Thursday, December 07, 2017

Small Amusements

1. I was talking to a friend who gets her grandchildren dressed and off to school a couple of mornings a week. Grandson (10) has been being generally obstructive but is finally fully dressed and in his room reading. His sister (7) is struggling. She can't find her school uniform t-shirt, only one of her brother's which is far too large. She goes off in tears to phone Mum who assures her she had put it out ready. Grandmother is trying to sort this out when she suddenly has a thought and goes to check on brother. He has on his sister's t-shirt and when told to take it off gets very mouthy. This grandmother is not one to take any nonsense and threatens she will take it off if he doesn't so he complies still having many words to say. They are running late by the time sister is dressed so grandmother says she'll drive them. Her patience is now exhausted so when grandson is dilly-dallying about getting in the car she tells him he can walk and leaves. (The school is just at the end of the street and they usually walk unless it's raining).

After school and the kids come home to get ready for grandmother to take them to swimming. Grandson comes in when he's changed his clothes and says, unwisely, 'I was almost late for school, Nan, and I was talking to my mates and we agree you were over the top making me walk.' Nan is so NOT impressed and relays this to his parents, who are equally unimpressed. Oddly enough grandson has not tried this again.

2. Then I was chatting to the sheep poo delivery man as you do and he was telling me about his ten year old son - do you see a pattern here? This time the boy is at school and does not want to do physical education for some reason. His excuse: 'See, miss, my dad has a bad back because of his work and I think I've got a bad back, too, so I shouldn't have to do exercises.' Didn't work out well for him either.

Monday, December 04, 2017

There's a Jitti-jitti in My Garden

Jitti-jitti - sometimes djiti-djiti or chitty-chitty - is the Noongar name for the Australian willy wagtail - the Noongars being the local indigenous people of south western Australia. I think it's a particularly appropriate name, too, given the way these endearing little birds chatter. Their common name of willy wagtails is because they spend a lot of of their time shaking their rumps with their tails fanned up, and as you might have guessed if you know anything about birds in Australia, they are related to the Australian fantails. They are cheeky and I've yet to find anything they are intimidated by. They take no nonsense from anyone or anything and will drive off much bigger birds without any sign of nerves. Around here they regularly take to the Australian ravens and kookaburras, both of which are much larger and can be aggressive.

For a long time willy wagtail numbers had plummeted but recently they have recovered and now they can often be seen and heard. The one who's chosen our garden as part of his hunting grounds - they catch flies, small moths and mosquitoes (the last in particular makes them very welcome as far as I'm concerned) - arrived a couple of weeks ago. He's very bold, sitting on the fence chittering at me while he waits for something suitable to eat to appear. Very handsome he looks, too, in his black and white tuxedo with his tail fanned up before he swoops and grabs whatever morsel he's seen in mid-air. He isn't the least bit bothered by my working in the garden and will fly down to grab a snack no more than a hands breadth away from me.

in local Aboriginal legend they are regarded as gossips but they figure in other stories in different parts of the country. In some places they are considered birds of ill omen though I have no idea why such a charming, little creature should have that reputation. To me they are very special little birds and I hope their resurgence continues.

If you're interested you can read more about them here. Oh and I tried to find a photo but turns out there aren't too many in the public domain and those that are were somewhat underwhelming.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Things That Go...

I've been pushing Pisces to go through some boxes of stuff I sorted out and left on the veranda mumble mumble months ago. If it had been down to me I'd have simply taken it to be recycled once I got it sorted but he was convinced that I was just throwing usable stuff out and wanted to check through it. Well, that's perfectly true but it's not usable by us and that's the point of taking it to the recycling depot, isn't it. It's a place where anything that can be reused as is will be sold on and other usable bits and pieces - like metal, paper and glass - are sent off to be used again. I'd rather it went to someone who can use it rather than just sit around here to clutter the place up. Still he, having filled the car boot to the brim, has headed off to the depot so I'm not complaining.

Anyhow his sudden spring into activity led me to go out and check the gas BBQ which has been bundled up for far too long and to see if we have enough gas should we need it (the answer to that is not really). This in turn reminded me that there was a pile of empty plant pots that had accumulated from my recent repotting frenzy and which really needed to be transferred to the garden shed (if they'll be of any use to me in the future) or into the recycling bin (apparently the local council can deal with them. Who'd have thought.).

I'd stacked the pots out of sight under the eaves but we have a garden shed, don'cha know. Why not keep them in there, I thought. So I put on my gloves and started to dismantle the pile. For some unknown reason, probably in the interests of moving along quickly when I was planting some plants out though why I thought it would work as a long term solution I do not know, I had put a whole pile of empty seedling trays into one of the large pots. I tipped them out and found one was full of spider webs. Okay, I thought, better get rid of that before it goes in the bin so I took it over to the nearest garden bed and gave it a good shake. Not much moved so I got a stick to pull the web out - and uncovered an unusually large and shiny black widow spider. Her body was about as big as the nail on my little finger so you can imagine how big she was when her legs were included and she wasn't going anywhere. I tried shaking harder. Nope. Then I banged it on the ground forcefully. Nah. Finally I flicked her out onto the garden with the stick and thought we'd seen the last of each other. Nooooo. She was not happy about giving up her home and started to chase after it - and since it was in still in my hand, after me as well. I'm not even mildly arachnophobic but even I was getting a little nervous by now - black widows have a painful bite - but she was so intent on getting home that I was able to use the container to guide her to a suitable new place where she disappeared from sight.

The pots had another surprise for me when I went back to finish dismantling the pile. There I was happily taking pot after pot out when something moved in the bottom of one - something a lot bigger than a spider. Before I had a chance to even think a large frog flung itself at the side of the pot - and I have to say I don't know who got the biggest shock. I yelled, Pisces came running and the frog threw itself even higher up towards the top of the pot. On its third attempt it made it up and over - the pot is about 40 cms deep so that gives you an idea of froggie's jumping ability - and disappeared in among the pots of cacti (these by the way are in bloom at the moment and their blossoms are truly glorious).

So there you go - some somewhat unexpected things you can find in my garden.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Ever Heard of the Hobyahs?

I have. When I was in my second or third year of primary school we had as our reading book Book Two of the Victorian School Readers. These had been put together in the period between 1927 and 1930 and so were already very dated - but post war shortages of books and other education materials which lasted well into the fifties I guess meant that Education Departments had to make do with whatever they could find. The Victorian Readers had a moral agenda intending to teach their readers among other things appropriate behaviour as well as an appreciation of literature, patriotism and their place as Australians in the world. The later books were also a reflection of their times in the casual racism they expressed. If you're interested this very readable article - The Victorian Readers by Claire Bradford - on the Austlit website gives more information.

What brought this book to mind was a recent column in the local West Australian newspaper by Robert Drewe. Drewe's columns are entertaining musings on whatever he's thinking about at the time and recently that was The Hobyahs, which was one of the stories which featured in my Victorian Reader at the time.

The Hobyahs is a grim tale of a little old man and a little old woman who live with a little girl and their dog, Little Dog Turpie, in a house made of hemp stalks. Every night the hobyahs come in from the bush saying 'Hobyah, Hobyah, eat up the old man and the old woman and carry off the little girl.' Every night Little Dog Turpie barks and drives off the hobyahs but his barking annoys the little old man and so he bit by bit dismembers Little Dog Turpie by the first night cutting off his tail, then one leg, then another and so on but the dog keeps on barking his warning until finally his head is cut off. The hobyahs then kill the man and woman and carry off the little girl in a sack which they leave hung up while they go to sleep - because hobyahs sleep in the day. The girl cries so much that a passing man with a big dog hears her and rescues her and puts his dog in the sack. When the hobyahs wake up the dog jumps out and eats them up. I gather from Robert Drewe's column that in the next edition Little Dog Turpie became Yellow Dog Dingo in an attempt to make what was according to the book originally a Scottish tale more Australian. All that did to judge from the flurry of letters that resulted after Drewe's column was to terrify a whole new group of children.

Why anyone would have thought this was a suitable tale for seven and eight year olds I have no idea. As you can see the details are firmly fixed in my mind many, many years on. It didn't give me nightmares but it certainly did to others of my generation and I wonder if the fact that I had access to and frequently read a book of the original versions of fairy tales set in obviously distant lands was the reason I was able to understand this was not true. The fairy stories I was reading were certainly not lacking in brutality - Cinderella's stepmother cut off the toes of one of her daughters so she could fit into the glass slipper, someone else had magically red hot shoes placed on her feet as a punishment and someone else had shoes that forced her to dance until she dies magically fitted are only a few examples that I remember - and I do wonder now if my parents had actually read this particular book. If they had I'm pretty sure I would have been banned from reading it since it also had a whole bunch of Greek and Roman myths which were, to put it mildly, problematic reading for a seven to eight year old. Who knows, though, it might have contributed to my ongoing interest in speculative fiction of all sorts. If it did I'm grateful but I have to say if you mention hobyahs to almost anyone of my vintage who went through an Australian school at the same time you are likely to set off fearful shivers at the memory.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


A dear friend has been working on a memoir and recently he was talking about his experiences as a non-sport interested schoolboy in Australia back in the day. No matter how he tried to fit into the pattern that demanded boys be at least competent at sport and that they should also take an interest in the various sports that dominate Australian conversation he never seemed to get it right. That he preferred to read rather than play sport branded him as an outsider and as a result he was the butt of continual bullying throughout his school days.

As a girl my experience was different but no less unhappy. Things started out well. I loved my Year one teacher and I still have happy memories of that class. The next year wasn't so good. Mrs A frankly terrified me. She shouted at the least infraction and her punishments were harsh considering we were only seven years old. Things looked up when one day in the middle of the year I was sent home with all my gear and a note to my parents saying the school district boundary had changed and I was now to attend another school. Initially I was seriously scared  - Mrs A had severely damaged my expectations of school - but as it turned out my teachers during my time there were a delight and I was very happy.

But then the school district boundaries changed again and it was back to the first school. My class teacher was great and every lesson was a joy - and that was in a class of 65 kids (fairly typical in those early post war days). Things went sour pretty quickly when I met Mrs B. She was the sewing teacher - girls had sewing two afternoons a week - and she took an instant dislike to me and another girl, M. Nothing we did was right. I'd sew something and it was terrible and had to be pulled out and that was the pattern for the whole year. I didn't complete one of the items we were supposed to because I spent the year stuck on the first one. Even worse she gathered a small coterie of girls she favoured around her and they took their cue from her so M. and I were always under verbal attack.

The following year was more of the same - great class teacher, monstrous bullying by the sewing teacher and her cohort of favourites. Then things got worse because in Year Six Mrs B. was my classroom teacher as well as sewing teacher and she extended her dislike to two boys as well as M. and me. We were ignored, ridiculed and made to feel as if we were total failures. Later when this all came out we were asked why we hadn't said anything but when you're a child and someone like a teacher tells you that you're worthless you believe it. It's your fault, you're not trying hard enough, you could do better and so your self esteem bottoms.

This all came to an end when one of the boys she was bullying became seriously ill and in his delirium it all came out. Bizarrely he was the son of one of her fellow teaching staff so why she had thought he was a good target who knows. Although I didn't know until years later apparently the parents were all called in for a meeting and things did improve as far as she was concerned but we remained the target of bullying by the other kids who saw no need to change their ways. M's parents decided to move away but the remaining three of us just had to get on with living. The next year we had a great class teacher in Mr F. but I was still in Mrs B's sewing class and because no-one had told me she had been confronted about her behaviour, I lived in terror of her bullying coming back.

The two boys and I moved on to different secondary schools the next year but we stayed in contact until our lives got too busy in our twenties. We were all lucky because our secondary schools encouraged us to achieve but the bullying has had life long effects on all of us. In those days the after effects of bullying were not understood and I suspect that our parents and the school thought they'd dealt effectively with the situation but the fact that I'm still angry even this long after the event shows they had not.

The friend whose post got me reflecting on my own experience has added a postscript where he speculates about how different his life might have been had he not been bullied and has come to the conclusion that bad as it was he might not have met his wife if it hadn't happened. My view is somewhat similar. I wish I hadn't had to live through what I did but if I hadn't my life choices would most likely have been very different. As a result I wouldn't have the life I have now, one with which I'm very happy.

I should say that I was in two minds about posting this but bullying is serious and those who have not experienced it really don't understand just how much damage it does. If this helps one person understand that it is worth posting about it however uncomfortable it has been for me.


Saturday, November 11, 2017


I've posted before about our resident froggies. We love having them around and encourage them as much as possible. The vast majority are motorbike frogs (Litoria moorei). They range in colour from vivid green and gold to dark brown and are classed as a tree frog although they spend most of their time on the ground. The common name of motorbike frog comes from the males' mating call which sounds something like a motorbike changing gear. You can hear it here.

Bear in mind that what we hear is that sound being repeated by numerous frogs and you'll have some idea of the cacophony surrounding us every night. We don't mind them calling for the most part but at the moment they're having a bit of breeding frenzy which means it can get somewhat deafening out there in the evening in the garden - and some of them are nowhere near the pond. Just imagine if you will several dozen males scattered all over the garden and all calling at once. Several are in the pond but others are calling in the veggie garden,  among the pot plants, in the flower beds and there's even one outside my window in the front yard. That's an awful lot of  'Hello, ladies.' going on and today there's even one calling in the midday heat. I went to have a look and he was sitting half submerged in the pond on a pad of algae. Somehow I doubt he'll get too many takers as he spruiks the delights of his pond, the females being sensibly tucked up in their daytime hidey holes

It's not only the horny males who are out and about, though. A couple of nights ago I went outside and nearly hit the veranda roof as a startled youngster took off and sent a pile of bamboo stakes flying. Then last night I almost stepped on another juvenile which was outside on the doorstep engaging in a staring contest with Mr Puss who was inside. As it had no intention of moving - and Puss was poised to overcome his fear of the outside world and pounce as soon as I opened the door - I had to go around via the back door so I could pick it up on a trowel. Of course, it waited until it and the trowel were up at my waist height before it remembered it could jump and did.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Morning Pages

Like most writers I journal. So did Queen Victoria as it happens but I doubt historians are going to paw through mine when I die or that my children will bother to check whatever remains as hers did to make sure nothing salacious or inappropriate remained. Can't have any of dear Mama's ramblings about John Brown or Abdul Karim getting out, can we. The scandal of it.

I, on the other hand, do destroy a lot of my journals myself on a regular basis or we'd be drowning in pages of very uninteresting twaddle around here. This is because, unlike the kind of journalling recommended by my writing teachers, many of these journals are very much a reflection of what I have on my mind at any particular time. This can be a rant about the state of the world or my own life or my family, a list of things to do or a reflection on what's happening around me, some of which I'd be happy to share but others I definitely would not like to.

My journalling is based on Julia Cameron's suggestion in her book The Artist's Way that we should handwrite what she calls Morning Pages first thing every day. That is three pages - I use A4 - of whatever comes to mind with no preplanning and without any taboos or restrictions as what you write about. I'm guessing you can see why, quite apart from the build up of paper and books taking over the house, I might feel destroying these journals is sometimes a good idea. The other option, if I feel there's a possibility that I might write something that I'd rather no-one else saw, is to use loose sheets. It's also a good idea when I'm away from home.

There are several reasons for journalling this way. Mainly I use it to clarify my thoughts on whatever I'm writing about (and usually by the time I reach the end of the third page I have sorted out whatever is bothering me and can approach the day with a clear mind). I'll probably never even reread this kind of journalling nor will I when these pages are just me looking back at what happened the previous day (and that means thinking about what I did or didn't achieve) and deciding what I need to do next. Once it's written down it gets fixed in my memory so there's no need to look at it. Thirdly, at busy times - like the lead up to Christmas - I might make a list to work through. Then there are the days when I simply have some idea that I want to get down before I forget it. That's when this becomes more like a regular writer's journal where it might turn out to be a thought about whatever writing project I'm working on or a paragraph or more that I'll transfer to the computer later on - something like a description of a character, an outline of a scene or a story line.

I do this every morning - as I have for more than twenty years - as soon after I get up as I can. For me that is after I've made a cup of coffee and fed and medicated my cat (wouldn't be left alone to do the pages otherwise) and ideally before anyone else is stirring. I'm an early riser - usually up well before Pisces comes to - so this time to myself is not difficult to find - but over the years Pisces has learned that, should he happen to get up before I've finished, quiet is appreciated.

 At the moment my Morning Pages are a mix of things. On the one hand there are writing bits and pieces because we're in the middle of NaNoWriMo which is the annual attempt by many writers to try to get around 50,000 words written in November. I'm not to sure that will happen to me at the rate I'm progressing but at least I'm writing which has not been the case since I got sick twelve months ago. On the other hand I'm trying to set myself a list of tasks to get done so we can tackle the many things that need doing around here in an orderly way. Next week or month it may be something entirely different. No matter what form it takes, though, I can't see myself giving up doing these pages until I can no longer hold a pen.