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Monthly Archives: February 2017

‘Save the trees? Trees are the main cause of forest fires!’ Billy Connolly.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . . 

treehuggerThe trees in the park at the end of my street took a bit of a battering last year.  They were set on fire (deliberately it would seem) in two separate incidents, both times in the very early morning . . .

As you can imagine, it is somewhat unnerving to open your front door in the early morning to see bright orange flames climbing skyward and what appears to be a whole park on fire.  (As it turned out the whole park wasn’t actually on fire—it just looked that way from where I was standing . . . )

(For the benefit of my overseas friends . . . The trees in this park are nearly all gumtrees (eucalypts) which although native to Australia can now be found all over the world.  These trees have adapted to survive—and even thrive—after a fire.  When their leaves fall they create dense carpets around the base of the trees and the trees’ bark also tends to peels off in long streamers, adding to the flammable ground cover.  The eucalyptus oil contained within these trees is also highly flammable.  When these trees catch fire, they really catch fire . . . )

We were lucky.  Both times our local fire brigade had the fire under control very quickly and very little damage was done.  The scrubby undergrowth was completely burnt away (hopefully whatever little critters were in there managed to get well away too) and the trunks of the trees were seared and charred  . . . but they were all still standing.

Months later the undergrowth has completely regenerated, the little critters have returned and the only reminder of the fires are the blackened scorch marks reaching high into the trees.

I am happy the firemen saved the trees. I’ll be even happier if they catch the bastard that set them on fire in the first place . . .

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Posted by on February 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘If any of you cry at my funeral, I’ll never speak to you again!’ Stan Laurel.

thoughtfulHistorically, I have never been much of a crier.  Since a young girl I have watched people around me cry when they were happy, or sad, or scared or even just when they didn’t know what else to do with themselves.  I understood that this was their way of dealing with whatever the situation was, but I rarely felt moved to join in.  I never cried at sad movies, or when listening to amazing life-changing stories, or while watching some of the horrors that unfolded on the nightly news, or even at funerals (Stan would at least have approved).  These things usually left me more pensive than tearful.

sallycryingIt is not I never cried of course.  I had the occasional emotional ‘woe-is-me, life-is-unfair, why-can’t-I-do-that, all-men-are-bastards . . .’ meltdowns over the years,  and I cried for (literally) weeks after my lovely dog Frankie died unexpectedly during the night (well, who wouldn’t?)  but crying was not something that seemed to come naturally to me.  In fact, it happened so infrequently that I would sometimes stop and wonder (albeit briefly) if there was something wrong with me (‘Should I be crying here? Everyone else seems to be . . .’ ) but that feeling wore off again pretty quickly.  I just didn’t seem to be built that way.sookylala

But lately something has changed.  I have become aware that I am being moved to tears far more often now than I ever used to be—and often over things I would rarely have given much thought to before.  I fear I am in danger of turning into a bit of a sooky-la-la.  It’s kind of disturbing . . .

So, now, instead of wondering why I am not crying, I am wondering my I am.   Why, all of a sudden, have I become so  ’emotionally incontinent’?  I’m not depressed.  I don’t feel particularly isolated, or unhappy (and often the things I cry about are quite lovely and not sad at all).  It doesn’t seem to be dementia-driven (at least according to Dr Google . . . )  So what gives?

fineI have been forced to conclude that it must be (gulp) one of those ‘age-related’ changes that tend to sneak up on you when you are not looking.  (A couple of years ago I would have automatically blamed menopause because—why not?  I blamed it for everything else.  But (please God) I seem to be past most of that now.) Maybe I am just growing more sensitive as I get older (Ha—I can hear some of friends howling with laughter at that) but it’s possible . . . I guess.  Maybe rather than hardening with age, I am actually softening . . . becoming porous . . . and leaky . . . 

Well, that’s embarrassing.

Does that mean that from now on, when something strikes me as happy . . . or sad . . . or beautiful . . . or frustrating . . . I am going to be sobbing all the time?

I hope not, because that sounds utterly exhausting . . .

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Time’s Fun When You’re Havin’ Flies’ – Kermit The Frog.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

frog-under-leafMy garden is home to a number of frogs.  I know this because, although I don’t actually see them very often, I hear them all the time . . .  (although, maybe not quite so much lately.  This summer has been so hot perhaps they have been, literally, keeping their heads down and staying where it’s dark and cool . . . )

But the temperature dropped slightly over the weekend and we even had a bit of rain . . .

(. . .  by the way, commiserations to all those of you who have recently had ‘more than a bit’ of rain. A nice cleansing shower is one thing, but no-one needs the biblical deluges some places received . . . )  

frogandmegaphoneAnyway . . . back to the frogs.   The front door was open to catch the fresh breeze and the girls and I were enjoying a quiet moment.  I was reading (and enjoying the sound of the rain pattering softly outside) and the girls were dozing in their favourite doggie spots.  Suddenly, and totally unexpectedly, our peace was shattered by an almighty bellow which brought us all immediately to our feet.  (Poor Molly, woke up with such a fright she actually rolled off the sofa!)  It took me several minutes to realise (and several more minutes to calm the dogs down) that the sound was actually coming from a frog . . . and that frog was right outside my front door . . .

tinyfrogAlthough initially a bit wary about confronting any creature that could make a sound like that, I ‘manned up’ and went outside to look.  I was astonished (gobsmacked!) to find that the loudest frog I had ever heard also turned out to be one of the teeniest, tiniest, itty-bittiest creatures I have ever seen—a tiny green speck of a thing, perched contentedly on my front porch and happily telling everyone who would listen (like the whole neighbourhood) how much he was enjoying the rain.

I admit it.  I did spend some time ferreting around in the bushes close by searching for his godzilla-proportioned older brother (who was obviously also a practising ventriloquist) because . . .  well . . . no way!   I just could not get my head around that sound coming out of that frog . . .

But it did.  It really did.  And it kind of made my day . . .

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Posted by on February 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Eavesdropping is a deplorable habit, but I have developed worse ones since.’ Patrick Rothfuss.

Evquiet-coffeeery once in a while I like to take myself off to a local coffee shop and find a nice quiet corner, order a pot of tea, and sit and read a magazine . . . or the local paper . . .  or possibly even just gaze into space and think (deeply, of course) about life, the universe . . . and whatever I need to pick up from the supermarket on the way home . . .

Lately, however, I have been finding it harder and harder to find that ‘quiet little corner’ . . .

women-talkingIt’s not because the cafes are any busier than they used to be.  People have always gone to coffee shops to socialise, to catch up with friends and family and to chat, and my ‘quiet little corner’ has often only been that in my head. My work desk is located in the reception area of a community college and if I had not developed the ability to ignore much of the movement and noise that rages around me on a daily basis, I would never get any work done, so ‘tuning out’ the chatter in a coffee shop has never been an issue.  Well, at least it never used to be a issue . . .

man talking loud on cell phone clipartRecently, however, I have become more aware that, while still relatively easy to ‘unhear’ a room full of chattering people, I seem totally incapable of blocking out anyone talking on their mobile phone. I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I just can’t do it. The more I desperately try not to listen—the more I seem to hear.  I know I am probably more intolerant than most (Luddite?  Moi?) but surely I can’t be the only one sitting in a public place feeling like that person over there talking (so loudly) into their phone is really really annoying . . .

(Are these people even aware, do you think, that they are not only talking to the person on the other end of their call, but to everyone else within earshot as well?  Because sometimes I really wonder.  I have certainly (and unwillingly) overheard more than a few things in the past that I definitely feel I could have gone happily to my grave not knowing.  The location of a certain young man’s latest piercing immediately springs to mind . . .  )   

So what’s the deal?  Why do people talking on their phones distract me so much?

brain-maze-350x336It seems that there is a perfectly reasonable (and scientific) answer.  Apparently, the speech processing part of the human brain is wired in such a way that it needs to make sense of all the ‘patterns’ it is seeing and hearing around us.  Normal two-sided conversations have rhythms and patterns that our brains understand and we can therefore tune them in and out as we need them.

brainHowever, with a phone call, we only hear half a conversation, and our brains (clever little things that they are) realise something is missing and immediately start trying to complete the patterns to fill in the other side of the conversation. This causes us to be distracted from whatever else we are doing (no wonder I never get to finish my magazines) and, before you know it, there you are . . .  eavesdropping . . . whether you want to or not.

Well, that’s all fine, well and good, and it’s nice to know that I am not just a closet nosey-parker but knowing why I eavesdrop doesn’t resolve the issue.  How do I make it stop?  Perhaps there is some sort of meditative technique I can master that will help me to tune out these distracting and annoying half-conversations . . .  or perhaps I should start wearing ear plugs (I might start a new fashion trend . . . )  . . . or, even better  . . . perhaps I’ll start getting take-away coffees instead and go and find a nice (mobile free) tree to sit under . . .

eavesdrop1Anyway . . . until I get my eavesdropping habit under control I am issuing fair warning!

If you are out and about  in public and you are using your mobile phone, take care in your ‘private’ conversations, because, in the words of that eminent psychiatrist Dr Frasier Crane, “whether you’re happy, or sad, or mad, or bad . . . . I’m listening . . . “

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody ever seems to do anything about it.’ Willard Scott.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . . .

Before coming to work this morning I tuned in briefly to America’s ‘CBS This Morning’ and watched the reports of the massive winter storms that have been sweeping certain parts of that country.  People were being warned to stay inside, take extreme care when going out of doors, try to stay warm . . . .

too hotWe here in Australia received almost identical warnings last weekend, with one major exception—we were told to stay inside, take extreme care when going out of doors, and to try to stay cool . . .

Last Sunday the temperature in Port Macquarie reached 47 degrees Celsius (116.6F) which is extraordinarily hot for almost anywhere, but especially so for us here on the New South Wales mid-north coast.  We rarely get extremes of weather around here—hot or cold (one of its many attractions as far as I am concerned . . . )

dogwithfanAs you can imagine my little household took the warnings very much to heart and our weekend was spent doing as little as humanly (or doggily) possible. Mabel and Maude’s only discernible movements were in staggering back and forth to the waterbowl in the kitchen or occasionally re-aligning themselves in front of one of the several fans which were running at full capacity around the living room . . .

Molly did even less than that.  Not known for over-extending herself at the best of times, Molly made it perfectly clear from very early on in the day that she was literally going to die if she had to get up and walk all the way into the kitchen every time she needed a drink of water.  Eventually, after much puffing, panting, groaning and beseeching looks cast in my direction ( I am such a sucker) a water dish was obligingly laid at her poor hot little feet . . .

Thus ‘molly-fied’ (ha—couldn’t resist that) she then spent the rest of a very trying day ‘resting’ under a cool wet towel . . . reapplied at appropriate intervals by her favourite chump of a hand-maiden, of course.

It’s a hard knock life . . .

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Posted by on February 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘I have made many mistakes in my life. Rescuing an animal is not one of them.’ Anon.

I have been forced to enact a couple of ‘wildlife rescues’ this week, albeit very small ones . . .

On Tuesday, during my usual opening-up-the-office-routine (doing the important stuff like turning on the coffee machine and the air-conditioners) I saw, from the corner of my eye, something scuttle quickly across the carpet near my desk.  My first thought was (as always) ‘Spider!’—those suckers can really move—but, of course, by the time I looked again it had vanished.

sneakyspiderThe sight of a spider in the office (or, in this case the mere possibility of one) would normally induce me to ‘down tools’ immediately and find someone to remove it (usually the boss—she’s weird—she actually likes spiders) but as I was on my own I had no choice but to go and find it myself (and, let’s face it, here was no earthly way I was going to be sitting at that desk without making sure I knew exactly what was moving around underneath it!)

Well it wasn’t a spider, but a lizard (Phew!)  A little water-dragon like the one pictured below.

waterdragonI think he was only a baby, and very cute, but he still glared at me quite crossly when I attempted to ‘shoo’ him out the front door.  He was having none of it.  It took me a full twenty minutes of chasing him up and down hallways, crawling under desks (banging my head twice) and several fits of giggles (from me, not him) before I eventually managed to drop a plastic container over him and halt him in his tracks.  I released him in the park across the street with a stern warning to ‘stay out of my office’.  He turned to give me one final angry glare before vanishing into the undergrowth . . . .

And then there was the little bird.  Sigh.  Poor little bird. . .

catbirdAbout two weeks ago I noticed a little injured bird in my front garden.  He had a broken wing but I couldn’t get anywhere near him, so decided it was probably best to let nature take its course.  A couple of days later I realised he had taken up residence in the bushes near my letterbox.  In spite of his broken wing he seemed quite perky so I decided to leave him be.  I honestly thought he would probably die of natural causes, but I left him some seed and a little tub of water and hoped for the best. A week later he was still there but then, overnight, he vanished.  I thought he must finally have succumbed to his injuries . . . or been eaten by the neighbour’s cat . . .

angrywomanUntil yesterday.  Hearing a huge ruckus outside my living room window I went out to find three huge magpies attacking the same little bird.  Two little rosellas were also screaming at the top of their lungs and darting in and out in front of the magpies, seemingly trying to distract them, but to no avail.  I, of course, ran out like a madwoman, waving my arms about and shouting, also to no avail.  I had to actually take off my shoe and whack one of the magpies with it before the others retreated. The little bird then staggered over to me and hid behind my foot (who said they had no brains?) The magpies weren’t giving up their prize with out a fight though and returned with a vengeance every time my back was turned.  It took a lot more flailing about with my shoe—and Mabel, Maude and Molly all howling insults from behind the screen door—before I managed to get the little bird safely away.

Long story short (sorry about that)—’little bird’ is now in a cage (actually it’s a metal dog crate because that’s all I had) up high on a table on my back verandah (not only do I have to protect him from murderous magpies, but I noticed Mabel and Maude were showing a rather ‘unhealthy’ interest in him too . . . )  So, bless, he now not only has the broken wing but also several nasty puncture wounds to contend with.  In spite of this, he lived through the night, and shouted angrily at me this morning when I went to check on him (there’s gratitude for you) so perhaps he is still not ready to die just yet . . .  Today I am going to hand him over to someone who will know how to properly look after him.  Now that he is ‘safe’ I don’t want to, in my ignorance, do him any more damage . . .

And, speaking of ignorance, I am thinking I should probably also brush up on my ‘rescue’ skills, or at least do a bit of reading on the best way to handle such situations should they happen again.  I am sure there are less stressful (for the animals and for me) ways of going about these things.watching tv

But, until then, I might try and confine any wildlife rescues to something a wee bit less fraught . . .  like watching them on the telly . . .

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Old houses were scaffolding once and workmen whistling.’ T.E. Hulme.

Stories from my Sketchbook  . . . maintenanceman

I have heard people say ‘Old houses have soul’ and I am sure they do.  They also have squeaky doors, leaky plumbing, no built-in wardrobes and lots and lots of spiders.  Having said that, I really do like old houses, although, if renting one, a landlord ready, willing, and able to do a spot of maintenance every now and again might also be in order . . .

I know nothing of the history of the ramshackle house in my sketch below. I don’t know what country it was in, who lived in it, or why it had been abandoned.  It was just a photo on the internet that I saw and liked and decided to copy (and I was desperate to try out a new pen).

But, you know, drawing is a funny thing.  It also sets you to thinking.  While studying the angles and the shapes and the colours (and struggling with the perspective) I also found myself idly pondering on how old the house was, who built it (perhaps whistling whilst doing so), who slept behind that dormer window  . . . and who planted that fabulous climbing ivy now growing with wild abandon both inside and out (and probably the only thing still holding the house up).

I’ll never know of course, but I like to think that somebody out there in the world knows—someone who still has memories of the house and the lives that were lived here—someone with some stories to tell . . .

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Posted by on February 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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