The morning.

Rosie at 5 months.

Rosie at 5 months.

I recently started walking our 8 month old black Labrador “Rosie” in the mornings before work. She enjoys it so much, and I now cannot deny her these special moments.

I’m not a morning person, let’s be upfront about that. The day usually only dawns for me through a fog of rapid-fire coffee jolts. Conversation before 8 am is not recommended. If you move to stand in front of me I will lethargically bump into you, bounce off weakly, and then keep bumping into you again until you move out-of-the-way.

Rosie is now nearly fully grown (the picture above was taken 3 months ago), and she wasn’t getting enough walk time, as it is currently the dead of winter in Melbourne, being pitch dark when the family gets home from work or school, and pre-dawn when we wake up in the mornings. And it is freezing cold, apparently our coldest June in living memory. There is too much going on when we get home At night with getting dinner prepared, so realistically the early morning option was the only fair alternative available. I wasn’t very optimistic about being able to drag myself out of bed 30 minutes earlier each day, but thought I’d give it a try.

Dogs can detect a routine a mile off, particularly if it is one they like. The Day 1 walk was a pleasant surprise, day 2 a sequence that might hopefully lead to a trend, and day 3 for Rosie was absolute confirmation that she would be walked at 6.30 every morning for the rest of her life. Dogs have very accurate watches. She appears outside the back door at 6.30am sharp with 2 promises firmly in hand; the first, in order of importance, is that food is imminent. The sound of her tin bowl scraping across the courtyard as she inhales breakfast and chases the bowl across the bricks must surely awaken the entire neighbourhood. Secondly, she has a rock solid belief that I will immediately reach for the leash and overcoat and follow her out the front door.

So try to picture a wildly exuberant pup doing backflips at the front gate whilst I’m trying to lasoo her with a lead, and then see me practically skiing down the street behind her, as she drags me toward the park at the bottom of our street. Once off the lead at the park, Rosie melts into the darkness. There is a jogger doing laps around the park perimeter a few mornings a week and I make sure I yell out that Rosie is on her way, so he can turn sideways and deflect the impending full hit to the stomach. Rosie launches and hurls her whole body at joggers and slow-moving old folk. If I see anyone at the park I try to put Rosie back on her leash, as she is still too young to realise that being a foolishly youthful and overly friendly Labrador doesn’t include ripping clothing and decking the elderly.

The dawn breaks while we walk a path through wetlands, and ducks skim across the water in the half-light, and unseen water life move about in reeds at the water’s edge. The  frost covers the park and our footprints mark our travels, with Rosie’s prints erratically crisscrossing mine, occasionally darting off to track a scent. It is quiet with human interaction but delightfully noisy with birdsong. These are things that I haven’t experienced, in relaxation, for very long time.

I walked our previous, eternally adored and sadly missed, black lab “Daisy” for 10 years during daylight evenings, and although totally different dogs, I am constantly reminded of their canine similarities; the way they stop and smell the flowers, zero in on scents and trails, hopelessly chase ducks and birds, and never moving more than 10 metres away from you, checking all the time to make sure you are ok. Each time I walk Rosie I see, remember, and reflect on some small part of Daisy. I like that.

Each morning as we walk back up the street toward the house it suddenly occurs to me that I am wide awake, refreshed, and ready for the day ahead. No coffee (yet). I have been exercised, entertained, and I have strengthened my friendship with our dog. I say that it suddenly occurs to me that I am awake because I make the startling realisation each day as if it is an original thought – such is the density of my mental morning fog.

I release Rosie from her leash once inside the front gate, and she ritually licks my hand and wags her tail to say thankyou. Once inside the house, Rosie races off the jump on beds and lick faces and I head directly to the kitchen to crank up the espresso machine.

It’s not until the third so-strong-you-can-stand-the-spoon-up-in-it cup of coffee at work that it dawns for me a second time each day. This is the moment that I realise that Rosie is doing far more for me, than I for her, during our new morning ritual.

And we enjoy it so much, we now cannot deny us these special moments.


Posted in Dogs, Humor | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The blowfly mountain

"Aberfeldy" By Mark Nolan 1980

“Aberfeldy” By Mark Nolan 1980

My father drove my younger brother Barney and I to Aberfeldy, an old gold mining town in Victoria’s Gippsland ranges, 2.5 hours east Melbourne, back in 1980.  Dad had a part share in an inactive mining lease up in the hills there, which, at the time that gold was discovered back in the 1860’s, had a population numbering in the 1,000’s, and was thick with of gritty prospectors, living in tents and lean-to’s, frequenting dozens of pubs, and pinning their hopes and dreams on the unearthing of precious metal trapped in quartz deep beneath their feet. High up in the hills, this area was now riddled with old abandoned mine shafts and tunnels, cut deep into rock, following seams in search of the mother lode, and finally left as dark, silent reminders of a bygone era. Whilst the tunnels had been long boarded up, many of the deep vertical shafts had been left unsealed, covered now by dense scrub and bracken. Fumbling around up there in the hills after dark on your own was not a such good idea.

I was under pressure to produce an oil painting that weekend, to complete my year 12 art folio. We were staying in an old mining hut, perched at the end of a long and winding gravel road. It was a warm November day (30 celcius, 90 degrees) and whilst my father and brother went for a long walk, I set up my easel and canvas on that road and went to work on my folio piece. It was so quiet there, I was completely alone. Except for the blowflies. These agitated airborne missiles had mutated to the size of small birds, and were totally ambivalent to insect repellant. In fact, repellant just made them angry. I sat there in the brilliant sunshine, in a T-shirt, shorts, and thongs (flip-flops), painting and swatting. Three brush strokes, one swat. Incoming assailants, outgoing mortar fire. My air defence campaign became intrinsically woven into my brush stroke technique. Get some paint on the brush, dab it on the canvas a few times, then slap my face and arms to ward off the incoming attacks. It was like a war dance.

Despite the annoying blowflies, I still managed to lose myself in the moment and drift away. Painting does that to you. I thought about what it must have been like back when gold was discovered in the area, and how the prospectors must have lived. I thought about the hut and how it had weathered the years, with its rusted roof and awkward timber structure. My mind meandered through dozens of other subjects that seemed important to a 17-year-old.

I woke up from my drift when the painting was finished, feeling completely refreshed, sun-burnt, with sore arms, and with a discovery.

I had completed two paintings instead of one. The second one was a self-portrait.

There was nearly as much paint on me as there was on the canvas. And with the earthy colors I was painting with, I was practically camouflaged. I looked like something out of Rambo. My face was spattered, my shirt and shorts streaked, and my bare arms were crisscrossed with streaks of color.

I felt a bit silly at the time, if the truth be known, with all that paint on me – but what I was about to do next would plumb new depths of personal stupidity.

It was now late afternoon and my father and brother Barney emerged from a trek up the steep hills that rose up next to the hut. Once they saw through my camouflage and realized that I wasn’t a tree, they told me about the abandoned but uncovered mine shafts up there in the hills. I decided that once I’d cleaned the paint off, I would take a walk up the steep hill through the dense scrub and check it out for myself.

Dressed for the beach, late afternoon, on my own, no provisions, totally isolated terrain, and wandering off aimlessly into the hills.

Really clever.

I initially followed a path up the hill that was so steep that it was hard to keep your footing without sliding backwards in the gravel and leaves. My brother Barney was chopping wood next to the hut, and the sound carried up the hill through the bracken and echoed through the trees. I decided to make it to the top of the hill, which was a good 30 minute climb. I didn’t see any abandoned mine tunnels or shafts along the way. At the top of the hill I found what appeared to be a fire track, a winding road that ran long the mountain ridge. I decided to walk along this road for a while, but I was conscious that I needed to re-enter the scrub at the same place that I came out of it. I could still hear Barney chopping wood way down below in the valley. The walk along the windy ridge road was very pleasant but probably took a bit longer than expected. It was very late in the afternoon now, and I figured that it was time to return to the hut. The heat had gone out of the day and there was now a breeze freshening in the air. Retracing my steps along the fire track, I followed the sound of chopping wood. Yes, Barney was still chopping. It was not uncommon for him to cut him to cut wood relentlessly for hours. He was a very fit and strong young human being. I kept following the sound until it was suddenly behind me. I turned around, took several steps backward, and looked up in horror. The sound I was following was not Barney chopping wood, it was a large piece of stringy bark, hanging off a gum tree branch, tapping against the tree’s trunk. This was not good. I had walked along the winding mountain ridge for a few hundred metres using a false guide, and I now no longer recognized my original point of exit from the scrub. There was no other human settlement on this mountain range, and with the road being so windy, I knew that if I commenced my descent at the wrong point, I could be heading back down on the wrong side of the mountain. I walked up and back along the track trying to make sure of my bearings. The light was starting to fade. I figured I had roughly 20 minutes before nightfall, and the descent may take 20-30 minutes given how steep and dense the forest was. That was, of course, if I was on the correct side of the mountain.

I eventually had to make a decision. I settled on a point of re-entry that felt correct but really was only marginally better than a complete guess. The descent was steep and tough going, given the density of the bush vegetation. It was hard to keep my footing and I slipped a few times, falling backwards. After about 10 minutes I found myself on a small clearing with a shallow dug out pit with side walls about 3 feet high. Dusk was maturing to darkness. I was seriously worried by this point because I had not seen this clearing on my way up the hill. I noted that the wall of this pit would provide some degree of shelter should I need it. I decided to press on for another 5 minutes and then, if I was not confident I was heading in the right direction, I would retreat back to this clearing and stay put for the night, and then return back to the top of the hill to the ridge road in the morning and stay there until someone found me.

The final 5 minute descent did not bring any joy. I was now calling out, trying to get some validation that I was going the right way, but my calls went unanswered. The temperature was dropping at a rate commensurate with my self-confidence. With a cloudless sky, the temperature was likely to get as low as 2-3 Celsius (32-33 degrees overnight), and I was dressed for the beach. If I was to spend the night up in the hills, I would survive, but it wasn’t going to be a lot of fun, and it would be worse for my father and brother, left to wonder if I had fallen down a mine shaft.

I had no choice but to retreat back to the pit for shelter. It would offer at least limited protection from the wind. This was not looking good at all. I started the slow ascent back up the steep incline through the bracken to make it back to the clearing before total darkness finally fell. I kept calling out, in hope that someone would respond. There was no moon that night in the hills of Aberfeldy, and it was now cold, and getting colder. I prepared myself for a long and difficult night on my own.

Then I heard my father’s call.

It was very distant, and with it came an overwhelming sense of relief. I was on the correct side of the mountain. I called back and established a connection.

It took another 15 minutes to reunite. I saw a torchlight occasionally bouncing off the tops of tree trunks, but the scrub was so dense the light did not find its way through to me directly. We kept calling so dad could track me. It took a long time for him to navigate his way through the last 20 metres (60 feet) because the undergrowth was so thick, and because dad was physically exhausted. He had grabbed a torch taken off up that steep hill in a mad panic to find me, and, for him, it was the second climb for that day.

We took our time carefully making our way back down to the hut, using the torchlight to guide our footings and to find branches to hang onto.

Poor old Barney was very pleased to see us when we got back to the hut. We ate dinner in front of the best open fire I have even seen. I described to Dad and Barney the pit that I was going back toward, to shelter for the night. They knew about this clearing, because they had seen it during their climb that day. There was an unblocked vertical mine shaft at that site. I hadn’t spotted it as I went past on the way down, but in the near total darkness, on the way back, it may have found me.

I slept that night, fully clothed in a sleeping bag covered in blankets, and I was still cold, but I didn’t care. I have never been so grateful to be a little bit cold.

My painting of the old rusty roofed hut on the winding gravel road sits on a wall at my parent’s place, and whenever I visit them I look at that painting and return vividly to the events of that weekend. I remember the blowflies and waking up with paint all over myself, and I remember what it felt like to be briefly lost in the dark up in the hills of Aberfeldy. I remember how relieved I was to be warm with food, fire, and family, and that dad had exhausted himself, racing up that hill, to find me.

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The yarn.


My clever mother spun me a yarn when I was 14 that, apart from scaring the living wits out of me, thankfully also gave me the incentive to give up smoking.

There was a short but opportune window in time that was too good for her to ignore. It’s all timing, isn’t it? I revived this story with her on Mother’s Day recently, and curiously, she now has no recollection of having said anything at all on the subject, and has satisfied herself that I might have simply manufactured the story in its entirety. There is a very slight mischievous sparkle in her eyes when she feigns ignorance.

I started smoking a year earlier at 13, and, I have to say, we smoked a lot for such young folk. I use the collective “we”, as everyone I knew smoked as well. It wasn’t too long before my parents found out. They both smoked a lot at that time too. They were cool parents, but did not want to see their kids following in their footsteps, particularly since the data was now clear on the harm that smoking caused. But the “do as we say, not as we do” routine just wasn’t cutting it, and fell largely on deaf ears.

I had just started summer break after my last year of junior secondary school and in the following February I was to elevate to the senior campus for my last 4 years. Despite all being a part of the same school, the senior campus was this enormous awe-inspiring place sitting up on a massive hill kilometers away, and it was like a whole new world. I didn’t really know much about this new place, and my mother was fully aware of this. It was too good an opportunity for her to pass up. She could tell me anything and I would not be able to check its validity. She could have said that The Beatles had reformed and were playing in the senior school hall, and I would have believed her. And that Martians had landed on the main oval and were hiding themselves in the maintenance shed, and plucking out stray students and beaming them back to Mars for research.

Anyway, my mother waited for me to come home from school one afternoon. “Have you heard the big news about the senior school?” she quizzed, as I flew past her in the kitchen and beyond into the hallway, hurling my schoolbag purposely toward the stairwell but missing and grazing the delightful mustard colored velvet “flocked” wallpaper that covered every square inch of our household. I honestly don’t know what decorators were all thinking back in the 70’s. I shrugged off my school jacket and hoisted it toward the the newel post at the foot of the staircase bannister. It missed, but I wasn’t going back for it – I had more important things on my mind. My stomach. Mum waited patiently back in the kitchen. She knew I’d heard her, and that I would be coming back, because that’s where the fridge was.

No, I hadn’t heard the big news from the senior school…

“They’re weeding out the smokers from year 9!” she announced firmly as I re-appeared and levered the fridge door open to start grazing. I figured I would start with a bowl of Weeties (purchased in a bulk single 20 kilo box that was lowered and stored in a cupboard via the roof by crane), followed by ice-cream with chocolate topping, and then maybe a milkshake if my younger brother Barney hadn’t already drunk all the milk. He was the “milk bandit”. We were able to “unmask” him through fine-tuned statistical consumption analysis based on milk volume accumulated when he was not there. Our household consumed 4 litres a day, but If Barney was away for the weekend we would have to start freezing it or giving it to our neighbors. If you wanted a milkshake, you had to make it before Barney got home.

I considered what mum had said about the smokers. “Weeding them out? Really?” I replied, “I haven’t heard anything about weeding out smokers!”

My head was head deep in the fridge, starting to take on an antarctic glow, with hands rifling through the shelves, checking behind the 4 litre Riesling wine cask that lived in one corner, and excavating through to the known hiding spots, hoping to find something that may have magically appeared since the last time I checked. The items toward the back of the top shelf had been disturbed since my previous foray, so I knew then that my secret stash had been scavenged and polished off. I had a rock solid list of known suspects.

“They’ve decided that anyone who smokes in senior school will be well and truly booted out by year 10…the trouble-makers and the smokers … all gone!” There was a brief theatrical moment, where she mimicked a puff of smoke escaping from a magician’s hand. “What do you think about that?”

I closed the fridge door and asked if Barney was going to be home anytime soon. There was still a few litres of milk left and I wanted to get in early. If he was getting home soon, I might have to work in a milkshake before the Weeties. I stopped and looked at my mother. I could see that she was actually serious about the booting out thing. “No! … Are you serious?” I asked.

“Yes I’m bloody serious!” she warned, “The headmaster briefed parents at a school meeting a few days ago. This is real. They know all the hideouts, they know where to look. They will be doing locker checks and they are going to come down on all smokers like a tonne of bricks. They are treating smokers the same as chronic waggers, thieves, vandals, and violent bullies, and If you’re still smoking when you start there next year, you will be expelled by the end of year 10.”

It did sound serious.

I was about to say something but my elder brother Red suddenly appeared in the kitchen, also wanting to know if Barney was home yet, and he then jostled me out-of-the-way so he could stick his head in the fridge. From there the conversation shifted to what we were going to have for dinner. We knew it was going to be something good, and dinner was a far more important subject than that of expulsion from school.

After that smoking topic did not ever surface again, but my mother’s stern words stayed with me, as they often did.

We were about to spend 7 weeks over summer down at Sorrento, a popular coastal town on the Mornington Peninsula (90 minutes from Melbourne), and everyone I knew was looking forward to smoking themselves senseless on the beach for their whole vacation.

So I set myself a challenge. If I could resist the temptation and peer group pressure for 7 weeks, when everyone else was puffing around me, then I knew I would never smoke again. Rather than removing myself from situations where I would be tempted, I figured it would be far better to confront it head on.

It worked.

I can vividly remember sitting in the middle of our large teenage group on the front beach at Portsea that summer, clad in “Golden Breed” T-shirts, with ridiculously long board shorts, and shedding our second layer of summer sun-burned skin. We were almost totally invisible from the outside world because of the constant Marlboro/Winfield curtain of cancer that enveloped us. I remember thinking that there could be no bigger test of my intestinal fortitude. In terms of passive smoking – sitting there amongst the group day after day – I may as well have had a carton myself.

Many of those friends from back then, upon reflection, now wish that they had joined in on the challenge. Although some have successfully given up smoking in recent years, many are still madly puffing away. Some have questioned me on my motivation in giving up smoking at that particular moment in time, and more importantly, before I was seriously hooked. My answer to that question has always been simple.

“My clever mother spun me a yarn.”


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The comfort sponge


The freshly whipped cream, with a hint of vanilla, oozed just slightly out of one side of the cake before my mother, Jill, swiftly troweled it flush, and then applied the broad knife to the sponge’s multi layered sides to correct it’s towering lean. All it needed now was a single candle on top. After all dad was 82, and he neither had the lung capacity, nor the inclination to tackle too many candles, and in the absence of roman numeral shaped sparklers, we were going to have to abbreviate his age into a far more manageable quantity. So 1 candle was just fine. There is something magnetic about a lone lit candle standing proudly in the centre of a deliciously sweet glaze of passion-fruit icing. A miniature plume of smoke was still rising from the extinguished waxen monument when the grandchildren jostled for “front of the line” serving honors. They all knew what was coming. Nothing in our solar system tasted as good as grandma’s sponge cake. And they reappeared, applying heat for seconds, before the grownups could even be served their first slice.

It is no secret that all mums make good sponge cakes, but there must be a secret to my mum’s sponges, because no-one I have ever met has been able to produce anything that tastes as good. Mum is a bit younger than dad (a lot younger by her own reckoning), and we tell her that she shouldn’t continue to go to all the trouble of baking cakes and preparing feasts for us, and that we can go out for dinner instead or help with the preparation, but to be selfishly truthful, I just don’t want her culinary triumphs to end!

So what is it that makes our mum’s or grandma’s food taste so good? What is the miracle ingredient?

It’s the comfort that they add to it.

You will not find this ingredient in any recipe book, and it is not something you will spot on a supermarket shelf. Fittingly, it is only made available to all loving and caring mum’s and grandma’s, who surreptitiously add it to mixing bowls in oven-warmed (and often outdated) kitchens around the world every day. Whether it is baked, roasted, fried, or sautéed, they stealthily add comfort in liberal measures to everything they create, whilst all grateful beneficiaries invariably emit unashamed food noises like “Oooh!” and “Mmmm!” and rub their bellies with delight, and talk about it for a long time after, just like I am doing now.

Having said all that, I still think that mum’s sponges are the best in the world. At our large family events, wizened relatives walk in the door and the first thing they say before they undertake a search is “We’ve heard that Jill has baked a sponge! Quick, let me see it!” One of my aunts once informed me, at such a gathering, that she was prepared to fight me for the last slice of an all but demolished sponge cake that was resting, exhausted and nervous, on a nearby dessert table. “That’s mine,” she announced, “I saw it first!” Of course I informed my aunt that I had been to the table earlier, when she wasn’t looking, and had already laid claim to that slice, but she wasn’t having any of it. “I’ve been standing here since you walked in,” she countered, “And you haven’t been anywhere near that table. The best I can do is go halves with you. That’s my final offer!” It was a big slice and a fair deal, but secretly I still selfishly wanted all of it. Mum’s sponges can do that to you. I considered a diversionary tactic or a distraction, but my aunt was way too sharp for that. She quickly seized a knife and cut the piece of cake in two. We both stood there, “Oooing” and “Mmming” and rolling our eyes and grinning as we ate. Comfort is achieved far more powerfully in allied numbers.

Not entirely on topic, but worth mentioning, is that my mother Jill has also been known to commission a sponge for the purpose of entertainment. When she was working as a mothercraft nurse back in the 80’s, she produced a fabulous birthday sponge cake for one of her nursing friends at the Royal Women’s hospital in Melbourne. All the staff gathered to watch as the birthday girl inserted a large knife into the cake, only to find it impenetrable. The knife kept bouncing back at her, time and time again. It became quite an awkward moment. Jill appeared all the while to be both dumbfounded and profoundly offended, but had, in preparing the cake, devilishly substituted the baked sponge sections with the foam rubber padding found in a round stool seat. Once the laughter subsided, I’m sure they would have all leaned forward and picked away at the icing just the same, and perhaps poked a finger or two into the whipped cream sandwiched between the perfectly cut rubber foam layers. No point in letting the edible bits go to waste.

Now that we have correctly isolated Comfort as being the key mystery ingredient for successful cooking, let us debunk a myth or two, starting with “The great chocolate addiction” myth. Scientists will insist that addiction to chocolate is due to the ingredient cocoa stimulating the secretion of endorphins in the brain, triggering off a heightened sense of “well-being”. Well, I can tell you that this feeling of euphoria is more likely due to chocolate being produced by a bunch of certified bona-fide mum’s and grandma’s, secretly co-opted by the chocolate giants (under the cover of darkness), to add their comfort touch – along with full cream dairy milk – to each production batch! Another myth is that “School tuck-shops don’t sell healthy food”. School tuck-shops the world over are manned by school mothers, who, by merely being there and presiding over the food, are able to make it taste better and can magically extract any additive and calorie nasties that may have attached themselves along the way. A sandwich prepared by yourself at home does not taste nearly as good as the same one handed to you by a tuck-shop mother, because it is served with a warm smile and kind regards to be passed on to your family, and a tongue-in-cheek inquiry as to where you think her offspring might be lurking, in order to avoid the embarrassment of being seen with her.

Some readers may assert that this post is no more than a cunning plan to encourage my mother to continue making sponge cakes. And Anzac cookies. And roasts with Yorkshire pudding, and crumbed cutlets with mashed potato and peas, salmon patties, coleslaw, and sausage rolls.

Okay. I might be “bustable” on that assertion. So charge me with “seeking comfort by improper means”.

Mum’s sponges can do that to you.

Mum's Anzac cookies, not quite as good as grandma's were, but pretty damned good all the same. We are splitting hairs there. Gone in seconds.

Mum’s Anzac cookies, not quite as good as grandma’s were, but pretty damned good all the same. We are splitting hairs there. Gone in seconds.


Posted in Humor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

The tubist.

The tubist

There are many ways to hide in the midst of a choir during an end of year school concert. Stand at the back, move your mouth in sync with others around you, but be careful not to make any audible sound. Let the others do the heavy lifting. And should you find yourself playing the recorder in a large group on stage, let your fingers dance confidently over the air holes, and lift and tilt the recorder on the high notes, but resist any temptation to blow into the instrument. No exertion, no pressure; you are not really there at all. No-one, except your parents, will find you dissolved in there among the contributors. Performing solo, on the other hand, is a different ballgame. You’re out there under the spotlight with nowhere to hide. Exposed and alone. A sitting duck.

So imagine someone lowering the largest brass musical instrument in the orchestral family into the arms of the smallest 10 year old boy in my year level, and then pushing him out onto center stage for a solo performance at our end of year concert, way back in 1975. It was terrifying enough to watch from the audience, but through the eyes of such a young and inexperienced musician, the landscape ahead appeared to be very bleak indeed.

The tuba, from most accounts, is played as a background instrument, and has been described by at least one observer as an Orchestra’s “central heating”, as it provides an earthy warmth to the overall harmony. As you can imagine, the tuba is a very difficult instrument to master and an exhausting one to play.

It’s a lung buster. Spirit crusher.

The audience of roughly 500 parents and students were hot, tired, restless, and without humor. They appeared to be thoroughly underwhelmed by the night’s proceedings. Wedged into the large civic hall like sardines and suffering in the sweltering December evening heat, people fanned themselves with their programmes and mathematically calculated how many minutes were left before they could escape. “Let’s see, there are 6 items left, with each lasting roughly 4 minutes, and allowing for people to round up their limp children and evacuate, we could see ourselves in the car park in under 30 minutes.” Other thoughts may have included “I love my son dearly but I’m definitely going to be out of town this time next year”, and perhaps even “I’m going to get myself elected onto the school council and work feverishly to cut the duration of this thing in half!”

Then he came out, and the room suddenly fell silent.

This tiny, skinny, red-headed young boy appeared hesitantly from behind the massive red floor to ceiling curtain, and peered out at the audience, squinting to try and make sense of the mass of eyes that looked straight back at him and up at the monstrosity above him. The crowd gasped, because it looked as though the instrument might slip and pulverize the boy into the stage floor. As he staggered toward the lone stool that was placed at the very front of the stage, onlookers shifted sideways in their seats as if they were trying to remotely guide him safely to his seat. For one moment he appeared to have lost control of this massive brass flowering contraption, and he had to quicken his step to catch up with it. Bending his knees to sit at the stool, he stole a panicked glance at his unseen dispatcher behind the curtain, but what he saw there didn’t seem to reassure him much; in fact this distraction nearly had him missing the chair altogether. There was a moment where one of the stool legs levitated slightly under his uneven downward docking movement, and the crowd caught their breath and shifted sideways again until the stool righted itself and the young fellow was securely seated.

This little boy was petrified, haunted, and alone, under the single spotlight. People in the audience were not sure whether to keep looking at what was about to unfold, or to start studying their shoes.

He arranged the big brass monster on his lap, inserted the mouthpiece, wet his lips, and drew a deep breath. His cheeks ballooned out, and he played his first note.

Whales in the Southern Ocean paused and listened.

The sound that escaped was more like a slow, drawn out guttural yawn. It was followed shortly after by a loud squeak and then a series of flatulent blurts and gurgles. It sounded to me like he was just testing his equipment but it soon became apparent that this was, in fact, the start of his recital. I was now wondering how long it would take for the tow trucks to arrive.

Our little tubist hugged his massive brass flower arrangement; his fingers worked away at the three chubby valves, and his bright red cheeks ballooned and deflated like those of a hyperactive swamp frog. What we heard was not unlike the sounds emitted from hopelessly lost barges in a heavy fog.

But the audience stopped calculating their exits times, and the kids stopped itching and fidgeting.

The young boy stopped playing for a moment, to summon more air, and perhaps to decide whether he should continue, before pressing on once again with more deep groans and high piercing squeaks. Each note must have surprised him, because none of them came out as he intended. The deep ones, however, rumbled along the floorboards and rolled off the end off the stage, triggering vibrations that were felt up the aisle-ways, all the way to the back wall of the room. A small ruddy-faced boy, with a big but peculiar sound.

Next there was a sequence of notes that appeared to form some sort of scale, and the crowd moved with him up the register and then swooned when he missed the top note. But at least now there was something vaguely musical about his arrangement. The audience finally had something to hang on to.

It was the longest and most drawn out recital that you could imagine, but our young tuba player braved it out. His tiny lungs heaved and sagged, his head drooped and then rose again with each note. He was exhausted and excruciatingly embarrassed when he finally finished. His shoulders slumped low after the Tuba’s final trembling utterance.

He was certain that the crowd hated his performance as much as he had.

The applause nearly blew him, and his tuba off the stool. The crowd leapt to their feet and roared. He looked up suddenly, taken aback, and both startled and shocked at the response; he looked around in case the audience was applauding someone else. Maybe Elton John had just walked on stage and everyone was applauding him instead. He couldn’t believe his eyes and ears. Complete bewilderment. The standing ovation went on forever, and when the clapping finally died down, the room continued to buzz for a long time afterwards.

When the tubist walked offstage, he left his instrument on the ground next to the stool. He was so overwhelmed by the crowd’s reaction that he had simply forgotten to take it with him. The Tuba sat there under that single spotlight, inert, a Goliath not tamed, but now respectful. It would have been only fitting if a little white flag had risen up and unfurled itself from within the instrument’s enormous flared bell.

And from the deep Southern Ocean, the whales smiled, gave a silent nod of respect, swished their massive tails, and continued happily on their way.

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Tend the Garden

Please read this story by Stuart M. Perkins, it will make your day. It made mine, cheers Nolsie


A longtime friend commented during dinner that her next door neighbor’s son was on the path to nowhere and constantly in trouble. She thought herself clever referring to him as “a weed in the garden of life”. Although an avid fan of barbed words and wit, I found her comment harsh directed at a kid who was barely a teenager. He was dismissed and labeled as worthless. A weed.

“But maybe he’s a pokeweed!” I said in a positive tone.

She rolled her eyes. I recognized the look of resignation on her face. The look many of my friends have when I spit out a puzzling one-liner and they know a story is coming. She sipped her drink and grinned, arms crossed in silent permission for me to proceed.

Years ago I had a yard packed with plants. It was full of boxwoods, azaleas, and geraniums surrounding a dogwood centerpiece…

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The round tower

TimahoeRoundTower2 (1)

Just so we are clear, I’m neither particularly spiritual, nor overly drawn to mysticism. The supernatural, and beckoning from worlds beyond are, for me, generally restricted to the scriptures of Stephen King. It’s very unlikely that you will find me hunched under a crimson shroud, gazing into a crystal ball in a dimly lit carnival tent on Halloween night. No seances, tarot card readings, or horoscopes for me, thankyou. Wizards, oracles, and witchcraft, I don’t think so.

There have been, however, a seemingly linked string of personal events spanning decades that I have never been able to reconcile with. I am now going to try and unravel those events here, at the risk of appearing completely unhinged, off my trolley, and barking mad. I can honestly say that I have not made any of this up, but can equally understand why people might choose to discount this story’s authenticity. I’m pretty sure I would.

It all started when I was 16 years old (34 years ago). My late uncle Paddy Nolan was dining at our house, and whilst we were all busily shovelling down one of mum’s famous roasts (with Yorkshire pudding), Paddy was recounting details of his recent travels to Ireland, where he had researched our ancestral roots to, I believe, a little hamlet called Moyvane, near Listowel, in County Kerry.

It all sounded fascinating until he drew attention to the dwelling that he had traced our roots back to. The place he then described was something I had seen vividly several times in a series of tragic recurring dreams.

“It was a very large round tower”, Paddy began, “about the height of a four of five storey building, with no windows.” A chill went up my spine. I had been dreaming of such unusual dwellings only a few weeks earlier. He said “there was an internal staircase that wound around the inside walls, and they kept livestock in there as well.”

I asked him if the entrance door was elevated above the ground by 3-4 metres (10-12 feet), and Paddy immediately agreed, saying that a ladder was used to access the door and was then pulled up and into the tower. I knew about this. In my recurring dreams I was always waiting by a small bridge for someone to return, but when I could wait no longer, I would run to the round tower, hurriedly climb the ladder and pull it up after me, sadly locking out the person I was waiting for. In another recurring dream I was climbing the ladder at night in a panic, and upon entering the tower, was greeted with a bright red fireball on the inside of the dwelling.

The round towers of Ireland were built between the 9th and 12th centuries as protection against the waves of invading vikings. There were roughly 120 of these towers built, most of which are now in ruins, and with 18-20 that have been kept in perfect condition. They were as high as 40 metres (130 feet), and were designed to house people and food/livestock in isolation for significant periods of time. The doorway was deliberately only large enough for one person to squeeze through at a time, so that intruders could be dealt with as they entered. Starting a fire somehow on the inside was the only way to effectively penetrate the building.

I  had other recurring dreams where a dusk medieval type battle was being waged, running down a steep slope beside a round tower, to a bend in a river. I would always wake up in a cold sweat, as the dreams were so vivid and emotional.

I never really knew what it all meant, being young at the time, and didn’t dwell too much on it. When I asked my father once what he thought about it all, he off-handedly offered the theory that perhaps we all retain some embedded memories in our genes that get passed down from one generation to another, and that maybe these memories can sometimes resurface in our dreams. A bit like a DNA imprint of some kind. Dad was happy to dismiss his own theory, but I liked it. Animals are born with “instinct” which, in theory, could be embedded “what to do” memories that have been somehow retained and stored in a “black box” deep inside their brains. I don’t know much about all that stuff so I might be talking out of school, so please don’t quote me on any of this!

The story continues on, however. Three decades later, around 2010, good friends of  ours, The Collopys, visited some old churches and round towers in Ireland during a family holiday. We were at their place soon after they returned and they showed us some travel snaps. I froze when I saw one particular photo of St Canice’s Cathedral, with detail of the side cathedral window frames. Matt and Clare Collopy thought I had just seen a ghost! I was briefly in a state of shock. I was drawn instantly to the detail of the window frames on this church because I had seen them in vivid detail over and over in my dreams. Not the stained glass, just the shape and design of the external window mouldings themselves. I remember a dream where I was hovering way above the ground, at eye level to the outside windows, studying the same detail of the frames. It always struck me as a weird dream, I could never understand where it had any relevance. I have had other dreams where I have carried a body in the middle of the night up a town roadway, and looking up, the silhouette form of a large cathedral towered above me on a hill. At the end of this recurring dream I rest the body in a graveyard at the front of the church. These dreams are very traumatic.

Seeing the picture of the church and feeling the impact it had on me, I went home and later googled my Irish family name origins of Nolan, Fay, and Delaney, to see where they led me. The origin of the name Delaney (my mother’s Maiden name) was from the earlier anglicized form of O’Delany or O’Duluny, with apparently the earliest known reference dating back to Felix O’Duluny, Bishop of Ossory from 1178 to 1202. Now, apart from all the other wonderful things that he did, he was credited as being the guy  who built St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny, the very same church that I saw in the picture!

And guess what?

There is a round tower sitting about 5 metres away from the church.


I’m sure it can all be explained away, and over the years I have done a good job of doing that myself. I cannot, however, explain away having the dreams, and then having other people connect the dots for me after returning from visits to Ireland. It is a bit bizarre really.

For those who only deal in certainty, I can give you one right now. Visiting Ireland and taking a look around a bunch of old round towers and churches may not be something that excites a lot of people (and I may have trouble convincing my family to travel with me), but a trip to Ireland is definitely on my bucket list.

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The moth.

Em moth shot 1 cropped with just actual moth

Our family was seated for an impromptu dinner at a very popular and busy Thai restaurant in Melbourne late last year. The place was packed with people, and the tables and chairs were overpopulated given the space available. It was difficult to hear anything above the loud clatter of plates, glasses, and loud conversation. Our daughter Emily, 20, and our son James, 17, were their usual chatty selves; full of life and character, and just as we were devouring our entrees, Emily’s expression suddenly changed, and she announced that she had something VERY IMPORTANT to tell us.

My wife, Susie, and I nearly choked on our Thai fish cakes.

Jame’s chicken satay spiraled out of control and crash landed on his plate as he dug into his pocket for his iPhone. He definitely needed to film this.

What do you immediately think when your 20-year-old daughter makes a serious family announcement?

Susie and I looked at each other and then motioned for Emily to wait until we had swallowed what was left in our mouths, in case the news sent us into cardiac arrest. Emily waited for the moment. “Are you ready?” she asked?

Jim knew the film footage would be good. He was in perfect position, seated with a clear view of all the major players. This was going to be a YouTube sensation.

“OK”, we chimed together nervously, “What is it?”

“I’ve got a tattoo!”

Gold. This clip was definitely going viral. Jim adjusted the angle of his phone to fill the camera screen with our facial reactions. If he was quick, he might even be able to get the unedited footage online before his friends sat down for their own dinners.

We were trapped. We were in a room packed with people. And we were on film.

After a few seconds of stunned silence, the only word that either of us could manage was “Where?”

My mind raced. I was hoping the tattoo was located somewhere that could be hidden later if the novelty wore off before the ink. Please let it be somewhere that can be covered.

“On my wrist!” Emily said, “Here, take a look!”

Em moth shot 1

Now, personally I’m not into tattoos, and will never get one. I know a lot of people who do have tattoos and depending on the person, and the size and the design that has been inked, the tattoo can suit them, their personality and their outlook on life; so in theory I have no objection to other people having tattoos. Some of them I actually really like. They are also easier to like when they are on someone else.

Emily had broadcast from her early teens that she was going to get one. At the time we were hoping that it was just a passing phase, or that she would at least wait until she was older and sensible enough to make a carefully considered decision. She did wait, and carefully designed her own artwork; and chose the moth as it symbolizes a lot in her life. Em’s world is all about design and fashion, and with her beautifully tapered hands and chunky rings and silver bracelets, the tattoo suits its surroundings. Moths are nocturnal, always striving to find the light, and represent optimism and achievement, with a desire to “spread one’s wings” to fly and be free.

I have to say that Jim was quite disappointed. Our reactions weren’t dramatic at all; no “out of body” experiences or seismic activity, nothing paparazzi worthy, no world war three, just a family sitting in a busy restaurant calmly examining a new tattoo, with two parents slightly hyperventilating. He stopped filming after he was confident that the moment had passed, and when the allure of the Pad Woon Sen stir fried noodles – that had just landed on the table – finally overtook his senses. He hadn’t noticed that I had just quickly drained half a tall glass of Asahi lager and was looking for a refill.

As an aside, last night we watched the latest episode of the reality show “Survivor” where one of the castaways had tattoos on her face, and where another contestant (who had tattoos all over his arms, legs, and back) complained in an interview about the other, saying “Who gets tattoos on their heads? What was she thinking!” The answer to that is “She was probably thinking the same thing as you, buddy, and you’ll probably finish up doing the same, when you run out of space in between your toes.” This departure from the story doesn’t really have any relevance other than to illustrate that everyone has their own perception of what extent is acceptable when irreversibly inking themselves. We don’t have a right to, but we’re hoping that Emily has satisfied her desire to get a tattoo and will leave it at that.

We like Em’s tattoo. We liked her bare wrist better beforehand, but now that it is done, we like the design and what it means to her. It is very much Emily.

So Em, now that you have your wings, and you have granted yourself permission to fly, don’t forget to wave as you flutter by!

Em pictureem moth 2

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My brush with “No Mess” Charlie.


I cannot believe that I am actually posting this story.

Caveat: If you secretly yearn for the zesty lemon fragrance of freshly Fabulon-ed sheets and towels, please do not read any further. However, if you have ever camped for a week in a desolate location without proper showering facilities, then continue with caution, but please accept my apology in advance for what is to come.

I was Backpacking around Europe at the age of 20 in 1983, and a friend in Germany kindly offered me the use of his vacant apartment in Paris for a week during the French tennis open. I took him up on his gesture, and life in the Parisian sunshine, for the first 4 days, was like something lifted directly out of a travel brochure. My luck ran out very early on the 5th day when some guy and his wife burst into the apartment, full of attitude and aggression, claiming to have made previous arrangements to stay in the same apartment for the next 7 days. There were a lot of rapid hand gestures, French exclamations through clenched teeth, personal space invasion, and severe doubt cast over my birth status, sexual preferences, and ancestral lineage; before I was suddenly cast out onto the street, reasonably insulted, with the mercury rising, and without the benefit of a shower. There may have even been a final shrill (but then muffled) insult directed at me as the door slammed shut.

Oddly enough, hotels aren’t exactly chasing you for business when the French Open is on.

After many hours of lobby shopping, the only place in Paris that would have me for the next two nights was a shabby little back street establishment that had been built before they discovered water. Seriously, my room was like a broom closet. In short, I went without a proper shower for three long hot summer sightseeing days. I tried sneaking into other hotels that had running water but they saw me a mile off; I was that unwashed guy that they are highly trained to look out for. I had to settle for limited splash washing in cafe powder-rooms, but of course you never get the same coverage. It was a record-breaking heat wave; I was chalking up the kilometers, and I was hygienically unhappy. Stray animals began following, at a safe distance, behind me. Large birds gathered, with an air of expectancy, in nearby trees. A Renault mowing down a nearby fire hydrant would have truly been a godsend.

I’m still learning to deal with the shame.

At the end of the week, I returned to the place where I was staying in Germany a little heavier. I walked differently; a bit like John Wayne after riding a horse for a month. My hair was oily and plastered to my skull, and my body odor had a pulse of its own. When I walked in the door, no-one seemed very interested in talking to me, so I headed straight for what was possibly the best, hottest, and longest shower I have ever had. I let the water cleanse away the indignity of the previous days, but I noticed when toweling off that some unwanted sweat rashes remained. My hosts had left an elaborate array of deodorants and body talc’s on the ledge above the wash basin, and a frenzy followed. I covered my body in talcum powder. I smelt great, looked clean, but still walked funny. The only option available to me now was to slide off to bed and pretend that the previous three days hadn’t happened.

Something woke me up in the middle of the night. I felt rigid, like I’d been immersed in a mud bath and had been laid out to dry. Mind racing, I “zomby walked” into the bathroom to take stock of the situation, and then hurriedly hunted down the bottle of talcum powder that stood, now mocking me, on the shelf above the basin.

I don’t know what they call it in Germany, but here we call it “Ajax”. I looked in the mirror, and my jaw had dropped so much I could see where my tonsils had been removed when I was six. I immediately swung into damage control, and moved to wash off the household cleaning agent. It wasn’t until I had the water running that I remembered the ad with “No Mess” Charlie; that jolly, oval-faced plumber that cleaned up his mess in a jiffy with the wonderful new formula Ajax. You may remember how the “Deep Action Cleanser” really worked hard (like Charlie) to get in and get the job done.

If water had met powder that night, my fathering future would have been napalmed before my eyes. Nevertheless, I had to act quickly, because I noticed that the sweaty areas had started turning blue. Again, I had memories of Charlie swishing out the vanity grime with Ajax’s magical blue rinse. I don’t know how long it took me to rub off the caked on powder, but I took my time. It was very abrasive stuff. When I had given myself the all clear, I retired again for the night.

The morning heralded a remarkable discovery. That German Ajax powder had “Nuked” the fungal bacteria, arrested the “Long March”, and restored peace and unity to the neighborhood. I felt like I’d been rid of a poltergeist. That is one wicked formula, our old Ajax. Charlie’s work was done, and I could almost see him grinning and flirting in the bathroom with that charmed 1960’s lady of the household, holding up the Ajax bottle so the camera could get the “money shot”.

Naturally I didn’t let on to my hosts about what had transpired. Something again to do with the shame.

Of course every little story has a moral, but this one has many.

Firstly, be sure to only stay in Hotels that have water!

Secondly, always travel with a bicycle lock so you can chain yourself to something large and heavy in the event of a pending eviction.

Thirdly, be careful using anything in foreign language bottles, especially in bathrooms where your host has recently sanitized it for your use. If you have foreigners staying at your house, clear away the cleaners and solvents.

And of course, lastly … if your overseas guests start itching and walking funny, just leave a bottle of Ajax on the vanity top next to the deodorant.

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The third wave.


The superstitious student of disaster will tell you that misfortune arrives in waves of three.

This story is about the third wave.

Surfing has been a lifelong recreational pastime of mine, spanning roughly 40 years. Whilst I have never been greatly skilled at the sport, I have always been intoxicated by the thrill of the ride; the calmness of sitting out the back past the breakers, hunting the forming lines, hustling to be positioned for “right of way”, and testing myself against whatever nature could throw at me. Who am I kidding? When I was young some of that may have been true, but from my late 20’s onward, surfing was something I only did in 2 week intensive stints during family holidays up on Queensland’s Sunshine surf coast (and later in Bali), and anyone who knows anything about surfing will tell you that age, and a distinct lack of fitness, does not mix well with any lengthy abstinence from the sport. These factors spoke very much to my undoing.

My mini-malibu surfboard had ceremoniously earned the nickname of “The Couch”, a title bestowed upon it by my dry-witted old friend Iain (and often repeated by my kids), as I seemed to spend a lot of time out there in the water just “lounging” on it. This was because I’d spent most of my energy paddling out and needed a long rest before I could even think about tackling a wave.

In Bali for two weeks for a family holiday in June 2012, I adopted my usual “Conditioning Regime”, which, previously, had consisted of:

  • A 30 minute paddle on day 1, increasing each day by 15 minutes, until I felt the return of some rhythm and stamina. In the first 3 days I would fight the urge to give surfing away for good, telling my wife Susie that “I’m too old for this,” and “That’s it! I’m going into retirement!”
  • Enjoying Days 4 to 6 and catching some half decent waves, prompting the announcement that I was “back in town!”
  • Feeling invincible and bullet-proof on days 7 to 9.
  • Nursing sore wrists and ankles by day 10.
  • Losing interest altogether by day 12, preferring to read a book in the sun or loiter at a beach-side bar.

I followed this pattern successfully for 17 consecutive years, but during the 18th year I got it horribly wrong.

The problem is that you age in your body but not in your mind. You think you can still do things that you simply no longer can.

On day two of this particular holiday, I was wading out through a beach break at Seminyak when I noticed the presence of a rip that could “Jet me out the back” and save me having to battle through breaking waves. The swell was quite big (with sets around 3 metres, 9-10 foot) and Bali waves are very powerful. Now, remember, this was day two, and I knew that I was still a long way off taking on the bigger stuff. The rip was there, however, and I thought I might just sneak out yonder for a bit of a look. There was no harm in that, surely?

Things initially went well and before I knew it, I was nearly level with the back breakers. Then I suddenly encountered a strong cross current that pushed me rapidly sideways, and directly into the path of one of the biggest dumping waves I’ve ever seen. There was nothing I could do. I dived down into the water, but I was exactly in the wrong spot, and the wave broke on my head. When this occurs, you usually spend time flattened on the sea floor, where you wait until the force of the wave moves past you, before you can propel yourself off the sandy bottom, and finally pop out through the whitewash and get some air. On this occasion, the water was deeper than expected (around 9 feet deep), so my feet did not touch sand, and I was caught up inside the wave’s fury, tumbling over and over. The whitewash whirlpools also sucked me back down each time I fought my way close to the surface. Without the benefit of a “push-off” from the sea floor, it took too long to rise back upward. It took forever. I had expelled the last of my air and was starting to take in water. I took two gulps of salty brine before I eventually surfaced. What I saw then was discouraging.

The second wave, just as big, was at tipping point directly above me. I had enough time to cough and splutter a few times and take a quick 3/4 breath, and then the cycle began all over again. The only thought in my mind was, “If I had surfaced 2 seconds later, the second wave would have hit while I was still under”. With my day 2 level of conditioning, I was already struggling with fatigue. I knew that if I didn’t make it to the surface in the same time frame as the first wave, this may indeed be my last cognitive earthly moment.

Whilst enduring the whitewash washing machine for the second time, tumbling over and over, I started to panic. I was rolling with the powerful momentum of the ocean, but moving with it rather than under it, and the force was taking too long to subside. Once again I could no longer contain my air, and I started taking in water again; this time more so, and my faculties were beginning to fade. I came to the realization that too much time had elapsed, and that I would not reach the surface before the third impact. I was already choking, and another cycle without air would certainly finish me off. The third wave is often the biggest and most powerful of the set. This was it. I wasn’t going to make it through.

As I said at the beginning of this tale, this story is about the third wave. The one that never came.

I broke the surface expecting to see a cylindrical tonne of water plummeting down on me, but all I saw was blue sky. I scanned seaward for more hostile forming lines but there were none.

I was too exhausted to be relieved, and there was still work to be done. I felt like the beneficiary of a heaven-sent distortion of nature; an exception to the general rule, and I couldn’t have been more grateful.

With only enough energy to pull on my leg rope, I dragged my board back toward me. I clung to it, unable to climb aboard, and gradually moved myself with the momentum of the swell pulses toward the shore. I was sufficiently shore-ward to avoid the fury of the next set of breaking waves, allowing the whitewash to propel me toward the beach.

I staggered out of the water and collapsed on the shoreline, gagging and spluttering, and heaving volumes of salt water out of my body. The beach was pretty much deserted, and no-one had seen that I was in distress. I lay on the wet sand for a long time, exhausted and physically ill. After a long rest I moved up onto the sand and returned to where my wife Susie was baking herself on a sun lounge, face buried in the pages of a trashy holiday romance novel, and feeling slightly agitated because the large red sun umbrella was starting to cast a shadow over her shoulders. She was totally oblivious to what had just happened.

I said quietly, “I think I just nearly drowned!”

Now, it’s not uncommon for me to wildly overstate the gravity of things, so Susie was quite within her rights to immediately file this announcement under “Just another fall off his couch – exaggeration #127″.

“How about a coke?” She replied cheerfully, not looking up from her novel, but pointing at the empty bottles on the side table that needed to be binned. “The ones we got last time weren’t that cold!”

That was the moment when the fog lifted and I happily returned to reality. I wondered how differently that moment in time may have played out, had the third wave arrived as predicted. Instead, we were together on a tropical beach, basking in sunshine, unsure whether to read a book or stroll up to a beach bar for an afternoon drink. The previous 20 minutes could now be erased because there were no witnesses and no loose ends. It was just a small panic-filled time bubble. I returned from the beach drinks vendor with two cokes and handed one to Susie. I stood there for a long time afterwards, watching the ocean, rejoicing in being alive, and wondering if I would ever surf again.  

The very same superstitious student of disaster may tell you that our fate is predetermined. The message I received on that day was that fate can also issue warnings to those that are particularly stupid, and that a “shot fired across your bow” should not go unheeded, because there is also another saying … that the postman always rings twice.

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