Net Notes by Walter Vivian
Biblical Women by Roland Leach
A Pinch of Salt
Cacti by Rosanne Dingli
Going to the Dogs by Laurel Lamperd
The Prizewinner by Barbara Yates-Rothwell
Tom Howard Short Story Contest 8
$40 000 BOOK PRIZE SHORTLIST
Western Writers WA writers centres programme.
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Biblical Women by Roland Leach
1. A Pinch of Salt
She knew it would be one of those days. She had burnt the eggs for breakfast, the goat had pissed in the house, and now before she even had time for an afternoon lie-down, there were two angels at her doors.
Good looking boys both of them. Tall and blonde, which was unknown around these parts and they had a way of mysteriously moving around the house, which she wasn't sure about. Nevertheless, there they were, all serious now, talking to her husband, and from what she could overhear (from a distance as her husband didn't like his wife involving herself with men's business) they wanted the family to just pack up and leave the place.
Unfortunately their high cheekbones and unblemished skin had not gone unnoticed in the twin cities, known for their debauchery. Soon there were the local louts bashing at the door, demanding her husband to release the two boys. 'Come on you old sod, can't keep the pretties for yourself', and a few more explicit references to parts anatomical.
She knew her husband was a good man, as he often told her, but she had woken up with the feeling that she was getting sick of their relationship. Her day so far had only made it worse. It might have been a small thing but he only ever called her The Wife, and it sometimes occurred to her that she hadn't heard her name said aloud for years. She worried that she might forget it herself.
Being a good man, a man of propriety and duty, he had gone to the door himself, defiant and with a characteristic patronising attitude that sometimes irked others. She had been quite proud of her husband as he had stood up to the raging mob outside, telling them that the two men were his guests and that they all knew that it was the duty of the host to protect his guests at all costs.
She had softened for a moment, thinking yes he did have his good points, when she had heard her husband tell the raging mob, still in his stentorian voice, that they could not have these men, these men of God, but could have his two daughters, still virgins.
She felt the blood run to her face and in that second of recognition knew that he had gone too far this time. Years of him rambling on Yahweh this, Yahweh that, the silly little rituals that he made her go through. Besides he was too old for her. He was an old sod like they had said. She still had some good years left in her, there must be men somewhere (not in this city but elsewhere) who would make life bearable.
She had rushed forward to grab this old man, to throw him to the ground, kick him in the gonads if they were still there, but had been stopped by one of the angels. Holding her gently by the upper arm (how strong he felt for one so pretty), while the other angel slammed shut the door. This same angel had now turned and told the family to get out the back door and go into the mountains, it would soon be too late. God was going to destroy the twin cities with fire.
She should have known all along that God had to come into it somewhere if her husband was involved. Given no time to protest she was ushered out the door, through the city gates and into the wilderness. She wondered if her husband had intended to leave the girls in the city if the angels hadn't stepped in.
She had been wondering what her first step would be, where she could go now and how she could slip away. It was not long after that she heard the almighty
explosion, a flash of light that lit the sky and felt the heat on the back of her head. Her husband had been yabbering all the time since they had been outside the gates, something to do with turning around, though she had not listened.
She had turned around with the intention of asking the old gasbag what he had said, but didn't have time to get the words out.
2. Job's Servant
All the servants are dead, bar me, I was asleep beneath a ledge of rock when the Sabaens, moved by the whim of Jehovah, trampled the house in the conceit of daylight and slaughtered all the servants and animals. Have you noticed it is always the servants and animals who get it first? They had then left, yahooing and carrying on as if it had been a nice bit of light entertainment.
If this wasn't enough a few days later there was fire from heaven, barbecuing the sheep and the new servants. By the time I got there they were all curled up on the dirt, like burnt offerings fallen from the spit.
My mother, a woman not recognised for her wisdom, told me when I was young that you couldn't go wrong being a maid-servant for a religious man. She had assumed that they kept their hands to their wives and were moral men. She also didn't mention that they had gods who occasionally tested out their devotion.
I was picking berries in the hills when three bands of Chaldeans with the dried stench of the eastern wilderness upon them rode in and slaughtered another new intake of servants as well as taking out the camels. My charmed life couldn't last I thought, something had to break. Maybe it was about time to look out for any new vacancies, employment chances, maybe a whole new career move. Somewhere which didn't smell of burnt camel's hair.
Sometimes I sneak away on Sundays to see some male friends, radicals with an extended vocabulary who hang out for trouble in the basements of Uz. I had always thought that Job went too far with his devotion, but they said he was obsequious, a tool of the reigning patriarchy. It was guys like him who perpetuated the elitist ideology & power structures. Being big on equity issues I thought that they may have supported me, given me a few hints on other employment that wasn't strictly gender-based.
You find out who your friends are when you come around thinking you're equal. They said their revolution was class-based, perhaps later when the rich had been overthrown and their elitist institutions dismantled they could address woman's issues, but they were taking it one at a time. They didn't think there was anything wrong in a woman being a maid anyway, we all have to eat. Ufat, the slime, sent me off saying to have pride in my work. Last time I hang out with those bourgeois twits, with their fancy ideas, especially the one about free love that I had gone along with.
Coming home that night I found that things had hit a little closer to home for old Job. The old man's sons were whisked into the heavens by the wind, then returned with the force of sky, their limbs scattered amongst the ruins.
I heard pompous old Bildah the Shuhite going on about the sins of sons, transgressions, etc. I then decided my employer definitely was in trouble and I would be out of there by the end of the week. I even heard his wife say that she should have married Eliphaz the Temanite.
Meanwhile old Job had shaved his head, thrown off his robe, and was naked on his knees praying: Naked came I from my mother's womb & naked shall I return. This was not a pretty sight.
As I said I just think he went too far. The neighbour, an eye-for-an-eye man, didn't like him. Said he was a weak son-of-a-goat herder's whore, who was holier than thither, but as bad as a Hittite general when it came to trading skins & she-asses.
When the neighbour was smoted two days I threw my things together and was out of there faster than a Ammonite
She didn't like the idea that all her female friends at the market were to get wiped from the earth by flood. They were good women who knew how to get a laugh out of life despite their husbands. The latter were nasty layabouts who deserved what was coming to them but it seemed that her husband's God didn't have a lot of compassion. After hearing about him for years and years she would go further than that. She didn't like his God. He was always demanding something. Do this, do that, just like her husband and her father before him.
Besides what did his God ever do for him? The old boy was five hundred years old before they were able to conceive their first child. Then there were Shem, Ham and Japheth. It was his idea to call a son, Ham.
Now he always had God talking to him, giving him instructions, and when she could get her husband to listen it was always This is the Lord's Covenant, wife. She was sick of being called wife and his God spoke in the same terms. It was always Go forth, Noah or Take your sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. And the wives and daughters were tacked on the end, nameless.
While the boys were out cutting down gopher wood and collecting pairs of animals she had slipped back into the town warning her friends that there might be a big storm coming. She didn't want to believe it and she was no doomsdayer like her husband, but she thought that just in case she might make a few preparations.
Her husband would never admit it but she had an eye for carpentry. Knew how to get a straight angle and was better than him or his sons at getting a join to fit watertight. But Noah had kept the Ark to himself and his sons, telling her to keep to the kitchen. She would have hungry workers coming home everyday.
The monstrosity was half-finished in the backyard. Three hundred cubits in length, fifty in breadth and a height of thirty cubits. She could tell it would never float.
The last thing she was going to do was go aboard if the rains came. Not to mention the stench of all those filthy animals messing everyday.
It was at this point that she decided that she would arrange the women from the basket-weaving group to get together a smaller boat. No grand title of Ark, but a well-made skiff with a good sail. And they would take their cats.
When the clouds came in from the north she had a premonition that this was going to be a big storm, the one that hit once every century. They had happened before and people survived and gone on living.
It was when the lightning struck that she had gathered up the women and they had gone to the boat, climbing aboard with a few supplies and their cats, Zillah bringing a nice eggplant casserole for the first night, and found themselves a cosy spot.
She could hear her husband yelling in the distance that they were set, Do you hear me, wife? She luxuriated in a smile, thinking that she would never have to hear him and his homilies again.
Sitting around the table they felt the bottom rise. The boat was afloat and they could feel its slow rock, settling down in a steady rhythm and knew it would be safe. They had looked at each other, feeling free for the first time, their smiles breaking open like parting waters.
She had said, 'Wives', waiting for a moment of suspense, 'No longer. We shall now choose a name. A name that will be our own for forever after.' They had thought briefly, selecting names that rung of freedom. Each woman announcing it as they went around, one by one, around the table.
It was only when they got to the last two seats at the table that they realised that these two with large shawls and scarves over their heads were not women at all. Asked to take off their disguises they found two young men, handsome boys who had just come into town. It seemed that Zillah had brought more than her moussaka.
And all the women saw what was brought aboard, and behold, it was very good.
Cacti by Rosanne Dingli
There was a huge Ferocactus latispinus in a great terracotta pot in the
corner, and Marianna stood and looked at it for a long time. A green Not For
Sale sticker hung from a thin string drawn tightly round the pot. The cactus
needed potting up - it had outgrown the container and Marianna imagined
how she would tackle the job. The curving flat red spines were formidable,
those closest to the window gleaming with a metallic rusty glow. It was a
magnificent specimen. She wished she could rotate the pot to see the part of
the globular trunk that faced the corner of the glasshouse, to see if it
were as perfect as the section she saw. The grey-green flesh was unspotted,
unblemished and plump. Someone who understood cacti had cared for it for
The Not for Sale ticket swung a little as someone came through the
glasshouse door and let in a slight draught, but Marianna did not look
round. She did the round of the Cacti and Succulents section again. She
examined each plant in its green plastic or clay pot; straining on tiptoe
for the top shelves, or bending breathlessly to see the lower ones. The
larger specimens were ranged on the furthest shelf - the last stagger of
tiers that ringed the inside of the house, their huge pots stained white in
places. Some were chalked 'Not for Sale' and had no string or
ticket. Most smaller pots had price tags.
There was a magnificent Oreocereus celsianus, its soft white hairs trailing
upwards and out, not hiding the gold spines underneath. Marianna would have
loved to pick it up and take it home, but the plastic tag stuck like a
gravestone into the chipped gravel round the cactus base was scrawled
brightly with a price in purple felt pen. Thirteen dollars. She looked past
it at a range of smaller pots, the two year old ones. She could gauge their
age easily, even the vigorous growers that dwarfed the rest. A Cereus
peruvianis, lanky and solitary and unbranched, towered over some other pots.
Its short barbs were grouped in clumps of seven. Without counting Marianna
knew they were seven, and that since her last visit the tall cactus had
grown another few centimetres. When it hit the top of the greenhouse it
would be time for action to be taken, and she imagined what she would do to
the tall plant; how she would slice it gently and dry the wound out
carefully for a week until it was time to replant the cutting and watch the
stump for offsets. All in her mind, she saw how she would count the tiny
sprouts as they appeared round the base of the old stump, and how she would
repot them in a few weeks.
The Ferocactus caught her eye again. It flowered three times since she had
known it; a huge white bloom almost sexual in its grandeur. Every time it
happened Marianna visited the nursery daily until the flower wilted and
died, its glory over.
The Notocactus ottonis bloomed at night, and she could only see the dying
yellow funnels the next morning, knowing the part inside she could not see
was a delicate light green. She hoped her surreptitious guilty look was not
seen by the nurseryman. She could not be there at night; the nursery was
shut and barred at sundown, and often she was the last to pass the gate, the
nurseryman giving her familiar figure a curious look as she sidled past him
silently. She imagined it had been his hand that scrawled the thick purple
'Not For Sale' on the tickets, his hand that turned pots gently to catch the
spring sunlight evenly after the inactivity of the long winter. His hand
that removed withered and blackened flowers when they were dead, or added a
fine pebbly top-dressing to the pots.
She thought of his tough callused hands tenderly re-potting spiny plants
without need for gloves; thick garden hands that needed no protection
against the needles; white, red or golden. She imagined the glochids of the
Opuntia splendens glancing his tanned skin, not even clinging for an instant
but slipping past - with her they would cling and prick and sting, under her
nails and between her fingers, if she dared to brush the pads of that cactus
with bare skin. She wondered how he would handle the Mammillaria perbella
when it was its turn to be placed in a larger pot, how he would cup the
little decorative sphere with its white and pink thorny spines in the inside
of his upturned hand, carefully cradle it until he coaxed it into the bed of
mixture, and then how he would press the earth round its base, covering its
roots carefully for another season. Gently.
Ignoring the Lithops which she privately detested, Marianna walked past the
Kalanchoes clustered together, with their pink flower bells already opening,
and looked for the Haworthias, which had been moved. She never paused there
long, because the clumpy tentacle-like plants were only vaguely interesting
to her, and moved on to the Euphorbias. Grouped together in an odd
assortment of differently sized pots they presented a jumbled vision, and it
was with some effort she kept her hands tightly clenched. She wanted to move
them, sort them out and arrange them; examine the horrida most of all,
because it had long menacing needles that belied the peaceful green of its
trunk. Already red bracts were present, soon they would open. The year had
flown past and she remembered last year's Euphorbias and how the nurseryman
had neglected them too, pushing them together into a lower corner in the
house, probably glad to see them sold. There were no Euphorbias with Not For
The hanging Rhipsalidopsis and Schlumbergeras swung above her head, but she
did not look up. She knew they were there, too many of them: they were too
popular. Every year the nursery received consignment upon consignment from
Victoria and they would all sell, leaving her favourite old ones behind.
The Cleistocactus straussii in the corner was close to twenty years old;
she did not dare verify this with the man. He shuffled somewhere behind her,
and although she knew he was used to her almost constant presence in the
Cacti and Succulents section, he must have been curious about her fixation
and dedication. Perhaps he wondered how she found so much time to spend
getting in his way. They had never said a word to each other; she had never
bought a thing, and she thought he could sense her eyes on his hands as he
moved pots, poured diluted fertiliser, stacked trays. She watched him sell
the larger cacti, then her eyes would follow the purchasers until they
disappeared from sight. She avoided looking at the empty place on the shelf
until he came and filled it with another potted cactus, moved remaining pots
to hide the gap.
Now she was looking at the plump Gymnocalycium denudatum perched on the
highest shelf in a squat pot. Her back chastised him for placing it so high.
The plant was hardly visible; round and stubby green and red spheres
embedded in the soil. She felt him resolve to move the pot to below eye
level when she moved out of the way.
She did not move. She peered high, standing on her toes to look again at
the Rebutias that would flower in a week. These tiny globes were among her
favourites. She knew she puzzled him with her resistance to buy. She spent
hours in his nursery staring at the cacti, her fascination apparent. Why he
never spoke to her was another mystery; perhaps one he never addressed.
She moved again to the Ferocactus, its size and age never failing to
captivate her. She longed to turn the pot to look at its blind side. On either flank
were two identical pots of Borzicactus aureispinus, obviously put there by the
nurseryman for effect and contrast. Their spines were deceptively soft-looking
and golden, trunks long and slender and a beautiful light green. They crowded
and clustered and emphasised the spatulate red thorns of the Ferocactus.
It was nearly time to leave. He was making obvious noises behind her. A
half-formed resolve flitted into her mind, but she shrugged it off in panic.
She thought again of his weathered but sensuous hands as they cradled the
Mammillaria and a pink blush rose to her cheeks. Then she quickly brushed
past him on her way out, her throat tightening.
'The Ferocactus needs rotating,' she breathed softly as she went by.
From"Dust Gathered in an Afternoon", Domhan Books of Brooklyn, NY (www.domhanbooks.com) to be released it in May 2001. This story first appeared in Westerly in 1987
Author of "Death in Malta",
"Dust Gathered in an Afternoon" and
"Counting Churches - The Malta Stories"
Going to the Dogs by Laurel Lamperd
`We'll swap Lilly Belle with this old girl, ` said Hannigan's voice. `No one will twig and we'll make a packet on Billy Lee. `
Foley, who was sneaking about outside the dog trailer, was shocked into immobility.
Lilly Belle was the greyhound Foley had put his last hundred dollars on at ten to one. It was the race favorite. Billy Lee was the second favorite.
`The crooked bastards, ` Foley muttered as he crept away from the covered trailer housing Lilly Belle and her ring in. He should go to the stewards but he knew Hannigan would deny it. It would be Hannigan's word against his and heknew who they would believe.
Hannigan was a well to do greyhound owner though there were plenty of whispers about his underhand deals.
Foley was a broken down has been. He was one of the people who were part of the flotsam of life and had never found their niche. But he wasn't done yet. He would put the substitute dog out of commission and Hannigan would have to run Lily Belle. The stewards would nail him if he didn't but how to do it without getting caught.
He left the track and wandered along the streets. Stopping outside the doorway of an all night chemist, he saw a notice advertising. 'LAXATIVES.'
The plan came instantly. Mix a packet of laxatives with dog food and give it to the ring in.
Foley went into the chemist and pulled a ten-dollar note, the last of his money, from his pocket. `I'll have a box of laxatives.... and a tin of dog food? ` he said to the girl behind the counter.
Foley passed the girl the ten-dollar note and received a dollar fifty change. `Not even enough for a beer, ` he muttered as he left the shop.
Luckily the tin had one of those new fangled pull back lids so he didn't need a tin opener. He went to an isolated spot behind the toilets, tipped the contents of the tin onto the grass, opened the packet of laxatives and mixed half of them with the meat. `No, better make sure, ` he thought and pressed the rest of the laxatives from their neat foil containers into the meat and mashed it together with a stick.
He put the meat in the plastic bag and stuffed it together with the empty meat tin and laxative box in a pocket of the big overcoat he wore and hurried to the dog owners' paddock.
As luck would have it, Lilly Belle and the ring in were alone with no sign of Hannigan and his mates.
Foley slipped under the trailer covers and switched on his torch. He was stunned when he was confronted with two identical Lilly Belles.
The dogs thumped their tails and looked at him with dark submissive eyes.
Foley's heart melted. How could he give one of these trusting animals the doped up meat? Be tough, he berated himself. There was a thousand dollars on the line. He rubbed his stubbled chin. He would have enough money to find somewhere to live and get tidied up and buy some new clothes so he could apply for the cleaning job at Nugent's Kennels.
The dogs whined and wagged their tails.
Foley put his hand through the bars and stroked the dogs' heads. `Good, girls, ` he said caressingly.
The dogs whined in bliss.
As Foley withdrew his right hand, he saw it was streaked with black dye. He remembered Lily Belle's left ear was black. He knew now which dog was the ring-in.
There was a noise outside the trailer.
Foley froze. If Hannigan caught him with the dog meat and laxatives, he would end up in the river as fish bait.
Lily Belle looked at him and whined.
Foley put his finger to his lips, hushing it.
The ring in thumped its tail on the floor, making a low drumming sound.
Foley's heart began to palpitate. `There, there, ` he whispered to the dogs.
The noise outside stopped.
The dogs looked at him in the dull light, their brown eyes shining with trust.
Foley waited but there was only the distant noise from the track.
He pulled the plastic bag of meat from his pocket. The empty tin and the laxative wrappings came out with it. Foley didn't notice as they dropped onto the floor of the trailer. The two dogs looked at him expectantly.
The dogs were led out, muzzled and in numbered coats and put in their separate boxes on the brilliantly lit track.
In a few minutes, the race was run and Lilly Belle had won by a head.
Foley hung onto the railing, faint with shock and relief, before going to collect his winnings.
The next day, he felt even better when he heard Hannigan had been charged with attempting to dope Lilly Belle.
The story was all around the traps. Someone had set the whisper going that Hannigan and his gang were going to spike Lilly Belle. The stewards had arrived at Hannigan's trailer and found an empty meat tin and a laxative box. Hannigan swore he had nothing to do with it but the stewards were disbelieving. `Who else would have gained from Lily Belle losing the race? ` they scoffed when they discovered the big bets Hannigan had on Billy Lee to win.
`Who else, indeed? ` Foley thought as he heard the rumours and counter rumours. He had borrowed a spade from his landlady and was digging a hole in her back yard. When it was deep enough, he emptied the bag of meat into it.
When it had come to it, he couldn't give the spiked meat to Lilly Belle's ring in.
`How could I? ` Foley said to a sceptical grandnephew years later after he had retired from the position of chief dog trainer at Nugent's Kennels. `That dog trusted me. `
The Prizewinner by Barbara Yates-Rothwell
MY BROTHER-IN-LAW is a butcher. You wouldn't always think so to look at
him, mind. There's a soulful look about the eyes that brings to mind
philosophers, men who use words to spin dreams. And you're right to
think it - my brother-in-law's a bit of a poet.
He'd always kept it dark, of course. Australia's not the place for a
big, strong bloke who can sink his Foster's with the best and who's been
a bit of a larrikin, to admit that he's given to rhyming and scansion.
It'd be all right for me -I'm a schoolie, used to levering open kids'
heads like oyster shells and dropping odd bits of info into them in the
hope that a pearl may one day emerge. You expect schoolmasters to have
secret aberration like poetry. But not your dinky-di, main street butcher.
Big Al, they call him. Alfred Petsworth is his full name and his wife
is my wife's sister. The first we knew of his poetic leanings was when
he and Glad were courting. Emma - my wife - found a piece of paper in
her handbag (which Glad had borrowed because it matched her new dress:
sisters are like that) and read it. They had a good giggle about it, you
can bet. Naturally, Emma wasn't supposed to tell me but husband and wife
are one, as they say, and so it came to my receptive ears. It was some
time ago but, as I recall, it went like this:
Gladys, darling, be my wife,
And I'll be yours for ever.
If you will share a butcher's life
I'll share my heart and liver.
I don't think he meant it to be funny. Anyway, by the time young
Fergus, their son, came along, Al had moved on:
A little bird to fill the nest.
You knew that it would please me best
To have a boy,
Oh, what a joy!
How greatly we are blessed.
You can see how he'd broken free of the four-line syndrome.
So within the family we knew his guilty secret. You could bet that when
that far-away look came into his eyes he wasn't ruminating on the price
of rump or how many chops to the kilo. He'd be rhyming 'beef' with
'leaf' or 'mutton' with 'glutton'. Good luck to him!
When his sister Olga married a Welshman with the highly original name
of Ivor Jones, we were all a bit shocked, even though we were pretty
multicultural by that time in our small neck of the woods. Jan the
Yugoslav grew grapes, but he was president of the footy. Dimitri the
Greek ran the deli. Conal the Irishman was the publican (and sinner,
many said, referring to his extra-Catholic pursuit of the local talent).
They were all part of the rich tapestry of life in our small town.
But Ivor Jones was different. He wore a wide-brimmed hat, for one
thing. Not a decent Akubra but one that smacked of Mediterranean
decadence, ruby wine under a moonlit vine, Folies Bergere and ooh-la-la!
Not really your true outback sort of hat. We regarded him with
Predictably, he was an artist. So Olga said. Though those of us with a
smattering of erudition (me and the rector) preferred the word
dilettante because we didn't actually see him produce anything. But what
he did have was style. With the hat and his velvet jacket (I forgot to
mention the jacket: bottle green, it was, worn on all but the hottest
days) he would draw all eyes as he sauntered along Main Street under the
awnings, ebony stick in hand. (I forgot to mention the ebony stick.) We
mocked him with our mouths and yet we envied him in our hearts.
Then Olga fell for him, and he for her. Once he was, however distantly,
part of the clan, it became incumbent upon us to demonstrate family
solidarity. They seemed to expect me, as schoolteacher, to set the
example. So we invited Ivor and Olga and Big Al and Gladys to dinner.
Someone had to take the plunge.
Emma did us proud with a magnificent leg of lamb from Al's butcher's
bench, cooked to a turn, that melted in the mouth. But its beauties were
almost obscured by the problems of holding meaningful conversation with
Ivor Jones. No one knew him that well - it had been a whirlwind romance.
One difficulty was the lack of contact between his interests and ours.
Another was his Welsh mode of speech.
He was much given to starting sentence with 'Look you' and addressing
men as 'boyo'. It seemed to me like the Welsh equivalent of stage Irish,
but I think it was genuine enough. His vibrant accent hid much of the
meaning of what he said but we struggled through, even when he kept
calling Al, 'Alfred, bach'. It didn't really suit the big fellow. But it
was when Olga, trying hard to impress him with her culturally useless
relatives, mentioned Al's habit of versifying, that Ivor really came
'A poet, is it, Alfred, bach? Look you, there's a fine and wonderful
thing for this God-forsaken hole in the desert!' We didn't immediately
challenge that; it came to us slowly, as if by a distant translator,
what he had actually said. And by then it was too late for formal
complaints to be made.
Before we knew it, we were knee-deep in a one-sided discussion of the
Arts. Ivor rattled on in his incomprehensible lingo and we chewed and
nodded and quaffed and nodded and near enough nodded ourselves to sleep.
'More apple pie?' Emma asked bravely, raising her voice above the
unstoppable Welsh cataract. And we nodded and ate and wondered how the
team would do on Saturday and if there was a sheep-weather warning
current. And Olga sat, foodless and drinkless, in awe at the marvellous
Welsh fish she had caught.
Suddenly the flow halted. Ivor stared across the table at the wall, his
eyes briefly glazing. I thought perhaps it was indigestion - no one
could talk and eat at such a rate without churning the digestive juices
- but it was only momentary. He stood slowly, turning to me with the
fervour of John the Baptist, and raised a hand high in the air.
'What this town needs,' he cried, slowly enough for once, so we could
comprehend, 'is an eisteddfod!'
We sat in absolute silence for several seconds. This was mainly because
we didn't understand his pronunciation of the alien word, but also
because we had rather got out of the habit of speaking for the past
He stared from face to face triumphantly, ending with mine. 'An
eisteddfod!' he repeated. 'A gathering together of all the gracious
cultural arts. Singing, dancing, music-making of every kind. And poetry,
look you! Poetry, Alfred, bach!' He beamed at Big Al, the closet
versifier. Then he swung back to me - I was afraid he would. 'And you're
the boyo to see that it runs true,' he said, electing me to the position
of convenor and organiser.
I struggled but I knew it was hopeless. The women saw to that. 'What
are you going to do?' I asked Ivor, rather waspishly I deeply regret to
'I shall ad-ju-di-cate,' he said, smiling seraphically, and sinking
back into his chair. He took Olga's hand and kissed it. And for a
glorious five minutes he was silent, awash with the warm glow of
In the run-up to the great day, Big Al became noticeably abstracted.
Millie Bostock had to return a parcel of lambs' fry that should have
been a nice piece of brisket and Irish Conal sent back the pig's head
that he thought was some kind of obscure Sinn Fein joke because he was
expecting ten kilos of barbecue sausages. Al could be seen in slack
moments standing by the chopping block, his lips moving beneath eyes
which looked beyond the blood and white tiles to some more idyllic, more
The rules for entry were simple and specific. For poets and other
writers there were two classes, over-18 and under-18. My daily
interaction with the youth of the town gave me hope that I could badger,
bully or buy enough of the younger entrants to make it worth doing. But
I seriously doubted if our square mile snatched from the desert
contained more than a child's handful of hopeful poets.
As the supreme sacrifice, and probably quite unethically, since I was
organising the whole darned thing, I was putting in a couple of efforts
of my own. But who else was there, apart from my brother-in-law? My
fears were justified.
By the final day for entries in the eisteddfod, there were five sheets
of A4, double-spaced, typed or neatly hand-written, bearing previously
unpublished bardic endeavour, each with a pseudonym attached.
I knew which mine were, I suspected that one of the others had come
from Mrs Paxton of the mobile library (pseudonym Ex libris) and I
supposed the other two were Big Al's. I handed them over to the great El
Adjudicatore, Ivor Jones himself.
By the great day, I had to acknowledge that the town had taken the
eisteddfod to its heart. The CWA ran a coffee bar for the participants;
twelve little girls, protegees of music teacher Sybil Kraski, had
learned Fur Elise; another troupe of girls had learned a set of English
country dances; and Conal's small son Paddy, whose trumpet calls across
the township at inopportune moments had more than once roused the
citizens to action, was allowed unhindered practice time. These are the
ones which remain in my memory; the rest, I have to admit, were a fury
of sound and movement, signifying very little.
So came the day! Weather forecast: sunny, with warm, light winds, top
temperature 26 degrees. 'Couldn't be better,' we said, rubbing our
collective hands and trying to calm our collective nerves.
It seemed a long day but Ivor Jones was magnificent. His cravat flowed
generously (I forgot to mention his cravat) and his hat was laid
reverently on the table before him, as a kind of cultural icon, to
inspire us. His accent became unintelligible to all except Olga, who
stayed at his side from start to finish, except when she replenished his
coffee and kept meticulous records of who did what and how many marks
they got, wrote out the certificates and kept an eye on the trophies.
In the evening, with damp little hands clasping finger-marked winners'
cups and grubby little paws indelibly staining the previously pristine
certificates, the literary awards were announced. I became aware of Big
Al, standing at the back, his wavy-edged sun hat crushed between his
huge fists. He was staring at his other brother-in-law, the
ad-ju-di-ca-tor, look you, with trembling hope. It suddenly struck me
how great a moment this was for the bloke. If he won, he achieved a sop
for his creative soul - but possibly the scorn of many of his mates. If
he lost, he gained mockery and failure at one swoop. I found myself
hoping for him, with unexpected urgency.
Ivor rose, portentously. 'I shall take the junior entries first.' He
beamed at the kids in the front rows. 'I know how excited you must be!'
(I remembered my battles to get them to enter: 'Poetry, sir? You're
joking, sir! ''You're not joking, sir? My old man'll think I've gone soft'.)
'Well, look you, this is the moment of truth. I 'ave' (I forgot to say
he always dropped his aitches, a well-established Welsh ploy to annoy
the English) 'gone through these entries with a fine-tooth comb...'
'Found any nits?' shouted an irreverent voice from the back. Some
people giggled, most 'shushed', amazingly.
'...and 'ave found three entries which are, to my mind, and always
bearing in mind that...' and he was off again, in love with his own
rolling syllables.But eventually he got back on course, just as the serried ranks were
about to break up in disorder. 'So I 'ave awarded the third prize...' he
paused for effect, 'the third prize to Margaret Bucks!'
I wasn't surprised. She was a soppy child, one of the few who said 'Oh, goody!'
when the competition was announced.
'Second,' Ivor said, when the applause had died away, 'is Jenny
Craddock.' He pronounced it 'Caradoc', of course. 'And first...' he held
the audience's attention with upheld hand and basilisk eye, 'first, with
not only a trophy, but a cash prize of ten dollars, is...Michael
Tomkins! Stand up, boyo, and let's see the junior bard of this fair
There was an awful silence, and then a tumultuous whistling and hooting
broke out. Mick Tomkins, bully boy extraordinaire, terror of the
playground, pincher of little girls' bottoms and big boys' lunches,
slowly stood. If he had been facing the guillotine he could not have
looked paler. Ivor held up his hand to hush the audience.
'This is clearly a boy of great sensitivity and depth of spirit. His
poem is promising, very promising indeed!' And having thus destroyed an
image which had taken young Tomkins fourteen devoted years to build, he
turned to the adult population and transfixed us with that beady eye.
'Cherish the beautiful souls of these children,' he commanded. 'Put
nothing in their way which will hinder their love of the beautiful
things of life. Michael Tomkins, it gives me great pleasure to
But my mind had gone back in time to the day when I had found Mick and
his giggling mates in the school library - rather like discovering a
hyena in a vegetarian restaurant, I had thought at the time. Had he been
looking at a poetry book? Yes he had! Had he, in fact, cribbed his poem?
Was I being thoroughly mean-spirited? I would have to look into it, look
you. Cheating was much more in Mick's line than poetry.
Now it was the turn of the over-18s.
'I shall only award one prize,' Ivor was saying, 'Because of the very small field.
Five entries only! Come on, we can do better than that.' He shuffled papers importantly.
'So it is my very 'appy duty to proclaim as Bard for the coming year...'
Oh, the tension! Oh, the heart-stopping silence! Oh, the strength in
Alfred's hands as he ripped his hat in two! '...someone who has written
a poem of transcendent beauty. And beauty is what it's all about,
friends. In a moment I will read it to you. But first - stand and
applaud the fine talents, the God-given gift, of our good friend,
butcher of this town, Alfred Petsworth! Come on, Alfred, Bach - get your
trophy and your cash prize of...'
But he was drowned in the waves of exuberant clapping. Everyone was
saying they knew all along it would be Big Al, and did they have to call
him 'Bard' now, or what? And Al, big as a bull and soft as a pussy-cat,
went humbly to the platform and received, as if from royalty, the fruits
of his creativity.
It was difficult to tell what the poem was about, read as it was in
Ivor Jones' majestic tones. Afterwards, I stopped Big Al and admired his
trophy. 'What inspired you?' I asked.
He didn't reply at once. 'Silly, really,' he said at last. 'Make you
laugh, I reckon. I was cutting up a lamb. Opened it up and there was the
heart. And I got to thinking about hearts and about how we've each got
one, and how they go on inside us, bung-bung-bung, year after year...'
He stopped to blow his nose, choked with all the day's emotions. 'And it
got a hold of me. I couldn't sleep for it.' He nodded solemnly at me. 'I
can tell you, I'm glad it's over.'
'For a year,' I said.
'Well - for a year.' He wore a faint air of confusion, as if the mantle
that had fallen upon him had caused a slight concussion. He nodded again
and went towards the door, closely followed by Gladys, two inches taller
with gratification and ready to be insufferable to her friends.
As she passed me I smiled at her. 'Good on him!' I said. 'I bet you're
proud.' She inclined her head graciously to me. 'Still, I suppose it's
back to the butcher's block now,' I said facetiously.
Gladys managed to look down on me, despite the fact that I am a good
foot taller. 'Ivor,' she said with queenly condescension, 'has said that
my Alfred should be published.' And swept out.
While I was trying to think of a retort, Ivor suddenly slapped me on
the back. 'I've got champers on ice at 'ome, boyo! Let's go now and wash
the taste away.'
And we did.
$40 000 BOOK PRIZE SHORTLIST ANNOUNCED
The short-list for Australia's richest book prize, the Tasmania Pacific
Region Prize, was announced by Premier, Jim Bacon, today, 11 January 2001
The inaugural winner of the $40 000 prize will be presented with the award
on Sunday, April 1, as part of the 10 Days on the Island Festival.
Mr Bacon said it was the most lucrative prize on offer in our immediate
region for a single book written by an Australian, New Zealander or a
person from the Melanesian nations.
"The award is in line with the Government's strategy to work with the Arts
to promote a positive image of Tasmania nationally and internationally.
"Such a generous award puts Tasmania on the literary map.
I am confident that this biennial prize will continue to go from strength
to strength. Already interest has been extremely positive, with almost 120 entries
received in this its first year. ."
Mr Bacon said prior to the announcement of the prize at the presentation
event, each of the short-listed authors will be invited to give readings
and discuss their books with the audience.
"This is an opportunity for Tasmanians to see and hear up close the authors
who made the short-list."
The six short-listed novels are:
Drylands by Thea Astley: Viking ? Penguin Books Australia
Baby No-Eyes by Patricia Grace: Penguin Books New Zealand
The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox: Vintage ? Random House
Believers to the Bright Coast by Vincent O'Sullivan: Penguin Books
Benang by Kim Scott: Fremantle Arts Centre Press
Love and Vertigo by Hsu-Ming Teo: Allen & Unwin
Tasmanians also will have an opportunity to vote for their favourite novel
from the six short-listed authors through the State Library People's Choice
Award, launched by Mr Bacon.
"This is the first time Tasmanians will be able to vote for the
short-listed book that they believe deserves to win.
"The advantage of this award is that it involves the community in something
fun and positive for Tasmania."
Copies of the books short-listed for the Tasmania Pacific Region Prize will
be available for loan from libraries throughout the State.
Tasmanians will be able to cast their vote from their local library or book
shops, or via the Tasmania Library website ? www.statelibrary.tas.gov.au.
"Voters with a Tasmanian Library Card will go into a draw for a fantastic
Ten Days on the Island package, to be drawn on the 23rd of March.
"I'm sure all Tasmanians will enjoy reading the short-listed novels.
"I look forward to seeing if the judges and the people of Tasmania agree on
the best novel when their respective awards are announced in April."
Contact: Ken Jeffreys, 6233 2222 or 0409 029 781
Net Notes - Walter Vivian
Surfing, Marie Celestes and Netscape
Effectively using the web requires new skills and attitudes, especially for older people who are inclined to mistakenly accept the sanctity and veracity of the written word.
Unlike print materials, which have costs acting somewhat as a filter, to deny wrong or biased information, the web is open slather to all. Everybody has the opportunity to publish materials on the web so that printed statements are only as good as the people who make them. Bigots, poseurs, shysters, cranks and cheats are able to put up their material as effectively as genuine experts, especially if they dress up their website in a professional manner.
Therefore, it is important to check the credentials of people making statements.
If it is medical information you seek, check to see whether the author has a recognized medical qualification from an accredited university. Many articles brought up by the search engines seem to be written by nurses, whose general expertise is perhaps likely to be limited. Many are written by non-medical people, commonly holding a PhD in a discipline that is "something completely different".
Writers claiming a doctorate may not have one, as there are many spurious "universities" around. Check out their university to see that it is mainstream with prestige and standing. There should also be some cross-referenced review of a piece of worthwhile work in other articles on the subject by other, well-qualified writers.
It is worth remembering also that in every profession there are some otherwise well-qualified practitioners who are complete nutters in some areas. (Sometimes, of course, there is a body of resistance to a mainstream paradigm, that may be shown to be correct in the long run.)
It is therefore an obvious and sensible course to check any findings with your own general practitioner, who is probably also an avid web surfer with enough experience to have a superior crap detector!
It pays to be skeptical. For instance, I was excited recently by a report about a new lens system that would allow partially colourblind people to see colours. I checked out the makers and read their claims. In the list of pages thrown up by the search engine was one by the FDA in the USA, that soberly presented the fact that the technology had been around for 170 years and was limited because once a filter was used to enhance one colour, it diminished another. The FDA has international standing so that its assessment was authoritative and compelling.
Avoid sites that grip your browser or want your email address, etc, before you are allowed to probe deeper.
I would avoid casino sites like the plague. If you want to gamble, go somewhere that you can watch the action, enjoy the ambience and have the physical depletion of your cash running out before your eyes to act as some sort of brake to stupid recklessness.
In short, beware the snake oil salesman and the huckster on the web.
Browsing the web turns up not a few literary derelicts drifting in cyber space, obviously untended, outdated and unloved. It is worth checking the date for the last time the site was maintained and if this is missing, to read on for clues to date it.
Unfortunately, when they become obsolete, such sites do not burn up with a glorious blaze, but retain a dull afterglow, often continuing to signpost forgotten literary competitions, old events and dead or dying magazines that are traps for unwary or careless contributors. Part of the problem flows from the fact that a magazine that lacks funds to carry on can hardly devote time and effort to de-list from web sites that list it.
Many others seem to have lost the early twinkle of available information, as their hosts perhaps realise that giving information away diminishes their reason for being and they scramble to devise ways to sell it to their advantage.
So long as the hosts pay their servers, these pages will continue to drift in cyber space.
My 4.73 Netscape browser was presenting problems
so I checked out the website where version 6 was offered.
(So far as I know, there wasn't a version 5.)
I've had many disappointments with downloads, but this time Netscape started with a small file that proved to be a sort of downloading and installation mechanism, that arrived in a few minutes. I left it to download overnight, as my computer goes into sleep mode when idle, and had it all available next morning.
I've worked 6 cautiously, still retaining 4.73 in case something goes wrong, as I once lost my address book in such an operation through the interactive nature of the files, the backup I had made proving also to be empty.
The address book was successfully imported and I was able to get mail by tinkering with the preferences and control settings.
The look of this version is open and somewhat reminiscent of MS Explorer. Symbols for the function buttons are simpler but backed up by a balloon system with more information, that kicks in if you hold.
If you so desire, mail access may be gained without having to paste in a password after the first occasion. E-mail adresses of in and out mail may be automatically copied into the address book.
On the down side, like Explorer, Netscape has extracted its pound of flesh by loading the page with adverts and buttons leading to more adverts and products and there seems to be no way of junking them.
I'll re-visit this topic with more information in a month or two.#
Tom Howard Short Story Contest 8
Tom Howard reports that there were 382 entries, yielding the following results.
First: Bag Lady by Elaine Fell of North Fitzroy
Second: Mr Christian by Roger Vickery of Harbord
Third: His Majesty's Guests by Margaret Harrison of Fullarton
Most Highly commended: The Tailor by Nancy Christie of Currabubula
Best Science Fiction Story: The Air Man Comes by Kurt von Trojan of Mylor
There were nine Very Highly Commended, about forty Highly Commended and about the same number Commended.
If you wish to enter the next Tom Howard contest, it will cost you $10.00 per story plus $1.00 GST. First Prize is $400.00, second $200.00, third $150 and Most Highly Commendeds split $200.00 between them, which seems to present an anomaly in the current result with the sole MHC being eligible for the same payment as second.
Be warned that the host requires the right to a free licence for possible publishing in an anthology.
Details may be obtained via SSAE from PO Box 327, Wyong 2259 or your local writers centre may be able to furnish a photo copy of the entry form and show you the rules.
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