The voice of the spider

Abeba rented a room in a weatherboard house in St. Lucia (the suburb of Brisbane, not the Caribbean nation). The ageing owner had set up a caravan and a shed for himself in the backyard, and rented the rooms to students. Of the tenants there, I remember only a Chinese girl with excellent English, and Abeba, who was from Eritrea. Bereket lived nearby, and Saba was also in St. Lucia. Continue reading “The voice of the spider”

A visit to Medjugorje

In the autumn of 1996 I took a ferry from Ancona across the Adriatic to Split. There was a reasonable swell, into which we heaved through the night. I slept little in the “aircraft style” seats, keeping an eye on my knapsack, in which all of my travelling possessions, and a significant portion of my worldly possessions were packed. I was travelling with cabin luggage only, which kept the volume down, and made the airports mercifully easy to leave. By dawn we were sailing down the Dalmatian coast. We moved in behind the shelter of the string of elongated islands that parallel the coast, and came into Split. I’d met a Kiwi on the boat who suggested we get accommodation together in Medjugorje. I agreed, having become all to aware of the cost of single rooms. It was a bad mistake. Continue reading “A visit to Medjugorje”

Prickly pear

I recall seeing, on a trip to Rockhampton in about 1975, some stands of cactus that I took to be prickly pear. I was surprised to see it, as I had heard the story of the rampant infestation and the eventual control through Cactoblastis, so I thought it had been eliminated. A newsreel from the twenties gives some idea of the severity of the problem.

I had another prickly pear surprise not long ago. The train home from work goes from Southbank Station (once Vulture Street Station) under Vulture Street and into a long cutting. At the top of one of the embankments is Somerville House high school. Staring out of the window, I suddenly noticed a healthy clump of pear at the base of the embankments. I realised that there were smaller clumps of it growing all over the stone bank on that side. As suddenly as it had appeared, it was gone; even before the tunnel under Stephens Road I couldn’t find any more of it among the angled planes of the wall.

So, is this a stable population, of has someone, not too long ago, tossed a fruit down the embankment? The next year should tell the tale.

Oliver’s Greatcoat

I was less than ten years old when I was given a copy of Oliver Twist for Christmas or birthday. It was a small-format Collins hardcover, blue-bound, with the Collins fountain logo stamped in silver on the front cover. The pages were very thin, so much so that in places the print from the other side, too heavy in places, showed through, making reading difficult.

I read avidly, and was delighted at Oliver’s rescue. At that point, of course, things take a turn for the worse. When Oliver, carrying his benefactor’s books, is kidnapped by Nancy, my heart sank, and I put the book away.

At the moment, I’m reading Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida, edited by Robert Chandler. The first story is Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades, the third is Gogol’s The Greatcoat. Reading Gogol, I had that same feeling of impending doom as Akaky Akakiyevich makes his way back from the party whose pretext is his new greatcoat.

It took me some years to pick Oliver Twist up again. I think I finished it in my mid-teens. My expectation of a satisfying resolution may have sustained me. If so, Dickens did not disappoint. Gogol offers no such promise, but I am grown-up now, so I pressed on through my dread. Gogol did not disappoint.


If I am not woken suddenly—by an alarm clock, for example—I often find myself in a state on the cusp between sleep and wakefulness; in reverie. And often in that oftenness some questions that have been in the back of my mind will find their way to the front. The other morning—the one that triggered this post—I “woke”, and started thinking about the West Antarctic ice shelf, as one does. Continue reading “Emergence”

Down on Fairfield Road

About a month ago, Jen and I went for a bike ride on a Saturday afternoon. On the way home, we came up the back streets from Hyde Park. We got to Yeronga Street, and were about to cross into the commercial block when we saw them. A duck was crossing Yeronga, followed by seven ducklings, their legs flailing away to keep up. We rolled over into the car park, watching them progress up the other side of the street. Some bloke joined us, beaming at them. They crossed Fairfield Road at the lights. A couple of other were standing there watching them as well. The traffic was at its calmest at that time on Saturday afternoon, but the road was by no means empty. As we watched, a van came followed our route down Shottery Street and stopped to let them across the intersection, still following Yeronga. Seeing the van, Mum picked up the pace. Somehow the chicks kept up. Continue reading “Down on Fairfield Road”


Jen and I went to dinner in West End Saturday night before last. From Highgate Hill, we went down Dornoch Terrace to Hardgrave, and the first clump of the West End eateries. We went on down towards the next group, centered on what was the Rialto picture show. We have long been threatening to go to the Tongue and Groove, a name of intricate connotation, on a live music night, but there was no visible means of support for the car, so we turned back towards Dornoch, and found a park not far from the food. We hadn’t thought about booking, of course, but we got a table at Lefkas. We arrived without a bottle of wine, and I set off, thinking I would have to go down to the Rialto, but there was next door a bottle shop we hadn’t noticed. The Oyster Bay sav blanc is mighty popular in these parts, and they had sold out, so we ended up with another Kiwi called The Ned, which was tasty. Waiting for the food, we got to talking about Jen’s leaving Intensive Care. Continue reading “Protocol”

Raindrops keep fallin’….

It rained briefly but heavily in the city at lunch time yesterday. The sun came out almost immediately and the sky was predominantly blue again. I was sitting under cover of what used to be the Bank of Queensland building. As I walked out towards Elizabeth Street, a light rain was still falling. On the footpath, I looked around for the source. Only blue, and a few flimsy scraps of cloud. On the open space at the end of the Mall, as I headed down Edward, a light sparse shower was still falling. I looked up into it, and saw tiny balls of water falling towards me, drifting sideways in the breeze. Then it occurred to me that this must have been the runoff from the hi-rise. Up above, from pools on the top and from window seals and edgings, from concrete awnings and the various nooks and crannies on the face of these towers, residual rivulets were making their way to some precipice. Falling, they were being flailed by gravity and the wind into a spray of droplets, to make their their individual and scattered way to the street, like an afterthought of the shower.

Night Vision

I don’t enjoy aspirin the way I used to. Aspirin used to be a taste sensation for me. I would always chew the tablets, for that shrapnel burst of salicylate, almost as mouth-curdling in its own way as lemon, and it seemed to me that the analgesic effect was kick-started with the absorption of that distinctive taste. I don’t think that the generic aspirin I buy tastes any different, but it has lost most of its interest; a consequence—another consequence—of the breakdown of discipline and morale in the body’s engineering corps that comes with advancing years. Continue reading “Night Vision”

A divorce you don’t want

Jen’s been doing it hard. In order to let me get another 7 months’ work at the Labs in Bristol, she resigned from her beloved Intensive Care Unit back in the middle of 2006. She could only take 12 months leave without pay, and time was up. By the time we came back, a little less than a year later, that rule had changed to allow 3 years leave, but it was too late for Jen. Continue reading “A divorce you don’t want”