Wishful thinking will not get us there any faster!

My phone, being smart and all, has been creating a notification that tells me I have some memories stored on it for this day a year ago, or two years, or many years.

The pictures it is showing are of our trip to China last year.

Not much chance of going back, and, back then, neither of us could imagine that everything that has happened in the last six months could happen.

But, it did.

And one of the effects of those events is no more overseas travel

No more travel of any sort at the moment with the travel restrictions in place.  We can’t even fly to another state.  Come to that, we might not have an airline to fly on.

Travel, of course, is the main escape, where we can get away from our daily lives, and go somewhere quite different from where we live and experience a different world.  The people, the food, the sights.

What is probably more significant is that we might not be able to go away again, if there is no cure for the virus.  No one will want to risk catching it in another country, simply because of the medical expenses, the chances are that travel insurance will not cover you for the Coronavirus.

And no cover, no travel, even if you are able to.

So, it means that any travel we will be doing, when we can, will be in our own country.  We can do this without a vaccine because we have so few active cases, and the measures we have is stopping it in its tracks.

So too for New Zealand, and we may be able to travel there.

One day.

Until then, my smartphone is going to keep sending me gentle reminders of what it was like in another lifetime.

Waiting to pick up children from school can give you thinking time

Now that the COVID 19 problem has improved slightly, some schools are open again.  But there one small issue, none of the parents are willing to let their children catch public transport home, well, not for the time being.

The thing is, I usually have the job picking them up on a Friday, but as their parents are both working during the week, it falls to me to go five minutes up the road to the school to get one.

The other goes to secondary school, and, both schools miles apart, I can only be in one place.

Conveniently, for now, the secondary school is not yet open, so she is schooling from home, our home, thus during the day, I become a supervisor.

The best part is her cooking lessons, but I digress..,

So for the next few weeks, when required, my job is to get the youngest granddaughter from primary school.

And, as with the Friday afternoon routine of having both over for the afternoon, we give them dinner then take them home.  That of course changes the usual meal routing we have, and I’m cooking for different palates.

Fun times indeed, given the finicky likes and dislikes children develop.

For the moment they don’t mind but I suspect when they get older, as children’s ideas about post-school activities might eventually not include spending time with grandparents, though I’m guessing the open pantry and being spoilt might sway them for a little bit longer.

But…

The waiting line is longer, and instead of going a quarter of an hour before the pickup time, I now have to go three-quarters of an hour, just if I want a place in the queue, which by my estimation is nearly a mile long.

It gives me time to consider, not for the first time, what makes children tick in this modern world, one which to me seems to be very different from when I was their age.

We did not have television, computers, mobile phones, or social media.

If you wanted to talk to your friends out of school, a parent had to take you, otherwise, it could wait.  There was no calling them up on the phone, sending an email or a text.  Not like these days where both have mobile phones

And, where we had to do homework, play outside using our imagination, or hanging out with other kids who lived in the street, these days they seem glued either to their computers or phones, playing games on the computer, texting friends, or watching TV.

It’s not the sort of TV I would watch, all screaming and violence, and it’s no wonder a lot of small children are traumatized at such a young age.

Computer games are no better with extreme and very graphic violence.  What do we really expect feeding them this sort of material?

Talking them into going outside to play like we did at the same age would be a good idea if it was not for the possibility of them being snatched off the street.  It is indicative of the times, and who’s to say it will not happen even if it hasn’t happened before in the neighborhood. Now it seems predators are everywhere.

It was less likely in our time as children.  Back then you were more likely to be assaulted by a parent or a relative.  It was nothing to walk, as a seven or eight years old, for a mile or two alone on the street, to and from school, and not even think about being whisked away by a predator.

So, this afternoon, it’s not a time to dredge up the past.  It’s where it belongs, in the past.  What I have to look forward to is another session with my youngest granddaughter playing a game that rewards you with carrots.

Oh, and having to be quite the horsewoman, fending off rivals, dodging bombs and dragons, in order to build up your carrots so that you can breed a better horse, and, of course, win more carrots.

I’m sure there’s a message there somewhere.

The past creeps back when you least expect it

Over the last few weeks I’ve been lamenting the loss of many things that once existed, once upon a time.

All children have memories of their childhood, but some dissipate over time and become forgotten, almost to the point where it is as if they never existed.

Like my grandmothers house in the country, bulldozed to widen a main highway. I have a lot of difficulty in remembering it even though we had spent many Christmas holidays there.

Other, more insignificant items just simply disappeared into the mists of time, as the manufacturers were slowly bought out by overseas companies and in their desire for globalisation, parochial items made for what seems, to them, to be too small for their economies of scale were no longer made.

No thought is ever given to the consumer. Nor does it matter that the item, made in this country for a hundred years, is especially attuned to the tastes of the people of this country, and therefore have a continuous core market.

Of course, as a child over 60 years ago, most of thise items were confectionary. Names of brands such as Hoadleys and Rowntree have long since disappeared. Products like licorice squares, polly waffles, toscas and crispins have gone too.

Some products like Kit Kats still exist, but are made by new manufacturers like Nestle but with the change no longer taste anything like they used to.

But what started of this lament for the old days was triggered by seeing an old, old favourite called Life Savers, which came in friut flavours, peppermint, and musk. My all time favourite was musk and walking through the supermarket I saw the words Life Savers on a box almost hidden on the bottom shelf and lo and behold they had musk.

The packaging had changed, the manufacturer had changed, but that timeless confectionary had reappeared. Given its shelf location, I don’t think it will be for long.

Now, if only they could bring back Toscas, and Tarax soft drinks in small bottles. Raspberry and cola were my all time favourites.

In every town, in every country…

The Railway Hotel

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It seems to me that in a lot of towns where the railway passes through, and there’s a station, there is a ubiquitous Railway Hotel.

And, for some reason, they are all very old, as if they were built when the railway first went through, and it was the nearest hotel to the station.

In some railway towns, there’s more than one hotel, because I’m sure the Railway Hotel did actually fill up, and people had to stay somewhere else.

I’ve stayed in one or two over the years, and they are monuments to the past, a glimpse into how the notion of grand hotels was, a hundred years ago.

Now, they’re just tired.

Peeling or fading wallpaper, threadbare and stained carpets, creaking floorboards, staircases that were once grand, but now don’t quite feel as solid as they used to be.

There’d be no sneaking upstairs because there’s always two or three stairs that creak.

And what’s that interesting aroma that seems to permeate everywhere?  Brass polish.  Wood polish.  Or just the remnants of the last meal; was that cabbage?

There’s always a lounge with a huge fire burning in winter, and there’s nothing like the warmth and smell of burning wood.  All the better to toast marshmallows!

The dining room had the wooden walls, the wooden floors and the wooden tables with crisply starched tablecloths and silverware that’s been polished every day for a hundred years.  Here you are served from a limited menu that has the basics and plenty of it,  Roast beef, lamb, or chicken, potatoes, carrots, mash potatoes, and beans and peas, and gravy that’s to die for.

Dining in that room is still an experience, and perhaps more so than the new hotel’s soulless restaurants with cordon bleu meals, sometimes scraps on a very large plate.

Give me a Railway Hotel any day.

A Long Day’s Journey into Night

That was the name of a play, the script of which I once took out of a library, but never got around to reading it.

It sparked a momentary interest in Eugene O’Neill’s work, but I found it a little hard to understand.  Of course, back then, when I knew little about anything, it was basically a mystery.

It did fuel a brief dalliance with books with a deeper meaning for a short time, one of which was Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, but more intriguing of his works was called The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner.

While it could be said the literal meaning of that title was rather true, having done a little long-distance running mostly in the final years of school, and realizing it was a lonely sport, it was probably the first time I discovered allegory.

But aside from all that, it led to a foray into more salacious books such as The Postman Always Rings Twice.

And, don’t get me started on D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

However, I’m doing my usual digression, so back to the point…

Taking it in the literal sense, you can do a long day’s work, not get finished by the time you are supposed to go home, and then decide to burn the midnight oil, i.e., work on into the night.

And some days, you know the ones, where time literally drags, and it feels like forever before it’s time to go home, sometimes in darkness, for a variety of reasons, not just the obvious!

Other times, like when reading a good book, you pick it up in the morning, and the next thing you know, it’s night, and the day is gone.  That was a ‘journey’ but a pleasant one.  Long ago, that used to happen to me a lot.

Now, I hardly get time to read, let alone write, and for some strange reason, retirement is much harder than being at work.

Perhaps I should have taken those time management courses when they were offered.

And for something different

This month is nearly over, and once again, I don’t feel like I’ve got much further on than the end of the last month.

January has all but disappeared, getting lost in the politics of the US. I feel as though I know more about US history than my own country.

But, what were my writing expectations? 

I had set a list of projects for the month, more episodes for the three continuing stories, and a start to the next episodic story, ‘motive, means, and opportunity’, though for this story I have brought together all the writing I’ve been doing in past weeks. It has holes than need to be filled.

Then there is the completion of two new novels that will be in the editors hands by now, so I will be waiting with dread after the umpteenth edit, supposedly the last. Then there is the next two …

It would be easy to blame COVID 19, but that’s not the problem.  I’ve been home and had the time, but there have been a number of distractions, and ideas for new stories that seem to divert my attention from what I should be doing.

It’s not writers block.  It’s not laziness.  It seems that I just don’t want to work on them, and that might be because there are problems with the narrative, and I’m just not ready to address them.

What has got my attention then?

I’m not sure how or why, but something triggered the idea of passing through a portal into another time, in the past.  I think I might have been looking for photographs to write another photo/story, and I came across a covered bridge, and that led to looking for photographs of ghost towns. 

What topped it off, there was an old western in black and white, High Noon, which provoked a whole lot of memories of many westerns I’d seen in the past.

What other reason do you need to write your own story?

Then, when visiting my grandchildren, we just happened to do some star gazing, using Google Sky Map, picking out the planets.  Somehow I managed take a photo, and looking at it, took me back to the days of Star Trek, and the many series, which sort of gave me an idea for another story.

Equally, I’m always on the lookout for photo opportunities that I can use to write short stories, and these continue apace, the latest, number 135.  These are being formed into anthologies, stories 1 to 50, and stories 51 to 100.  The first has been assembled into book form, and is awaiting the editors first reading and report.  I’m still working on the second.

Perhaps some of the time has been spent keeping up with Twitter, where over the last six months, and more recently, sales of my books on Amazon have been increasing.  Not to best seller numbers, but people are reading my stories, and the reviews have been very good.

It has, of course, pushed me to work harder on marketing and that had consumed some of my time, which unfortunately takes me away from writing.  It sometimes feels like a self defeating exercise, but it is the same for all of us.

Oh, and something else that cropped up this month, my brother has been digging into out family history, and around the middle of the month he found some interesting revelations about some family members, including a pseudo luddite, and then later on, when chasing down the places that we, as a family, lived, and this brought out some very interesting information about our father.

I’m discovering for what I’d always assumed was an ordinary man, he had done a lot of very interesting things in his life, and not only that, I’ve been fictionalising the story.  I have potted pieces written over various stages, and, one day, it might come together as a sort of biography.  It is astonishing just how much you don’t know about your family, until much later on, at least for some of us.  Our relatives have always been a mystery to me, and it’s fascinating as each one is brought to life with a new detail here and there.

Looking back on what I’ve just written, perhaps the passing of the month had been more productive that I first thought.  It just seems like nothing major has happened.

So, it’s the new year

I just watched America ring in the new year.

15 hours after we did here in Brisbane.  It was, if anything, a non event.  Covid put paid to anything as lavish as it had been in the past.  It reminded me of thetwo times we were in New York for New Year’s Eve and the first time we couldn’t get near tTimes Square, and saw the ball drop in Central Park, and the second, in a Times Square hotel not far from the action.

This year we saw it on TV.  Oh, hang on, the TV coverage didn’t cover the ball drop.  What the?

But not to put too fnei a point to it, I didn’t really miss it.  Notthere, and not here.

Any other year?  Perhaps.

Two years ago we were in Lake Louise in Canada, and it was amazing to say the least.  The Fairmont hotel had been setting up for it all day, right down to watching a hoard of staff trying to put together the portable dance floor, and later, when exiting the restaurant, watching the crowded hoards dancing to their own music.  Or so it appeared.

We dined in the restarant, and it was a magic night of dining, in a magical setting.

Just saying that I don’t think that New Years Eve will be topped in what might be the rest of my lifetime.

This year, nothing.  I was up writing, and on the dot of midnight there was 15 seconds of fireworks.

We usually watch Sydney’s New Year’s Eve party and the fifteen to twenty minutes of fireworks after, but Covid put paid to that too.

Ten or so years ago, when imbibed with more enthusiasm, we went to a club on the border between Queensland and New South Wales where one had daylight saving and the other didn’t.   It was fun to celebrate New Year’s Eve twice, but not when we went back to the motel and discovered, after a rain deluge, all our rooms had sprung leaks and everything was wet.

The days of those adventures are more.

I’ve got used to staying in five and six star accommodation, but now we have retired and the income doesn’t match the lifestyle we used to have.

And with Covid always lurking in those dark corners waiting to pounce when least expected, I’m guessing my 2021 will be much the same as 2020, in isolation until we get a vaccine and the idiots finally realise they’re dicing with death, ours not theirs.

Still, it could be worse.

But, despire the glass half empty attitude, I hope everyone else has a happy new year and a much better 2021.

Digging into the past

It seems rather strange reading letters that were written by my parents before they were married.

They’re not love letters, but just words, words that knowing my father and mother as I do, seem so totally at odds with that knowledge.

The thing is, I never knew anything of theirs from that era existed, even though I knew my mother was a hoarder, and we didn’t discover the extent of that phobia until it was time to move them from their last residence to the retirement home.

There were cases and boxes filled with papers, letters, cuttings, and everything else in between.  Nothing had been thrown out.

And whilst I knew those letters existed, there was the yuk factor involved, such that I would never want to read them because, well, that was my parents’ stuff.

So, all of it was sorted, most of it thrown away, and only what we thought was of any intrinsic value was kept.  Those letters were part of the ‘keep’ pile and ended up in an old metal steamer trunk, and there they have lived for about ten years.

With the recent cleaning of my office, much to Chester’s disdain, the trunk suddenly looked out of place in a clean room.

My grandchildren ‘found’ this trunk and started looking through the contents and finished up with the letters.

And, being the curious people, they were, they started reading them, of course, stumbling over understanding the handwriting, which was based on what we learned in school, cursive script.  That meant I had to interpret the writing for them.

Talk about morbid curiosity!

And like I said, in reading them, formed the impression that these two correspondents were nothing like the people I knew growing up.

These letters dated from 1948 and 1949 when they were married in June of 1949.  There was no doubt it was a different time, and they were different people.  My mother came from a country town and went to work in Melbourne around that time.  I know that during the war, those years from 1939 to 1945 she was a student at Dandenong High School.

It was odd to realize that considering we eventually moved to Dandenong, and that may have had something to do with it.

My father served in the war till 1946, and then after being discharged from the army, worked as a projectionist until he went overseas for nearly a year, ostensibly to see how the war had affected Europe.  After that, he went back to being a projectionist at the Athenaeum in Melbourne, and later on, not knowing much of his work history, he would always tell us about the movies, especially those that came up on television.

There’s more I’m sure, like the fact my mother had another chap on the go at the same time, but it seems he was not interested in settling down.

Perhaps more will come to light in further reading, but like it said, it seems very strange to be reading those letters, much like walking over a grave; it gives me the odd shiver down the spine.

No doubt, the next time the grandchildren visit there will be another installment.

They, at least, think the story is fascinating.

Searching for locations: Venice, ships come and go

Through this window, which wasn’t one of those floor to ceiling, walk out onto a balcony type windows, we saw big ships, little ships, small boats, and then huge ocean liners.

And when that wasn’t enough, sunrise and sunset, or just the sight of Venice in the sunshine

The many vaporettos that came and went

It was simply a matter of watching ships go by, or watching the Venetians go about the daily business

Ferries that would arrive in the morning, and leave at night, small

and large

Small ocean liners

Very, very large ocean liners

And everything in between

And, whilst COVID 19 would make it a very difficult decision to take to the sea in one of these large ships, before that time, it was a matter of picking a destination and a day, for ships came and went every day, to Athens, to the Mediterranean, to Turkey, anywhere really.

All you needed was the money and the time.

And, as for plots and writing, it is a writer’s paradise, where you are limited only by your imagination.

We have this sport called Australian Rules Football

In Melbourne, it’s an institution even a religion.  Traditionally it is played on a Saturday afternoon and luckily for us, we were attending such a game.

Of course, this was last year.  This year, with the COVID 19 virus everything, including football has been called off.

Except now we have ‘flattened the curve’ football can start again, only without the spectators.  Social distancing means we can’t pack the stadium, or go to a game.  For a while, it was just be from our lounge rooms, watching it on the TV.

But, as some of the states began to get on top of the virus, football teams moved from Victoria, and played in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, and the Northern Territory.

And as the Victorian situation got worse, the decision was made to move the grand final, which had never left the MCG in Victoria, to Brisbane. It was like America never losing the Americas Cup, until they did.

But, below, is the atmosphere that we have been missing, and has returned in a limited sense as coronavirus restrictions eased (but not completely), a game we attended last year:

The stadium is the MSG, one of the biggest and best in Australia.  Shortly after the start, I’d estimate there are about 40,000, but eventually, we were told there was 53,000, spectators here for a clash between the two Melbourne based teams.  It is not unheard of to have in closer to 90,000 spectators, and the atmosphere is at times electric.

For the die-hards like me who can remember the days when there were only Victorian-based teams,  in the modern-day form of the game, to have two such teams is something of a rarity.

However, it’s not so much about the antics on the field as it is the spectators.  They are divided into three groups, the members, the private boxes, and the general public.

But in the end, there is no distinction between any of them because they all know the rules, well, their version of them, and it doesn’t matter who you are, If there is something that goes against your team, it is brings a huge roar of disapproval.

Then there are ebbs and flows in the crowd noise and reactions to events like holding the ball attracting a unified shout ‘ball, or a large collective groan when a free kick should have been paid or by the opposite team’s followers if it should have been.

It is this crowd reaction which makes going to a live game so much better than watching it televised live.  The times when players take marks, get the ball out of congestion, and when goals are scored when your team is behind and when one is needed to get in front.

This is particularly so when one of the stars goes near the ball and pulls off a miracle 1 percent movement of the ball.  These are what we come to see, the high flying marks, the handball threaded through a needle, a kick that reaches one of our players that looked like it would never get there, an intercept mark or steal that throws momentum the opposite way.

This game is not supposed to be a game of inches but fast yards, a kick, a mark, a handball, a run, and bounce.  You need to get the ball to your goal as quickly as possible.

That’s the objective.

But in this modern game, much to the dismay of spectators and commentators alike, there is this thing called flooding where all 36 players are basically in a clump around the ball and it moves basically in inches, not yards.

It is slow and it is ugly.

It is not the game envisioned by those who created it and there is a debate right now about fixing it.

Here, it is an example of the worst sort.  This game is played in four quarters and for the first two, it is ugly scrappy play with little skill on display.  The third shows improvement and it seems the respective coaches had told their players to open it up

They have and it becomes better to look at.

But this is the point where one team usually gets away with a handy lead, a third-quarter effort that almost puts the game out of reach.  The fourth quarter is where the losing team stages a comeback, and sometimes it works sometimes it does not.

The opposition gives it a red hot try but is unsuccessful.  Three goals in a row, it gave their fans a sniff of hope but as the commentators call it, a kick against the flow and my team prevails.

It is the moment to stay for when they play the winning teams song over the stadium’s loudspeaker system, and at least half the spectators sing along.  It is one of that hair raising on the back of your neck moments which for some can be far too few in a season

We have great hopes for our team this year, and it was worth the trek from Brisbane to Melbourne to see it live rather than on the TV

Leaving the ground with thousands of others heading towards the train station for the journey home there is a mixture of feelings, some lamenting their teams, and others jubilant their team won.  There is no rancor, everyone shuffles in an orderly manner, bearing the slow entry to the station, and the long lines to get on the train.

Others who perhaps came by car, or who have decided to wait for a later train or other transport, let their children kick the football around on the leaf-covered parkland surrounding the stadium.

It is an integral part of this game that children experience the football effect.  Kicking a ball with your father, brothers, and sisters, or friends on that late autumn afternoon is a memory that will be cherished for a long long time.

It’s where you pretend you are your favorite player and are every bit as good.  I know that’s what I used to do with my father, and that is what I did with my sons.

But no matter what the state of the game, it is the weekend the football fans look forward to and who turn out in their hundreds of thousands.  It is a game that ignites passions, it brings highs and it brings incredible lows.

And, through thick and thin, we never stop supporting them.