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.

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.

September has all but disappeared.

What were my 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.

Then there is the completion of ‘the things we do for love’ and at the moment, there are three chapters to be completed.  I didn’t get to ‘strangers we’ve become’ at all, which is particularly disappointing.

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 won 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, which has been running off and on over the last month.

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 141  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.

Who do you think you are?

I have seen this television program once or twice, where a television personality digs into their past and sometimes they discover they had famous, or sometimes infamous, relatives.

I don’t think I would be so lucky, or unlucky as the case may be.

But, to be honest I haven’t really been interested in digging into the past.

On the other hand, my older brother has a keen interest in genealogy in general, borne from a desire to find out more about our family tree.

And he has gone back to the 1600s, for the relatives who came out from England, and no, they have no transported convicts, or at least he’s not saying.

Genealogy is a rather fascinating subject, and, I’ve discovered, is taught in university as a degree.  My brother has one now. 

What I didn’t realize is that I’ve been playing with it for years because in writing what might be called sagas you need to create your own set of mythical families, and then trace to forebears back in time.

I have one novel I’m writing that has required a family tree, and recently another for a story that required starting with a character who participated in the Eureka Stockade.  We had to create parents, a migration from England to Australia, and then construct a family tree through to today so we could write a story from the perspective of a fourth-generation girl at school doing a school project.

If that sounds complicated, believe me, it is.  But from my granddaughter who came up with the idea, she is very excited about it.

Much better than sitting in front of a computer playing games or a tv watching cartoons.

But once again I digress…

I have found a lot of genealogy stuff that my mother had been working on, and I’m taking it to my brother, and at the same time, l will get the latest installment on our family.

So far I’ve learned that I come from a combination of British relatives on both my mother and father’s side, the most recent my father’s mother who was born in England, and German from my mother’s side, her surname being Auhl.

No doubt, and with a great deal of irony, my relatives probably fought against each other in two world wars.

I’m sure more will be revealed on Wednesday.

But, the more I learn the more I feel inclined to create a fictionalized history with my family members as characters in the story.  At the moment a biographical account of the family would be reasonably boring since as yet no one notorious had been discovered.

Urban decay

It was one of those beautiful Autumn mornings, blue sky with a smattering of clouds but a sunny day all the same.  It’s Sunday so there is not as much traffic on the road.

Anyone with any sense would be going to eat their favorite coffee place and settling down to your choice of coffee and perhaps a toaster or muffin to accompany the conversation.

This is what’s happening at the cafe we go for coffee.  9:00 in the morning it is packed.  But great coffee is hard to find, and this is great coffee.

It’s that in-between time before it gets windy, cold and wet, with the sort of chill you can feel in your bones, rather it’s the time when you have a barbeque in the mid-afternoon and get home before the cold sets in, or take the kids to the park for some healthy exercise.

Today I have to take a drive from one side of suburbia to the other, taking as a network of main roads with rather anonymous names such as North and South

We travel through the older suburbs, those with a collection of red or white bricks and timber dating back to the fifties and sixties.  They are not, for the most part, in a good state of repair, and rather than looking ramshackle, it’s more like they are slowly decaying.

Fences are rotting or falling over, extensions like they have been glued on rather than added by an architect, and paint either fading or missing.

Some have been bulldozed and replaced, blocks are cleared awaiting new development, others are being renovated.  Any way you look at them they are still worth a great deal of money being in the close to the city part of suburbia.

It’s a location we could never afford.  Because we were not affluent we were pushed out to the less expensive outer suburbs.  This was of course 50 years ago, and now those outer suburbs are now the new medium suburbs and people are buying 20 km further out in the new estates.  When I was young these suburbs were farms and open land.

It also surprises me that people would want to live on the main road because with traffic as it is heading into the city, it would be difficult to leave or return by car.  At least for these people, public transport is better than it is in the outer suburbs.

Because it’s Sunday my trip takes a lot less time, except for those unpredictable traffic lights, some of which I missed and took a while to cycle through the other traffic before it was our time to move.

Time enough for reflection, and realize that nothing stands still and that everything was always in a constant state of change.

Next time I come this way, I doubt anything will be the same, except perhaps, the traffic lights

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.

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 a few years ago.

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.

Inspiration comes from the most unlikely sources

And this was one of those times.

Before the COVID 29 pandemic, a time that is rapidly disappearing in our collective memories, we came down from Brisbane to Melbourne for a wedding, perhaps the last for this family for quite some time, this being my wife’s brother’s last daughter to tie the knot, so to speak.

And like someone said, as with births, weddings and funerals, it turned into a family reunion on my wife’s side of the family.

But there were extra benefits…

We got to meet the extended family of the groom.

And, we got an insight into their friends, the thirty-something, footloose and fancy-free acquaintances that had been off and on a part of the bride and groom’s life for about 15 or so years, and most of who had been to London, for various stints, and who are now scattered across Australia, and other international destinations.

I have to say that these people were quite interesting.

As an older person, I didn’t have much in common, so I followed one of my father’s old adages, if you’ve got nothing to say, shut up and listen.

And as a writer, I did something else, observe.

It was an eye-opening experience, if nothing else, and a rather interesting look into what it might be like as an unmarried reasonably well off thirty-something. For starters, you didn’t have to worry about the price of drinks, or how much you drank. You can just up and go anywhere in the world at the drop of a hat. For a few minutes there I was starting to feel envious.

It was sometimes overindulgence, but I noticed it was never to the point of becoming what some refer to as legless. Noisy perhaps, crude at times, yes, but in reminiscing, it was a curious phenomenon that they had all “hooked up” at some time or other.

Aside from learning what appeared to be a new “language”, there was also a running theme that at one time or another nearly all of them had lived with the groom in London for a period.

It got me thinking.

It would make a good story.

It was just trying to find a context, other than a wedding, that would bring them together, one where a series of vignettes that involved each of them in turn that could bring to the story of that person to life.

In this case, but not so much the reminiscing, it was the wedding.

What if it was an untimely funeral?

Trying to find joy in the midst of a very sad occasion.

I’m sure this has been done to death many times, but after hearing a lot of happy memories, it seems to me that in this case, it could be uplifting.

Yes, the ideas need a little work, but it’s firmly there in my mind.

Perhaps when I get back home, I might just start writing.

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.

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 before last year.  Last year, with the COVID 19 virus everything, including football has been called off.

Now, we’re subject to the off outbreak that sees games transferred to other states, and sometimes without crowds. We just stick to watching it on TV these days.

Except now we have ‘flattened the curve’ football can start again, sometimes with sometimes without the spectators.  Social distancing means we can’t pack the stadium, or rarely even go to a game.  For a while, it was just to 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.

Around the table…

You know that you are getting old when sitting at a table where only one person is less than 65.

There were just over a dozen of us, meeting up for my older brother’s 70th birthday.

I have to say, from the outset, that I never expected him to live that long, but, when you take into consideration the longevity of our parents, my father is 97 and my mother 93, it’s no longer a surprise.

As for me, I’m 67 this year, and there are three years between us.

Something else I hadn’t realized, but what possibly seems coincidental is the age difference between our granddaughters, which is also three years. One is 16, another is 13 and the youngest 10.

But…

It was interesting to finally meet a number of the guests as, for many, many years, I’d only heard of them in passing conversation. This is because we very rarely manage to get down from Brisbane to Melbourne to catch up, and almost never when my brother has had one of these rare get-togethers.

Of course, these people had known him for years, and there was a thread to bound them together.

Stamps.

They were all stamp collectors.

I remember a long, long time ago I used to collect stamps, but I did not have the same passion for collecting as my brother did, and if truth be told, I was a little jealous.

And he had a Stanley Gibbons catalog that could put a value to every stamp. That, to me, showed dedication.

I just bought stamps that were big and colorful from obscure countries no one had ever heard of. But, in another sense, it was where I learned a lot about the British Commonwealth. Some of those African member countries were those same obscure places I had stamps for.

Then when I could be no longer be bothered, I just handed the lot to him and said he could do with them what he will.

Naturally, at this gathering, we didn’t talk about stamps.

If fact, after describing myself as the black sheep, well, grey sheep on account of the hair, it seemed we became the center of attention.

To be honest, I expected the lunch to last an hour, but who knew there was so much to talk about, even though I really can’t remember much of it other than it lasted almost three hours. That’s a lot of time talking about nothing.

But I guess when you reach that golden age, time ceases to have any real meaning.

We now have a standing invitation to return, and since time is running out for all of us, it’s probably wise to not take so long to return.