Tuesday, 29 July 2008
One of the food marquees at this year's festival
Most years for the past ten I have visited the Byron Bay Writers Festival, clutching a three day pass to join thousands of other book lovers for a stimulating fix.
The festival is always great fun and inevitably gets creative juices going again.
The programme draws book lovers writers publishers performers journalists and celebrities from many parts of Australia and from overseas to take part in panel discussions covering a wide range of topics.
Last weekend as usual, a dozen or so big marquees and tents were set up in the grounds of the Byron Bay Beach Resort to take the huge crowds who come for the event.
The idea is that in between sessions ticket holders laze around at tables and chairs set on the lawns in the renowned Byron Bay winter sun, drinking coffee, chatting and talking about books they’ve just purchased from the bookseller’s tent.
However, this year it rained on Friday, the first day.
And how it rained!
So much so that the place was a quagmire and the day’s programme was abandoned.
However, on Saturday the sun shone again and we all got on with it.
The star of the show had to be Miriam Margolyes the British actress who strangely is best known in many circles as the voice of one of the sheep in the movie Babe.
This year Australians got to know Miriam much better when Andrew Denton interviewed her on his ABC show Enough Rope, and our admiration soared again last week-end.
The actress tours world wide in a show in which she does readings from Charles Dickens, bringing the characters to life with incredible talent, and she shared some of these with us.
Miriam treated the Byron crowd to a reading from the first few pages of Bleak House and the effect was so moving that you could see the fog and feel the cold of 19th century London right there and then.
Her rendition of Miss Haversham of Great Expectations had the spiteful spinster in the marquee in front of us - in the flesh!
And yet there Mirian sat – no props, in jeans and joggers and with the most flexible voice and facial muscles in the business as her only tools.
The festival of 2008 will also be recalled as the one when The Big Issue of the moment was all but missing from the programme.
I always looked forward to the usual sessions in which panelists and incisive audiences grappled with Australia’s social and political preoccupations of the moment.
Last week-end the elephant in the room was climate change, and the programme all but ignored this potentially catastrophic concern.
Perhaps the abandoned lecture by Tim Costello on global ethics may have come to the party.
However, so far as I could see, the only other session title that held possible promise, ‘The longest decade: fifteen years of Australian politics’ was held in the dying moments of the festival late Sunday afternoon to a packed audience.
Problem was the panel also shied away from the elephant.
As chairman, Russell Eldridge former editor of the Northern Star newspaper sought forecasts for Australia in the next ten years, but …
Sydney Morning Herald’s Ross Gittins made a few polite and erudite references to the Big Problem, and Mungo McCallum, far from his usual straightforward self, seemed worried about being branded a climate change scaremonger.
George Megalogenis of The Australian even managed to look into the crystal ball to sum up the next ten years without one reference to climate change at all.
George Megalogenis also took part
in a session on blogging with fellow panelist Angela Pippos.
My great sympathy went to Professor Brendan Gleeson of Griffith Uni who seemed utterly frustrated with the whole scene, gasping that those political characters who bleat about 5c changes in petrol prices will not even be remembered at the end of the testing ten years.
When are Australian journalists and writing festival programmers (not to mention politicians) going to take our future seriously?
Sitting next to me in the session on blogging I met Celia
who has just retired from work at the age of 82. She's
about to write her memoirs centred on her arrival in
Australia in a troop carrier carrying refugees from
Europe in 1950.
Good on you Celia!
William McInnes of Sea Change snatched a short word
with author Alan Close before they launched into the session
What Men Don't Talk About: Until Now
I caught my favourite TV current affairs journalist
Kerry O'Brien of ABC's 7.30 Report in full flight in this shot.
I met my friend Katherine Howell at uni when I was doing my degree in Creative Writing and History a few years ago. She went on to a Masters Degree and has just launched her second crime novel based on the adventures of a paramedic. Kath worked on ambulances herself for four years so has lots of fodder for the background to her stories.
The queues at the coffee tents remained long throughought the week-end. Nothing like a caffeine fix on a cold day!
And, of course, the book shop did a roaring trade ...
Sunday, 20 July 2008
A man made lake near my home was formed because real estate developers wanted to turn priceless wetlands into a housing estate.
Rosie was relaxing with a new book her sister gave to her. I learned during our chat that Rosie was enjoying her week-end break from a stressful job.
There are quite a few seats dotted around the lake, and I've been known to settle here with a book myself.
Monday, 14 July 2008
I've begun reading a wonderful book of short stories and want to share it with you.
Nam Le is one of the Vietnamese boat people now making such a mark on Australian society with skills, determination and sheer hard work.
Still a baby in 1979, Nam Le journeyed with his family to make a new life in an unfamiliar land. He became a lawyer but, always a creature of his imagination, turned to writing in his spare time.
These efforts won a scholarship to the famed Iowa Writers Workshop in the USA, and now Mr Le is receiving world wide attention for his first published book The Boat.
The stories which are book ends to this collection speak of a Vietnamese background. In gentle rhythmic sentences the first story The Boat draws pictures of a sometimes taut relationship between a father and son. The two are influenced to varying degrees by former culture and new, by a life long lived and youth treading new paths. The dissonance is beautifully drawn.
It is the pages in between the two Vietnamese stories that have the critics gasping. Here Le is able to manifest people and situations naturally foreign to him in most persuasive ways.
He has an uncanny ability to burrow his way into the skins of people of other cultures, producing works of staggering insight. These imaginary worlds are the results of assiduous research, not personal experience. Locations and the varied characters emerge fully rounded, despite the brevity of the narratives.
This passage is from Nam Le's story Cartagena:
He smiles now: a charming host. In the deflected light, I notice for the first time a flabbiness in his cheeks. His braided hair looks wet. We stand on the balcony and look out over the blacked-out barrio. There are valleys out there, and swells, and rises, all unseen by our eyes. The night air gives off traces of wood smoke, sewage. In the immediate candlelight, the glass on top of the walls glimmers hints of every colour, and it is beautiful.
Each story has a different character. I can't wait to read the rest.
The Boat is published by Hamish Hamilton.
Friday, 11 July 2008
Learning to surf on Coolangatta BeachIt's a hard life!
Checking out the scene at Snapper Rocks
These pictures from last summer make me feel a bit warmer, now that winter has arrived.
I live in Northern New South Wales, not far from the Queensland border and the Gold Coast, our famous tourist trap and somewhere in the middle, weather wise. In a week here we can still feel very warm indeed, basking in the sunshine, and on another day, quite cold while fending off an intrusive wind. No real extremes however.
Luckily, my neck of the woods (south of the border) is a stone's throw from beautiful rolling green hills and sparkling estuaries, paddocks of edible crops, cows and horses, creamy sand and rolling waves. My own house is on suburban land.
Right now I'm feeling poorly done by because I have a jumper on and I can feel the cold sneaking around my nose and cheeks. The reality is that it's great weather for a brisk walk on the beach - and that's my target this morning.
No swimming though - too cold for me!
That's why I thought I'd be a bit nostalgic and include in my post some pix taken last summer ...
Monday, 7 July 2008
Sunday, 6 July 2008
There was something wrong. Something different. And Velma was sniffing the breeze.
Theirs was a long term ritual. Every week day Monica and Velma watched Days of Our Lives while curled up on Monica’s sagging two seater lounge, and sucking cups of Bushells tea. One sugar and a splash of milk for Mon, and for Velma, three sugars and black.
The machinations of the Salem crew always played out in total silence, but Mon and Vel’s post mortem was fierce, and punctuated by a second cuppa and some peanut butter sandwiches.
There was rarely a break in the routine. They’d watched daytime tele together since 1985 when Velma and her Fred moved into the fibro triple front next door. Mon lost Wilbur early in 1980 and had lived alone in their two bedroom brick ever since.
On week-ends when Fred was home Mon kept herself to herself except for a trip to the local club on Saturday nights to play Bingo. But of late, things had been different. Mon had been doing things she wouldn’t talk about.
Velma reached for her third sandwich and broke the triangle of white bread in two. She licked her finger and trawled the plate with it to collect crumbs. She sucked at them and prepared to attack the sandwich itself.
‘Mon … Are you ready to tell me? Come on, spill the beans. It’s a fella isn’t it?’
Monica looked sideways at her friend, and then pushed back a lock of silver grey hair from her face. About six weeks ago she’d had it permed for the first time Velma could remember, and now it was getting too long.
‘Come on Mon. You don’t keep things from me!’
Thoughtful, Mon rose from her lumpy seat and limped over to the kitchen to refill the teapot.
The bright purple flowers on her shift clashed awfully with the bright orange of the bench top.
‘Well, I suppose.’
Velma settled her bulk more comfortably, in anticipation.
‘We met at Bingo.’
‘He was across from me and we were both going really well with our cards, chalking up numbers like mad. I had only legs eleven to go and it stayed there for about three numbers and I was sweating. I hadn’t won for weeks.’
‘One number for three turns!’
‘Mmmm. Anyway, it came up. Legs eleven. And I yelled “Bingo” as loud as I could, real excited.
Then I realised he’d yelled too. The man across the table. At the same time. And we looked over at each other. And I saw his eyes. And he was as excited as I was.’
Mon had forgotten to put the lid on the teapot, and the window glass was becoming opaque with rising steam.
“So we had to share the fifty dollars, and when we came back to our seats after collecting it, he ushered me into my chair in such a posh way.’
‘It was nice to be treated special again. By a man. Before I knew it my heart was saying “Bingo” too.’
Velma waddled over and gathered her friend in a bear hug.
‘Oooh. How lovely!’ She had tears in her eyes.
Mon broke away from the hug, still miles away. Then, as though on automatic, she took the teapot and a second plate of sandwiches waiting ready on the bench top and placed them on the coffee table next to the lounge. She sat down again.
‘ We used to sit on the cliff at dusk, eating ice cream.’
‘We had some really nice times ...’
Velma was tucking in, although intrigued.
‘So what’s happenin now? Is it still on?’ An oily glob of peanut butter dropped to her lap, unnoticed.
‘Well, not at the moment …’
‘Oh! Oh well … ‘
‘No. No, it’s not on now.’
‘No. It was good while it lasted. In some ways. But … ‘
‘Yeah. I suppose. I s’pose there’s two ways of lookin’ at these things. I s’pose.’
Monica shrugged, and gazed out of the window at a magpie pecking for grubs in her lawn.
‘Yes. There’s different ways of looking at things …’
Velma plumped herself around on one hip so she could look straight at her friend, sitting there on the lounge.
’You know, I s’pose if you look at it fair and square, you’ve probly had a bit of a lucky escape.’
‘Yeah. I reckon.’
Mon was grinning from ear to ear. Suddenly.
‘Yes. I reckon too.’
This was more like her Mon. Velma swirled the tea in her cup to make sure of the last grain of sugar.
‘A bloke’s good for a bit of company. Yeah. But once they get long in the tooth things change.
Then they just want a cook. A servant.’
They shared a long silence. Then Mon said: ‘Men are scared to be by themselves you know.’
‘Yeah ... but it’s more than that. They’ve got egos. Egos are what gets them in knots.’
‘I agree with that!’
‘Yeah, they like a woman around to make ‘em look good, but you try and contradict ‘em or want your own way and you’ve had it. They can’t cope. Nope. They just want a cook.’
The silence was more comfortable this time, and Velma took over the pouring of the tea.
‘Remember, only one sugar please Vel. Trying to cut down on carbohydrates. Made myself a promise to get into a size sixteen.’
‘Don’t forget the chocolate cake I brought in. You’ll have a piece of that?’
‘Oh … Okay ...’ The magpie had caught a grub and she could see it wiggling in its death throws, trapped there in the maggie’s beak.
‘We did share a lot. Movies and books. We liked the same films you know. And books, like I said. Wilbur Smith ... Colleen McCullough.
Velma was rummaging in the fridge and came back with two plates laden with chocolate cake.
She passed Monica a pressure pack of cream, and Monica squirted a tall rosette of airy white onto her cake.
‘That’s what happens, in the beginnin. It’s amazing how many common interests they find. In the beginnin ...’ said Velma.
‘ … And music. He seemed to like everything that I did. Amazing really. The young ones’d call it synchronisity.’
‘Synchron ... What?’
‘I mean, we really got on well. And jokes! Did he have a cupboard full of jokes. Always there ready ... ‘ She smiled in her remembering, ‘Here’s one. Knock knock.’
‘Old Lady who?’
‘I didn’t know you could yodel!’
Velma began to shake in mirth, her rolls of fat a dancing bean chair.
‘Oh Mon, you are mad!
‘He was a dreadful driver though. It was like risking your life every time you got in beside him.
He didn’t ever seem to see the cars coming. And roundabouts! What a hassle! He should be dead.’
The maggie was stabbing its beak into the grass again.
‘He was nice though …’
‘Now Mon, if it’s over, it’s over. There’s nothin’ worse than a man you don’t want ruling the roost around the place. Don’t forget the bad things Mon ...’
‘Mmmm ... But I reckon you’re wrong about only wanting a cook. One night at his place he sat me down to a beautiful meal. Tablecloth, candles and all. Fillet steak and three veg ... He looked wonderful there, in the soft light. A pretty good looker. For his age.’
The cake was all gone now, and the tea leaves were showing at the bottom of the cups.
‘Do I know ‘im Mon? Come on …’
‘Well don’t go teasing me for the rest of my life if I tell you. Promise?’
Velma drew her pudgy figures over her chest.
‘Cross me heart.’
Monica’s look was meant to pierce right through to Vel’s conscience.
‘True. Honest I won’t.’
Monica looked out of the window again, then said: ‘Harry Roberts down at the post office. You know … on the counter.’
Velma was impressed.
‘Well! I say! You devil you!’
Mon’s face turned pink.
‘Now you promised.’
‘He’d be a good catch. If you wanted a man.’
‘You think so?’
‘Well … Good job … Clean. Nice smile. Funny nose though. And ‘e could have a bit more hair.’
‘Anyway, it was a lovely meal ... It was nice of him to cook for me.’
‘Well, why not? It’s about time men turned their hands to the kitchen. Did you ever have ‘im over? Here?’
‘Mmmm. You know when you and Fred went to Noosa for the week-end?’
‘Yeah? You crafty thing.’
Velma smoothed the floral arm of the lounge chair.
‘Did you ever … You know …’
Monica’s face turned from pale rose pink to a light shade of vermilion.
‘What? Oh ... Well ...’
‘Come on Mon. Did he ever kiss you?’
Mon balanced on the edge of her chair.
‘Mmmm … Well … Yes. He did.’
Now Monica looked as though she could crawl under the chair.
‘Not then … no. But we used to talk on the phone all the time. One Friday night we’d been chatting on for a full hour and he said: “Mon, I want to see you tonight; be with you. Damn this phone nonsense.” And he asked if he could come over. Right there and then. I mean what could I do?’
Velma was enjoying herself, eager for the next revelation.
‘I don’t s’pose you minded too much.’
‘He did seem sort of ... urgent. Anyway, he came. Half an hour later. In nice slacks and his dark brown shirt. I noticed he’d put on some Old Spice ... a bit too much really.’
‘Well, he came in through the door. And I could smell the after shave right off. Can I have another cup, Velma?’
Velma filled Mon’s cup from the teapot.
‘It’s probly a bit cold.’
‘By this we were standing in the middle of the lounge room when he grabbed hold of me and planted a kiss on my mouth. Hands everywhere. I must admit it made me feel pretty gooey.’
‘How about you!’
‘Anyway, he was breathing deep and so was I. All tingling I was. From top to toe.’
Monica eyes were transfixed on a spot in the middle of the patterned carpet.
‘He was sweating. Then, before I knew it we were tumbling around on the spare bed. Rolling around and all hot ... Us and the Old Spice. We were there about a minute or so, just long enough for me to wonder what I was doing. I mean, it was all a bit sudden ... We’d enjoyed our talks. And our outings. But this was different. I mean. At our age.’
‘Yeah. But only a minute though?’
‘No, I mean ... We were there, on the bed. Rolling on the bed for just about a minute. Before he had my blouse off. And then my bra. And there he was with no shirt. And only his undies. And then no undies. And I had no undies.’
Velma had stopped breathing.
‘I noticed he was still limp, but he began pushin’ himself against me. I could feel the flab on me stomach. Then he sort of angled to get his paunch out of the way ... he’s got a bit of a beer gut.
He grunted and groaned, and it was as though I wasn’t there any more. He was all taken up with himself.
‘I was shy I suppose – too shy to interrupt him. I tried to help him along. Stroking and cooing.
But no go. And he kept at it. And time went on. And he kept at it. A lather of perspiration he was. By this time I was really turned off.’
Velma began breathing again.
‘I remember noticing the glow of the street light coming through the curtains, and the pattern of the bedspread. He had a small tattoo on his back too. A ship’s anchor. And then I noticed the daddy long legs spider clinging to the corner of the room. Must dust that off tomorrow, I thought to myself.’
Monica was deep in the memory and had completely forgotten her embarrassment.
‘True. Anyway, his penis was still the centre of his world. It was a real battle for him. Like forcing a wet shammy into a coke bottle. I was just the bottle.’
Velma’s rolls of fat were jitterbugging.
‘So I tried to hasten things a bit. Swinging with him, trying to get a bit of rhythm going. He grunted with each shove and sighed with each push. Occasionally he would whisper that he loved me. As though to convince himself. But you know, what I might really feel, or want, just wasn’t part of the scene at all.’
‘How amazing. The buggers are just so full of themselves.’
‘I started thinking: “I’m being used here. He’s massaging his own ego as much as anything.” I thought: “Blow this. I’m not putting up with it.” So I quietly slid off the bed and asked him if he wanted a cup of tea.’
‘Oh Mon, what a joke!’
‘Well, it might seem that way now. But it wasn’t very funny. Really. It was sad. It was a case of a man’s ego getting in the way of a perfectly good relationship.’
‘You think so?’
‘I mean, if he’d taken things more slowly you don’t know what might have happened.’ Mon sneaked a glance at her friend.
‘You know yourself Velma that a woman’s most erogenous zone is between her ears. Massage that first and there’s a chance with the rest. A woman’s got to feel good about a fella. Don’t you think?’
‘Yes, I do. ‘
‘Why don’t men learn? They need companionship too. The same as we do. A bit of caring. Sharing of hopes and dreams.’
She pulled a colourful handkerchief from a pocket and dabbed, absentminded, at the corner of an eye. Then she stuffed the handky down the front of her dress, suddenly angry.
‘They just muck things up by thinking about themselves too much. Keeping up with their own idea about themselves.’
Mon had left the lounge behind and was pacing up and down on the carpet.
‘Me, I’d probably come good in the sexual stakes if he’d only taken things easy.’
‘And he probly would of too. You’re right Mon.’
‘Anyway, next day I was a cot case. Threw my back out with all the action, and I had to go off to the chiropractor. Haven’t been quite the same since.’
‘No sooner had I got home from the chiropractor when he was on the phone again, apologising for being inept. Truly!’
‘You’re jokin. ‘
‘I didn’t give a damn whether he was inept or not. I didn’t want a rampaging bull in my bed right then anyway. I’d been there years ago.’
Outside in the garden, the magpie had flown high into a large gum tree.
‘A bit of gentle petting would have been the ticket. Build up the trust.’
‘Too right Mon.’
‘That way the flames will come.’
‘Too right Mon.’
‘The upshot of it was that he rang me again about two days later. Hadn’t even heard from him in between.’
‘Hurt ‘is ego I don’t wonder.’
‘You know what he said?’
‘You can believe this if you want to ... He said he was thinking of going to the doctor for a prescription ... for Viagra.
‘I didn’t return his calls after that.’
© June Saville 2008
All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without written permission of the author.
I've decided to come out and put my own name on my blogs, instead of feeling safer behind the 'Evegreen' pseudonym. Damn this hiding yourself under a bushel eh?
So here I am: 'June Saville'. Less romantic I reckon, but there it is. A different photograph as well, you'll notice.
I have also taken steps to divide my posts into two different blogs: 70 Plus and Still Kicking for everyday posts and the occasional short story, and Journeys in Creative Writing, also at blogspot.com where I will post the majority of my writing. This should make it easier for those who enjoy a read of fiction. www.journeysincreativewriting.blogspot.com.
Journeys will be under construction for a little while until I get my act into gear, but keep an eye out because I have so many stories I wish to share and, hopefully, receive feedback on what you think of them.
Meanwhile enjoy the slideshow of pix from my garden on '70 Plus'. These were taken in the past few months. Right now it's the depth of winter in my part of the Australian world, but our climate is such (so far anyway) that I can still grow vegies and be sure of a sprinkling of colourful flowers. I notice the informal hedge of Michelia 'Bubbles' is shaping up with its burst of magic white tulip-like blooms that will cover the trees and later, the ground beneath with a carpet of creamy white bathed in a perfume of citrus. I promise to post a pic when it's in full roar.
Cheers until next time
Wednesday, 2 July 2008
Everyone of these friends drips interests and skills, they all have a great sense of humour and a full diary. We travel from many parts of the North Coast of New South Wales to meet at a central point for lunch, about every two months on average.
As usual, we enjoyed the gallery that's set in an idyllic part of the world, on a green hill with views of Mount Warning as a centrepiece. The many windows of the building have been carefully planned to frame sections of the meandering landscape and these are often as captivating as many of the art pieces on the walls! You can count on the exhibitions themselves always being challenging and/or satisfying.
Most of these friends have known each other for donkey's years, and some go back to when our adult kids were toddlers. We all share a concern that society distributes the goodies equally, although we realise there's a long way to go before our wish comes to fruition. I think our energy will be spent in this direction until the day the undertaker arrives!
We had coffee and cake on the gallery balcony as planned, but afterwards gathered for lunch at a great little open air cafe in the main street. Conversation probably began catching up with what our kids were up to, but expanded to a great range of topics, including how to use our latest computer programme. It was, as usual, hard to get a word in.
We solved climate change problems there and then (!!?), and worried about the need to bring in emissions trading in a manner that would be fair to all. Even though, I hasten to add, we were all very much aware of the need to act on environmental protection and sustainable living ASAP. No matter what the cost, there is no choice.
We also spent a lot of time talking about child abuse and what is happening to Australian families. It's important that our society is at last talking about this issue, instead of ignoring it.
Hey dear reader, I'd love to hear what you think about some of these issues. A post will take but a couple of minutes ... Just click on 'Comments'.