Wednesday When, Why, What???

…and Which, Wonder, Winter, Widowhood, Worries, Will???

In French the Questions will be  Quand, Quoi, pourQuoi…

Most of the world is asking when the pandemic will end and a further multitude of questions about variants and mutations, with no straightforward answers. Ironically, while England is still deciding whether to quarantine people in hotels, Perth, Western Australia detected its first case of coronavirus in almost 10 months; a quarantine hotel security guard. Nearly two million residents were placed into a five day lockdown on Sunday.

One thing most of us in lockdown don’t have to worry about is summer bushfires. Thousands were told yesterday and today to ignore the Covid stay-home order and evacuate their homes, as a bushfire in the hills on Perth’s outskirts gained pace. But the most chilling warning is  It’s now too late to leave, you must stay in your home. The blaze, which is the largest the Western Australian city has seen in years, has already burnt through more than 9,000 hectares, destroying at least 71 homes.

Perth spotted one little weak spot in its robust Covid protection status, while many of us see great gaping holes in our countries’ defences. Hindsight is a great thing, but I think medical experts and even ordinary folk had enough foresight to see more should have been done earlier. There are people who have isolated completely for nearly a year, but most of us, every time government advice eased off, have had visitors or been on a little outing; some people have been jetting all round the world.

 If you listen to the news too often you will drown in numbers and go round in circles. But one positive thing is the vaccination programme in the United Kingdom, which is rattling along at a great pace. With little new to talk about in lockdown, the gossip is who has been immunised lately.

What is everyday life like now after months of Tier systems, November Lockdown 2 and a month in Lockdown 3? Grandparents have been unable to see new grandchildren; weddings, moving home and plans to have babies have been put on hold all round the country.  I have been widowed for five months now and half of me is still happy for normal life to be suspended, but the other half is missing family and friends and being able to visit and get out and about. Then there are the not so regular events that can’t take place; luckily Cyberspouse said he didn’t care what we did with his ashes, so he wouldn’t mind that they are still in the cupboard with all his camera equipment…  

Going for walks is now the national occupation. I don’t drive, so I am used to walking to get places. Then there is the traditional going for a walk with your partner, family, friends or by yourself to recover from a stressful week at work. Whether locally or on a day out, The Walk used to involve stopping for coffee at a beach front café, lunch in ‘The Stables’ at a National Trust property or popping into interesting shops in that nice town by the river…

In lockdown you may get a takeaway coffee when you meet up with the one person from another household for exercise if you are living on your own. I am too dyspraxic to walk, talk, avoid tripping over dogs and drink out of a hot cardboard cup at the same time. But it is good to be out seeing  people. The cliff tops and promenades are full of folk and plenty of those are also taking brisk walks by themselves, though I am the only one in a bright pink coat. Most of us are managing to adhere to social distancing and I think it is safe out in the fresh air or gale force winds.

A walk around residential streets as it’s getting dark is also quite fun; lights are on but curtains and blinds are still open. I have always enjoyed looking in people’s windows, all the different decors and cosy interiors and life going on. Some people still have Christmas lights in the front garden or Christmas trees indoors, it all helps brighten up this strange winter.

When we are not out, many of us are on line. Those of you working from home or trying to teach home schooled pupils are probably heartily sick of Zoom, but it’s still a novelty for me. We could all be in space ships or in a space colony. Is this the future?  At the weekly Saturday evening quiz I see people I would never meet in real life. I have started going to our camera club Zoom meetings and members can put their pictures on the screen  – not me obviously, my technical skills only stretch as far as typing in the meeting code – but it is nice to chat and see both familiar and new faces. Lounging on the sofa with my ipad instead of sitting on a plastic chair in the church hall, what’s not to like? Will people want to go out on dark winter evenings when they could just stay home? Those who are not on the internet or are nervous of technology could miss out, but the disabled, those who can’t leave children and those without easy transport would all be on an equal footing in Zoomland. Will this be what we wish for?

Pipe Dreams

Today I welcome another guest blog by my sister in Australia. When our family first emigrated to Perth in 1964, going up in the hills to see Mundaring Weir overflowing was a regular outing…

Pipe Dreams by Kate Doswell

As a child, I was both fascinated and saddened by the story of Charles Yelverton O’Connor – always referred to as C. Y. O’Connor. As Western Australia’s Chief engineer at the turn of the last century, he was responsible, amongst other things, for the design and construction of Fremantle Harbour, WA’s main shipping port and – more famously – for the Kalgoorlie pipeline.

Kalgoorlie was the scene of WA’s massive gold rush and by the early 1900s was a busy town; the engine for much of the wealth and development of the fledgling state. The drawback was that it was in an arid area 560 isolating and harsh kilometres from the capital city of Perth. Supplies of water were a major stumbling block to further development and an answer needed to be found.

C. Y. O’Connor had the audacious idea to build a pipeline to take water from Perth to Kalgoorlie, a feat never attempted before over such a large distance. It would involve construction of a large dam at Mundaring, in the hills above the swan coastal plain. The project would require pumping stations at Mundaring and along the route, and steel pipes big enough to carry sufficient water.

It is ultimately a story of triumph – a brilliant idea, carefully planned and skilfully executed, a triumph made even more incredible considering its achievement by a small, isolated European settlement transplanted into an ancient country only 70 years before. But it is also a sad story. C. Y. O’Connor never lived to see its success; he committed suicide. The story I heard as a child was that the tap was turned on at Mundaring, but due to a miscalculation the water took longer than expected to reach Kalgoorlie. C.Y. O’Connor thought he had failed. He rode his favourite horse out into the surf at a Perth beach and drowned himself. The timing wasn’t quite that poignant, but the fact remains that he was driven to a state of despair by the critical and unrelenting attack mounted against him by the foremost (and possibly only) newspaper of the day, The West Australian (still the only state based newspaper in WA). His other major critic and tormentor was the Premier of the state, John Forrest, though he was happy to share in the credit once it was a success.

I recently visited the weir for the first time in many years, and it was an occasion for reflection on its place in our history. Completed in 1903, it was the longest freshwater pipeline in the world at the time, the first to use steel pipes and fed by the highest dam in the Southern hemisphere. In 2009 it was recognised as an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers, only the 3rd in Australia and 47th in the world to be awarded, alongside the Panama Canal and the Golden Gate Bridge.

On a more personal level, I remember as a child we visited the weir often, as a family and as part of a youth group with a campsite nearby. I always found it interesting and it has a beautiful setting, surrounded by hills and jarrah forest. As a teenager, my family moved to a wheatbelt town, and the water we drank came from the pipe. The pipe ran under our front garden, though I hasten to add we didn’t have a tap connected directly, since the size of the pipe means it stands as tall as a person when it runs above the ground.

 Not only had the pipe delivered water to the miners, it had also allowed the opening up of agricultural towns along the route. It is a constant feature running beside the roads, dipping underground to go through towns, then re-emerging on the other side. It is a guide; I can remember doing a walk-a-thon to raise money, and the route was simple. Just follow the pipeline, you can’t get lost! You can even walk on it if you feel adventurous and have good balance.

My recent visit also gave me pause for thought about our current environmental crises. Perth has traditionally relied to a large part on water from our various dams, but with climate change our rainfall has fallen considerably in the past 20 years. The last time the weir overflowed was in 1996, and visiting some years later it was sad and worrying to see the sloping gravel sides of the dam exposed by the falling water levels, a raw wound running around the circumference of the dam. It was a relief to see a much higher level last week, the water lapping the edge of the forest, but I was disillusioned to discover the pipe that pumped water into the dam from our desalination plant. I reasoned that it was necessary, as the weir still supplies Kalgoorlie and the towns on the way, but to me it was a tangible reminder that we in Australia were failing to take seriously the dangers of climate change. On the driest continent on earth, predicted to suffer most from a warming and drying climate, our politicians and right winged newspapers are happy to sabotage any efforts to address this urgent issue, preferring instead to criticise and lampoon scientists and concerned citizens, and to wilfully ignore the changes we see around us.

As I walked away from the weir lookout it occurred to me; things had not changed much since C.Y. O’Connor’s day.

My novel was inspired by our experiences when our parents emigrated with three children in 1964.

Retro Blog Australia 1964

Read last week’s blog about our arrival  in Australia here.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2019/10/23/retro-blog-1964/

After a week in Perth, Western Australia, Mum and Dad had found a house to rent, but the blinds were down when they viewed it. When we moved in and the blinds were open it was very gloomy and not too clean – certainly not to my mother’s standards – but we did not realise that the aim of Australian houses was to keep the sun out and the house cool in summer. The other thing less visible, but soon revealed was the presence of fleas. They only liked Mum and my sister, so perhaps it was just as well that she was too young to go to school, as the teachers might have got the wrong impression when faced with a flea bitten pommie child.

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The wonderful thing about our new street was it had a library. With no television and only what we had brought in our suitcases, books were vital. We had no other possessions because our packing cases were still at Southampton Docks. Dad had made all our packing cases with rough planks from the timber yard; they were sent on ahead for their six week voyage, but there was a strike at the docks so they didn’t move. Mum and Dad had to eat into their capital to buy five of everything, bedding, plates etc. This was when we discovered peanut paste. Hard though it is to imagine a world without peanut butter, we had never tasted it in England and thought it was something exotic Americans had. In Perth it was called paste and came in jars that were actually drinking glasses; we had to eat our way quickly through five jars, lucky we loved our new treat.

The neighbours didn’t talk to Mum, except for a Dutch lady who introduced her dog.

He’s a Kelpie ( Australian sheep dog ) but mit the ears floppin down instead of mit the ears stickin up. Ever after, that was our term of reference for describing dogs.

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The summer term was well under way in Australian schools. Children started at six years old, so though my five year old sister had already started school in England she could not go. She was so bored Mum kept sending  her to the corner shop to buy one item at a time.

My seven year old brother could fit in with the right age group. I had already started at grammar school in England that September, now I had to go back to primary school. As Australian children started high school at twelve I could have ended up having to start another year of primary in January. Luckily I was put in Grade Seven and the teacher, Mr. Wooldridge, was excellent. He said it would be a disaster for me to be kept behind so determined that I would pass all the end of year tests. The maths setting out seemed to be back to front and upside down to what I was used to and of course I had no idea about Australian geography or history, but I got through. There are teachers who teach the work and teachers who talk to you about life and you always remember them. He told the dark World War Two story that I borrowed for Jennifer’s teacher in my novel, Quarter Acre Block.

The school was very different from my little Church of England junior school. No uniform, no school dinners; we just sat outside with our sandwiches, peanut past of course. The only other difference was the girls were a year older, more grown up and just liked sitting talking at break time instead of belting round the playground, but they were friendly.

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We were still going down by the river, but I hadn’t learned to swim yet. The school summer outing was to Yanchep Park – everybody went on outings to Yanchep Park, about 30 miles from Perth; a very large nature reserve with a lake and caves. There was also a swimming pool and I had not told my class mates I couldn’t swim. Everyone was jumping in and I figured I could drop in and catch hold of the bar on my way down and cling on. I just went straight under, but luckily came up again, only to hear some snooty girl saying people who couldn’t swim shouldn’t be in the pool. I suppose it would have been even more embarrassing not to have surfaced.

School broke up before Christmas and we had six weeks holiday ahead. Dad’s search for a job and a house to buy was still on and the packing cases had not yet arrived.

Read the story of the Palmer family for 99 pence or $1.27

 

Retro Blog 1964

What if I had been blogging when I was eleven…

My novel Quarter Acre Block is based on our family’s experiences as Ten Pound Pommies migrating to Perth, Western Australia, but is not autobiographical. Readers ask which parts are real? Some people say ‘weren’t your parents brave.’

Brave is going to a country with a different language or as an asylum seeker, being invited by the Australian government and given free passage with only £10 per adult to pay for administration costs, is not in the same league. Of course leaving your relatives behind and burning your boats with no job to go to and little capital is braver than staying put…

I needed my mother’s help to get the adult point of view, but the Palmer family are not my family. I wanted the story to be realistic, so the Palmers follow the same journey as we did. The ‘six week holiday of a lifetime’ sounded fun and I was envious of those who had come by ship, crossed the equator and met King Neptune, but the Palmer family had to fly.

I knew no one who had been in the migrant camps: I don’t think my father would have persuaded Mum to go at all if she had to face the prospect of a camp! She hadn’t been in the services during the war and had gone from home straight to marriage, so barracks and camps did not fall within her experience. Dad knew ‘someone from the office’ who had migrated and they sponsored us. The chap met us at the airport well gone midnight and as we drove across to the other side of the little city Mum was already looking out of the ‘station wagon’ in dismay. Once on our own, inside the caravan booked for us, she was soon saying ‘Rob, what have you brought us to’. We hadn’t seen much in the dark, but Mum had apparently focused on endless rows of electricity poles. Full of the whole big adventure I was exasperated that she was complaining when we had only been in Australia two hours.

The friend returned at nine am to take us down to Scarborough Beach. His family had taken to beach life and were living ‘the dream’. My younger brother and sister were terrified of the waves and I clung to a plastic surfboard, too embarrassed to tell their children I couldn’t swim. After that experience the only beach my parents wanted to sit on was Crawley Beach by the Swan River. It was very pleasant and Mum and Dad treated this first week as a holiday, we even had an ice cream every day, unprecedented, though it was not like Mr. Whippy and tended to have lumps of ice. Perth City was small then and you couldn’t get lost. Supreme Court Gardens were very pleasant and down by the Swan River was the wide open esplanade, so far we were living the dream.

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After one night in the cramped caravan I had been despatched, or invited, I’m not sure which, to stay with the family of our sponsor. I was to be in the boy’s class at school and his younger sister did ballet, so I had nothing in common with her! I cringe now to think of my prepubescent self wandering around a house of strangers in my flimsy baby doll pyjamas, but all was above board.

After a week Mum and Dad had found a house to rent; as the venetian blinds were closed they didn’t see properly what it was like until Mum pulled the blinds up when we moved in. The only neighbour to speak to Mum was a Dutch lady. It was also time for me and my younger brother to start school, where their summer term was in full swing. This was nothing compared to the reality that Dad had to find a job and a house to buy and our packing cases were not going to arrive… more next week.

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Read about the strange year leading up to our departure from England in last year’s blog.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/quarter-acre-blog/

Read more about my novel at my website.

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-six-fiction-focus/

Peek inside the book.

 

 

Windows Ten and a Half

The words double glazing and salesman are inseparable, though there was a time when most folk had not heard of double glazing and salesmen had to go door to door selling vacuum cleaners. Perhaps long ago, glazing salesmen went round to castles and peasant huts trying to sell them the advantage of having panes in their windows instead of wooden shutters or pieces of old hessian.

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In Victorian times householders in Scotland tried adding extra panes of glass to keep out the harsh winters, but modern double glazing started in the USA in the 1940s as ‘thermopane’ . Manufacturers began to use a vacuum between the two panes to improve insulation.

In the 1970’s it became popular for the domestic market in Britain and heralded the arrival of the double glazing salesman.

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Meanwhile in Perth, Western Australia windows meant the necessity of fly screens. As new migrants with a new house my father made them himself and instead of closing the door to keep the cold out we children were always being reminded to close the fly screen door.

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When I returned to England in the 1970’s for my working holiday ( the one I’m still on) it was to a country of three day weeks, power cuts and general mayhem. Pommies in Australia were congratulating themselves and vowing never to go back to ‘the cold’. When we left in 1964 fitted carpets were something posh people had, heating was something you lit and bedroom windows were covered in ice in the morning; beautiful patterns created by Jack Frost.

On Christmas morning I found myself in mild weather in the cosy little terraced house of my aunt and uncle. No one was cold, friends and relatives had central heating powered by North Sea Gas, carpet in every room and the cold kept out with double glazing. A popular topic of conversation was patio doors and porches; pretty French windows had been replaced by sliding doors and front doors were sheltered by tiny porches. I vowed never to turn into the sort of person who talked endlessly about porches and patio doors, or for that matter to ever be impoverished with a mortgage.

Not everyone had these home improvements. Our first flat had no heating, condensation running down the bathroom walls and washing  and baby drying in front of the gas fire. But when we bought our first place, a tiny modern flat, our first Christmas was white and we were delighted with the central heating and double glazing.

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When we bought an actual house it was the typical 1930’s  tiny terrace that my parents had left England to escape. It did have that other popular home improvement, an extension across the back of the house, but this space was rendered useless in winter with cold draughts coming through the rattling doors and windows. We took out an impoverishing extension on our mortgage to get the whole house double glazed, but first had to decide which company. We set a record by having eleven companies come round to give a quote. The worst salesman asked if he could smoke (afterwards we asked ourselves why on earth we said yes) and sat there with sweaty armpits. We didn’t choose him.

But sealed double glazed units don’t last forever, if the seal ‘goes’ you can be left with windows that look like it’s always raining. Friends had the original aluminium picture window in their front room and for years you could not see out of it, there was a permanent mist.

Fast forward to the present; this is the longest we have lived in one house and we have gradually done some improvements and window replacements. The most recent being two back bedroom windows, a new porch and the living room window all scheduled to be completed in less than a week. We chose the local company everyone uses who had previously built our little conservatory, a blissful sun trap.

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The two chaps who came out were loud and rude; I wasn’t sure if they were swearing at the windows or each other. When they said there was bad news, the front window was the wrong size, I thought they were joking, they weren’t.

With a holiday coming up and then seven visitors staying, the process has been drawn out. A different chap came out with the new window.

‘Are you on your own?’ we asked.

‘Yes, I’d rather work by myself, you wouldn’t believe some of the blokes I’ve had to work with.’

‘Yes, I think we would…’

He had hardly sipped the cup of coffee we gave him than he realised the windows were still the wrong size!

It has taken a while, but on Saturday at the third attempt we have a good window, nicely finished off by a chap and his son-in-law. Chatting with them we heard the first two blokes have been sacked as they didn’t get on!

We haven’t parted with any money yet, there is still a finishing strip missing from the porch, to be fixed tomorrow… I did suggest we say we can’t pay them as there has been a mistake with the money…

sunshine-blogger

Tidalscribe’s Tiny Terrors

As I sat reading a book I felt and heard the reassuring rumble of the underground. But I was not on a London tube train, Mum and Dad were in the kitchen next door washing the dishes. We were in our little suburban house in Perth, Western Australia.
It was 10.59am, a bank holiday on the 14th October 1968, we had just experienced the Meckering Earthquake, my mother said she had to cling to the kitchen sink. The small town of Meckering was 130 km away in the wheat belt, the 45 second earthquake was magnitude 6.9 on the Richter Scale making it one of the largest recorded in the seismic history of Australia. A few buildings in Perth were damaged. A baby had a miraculous escape in Meckering, their town fell down, but no one was killed. Had the epicentre been in a big city it could have been a major disaster. For us it was exciting, proof that Man cannot control nature.

At school the next day the earthquake was the only topic of conversation. In the classroom we were all startled to feel an aftershock, this time we knew what it was and we were scared. The teacher told us to calm down. There was no evacuation or talk of emergency procedures. It was unlikely the one storey asbestos building would collapse dramatically.

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Fast forward to December 1974, Knightsbridge, London; I had a Christmas job as a floorwalker in Harrods toy department. It was the Saturday before Christmas and that afternoon I had the last tea break. The staff restaurant was on the top floor. As I stood in the Ladies combing my hair I heard a muffled thud and assumed it was an IRA bomb going off somewhere else. Of importance later was the fact that I had my handbag with me.

I walked out to see the busy shop deserted, the escalators switched off and a couple of security guards annoyed to see me still in the building, everyone else had been evacuated. Somehow I caught up with colleagues as we poured out of the building; it was only as we looked up and saw thick black smoke pouring from the corner of the iconic department store that the shock hit us. No one was hurt that day, the heroes were the staff who had noticed something suspicious in their department and evacuated customers safely. Heavy fire doors had contained the explosion. Once again I had had a wide escape. We sat in a nearby pub waiting to go back in and fetch our coats, but nobody would return to work that evening. Lucky for me I had my handbag with my season ticket for the train, even if the journey home was a bit chilly without my coat.

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News is with us in all the media twenty four hours a day and this year fire, flood, hurricanes and earthquakes have been regular events and of a magnitude hard to comprehend. We wonder what it is like to be at the heart of a major disaster. Reporters find their way to the most unreachable scenes of devastation only to ask victims how they feel.

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Back to Perth, Western Australia, when my fourteen year old self was riding her bike. The suburbs were laid out in a grid design with long straight roads, there was a ‘Give Way To The Right’ rule, logical as long as everybody obeyed; there were always accidents at intersections. I was pedalling towards a corner when suddenly two cars collided in front of me, one of them rolled over. The two young drivers clambered out with some difficulty, but both were laughing, unhurt. When I tried to get back on my bike my legs were shaking so much I couldn’t lift my foot onto the pedal. I have always wondered if everyone benefits from adrenalin when faced with real peril, or if some people turn to jelly. How many writers secretly long to be in the midst of a disaster and emerge unscathed, or just a bit hurt so they can tell their dramatic story from a comfortable hospital bed?

Our family’s migration to Western Australia inspired my novel Quarter Acre Block – only 99 pence on Amazon Kindle, also available as a paperback.

 

Into Infinity

Grand Prix, everyday traffic – noise and pollution, I hate it, bring back the horse.

…but put big fuel guzzling engines up in the skies and I love them, carbon footprints forgotten.

I don’t fly often, perhaps if I did the novelty would wear off, but for me a trip abroad begins the moment the cabin floor starts to slope upwards and the engines blast into full power. A window seat and clear sky provide the fascination of identifying landmarks, but if the plane ascends through heavy cloud cover there is still the fun of being up in a fluffy heaven.

 

My first ever flight was across the world, when we emigrated to Australia. My novel ‘Quarter Acre Block’ was inspired by our experiences; in that story none of the Palmer family had flown before, but in real life my father had been a flight engineer in WW2. He was determined we would fly rather than sail out. I have flown across the world a few times since then, but perhaps more exciting was my shortest ever trip, flying in a light aircraft from Jandacot, Perth, Western Australia across twelve miles of Indian Ocean to Rottnest Island – real flying.

But mostly I have been on the ground looking up. At Farnborough Air Show, as children, we would marvel as jets flew silently by, followed several moments later by their sound.

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Years later, living very near Heathrow Airport, we would spot four planes in the sky at a time coming into land, at night like ‘UFO’ lights. But the aeroplane we never tired of watching or hearing was Concorde. If many Concordes had been built and flown the noise would have been unbearable, but the two flights a day were an event; teachers in local schools would stop talking at eleven a.m., working in an airside passenger lounge with a great view of the runway, we watched her take off like a graceful bird. On winter evenings I would dash out of the kitchen into the garden to see her glowing afterburners soaring up. Alas poor Concorde…

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The end of August brings the Bournemouth Air Festival, now in its eleventh year. If you don’t like the noise, are not interested in aeroplanes and live near the cliff top, there is no opting out, unless you go on holiday. Roads are closed, there are diversions, daily routine is disrupted as over a million visitors come over the four days. But this does not affect me. With visitors coming I have no intention of going anywhere except the kitchen, local shops and the sea front.

 

The longer the journey your visitors have made and especially if it is their first visit to the Air Festival, the more likely it is to rain. But with the festival spread over four days there is always some good flying weather. The cliff tops make ideal viewing and the beach is crowded. You can book a place on board a boat, but if the weather turns rough you are stuck out at sea! There are hospitality tents and deals at cliff top hotels with balconies.

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It all starts tomorrow, so in next week’s blog I’ll fill you in on the highlights and weather, with hopefully some photographs.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quarter-Acre-Block-Janet-Gogerty-ebook/dp/B00A6XDUQM

Musical Notes

In high school our music teacher said he was once at a concert where the conductor fell backwards off the podium. Whether this story was true or not, it was a good way to encourage us to go and see a real live symphony orchestra in the hope of seeing the conductor fall. Perhaps that was why I was happy to go along with my parents and younger brother and sister to see the West Australian Symphony Orchestra give their free Sunday afternoon concerts at His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth. As my parents loved classical music, but had a tight budget, this was a welcome treat.37691213_2195243867172058_7940072414816239616_n

The greatest classical music festival in the world, the BBC Proms, is now well under way and it was to a prom concert that my parents went on one of their first dates. Dad wasn’t interested in concerts, he just asked Mum where she would like to go for an evening out. Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto was one of the pieces played and Dad loved it.

Unless we are lucky enough to be born into a family of musicians, most of us first hear and absorb music from the radio or themes from television programmes. What is registered in our brains forever depends on our parents’ taste and the decade we were born. Don’t give your age away by mentioning The Lone Ranger when you hear the William Tell Overture.

Despite their love of music my parents never acquired a record player, but just as cassette tapes were being invented Dad acquired a large reel to reel tape recorder for which you could buy classical music tapes. I still had to listen to pop music on friends’ record players. The hefty machine made its way to Australia in our packing cases when we emigrated. Later on, my best friend Marjorie and I commandeered it to record our favourite pop programme, we then did endless GoGo dancing in our little lounge; we must have driven my parents mad.

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Promenade concerts had existed in London’s pleasure gardens since the mid 18th century, but The Proms as we know them were inaugurated on 10 August 1895 in the Queen’s Hall by the impresario Robert Newman, seeking a wider audience for concert hall music by offering low ticket prices and an informal atmosphere, where eating, drinking and smoking were permitted to the promenaders! You can still buy £6 tickets on the day of every concert to stand in the arena, but smoking is certainly not on.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/proms

If you can’t get along to the Royal Albert Hall all the concerts are broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, repeated and available on iplayer. Some are broadcast on television, complete with background film and chats with musicians. We are told that people all over the world will be listening; in Australia my mother once watched the Last Night of the Proms at Christmas, while my sister told me she listened to a prom while driving along a road in the bush.

This is a true festival and there are orchestras and artists from all over the world playing many sorts of music. The first night of the proms featured Anna Meredith/59 Productions’ Five Telegrams, a response to the centenary of the end of the First World War, with specially produced digital projections. It looked fantastic on television, but to fully appreciate it one surely had to be there. Another completely new experience was Jacob Collier and Friends; Jacob, a young vocalist and multi- instrumentalist, became an online sensation with his one man multi tracked arrangements of well known songs.

The musical theme at Tidalscribe continues on Friday with flash fiction ‘Musical Chairs’.

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Music inspired my character Emma Dexter in Brief Encounters of the Third Kind. Her mother has good reason to fear her daughter is not human and among her phenomenal abilities she has become a brilliant composer, pianist and violinist.

Other Families

Teenagers always think other people’s families are more interesting than their own, but Marjorie’s family really were. Marjorie was my best friend in second and third year high school in Perth, Western Australia. In first year Janice had been my best friend, mainly because neither of us knew anybody else on the first day; I was new in the country, she was new in the area. But Janice was a bit boring, confirmed by the fact that she wanted to do shorthand and typing and sidestepped to the commercial course. Our ways parted.

Marjorie was much more fun and for the next two years leading up to our Junior Exams we must have driven the teachers mad with our incessant giggling and occasional pranks. Our English teacher was driven to comment in front of the whole class

Do you two want to ruin your whole lives?

In time, it turned out that Marjorie had a photographic memory and had no need to pay any attention in class to sail through her exams.

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But back to the beginning and the first time I cycled round to Marjorie’s house. Her parents were Dutch and had brought her to Australia as a baby; I don’t think being Dutch had any relevance to the way their home was run, though to me it seemed more exotic than being English or Australian. I was fascinated by the way they pronounced Marjorie and to this day I think of the name with that accent and love the way the Dutch speak.

She had two Australian born brothers, Johnnie and Steve, indistinguishable with their blonde crew cuts. Their house was the only one in the street with a boat and three geese in the front garden. I don’t think the boat ever made it to the Swan River, let alone Fremantle Harbour or the Indian Ocean.

The geese made good guards; somehow I made it to the front door. Inside, the house was dark; that was not unusual, most of the Australian houses were kept in Venetian blinded gloom, shielded from the glaring sun.

Marjorie’s house was SHC, State Housing Commission. It was years before I realised some Australians were very resentful that migrants were housed ahead of them.

We headed for the bedroom to inspect her pop pin ups and she opened her wardrobe to reveal more pictures on the inside of the door. Sitting on a pile of clothes on the shelf was a packet of spaghetti; kept safe from her brothers who liked to eat it raw. When we went back to the lounge her brother was sitting on the settee eating dry cornflakes from a large green bucket. The visit was also more adventurous as her mother was out at work, a novel concept for me.

When my new friend came round to my house for the first time Mum offered her a cool drink and Marjorie said Oh, isn’t your fridge clean.

Ever after Mum wondered what their family fridge was like; empty probably. Her mother only cooked a proper meal on Sundays, when they always had steak, another reason for disapproval by my mother.

Marjorie was the first person I knew who worried about being fat and filled up with bottles of Coke to avoid hunger pangs. In our house meals were regular as clockwork and always delicious. Coca Cola never darkened our fridge, nor did I have any money to buy it from the corner shop near Marjorie’s house.

My novel Quarter Acre Block is not autobiographical, but is inspired by our family’s experience of emigrating to Australia. You can read more about that time at my website.

https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-six-fiction-focus/

Read about the time leading up to our family’s departure to Australia in a previous blog.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/quarter-acre-blog/

 

Quarter Acre Blog

The first time Australia was mentioned was at breakfast on a school day. I was astonished when Mum said

‘How would you like to go to another country?’

Where had this idea come from? The furthest we had ever been was a hundred miles to visit my aunt in Cheltenham.

I replied instantly ‘If I can have a horse.’

I had always wanted a horse and what other reason could there be for going to another country? I would need no help caring for it due to my extensive reading of the Kit Hunter Show Jumper series and all the other pony books I could lay my hands on.

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‘Australia?’

I returned from my reverie to hear what Mum was saying. A new picture presented itself; warm weather, living by the seaside and swimming every day. I couldn’t actually swim, but had been up to my chest at Frensham Ponds and in the sea, while Mum and Dad sat in deck chairs huddled in coats and rugs.

But my most vivid image of what our Australian life would be like came from my favourite television programme, The Adventures of the Terrible Ten. Ten children living in rural Victoria, who all had ponies, discovered some old packing cases and built Ten Town. They never went to school or saw their parents.

Mum said I might get a horse, would probably get a dog and would definitely go swimming. But for now the whole adventure must be kept deathly secret; until we knew for sure we had been accepted for migration. This meant absolutely no one, not even my best friend or my younger brother and sister. I kept the secret.

 

It was spring now and by autumn we would be ready to go, not on the dangerous voyage of the early settlers, but Mum and Dad would be burning their boats. Cheap flights at ten pounds each for Mum and Dad and free for children; but it was a one way ticket. My parents expected never to see England or their relatives again.

In the meantime a momentous year lay ahead. It was our last year at junior school; the first year Top Of The Pops was broadcast and in the garden shed our pet white mice were multiplying rapidly. As top years we went on school holiday for the first time to the Isle of Wight. It was a very pleasant holiday, but two strange things happened. As a Church of England school we knew several of our classmates were Roman Catholics, it made no difference to them or us. But on the Sunday of the holiday, one poor catholic boy was to be marked out as different. All of us were to attend morning service at the local church, but Eric’s mother had decreed that Eric must go to the catholic church. As a relatively new boy he was already slightly different; now as his lone figure trudged off in the opposite direction, to the mysteries of candles and incense, he had become an outcast. Later that day, as we ran around in the grounds of the hotel, some primeval, sectarian instinct took over and we all chased Eric; convinced in that moment that we were going to lynch him. Luckily the teacher came out blowing her whistle and normality was restored.

Peter was another unfortunate boy. For some reason he was the only child of our class of forty who didn’t come on the holiday. As we ate dinner one evening, the headmaster came into the dining room looking very distraught. Peter had run away from home and managed to reach the island before being caught by the police. We all thought him very clever to have got that far and very sad that he still wasn’t allowed to join us.

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Back at school our summer term was nearing its end; we practised maypole dancing ready for our centenary celebrations and Mum and Dad visited the headmaster. Later that day he entered the classroom to chat to us; a common occurrence, but this time I realised with horror he was talking about me. I had kept my promise and not told a soul and now was mortified the headmaster was telling everyone I was going to Australia! Having spent four years mostly unnoticed, I was now the centre of attention as everyone turned to look at me.

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As autumn arrived life became surreal. The date was set for our departure. I had passed my eleven plus, but it would make little difference to my future, the Australian schools were comprehensive. Our little school gang had been split in half, four of us were going to grammar school; one mother didn’t come out of the house for a week with shame that her daughter had failed. For a few weeks I experienced a glimpse of what my life might have been at a girls’ grammar school, dressed in bottle green uniform with the excitement of Bunsen burners.

Soon our house was sold and we had reached the point of no return. As the taxi collected us for the airport my grandparents stood stoically waving and my school friend Wendy skipped up the road after us; she would be the only person from those days to stay a lifelong friend.

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The taxi had been late, very stressful for my parents. As we arrived at London Airport     (now Heathrow) our friends and relatives were waiting, wondering if we had changed our minds. We rushed through with hardly time to say goodbye. The airport was much smaller then; as we climbed the steps to the plane we could see our loved ones gathered on the balcony waving. Except for Dad, it was the first time we had been on an aeroplane. I was really excited until I noticed the big card in the seat pocket. How to put on your lifejacket! Until that moment I had not considered the possibility that planes could crash. I wondered if we would reach Australia.

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My novel Quarter Acre Block was inspired by our family’s experience. It is not autobiographical, but people who have read it ask which things were ‘true’. Find out more at my website.   https://www.ccsidewriter.co.uk/chapter-six-fiction-focus