Tag Archives: London

None So Blind – A Short Story By Mary Synon

Set in London, this short story first appeared in Harper’s Magazine, and was published in the The Yearbook Of The American Short Story For 1917, which has been shared via Project Gutenburg. I’d be interested to know your thoughts…

 We were listening to Leila Burton’s music—her husband, and Dick Allport, and I—with the throb of London beating under us like the surge of an ocean in anger, when there rose above the smooth harmonies of the piano and the pulsing roar of the night a sound more poignant than them both, the quavering melody of a street girl’s song.

Through the purpling twilight of that St. John’s Eve I had been drifting in dreams while Leila had gone from golden splendors of chords which reflected the glow on westward-fronting windows into somber symphonies which had seemed to make vocal the turbulent soul of the city—for Dick Allport and I were topping the structure of that house of life that was to shelter the love we had long been cherishing. With Leila playing in that art which had dowered her with fame, I was visioning the glory of such love as she and Standish Burton gave each other while I watched Dick, sensing rather than seeing the dearness of him as he gave to the mounting climaxes the tense interest he always tendered to Leila’s music.

I had known, before I came to love Dick Allport, other loves and other lovers. Because I had followed will-o’-the-wisps of fancy through marshes of sentiment I could appreciate the more the truth of that flame which he and[Pg 469] I had lighted for our guidance on the road. A moody boy he had been when I first met him, full of a boy’s high chivalry and of a boy’s dark despairs. A moody man he had become in the years that had denied him the material success toward which he had striven; but something in the patience of his efforts, something in the fineness of his struggle had endeared him to me as no triumph could have done. Because he needed me, because I had come to believe that I meant to him belief in the ultimate good of living, as well as belief in womanhood, I cherished in my soul that love of him which yearned over him even as it longed for him.

Watching him in the dusk while he lounged in that concentrated quiet of attention, I went on piling the bricks of that wide house of happiness we should enter together; and, although I could see him but dimly, so well did I know every line of his face that I could fancy the little smile that quivered around his lips and that shone from the depths of his eyes as Leila played the measures we both loved. I must have been smiling in answer when the song of the girl outside rose high.

Not until that alien sound struck athwart the power and beauty of the spell did I come to know how high I had builded my castles; but the knocking at the gate toppled down the dreams as Leila swept a discord over the keyboard and crossed to the open window.

In the dusk, as she flung back the heavy curtains, I could see the bulk of Brompton Oratory set behind the houses like the looming back-drop of a painted scene. Nearer, in front of a tall house across the way, stood the singer, a thin girl whose shadowy presence seemed animated by a curious bravery. In a nasal, plaintive voice she was singing the words of a ballad of love and of loving that London, as only London can, had made curiously its own that season. The insistence of her plea—for she sang as if she cried out her life’s longing, sang as if she called on the passing crowd not for alms, but for understanding—made her for the moment, before she[Pg 470] faded back into oblivion, an artist, voicing the heartache and the heartbreak of womankind; and the artist in Leila Burton responded to the thrill.

Until the ending of the song she stood silent in front of the window, unconscious of the fact that she, and not the scene beyond her, held the center of the stage. Not for her beauty, although at times Leila Burton gave the impression of being exquisitely lovely, was she remarkable, but rather for that receptive attitude that made her an inspired listener. In me, who had known her for but a little while, she awakened my deepest and drowsiest ambition, the desire to express in pictures the light and the shade of the London I knew. With her I could feel the power, and the glory, and the fear, and the terror of the city as I never did at other times. It was not alone that she was all things to all men; it was that she led men and women who knew her to the summits of their aspirations.

Even Standish Burton, big, sullen man that he was, immersed in his engineering problems, responded to his wife’s spiritual charm with a readiness that always aroused in Dick and myself an admiration for him that our other knowledge of him did not justify. He was, aside from his relationship to Leila, a man whose hardness suggested a bitter knowledge of dark ways of life. Now, crouched down in the depths of his chair, he kept watching Leila with a gaze of smouldering adoration, revealing that love for her which had been strong enough to break down those barriers which she had erected in the years while he had worked for her in Jacob’s bondage. In her he seemed to be discovering, all over again, the vestal to tend the fires of his faith.

Dick Allport, too, bending forward over the table on which his hands fell clenched, was studying Leila with an inscrutable stare that seemed to be of query. I was wondering what it meant, wondering the more because my failure to understand its meaning hung another veil between my vision and my shrine of belief in the fullness[Pg 471] of love, when the song outside came to an end and Leila turned back to us.

Her look, winging its way to Standish, lighted her face even beyond the glow from the lamps which she switched on. For an instant his heavy countenance flared into brightness. Dick Allport sighed almost imperceptibly as he turned to me. I had a feeling that such a fire as the Burtons kindled for each other should have sprung up in the moment between Dick and me, for we had fought and labored and struggled for our love as Standish and Leila had never needed to battle. Because of our constancy I expected something better than the serene affectionateness that shone in Dick’s smile. I wanted such stormy passion of devotion as Burton gave to Leila, such love as I, remembering a night of years ago, knew that Dick could give. It was the old desire of earth, spoken in the street girl’s song, that surged in me until I could have cried out in my longing for the soul of the sacrament whose substance I had been given; but the knowledge that we were, the four of us, conventional people in a conventional setting locked my heart as it locked my lips until I could mirror the ease with which Leila bore herself.

“I have been thinking,” she said, lightly, “that I should like to be a street singer for a night. If only a piano were not so cumbersome, I should go out and play into the ears of the city the thing that girl put into her song.”

“Why not?” I asked her, “It would be an adventure, and life has too few adventures.”

“It might have too many,” Dick said.

“Not for Leila,” Standish declared. “Life’s for her a quest of joy.”

“That’s it,” Dick interposed. “Her adventures have all been joyous.”

“But they haven’t,” Leila insisted. “I’m no spoiled darling of the gods. I’ve been poor, poor as that girl out there. I’ve had heartaches, and disappointments, and misfortunes.”[Pg 472]

“Not vital ones,” Dick declared. “You’ve never had a knock-out blow.”

“She doesn’t know what one is,” Standish laughed, but there sounded a ruefulness in his laughter that told of the kind of blow he must once have suffered to bring that note in his voice. Standish Burton took life lightly, except where Leila was concerned. His manner now indicated, almost mysteriously, that something threatened his harbor of peace, but the regard Leila gave to him proved that the threat of impending danger had not come to her.

“Oh, but I do know,” she persisted.

“Vicariously,” I suggested. “All artists do.”

“No, actually,” she said.

“You’re wrong,” said Standish. “You’re the sort of woman whom the world saves from its own cruelties.”

There was something so essentially true in his appraisal of his wife that the certainty covered the banality of his statement and kept Dick and myself in agreement with him. Leila Burton, exquisitely remote from all things commonplace, was unquestionably a woman to be protected. Without envy—since my own way had its compensations in full measure—I admitted it.

“I think that you must have forgotten, if you ever knew,” she said, “how I struggled here in London for the little recognition I have won.”

“Oh, that!” Dick Allport deprecated. “That isn’t what Stan means. Every one in the world worth talking about goes through that sort of struggle. He means the flinging down from a high mountain after you’ve seen the glories, not of this world, but of another, the casting out from paradise after you’ve learned what paradise may mean. He spoke with an odd timbre of emotion in his voice, a quality that puzzled me for the moment.

“That’s it,” said Standish, gratefully. “Those are the knock-out blows.”

“Well, then, I don’t know them”—Leila admitted her defeat—”and I hope that I shall not.”

Softly she began to play the music of an accompaniment.[Pg 473] There was a familiar hauntingness in its strains that puzzled me until I associated them with the song that Burton used to whistle so often in the times when Leila was in Paris and he had turned for companionship to Dick and to me.

“I’ve heard Stan murder that often enough to be able to try it myself,” I told her.

“I didn’t know he knew it,” she said. “I heard it for the first time the other day. A girl—I didn’t hear her name—sang it for an encore at the concert of the Musicians’ Club. She sang it well, too. She was a queer girl,” Leila laughed, “a little bit of a thing, with all the air of a tragedy queen. And you should have heard how she sang that! You know the words?”—she asked me over her shoulder:

“And because I, too, am a lover,
And my love is far from me,
I hated the two on the sands there,
And the moon, and the sands, and the sea.”

“And the moon, and the sands, and the sea,” Dick repeated. He rose, going to the window where Leila had stood, and looking outward. When he faced us again he must have seen the worry in my eyes, for he smiled at me with the old, endearing fondness and touched my hair lightly as he passed.

“What was she like—the girl?” Standish asked, lighting another cigarette.

“Oh, just ordinary and rather pretty. Big brown eyes that seemed to be forever asking a question that no one could answer, and a little pointed chin that she flung up when she sang.” Dick Allport looked quickly across at Burton, but Stan gave him no answering glance. He was staring at Leila as she went on: “I don’t believe I should have noticed her at all if she hadn’t come to me as I was leaving the hall. ‘Are you Mrs. Standish Burton?’ she asked me. When I told her that I was, she stared me full in the face, then walked off[Pg 474] without another word. I wish that I could describe to you, though, the scorn and contempt that blazed in her eyes. If I had been a singer who had robbed her of her chance at Covent Garden, I could have understood. But I’d never seen her before, and my singing wouldn’t rouse the envy of a crow!” She laughed light-heartedly over the recollection, then her face clouded. “Do you know,” she mused, “that I thought just now, when the girl was singing on the street, that I should like to know that other girl? There was something about her that I can’t forget. She was the sort that tries, and fails, and sinks. Some day, I’m afraid, she’ll be singing on the streets, and, if I ever hear her, I shall have a terrible thought that I might have saved her from it, if only I had tried!”

“Better let her sort alone,” Burton said, shortly. He struck a match and relit his cigarette with a gesture of savage annoyance. Leila looked at him in amazement, and Dick gave him a glance that seemed to counsel silence. There was a hostility about the mood into which Standish relapsed that seemed to bring in upon us some of the urgent sorrows of the city outside, as if he had drawn aside a curtain to show us a world alien to the place of beauty and of the making of beauty through which Leila moved. Even she must have felt the import of his mood, for she let her hands fall on the keys while Dick and I stared at each other before the shock of this crackle that seemed to threaten the perfection of their happiness.

From Brompton came the boom of the bell for evensong. Down Piccadilly ran the roar of the night traffic, wending a blithesome way to places of pleasure. It was the hour when London was wont to awaken to the thrill of its greatness, its power, its vastness, its strength, and its glory, and to send down luminous lanes its carnival crowd of men and women. It was the time when weltering misery shrank shrouded into merciful gloom; when the East End lay far from our hearts; when poverty and sin and shame went skulking into byways where we need never follow; when painted women held back in the[Pg 475] shadows; when the pall of night rested like a velvet carpet over the spaces of that floor that, by daylight, gave glimpses into loathsome cellars of humanity. It was, as it had been so often of late, an hour of serene beauty, that first hour of darkness in a June night with the season coming to an end, an hour of dusk to be remembered in exile or in age.

There should have come to us then the strains of an orchestra floating in with the fragrance of gardenias from a vendor’s basket, symbols of life’s call to us, luring us out beneath stars of joy. But, instead, the bell of Brompton pealed out warningly over our souls, and, when its clanging died, there drifted in the sound of a preaching voice.

Only phrases clattering across the darkness were the words from beyond—resonant through the open windows: “The Cross is always ready, and everywhere awaiteth thee…. Turn thyself upward, or turn thyself downward; turn thyself inward, or turn thyself outward; everywhere thou shalt find the Cross;… if thou fling away one Cross thou wilt find another, and perhaps a heavier.”

Like sibylline prophecy the voice of the unseen preacher struck down on us. We moved uneasily, the four of us, as he cried out challenge to the passing world before his voice went down before the surge of a hymn. Then, just as the gay whirl of cars and omnibuses beat once more upon the pavements, and London swung joyously into our hearts again, the bell of the telephone in the hall rang out with a quivering jangle that brought Leila to her feet even as Standish jumped to answer its summons.

She stood beside the piano as he gave answer to the call, watching him as if she expected evil news. Dick, who had moved back into the shadow from a lamp on the table, was staring with that same searching gaze he had bestowed on her when she had lingered beside the window. I was looking at him, when a queer cry from Standish whirled me around.

In the dim light of the hall he was standing with the[Pg 476] instrument in his hands, clutching it with the stupidity of a man who has been struck by an unexpected and unexplainable missile. His face had gone to a grayish white, and his hands trembled as he set the receiver on the hook. His eyes were bulging from emotion and he kept wetting his lips as he stood in the doorway.

“What is it?” Leila cried. “What’s happened, Stan? Can’t you tell me? What is it?”

Not to her, but to Dick Allport, he made answer. “Bessie Lowe is dead!”

I saw Dick Allport’s thunderstruck surprise before he arose. I saw his glance go from Standish to Leila with a questioning that overrode all other possible emotion in him. Then I saw him look at Burton as if he doubted his sanity. His voice, level as ever, rang sharply across the other man’s distraction.

“When did she die?” he asked him.

“Just now.” He ran his hand over his hair, gazing at Dick as if Leila and I were not there. “She—she killed herself down in the Hotel Meynard.”

“Why?” Leila’s voice, hard with terror, snapped off the word.

“She—she—I don’t know.” He stared at his wife as if he had just become conscious of her presence. The grayness in his face deepened, and his lips grew livid. Like a man condemned to death, he stared at the world he was losing.

“Who is Bessie Lowe?” Leila questioned. “And why have they called you to tell of her?” Her eyes blazed with a fire that seemed about to singe pretense from his soul.

His hand went to his throat, and I saw Leila whiten. Her hand, resting on the piano, trembled, but her face held immobile, although I knew that all the happiness of the rest of her life hung upon his answer. On what Standish Burton would tell her depended the years to come. In that moment I knew that she loved him even as I loved Dick, even as women have always loved and[Pg 477] will always love the men whom fate had marked for their caring; and in a sudden flash of vision I knew, too, that Burton, no matter what Bessie Lowe or any other girl had ever been to him, worshiped his wife with an intensity of devotion that would make all his days one long reparation for whatever wrong he might have done her. I knew, though, that, if he had done the wrong, she would never again be able to give him the eager love he desired, and I, too, an unwilling spectator, waited on his words for his future, and Leila’s; but his voice did not make answer. It was Dick Allport who spoke.

“Bessie Lowe is a girl I used to care for,” he said. “She is the girl who sang at the Musicians’ Club, the girl who spoke to you. She heard that I was going to be married. She wanted me to come back to her. I refused.”

He was standing in the shadow, looking neither at Leila nor at me, but at Standish Burton. Burton turned to him.

“Yes,” he muttered thickly, “they told me to tell you. They knew you’d be here.”

“I see,” said Leila. She looked at Standish and then at Dick Allport, and there came into her eyes a queer, glazed stare that filmed their brightness. “I am sorry that I asked questions, Mr. Allport, about something that was nothing to me. Will you forgive me?”

“There is nothing to be forgiven,” he said. He turned to her and smiled a little. She tried to answer his smile, but a gasp came from her instead.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, “so sorry for her!”

It was Standish’s gaze that brought to me sudden realization that I, too, had a part in the drama. Until I found his steady stare on me I had felt apart from the play that he and Dick and Leila were going through, but with his urgent glare I awoke into knowledge that the message he had taken for Dick held for me the same significance that Leila had thought it bore for her. Like a stab from a knife came the thought that this girl—whoever[Pg 478] she was—had, in her dying, done what she had not done in life, taken Dick Allport from me. There went over me numbing waves of a great sense of loss, bearing me out on an ocean of oblivion. Against these I fought desperately to hold myself somewhere near the shore of sensibility. As if I were beholding him from a great distance, I could see Dick standing in the lamplight in front of Leila Burton. Understanding of how dear he was to me, of how vitally part of me he had grown in the years through which I had loved him—sometimes lightly, sometimes stormily, but always faithfully—beaconed me inshore; and the plank of faith in him, faith that held in itself something of forgiving charity, floated out to succor my drowning soul. I moved across the room while Standish Burton kept his unwinking gaze upon me, and Leila never looked up from the piano. I had come beside Dick before he heard me.

He looked at me as if he had only just then remembered that I was there. Into his eyes flashed a look of poignant remorse. He shrank back from me a little as I touched his hand, and I turned to Leila, who had not stirred from the place where she had listened to Standish’s cry when he took the fateful message. “We are going,” I said, “to do what we can—for her.”

She moved then to look at me, and I saw that her eyes held not the compassion I had feared, but a strange speculativeness, as if she questioned what I knew rather than what I felt. Their `contemplating quiet somehow disturbed me more than had her husband’s flashlight scrutiny, and with eyes suddenly blinded and throat drawn tight with terror I took my way beside Dick Allport out from the soft lights of the Burtons’ house into the darkness of the night.

Outside we paused a moment, waiting for a cab. For the first time since he had told Leila of Bessie Lowe, Dick spoke to me. “I think,” he said, “that it would be just as well if you didn’t come.”

“I must,” I told him, “It isn’t curiosity.[Pg 479] You understand that, don’t you? It is simply that this is the time for me to stand by you, if ever I shall do it, Dick.”

“I don’t deserve it.” There was a break in his voice. “But I shall try to, my dear. I can’t promise you much, but I can promise you that.”

Down the brightness of Piccadilly into the fuller glow of Regent Street we rode without speech. Somewhere below the Circus we turned aside and went through dim cañons of houses that opened a way past the Museum and let us into Bloomsbury. There in a wilderness of cheap hotels and lodging-houses we found the Meynard.

A gas lamp was flaring in the hall when the porter admitted us. At a desk set under the stairway a pale-faced clerk awaited us with staring insolence that shifted to annoyance when Dick asked him if we might go to Bessie Lowe’s room. “No,” he said, abruptly. “The officers won’t let any one in there. They’ve taken her to the undertaker’s.”

He gave us the location of the place with a scorn that sent us out in haste. I, at least, felt a sense of relief that I did not have to go up to the place where this unknown girl had thrown away the greatest gift. As we walked through the poorly lighted streets toward the Tottenham Court Road I felt for the first time a surge of that emotion that Leila Burton had voiced, a pity for the dead girl. And yet, stealing a look at Dick as he walked onward quietly, sadly, but with a dignity that lifted him above the sordidness of the circumstances, I felt that I could not blame him as I should. It was London, I thought, and life that had tightened the rope on the girl.

Strangely I felt a lightness of relief in the realization that the catastrophe having come, was not really as terrible as it had seemed back there in Leila’s room. It was an old story that many women had conned, and since, after all, Dick Allport was yet young, and my own, I condoned the sin for the sake of the sinner; and yet, even as I held the thought close to my aching heart, I felt that I was somehow letting slip from my shoulders the[Pg 480] cross that had been laid upon them, the cross that I should have borne, the burden of shame and sorrow for the wrong that the man I loved had done to the girl who had died for love of him.

The place where she lay, a gruesome establishment set in behind that highway of reeking cheapness, the Tottenham Court Road, was very quiet when we entered. A black-garbed man came to meet us from a room in which we saw two tall candles burning. Dick spoke to him sharply, asking if any one had come to look after the dead girl.

“No one with authority,” the man whined—”just a girl as lived with her off and on.”

He stood, rubbing his hands together as Dick went into hurried details with him, and I went past them into the room where the candles burned. For an instant, as I stood at the door, I had the desire to run away from it all, but I pulled myself together and went over to the place where lay the girl they had called Bessie Lowe.

I had drawn back the sheet and was standing looking down at the white face when I heard a sob in the room. I replaced the covering and turned to see in the corner the shadowy form of a woman whose eyes blazed at me out of the dark. While I hesitated, wondering if this were the girl who had lived occasionally with Bessie Lowe, she came closer, staring at me with scornful hate. Miserably thin, wretchedly nervous as she was, she had donned for the nonce a mantle of dignity that she seemed to be trailing as she approached, glaring at me with furious resentment. “So you thought as how you’d come here,” she demanded of me, her crimsoned face close to my own, “to see what she was like, to see what sort of a girl had him before you took him away from her? Well, I’ll tell you something, and you can forget it or remember it, as you like. Bessie Lowe was a good girl until she ran into him, and she’d have stayed good, I tell you, if he’d let her alone. She was a fool, though, and she thought that he’d marry her some day—and all the[Pg 481] time he was only waiting until you’d take him! You never think of our kind, do you, when you’re living out your lives, wondering if you care enough to marry the men who’re worshipping you while they’re playing with us? Well, perhaps it won’t be anything to you, but, all the same, there’s some kind of a God, and if He’s just He’ll punish you when He punishes Standish Burton!”

“But I—” I gasped. “Did you think that I—?”

“Aren’t you his wife?” She came near to me, peering at me in the flickering candle-light. “Aren’t you Standish Burton’s wife?”

“No,” I said.

“Oh, well”—she shrugged—”you’re her sort, and it’ll come to the same thing in the end.”

She slouched back to the corner, all anger gone from her. Outside I heard Dick’s voice, low, decisive. Swiftly I followed the girl. “You must tell me,” I pleaded with her, “if she did it because of Standish Burton.”

“I thought everybody knew that,” she said, “even his wife. What’s it to you, if you’re not that?”

“Nothing,” I replied, but I knew, as I stood where she kept vigil with Bessie Lowe, that I lied. For I saw the truth in a lightning-flash; and I knew, as I had not known when Dick perjured himself in Leila’s music-room, that I had come to the place of ultimate understanding, for I realized that not a dead girl, but a living woman, had come between us. Not Bessie Lowe, but Leila Burton, lifted the sword at the gateway of my paradise.

With the poignancy of a poisoned arrow reality came to me. Because Dick had loved Leila Burton he had laid his bond with me on the altar of his chivalry. For her sake he had sacrificed me to the hurt to which Standish would not sacrifice her. And the joke of it—the pity of it was that she hadn’t believed them! But because she was Burton’s wife, because it was too late for facing of the truth, she had pretended to believe Dick; and she had known, she must have known, that he had lied to her because he loved her.[Pg 482]

The humiliation of that knowledge beat down on me, battering me with such blows as I had not felt in my belief that Dick had not been true to me in his affair with this poor girl. Her rivalry, living or dead, I could have endured and overcome—for no Bessie Lowe could ever have won from Dick, as she could never have given to him, that thing which was mine. But against Leila Burton I could not stand, for she was of my world, of my own people, and the crown a man would give to her was the one he must take from me.

There in that shabby place I buried my idols. Not I, but a power beyond me, held the stone on which was written commandment for me. By the light of the candles above Bessie Lowe I knew that I should not marry Dick Allport.

I found him waiting for me at the doorway. I think that he knew then that the light of our guiding lantern had flickered out, but he said nothing. We crossed the garishly bright road and went in silence through quiet streets. Like children afraid of the dark we went through the strange ways of the city, two lonely stragglers from the procession of love, who, with our own dreams ended, saw clearer the world’s wild pursuit of the fleeing vision.

We had wandered back into our own land when, in front of the darkened Oratory and almost under the shadow of Leila Burton’s home, there came to us through the soft darkness the ominous plea that heralds summer into town. Out of the shadows an old woman, bent and shriveled, leaned toward us. “Get yer lavender tonight,” she pleaded. “‘Tis the first of the crop, m’lidy.”

“That means—” Dick Allport began as I paused to buy.

I fastened the sprigs at my belt, then looked up at the distant stars, since I could not yet bear to look at him. “It means the end of the season,” I said, “when the lavender comes to London.”

A-Z Reflections 2020…Place I’ve Been.

Phew! That’s the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge done and dusted for another year.

Before I go any further, I’m going to provide a quick list of posts before I reflect on the challenge itself (just in case you’re going to read one post and go no further.)

A- Amsterdam: 1992

B- Berlin: 1992

C- Canberra

D – Devonport, Tasmania: Crossing Bass Strait 2017.

E – Eaglehawk Neck, Tasmania, 2017.

F – Florence: 1992. 

G – Geraldton, Western Australia 1997 and 2002. 

H – Heidelberg: 1992.

I – Ipswich: Visiting My Grandparents.

J – Jindabyne: Skiing in the Australian “Alps”. 

K – Koln (Cologne) – 1992.

L – London: 1992.

M – Melbourne: 1997. 

N – Driving Across the Nullarbor Plain: 1996.

O – Great Ocean Road, Victoria: 1998 and 2002.

P – A Different Perspective of Paris: 1992.

Q – Queenstown, Tasmania: 1995

R – Rotorua: 2001.

S – Sydney Harbour: Forever.

T – Toowoomba: 2010

U – Umina Beach, NSW: Home.

V – Places I’ve Played My Violin: 2012.

W – Whale Beach, Sydney: 1990 onwards.

X – An Extraordinary Travel Yarn (Pinnacles WA) 1990

Y – Yachting Holiday (Hawkesbury River): 1983.

Z – Taronga Zoo, Sydney: 2009.

This year, I had trouble signing up, but decided to go ahead with my usual write-on-the-run approach instead of being prepared, organized and “this is something I prepared earlier”. However, despite almost combusting in this intense pressure cooker environment, writing on the run also gives my posts a sense of immediacy and intimacy, which might be lacking otherwise. Moreover, with the changing state of coronavirus around the world this year, it worked particularly well and helped me feel more in tune with the times. For me, it’s not a time where you want to be out of step with the people no matter who you are. You’re putting something out there into the pond and it needs to have some kind of synergy with the mood of the times.

What do you think? Or, perhaps, it’s a case of: “Hey, Ro. Get off your soap box.”

As you know, my theme for this year was: “Places I’ve Been.” My thinking behind this idea was to post a series of bright, colourful photos of where I’ve travelled in the past at a time where planes right around the world are ground, borders are closed and travel is banned. Indeed, travellers have been in quarantine and isolation and a cruise ship, the Ruby Princess which returned to Australia without her passenger being screen for coronavirus A month after its return, 19 passengers were dead in Australia, two deaths were reported from the US and more than 600 had tested positive. With around 200 of the 1100-odd crew struck down with the virus, the ship spent weeks moored at Port Kembla. With all these travel bans in place, I even had a few friends contact me during my series on Facebook suggesting I contact the Police about travelling at the moment. That was a pat on the back. I’d truly recreated the immediacy of travel, even though one of these trips dated back to 1983.

However, as usual my posts were much longer than anticipated and I actually managed to clock up 32, 650 words.

Rowena in Florence

The series also allowed me to write up a good swag of my own travel stories and experiences and I’m already in the process of editing them and putting together a hard cover book at least for the family. Well, at least I’m downloaded all the stories and created word documents with the photos removed. It’s a start.

It also allowed me to redefine travel. That we tend to think of travel in terms of going to various places. Or, visiting particular sites, which creates a sort of check-list type of travelling. I’ve going here. What’s there to see. Let’s get through this place as quickly and efficiently as possible and get onto the next one. It’s this kind of travelling that leaves tourists heads spinning. I’ve seen 50 churches, been to 20 galleries and my heads spinning like a zoomed up merry-go-round where you desperately just want to get off. Oneed, after also staying in so many hotel rooms, it can be a relief to get back home to your own bed and stop living out of a suitcase.

That’s not generally how I’ve traveled. I spent roughly nine months in Europe back in 1992 and I barely planned anything and wandered around. Met and lived with locals and chatted with other backpackers from around the world in cafes. Sure, I had time on my side and we lived on the smell of an oil rag to stretch our money almost to breaking point. However, we had breathing spaces to take it all in, and we had the rest of our lives to fit it all in.

Anyway, as I said, this series allowed me to redefine what “travel” mean to me. It wasn’t just about place, but it was also about people. Indeed, when we visited Ipswich, that was all about seeing my grandparents and how the family home can become that place.

I also learned  a lot about myself. My personal journey has experienced a number of earth-shattering blows where it’s at least felt like everything I have and have ever known has been destroyed and I’ve had to rebuild myself from scratch, while the people and structures around me have continued virtually unchanged. For me, that’s been the result of three acute life-threatening health and disability issues, which have seriously limited my capacity to travel, along with the resulting loss of employment which has left me without a personal income.

Rowena skiing downhill Fri

Yet, despite these blows, I’ve continued to travel and view new places and experiences through the pen and the lens and share these experienced here on Beyond the Flow. Working through this series, therefore, sharpened my identity as a traveler, a person who lives and breathes for travel and just because it’s on a different scale to what it used to be, that doesn’t change who I am.

So, so to reach personal break though during the A-Z Challenge, speaks volumes and I’m naturally very grateful. Every year, I find the process of structuring a series of almost random things into a cohesive theme creates profound outcomes. It produces a creative energy I struggle to explain. Have you found that? I also suspect that writing all my posts within the stressful confines of the 30 days contributes to that alchemy. You throw all these random things into the pressure cooker and every year, I’ve been dished up with a surprising masterpiece.

I’ve also made friends. Indeed, I still have friends I made on the very first A-Z Challenge I did something like five years ago. Once again, I’ve made some new ones this year and I’m certainly intending to keep in touch, especially after going through social isolation and lock down together. We’ve forged a bond.

So, I’d like to thank everyone who organizes this every year and everyone who has visited Beyond the Flow, but I’d also love to welcome you over to visit.

On that note, it’s time to say Goodbye for another year, although I hope to see at least a few of you in between. I also hope that you and yours are keeping well and safe as the coronavirus crosses the globe. Bless you!

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

L – London…A-Z Challenge.

“London goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is Infinite London.”

– PETER ACKROYD, London: The Biograph

Welcome to London on Day 12 of the Blogging A to Z April Challenge. I spent a week in London in August, 1992 while I was “backpacking through Europe” (but mostly based in Heidelberg). Clearly, I don’t know much about London at all. Moreover, I have absolutely pathetic map-reading skills. So, even if I knew the place, I’d still get us lost.

Yet, forging ahead under the stressful demands of the A-Z Challenge, I still had to come up with the goods. So, for awhile there, I was longing for the foolhardiness of youth, where you can know absolutely nothing about a subject, and yet still present yourself as a fully-fledged expert.

So, rather than taking you on an actual tour of London, I decided to focus on what London meant as a cultural epicentre for generations of Australians who went there to get their big break. These included the likes of Dame Edna, the Unmentionable, Clive James and Germaine Greer. It also included my grandmother, concert pianist Eunice Gardiner, who was awarded a scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, and became part of this cultural exodus. 

1937 London Debut in June

Eunice Gardiner was born on the 24th February, 1918. At the age of 16, she won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. However, the scholarship didn’t include her living expenses. An enthusiastic fundraising effort was launched, led by Lady Gordon and supported by pianist Frank Hutchens. These efforts culminated in a Testimonial Concert at the Sydney Town Hall on the 6th June, 1935 where she performed  Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata and works by Liszt. There was never any question of Eunice travelling to London alone. Indeed, her father said he’d “rather throw her to the sharks in Sydney Harbour”. So,  on the 3rd December, 1935 she set off with  her mother on board the Esperance Bay. Four months later, her father died of a heart attack back in Australia, giving some idea of the incredible personal sacrifices performers and their families made to pursue their careers in London. You couldn’t have a foot in both camps.It was all or nothing, and for many that also included their sanity and their very soul.

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My grandmother (right) and her mother, Ruby Gardiner (McNamara). Ruby was very much the wind beneath her wings!!

Eunice and her mother lived in London for around four years. During this time she performed for the Queen (who we know as the Queen Mother), her hands appeared in the movie Black Eyes and she also had a regular spot performing on BBC TV which came to an abrupt end, when the BBC shut down as soon as war was declared (humph sounds a bit too familiar during this coronacrisis!!)

Pix Eunice TV Screen Test

Press coverage of her time in London on her return reported:

“The highlight of her tour occurred when she played before Queen Elizabeth at a private reception at the home of Lord and Lady Howard de Walden; the function was arranged by Miss Macdonald of the Isles for students and Empire visitors. Miss Gardiner said the Queen was extremely charming , and complimented her on her playing and choice of music. Broadcasting, televising and film work have also come within Miss Gar-diner’s ambit. Miss Gardiner’s film experience was a strange one, as she did not appear on the screen, and her name was not even mentioned. She .provided the music for Mary Maguire in a film entitled Black Eyes, in which Mary, who was supposed to be learning the piano, was playing badly at first, and a three-minute shot was taken of Miss Gardiner’s hands as she played. At first she found she was not playing badly enough for the part ! In the same film she also provided music which the music master was ostensibly playing. In London. Miss Gardiner, said, the midday concerts arranged by Myra Hess at the National Gallery were extremely popular, and only one shilling was charged. Miss Gardiner played at one of these concerts only the day before she left England.” 1.

Eunice crochet group

The Crochet Circle, London. My Great Grandmother (second from the left) is crocheting a shawl for her first grandson, who was born back in Australia while they were away.

Eunice and her mother returned to Sydney on the 23rd March, 1940 partly to escape the war, but also because Eunice was under contract to the A.B.C. for three months, and would be touring Australia with the famed English conductor, Sir Thomas Beeeham.

When my grandmother returned to Australia, I doubt she had any idea of just how long it was going to take to get back to London. Indeed, a full decade had passed. Although she’d planned to go to London in 1948 on her way home from a 12 month stint in New York, a bout of appendicitis and consequent surgery, destroyed those plans.

Of course, there were regrets. London was LONDON.

Eunice returned to London in April 1951 as a music critic for Australian Consolidated Press, and she was one of only two Australian journalists covering the opening of the  Festival of Britain. She was away for three months, and I should also point out that at this point of time, she was married with four children and her mother back home in Australia. I clearly remember her telling me when she was well into her 80’s, how much she loved being spoiled over there. She specifically mentioned having a doorman to open the door for her at the hotel, which clearly didn’t happen as mum back home. As much as she loved her children, she was incredibly driven by her love of music, her career as a pianist and was never one to simply be absorbed by osmosis into domesticity. She ultimately ended up with seven children, and these tensions stayed with her for life, and possibly even beyond the scope of her failing memory. It was never an easy balance.

By comparison, my trip to London seems rather trite. I was only there for a week, and I was only doing touristy things. So, my time in London lacks the gravitas of my time in Paris, which still resonates almost thirty years later.

Geoff Le Pard

Geoff Le Pard and Dog out walking through London. 

In recent years, for me London has become associated with my long-term blogging friend, Geoff Le Pard. I’ve thorough enjoyed his tours of London mostly with Dog. He would clearly do a much better job of guiding you around London. Indeed, a few years ago, we were looking at doing a joint blogging tour of London, after I found an old letter in a London guidebook. I’ve been thinking with the current travel bans, we should resurrect this project and see how far we can take it. After all, it is a rather quirky story of an Australian and an Englishman who’ve never met retracing the footsteps of a mysterious Australian tourist who visited London back in the 1960’s or thereabouts.

Above: Photos Geoff Le Pard.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few links to Geoff’s posts. Firstly, Geoff and Dog went on their Thames Bridge Walk, from Putney to Tower Bridge. I also love his posts covering London’s street art and thought you might enjoy: Street Art in Shoreditch.

There’s much more of London on Geoff’s blog. However, I’ll have to leave you to it. Daylight is rapidly fading and it’s been a few days since I’ve been on a walk. With all this social isolation, I’ve been going a bit stir crazy as soon as the typing stops.

Have you ever been to London and have something to share? Or, perhaps you call London home. I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

References

 

  1. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), Thursday 21 March 1940, page 4

Weekend Coffee Share…2nd September, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Since this is all about virtual sharing, I can offer you a slice of passion fruit sponge cake with a generous dollop of cream without having to fend you off with my fork. You see, in reality this cake is mine, ALL mine. However, I can be very generous with all of you. Almost all of you are too faraway to collect.

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Passion Fruit Sponge Cake (butter needed to be mixed in better…oops)

Yesterday, it was Father’s Day here in Australia. A day which promises so much, but frequently under delivers. Or, completely contrary to one’s hopes and aspirations is catastrophic. I know we all try to hold back the tide for special occasions, but it isn’t always possible. It is what it is. I explored realities versus expectations in yesterday’s post Not Quite A Perfect Father’s Day

Yesterday, was not only Father’s Day. It was also the first day of Spring…yippee! Sunshine here we come. I have to admit I’m looking forward to warmer weather, especially the in between months of Spring before the place turns into a furnace in Summer. The beach is only down the road as well…heaven on earth.

The last week was rather uninspiring. We had a few days of ferocious rain and wind, which while nothing like the force of Cyclone Dorian which is hitting the US, it was still quite intimidating and made its presence felt. By day, I bunkered down in bed underneath the doona reading Oliver Twist.

Indeed, speaking of Oliver Twist, I finally finished it over the weekend. Have you ever read it? I absolutely loved it. While I read A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities at school, Oliver Twist is the first of Dickens’ novels, I’ve read by choice. I also prefer to read shorter works. So, for me to actually make it through to the end of a 500 page novel, was also a personal triumph. I found myself completely absorbed in the story. Although I know the musical and we actually put it on when I was about 12 at school, I found the novel was in a league of its own. The characters were much richer and complex and the novel is deeply philosophical as Dickens explores the aftermath of the Poor Laws of 1832 and the horrors of the workhouse, child labour and the world of crime. London comes across as a veritable cesspit, a place to escape at all costs. Knowing that Geoff’s family was living through these times in London, further brings Dickens’ stories to life for me.  These weren’t just characters in a novel. These characters represented real people… thousands and thousands of people grappling with extreme poverty and crime as the only way out. I’m certainly glad I wasn’t living through these times.

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“Please, Sir. Could I have some more?”

Have you read Oliver Twist or any of Dickens other works? Are you a fan? Do you feel Dickens has a place in the modern era or belongs in the past?

The main reason I’ve been reading Dickens is that I’m working on writing a book of short biographical stories about our ancestors and the stories at the beginning are from this era, or even a bit earlier. To really tell a story well, there are so many details to absorb and yet these need to become the wallpaper and not the story itself or you’ll bore your reader to death. To be honest, I thought I’d have got there by now but I still feel like I’m having to process more before I’m quite ready to tell the story right. I’m not sure if this is the perfectionist in me or whether I’m not there yet. However, I’m trying to hang in there.

Meanwhile, my reading has gone off onto a different tangent. I was trying very, very hard to keep walking past our local bookshop Book Bazaar and  yet like a kid being lured into a candy shop, I ducked my head in through the door and spotted John Marsden’s: The Art of Growing Up. John Marsden is a distinguished Australian author of Young Adult fiction and was the founder and principal of two schools. As a writer myself, this had to be my kind of parenting book, although he’s quite hard-hitting and certainly not into free-range parenting by feel. Probably a good thing really. Anyway, thought I’d share a quote with you…

When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’, I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe. These adults have a view of childhood as some kind of discrete interval, rather than just a few years from the continuum of life. How fortunate that the spirit, courage and curiosity of many young people remain largely undefeated by such adults.

-John Marsden, The Art of Growing Up

So, you could say that last week was book week.

In terms of blogging, I’ve done the following posts:

On The Run…Friday Fictioneers

A Festival of Red Doors…Friday Fictioneers

Hey, just when I thought I hadn’t done anything very exciting, I forgot that I revisited Heidelberg, Germany where I lived for six months back in 1992 when I was 22 years old. I had the time of my life there and made some life-long friends. We recently got a few crate loads of photos out of the shed, which included a second photo album of overseas photos. There was Heidelberg again. How beautiful. I showed the photos to my daughter and she asked why I came back. I must admit, I was wondering myself for quite a few years. Anyway, I ended up revisiting Heidelberg via Youtube. It was amazing. Here’s the link: Heidelberg Tour

So last week wasn’t quite so uneventful after all. How was your week? I look forward to hearing from you.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share: 22nd July, 2017.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

It’s so cold, that I’m wearing a woollen beanie indoors. Never thought I’d see the day. Beanies used to be as daggy as and my family spent years trying to get my grandfather to give his up. Now, it turns out that he was a man ahead of his time. The Beanie is back. Mind you, there are beanies and there are beanies, and I don’t think my grandfather’s beanie fell into either camp.

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The beanie’s profile over here in Australia, has also received a boost by a fundraising campaign: Carrie’s Beanies for Brain Cancer. Journalist Carrie Bickmore writes:

“On December 27th 2010 my husband Greg Lange died at just 34 years of age. He had lived with the disease for close to a decade. It took away his mobility, it took away his independence, and eventually it took his life. No one should have to suffer this way, and until we find a solution, people will.”

They have sold out of Carrie’s Beanies in my size, but I’ve added to my collection with a hand-knitted beanie from the op shop for a few bucks.

So, perhaps I should be offering you a beanie with your beverage of choice. It’s cold…19°C or 66°F. I could swear there’s snow piling up outside and icicles hanging from the rafters. Surely, that couldn’t be the sun shining outside when I’m frozen to the core!! Perhaps, if I type fast enough, I’ll warm up. My fingers are a purple-grey and looking corpse-like.

So, I guess it won’t come as a surprise that I’ve been trying to hibernate through the last week. Curl up under my doona like a bear and wake up in Spring when it’s all blue skies, warmth and happy days. The trouble is that no one else supports this state, and there’s always something to be done and peoples requiring Mum’s Taxi. The kids went back to school after two weeks off, so it was back to business as usual and a few stolen cat naps instead.

 

Well, I did manage to go for a walk along the beach yesterday with Lady and some friends who adopted a new dog during the week. The beach is always great, even if it was a tad windy and it was interesting to see their dog exploring the beach and lunging at the waves and biting them. Dogs are such entertainers. I’ve had a few dogs who’ve liked to bite the water stream out of the hose.

We have taken a bit of a left-field approach to our dog situation at home. I mentioned last week that we didn’t adopt Stella the very cute Matese x Tibetan Spaniel and that FB or Fake Bilbo has made himself at home. However, I couldn’t resist trawling the Internet for dogs and came across a heartfelt plea for someone to mind her Border Collie x Kelpie while she looks for pet-friendly accommodation. Luna arrives tomorrow afternoon. I have wondered why people foster pets before, because I get very attached. However, after losing Bilbo, I really felt for this girl and wanted to help. Luna arrives tomorrow. I’m hoping Lady manages alright. That’s what concerns me most. She’s always lived with another dog but having a dog which comes and goes while she’s already missing Bilbo could be difficult for her. At the same time, she will have a dog friend. We’ll see how it goes.

In terms of blogging this week, I did my usual contribution to Friday Fictioneers. I was very pleased with this one, and might expand it further: Kidnapped

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Dulwich Park, London.

I also tried something new this week and travelled to Dulwich Park in London via Google maps to hook up with Geoff Le Pard from TanGental  from  A Walk In The Park…Dulwich Park. This was quite a blast and much more rewarding than I’d anticipated. I was stoked when a friend saw my post and mentioned that she used to walk with her dog through that park when she lived in London. What a coincidence.

I am now plannning more of these tours for the blog.

Well, it seems like I’m rapidly falling asleep here, although it’s only just after 9.00 pm.

How was your week? I really hope you’ve had a good one and all goes well for the week ahead.

This has been another contribution for the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Diana at Part-Time Monster Blog

xx Rowena

 

 

A Walk in Dulwich Park, London.

Tonight, my dog Lady and I went for an extraordinary walk, touching down in Dulwich Park, in South London to catch up with fellow blogger and author, Geoff Le Pard and his furry friend. I even found a cafe and met a few dog walkers to boot. How good is that?!!

This all came about after reading Geoff’s latest post: Milling About…Finding A Home, which talks about how he and his wife found their home in Dulwich Park, South London. I must be a bit low on patience this week, because I decided I’d had enough talk. I wanted to get to London myself> Walk the streets, museums, galleries and park my butt in a cafe. Not in a creepy, cyber-stalking kind of way. It’s just that I’d had enough of looking through the window. I wanted to be there instead.

So, I found a local park with a cafe frequented by mild-mannered local dog walkers. Now, I’m just waiting for Geoff. If I’d got onto this earlier, I could’ve been there in time for the Bloggers’ Bash. BTW, it’s just like me to run late!

However, there’s just one small problem with getting to London.

As you’re probably aware, I live in Greater Sydney, Australia. So, I’m hardly living next door. Moreover, as much as I’ve wanted to visit London and check out Geoff’s haunts, there’s been a small hitch. While they might have sent convicts out to the colonies at Her Magesty’s Pleasure, they’re not footing the bill to send us back. Indeed, I’d probably need to rob a bank to fund my ticket. However, knowing my luck, instead of running off with the loot, I’d pluck this card out of the pack: “Advance to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not collect $200.”

Reg Spiers

Aussies have done outrageous things to overcome the “tyranny of distance”. In the mid-1960s, Australian athlete Reg Spiers found himself stranded in London with no money to buy a plane ticket home. Desperate to get back to Australia in time for his daughter’s birthday, he posted himself home in a wooden crate and travelled as freight. You can read the full story here: The Man Who Posted Himself Home to Australia. It’s great reading.

While Reg might have been given a hero’s welcome, I decided to Keep it Simple, Stupid (the KISS Principle) and let my fingers do the walking. I travelled to London via Google maps. While I know this could be construed as cyberstalking, I picked a park on the map, found a cafe and thought this would be quite appropriate for a cyber coffee catch-up. I even took a photo…just to prove I was there.

As much as I love meeting fantastic people, especially fellow writers from all around the world through blogging, I often lament the ultimate Aussie devil… distance. That as much as our global isolation has made and shaped us as a nation, that I feel like sticking an outboard motor to the bottom of Tasmania and giving us a bit of a nudge North. Travelling to Europe is so expensive when you have kids, mortgage and an auto-immune disease to factor in.

So, while I’m waiting for Geoff, Lady and I went for a walk in the park. There were so many large, leafy trees and I certainly picked out a few oaks. It is Summer in London and while it’s partly-cloudy today, it is 20°C. Humph. Hang on a minute. We’re in the middle of Winter here in freezing conditions rugged up like Eskimos and it’s 16°C here. I’m feeling a bit ripped off. Well, at least, I’m catching up with Geoff and going on one of his many tours of London. So, the weather doesn’t really matter, does it?! After all, nobody goes to London for the weather!!

So, now that I’ve got the hang of Google maps, is there somewhere you’d like me to visit? Wow! This is starting to sound quite exciting…like climbing to the top of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree and finding yourself in the midst of a magical land. Where will I be going next?

As for me, I’d like to invite you to walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It really is an amazing experience.

Happy travels.

xx Rowena.

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share 10th June, 2017.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Tonight, I’d like to offer you what we Australians call a “rubber duckie”, an umbrella and a good waterproof torch. A rubber duckie? That’s an inflatable boat and if it rains too much more, you might be needing it to reach my place.

Yellow taxi

It’s been a very set week for Mum’s Taxi. 

It’s Saturday night here in Sydney, and I’m now trying to get the stuff I’ve been sorting through back in the cupboard so we can get to bed tonight. I’m making good progress, but it takes so long to sort through everything and even if I could throw more stuff out, we don’t have the available bin space. Indeed, despite taking stuff to the thrift shop. I’ve been doing a second bin run for the last month. While talking about garbage collection sounds as humdrum as it comes, our bin manoevres would make for good TV. You see, the garbage truck goes passed our house and then doubles back to pick up the bins on the other side. So, this allows us to refill our bin and wheel it across the road. This is no casual manoevre either. I have to keep an ear our for the truck and as soon as I hear its approaching rumble, my breathing accelerates and I start getting myself primed. I don’t know whether the truck driver has noticed me hotfooting across the road but I usually wait until the truck’s halfway down the street before I make my move. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Of course, there’s been the aftermath of the London Attacks this week. Two young Australian women were killed in the attack, and our sympathies goes out to their families, friends and communities. So many Australians have had a stint working in the UK just like these girls, yet we’ve returned home. I only spent a week in London when I was there in 1992, and was living and working in Germany. Yet, I still feel a strong sense of solidarity.

Above: Bush Rescue was set at the Echo Point Lookout at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, West of Sydney.

This week I’ve written two pieces of flash fiction. For Friday Fictioneers, I wrote: Back to Earth and Bush Rescue for Carrot Ranch. While Friday Fictioneers uses a photo prompt, Carrot Ranch has a text prompt. I’ve found it quite interesting doing both prompts in the same week. I’d probably say that I feel there’s more freedom and a wider scope with the text prompt, because I feel my flash has to link closely to photo to answer the brief. Many of these photos were taken in USA and that has been challenging a few times. I usually give my response an Australian element.

Have you written much flash fiction? How do you find it as a genre? Do you have a preference for text or photo prompts? I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Anyway, so how has your week been? I hope you’ve had a great one. 

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Ally at Nerd in the Brain

xx Rowena

 

Winter Weekend Coffee Share.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Today, I can actually offer you your choice of tea or coffee along with an almost healthy Strawberry & Macadamia Nut Muffin. Although  I really loved them straight out of the oven last night, they were still scrummy cold this morning with juicy chunks of strawberry complimenting crunchy macadamia nuts perfectly.

It’s Winter here in Australia.At least, that’s the official line.As far as winters go, even for us, it’s been pretty mild now that last weekend’s storm’s been and gone.

Winter in Australia

This week, I posted a rather funny cartoon about 20°C  in Brisbane (Winter) versus 20°C in London (Summer) . The funny thing was, that I just compared Sydney and London’s weather reports today and you wouldn’t believe it. They’re the same…16-20°C!

Not that I’m bragging. I don’t control the weather and I didn’t choose to be born here but I’m not complaining.

At least, not this weekend!

That said, we’ve had a few strange things going on in the last week.

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Our beach track was wiped out in the storm and transformed into a cliff.

I’ve already mentioned last weekend’s dreadful storms which hit the Australian East Coast.

On Tuesday, we had a 4.0 magnitude earthquake 100 km of the coast from here. Well, you might ask if I noticed because I didn’t feel a thing. Indeed, I only found out about it while following up the Sydney Storm online.

Tuesday, must have been a busy day for exceptional events around here because a Great White Shark was photographed leaping out of the waves while a guy was filming his mate surf…”Good Morning, Jaws!” This was an hour’s drive up the road from here and we live in a beachside community where we’ve seen local fisherpeople catch juvenile Bronze Whaler Sharks but although we know the Great Whites seemingly swim passed here to attack surfers on the NSW North Coast, we like to think they’re further out to sea and chomping on something else along the way.

It’s funny about us Australians because half the time we’re beefing up the dangers of our wildlife to terrify the tourists, and yet denial also seems to be a national sport. Sharks? What sharks?

Not all of our stories about our dangerous wildlife are made up. On a more serious note, last Sunday tourist Cindy Waldron was taken by a croc while swimming in the Daintree, near Cairns. On the very same day on the other side of the country, diver Doreen Ann Collyer was killed by a giant Great White Shark while diving about 1km off Mindarie beach in Perth.

So, while we might jest about the dangers, they also need to be taken seriously!

However, things have been relatively uneventful here.

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Our daughter drawing a unicorn in the sand when her friend visited.

It’s looking like I didn’t get the job at my daughter’s school. I’m fine about that but am putting more thought into setting some goals and objectives, while getting things more organised at home. I feel like I’ve finally moved forward from the chemo two years ago and that my health is stable and I am okay. That’s a huge leap forward, although it still feels very tentative at times and sometimes, it feels absolutely terrifying and like I’m about to combust or something. Strangely, the big stuff doesn’t worry me too much but things usually related to my poor spatial skills like parking the car somewhere unfamiliar. Chemo? No worries mate.

Just call me “odd”. You won’t be the first and you won’t be the last.

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Anyway, I bought myself a book, which offered great promise this week: Shannah Kennedy’s: The Life Plan. I found it at a stationery and organisation shop called Kikki K, which says:

“Do you want to live with purpose and achieve your life goals? In The Life Plan, leading life coach Shannah Kennedy sets out a step-by-step strategy to help you identify your true purpose and values, declutter and find clarity, improve your time management, and create tools to help you stay focused.”

By the way, all these thoughts about getting organised at home just received another setback. We just visited a local 2nd hand book sale and returned home with two more boxes of books. I wonder if you can store books in the fridge…Then again, I don’t think there’s any room in there either. We’ll just have to read them fast!

So, how has your week been? I hope it’s been good and look forward to catching up!

Thanks for popping by! This has been part of the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Diana at Part-Time Monster. You can click  for the linky to read the other posts.

xx Rowena

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Good night…Night Lights, Ettalong Beach, NSW.

An Unauthorised Book Tour…”My Father & Other Liars”: Geoff Le Pard.

For those of you who know Geoff Le Pard and his latest book: My Father & Other Liars, it is my duty to inform you that his book ran away from home in London and decided to brave the sharks, snakes, poisonous jellyfish, crocodiles and deadly drop bears and flew solo all the way to Australia.

Heading into Sydney.

Heading into Sydney.

By the time the book arrived here, it was clearly exhausted and handed me a note which said: “Please take care of this book.” Of course, there was a jar of marmalade in its suitcase and being the warm, friendly and book-loving Australian that I am, I took the book inside and it now calls Australia home. It’s even traded the marmalade in for Vegemite toast. Like most English backpackers who take up residence on your couch, I don’t think the book will be going home any time soon!

Although every author knows that their book takes on a life all of its own once it’s been published, I don’t think even Geoff expected his latest book to go on an Australian tour without him. Geoff is a very keen International traveller who has not only been to Australia but fallen in love with place. So, not unsurprisingly, I can hear Geoff shouting out all the way from the UK: “Wait for me!! How dare you leave without me!!”

I’ve had words like that with my own kids over the years and they haven’t listened and neither did Geoff’s book. It’s still here and Geoff’s nowhere in sight.

Apologies Geoff but we couldn’t wait. The book’s tour Down Under has unofficially been launched. Thanks to my filling fallen out, My Father and Other Liars and I boarded the train to Sydney to go to the dentist. My dentist is in Kirribilli just a stone’s throw from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. If you have ever seen the film Finding Nemo, the dentist in the movie could very well be my dentist, right down to the fish tank! Well, there is some debate but he’s close enough. So, of course, the book was thrilled to be on location. It fancies being turned into a movie one day!

The book takesin the view of the Sydney Opera House. I think it brought the London weather with it.

The book takes in the view of the Sydney Opera House. I think it brought the London weather with it.

Geoff's book really was refusing to toe the line and I seriously feared we'd be arrested or given our proximity to the Prime MInister's Sydney residence, be mistaken for terrorists. If you can't trust a package any more, who's to say you can trust a book these days? Particularly one which can not read signs!

Geoff’s book really was refusing to toe the line and I seriously feared we’d be arrested or given our proximity to the Prime Minister’s Sydney residence, be mistaken for terrorists. If you can’t trust a package any more, who’s to say you can trust a book these days? Particularly one which can not read signs!

After my appointment, we walked down the hill under the Bridge and the book insisted on photo after photo and even took a few selfies. Talk about pushy. I thought the book was trying to drum up some additional publicity but when I caught it emailing the photos to Geoff and tormenting him with those gorgeous harbour views, I had my doubts.

Do selfies always reverse the text in the picture or is it just me?

Do selfies always reverse the text in the picture or is it just me? Oh yes. Don’t you just love the wind! That is definitely NOT my usual coiffure!

Anyway, jokes aside, reading My Father & Other Liars has been quite a unique reading experience for me. Usually, when I’m reading a book, I’ve never met the author and know very little about them at all. After I’ve read the book, I might have been lucky enough to meet them at the Sydney Writer’s Festival or equivalent or read an article online but essentially the author remains a mystery…unknown.

Another dodgy selfie in front of Sydney's famous Luna Park face.

Another dodgy selfie in front of Sydney’s famous Luna Park face.

However, when it came to reading My Father & Other Liars, the cart went before the horse. Through reading each other’s blogs and numerous comments back and forth, Geoff and I have come to know each other pretty well, especially given we’ve never met in person. We’re friends. This meant of course that I knew the author before reading the book and I wondered whether I could divorce that from reading a work of fiction. For some of you, you might be able to make that disconnect easily but I tend to read mostly non-fiction and process the novels that I do read as real. You could say that for me the line between fact and fiction is rather thin. That is, if there is a line at all

To further complicate matters, I’ve also read a series of letters written by Geoff’s Dad outlining his experiences as a paratrooper, which Geoff has posted on his blog. While “Dad” seemed to have a good sense of humour, he seemed pretty honourable to me. He certainly didn’t appear to be the inspiration behind the book. So this was another connection I had to switch off.

After playing a spot of beach cricket, the book sunbakes at Umina Beach, North of Sydney.

After playing a spot of beach cricket, the book sunbakes at Umina Beach, North of Sydney.

Another thing I should tell you about how I read Geoff’s book was that I specifically ordered hard copy…a real book. Call me a late-adapter to technology but I don’t have a Kindle or any other such device and I find reading long chunks of text difficult on the computer. I have collected antiquarian books almost all my life and love the smell of must, those beautiful , meticulous etchings and the covers almost good enough to eat.

Proudly standing under the Australian flags

Proudly standing under the Australian flags

Yet, while I have my collection, when it comes to reading a book and I mean really reading a book, I not only read it with my eyes and I guess in turn my soul. I also read it with my pen. I have quite an elaborate system of taking notes in my book. I underline great phrases, similes or metaphors and if I really want to come back to something, I make a note in the margin. The ultimate though is circling the page number down the bottom so I can definitely find my way back to that point.

So, when it comes to me reading books: “No ink = no good.”

So as a good indicator of how I found My Father and Other Liars, it has plenty of ink throughout, not just highlighting Geoff’s expressions but also to highlight the scientific details. The book is educational as well as a great read.

When it comes to genres, just like its author, My Father and Other Liars isn’t a book you can simply pigeon-hole and slap one all-encompassing category. Indeed, it could easily be considered thriller, mystery, science fiction, drama and there’s even a bit of romance. It refuses to be contained.

Bilbo, our Border Collie, snaffled up the book.

Bilbo, our Border Collie, snaffled up the book.

So, what is the book about?

My Father and Other Liars addresses the tension between religion and science and what happens when these often conflicting spheres merge together. What emerges is a thrilling exploration which covers three continents and I must say, Geoff manages to convey a strong sense of these different cultures both through authentic dialogue but also through noting those little details. When he writes about England, there’s a “strong cup of tea” and while in Oklahoma, there was this bit of inimitable dialogue: “So who fancies biscuits and gravy, y’all?” I wrote “yuck” next to that one. For an Australian, biscuits are sweet and what Americans refer to as “cookies” whereas this is referring to what we would know as a “scone”. However, the character is not in Australia and using these authentic snippets, really helps to convey that sense of place, which is very important to me. After all, the inner person is also in an outer world.

Lady reading Geoff Le Pard's: "My Father & Other Liars."

Only to have Lady run off with it! Lady reading Geoff Le Pard’s: “My Father & Other Liars.”

In terms of reviewing the book as a whole, I’m going to defer to this review from Suffolk Scribblings: https://authordylanhearn.wordpress.com/2015/09/25/recommended-reads-my-father-and-other-liars-by-geoff-le-pard/

However, perhaps the greatest recommendation is that I as a non-reader of novels, haven’t put it down and am reading about 100 pages a day. I’m finding myself slipping into their world and almost talking to the characters or hearing their voices, which might suggest I need a psychiatrist but that’s been a long standing issue and something I call “being creative”. At the moment, I have 120pages to go and I feel that tension between racing to see how it ends and wanting to take my time because I don’t want the book to finish. I particularly like the character of Mo and so many of us, is well-intentioned and has blundered through life hurting those he loves most and struggles with intimacy. Mo is the book’s reluctant hero and I can’t but feel sorry for him getting embroiled in all of this but then again, a bit excitement speeds up the heart.

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I’ve just finished the book and strongly recommend it. It tells a suspense-filled, credible story filled with conspiracy and intrigue and well-developed, believable characters. Geoff has down a great job switching between three continents and even with my very poor sense of direction, I didn’t get lost. That said, at the start, I did find it hard to keep up with the number of characters but ultimately this just heightened the sense of conspiracy and those men in black were hiding everywhere.

Well done, Geoff and by the way, your book says: “G’day!” It also wants to know if the cheque’s in the mail? It’s had unexplained expenses and I swear there’s no mini bar anywhere in sight.

If you’d like to pop over to Geoff’s blog, you can find him at http://www.geofflepard.com

Have you read My Father and Other Liars or any of Geoff Le Pard’s other books? Any comments?

xx Rowena

PS: I must say that if you are wondering whether any red-faced embarrassment was experienced in the production of these photographs, the answer is most definitely. The kids were away and I felt like a real goose heading down to the beach with a plastic cricket bat. But the photo is paramount and I only ended up having to explain to one onlooker that I was photographing a friend’s book who was in the UK. “Publicity”, was all they said. Hmm…you seem to be able to get away with a lot as “publicity”!

Going Home

While some might enjoy a spirit of adventure and exploration, for others, there is “no place like home” and they will do whatever it takes to get back…just think of Lassie!

No doubt, we all know someone who has attempted a sea or tree change. What starts out as some kind of glorious utopian vision, soon falls back down to earth…not unlike a pair of clapped out underpants with bung elastic.  For some, it doesn’t take long and they’ve soon sold up and moved back home finding happiness on those familiar, well-worn paths. After all, the grass isn’t always greener and in the case of Australian immigrants, the grass could well be brown.

ET Phone Home

ET Phone Home

If you traveled overseas in the days before email and Skype, then you’ll also know what it means to be homesick. Phoning was prohibitively expensive and you were pretty much dependent on the letter.

Due to the high costs of traveling to Europe, it has been a right of passage for many young Australians to do a stint in Europe, rather than a quick, fleeting visit. In 1992, after finishing uni, I also set off but rather than following the road well traveled to the UK, I lived in Germany instead.  Even though I’d traveled solo before, it was quite a different thing going for the long haul and being on the other side of the world. Humph, I admit to shedding more than a few tears in Heidelberg railways station and desperately feeding coins into a very greedy payphone just to say: “hello”. I was a wreck and if I hadn’t had such a big farewell party only a week before, I too could have found myself on a plane home.

So, I guess I could understand that being so far away from home isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. That home is where the heart is and sometimes that pull can be way too strong to stay away.

Rewinding the clock back to 1964, aspiring Australian athlete, Reg Spiers, was living and training in London. For me, I can’t think of much more exciting than being in London during the 1960s.  Being a huge John Lennon fan, The Beatles would have to top the list but the whole scene would have been incredible and I’ve provided a link through to this photo montage of 60s London to get you in the mood: http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2013/08/snapshot-25-photos-of-1960s-london/

However, as the saying goes, home is where the heart is and for Reg Spiers, who desperately wanted to get back to Australia for his daughter’s birthday, London had become more of a prison. With no money to buy a plane ticket, he applied a bit of lateral thinking and decided to post himself home in a wooden crate. You can read about his incredible story here: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31700049?post_id=770163024_10152981388113025#_=_

Inspired by Spiers’ story, Welshman Brian Robson who was living in Sydney at the time, attempted a copycat manoeuvre and decided to post himself back to Wales. Although The Beatles came to Australia in 1964, it wasn’t exactly Europe. Here’s a link to a movie showing life in Sydney two years later in 1966: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vR1CU8NjGW0

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”-Steve Jobs

Robson had emigrated to Australia as part of the “10 pound Pom” assisted immigration scheme. However, almost as soon as he arrived, he’d had something of an allergic reaction to the place and had to get out.

Leaving, on the other hand, wasn’t going to be easy. While Robson had enjoyed subsidized travel costs to get here, the catch was that he was obligated to stay in Australia for 2 years.  Only then, would he be issued with a passport, which would allow him to leave legally. Two years felt like a death sentence at the time and so inspired by Spier’s story, he decided to do the reverse journey. However, his trip was fraught with struggle and complications, including an extensive detour to America where he was discovered barely alive. Naturally, his story attracted media attention and rather than being charged, he was flown back to the UK First Class.

So you could say all’s well that ends well.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

Muhammad Ali

As a serious Australian history affectionado, I am quite surprised that I’ve never come across these stories before and am not impressed that I found out about it via the BBC. We live in such a fabulous country and yet there is still that element of cultural cringe. So many Australians know so little about our own history and culture.

While these stories are funny and entertaining, it resonates that although life might be a thrilling adventure, there’s no place like home.

Well, actually, to be honest, I’m currently on holidays and couldn’t wait to get away from home but that’s another story…

There’s no place like home: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJ6VT7ciR1o

"There's no place like home!"

“There’s no place like home!”

This is my contribution to the Blogging from A-Z Challenge.

xx Rowena