25 September 2009

Daily Life in Kabul by Mr Mwezi

Short story by Joselyn Morton

Sissie the Truckie's Mate by Joselyn Morton

Frank munched his way through a huge plate of steak and chips. He talked as he ate, stuffing lumps of meat into his fast-moving mouth. Motor mouth they called him. Through the mush of the food, the muffled words spilled out. Without missing a beat, he took a resounding slurp of tea from his steaming mug. Those lips must be asbestos-lined.
            Frank called to Nellie, the waitress to bring another round of tea for him and his two mates. Time was precious to these guys. Nellie knew that. She was on the ball. She could clear and serve three tables without the other two noticing. She was a professional She had already raised seven kids and was now bringing up four grandchildren. Some people are tigers for punishment. Some just like mothering.
            Frank liked Nellie. She was different to some of those other old chooks whose varicose veins and tepid armpits could turn a grown man’s stomach. Yeah on a hot, steaming day with the air rancid from the greasy chipfat, the sight of a trio of fried eggs sunny side up, swimming in colourless, snotty onions could undo a feller’s guts.
            Frank always left her a good tip. No one else noticed that she gave him preferential treatment, slyly let him jump the queue so that he gained a few precious minutes towards the long haul home.
            Occasionally he even left her a present. Nothing much - half a tray of peaches, something like that. He’d say, “take these home for the kids, if I eat one more bloody peach, I’ll bloody explode, if I don’t get the runs first.”
She’d give him a half-nod and have them behind the counter quicker than a flea on dog.. Once she had lifted the shutters and given him a flash of a smile. That was when he had heard that her youngest son was up for selection for the North Island team and Nellie was having trouble raising the cash to get him up there. That day, he jammed a wad of notes in her top pocket ,
“The boys and I had a whip round,” he lied, “can’t let a future All Black not be on the train with some clean clobber, eh!”
            Leaning back and letting the smoke from his fag escape through his open lips, Frank felt at peace with life. Especially considering last night. Last night, Susan, his old lady had invited his mates round to celebrate his fortieth birthday. They’d had a right hooley. God knows how their three kids had slept through it or how he’d managed to be on the road at five o’clock this morning. What a night it had been. Out had come the guitars and all the old songs got sung, Susan was something else. She must have stayed up another couple of hours after she’d helped him into bed. When he woke up in the morning, to the smell of bacon frying, there wasn’t a beer bottle to be seen.
            These days, cigarette butts swimming in beer had lost their attraction. Susan must have mopped the whole place out. She was a beauty. She was only sixteen when he’d met her. And now, twelve years and three kids later, she was still a looker. He remembered the first time he saw her. He had wandered into a roller-skating rink and this dream on wheels had flashed past. What a mover. You wouldn’t think she had skates on. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He had never seen anyone like her, except in the movies. Somehow he managed to get near and start talking. It wasn’t easy. He had never skated before and his legs kept parting company.
            “Was your Dad a Viking?,” he had yelled at her disappearing figure. Just managing to keep his balance, he steered himself in her direction. Miraculously, she changed course and came roaring back to him again. Catching him from behind, she put her arms around his waist and her face to his ear.
            “What did you say just then?”
He felt her warm breath on his freshly-shaved cheek. He had never wanted to make love to someone so much. Her hands were firm on the taut flesh around his middle. He wanted her hands to go inside him, to caress and pummel him.
            “What did you say before?” she asked quietly. Not boldly. And then she was standing in front of him, gazing up into his eyes and still holding him firmly.
            “I said , was your Dad a bloody Viking?”
She looked puzzled, so he pointed to her hair, “Your hair’s so white, I’ve never seen anyone with hair that colour before.”
She almost smiled, “I thought you were asking if my Dad was a bikie - some North Island gang, the Vikings!”
            Frank took her home that night and they were married a month later. No rush job. The whole trappings. She wasn’t up the duff or anything. All her folk were there including her eighty-six year old great grandfather. The one she got her white hair from.
            She was just a kid. The first couple of years, she came on the road with him. She liked reading. Sometimes she read to him. It made the miles fly past faster.
            She was always poking around musty old Op shops when they stopped for a feed and coming back to the truck with another armful of books. He objected when she started reading Plato’s Republic but got interested in spite of himself, when he realised it was about imperfect societies and how a popular leader can turn into a fascist and a tyrant and use taxation to reduce the people to poverty so that they are too busy earning a living to plot against him.
            “Bloody bastards,” said Frank “bloody bastards haven’t bloody changed.” Then Susan would lean over and kiss him as they sped along the motorway.
            Even after the baby was born, she still came with him, the baby bouncing along on her breasts, but when she got pregnant the second time, they knew they were going to have to spend more time apart. She knew he missed her, so every now and then, she got her mum to come and stay and look after the grandchildren and she took off on the road with Frank. She would lie against his shoulder and listen to the legendary Ella Fitzgerald or hum along to Joan Armatrading as they roared along the Desert road.
            Then her mum died. A car ran into her at an intersection just down the road from where she lived. Susan got older then. Quieter too. There’s no way you can make it up to a woman when her mother dies, especially if they’ve always really loved one another. Frank tried to get runs where he was never away from home for long. His beautiful, young wife felt a wild loneliness and he worried for her. Then she got pregnant for the third time. Called the baby Bessie after her mother and he knew everything was going to be all right.
            Bessie’s birth had been difficult. Soon after, Frank had a vasectomy and it damn near killed him. He was one of the unlucky few clobbered with colossal bruising and swelling. Driving was impossible. It was agony to sit down. He had a bit of money put aside for emergencies like this. In the end, he stopped fretting and just enjoyed the luxury of the unexpected break. It was during this time, that Susan told him that she was doing a university degree course by correspondence.
            That was a while back. Little Bessie was now five, Susan had passed her Bachelor of Arts Degree and had been accepted for Law School. At the end of the summer, they were all moving to Auckland to live. Frank was packing in the driving and having a go at being a house dad. This was his last summer on the road.
            Striding out to his truck, Frank wondered how it was going to work out. It certainly couldn’t be any worse than this caper. He’d been on the road for twenty years now. Driving along in the baking sun, hour after hour. Year after year. Christ just to stretch his arms and legs was a bloody luxury. Nah he wasn’t worried about being bored to death by the shopping, cleaning, cooking and keeping tabs on the kids. What he was worried about was Susan falling in love with some fancy-talking, law student.
            He heaved himself into his cabin and found a sleeping body stretched across the front seat. “Talk about fucking Goldilocks,” said Frank as he gave the body a might shove. He couldn’t tell if it was male or female all he could see was an androgynous head of spiky, black hair, long at the top and a closely shaved, number one around the ears. The broad feet were bare, the legs were big and stocky though not particularly muscular. They weren’t hairy either. Frank was still staring when he realised the head had turned full circle and two baleful brown eyes were fastened on him.
            “What the fuck are you staring at?” said the face.
            “None of that language in my truck,” answered Frank sternly.
            “Then get your fucking eyes off my legs,” the voice replied.
            “That’s it,” said Frank, “out.”
            “Jesus man, get real, I’ve got my bloody period and a guts ache you wouldn’t believe,” and with a ferocious look, she swung her legs to the passenger side of the cab, closed her eyes and was immediately asleep.
            “Fuck me,” thought Frank, “how the hell did she get in here?” Gazing at the sleeping form, he pondered his next move.
            “Fourteen if she’s a bloody day and that’s for bloody sure.” Leaning forward, he turned the stereo system on full blast. That did the trick, as she leant forward to turn it off, their hands met.
            “Don’t you bloody touch me,” she screamed.
            “Listen, sweetheart, you just get yourself out of my truck and no one’ll be touching anyone,” answered Frank grimly.
            “Auckland, right, that’s where you’re going, isn’t it? That’s what your mates told me anyway.”
Looking out his cab window, Frank saw Harry and Beefy pissing themselves with laughter.
            “Those bastards must have jacked this up while I was in the dunny.”
            “But you are going to Auckland, aren’t you?”
He nodded.
            “Right then, let’s get bloody moving and for your information, I’m seventeen.”
            “Seventeen. Bullshit.”
            She was dressed in baggy shorts and an antiquated football jersey. She slept for the next four hours. They were somewhere near Pukekohe when she woke up. “Where do you want out then, missie“ asked Frank.
            “It’s not ‘missie’, it’s Sissy and I’ve changed my mind. I think I’ll get out at Auckland on the way back.” She took a pack of fags from her pocket, lit two of them, passed one over to Frank and dragged hard on hers. She then stared fixedly at the windscreen wipers.
            “Poor cow,” thought Frank. It was now pissing down with rain. “Who’d want to be let out in that.”
            For the next hour and a half, he drove cautiously through the torrent of rain that threatened to wash them off the motorway. Their only communication was the occasional exchange of fags. Mentally, he gave her points for having her own. He wasn’t keen on bludgers, however young.
            He glanced at this watch, even with the rain, there was still time to make it to Warkworth in time for a good feed. There was already a couple of trucks parked when he pulled into the carpark alongside the cafe.
            “Right then, let’s go and feed our faces.”
            “No thanks, I’m not hungry,” replied his ungainly passenger.
            “Don’t be bloody mental, we won’t get another feed till morning.”
            “I told you I had a bloody guts ache, didn’t I?” Sissy put her arms around her belly and eyeballed him like a delinquent budha.
            Frank stepped up onto the running board until his face was level with hers. “Listen, missie or Sissy or whatever your bloody name is, don’t get any funny ideas about driving off in my truck because you won’t live very long if you do.”
            “Don’t be stupid, mate, I prefer being chauffeured around,” and she flashed him a smile that could have lit up most of the North Island.
            “Jesus. Kids,” thought Frank as he ordered his meal, “who’d bloody have them? Still she must be someone’s cos she looks too solid to be extraterrestrial.”
As usual, Frank ate well. He paid attention to things like keeping up his energy quota. He never took chances on the road, getting home to Susan was more important than macho manoeuvres on the motorway.
            Ordering his second mug of tea, he said to the waitress, “I’ve got a hitchhiker out there who probably hasn’t got a bean to her name, wrap me up a take-away, I’d better shout the poor cow a feed.”
            When Frank left the cafe, Sissy was leaning against the side of the truck. She looked smaller somehow or maybe she’d just perfected the art of puffing herself up at close range, like a fighting frog.
            “Here, get your laughing gear round that,” said Frank, handing over the hamburger.
            Sissy gave him a thankful look and for a second Frank wondered if perhaps there wasn’t a princess inside this particular frigging frog.
            Sissy spent most of the summer with Frank. Susan and he had decided that as this was his last season on the road, he might as well put himself down for all the long runs going. He rarely spent more than a night at home in any given week.
            Frank never knew how Sissy cottoned on to where he’d be. She’d just turn up. He’d come out from feeding his face and find her waiting by the truck. It was uncanny. Maybe she was a fucking extraterrestrial after all.
            Eventually Frank took to telling her where he’d be. This was after they’d had a close shave on a roundabout. Some silly bugger changed lanes and cut them off. Fighting to stay in control, Frank only just managed to stay on the road but he lost a big chunk of his load. Cursing and swearing, he heaved and humped the boxes back into place. It was hot, heavy work. Dangerous too. Sissy worked alongside him like a man. He was too fucking worried to tell her not to. Besides, any second and some other fucking idiot could have come swinging round the corner and wiped them off the verge.
            Once safely on the road again, Frank tried to thank Sissy but she just made a face and said, “What about those feeds you bought me, eh?”
            So they came to an arrangement, she was to be his assistant, rolling him smokes, passing him drinks, keeping the music going and making sure he didn’t fall asleep. And in an emergency, she would pull her weight.
            “Christ, she’s nearly as strong as me,” thought Frank, “I must be losing my touch or else they breed them different these days.”
            In return, Frank would pay for the food and the fags. The only stipulation he laid down was that she would eat inside and not hang around outside like some fucking teenage terrorist.
            The regulars got used to her. She was a good laugh when she got going. She seemed to time her yarns so that the punch line came just as Frank swallowed his last mouthful of hot tea. Once she put some money in the jukebox and to Frank’s surprise started singing. As they left, one of the truckies yelled, “Come on Frank, leave her behind, you selfish old bastard.” But Sissy was already heading out the door.
            “Jesus, Sissy, I didn’t know you could sing like that.”
            “How could you know,” said Sissy cuttingly, but he could tell by her face she was pleased.
            “You could do a bit of busking. Make yourself some money. They do that in Europe you know, sing in cafes in Paris and Rome. Earn enough money to put themselves through varsity.”
            Frank had gone too far, too fast.
            “I know Europe, you know. You don’t have to tell me Europe, I’m not bloody thick.”
            You couldn’t tell this one anything. She was so bloody prickly. Most of the time though, she was ok. She had given up watching and waiting for Frank to leap on her.
            Once though, she misinterpreted his intentions. He had suddenly leaned over (they had stopped by the roadside for a pee) and made a grab for her crutch. She hadn’t missed a beat, she’d just caught his fist, held it and jammed it inside her knickers.
            “Go on then,” she’d spat, “you’ve paid for it often enough.”
            Frank let out a howl of pain and a mouthful of abuse. Sissy had jammed his hand around the wasp he’d tried to swipe.
            “Jesus, Frank, I’m sorry,” she’d croaked later through her howls of laughter. Frank handed her a handkerchief to wipe the tears that were coursing down her cheeks and told her if she didn’t stop he’d find another assistant - one that didn’t have wasps in her knickers.
            They had a few good laughs that summer. Though some funny business did go down one night. They’d had three punctures and Frank was whacked. All he wanted was to get into a bath and pour himself a long, cold beer. Instead they had carried on and the next thing he knew he was in a pile-up. Some hoon had jack-knifed into the back of him. Right up the jaxie. The damage wasn’t bad but they couldn’t go any further that night.
            Frank organised a tow and a taxi to take them into town. He should have gone straight to bed instead he went on the piss with Sissy. Many, many golden beers later, he fell into the hotel bedroom. The last thing he remembered was putting both his arms around Sissy and feeling her young breath brush his tired lips. He said, “Sissy, lovely Sissy,” and then he felt the two perfect orbs that were her young, strong breasts.
            He didn’t remember anything after that but his dreams that night were warm and velvety. He rolled in a phosphorescent glow that lit up the hairs on his body and smothered him in deep contentment. He was stroked and flitted on by a flock of butterflies, pummelled, moistened, patted, moulded, oscillated and mated until his body dropped away altogether and he was a simple streak of light heading for the ceiling.
            In the morning he woke to find his head thudding away somewhere above his neck. In between was an army of those socked things from the inside of a piano, banging away on his central nervous system.
            More than anything, he wanted a drink and a cigarette. He tried to sit up but it was as though someone had dumped a circus elephant on his forehead. Movement was going to be a major impossibility.
            “Jesus Frank, you’ve done it this time,” he whispered.
            Right on cue, in came Sissy, solemnly carrying a tray of food, a bloody Mary (or a bloody shame as it turned out, because she had taken it upon herself to ask the barman to make it without any vodka.), a packet of fags and the morning paper . Her eyes didn’t quite meet his.
            “The garage rang, the truck’s ready. I’m just gonna have a game of pool,” and she was off.
            An hour later, Frank sat gingerly behind the wheel. He still felt apeshit. It was a long time since he had driven with such a hangover. “Jesus, Sissy, I wish you could drive this mother.”
            Sissy leant over and put one of her hands on his. She left it there for a few seconds and his dreams of the previous night came flooding back in a warm, hot rush. Frank looked sideways at Sissy and said, “I had the weirdest dreams last night. Where were you, by the way?”
            Sissy snatched her hand away. ”I don’t want to listen to some old fart’s dreams. Where do you think I was? In my bed of course, you paid the effing bill.”
            Frank drove on and neither he nor Sissy ever referred to that night again although Frank now felt that he was on the receiving end of a strong, magnetic current that any day could suck him in.
            One night, about a fortnight later, Susan rang him on his mobile. Little Bessie had fallen from a neighbour’s verandah onto the concrete below. Frank drove all through the night and arrived home at four a.m. He took Sissy in with him. It would have been dishonest not to. Susan was too worried about Bessie to pay any attention to the big, sleepy teenager who immediately lay down on the sofa in the lounge.
            When Frank awoke, it was late morning. The two boys had already left for school. Susan was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches to a breakfeast of scrambled eggs cooked in garlic and parsley, king-size prawns and smoked salmon on toast. Fresh coffee was in the pot and there was nothing but harmony in the air. There was no sign of Sissy. Had she already been ejected?
            He tiptoed over to Bessie’s bedroom and quietly opened the door. Sissy was snuggled up under the covers with his concussed daughter, softly reading the ballroom scene from Cinderella. Frank closed the door and retreated to the kitchen.
            He did justice to the excellent breakfast and when he could eat no more, he gathered up his fags and lighter ready to leave. Somewhat self-consciously he said, “where’s that assistant of mine? We’d better make tracks.”
            “Oh,” said Susan “she’s going to stay on and help me with Bessie and give me a hand to pack up. Organise a garage sale, dig out all that stuff from under the house. She couldn’t have come at a better time. Poor thing, she doesn’t seem to have much home life of her own.”
            Frank missed Sissy with a deep, sad ache. He remembered the night he’d come out of the slasher to find Sissy in conversation with a travelling salesman. Turned out he was one of those dodgy, drug company reps. He was asking Sissy if she was a varsity student. (She was wearing a pair of round spectacles that didn’t have any glass in them which she’d picked up somewhere en route.) To Frank’s great delight, Sissy had replied with all the seriousness and dignity of a small-town librarian, “Shit no, I’m a truckie’s mate.”
            “Well, where are you now, my little truckie’s mate?” thought Frank ruefully as he trundled through the dark nights that seemed to have trebled in length.
            He was home by the weekend. The boys were out at rugby practice. Susan was lying reading under the willow tree and Bessie was playing with her kitten. He kissed them, inquired after Bessie’s bump and then stretched out alongside them. Every bone in his body ached to ask where Sissy was.
            Eventually Susan cried, “You must be longing for a cuppa or would you rather have a cold beer?”
            Frank went inside with her and from the safety of the shower he yelled through to Susan, “What happened to that young mate of mine, did you kick her out?” He held his breath as he waited for the reply.
            Susan appeared at the shower door, “she’s a sweetheart, isn’t she?”
            A sweetheart! Frank snorted half a pint of shower water into his sinuses and emerged spluttering and spitting. Susan handed him a towel.
            “Funny girl,” Susan continued, “she suddenly remembered it was her Mum’s birthday and took off. Poor Bessie kept saying, ‘I want my Sissy’.”
            “I know how she feels’” thought Frank. “I want my Sissy too.”
            Eventually the summer came to an end. Frank kept a look-out for Sissy, but she’d vanished.     
            Frank and his family moved up to Auckland. They bought an old villa in Grey Lynn and Frank became too busy knocking down walls, buying gib board, sussing out the electrics and making the kids’ lunches to miss his previous gypsy existence as a truckie. Occasionally while straightening a duvet or buttering a bun, an image of Sissy laughing and strutting, hair high, proud as a rooster would flash in front of him. Then he mourned.
            One afternoon, he was waiting at the crossing at Jervois Road, the lights changed just as a crowd of girls in school uniform darted across the road. He jammed his foot on the brakes and his hand flat on the horn. Laughing and hooting, the girls scattered. One turned round and looked as though she might give him the finger. She stopped in amazement. It was Sissy. Frank opened the door of his car and threw himself out onto the pavement.
            “Sissy, Sissy, how are you? I didn’t know you were a bloody schoolgirl.”
            Sissy had already backed off, yelling as she ran, “Don’t you bloody ‘Sissy’ me, I’m not your bloody Sissy.”
            Feeling too old and tired to chase after her, Frank got back into the driving seat of his car (besides people were already staring at this big-boned man who was blocking the road). Heavily, he fumbled for first gear and drove off. He stopped looking for Sissy after that but sometimes gazing into the mirror while he shaved, he’d see her face and those brown eyes egging him on.
            Being a house-husband suited Frank. Susan appreciated his efforts and insisted he lunch with her at varsity at least twice a week. (The canteen was as cheap as shopping and cooking it yourself.) Quietly the year drifted to a close. Shortly before the end of the final term, Frank crossed the varsity quadrangle as a group of seventh formers were being shown round. His calmness surprised him. Frank knew Sissy would be there. With that empathy she had always had, he saw her look up. This time she didn’t run away.
            When he was within hearing distance, he heard her say, “Hullo Frank.”
            “Hullo, Sissy,” he replied “so you’re going to be a varsity student after all.”
            There was a smile somewhere near her eyes “I’m not coming here, mate. Too many rough buggers around.” She wiped the smile from her face and she could have been a convent schoolgirl contemplating the hymn list. “I’m going down to Otago to do medicine. I was the school dux, you know.”
            For a second, she let him gaze deep into her lovely brown eyes. Another second and the princess had been replaced by the truckie’s mate. , “See you, Frank. Just think, only six more years and I’ll have a licence to finger fellas any old which where.” She flashed him a leering smile and was off.
            Frank stood where he was and rolled himself a smoke. “Good on yah, Sissy,” he said. “Good on yah.”



A Queen from Over the Sea
I contacted Andrew Abrahams to see if I could buy one of his Colonsay queens to create a new colony at my apiary in the Borders, and was lucky to find that he did have some queens for sale. The new queen would be sent through the post in a small plastic cage, protected in bubble-wrap and accompanied by a dozen or so attendant bees, with a block of honey-candy as food for the journey
The new queen would arrive a couple of days later but I had to prepare a nucleus hive of queenless bees to receive the new queen.This is a tricky procedure, since it involves taking bees from a hive which already has a queen and separating these bees from their mother-queen, whose pheromones are the very basis of their survival. Each queen has its own distinct pheromone character and each hive of bees has its own 'family-smell'; the bees will fight and kill any strange bee which attempts to enter their hive, because it does not have the right smell. So, in order to get bees to accept a new queen, with a new smell, they first have to be made queenless, by separating them from their mother-hive for at least 24 hours.
Queenless bees realise they are queenless within an hour or so and they display all the classic signs: all normal activity stops and the bees run all over the front of the hive in a disordered frantic mob - 'roaring' loudly all the time. This noisy chaos is unlike any other sight you will ever see around a beehive and once seen it is never forgotten.
Having left this newly-made colony queenless overnight, I introduced the queen in her cage between the frames of the hive, at dusk the next day.
The effect was dramatic; within two minutes the noisy roaring died away, the frantic searching hither and thither stopped and all the bees on the front of the hive trooped inside in an orderly manner.  As soon as the queen was introduced into the hive, signal-bees appeared on the landing board where they stuck their tails in the air and exposed the white Nasonov Gland which is normally concealed beneath their tail segment. This exudes a 'homing-pheromone' which essentially signals that 'this is home, everything is alright, come on in'.
Within minutes there was hardly a bee in sight and the Island Queen was being feted as the new mother of a new bee-colony; all that could be heard from the hive was the deep, contented hum of happy bees, which is one of the wonderful sounds of the world.
So I now have a new queen from a pesticide-free island, heading up a new colony in my apiary. The only problem of course is that I live in the Scottish Borders, in a centre of intensive, industrial, pesticide-laced arable farming. So the question is 'how long will she last?' borderglider


Spiders 'speeders' and slugs

Earlier this year, a journalist phoned to ask if she could interview me for a national newspaper.
Well it wasn't so much an interview, it was really a Q&A.
The questions were emailed to me, and the easiest one to answer was "Who or What is your Greatest Fear?"
I promptly responded – ‘Spiders’.
Most phobias can apparently be traced back to childhood, and I can certainly trace my arachnophobia back to the 1950s when I was brought up in a wee house in the Scottish Borders. Like all our neighbours, we had no indoor toilet, but had an ‘ootside lavvie’ which we shared with 3 other families. There were 4 lavvies in a row in the back green, opposite the coal houses and beside the communal  wash-house.
Our key to the ootside lavvie hung on a hook  in our lobby - too high for me too reach, but that was no matter as I would certainly never have ventured to the ootside lavvie by myself. I always required an adult to take me there - for reasons to be revealed later.
The lavvies were actually kept very clean, and everyone had a role in maintaining standards; the men in the family distempered the walls every year, the women took it in turns to wash and disinfect the floors and the children cut up newspapers into neat squares for toilet paper, which were then threaded through string and hung on a nail on the inside of the lavvie door.
There was always an ample supply.
My family's toilet paper was sourced  from the Scottish Daily Express and The Peoples' Friend. We also had The News of the World as a regular Sunday paper, but weren't allowed to cut it up as it didn’t seem right to display big-breasted women and tales of sexual shenanigans, not in the toilet, anyway.
So the lavvie itself was fine for its purpose, but it was what lurked in the corners that to me was the stuff of nightmares - spiders (or ‘speeders’ as we called them). Their webs were covered in a thin film of dust from the distemper and the speeders would scuttle in and out of the corners the minute the lavvie door creaked open. They were probably quite tiny, but the shadows created by the light of the guttering candle had me believing that at the very least a tarantula was flexing its fangs preparing to strike.
Short hairy-legged or long spindly-legged, I was so frightened of the beasties that even the rhyme Incy Wincey Spider was enough to make my skin crawl. And as for the song in which Burl Ives sang about an old lady who swallowed a spider to catch the fly that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, it made me feel faint.
And so it was throughout my childhood and teens (by which time of course we had the luxury of an inside lavvy and a bathroom)
The arachnophobia continued into adulthood.
But this summer my attitude towards spiders has dramatically changed.
I now have a holiday house in rural France and the rooms are regularly festooned with spiders’ webs.
Perhaps it's because these are French spiders and  their webs are delicately strung high up between the ceiling beams and I don’t actually see the creatures scuttling about, or perhaps it's linked with the knowledge that they are feasting on all the flies that buzz around and therefore controlling the fly population. Whatever, I am aware that I am now living in harmony with ‘les araignees’ and might even welcome ’une veuve noire’ to make herself at home in my beams.
My phobia has completely disappeared, but sadly, it has been replaced by another.
This summer I planted courgette seeds in my little French vegetable patch.
As the broad leaves sprouted and the lovely yellow flowers blossomed, I looked forward to a harvest of lots of yummy courgettes.
Unfortunately,  this was not to be, as only  days after the flowers appeared, they withered away - great holes were gnawed in the leaves  and several slimy trails  led to a gang of  huge, gelatinous, orange-coloured, bloated slugs, the likes of which  I had never seen.
Eek! The stuff of nightmares! They would not have seemed out of place in a horror  movie. 
(Hold the front page! Can I please change the answer to ‘Who or what is your Greatest Fear?’ I now suffer from what I think is called  Molluscophobia. )
Mary Kalemkerian Head of Programmes Radio 7
…I was sure ‘speeders’ was going to be about something else (something much worse). The grotesque orange slugs are the low-life limaces. The editor


Spinster Sunflowers

Dry and withered
the spinster sunflowers
wait to be cut.
Courting still the sun
slight hopefulness
in their stoop
brittle beauty in
brown stalks.

Pressed and squeezed
their dusty dryness
disguises the golden oil
in which  swims the memory of the
wild exuberant heads
they once displayed.
by Joselyn Morton

Coogee Beach Jones by Al Muhit

PART 4 Resume: After a crazy taxi drive with two-thousand foot drops, Wal arrives at the Lady Willingdon Mission Hospital in Manali and finds his daughter Rebecca with both wrists bandaged and suffering from the after-effects of rape and rave party drugs ...

Wal thinks that it was at this point that The Good Samaritan, 'a lad frohm sarf Lundin-Peck'im', came along. The Good Samaritan told Wal that he had come across Rebecca near a phone box trying to make a call. An exhausted Eric explained his situation to The Good Samaritan and asked him if he could take over. While this was going on the Austrian woman and the Frenchman arrived and attempted to coax Rebecca into a trishaw.
The Good Samaritan was a simple catholic boy and although he had never met any of them before, he said he felt the couple were evil. When he discovered they had Rebecca's EC passport he took it off them and told them to 'piss off'.
Being British he rang the British High Commission, where he got put through to some pukka fellow who told that he couldn't help him, and ‘why was he put through to him anyway? ‘. Finally he managed to get Rebecca's mother's number out of her, and this resulted in the call to Wal.
Wal sat there with Rebecca in the hospital courtyard. The reality was sinking in. His adventure movie was stuck at the beginning of the second act and not a turning point in sight. He decided to let it run on any way it would for a while. The young English girl, Julie, who had spoken to Wal when he arrived, had only been in India for two days and was teaching at the hospital. Rebecca had attached herself to Julie, whom she felt she could trust, as she was from the same charity organisation, GAP, who had sponsored Rebecca when she taught in Bali.
Wal gathered that a group of backpackers had been watching Rebecca, in shifts, day and night. One by one they arrived, greeted her and just hung. A young blond boy came up to Rebecca and she angrily told him to go away, a request he immediately complied with. When Wal asked who he was, Rebecca turned to him and said ‘ He's the Devil. I've seen flames shooting out of him.’
The Good Samaritan turned up, Wal was relieved. The Good Samaritan said Dr. 'George 'who ran the hospital would be along soon, and he that wanted to talk with Wal. Then 'Keith' from Sydney turned up, he was one of the watchers. He had all Rebecca's papers, money and her NZ passport. After all that had happened, Rebecca had only lost the Amex card and her Swiss army knife, which somebody probably had taken from her for her own safety.
Dr. George arrived. He was a short, determined looking man of about forty, with a beard. Wal and Rebecca went with him to his office. Dr. George spoke to Rebecca in a loud no-nonsense voice. ‘Your daddy has come a long way to get you Rebecca. You must go with him.’
‘ I don't want to’ she said , ‘I want to stay here’.
‘You can't stay here Rebecca. You will be ok in a few days. You know I've told that it is the only the drugs, the acid, making you confused. Your daddy will take care of you.’
‘Yeah right,’ said Rebecca. She had gone from arrogance to sullen acceptance.
With the help of the Good Samaritan and Keith, Rebecca's back pack was loaded into a taxi and the three of them gently but forcibly, manoeuvred Rebecca into the van. Rebecca resisted strongly but not totally.
She was crying and saying ‘I will never see you again’ to the young English girl, Julie, who was in shock at what she had been through, in her first two days in India.
to be continued …

Cover Picture


When the riddle of the sunflower was raised recently, there was no answer to why it turned its head to the sun or why it did not, depending on the period in the cycle. I was hoping to find out this information from our blog-reader Paul, but failing that I had to look it up
Sunflowers in the bud stage exhibit heliotropism. At sunrise, the faces of most sunflowers are turned towards the east. Over the course of the day, they follow the sun from east to west, while at night they return to an eastward orientation. This motion is performed by motor cells in the pulvinus, a flexible segment of the stem just below the bud. As the bud stage ends, the stem stiffens and the blooming stage is reached.
Sunflowers in their blooming stage lose their heliotropic capacity. The stem becomes ‘frozen’, typically in an eastward orientation. The stem and leaves lose their green color.
The florets within the sunflower's cluster are arranged in a spiral pattern. Each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the golden angle, 137.5°, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive fibonacci numbers. Typically, there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower there could be 89 in one direction and 144 in the other. This pattern produces the most efficient packing of seeds within the flower head.
The Sunflower is a beautiful yellow color with a brown centre. It is called the sun flower because it reminded the indians of the sun.
Coming across this mature field of sunflowers today I shot a picture of the dried cadaverous plants holding their valuable crop of seeds which makes a very good cooking oil rivaling olive oil in its quality.
Text and photo: Roger Morton

20 September 2009

Daily Life in Kabul by Mr Mwezi

 Haven't heard from Mr Mwezi in the last few days, however these are some images that he had taken earlier in Kabul.Young girls, old guys, bicycles, animals, propped up shacks, brightly coloured posters - daily life in Kabul is an extraordinary event.
the editor

I have been counting down the days till I fly home, less than two weeks now ...yippee! Work has kept me busy lately but I did go for a drive on the 16th of Sep to the north of Kabul city and passed through areas that I hadn’t seen before. There was a different feeling in these residential areas. The people were more relaxed and happy, you could see it in their faces and the way the kids played in the street.
There wasn’t the feeling of concern and poverty that you feel in other parts of the city. That night I went out to a restaurant, it was nestled down an alleyway at the end of a one- way street lined with concrete blast walls. There were armed guards toting AK-47 machine guns at the outside gate, we passed through the gate and as we entered into the restaurant it was like going to another country.
As we waited to be seated classic music was played, the lovely smell of Italian food greeted us as did the sounds of laughter from large groups of ex-pats that frequent the restaurant. I had some smoked salmon and pasta as well as a little bit too much red wine. I had a great night and it was the first time that I had been out for dinner in 3 months, some people go out quite frequently and a lot of networking is done is these places.
I was brought back to reality the next day at lunch time, as I was eating lunch the unmistakable “crump” and the shockwaves of a large explosion shook the dining room. We went out to see if everyone was ok and where the explosion was situated,  as they always feel closer than they are. We looked out of a window on the second floor and could see the smoke rising from the distance.
It turned out that it was a suicide car bomb that killed 16 people (6 Italian soldiers) and wounded 55 others. As it was on the same road that we travel along to go to work I was unable to go that day due to it being closed. If it had been twenty minutes later we could have been caught in the blast, the main thought I have is the hundreds of school kids that pour out on that road when school finishes at 12:30 I’m glad that they were still in school at the time of the blast.
We were about 1 km from the blast and we still felt it strongly. There are at least three schools situated within 300m of the blast, I wonder how it affects the kids emotionally? I have found a blog site that belongs to an afghan photo journalist and he has some photo’s of the devastation  http://thruafghaneyes.blogspot.com/2009/09/huge-explosion-in-kabul.html
The next day everything was cleaned up except the crater in the road, that has now been filled with gravel and unless you were looking you would never know what had occurred there!
I have just seen the state funerals of the soldiers killed on BBC and how Italy is mourning the deaths.
It is a bit surreal that you can have a great meal in a nice restaurant one day and be subjected to car bombs the next. The difference in how both countries deal with the dead is also pronounced, the funerals of the 10 Afghan civilians killed would have taken place that evening  and the country barely blinked.
Anyway I have to go and get stuff done as I will be home soon, how strange that will seem!
Mr Mwezi
As an update 26 people died not 16 that’s including the 6 Italian soldiers. http://cnnwire.blogs.cnn.com/2009/09/20/death-toll-rises-to-26-in-afghan-bombing/
Two of the photos which I posted before Mr Mwezi's article arrived today (young girls dressed in black with white scarves) attend school in the road where the suicide bombing occurred).
Mr Mwezi  has now sent photos of other children in this same street . 

the editor
Tues 21 Sept
I emailed Mr Mwezi if he thought the Italian soldiers had been specially targeted. This is his reply
the editor

There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason to the attack, one could speculate that the Italians were targeted specifically. The airport road is about 2 km long and leads straight from the airport towards the city centre and the embassies. If I was the Taliban and I wanted to put pressure on European countries to quit Afghanistan I could place a person at the Airport exit and when a target left the Airport I could ring the suicide bomber and get him to intercept the target along the 2 km of straight road.
Also an American convoy drove down the road before the Italians and wasn’t targeted. I do have eye witness statements of the attack and it would seem that the bomber got closer than he should have. Some people could see what was about to happen and avoided major injury. The Taliban are fairly clever and they know that the next year is critical in either side gaining the upper hand in the conflict.
I.S.A.F need more troops to drive home territorial victories. Winter is coming, fighting will slow down and the Taliban will try to get ready for a big spring offensive next year. 

I shot this from the passenger seat of our car. I spotted the words on the steep hillside, borrowed Roger's camera and managed to get an image as we drove past at high speed on the autoroute. Would love to know who made the precarious climb to paint on that brave piece of graffiti. Evidently the young women in Sicily have been standing up to the Mafia. That's impressive. But then Italy's a democracy. Isn't it?
Joselyn Morton

Stephen O'R's Oz

Coogee to Saddleback Mountain behind Kiama is a two hour drive.  It seems to always take two hours no matter what time you set off but the time you leave can make a big difference to the enjoyment of the trip.  The worst time to leave is 4 to 6 on a Friday when you have to battle the tradies in their utes or all those southern suburbs people in their zippy little cars each one desperate to get home and showered and out into the weekend.  I always reckon leaving at ten pm is the go but I’m married and therefore have little say in the matter.
I hate going back so if the doors are unlocked then good luck to the burglars. My neighbours either side have loud alarms but me I’m for peace and quiet. The Coogee shark alarm is WWII vintage and it sounds like the Luftwafe is on its way when it goes off.  They caught a shark at Coogee beach once, whacked it in the aquarium and next day it coughed up an arm. The Coogee aquarium was built in the 1920s and lives on today as the Beach Palace Hotel - a seven day a week binge drinking temple for Coogee’s itinerant population including backpackers and American students on their first unsupervised legal drinking trip.Easy meat for the ‘bra boys.
Leaving the beach behind and heading up the steep hill of south Beach St there is always a sense of a trip beginning. Coogee to Maroubra is the first leg and it’s not a pretty one.  In the 1970s and 1980s you could pay the council town planner $10,000 in an envelope and get permission to flatten your Californian Bungalow and knock up a red brick block of flats, no worries. This legacy also takes in the big housing complex on Maroubra Road. A breeding place for burglars they say.
Passing through Maroubra Junction with its huge shopping buildings, Chinese restaurants and kebab shops takes only minutes and then up through the east edge of the 1940s government-built suburb of Jubilee Park,  past the first golf course before hitting the wide road system that leads to the airport past the second golf course. The second Golf course is either side of a busy four-lane wide road. Golfers must wait and then take their chances to get from one tee to the next. A bridge is being built to deal with this problem.
Onto Botany road, then skirting around the east of the airport, under the runway beneath a taxiing Boeing 737 in Virgin colours and over the ruined Cook’s river. The edge of Botany Bay is a magnet for ethnics of all sorts but particularly Greeks. Brighton le Sands is the actual name for this part of the world with glassy coffee bars looking out at the bay with its bronze memorial of Cooks landing. The memorial sits on the edge of the bay between the Greek athletic museum and a big seafood restaurant. Do not pass through this way returning north on a Sunday unless you have time to kill as the ethnic boys endlessly drive their shiny cars. Not quite  Candy Colored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby  cars of Tom Woof’s book of the same name, but precious to them anyway.
We know now that whatever the water looks like at Botany Bay it will look the same from Saddleback Mountain. It always looks good but it can look stunning – big flat shiny waterscape reflecting and extending the sky.
This long strip of beachside parking plays host to many Muslim families, recognisable by their dress.  The houses on the side of the road opposite the beach are one by one sprouting a second floor and my favourite, is one with Islamic looking windows. My friend Robert ran his dope distribution business out of a house on this road when he was at university. His father was loathe to sell and spent the day before he moved out touching up the paint and weeding the garden. Next day the dozers arrived and now there are six town houses.
Around the corner away from the bay and now across more water east of Tom Ugly’s bridge up through Miranda, my son’s mall of choice, and then we are nearly out of town. Driving past the entrance to the royal national park, and Bundeena, through the last suburb, we are reaching the outer edge.  Engadine, with its commuter railway station is the last chance for KFC, and McDonalds, but no stopping for us because my son has moved on to other things.
One hour out from Coogee now, Waterfall gone and it’s the freeway 110k at last and cars leap at the chance. Twenty minutes south till we pass the Panorama restaurant over looking Wollongong just before Bulli. The water catchment area bush, bush, river, bush, sky and bush. Late afternoon and it’s sun in your eyes from the northwest. My favourite paddock goes by on the left, my Fred Williams paddock.
With Bulli gone we enter the roller coaster section at 100k.  Finally it’s down to 80k for descending the escarpment. People speed until the cameras at the bottom but they are either crazy, or young, or both, because it’s too steep.
On the flat around the back of the Gong past the Taiwanese Buddhist Temple with its money producing Pagoda and its fake fibreglass wooden beams and tourist shop. Past the trotting and dog track at Dapto, and the ex country and western roadhouse, now a ‘clothing outlet’, and then we are at Albion Park with its caravan, and car sales yards. Go right at the roundabout. Go right past the end of the airport runway and up the back way through the ‘home and land’ package suburbs out of the land developer heaven of Shoalhaven and up and round some really windy hill corners past Jamberoo Park where I no longer have to go at Easter and Xmas.
We are in green dairy country, getting close. Past the Dutchman’s house that has not sold in seven years, a final sharp downhill bend and there we are in beautiful Jamberoo valley, its village friendly and cute like a butter ad. Drive past the mock Tudor pub where the bikies are lined up for beer with the Kiama rugby club, past the RSL and the third golf club. Just through the village, now we are at the turn-off to the Saddleback mountain lookout.  
Fountaindale road goes down a little verdant valley past the house built with hay bale walls before hanging a left over a creek and down a very steep hill past more dairy farms and wombat signs, At the top, we turn left towards the coast and the road drops gently exposing a huge ocean view and tyre marks burned into the road by country youth attempting to find life and then we are at our road.
Wilson Road looks like a driveway, which it is to us.  Snaking round the hill we come out on the edge of the mountain like in a helicopter. Always takes your breath away - views forever.  Ships like long far-off narrow matchstick boxes on a vast ocean, the escarpment disappearing back to the north behind the smoke from the stack at the Port Kembla steel works. Iron ore carriers from WA waiting offshore. The huge ocean, a large glass mass reaching out to the edge of the earth; what the Spanish would call Finisterre. A turn to the right at the fork and across the cattle grid, which needs cleaning out, and finally, after two hours driving, down our actual driveway, a green tunnel ending at our house.
160 years old it perches on the side of the hill, a magnificent fully-grown Morton Bay fig on either side of it and a huge Norfolk pine in front - two acres of isolated bliss and quiet. A prize that came from a lucky win on the silver screen.


Danced with Angels

A twist of fate
is a crack
in the road
that can seal
your soul
in an underground cave

If you had walked
the other way
stayed in bed
that day
not battled demons
in uniforms
but danced with angels
on the back of a prayer
skirts in the air
heads firmly in the clouds
by Joselyn Morton

Bees and wildflowers

Andrew Abrahams’ bees forage on the wildflowers of the 'Machair' - the famed coastal flower-pastures which thrive because of the calcareous shell-sands created from billions of sea-shells ground by the Atlantic waves. The Machair habitat is found on many West-facing shores of most of the Hebridean islands and the billions of wildflowers attract billions of insects every summer, which in turn attract thousands of migrant wading birds to breed there.
Since there is no intensive, pesticide-based farming on islands like Colonsay, the bees are uncontaminated - and the varroa mite has not reached the islands either. Below is a quote from his blog (http://www.colonsay.org.uk/honey2.html)
Industrial farming has laid waste the natural bee forage of most of Britain. Hedges uprooted, every weed sprayed, grasslands fertilised by nitrogen instead of clover. Only now at the margin, in places such as Colonsay, can a wide diversity of wildflowers still be found. Colonsay and Oronsay have varied habitats from the machair near the shore, to non intensive farmland, hedges, woodland and open heather moorland. Over 50% of all British wildflower species grow in this small area. A very mixed and varied feast for the bees! The important nectar flows that make the bulk of the honey are sycamore and bluebell in the spring, hawthorne, bramble and clover in the summer months and then the bell and ling heathers of the autumn. But it is the fragrant nectars of the numerous wildflowers that gives Isle of Colonsay wildflower honey it's unique and special flavour. The strong aromatic oils of the wild thyme, growing on the sandy machair, are just one example.borderglider
There's a great story in today's Independent on how French rural bees continue to have problems but the two hives on the Grand Palais at Champs-Elysees are thriving. I guess there's not much pesticide around there...
take a look at
the editor