Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rambling Becomes a Sunday Habit and A Good Cause.

It’s Sunday again. Once again Deb and I have been homebound. Partly because the weather and partly because I had to both drop Io off at her work and pick her up.

Unlike last weekend I have barely been productive at all. I have thought a bit about my WIP but have barely put finger to keyboard.
I have spent a bit of time visiting blogs but all in all I have pretty much wasted my day.

However, while blog hopping I noticed Margot Kinberg is holding a charity raffle at her blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist. Her raffle called Do the Write Thing is to raise funds for the New Zealand Red Cross to help victims of the Christchurch Earthquake.

What she wants is for Authors to donate copies of their book/s to use as prizes and for people to spread the word by posting or Tweeting about the raffle.
I’ve offered a copy of Veiled in Shadows and I am of course only too happy to do my bit to spread the word.

A piccie from my archive
A New Holland Honeyeater in the Rain

Now on with my ramble.
I am I think as ready as I can be for the job interview I have on Tuesday. Deb and I have run through questions we expect I’ll get and I’ve worked out responses.
Of course there are always surprises.

Deb and I finally picked out a present for Io’s impending 21st Birthday.
Deb took the opportunity to drop a few broad hints as her birthday is later in March.

Now I have said I haven’t done any writing but that is somewhat of a lie I have just spent half an hour tinkering with a section of my WIP featuring Valentina and Penelope.

So because I have been thinking about them an extract.
Valentina and Natasha have met Penelope at a canteen…

Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948
'I'll order us some tea, or perhaps you would prefer coffee?'
'No I'll order it, with my army identification I don't have to pay.'
Natasha piped up, ‘And something to eat!’
‘A glass of milk, you have to eat your supper in a while.’

As I stood at the counter waiting for the tea I casually watched my friend sitting at the table.
She laughed and tickled Natasha under her chin. She seemed to dote on the little one. But then like me Penelope must have been approaching thirty and like me she might never have children of her own. My friend leant close as Natasha explained what she had been drawing on a precious piece of paper with her favourite possession a little box of color pencils. How I had scoured the city to find her those pencils.

My friend, was it too soon to call her a friend? For six weeks I had known Penelope, but really for six days, Sundays.
Or more realistically for ten or twelve hours at a beach or in a meadow, or as now in a Soviet canteen for workers.
What did I know about her?
She didn't seem to work anywhere. She was well fed, well dressed for the ruin that was Berlin in the late 1940s and very beautiful.
Almost out of place really.
I pondered what I knew about her.
Apart from the fact that she had lost her husband in the war she had said nothing personal. Our conversation usually revolved around Natasha and the moment.
I shrugged off my doubts.
Perhaps it suited both of us to exist in the present.

With her beauty and her apparently privileged lifestyle she was probably what the Red Army termed a 'Campaign Wife'.
Some general's companion until he could return home.
If that was her situation I could easily accept she was coy about her circumstances.
I saw no shame in such a choice, I had seen too many corpses between Moscow and Berlin to any longer think antiquated morals should stand between a person and survival. But everyone’s idea of pride is different and perhaps pride held her from saying more.

Natasha, her face serious continued explaining her drawing.
As for me, I was happy to live in the moment.
I had no future mapped out, the war had taken my future.
And the past.
No one wanted to talk about the past.
I existed day to day.
But maybe, just maybe that was enough.

Penelope met my eye, her smile was warm. Something in that smile, that look, tickled my memory.
I had felt this about her before, it was stupid but I was sure I knew her from somewhere before.

But that was impossible.

I carefully carried the mugs of tea and a glass of milk back to the table.
'I have the strangest feeling about you.'
Penelope’s brows arched, her lovely smile again, 'What funny feeling?'
'I feel like… I feel I know you from somewhere else.'
'Yet we never met before that day at the lake.'
'No, but...'
'Maybe I remind you of someone else?'

Friday, February 25, 2011

Old Tasmania, a Pirate's Bay and Naked Aggression

So far in my posts on Tassie I have featured a day of our trip for each post. Tonight I break with that because Day 6 was so packed with events and places it is going to take at least three if not four posts to cover adequately.

Uncle Harry would be proud!

First a warning! Latter parts of this post feature a vicious thug behaving not only aggressively but making open threats of violence. It’s not for the faint hearted!

Our day started fairly early in Hobart where we spent the night. We were heading south to the Tasman Peninsula for the day.

Our first stop Richmond. Like much of Tassie Richmond features quaint Gerorgian era buildings.Deb and Lu parked themselves in this Café and had breakfast while I wandered up and down the main street.This building was once a pub, but is now apparently a private residence.Richmond is certainly not my favourite place, it is close to Hobart and has a really ‘tourist trap’ feel. Most of the buildings although original seem to have shops dispensing ‘hand crafts’ of dubious quality for large amounts of money.Don’t get me wrong if you go that way Richmond is well worth a look but it certainly wasn’t my favourite place in the Apple Isle.

Richmond’s main claim to fame is this convict-built bridge.Which because it was built in is the oldest bridge anywhere in Oz.

The 1836 Catholic church was beautiful in the morning light.Like many other churchyards in Tassie it also had burials.I thought the most interesting (historically speaking) was the grave of Bartholomew Reardon. As you can see from the plaque he was born in 1791 on Norfolk Island. This was only 3 years after British Settlement in Oz. Which I guess makes Bart one of the first Aussies of European decent.

Our next stop was at Pirate’s Bay. Yes it is really called Pirate’s Bay.
It was here we were shown a display of naked aggression.

Here is the culprit.
No not Deb whose feet are in the right side of the piccie.

The little blue fellow.

This tiny Superb Blue Wren discovered another male in his patch.

This usually very shy creature went on the warpath.

He shot past Deb barrelling straight at his foe and over my toes.

He shot past me I got down to his level and took these couple of shots of him checking that his foe had high-tailed.Then he turned and fixed his beady eye on me.Scary isn’t he?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jobs for Al

I mentioned the week before last that I was putting in a job application for a job that closed last Monday. Well I heard from them today, they want me to come in for an interview next Tuesday.

I am simultaneously pleased and nervous. Pleased because it is a job I would like to get and it means I am pitching at about the right level.

But I’m also nervous because I haven’t had a job interview for a few years and I tend to not do too well when I haven’t had an interview in a while. Like anything job interviews are something you tend to be better at with a little practice.

Fortunately, both Deb and I have both interviewed many, many people over the years to fill various jobs so between us we are usually fairly good at working out what kind of questions I’ll be asked.

Did I say I am nervous?

I have also put two more applications together. One is again in a roughly related field in a behind the scenes management role. I’d quite like that one too but not quite as much as the one I’m being interviewed for on Tuesday.
The other was one Deb suggested, it is heading a small policy unit in a Government Department.

To be totally honest I’m not quite sure if I would enjoy it but: I fit the selection criteria; I don’t loose anything by throwing my hat in the ring; and the pay looks to be way better than anything comparable in the community sector.

What do you think? Al the Public servant?

Anyway Tuesday first. If I do well I will land the job I want.

Now a couple of piccies from my archive.

Both of these were taken in the coastal heath at North Head in Sydney a couple of years ago.

I have to confess that I have no idea what the trumpet shaped flowers are. They are tiny, each ‘trumpet’ about an inch long.

I am fairly sure these are a species of Melaleuca.
Which doesn’t help much because Melaleuca is a family with hundreds of species from small shrubs to large trees.

The 'problem' with Aussie wild-flowers is there are literally 1,000s of species. Very pretty, but a non expert like me often has very little idea of what I am looking at.

As a by-the-by, I have occasionally been in the bush with botanists who have said, 'Errr not sure what that one is.'

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Al Rambles

You will have to forgive me for a long rather rambling post.

We’ve had a quiet weekend. Yesterday Deb and I went hunting for a birthday present for our middle daughter Io.
She has her 21st birthday in a few weeks. We bought E our eldest a Tissot watch for her 21st. I had kind of thought we would do the same for Io but Deb pointed out Io doesn’t wear a watch so it is a case of decisions, decisions. How do you buy something that a 21yo will like but hopefully still treasure in years to come?

To day Deb and I were going to go for our traditional run (er that would be drive. I love walking, but I don’t run anywhere) out bush, at the last moment we both called off. The weather didn’t look at all promising.

So Deb sat and knitted in front of the TV while I have spent the day writing. Or to be more precise reading over (not editing) my WIP and adding more.

I mentioned a little while ago Valentina has been causing me problems. Well I have close to 30,000 words written on her story. She was meant to be a secondary character in a sub-plot!

With my first novel Veiled in Shadows I had a similar problem. One of my readers (of a late draft) suggested that trimming a whole sub-plot including several characters would benefit the novel. At first I didn’t like the idea. But after a little thought it worked and improved the book.

I am not at such a late stage, I haven’t yet completed a first draft. Yet, I am faced with 30,000 words that don’t quite fit. So I either re-jig the whole plan, give Valentina her marching orders, or try and cram her back into her original second rate role.

So today I have rewritten a couple of chapters that sit elsewhere. It means my main characters David and Svetlana (I did post just a tiny bit about David ages ago ) loose some of their story. Or rather it moves to back-story.

Interestingly I suspect this new approach may work, adding a little mystery to David and Svetlana’s sections.
The problem I still have to work out though is I will run the risk of creating two parallel stories rather than having sub-plots that contribute to a whole.

Thanks to an endorsement of Drop Box by Kathleen Jones I have been using this brilliant piece of software for synchronising between my two PCs. It also creates an online back up of my WIP.

I had heard of it before, but I’m always a bit nervous about online storage because I know a couple of hackers and I am pretty sure they’d not have too many problems bypassing the security of Drop Box. But then it occurred to me that I am not particularly likely to be targeted and the worse that could happen is someone could ‘steal’ copies of my uncompleted WIP, hardly the crime of the century.

So I am trialling Drop Box and I suspect that with it I am very unlikely to loose any more chapters like I did the other week.

Enough rambling.

Here is a little more of Valentina’s Story
It comes just after the last extract I posted on the 11th of February.
Valentina looks for Penelope again, at first she is disappointed but then she gets more than she bargained for…

Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948

I looked for Penelope the next time I took the little one to the beach.
I was more disappointed than I thought I should have been that she was not there.
The week after I didn't look for her, instead I played in the water with Natasha.
As we came out I saw her sitting on a blanket next to ours. This time she wore a broad brimmed hat and a light cotton blouse. 'I should have listened to you last time.'
'You got yourself burnt?'
'It was terrible, my shoulders and arms are peeling. No, shedding or shredding would be a better description.'
'Ah well, you are being more careful now.'
'Yes, no choice really.'
'You could stay out of the sun all together.'
'I could, but I was curious to see you again.'
'A Russian soldier, a veteran by the look of you and a little German girl an odd mix. You must agree that is enough to spark anyone's curiosity.'
'Is it so strange?'
'It is. It is a lovely afternoon, would you like to take Natasha and go for a picnic.?'
'I am not misunderstanding you am I? My German is not the best, you mean a basket of food in a meadow somewhere?'
'That is exactly what I mean. Given rationing, it won't be anything very fancy but I thought Natasha might think it fun.'
'I haven't done anything like that since before the war.'
'All the more reason.'

Friday, February 18, 2011

Georgian Villages: Quaint Old English but in Oz?

A quick word about Nicole Ducleroir’s Bernard Pivot Blogfest. Quite simply what fun!
Thank you all who popped by for a look and stayed to comment or sign up as followers!

Now back in time to Tassie and back to another era in architecture.

On day five we left the north of Tassie and weaved south through the Central Highlands.

By Aussie standards Tasmania is tiny at 90,768 square kilometres (34,042 square miles). To put that in perspective it is almost exactly the same size as Maine in the US and about a sixth bigger than Scotland.

So from Launceston in the north to Hobart in the south is only about two hours drive along the main drag of the Tasman Highway. Even along the main highway there is little traffic because there are only about half a million people in the whole state.

We wanted to avoid the main road so our trip was about three hours driving time although we took most of the day to cover that with side trips and long pauses.

European settlement in Tassie began in the early 1800s and spread through the whole state quite quickly.

So most of the little villages scattered through the state are 1805 to 1830s in origin. And because very little development has occurred many original buildings are still standing.

Travelling through many Tassie villages you could convince yourself you were in the UK if you didn’t look too closely.

The main street of Longford for example. A row of classic Georgian era buildings. The only difference is these don’t have their original roofs. If their English born builders had put them up in the UK they would have Welsh Slate roofs. Here they used timber shingles that have been subsequently replaced by the incredibly practical Aussie tradition of corrugated iron.

At the highest point of the trip we paused near one of the highland lakes.

This is Arthur’s lake.I spotted these lovely Hyacinth Orchids growing there.This church is in Bothwell further south where we stopped for lunch.The main street of Bothwell is a funny mix of Georgian buildings and an Aussie Bush community.Our last stop before Hobart was Hampton. Every building in the main street of this village is 1830s to 1860s and most built from beautiful local sandstone quarried by convicts.

How hard life must have been for those poor souls torn away from their native Great Britain and sent half way around the world in stinking prison ships. Only to do hard labour once they got here.

The saving grace was that as a social experiment it ultimately worked for many of them once they were freed. And of course their children and grandchildren had opportunities that would have never been possible for slum dwellers in the UK.

I walked along Hampton’s main street clicking away to my heart’s content.
This gives an idea of just how rural this village is.
I liked this house. Replace the roof with slate and it would blend in to many English village streets.

This little place has been converted to a B&B. Johnson’s Emporium still bearing it’s builder’s name 170 years later.My favourite building in the village the original village school.This was the coach inn in the days when the Royal Mail travelled by stage coach from Hobart to Launceston.By UK standards Hampton is not old. But here in Oz as far as European settlement goes it is ancient.

The church in Hampton was completed in 1834.Which is the year before Melbourne was even founded.

As an aside, many Tasmanian churches are early enough to have burials in their churchyards. This is something that is essentially never seen in Mainland Oz. The practice was abandoned in favour of stand alone cemeteries and there are few churches (or churchyards for that matter) this old in most of the country.
The oldest standing church in Oz dates from 1809 and is just west of Sydney in NSW.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bernard Pivot Blogfest

As a spur of the moment thing I have decided to join in on Nicole Ducleroir’s Bernard Pivot Blogfest which celebrates her blog passing 500 followers.
As part of the fest each participant answers the ten questions made famous by Bernard himself.
If you’re interested you can sign up here.

So without further ado here are my answers

1. What is your favorite word?
Love, I quite like the sound and the concept really swings things in its favour.

2. What is your least favorite word?
I can’t really say I have one. If I follow the principle above I’d have to say greed.

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Creatively – writing, writing is just about my favourite thing.
Spiritually – Being in high country as a storm passes, I feel at one with the universe in the presence of such elemental forces.
Emotionally – spending time with Deborah, the love of my life.

4. What turns you off?
Selfish, careless behaviour. People can be so destructive and not even realise it.

5. What is your favorite curse word?
Bugger, definitely bugger.
Aussies don't use this word in its traditional sense. ‘Bugger’ is usually heard when something has gone moderately wrong. Like spilling coffee on a clean shirt.

6. What sound or noise do you love?
I’m going to have to toss up between the sound of running water and the sound of Deborah’s step on the porch when she gets home.

7. What sound or noise do you hate?
Loud machinery, particularly jack-hammers.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Well the obvious is a full time writer. Other than that I could imagine myself as an archaeologist or historian. I guess there's not much future in either (please forgive the really bad pun).

9. What profession would you not like to do?
I would not want to do anything in finance. Refer to question two above. The mess we are in Worldwide puts me right off finance.

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
‘Come in almost everybody’s welcome.’

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Russell Sprout: Lu and University

About nine months ago I posted about our youngest Lu.

At that point she had caused me palpitations by telling me she was dropping out of school.

She eased my worries by telling me the rest of her plan, namely to sidestep her last two years of high school and enrol straight into a Bachelor of Science through open university.

Her plan was to work hard, get good results and enrol in a conventional university on the basis of that this year.

Well she is on track. She achieved a distinction average for the units she enrolled in last year.
On the basis of her results she’s achieved her target and has been offered a few places at Melbourne universities.

So at just 17 (her birthday is in November) she’s on Campus at Latrobe University this year. She’s still working towards a Bachelor of Science.

So with her friends facing their toughest year at school to qualify through their VCE for university entrance next year Lu is on her way with almost a third of her degree already under her belt.

I get all hot and bothered just watching this girl power along.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Cradle Mountain (and a rather odd habit)

Well my Uncle Harry tour guide hat goes back on tonight.
On our fourth day in Tassie we left the east coast and headed to the central highlands.
Our target Cradle Mountain.It was a wet and cool to cold (for summer) day.

We didn’t get to the Cradle Mountain National Park until after lunch.
The light was changing from minute to minute because of the time and the weather we weren’t very ambitious about walking. Over 300 days a year it is raining or cloudy here so the weather was pretty much what you’d expect.Deb and Lu did one walk of about half an hour return.

They followed a path around the east of Dove Lake to a high point known as Glacier Rock.
I dawdled a bit taking literally hundreds of photos.

Including this one of some scat on a rock. Yes it is what you think it is. ‘Scat’ is a polite naturalist’s way of saying ‘poo’ or ‘shit’.

I kept moving; the large rocky promontory (with the people on top) in the fore-ground is Glacier Rock.And to show how far I had got behind, the character in red on the top is Lu.
She (and Deb) waited at the top until I caught up.

I took this picccie of Lu from up there.Then she returned the favour.You will notice I was unshaven and well and truly in holiday mode.

Then for a moment we played duelling cameras.Then Deb and Lu headed back to the car because the afternoon turned freezing. I went on another walk around the west of the lake. Following a nicely formed trail
Again and again I saw
I counted no less than 17 piles of scat and more scat all carefully placed on the top of little rocks.

My destination this little boat house built to house rescue boats in the 1940s.So If you are like me (and maybe you aren’t) you want to know who was the obsessive creature who so carefully left these little markers of passing on all these rocks?

This cute fellow is the culprit. A wombat, they leave scat on rocks to mark their territory.

Alas the wombat piccie is not mine (this is from Wikipedia). They are very shy creatures, I have a couple of wombat photos but they are blurry piccies of a rapidly departing wombat rear end.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Odds and Ends

First of all thank you all for your supportive comments. Your gentle support means a lot to me.

Thank you.

Now I haven’t posted for the last few days because I have been busy.

Work is as crazy as ever, it has been somewhat easier now I have made a decision not to stay for the long term. Although I have to say I am kind of missing the people there even though I haven’t left yet.

I have been putting together an application for a job, something I’d actually really like to do. It’s a managing position looking after a couple of mental health programs in something called a Community Health Service. I’ve had similar jobs before so I think I’ll be in the running. It’s senior enough to have almost no client contact, but close enough to the community to keep a feel that I’m achieving something ‘real’. It feels right, the application process closes on Monday so wish me luck.

The other thing that is keeping me busy is my WIP. Unfortunately due to a minor computer problem I lost about ten hours work. I am usually absolutely paranoid about back ups. This time I was a bit slack so of course this was the time I had problems. That’ll teach me :-)

I’ve been
threatening promising more posts about our Tassie trip but just haven’t had time to pick piccies to share from the (literally) thousands I brought back.

So instead I am going to inflict a section of my WIP on you. In case anyone is reading Veiled in Shadows on my other blog I will also post a chapter of that tomorrow.

I’m not sure how popular these chunks are because I seem to get almost no comments on them.
Anyway I enjoy posting them so here goes.

This is (as usual) a first draft although it was not typed today. It follows on from the last section where Ronnie and Valentina crashed into each other at a Berlin Airport.

Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948
As spring eased into summer and the weather warmed up I began taking Natasha a beach at Heddersee. Sunday was our day, just the two of us.

I had never managed to find out her German name, if she remembered herself she never said, so she was Natasha. I had thought briefly of calling her Raisa, but my Raisa had died at the hands of Germans so I was not sure.

Of course no trace of her mother was ever found so Natasha lived with me in my apartment as if she was my daughter. She was the first child at our orphanage and she had saved me as surely as I had saved her. So it was not surprising she was my favourite.

She was a serious seven year old, but she seemed happy enough. I thought she was very clever, but what mother does not think her child is special. She had learned Russian very rapidly, even quicker than most small children are with language. She still spoke German when she played with other children, but most people guessed she was Russian.

Before the airport I had stopped thinking about Ronnie every day. Now I knew how desperately I still loved him. I re-enacted every moment of that brief encounter again and again, always ending with his expression of hate.

How easy to live with a love who was gone for ever. How hard to be hated by one's desire.

Without Natasha and the focus of the other children I could never have managed the next few days. But eventually I began to feel something like normal again. Thoughts of Ronnie did not distort my thinking at every moment. The incident seemed to have caused no trouble for me either, neither my driver or aide seemed to have mentioned what had happened to anyone.

I lay on our blanket and watched Natasha as she played at the water's edge. She kept as close an eye on me as I did on her, she didn't mind playing on her own with someone watching, but being left alone held a terror for her. She was one child I never had to worry about wandering off.

Sunday was the busiest day at Heddersee with the residents of Berlin making the most of the weather. So I was not surprised when a woman spread a blanket next to mine. With my focus on Natasha, I did not pay much attention to her, I had an impression of long, milky white limbs and black hair.

A voice in German, 'Excuse me.'
I glanced over at her she was holding a bottle out in my direction, 'I don't suppose you could put a bit of this on my back could you?'
I looked at her more closely. She was beautiful, physically beautiful the way Raisa had been, so that people would notice when she entered a room. Tall, dark haired, pale skinned, striking grey eyes.
I knew her from somewhere, I was sure. Yet I had never seen her before, I was certain of that.

It was oil, thin and clear and with an odd earthy smell that was still pleasant and somehow familiar. She held her long black hair up on the back of her head as I rubbed the stuff into her back. How strange, to waste precious oil on the skin. But looking at her she was not by any stretch of the imagination poor. Her bathing suit was clearly tailored, not the home knitted thing most people made do with if they could get hold of something to knit. 'What is this stuff?'
'Coconut oil, it helps me cook myself.'
That explained the smell, dried coconut was something I knew from before the war. 'You will have to be careful, you are very pale. Half an hour, any longer and you will burn.'
'Alas, I have not had time to lie in the sun for years now.'
'I can see that.'

Natasha looked across to check I was still there. She frowned, almost alarmed when she saw my blanket empty. Then her smile when she saw I had not abandoned her. 'She's a pretty child, is she yours?'
It was not a question I had been asked before. 'I am not her mother, but yes she is mine.'
'I always wanted a daughter, but… the war.'

I glanced at her hands, there was a gold band, but on the left. Not married then, but presumably she had been engaged. It was awkward, but I asked the question anyway, I had not had a casual friendly conversation since Raisa was killed.

Before the end of the war I was driven by circumstance and after... well I was a Soviet officer and officers do not have nice conversations with their subordinates. I talked to children and gave or received instructions from other soldiers. 'Your fiancée?'

She laughed and held up her hand, the gold bright in the sun, 'Husband, we do it differently in the west. Here, the wedding ring is on the left. He was killed.'

I felt cold.

The hate, of Germans and Germany was never far away. She must have sensed it, 'Don't worry, he didn't fight against your Russian boys. He was a pilot, he died in France.'
'I'm sorry.' To my surprise I actually was sorry, I felt her grief. She wasn't just a German, she was a fellow human.
'Do you have someone?'

It was foolishness, madness to say anything to anyone. But perhaps after all this time I needed to reach out to someone more mature than a small girl. 'There, was a boy, an English sailor...'
She was curious now, 'Did he die?' she meant to seem casual, but I knew she really wanted the answer.
'No, he was sent away. The NKVD...I was arrested. They told me he was a spy and if I ever saw him again I would be shot.'

Her response took me entirely by surprise, 'Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be happy in the end.'

I did not have a moment to ask what she meant, Natasha came running across, all wet and excited. 'Valentina, I am hungry! Can we go and get some bratwurst?'
One thing that was still very German about Natasha was her love of sausage, of any kind. As if noticing the stranger for the first time she asked in her direct way, 'What is your name?'

The woman hesitated just a moment, 'My name is Penelope.'
'That is a funny name.'
She smiled, taking the childish criticism in her stride, 'Yes it is a funny name, it is a very old Greek name.'
'You aren't very old.'
'Compared to you I am ancient.'
'Valentina can we go now?'
I smiled at the stranger, 'Perhaps we will meet another time?'
'I shall look forward to it Valentina.'

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Al at a Crossroad

Some days ago I mentioned I wanted to talk about something personal but I was distracted by events in Oz.

So tonight I want to go back to the personal.

You may know I have been working for some time managing a couple of charity programs that provide a number of services to homeless people in Melbourne.

In fact I have worked for a number of charities in disability services, mental health and homelessness for well over a decade.

I choose this work because it is immensely satisfying and personally rewarding.
At the same time it is challenging, frustrating, and dangerous.
I say dangerous because in Oz after the police, workers in social/human services are the most frequently assaulted profession.

Stress and burnout are occupational hazards. Yet I have stayed in this area for many years.

Why? Because I love my work. You see the worst aspects of our society, but again and again you see the absolute best of people.

Just two examples: a woman in her 80s who volunteered for 10 hours every week because she wanted to give something back and felt she was letting everyone down when her health prevented her continuing; and a homeless man who gave his coat to someone who was colder.

Having said all this I have decided I am not carrying on in my job.
Perhaps, I am after all this time burning out, but I spend too much time worrying about the worst. I have been assaulted 3 times in the past 10 years and have dealt with dozens if not hundreds of incidents which could have resulted in violence (more often directed at someone else but it is still stressful).
I find myself dwelling on how to support my team when something terrible happens. Don’t get me wrong, I am good at supporting people as they do this work and I enjoy being able to do this. I always have very low turn over rates in my teams, the key is making sure people are not only supported but feel supported.

Usually I am good at looking after myself through all this. I have a very simple philosophy, that in this work if you don’t help yourself you can’t help anyone else.
Using some mental tricks I generally leave work at work. And when I can’t I seek the appropriate support for myself. My self care regime usually works a treat.

But unusually when I came back from my holiday in Tasmania I wasn’t ready to go back to work. Now when I get to the end of a weekend I dread going back to work. This isn’t me, maybe this is burn out.

So where am I going? Well I am now looking for another job.

I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to go for but it certainly won’t be coal face in human services.

I hope I will find something related but in a more admin type role.
Time to recharge.
Now 'cause I need to cheer up a bit.
A native orchid in from Cradle Mountain National park Tasmania

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Batterings and Crossroads II

First things first: I have heard from my Dad. He, my brother and my brother’s family are all safe and well.

As I said Dad is north of Cairns and was missed by the worst of the cyclone. He has had some large trees that he planted over twenty years ago blown down and other damage in his garden.
Conrad and his family live in Innisfail where many houses were destroyed. Their garden has been destroyed but fortunately their house survived intact.

Now it is Victoria’s turn.
This photo was taken from the Bureau of Meteorology and shows the remains of the storm. Yasi has been downgraded to a tropical low. It is the circular feature in the centre of Oz over the South Australia and Northern Territory border.

The remains of Yasi are about 2,500 kilometres (1,600 miles) from here. It no longer packs deadly winds itself. But it is still such a huge low pressure system that it is pulling in weather from all around the continent.

The huge stream of cloud coming in from the south east (about 5 O’clock) is covering the whole of Victoria.

It isn’t just a wisp of cloud it is a whole stream of dense clouds, much of it made up of Super-Cell Thunderstorms. We had more than our whole month’s average rainfall in just over 18 hours. And more is on the way.

The outcome: flash flooding all across the state and in particular right through Melbourne. Roads are cut everywhere and people have been evacuated from many areas.

We once again are fine (our house is nicely placed on a hill) but things are tough for a lot of other people.

Now to me. I haven’t talked about my personal stuff again. Once again I guess my thoughts have been overtaken by events. So you’ll just have to stay tuned.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Batterings and Crossroads

Poor Queensland (the state of my birth) has been copping another battering. As if the worst floods in 100 years weren’t bad enough Far North Queensland has just been hit by the biggest cyclone to hit Oz since 1919.

To give an idea of how big Cyclone Yasi has been the Brisbane Times has superimposed an image of it against a couple of familiar places in the world.

Yasi in comparison to EuropeAnd America
The only saving grace (and this is a huge one) is the centre of the storm missed major population centres. Places like Cairns and Townsville have a huge cleanup but they don’t have to be rebuilt.
It isn’t all good, smaller centres like Mission Beach, Tully and Cardwell have been pretty much flattened.
But as of this afternoon there were no reported deaths or serious injuries, so miracles do sometimes seem to happen.

Once again there is a personal dimension to this for me. My father lives north of Cairns and one of my brothers has a house at Innisfail which has also been damaged.
I haven’t heard from them since the storm hit and may not for a few days because the power and phones are down in most of the area. Dad is not likely to have suffered any material loss, but Conrad may have.
Remember though before you get too worried on our account “no deaths or serious injuries”.

Actually I was going to talk about something else of a personal nature tonight but I am whacked so it will have to wait till next time.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

WIP, Struggles of different kinds

It seems I can’t help myself.
I am following my Valentina distraction in my WIP again.
She isn’t quite the only force in my writing at the moment though.

I have also been rewriting and shifting the perspective of a large chunk of what I have already written.
In my novel (as in the last) I write using multiple narrators. A fair portion is seen through the eyes of a woman who spends years living intimately with another. One has always been silent in terms of narration, the other verbally effusive. Now a change in plot (partly driven by Valentina) means I have to shift the speaker from one to the other.
It can be surprisingly hard to rewrite scenes from another viewpoint. I always want to stay true to the original, after all a character shared her story with me.
But no two witnesses ever see an event quite the same way so of course things come together differently.
It remains hard to draw the silent one in a partnership out.

Anyway today I have been following Valentina again. Three years have gone by since the end of the war and her rescue of the little girl in the ruins of Berlin. The Berlin Airlift is in full swing. Still in the Red Army, and with the Berlin wall still thirteen years in the future, Valentina plays tourist in West Berlin.

Once again this is a rough first draft.

Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948

The odds must have been vanishingly small.
I went to a UNICEF meeting in the American sector, as usual it was a near total waste of my time none of the proposals put forward were anything I could accept.
As I came out an airplane roared low overhead, for weeks now the whole city had shaken almost continuously with the sound of aircraft engines. The Berlin Airlift was in full swing.
A sudden desire seized me, I would take advantage of the remaining daylight and have a look at what must be a historical moment.

Stalin had decided to starve the city to force the Capitalists out. All of Berlin would be his.
The Americans in their usual way had refused to give in without a struggle.
American military security at the airport would not let me on to the airfield. I didn't argue although technically there was almost nowhere they were entitled to prevent a Soviet soldier going under the Four-Power Agreement that ruled the city.

Turned away from the field I went to the passenger terminal.
My aide remained in the Jeep, while my driver checked something under the hood.
It was one of life’s little ironies, half of the vehicles we were using in Berlin were American lend/lease vehicles left over from the war, while the British army was mostly using German Volkswagens.
Of course the Americans had plenty of their own to spare.

The terminal was crowded, a sea of military uniforms with the occasional civilian suit. My Red Army dress uniform attracted a lot of stares, most of them hostile. I ignored them, after all little is frightening after spending years under fire, or battling Soviet bureaucracy.

I stood in a large picture window at the front of the terminal and watched a continuous stream of transport aircraft landing and taxiing.
It was amazing. The capitalists' capacity was absolutely amazing. However this episode ended it would be remembered. No wonder they were largely able to shake off the effects of our blockade.

'Can we help you at all major?' The phrase from behind was in Russian, accented but good enough to impart sarcasm. I half turned toward the speaker, 'Bloody hell… Val.'
Only one person ever called me Val.
He stood with his hand over his mouth, shocked, uncomprehending.
He was as handsome as ever, maybe even more so.
When we had been lovers he had been drawn and tired, now he was fit and healthy. Incongruously he was in an army uniform, although when I knew him he had been in the navy.

I stood frozen, I had drowned and buried Ronnie a thousand times in my mind, anything to make being so hopelessly parted from him more meaningful.
Then, finally, with the work at the orphanage I had almost stopped thinking of him. I had not forgotten him, I could never forget him, but he no longer haunted every dream.

How I still longed for him, and here he was, flesh and blood, in front of me.
His hand brushed a wisp of hair from my cheek, and he gently, ever so gently cupped my scarred cheek in his hand.
I closed my eyes and placed my hand over his nuzzling into his touch kissing his palm. I didn’t believe in heaven but this must be what it would be like.

His eyes overflowing, he looked so tentative, as if I might turn to smoke and blow away.
‘Val, how… what?’
A wave of terror hit me. An agony of fear, he was my death.

My love and my death.

‘No, Ronnie, I can’t.'
I twisted and ducked under his hand.
I didn’t dare glance back, I couldn’t have kept going if I had seen his face. I pushed through the crowd. His voice plaintive behind me, ‘Val, wait, Valentina!’

My driver still had his head under the Jeep’s hood. As I clambered into the vehicle I shouted, ‘Get it going! We have to go!’
Alarmed, he dropped the hood. Ronnie appeared at my side while he was staring the engine. ‘Valentina what is happening? Val look at me…’
His face streaked with tears, crumbling, I trembled at his anguish. He reached for me, I fought his hands off. ‘Leave me alone!’
The jeep’s engine roared into life, ‘Get off me!’ I hissed, ‘Leave me alone, you will get me shot! SMERSH are everywhere!’

Bewilderment, then understanding lit his face, followed by burning hate. He dropped my arms like I was on fire.
With a crash of gears the jeep roared forward. I looked once over my shoulder at his blazing eyes. Then I doubled up and did what no true Soviet Major would ever do, I sobbed uncontrollably.