Lessons from a Baby

January 25, 2018

William Wordsworth marvelled that he might learn from his toddler son. ’Could I but teach the hundredth part, Of what from thee I learn’ he wondered in “Anecdote for Fathers”. (It’s not his best work. In fact it’s rather droll, but then I find a lot of his stuff just so).  We can learn all sorts of things from kids. But it’s babies that have been teaching me a thing or two lately. Babies are the litmus test of whether you belong. Or, as perhaps I should more accurately posit it, babies tell you where you belong. The lesson is partly a reflection of our times (men dare not risk approaching someone elses child) and an instruction to a middle aged father and grandfather as to where he really stands. The lesson has a context and therein lies the rub. The context in this case is a community quick to profess it’s a family and that we are all family together. All siblings in one big happy communal rumpus room. It’s a sentiment which is not disagreeable, even when it’s expressed in hollow, strained terms. In fact it’s a sentiment I welcome having moved from another part of town, and it’s a message I don’t press against, hoping perhaps there might be some truth in it. Indeed, wanting there to be some truth in it. Read more

The Devil’s Voice with an Angel’s Heart

July 6, 2014

mosque290 The dusk is electric this Holy day evening of Ramadan. To the south the horizon dances with light as a dry storm flashes its skirts with light but makes no noise. Two hours after the fast is broken and the air is full of voices. The voices of mullahs chanting the broadcasts. A legion of them filling the air above the city extolling the faithful and the unfaithful alike, to come to the path of enlightenment. God is, after all the only one god and Mohammed is his prophet. Over and over. Carried gently from the far horizon, soft and malleable, the sound of silver. Carried from and echoing off the nearby hills, clearer and more distinct, tinging in the air like crystal. Crackling from the speakers half a block away, hard as steel and as inviting as a witches bosom. Read more

My Neighbours

June 27, 2014

nbour290My neighbours? My neighbours are no different to your neighbours. Sure they live in a rabbit warren of mud roofed, grass sprouting houses all interconnected by covered walkways. Probably a bit different to the McMansion or Californian Bungalow or nondescript Australian Housing Estate Modern style over your back fence. But their kids play and shout and wrestle like your neighbours kids. They chase each other and play tag like yours do. They climb trees and raid fruit like the neighbours kids do. Though in this case they are nicking their own fruit – the walls around their compound are far too high and precarious for them to get up and over into the neighbours place. Knees are skinned, heads are bumped, cats are tormented, bicycles crashed and girls are teased by the boys. My Kabul neighbours are no different to neighbours anywhere. Well, mostly. Read more

Nightclub Butterfaces

October 21, 2013

gracejnes290I’m not what you call a clubbing type. No, not seals on ice but nightclubs. I have no particular aversion to them, but neither have I ever had any particular attraction to them. I do regret not being in one in Elizabeth in 1980. Or was it Gawler? Fozzie leapt for the wagon wheel chandelier and brought the whole thing out of the ceiling onto the dance floor. Fortunately his leaping lunge at it meant he swung underneath the wheel and it landed behind him though legend has it Fozzie was still gripping the thing when the bouncers went to sort out the commotion.  Fortunate, for surely the weight of the thing would have taken his life had it landed on him. And to this day those who were there wonder that there were no dancers killed. Doubly fortunate. The club was put off limits to all of us but I don’t think we were supposed to be off base at that stage anyway.  But a good time was had by all who were there, though everyone agreed the clubs in that town were dangerous places. Best we not have access to them or one might end up hitched to a camp follower. In the minds of my boot camp colleagues that would have been far worse than death or injury from a falling wagon wheel.   Read more

What Good is Your Network?

September 17, 2013

pandas290More directly, what is your network? A bunch of people you have fleeting or other connections with, hooked up by coffees, or more ephemerally, via an image and a bio stored in someone else’s server? And if so what merit does it have?  Is it there so you can admire the fruits of your labour? Is it posted as an assurance to self  that you haven’t burned too many bridges? Maybe even the virtual version is a trophy wall on which you can brag your own accomplishments. A de facto CV of sorts. It’s all of these things and then some, isn’t it?  But what good is that network? Does it have any substantive merit? And if it does, how do you measure its worth? Read more

Fred of Verdun

January 4, 2013

Verdun290It only takes ten minutes or so and we are in open country. I am mildly surprised. Though how open is hard to say since it is still dark . But we are running fast through cuttings and against the first hint of light I see the outlines of winter trees. As we roll towards 0900 the day is bright enough at last for me to see the rolling farmland though at this speed I am only catching the briefest of glimpses. The cloud is hanging low and it’s a grey day. But it’s not raining which is a good start and I am encouraged by a weather forecast that suggested the next three days will be clear and sunny. We’ll see – this is the middle of winter in Europe after all.

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Jim’s Invitation

July 14, 2011

book-cover290.jpg(A piece written earlier this year).



 had not written to Jim, that I could recall, for him to ever send me anything in return. More to the point he passed away in 1980 so I thought the spidery scrawl on the expensive, semi translucent wedding paper envelope was some sort of prank. I had gone to bed, not at my usual late hour but at a respectable time.  As I drifted off I realized I had not collected the mail for the day so I swung myself out of bed and walked outside. It was the only piece of correspondence in the box. 

Click here for the complete short story. Jim’s-Invitation.pdf


A Retro Trip

September 5, 2010

sketch290.jpgThe travel of the mind is easily the most seductive. And the most dangerous. I am writing a biography of a man I once knew. Still do actually, though he ‘crossed the Jordan’ in 1996. If I was to be honest with myself I have not been prepared for the emotional dislocation that has happened as I have pored over more than 1000 pieces of his personal correspondence with more than 1000 still to be read. Read more

Vale Betty

August 15, 2009

betty_nelson290.jpgSorry, a more creative title is not being released by the muse tonight. But that is okay since I might otherwise risk a corny heading to a sober note. Not too sober though, since Betty had a roguish sense of humour and would accuse me of a put on sobriety if I got too serious. We farewelled her in a packed church service yesterday. It was nice to have people who knew her for 30, or 40 or even sixty years talk about the “old times.”  But it was a shame no one mentioned the “new times”  – Betty, in her eighties though you would not guess it if observing her zest and energy, had a genuine interest in and love for our young folk. Each year we cart 30 or 40 of them off for a weekend camp and Betty and her husband loved to mix it up with them. There was no intergenerational condescension. Just a love of sharing life with all of us, even teenagers she did not really know. We saw pictures of lots of amazing things she did over the years, especially her work on behalf of the world’s poor. But this photo captures for me the heart of Betty – away on a weekend and dressed up for kitchen duty with Peter, one of our very fine teens.  Everyone who had anything to do with Betty,even in the new times, are all the richer for the experience.

Australian Immigration Madness

October 31, 2008

mohammed290.jpgI travel in and out of here with nary a thought for border control, just glad that I can do so easily. But we (Australia) have an extremely fine mesh immigration net that catches all sorts. I know from experience that it hooks the sharks, and does so in such a way that we are the envy of other border management agencies around the world. But sadly it catches the good guys as well. Sometimes with fatal consequences. Mohammed Hussein here is one example. Read more

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