When I was a child, I would run into my grand-parents’ backyard garden in Sydney near Botany Bay and sense the soil of crumbling dark sandiness, the indomitable energy of a rising, prickle-leaf banksia, the faint salt breath of the sea.

The square patch of garden was hemmed with gray palings of dry, splintering wood.  At the back stood an old white-washed fibro tool shed with a battered, rusty, galvanised-iron roof.  Beyond that was a small grassy space where mint and nasturtiums and rosemary grew lush and disorderly in discarded cement laundry sinks.  In this space the skeletal remains of another small building (perhaps an outhouse) lay gently, slowly splintering and crumbling as it lay open to the sky.  Orderly ranks of Grandpop’s potted orchids sit beside the wall of the shed under a shade laced with cabbage tree palm leaves.  Inside there are tools and machinery for polishing gemstones on a grey, splintered, wooden table and a host of garden implements.  Inside it is dim, cool, quiet, dusty.

Spiders live secret lives there, beneath stacks of discarded wood palings, under garden tools standing unused for weeks, between bricks and stones jumbled together under shrubs, and the cool recesses of tree branches:  the Daddy Long-legs, the Wolf spider, the huge spectacular St Andrews Cross spider and skulking in the most secret places of all, the venomous Red-Back spider.  The one we rarely saw.  The one we were warned about and expressly told not to go looking under piles of wood, forgotten pot plants or old garden boots…


The Swan – A very short story


Tundra Swan

There once was a lone cygnet, a child of a pair of wild swans, who had to share the river with a lot of ducklings.  Naturally the ducklings made fun of him as he was clearly different from all the rest of them.  The parent ducklings, who were always around, made sure however that the ducklings curbed this teasing and minded their manners, as good parents do.

But the cygnet, for his part, considered himself vastly superior to the ducklings who waggled up to the banks in their customary group and who all talked about things that struck him as pretty dull and trivial.  So he didn’t want to join their circle of friendship anyway.

Alone and rejecting all company, the cygnet was beset with fantasies of how wonderful he was and how one day this belief that he was destined for greatness would be vindicated.  The river bank seemed so little, so muddy and ordinary and so unlike the majestic, blue, sun-dappled lake that he would one day find and be lord and master over it entirely.

One day as the duckling’s parents were sunning themselves in their usual indolent way on the grassy ledge just above the riverbank, two men with long black sticks appeared on the other side.  The cygnet saw them raise their sticks towards the ducks and then suddenly and unbelievably a loud burst of thunder and lightning came from them and two ducks dropped dead like stones and lay bleeding on the ground.

Pandemonium ensued as the alarmed ducks quacked frantically to their ducklings to follow them as they fled for cover amongst the shady undergrowth beneath the nearby thicket of trees.  Only four orphan ducklings were left behind flailing around in circles, cheeping dismally.  Their parents had died and that was why no-one had called for them.  They waddled towards their dead parents and tried to wake them with little cries.  But nothing could revive them and the men came, picked up the dead ducks and slung them into a rough, hessian bag.

‘Good shots there, hey?’  said one.  ‘Yep, good specimens too!’, said the other ‘We’ll eat well tonight!’.

‘It’s a pity we can’t touch the swans’ said the first, eyeing the little cygnet’s mother who was watching the scene with quiet concern from a bank of reeds on the edge of the river a little further away.

‘Yeah, I haven’t had swan since my grandfather died!’ said the second ‘but they’re protected by her Majesty the Queen and I wouldn’t want to cop the fine.  Grandfather never let a thing like that worry him though!’

So saying, they walked away with their brace of ducks, leaving the motherless ducklings sorrowing in their wake.  When it was safe to come out again the ducks adopted the motherless ducklings and looked after them as if they were their own and after a while, life on the riverbank went pretty well back to being normal and peaceful again.

He never said so, but the incident and the conversation had made a strong impression on the little cygnet.  The revelation swans were protected by her Majesty the Queen meant that he was indeed as special as he had always imagined that he was.  The common ducks would always have to fear men with sticks, but the cygnet not so.  The cygnet now imagined that he was of noble blood and must surely belong somewhere else.  Maybe he was not even the child of his parents!

Because of this feeling of separateness and superiority, he wasn’t too upset when he woke up one morning and found that marauding foxes had attacked, killed and devoured his parents.  It was simply a sign that he was to move to that wonderful lake that he had so often pictured in his mind.

So he packed up his things and said an airy goodbye to the common duck colony and the ordinary, muddy riverbank and sailed confidently downstream, around a bend in the river and was soon out of sight of his old home forever.  He was older now, with a long, serpentine neck that could make short work of unwary fishes and large, strong, webbed feet that made light of water currents.  And his baby fuzz had given way to raiment of resplendent, snowy white feathers.  Admiring his reflection in the calm, reflective parts of the river, he felt that very soon, that brilliant destiny he always knew was his would come to be.

After a few weeks of paddling downstream and many adventures, he took a tributary in the river, turned down it and there was the lake!  It was large and on that perfectly clear day, was a wondrous sapphire blue rippled by the strong breezes that played upon the waters.  The dazzling sunlight danced on it, with triumphant, silent chimes and swifts wove their arabesques around the edges.

As he paddled towards the sandy shore of the marvelous lake, he saw a woman with dark brown curly shoulder-length hair and dressed in a T-shirt and loose-fit blue jeans standing uncertainly.  In her hands was a packet of stale white bread.  As he saw this the swan (he was cygnet no longer) half rose from the water, cried a long harsh cry and flapped his powerful wings.  Bread, made by the kings of the earth was so much superior to common fishes and boring insects!  It was a noble food and as he was of noble blood he was entitled to it, so he thought.

The woman still stood there as he advanced with his great powerful legs, hissing ferociously at her and flapping his wings.  Soon he had reached her and he pecked her hands viciously to get at the bread, his birthright and his due.  He was a big bird, who from feet to beak reached up fairly to her chest.  Alarmed, the woman shrieked and hastily dropped the bread still in its plastic and ran towards her husband (who was busy taking a picture), while the swan greedily devoured the bread.

‘God, what a horrible creature that bloody huge swan is!’ the woman said to her husband.  ‘Did you see how aggressively he came and attacked me?  Honestly he’s more like a monster than a bird.  I can’t understand what people see in these ugly, nasty creatures!’  So saying, the woman turned her back on the swan and holding hands with her newly wedded husband, they walked away…

To the Love of Jazz

Thanks to my new smart-phone and Pandora application, where you can tune into radio stations that specialize in different kinds of music, I’ve taken to listening to Jazz. I like turning it on after hours in the evening, often when I’m doing some writing but today I’ve got it on in broad daylight because I’m sick with a cold and need to stay indoors and rest.

What is it that I suddenly like so much about Jazz? I love the mellowness of saxophone, the fresh, electric, off-beat rhythm, the light, tinkling dance of the piano. Whether just relaxing and listening to it or doing something with jazz in the background it sounds so soothing to my state of mind, lifting me out of blue, sad moods and looking at the world in a lighter, happier, more laid-back way.

When I’m tired, it comforts with a drink and a soft, velvet couch in a stylish little bistro while I listen to the gentle tones of a piano as it winds its soft, exploratory way around the doors and walls and ceilings that lie amidst place, time and space. I don’t even need to drink or go anywhere, just listen and my imagination does it for me. The music alone is a leisurely sip of the purest cognac in a soulfully deep, crystal glass.

Jazz speaks to me in lots of different ways. It could be ironic, evoking visions of hard-bitten cops in the 1970s driving around in cars in dusty, desolate bitumen paved streets in run-down suburbia and pummeling criminals. Or it could speak to me about the whole of modern life itself, as I have known it from the age of 7, when I first saw the cubist art of Picasso such as his ‘three musicians’ and experienced the topsy-turvy world of dreams about many things I perceived and not yet understood as reality danced, tangled and untangled itself into a multitude of new meanings before my eyes.

Painting of Three Musicians

Three Musicians, Picasso

Jazz is a place in the modern 20th century and onwards world where minimalism, abstraction, angles of buildings, the colours of paint on the walls, electric lights in white paper globes shone over gold-coloured carpet matting, the lives of other people, and a life comfortable enough to perceive these things set themselves to this strange, energetic, wayward new music.

Jazz has aged well and always sounds fresh, now and welcoming, even when it has a vintage feel. It’s music with a past, present and future. A successful jazz musician can be any age and often they get better with age. Whereas a lot of older rock and roll musicians are having a hard time staying relevant these days, the quiet achievements of the greats of jazz are revered and they keep their lustre and their listening power. Successful Jazz musicians have also been virtuoso players in classical music before they turned to jazz, like the guy who did the wonderful ‘Cantaloupe Island’, so it’s deeply serious music and steeped in greatness. Wikepedia reminds me it’s Herbie Hancock.

Forgive me, I’ve only newly fallen in love with Jazz and am not au fait with the names of the compositions I particularly like apart from my long-time appreciation of the singer Billie Holiday. But the Pandora application is a wonderful thing that tells me about the composer/s while it’s playing the tune, so I’m learning and I keep on playing it and enjoying it.