and Simon as well as city living. His father’s circle interacts with his own whenever Allen is with his father. This will include fishing, drinking strong black coffee and feeding the birds. Allen is unaware of his father’s circle of time when he is not present. But he wonders about it with the discovery of the photo in the phone.

Memory is a bit part of this story as Allen recalls times with his father. The photo brings the past into the present, as does the letter. They are both reminders to Allen of the life that his father once had but also of his own mortality. Memento mori… all that lives will surely die (“Memento Mori”). Sufis of Ethiopia are often called people of the graves because of their habit of visiting graves and contemplating the vanities of life.

The choice of music is used to calm the spirit but also to invoke memories of his father. This was a tactic used in dementia patients by Oliver Sacks and adopted by many others since. “Music evokes emotion and emotion memory.” (Sacks) The morning routine and seeing himself in the mirror as a younger version of his father are other ways in which this memory is expressed.

The letter in the story represents that Allen’s father also recollects times when they were together, when his love was expressed and the fathers awareness that Allen runs in a different circle than his own, with the revelation that the father has known all along that Allen is gay, and that Allen likes his wine. The letter is a way in which the father is again brought into the present through memory. The letter also shows that his father is aware of his own mortality, possibly prompted by the death of his wife (“Memento Mori”).

The repetition of dialogue also confirms that life runs in a circle, the same words, expressions, and routine, again and again, until finally the death of the father brings a deviation in the circle.

The idea that time runs in circles has been propagated by many religions in the world and is also the basis of many philosophies both modern and ancient. The creative piece seeks to show that not cycles of time are not just mega, as in the universe or community but also personal. Each person has his own circle of time, which is interrupted by interactions with other people’s circles. The interactions with letters, photos and music bring the past back to the present in the circle of time.

 

 

Work Cited

“Biblegateway.Com: A Searchable Online Bible In Over 150 Versions And 50 Languages.”. Biblegateway.Com, 2020, https://www.biblegateway.com/.

“Memento Mori”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memento_mori.

Ross, Alex. “Nietzsche’S Eternal Return”. The New Yorker, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/10/14/nietzsches-eternal-return.

Sacks, Oliver. Musicophilia. Vintage Books, 2008.

Susan Sontag On Photography 1977 p15 (From Lectures)

“Thus Spake Zarathustra, By Friedrich Nietzsche”. Gutenberg.Org, 2020, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1998/1998-h/1998-h.htm#link2H_4_0053.         Extra information XLVI The Vision and the Enigma pt 2, line 9-17

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Automatic writing: sleep

I am currently doing a Master of Arts in Literature and creative writing. I apologise for not contributing regularly during my study times. One thing we have been looking at is Automatic writing, or stream of consciousness writing. That is writing without thought and letting what comes out come. I start with a particular theme and see where it takes me. This particular one  have done is called Sleep; primarily because its the other thing that has been occupying my time with my ill health.

So I hope you enjoy this stream of consciousness writing below. Please leave a comment.

Dave

Sleep is not the domain of the vertical alone, although for me it used to be. Now hold my eyes open by matchsticks. Lit ones, which will shine light into the dark places and force me to see. I sleep talking, I sleep walking and sitting, even driving. I am tired, of life, of rules and reason. I want to be unreasonable. I want to go against the rules. Risky behavior I welcome you. Let me step off the cliff into the abyss, blindfolded one foot in front of another. I no longer trust those who have gone before, who say they know the way. We all walk blindly forward, not knowing what is to come. Blind faith doesn’t work. The future is unknown, so let me sleep while it comes towards us or we walk towards it. We can dream of what is to come, but dreams don’t often reflect real life. Therefore, we go blindly into the future. We can plan, plan, plan but we are all subject to the dreams and plans of others, we are subject to nature. Who knows when the sign “Falling rocks do not stop” becomes a prophecy, or the prophecy becomes truth. A car is squashed, we spread over the road someone must use a broom, a hose to clean up the mess. They did not foresee it, we did not foresee it, nobody dreamt it but it happened, and happens and will happen. Warnings get old. Yeah yeah sure sure, its not going to happen. Then it does, and people are surprised even though it was told before. Nobody says “I told you so” but they get on and clean up the mess.

Walk on blindly. Do not reach your hands out, darkness is darkness, you can’t feel it, can’t feel the danger in front of your eyes in the darkness. Welcome darkness as it comes, or as you go into it. Don’t walk backwards, the past is no longer there and you will fall off the cliff where time has crumpled that path. The past repeats, but we cannot look at the past and predict the future. Nobody knows the day or the hour does not talk of the future but talks of the present. Nobody knows what day it is or what time it is in the scheme of things. Darkness is coming if it is not here yet. You say you know when things are going to happen. I will get paid on Friday. These are expectations, but I have learnt in the past not to hold to expectations. Life does not always live up to expectations. It often disappoints. Therefore, embrace the darkness. Embrace the unknown. You go into the future blindfolded or walk into the complete darkness. Close your eyes and sleep where you are. Let time and nature wash over you. Wake when you wish to see where you are in that journey. Was expectation fulfilled or did it fulfill its purpose to disappoint, surprise, or do the unexpected. Then close your eyes and sleep again.

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