Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Secret Still

 

 

I vouchsafed a secret
Held my breath for a time
Perhaps our hearts would meet
And she would tell me mine
 
She made me promise
Her word she would keep
She said she'd be silent
Even whilst asleep

She waited for a moment
And told all in all to all
To friends to children
Strangers she would call

Once I knew I closed all up
Thought it better that way
Sip salt from a broken cup
With the handle turned away
Nowadays I say almost nothing
And think it too much
But even that little something
Does have its touch

Secret still secret until

 

Just Grandma and Me: A Reminiscence

Perhaps I should have bought the game and computer too!

It began with Nicole Matejic. She was reminiscing about her old Apple personal computer experiences. In passing she mentioned the children’s game Just Grandma and Me (based on a popular children’s book).

 

Just Grandma and Me

Just Grandma and Me

And the next thing I remember is my daughter perched on a stool playing that game forever…

I was working in Canberra. At that time, I wanted to buy a PC or perhaps an Apple Mac? Part of my role was supporting PCs, yes 286s, XTs and ATsIBM PC XT

Our company owned one Apple, a soothing relief to support as it ran Adobe Pagemaker, a desktop publisher (DTP), one of the few pieces of software that made me look good. So began my fascination with DTP but that is many blogs away! My workmate too was an Apple evangelist.  Which left me wavering. Macintosh_Color_Classic

To resolve my dilemma, I decided to check the PCs and Apples out. That particular Saturday afternoon, my wife and new son needed sleep. So I took my opportunity. I thought I could take my three year old daughter, do my research, and bore her with tech stuff till she falls asleep on the drive home. That was the well thought out, well executed plan.

The last shop was an Apple shopfront near Woden in Canberra. I park the car, open the back door and unstrap my daughter. It’s late Saturday afternoon and she should be showing the first signs of fatigue. Not now, not ever as it turned out. We sidle into the shop hand-in-hand and I ask the tech guy  about the merits of the Apple! Of course he told me in detail. But I say, there aren’t enough Mac applications versus PC.

He can’t counter my point. We both look down and see that her ladyship isn’t too interested in these finer technical details. He says how’s about trying out a few children’s games. Sounds fine and fair enough to me.

I sit her on a stool while the tech guy runs up Just Grandma and Me. This shouldn’t take too long, I think. But in the moment, I was worried.

Not at how precarious her perch was. She wasn’t moving so it didn’t matter. No that dreadful moment when  two eyes turn towards me and ask, “Daddy how do you work this?” That moment would have to wait until she was running Windows Millennium on her laptop!

But that didn’t happen at all. For now the mouse was gliding over the game scenes like thread through silk. Each  click on each character brought joyous laughter at each unique antic. And then she would click through to the next part of an interesting and engaging story.

Wait a minute! I have to back up and take stock now. For I’m not watching this from afar anymore. I had been taken in too. Yes there was the easy technology. But the story within the game had fascinated me (as good stories still do…)

But her ladyship didn’t care for such thoughts of philosophical grandeur. She was signed up for life. As I was just about to find out.

For it was now closing time. And time to go home. No. No. No. Yes (me). All right I’m lodging an official protest. And an official request. For the game and a Mac.

I relented.

I bought a PC. Windows 3.1 and Dos 3.22 powered by a 386  hamster wheel topped by 2 mega dabs of Ram.I used it to play Tetris and log in to work via terminal emulator and attached modem. ZZzz….

I relented again. I  bought the PC version of Just Grandma and Me. It was probably more to assuage my guilt as the original protest had been withdrawn or forgotten. But somehow it didn’t have that beyond cardboard cutout charm of the original…check out the interactive YouTube version!

 

Breathe

Under the shadow of a wing
I woke blinking at the light
And now that dark turns to night
I fear I will disappear again

And I will catch my breath and hold it
Until I know there is no more breath 
Yet another will hold it for me
Until we both breathe again

The Glass Slipper (4) : She Met Me First

It was too dark to film in the pre-dawn twilight. And too hazardous to set up cameras and lights. Or send over their dumb drone in case it crashed and couldn’t be retrieved.

Occasionally, rarely, reality TV did have its benefits and now was one of them. Lonely at last, I thought. But, of course, only for a short moment. For I had to be back ready for the the morning feature. Me splitting wood bare chested (ugh!) for my fans.
I crept softly and slowly still hidden in the night. My torch picked out the sleeping shapes of cows not yet interested in me or milking just yet. Blades of grass reflected their sheen much like shards of green glass. And then the dark swallowed my light. For I had stopped at what looked like a fallen wall.
The last trees I had cleared.  I had left those broken remnants to season and dry. And now I was sawing them into logs and later kindling for the winter. And to boost my sagging ratings.
Behind me in the grey twilight, I could faintly see the camera crew near the house. They were trying to keep warm like ghostly puppets that were losing their strings.

But my work was in front of me, the latest pile of logs. I squatted, bent down, leant forward and drew each log into my arms. Once filled, I slowly stood up and started my trek back to the house.
Still, like the twilight, the other inhabitants paid me no attention. They’d wake soon and the routine would begin. Another day in the life
of “Down on The Farm” : the spun (and slowly unravelling) spin-off show. Featuring the recently separated husband of everyone’s favourite reality star, Ella who was doing I don’t know what.

I stopped.  I thought I saw something. But it was too dark. There is was again. Behind me, I saw a glimpse of curls, followed by a giggle.

“I’ll catch you,” I thought carelessly. I turned ponderously to follow. “Looks like she’s run around me,” I thought again. I finished my sedate circle. Nothing. I couldn’t see or hear anything. I kept on.

Surprised by my thoughts, I said to myself, “It’s nothing,just your imagination running wild in the wild.”
To keep my load steady, I stopped and crouched slightly. I raised left arm and then right and the logs in my arms settled heavily and made a pile yet again. I trailed my way back towards the house. It was still cool and grey and I was a shadow in the twilight. I saw the green roof turn olive-grey in the approaching dawn. The water tanks : squat and silver like oversize 44 gallon drums.
I trudged slowly. As far as I was concerned I had all day. But in the morning silence, I heard the whisper of a smile again, sent to me on the breeze. “A voice too young yet to laugh.”

I stopped again. I took small goose steps as I rotated trying to see the source of my audio dream. I didn’t want to drop my load yet. Still nothing. But something, it must be something. Perhaps…
There it was again. A whisper, now a laugh, curls and a glimpse of a cornflower dress.
To confound my pursuer, I stopped again and turned the other away.
“She’s quicker than me,” I thought carelessly. “Or will be.”
Ignoring the watchers, who had set up camera and microphone, I reached the woodpile and bowed down : a supplicant making his latest humble offering. I threw my arms forward and stepped back in reverential awe. A clump of logs flew forward, thudding and clunking as they hit the altar. Now for the fun part. I took off my shirt and threw it carelessly away. They’d like that, I knew. Apparently it was worth 20 points each time on the ratings.
Next to the stump was my favourite weapon of destruction. A green triangular headed wood splitter. I balanced it in my hands like I was buying a rifle. The head and handle were still smooth yet to be scarred by combat. That would be years I thought. And I had years now. I waited and felt the presence. A watcher ready to ask me a direct question. But she had years too. I heard the camera crew shuffle nervously, as they moved to keep me in view.
Even though the log pile was just the right height, I still leaned down, forward and across. I picked up log number one. I took its weight, squatted and placed it on the stump. Grey silver bark, wood core like cracked ochre. This one had finally seasoned.
I reached down to take the splitter again.
“And how long does it take to season?”
“As long as it takes,” I replied to myself (I thought). I looked up and around. The crew were motionless. They hadn’t seen or heard anything. Otherwise they would ask for another shot.
So I stilled myself, ignored the voice in my head and swung the splitter. Back above my head. I cocked my wrists and swung it just above the small of my back. I waited until it was just about to fall backwards and have no weight at all.
Like the string holding the arrow, I let go, timing turned into power. I struck wood, felt nothing except the tip tapping the stump. “No effort required,” I thought. Turning logs into kindling is the easiest part. Sure beats cutting down trees and sawing up logs. The dark held its breath and watched silently.

Except it wasn’t the dark.
Two more swings. The rest of log number one split into five pieces. I kicked the kindling away. That one done, I began again. Then I stopped. Someone was still watching me. It wasn’t the cameras. Being watched by them was like being stared at and then ignored as uninteresting.

No I was being observed. Closely and carefully. But not uncomfortably.
This time, I slipped and dropped the splitter mid swing. I turned right then left to catch whoever it was unawares. I saw nothing.
I felt her peer over my shoulder as I fell into the rhythm again. Pick up log, balance, pick up splitter, balance, pull back, let go, split log, split, split and kick kindling. Occasionally, I missed the mark, self-consciously. I would have to repeat the blow. Occasionally, too, I knocked the log over instead of straddling it. And steadfastly, I kept ignoring her.
And in the silence, her presence grew in my mind. I could see her curls, and hear her voice, even when she said nothing. I felt her read my thoughts, turn them over in her mind and read them back to me with another question. And slowly, the dawn crept through and the day began.
Much like the parent I wasn’t and had no intention of being, I more and more hoped that she would go away. Every so often, I would turn around to say it out loud. But I was deterred by the media presence.

I forced myself silent. I knew I would be thought mad muttering to myself in the middle of the bush away from my estranged wife.
And every single time I looked for her, she wasn’t there. She was enjoying this game I knew. She knew where I would move and what I would say before I did it.  I senses that this knowledge would not be used maliciously, however, rather playfully and ultimately patiently. For she knew that I would come around. Every so often I would hear a giggle and then a stifled laugh. I knew that she knew. As she knew I knew.
“Who is she? A haunting?” I had heard stories like this. Lost children haunting the place where they had died, waiting for their parents to return. But at dawn? In front of witnesses?
I stopped splitting and looked across at the crew.
“What’s happening?” I asked. No-one replied. “See anything this morning?”
No reply, neither nod nor shake of the head. Maybe they haven’t seen anything. If they had they weren’t saying, they were professional like that. Besides I knew these questions would be edited out.
I still sensed her listening to me. Much like the child I really was, I decided to scrunch the bed covers over my face, hold them close and feign sleep until she left me. I really hoped that she would slip away and find something else to take her attention, as little girls are supposed to do. Well, as far as I knew anyway.
I continued. Pick up log, set it on the stump, scythe the splitter through wood and hope for sparks,  kick the kindling away, dodge the odd shower of splinters, the rhythm continuous and all-encompassing despite the warming day and its hardening light.
In the silence between logs, I finally took my chance.

“Are you a fairy? A tree-nymph? A gumnut baby fleeing the evil banksia men?” The smile whispered into a giggle, then she laughed. At her giggle.
And while she looked over my shoulder, she beckoned the silence with more questions. “Who are you?” I asked (silently) in exasperation.

Her reply was familiar. “Why are you chopping wood here?”

“Instead of elsewhere,” was the implied thought I heard.

“Instead of where you’re supposed to be,” she thought at me finally.
I sensed that she was patient. And insistent. She knew I would answer her questions eventually. She seemed to have years to wait.
The sunrise rose above the green roof. And with it, the cold post-sunrise breeze washed over me like ice water. And then I knew where I was supposed to be and why.
I said, “Ella doesn’t want me anymore. I’m not in a fairy-tale anymore.”
But still her silence called to mine. She reached forward to take my hand.
I knew that I could send her away. But she would keep returning until I returned to her now pregnant mother.
The cameras kept rolling as I carried the kindling up to the house.

Movie Review : Love and Friendship

Midway through watching this movie, I came to two realisations (and then some more). The first was had the purists been present they would have glared me down to stop me from laughing. For Jane Austen isn’t universally acknowledged as the provider of a wholesome laugh. While I do acknowledge there are many sophisticated, clever and witty conversations in her other books, she unleashes her inner cynic in “Love and Friendship“, based on her  early novella Lady Susan.

The second was the familiarity of the main character, Lady Susan Vernon. Played with the right blend of known selfishness and feigned selflessness by Kate Beckinsale, she is a brilliant case of rampant narcissism. Even a small sampling of her words (of which there are many) and actions (disguised and self-justified) would have psychologists running for their notebooks and chairs. Widowed too early and with a daughter, as she constantly reminds us, she lives intermittently with her nearest relatives until she quickly dilutes their welcome. And then moves onto the next, with as little notice as possible to evade her increasing followers, debtors and lovers alike.

She is a grifter (probably not a word associated with Jane Austen), seducing and manipulating men and women respectively, with the aim of gaining a husband for herself and one for her daughter. She despises true love, as according to her, the only part of a man that makes a husband is his income, although even those words are not reflected by her actions at the conclusion of the movie!

Her plans are encouraged and abetted, by her best friend, Mrs Johnson played by Chloe Sevigny, one of the few characters in this  movie that is developed to any depth, though similar in nature to Lady Susan. Which brings me to my third realisation…

That Love and Friendship is filmed in vignettes. And each set of characters was introduced beforehand. Even so, in truth, I wished I had a libretto or the novel itself so I could keep track. Consequently, I realised that midway through the movie, perhaps with less characters, those remaining could be more deeply drawn rather than being a sequence of walk on extra special guest star roles!

As for the plot, it demands to be followed carefully! For as Lady Susan is the driver of the story, one quickly learns that her versions of events aren’t always strictly true.  Even when cornered and caught in untruth, Lady Susan dissembles brilliantly, that is, until people and events are further examined and the lie is exposed. Then suddenly, she moves elsewhere to avoid the consequences and responsibility of her actions. Much like the classic narcissist!

Beautifully filmed, but not in the overly worshipful way that plagues other Jane Austen films, Love and Friendship does through its scenery, of course, provide an ongoing insight into the successful upkeep of Great Britain’s stately homes.

But what most appealed to me was the wit of the script. It was replete with lines so wicked and cynical that the small crowd (from different walks of life by the way), all laughed uproariously!

Finally, while this film may be set in nineteenth century England, Love and Friendship could easily be transplanted into modern times. A self indulgent heroine greedily grabbing and grasping at every opportunity to make money and further her cause? Never, say the purists! All she would need is her own reality TV show!

Never Unknown Again

You know I'm staring at you
Though you won't look at me
Your head is bowed low
Over Candy Crush or TV

I can wait with my empty cup
You'll remember, you'll see
You'll bob your head up
And stare full back at me

And when our eyes meet yet again
We'll create our own serenity
Only for another three seconds
That last another eternity

Never unknown again.


The Gift

How could I understand
When it left my hand
That heavy burden, now lightly lost
Had released all and every cost?

The gift then revealed itself to me..

I am a constant escapee
I am a freedom loving revolutionary
I am the silent conspiracy
I am the light to a world of misery

The Bitter Sea

Mine is a lost soul that swims in a bitter sea
Overlayed and swamped by waves of jealousy
Caught and held under by a rising tide of night
At the mercy of winds of animosity

Until I lose my strength  and drown ashore
Foundered now ocean’s false martyr
Suns may rise, storms may  fall
A light shower  washes my tears away

Hunt for The Wilder People : Movie Review

It’s 6 o’clock Saturday 11th June 2016. I’ve exited the Event Cinemas in George Street Sydney. I’m sitting on a step scribbling furiously as people pass me by, lights and shadows draping me briefly.  I’m too immersed in what I’m doing to notice much else.

I’ve just seen Hunt For The Wilder People, the New Zealand smash-hit, apparently seen by one-in-nine Kiwis, though not yet as many people living on the West Island (Australia, in case you’re wondering).

It’s the story of an incorrigible orphaned boy Ricky (played by Julian Dennison). As a last resort, he is sent to the final foster parents in the middle of nowhere by Child Services. Totally unimpressed, Ricky tries to return to Child Services but once settled at home promptly runs away. After being found again (and again),  he  slowly acclimatises to his new environment, and starts to bond with his foster mother Bella (played by Rima Te Wiata). However, he develops a tenuous and stand-offish relationship with her cantankerous partner Hec (Sam Neill) who really would rather be left alone.

Sadly, tragically, Bella collapses and dies. With only Hec left, Child Services informs them that they will now take Ricky back. That’s enough for Ricky to go bush for good. Once Hec realises the situation, he searches for and finds Ricky but is injured in the pursuit.

Unfortunately, Paula from Child Services (No Child Left Behind, No Child Left Behind is her mantra), arrives on the now deserted farm. With no Ricky or Hec, she calls in the real police and starts a manhunt.

Directed by Taika Watiti, (director of Boy) who has an amusing and disturbing cameo as a pastor, this film showcases the scenery of New Zealand (the opening is like a travelogue) but lets the story unfold itself at its own pace. Through crisis, contemplation and humour,  we see the relationship between Ricky and Hec develop even if they are complete opposites. In their continuing adventures, Ricky learns bushcraft, bravery and brashly defies Paula from Child Services when she nearly catches him again. As the manhunt becomes national news, they’re left to the encroaching winter, the not-so-stealthy efforts of the pursuing Special Forces and the police. Although I did experience deja vu having watched Sam Neill in much the same situation in Sleeping Dogs!

Luckily, the Hunt for the Wilder People has a more humourous and happy outcome even if Ricky and Hec do end up confronting the New Zealand Army on its home turf.  And Julian Dennison steals the film.

This is a wonderfully told story, with many laughs and some sadness too. And a cast whose enjoyment in making this movie shines through! Go see it and enjoy.

More Than A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald

As a recent and still temporary resident of Sydney, I wanted to meet other writers. And of course to pick up some writing tips from a real-life author. Naturally, the best place and time to do both is a book launch.

So there am I, on a pre-east coast low cold and rainy Wednesday (31st May 2016) at the launch of a Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, by Natasha Lester at the Australian Writers Centre in North Sydney. I introduce myself to a few writers, have a drink and find a seat to listen to Natasha Lester be interviewed by Valerie Khoo.

And it was a fascinating interview : how she writes, the path to publishing this novel, the inspiration for the book and how she researched.

And it gave me comfort,  inspiration and encouragement. Firstly, that I should let the story tell itself, for being a writer is an imperfect listener. Secondly, that with patience and persistence, all things are possible, that I could write more than a series of interlinked short stories. Thirdly, that even a geek like me can master Scrivener, a complex but powerful piece of software.

But I was in for a surprise.  The lady on my left was an integral part of Natasha Lester’s story, Rebecca Saunders, her publisher from Hachette. And once introduced to me, suggested with no prompting whatsoever, that I should enter writing competitions. “But I haven’t even told you that I write or what I write,” was my reply.  Maybe publishers have a level of intuition that I don’t yet know about.  It is true that I had entered the Big Issue competition last year with hopes until I saw who had been published. I felt like plankton in a vast ocean. Still often the most unexpected advice is the best to take.  Funnily enough I received the same advice later that night but I did mention I wrote.

And so as one does, on impulse, I bought the book and had it autographed by the author.  And during my conversation with her, I entered the confessional (much as many audience members do when a speaker reveals themselves) and mentioned my plan to expand these short stories (which has already started to happen). I was again gratified and encouraged by the response. Here is someone who wants everyone to write that can!

But the biggest surprise awaited until the weekend. I read the entire A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald in a day. This is a delightful book, both a historical novel and a story oriented towards women yet one that is accessible to male readers too! This well-written and well-thought out story takes the reader back to New York in the 1920s with beautifully described scenes, especially the clothes of the day and carefully drawn characters including the nuances of speech and slang.

It is the story of a woman who has an ambition to be an obstetrician which was then a completely male-dominated profession. It touched me as I have an ex-partner and also a sister who is a nurse and a sister-in-law who was a nurses’ aide. Through them I do know that as of now the medical environment has some way to go to fully accept women. But I was shocked at the latent hostility and deliberate ignorance towards women whether they were patients or medical colleagues. And this is where Natasha Lester delves into the dark places where men are knowingly cruel to women.  But that is not where the story stays…

A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald, is the story of a woman’s struggle to find true love and fulfillment against the odds. And that is  why we write.

 

 

 

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