Saturday, April 30, 2011

Regeneration and Sunset

Once again we have been spoiled with beautiful Autumn weather.

And once again we have been out and about. We were late getting away so we only drove about an hour into the hills to the north.

We went to a spot called Island Creek Reserve in the Kinglake National park.

Kinglake was one of the towns all but destroyed in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires (173 people died in the fires-many in Kinglake).

The bush here was devastated by the fires. Yet the Aussie bush is amazingly resilient. Eucalyptus trees usually survive fires.

This piccie was taken from the picnic area; around one in five of these mature trees have perished in the fire. The rest are struggling and hanging on. I expect some will recover while others will perish over coming years.

But the bush has a strategy for jumping back. Many species seeds germinate after a fire.
As you can see from this piccie literally thousands of saplings have sprung up from the ash. It is barely possible to move away from established paths here. These young trees will grow like mad for the light, gradually thinning themselves out as the larger ones shade out the smaller.

By the time we finished our picnic we had time only for a short walk because dark was threatening to close in.

As we walked I got a shot of the creek, once again the banks are choked with new growth.
We saw a number of little delights.

This little fungi
And this thing, I have never seen one before.
My guess is some kind of fruiting body of a fungi but honestly I have no idea. Click on it to enlarge it is the strangest thing.

When we got back to the car this little fellow was arguing with his own reflection in our wing mirror!
Sorry about the bad photo but it was really bad light under the trees. By the way he is little native known as a “Scarlet Robin” (Petroica multicolour)

On the way home I paused to look down into the valley.

The lingering sunset was drawing amazing colours across the landscape.
I thought the harsh lines of the power-lines made a great contrast to the soft pastels of the light
If you click on the third sunset piccie you might be able to see some distant lights twinkling. They are part of the northern suburbs of Melbourne.
Now in case I don’t get to it tomorrow (it’s been one of those weeks) an extract from my WIP. And by total coincidence it is kind of fitting this gets posted this weekend.
It follows straight on from last weeks post. Valentina is still hidden in a hanger on a Berlin Airfield and still recovering from shock…

Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948

‘Yes Val?’
'What's going to happen to me?’
'I'm not quite sure, Ronnie is trying to organise travel documents for you. To get you home to England. The fact that you're a Major defecting is worth something, but they aren't jumping with excitement because you are a medic, not a field commander, or in intelligence. He’s having to make a few phone calls and wake people up.'
'Won't he get himself in trouble?'
'No, plenty of people owe Ronald Chesterfield favours. He'll just call some of them in.'

I was dozing on one of the chairs when I realised she'd gone again. A different guard was sitting by the door. The mattress was empty Natasha was gone.

Panic gripped me, I barely remembered to speak English. 'My little girl, where is my girl?'
He smiled reassuringly, 'It’s all right Luv, she's gone with Mrs Parnell.'
'Who's Mrs Parnell?'
'The lady who was here before.'
I relaxed, a little. He explained, ‘She, meaning Mrs Parnell, said she was taking your daughter to find some breakfast.’
‘What’s the time?’
‘It’s just coming up to eight o’clock.’

I dozed again, still sitting in the chair. Somehow I felt I would be too vulnerable if I lay on the mattress.
Some hours later a car rumbled into the hanger. I waited expectantly, Natasha burst in followed by Penelope, ‘Valentina we brought you some flowers.’
I smelled the roses she thrust under my nose. ‘Thank you, but some breakfast would have been more useful.’
‘But they do smell lovely.’
‘They do but they aren’t as lovely as you.’
Penelope frowned, ‘I was planning to take you for something to eat. But you’ve slept on wet hair.’
My stomach rumbled at the thought of food. ‘Do you think it will be safe?’
‘Safe enough, we’ll go to an army canteen. Now let me help with that hair.’
I didn’t mind being spoiled. But I drew the line when she suggested makeup. ‘I am going to eat breakfast not to the Bolshoi.’
‘With a little practice you could all but cover that scar on your cheek.’
‘Why? I’m hardly husband hunting.’
Natasha burst out laughing, ‘What is so funny?’
Her laugh continued, we had tickled her fancy. She giggled breathlessly, ‘Husband hunting!’

I sat low in the back of Penelope’s Volkswagen. It didn't make me invisible but I definitely felt less exposed. Berlin felt as hostile to me now as it had in April and May 1945. As dangerous now as when we fought our way in to root Hitler out of his lair. I did not look twice at the building where we stopped, like so many in Berlin it was pockmarked with bullet holes and still had its windows boarded up.

Natasha skipped happily across the footpath and onto the step at the front. She stood with a self satisfied smirk. 'Valentina hold these for me.'
Obediently I took them, and then looked, 'Why on earth did you bring the flowers?'
I did not realise what the building was until I stepped inside. An aisle ran down the centre, lined with benches along each side.
A church.
At the far end sat half a dozen uniformed men.
In front of the altar Fred who had been our armed escort the afternoon before.
And a priest.
And Ronnie, smiling the happiest smile I had ever seen.

I never expected to cry at my own wedding, but it passed through a blur of my tears.
The words meant little to me, I repeated what I had to repeat. What mattered was the man standing so tall, opposite me and smiling the smile that had enchanted me six years before.

But then consternation, 'The ring...'
Ronnie's smile evaporated there was no ring. In Ronnie's rush the obvious had been overlooked. 'Bugger! Oh, sorry padre.'
'I have a ring.'
Penelope struggled with her finger and passed the ring to her brother.
'Danny's ring? Are you sure Pen?'
She smiled, tears in her eyes too. 'Danny wouldn't mind.'
Her next smile was for me, 'See Val? I said I was your friend.'

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

At the going down of the sun…

This Monday past was ANZAC day.

ANZAC day is in many ways the most important day in the Australian calendar.
On the 25th of April it commemorates the day in 1915 when soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACs) went into action in the ill fated Dardanelles Campaign of World War I.

A mere 14 years after Australian Federation the casualties that fell in that campaign and the rest who fell before the end scarred our fledgling nation. Of a population of just over 4 million people in 1914, 330,000 Aussie soldiers served (all volunteers). It is said that Australian troops had the unenviable record of having the highest casualty rate during that bloody war. What is known is that of the 330,000 who served 221,000 were killed or seriously wounded.

So 96 years later we still commemorate ANZAC day.

The day begins with the Dawn Service. The title of the post refers to an ode (part of a longer poem) which is recited at the service:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Last year I went to the ANZAC day parade and posted about that.

This year I did not want to battle the crowds so Deb and I made our way into the city in the evening.

It seemed quite fitting that we approached the Shrine of Remembrance as the sun was setting.We approached from the city along the Ceremonial Avenue.When we reached the forecourt the stone of the Shrine was bathed with the rich colour of the sunset. In the forecourt is the Eternal Flame and the World War II memorial.Every instant the light changed. I turned to catch the light painting this white barked eucalyptus orange.Then as the last glow of the sun went…The shrine faded to its usual greyDeb and I turned back to go along the avenue toward the city.Lest we forget how personal these events are…Someone’s private remembrance of a lost Grandfather.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter and an Extract.

We are being spoiled with a five day break for Easter. Normally there is a four day holiday at Easter with Good Friday and the Monday after being Public Holidays. This year ANZAC day (25 April) falls on Easter Monday so in an Oz tradition there is another public holiday awarded to make up for the overlap.

Now the homeless program I run operates 365 days but my staff usually like to work Public Holidays because they get bonus pay. So I get to take 5 days off straight. Sweet!

Today we went for a family picnic at the same spot as last week. The little pond was doing an even better job of being a mirror. I just had to share.This evening Deb and I went to have a look at the flying foxes I posted about a couple of weeks ago. Specifically we went to watch them set off for their nights foraging for fruit and nectar. Watching thousands of these beautiful creatures streaming over head was awe inspiring.

I did try to get some shots, but my camera isn’t up to shooting moving targets in the dark. This was about the best I could do. With the new camera I am getting in a couple of weeks I think I should be able to get clear shots of these beauties even in the dark.

Now as is my wont an extract from my WIP Veiled in Storms.
After the ordeal last week Valentina and Penelope escape through the woods looking for safety. Valentina faces an uncertain future…

Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948
The guard was a big man in British Army khaki and the red cap of their military police, a huge pistol in a canvas holster on his belt.
I sat half slumped on a mattress against a ply-wood partition wall. We were in a small room at the back of a huge aircraft hanger. Natasha absolutely tired out, lay sprawled along the mattress with her head on my lap.

By now it must have been the early hours of the morning, I was bone weary as well but far too much was racing through my head to allow me any sleep.
I was still dusty from the events of the afternoon.

What an afternoon.
I must have been verging on shock because the rest of the afternoon played like a series of disjointed images in my memory.

The terror of Stepan’s ruse, followed by an unnerving walk through the woods.
Penelope and I taking it in turns to sob nervous tears of relief. Holding to each other and Natasha as we pushed our way through the trees.

Past the trees was open farmland with the houses of an outer suburb in the distance. Crossing those fields felt as terrifying as being under fire. I shook the whole way at the thought of a Red Army patrol coming past. Stepan had said we were walking into the American sector. But for all I knew he was still playing some terrible game with us.

Relief at finding a working phone box near the first group of houses we came to. More anxious minutes as Penelope struggled to get through on the phone.

Not knowing what else to do we hid, waiting behind a hedge until we heard a car coming. I peered through a gap in the hedge as I watched the car, a grey hump backed Volkswagen, slowly approaching. Then as it got near I could see Ronnie was driving. Fred crouched on the passenger seat, clad in army uniform, a machine-gun across his lap.

What a moment, joy and tears and laughter all round. All except Fred who stood with the gun tucked under his arm, scanning the hedgerows for movement.

Finally, a claustrophobic ride across the city with Penelope, Natasha and I squashed together. Hiding again, this time under a blanket in the back of the Volkswagen.

We drove straight into a hanger. They brought us into this little room at the back.
Penelope took Natasha by the hand and led her away; how it tore my heart to see her go. I faced a barrage of questions from both Ronnie and a uniformed officer; Fred standing outside with the gun.

After what seemed like hours they relented. The strange officer stepped out. Ronnie, gave me a half hug, but he seemed distracted, distant, 'I’m going to have to leave you for a bit. I've a hell of a lot to organise, then we'll get you on a plane.'
'What's going to happen to me?'
'It's alright Val, we'll sort it all out. But really I have to go, it's going to be a bun fight to organise a special flight.'

Then he was gone, leaving the guard in his place.

My head spun, I was as powerless now as I had been that afternoon. I had no choice but do as I was told.

How uncertainty for the future undermines a person.

My anxiety eased just a little as Natasha came back in with Penelope. Penelope, looked at my expression, measuring me. A warm sympathetic smile. She pulled me close, 'It will be alright Val. I've always said it will all be fine in the end.’
She brushed futilely at her filthy dusty clothes, ‘Now on a more practical note I am going to get a change, I'll bring you back something clean as well.'

We were left with our guard. He was friendly enough but still a guard. Over all a degree of uncertainty. I was not sure if he was there to protect me, or to prevent me from leaving.

Now sitting against the partition with Natasha close I shut my eyes. I must have dozed for a time because I started awake as the door opened.

Penelope bustled in, she was transformed back to her usual self, clean and elegant. You would never guess she had been through such an ordeal just a few hours before. In one hand she held a dress on a hanger, a summery floral print and in the other a small leather case. 'Sergeant, in the car outside there is a wash bowl and a can of warm water, could you be a dear and fetch them in. Oh and there's a pile of clean towels, don't drop them.'

He placed a large wash bowl on a bench at one end and half filled it with steaming water before stepping out and closing the door behind him. 'Now get out of those filthy rags and I'll help you get cleaned up.'

I climbed out of my filthy blouse and skirt. Dropping my pitiful rags on the floor it hit me, I was a refugee, a displaced person like so many others. My few possessions were still in my apartment in the Russian Sector.
Nothing of monetary value, but some of it irreplaceable. The only photographs I had of my parents, my brother. All dead, all gone now I had nothing to remember them by.

She must have seen my face, 'All a bit much isn't it?'
I held back tears, Russian soldiers do not cry, 'Yes.'
Penelope looked around the room and frowned, 'Well it's not the Ritz salon, but we'll make do somehow. Grab that chair and bring it over here. We'll start with your hair. It's not ideal but we won't hurt this floor with a bit of water.'

It was the first time anyone else had ever washed my hair.
It was just what I needed. A lot of my anxiety washed away with the grime. In maybe twenty minutes I was clean. Penelope patted me dry with large cotton towels.
'I’ve never felt such soft towels.'
'Ah,’ she smiled knowingly, ‘that’s one of the bonuses I get for being a decadent capitalist.'
I slipped on the dress Penelope had brought me. 'It's one of mine I'm afraid. No chance to buy you anything, but it's nearly new. It will be a little long but otherwise I don't think it will be too bad a fit.'
'It's lovely.'
And it was, I had never felt fabric like it. I reflected that this one dress she was passing on to me had probably cost more than my whole wardrobe.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Sadist and a Saint?

My WIP Veiled in Storms keeps rolling on.
I am writing what I have found the most difficult sections of the story at the moment.

In a plot development truly the brainchild of my Inner Sadist one of my main characters is arrested and sent to Siberia. To be more precise she is sentenced to 25 years in Stalin’s GULAG system. Some of you may know something of the GULAGs as reams have been written about them, most famously Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn’s books The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, essentially they were a forced labour camps of the Soviet Union.

The majority of people sent to the GULAGs were there on trumped up charges. Some were never charged but were sentenced because of the “actions” of friends or relatives. Depending on when a person was arrested and where a person was sent in the system things varied from very hard to being worked and starved to death.

The problem for me as an author (even one who consults an inner sadist) is experiences in the system were quite simply terrible. Entry into the system typically involved interrogation by the NKVD. The NKVD routinely used torture, both psychological and physical. As if that wasn’t bad enough, women (my character is female) were frequently raped as part of the process of breaking them.

Once in the camps there is also plenty of options for my Inner Sadist to throw at my poor character. Work details, starvation, violence of all kinds from prisoners and guards. According to Solzhenitsyn the worst curse possible was to be not only a woman but an attractive woman in the camps. My poor character ticks both boxes.

So somehow I have to explore surviving the impossible with my character. I have had experience with writing difficult material, a component of my first book Veiled in Shadows is the Holocaust. I don’t pull too many punches in that book, but I think I managed to find a balance between telling a harrowing story and keeping it light enough to read. As a by the by I think my reviewers agree with me.

You can find reviews here:
(Kathleen Jones' Review - Reviews on Amazon - Reviews on Book Depository).

So the trick is to tell a story that is realistic (even dismally so) but to find a way to balance the hard with the not quite so bad.

I guess that is where my Inner Saint comes into play. To avoid giving too much of my plot away I’ll quote from Anne Applebaum’s book Gulag: A History. “Certainly many women survivors are convinced there were great advantages to being female within the camp system. Women were better at taking care of themselves…better able to subsist on low amounts of food... They formed powerful friendships and helped each other in ways that male prisoners did not.”

So my Inner Sadist might throw the intolerable at my poor character. At the same time my Inner Saint will throw some lifelines. How many she catches along the way… well you will have to wait and see.

Oh by the way - my Inner Saint wants me to tell any concerned readers of Valentina’s extracts that the character who goes to GULAG is not her. Do you believe me?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Wonders of Commuting.

Well I am still going into the city by train everyday.

An hour on the train each way seemed pretty daunting at the start. But if you remember I got myself a Netbook and now I write on the train.
Now to be sure Melbourne’s train system is old and falling apart at the seams. Last week my 1 hour trip turned into 2½ hours on the train due to a signal fault. Normally I’d be steamed about such a delay but I just took it in my stride and thought “More writing time.”

All this time on the train is doing wonders for my WIP Veiled in Storms. As well as the sections I have posted about Valentina and Ronnie I have written tens of thousands of other words.

I am now past 80,000 words on my first draft which is about two thirds of my target. Most days I am adding 600 – 1,000 words. If I keep steaming at my current rate I will finish my first draft in another month or two!

Now a first draft is a long way from a finished novel, but this feels amazing. I’m working full time, getting out and about on the weekends and blogging (although I must say I don’t spend nearly enough time visiting other blogs) and the book is progressing!

The only hole in all of this is I have been largely neglecting promotion of my first novel Veiled in Shadows, and with me being my marketing campaign nothing is happening. Ah well you can’t have it all.

SO how about you. How is your writing going? How do you manage to fit it all in?

Now a photo from my archive: Wilson's Promontory after the 2009 bush fires

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Relaxing Weekend.

We had miserable wet weather all week. Come the weekend and it turned the bend. Today was a glorious sunny autumn day. Bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky and not a breath of a breeze.

Melbourne is famed for wet dreary winters so we made the most of the weather while it lasts.

Once again we stayed close to home and headed to another spot in Plenty Gorge Park. With the whole family in tow we arrived at this picnic area. We’ve been there a couple of times before and for some unfathomable reason it is always virtually empty.
We parked ourselves for a BBQ lunch.

One of the locals an Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen) came panhandling. The second half of their scientific name means “flute-player”. They have a lovely warbling song.

From the picnic area you can see down into the gorge which cuts through Melbourne’s northern suburbs.The park is very different from places like Fitzroy Gardens. These are all native trees, mostly Eucalyptus species with a smattering of wattles (acacia) and others scattered through.

Because most Oz trees are evergreen there is no autumn flush of colour like the one I posted last weekend.Many eucalypts shed their bark rather than their leaves.Some of the smooth barked species end up with lovely mottled patterns as the bark comes away.It was amazingly still; I shot this rather ordinary looking pond to show how glassy it was.In fact the water was so still it was reflecting like a mirror.

I captured another local, a small honey eater called a Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala). They really are noisy; they live in family groups and gather together to noisily confront threats in an attempt to drive them off. We used to have a cat that was terrified of them. They should not be confused with Indian Myna birds which are an introduced pest in Oz.(Indian Myna image from Wikipedia)

In a damp spot some little fungiAnd soft green pillows of moss.Now to my WIP extract for the week.
Last week Valentina, Penelope and Natasha were “taken for a ride” by Stepan.
I have made you wait and indulged my sadistic side long enough. So here we go…

Valentina Mescova
Berlin 1948
A surreal conversation I half heard over my sobbing breath.
Stepan’s voice, ‘So your name is Natasha?’
‘I’m Stepan. I used to be a friend of your mummy,’
‘Valentina isn’t really my mummy.’
‘No I suppose she isn’t. But you do love her don’t you?’
‘Good. Are you a brave girl Natasha?’
‘Even better. Now listen carefully, I am playing a trick on my men, will you help me?’
‘I don’t like them.’
‘I don’t like them either. Now I am going to take these hoods off Valentina and her friend. Then I am going to untie them. You have to help me look after them, but I am going to make some very loud noises with my gun. It is very important you stay very quiet. Can you do that for me?’

A spatter of loose earth as he knelt down next to me, his voice in my ear. ‘Be quiet…’ Hands on my wrists, the manacles coming away. Hands on my shoulders, helping me to a sitting position. ‘I am going to take this hood off, keep your eyes and mouth closed so they don’t get full of dust.’

Light, and air. ‘No don’t wipe your eyes you’re going to get more dirt in them.’
Little hands pushing my hair away from my face. I grabbed my little girl and hugged her tight.
‘Natasha block your ears I am going to make the first noise.’
I sat stupidly as Stepan pulled his gun from its holster. Once, twice he pulled the trigger. The bullets kicking up fountains of dirt as they slammed harmlessly into the side of the hole that might have been my grave. He looked intensely at me ‘Now you’re dead, so no noise!’
He turned to Natasha, ‘Well done, but you still need to keep quiet, okay?’
She nodded solemnly.
He stepped across to Penelope.

He was rougher than he had been with me, as Stepan hauled off the hood Penelope’s. face was streaked with mud as the dust stuck to her tears. He rolled her on to her side. As he began undoing her manacles he urgently whispered to her in English. ‘As you can see no one is dead, but I have to make a fiction for my men. Pretend I am raping you and scream.’
She shook her head as if to clear it, ‘What?’
‘Scream like I am hurting you.’
Her scream was shrill, ‘Noooo!’
Stepan looked exasperated, ‘Not nearly real enough.’
He flung aside the manacles. Then Penelope really did scream. ‘Stop! You’re hurting me!’

He frowned as he twisted two of her fingers the wrong way back toward her wrist. She screamed again. He dropped her hand, she held it with her other softly moaning he smiled, ‘Much better, much more real.’
‘You bastard.’ She hissed
He smiled, ‘Play with the big boys English girl and you see what you get.’
He turned back to us, ‘Almost over, Natasha block your ears.’
She obediently stuck her fingers in her ears. His gun barked again.

Holstering the gun he squatted next to me. His eyes were intense, ‘I’m sorry for scaring the shit out of you.’ He jerked his thumb at Penelope, ‘but once she came on the scene I had no time to come up with anything better.’
‘Why this.’
‘You had been noticed which is bad enough. She made it impossible. You would have ended up in Siberia at best. It’s kinder to shoot someone.’
‘What happens now?’
He pointed, ‘You walk through those trees, straight ahead, due west two kilometres and you are in the US Zone. Patrols don’t often come here, they know we use this patch.’
‘What about you?’
‘Me? I fill in your grave and go back to my job. About your friend.’
‘Don’t tell her my family name. It will be dangerous for me if she knows it. She’ll get me what she nearly got you. And for heavens sake don’t let her do any field work in Berlin. Or anywhere, she stands out, far too pretty, far too noticeable for field work.’
‘Stepan come with us.’
‘What would I do with all those capitalists?’
‘Go! Now!’
Firmly holding Natasha’s hand I looked back before the trees hid him from me. He was pushing soil back into the empty graves.
His eyes caught mine and he smiled.
Another step and he was gone from view.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Inner Sadist

I sometimes wonder at the twisted workings of my subconscious. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know I work for a charity running a couple of programs that provide direct support to the homeless of Melbourne. Seems like I could be quite a nice guy.

But as an author it seems I have another persona entirely. Putting it simply I am a bloodthirsty sadist.
At least when it comes to things that happen to my characters. Those of you who have read my book Veiled in Shadows will know that during its course some really nasty things happen to some really nice people. To be sure things don't come out too badly for some of my characters but the things that happen to some of them along the way... well you just wouldn't want them happening to your worst enemy. Shootings, beatings, loss of loved ones, grief, fear, breakdown and death are the sorts of things my poor characters have to contend with.

Now sometimes it seems like I am channelling their stories and they don't come from me at all. But maybe that is just a cop out so I can avoid looking at just what a sick twisted cookie I am?

I mean as a perfect example of how nasty I can be look at what is happening to poor Valentina in the extracts I have posted from my WIP. From the bits you have read you could have gathered: Valentina has been persecuted for falling in love with a man from another country; She has survived four years on the front-line of the worst war in history; she has been wounded and scarred physically and emotionally; she has lost her dearest friends; and she has come within an ace of suicide. To be sure there was a lifeline in the form of love from Natasha an innocent little girl.

But was Al content with leaving it there?

No he was not as since then Valentina has suffered a concussion through the actions of a woman she thought was a friend. Then she had an old dear friend come back into her life, but he is a secret police officer and arrests her.

Poor Valentina what did she ever do to deserve all this?

Are you questioning the sanity of Al yet?

Well if it isn't bad enough to show my nasty streak to my characters what about my treatment of you my poor readers?

I lure you here with nice piccies

of beautiful birdsof spectacular sceneryof gentle wild lifeand cascading waterfalls
But it is all a ploy, I tell you stories that leave a brave resourceful young woman fearing for her life and for the life of her loved one. And I make you wait a week to find out what comes next.

So if you find yourself in blog-land tonight be careful there could be lurking authors!

Cue wicked laughter.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wet Wet Wet

It seems that our wet and flooding summer has turned into a wet and flooding autumn.

Much of Oz was cursed by floods through the summer as we ended a long period of drought. The wet continues.

Yesterday we had our wettest April day in 35 years. Yet strangely even with all this water around, Melbourne still arguably has a water shortage.

Oz has a climate that typically swings from periods of wet to periods of dry. A few pictures to illustrate.

About 18 months ago we had a picnic at one of Melbourne’s medium sized water storages Sugarloaf Reservoir and I snapped these piccies.

As you can see the water was low.In fact because of over a decade of drought the reservoir (and Melbourne’s overall water supply) was down to under 30% of capacity. Had rainfall continued at that rate we would have run out of water in another two years. This former island went back to being a hill.Regional Oz towns have run out of water in the past, in fact one of the towns we lived in some years ago got so low (below 5% capacity) that they actually went to water rationing, even basics like bathing were limited. Not fun.

Melbourne like most of Oz has huge storage capacity because of this kind of risk.

Things are a bit different now. With all the wet Sugarloaf has changed, these piccies taken a couple of weeks ago show how much water has flowed in with our flood weather.The island is an island again.Melbourne Water has taken advantage of flooding in the Yarra Valley and pumped water to Sugarloaf reservoir which is now at 87% capacity.Yet despite this Melbourne’s water supply is still only at 53% capacity.

So poor sun loving Al has to say bring on the rain :-(

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Autumn is Here.

The weather has turned cold. I hasten to add, that is by our standards.
My brother lives in the UK. I was talking to him last night, he was saying it was a lovely sunny day and beautifully warm.
I was grumbling because it was cold and wet. When we compared temperatures we were both talking about 20ºC (68ºF). I guess things are relative.

Anyway this afternoon the clouds broke up and the sun came out for a while. So Deb and I decided to go for a walk.
We stayed fairly close to home and went to a spot called The Plenty Gorge Park.
As you can see from these trees autumn is starting to bite.In the Park is an old farm the LePage homestead.
The original farmhouse was built in the 1850s. Then it was rebuilt in the 1870s. Unlike the Georgian buildings I photographed in Tasmania this building shows the hallmark of Aussie bush homes verandas most of the way around. They keep a house cooler in summer and if you get really desperate you could sleep on the veranda on hot nights.

I would guess this old bluestone barn is one of the older buildings on the property.
Around the corner you can see down to the pond below.As you can see the garden is planted in a cottage garden style.And one last shot a rose budding in the shade.Now to the extract from my WIP.

Last week if you remember Valentina was stopped by Stepan on her way home. Things are about to get a whole lot worse…

Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948
'Get in the car Tina’, Stepan jerked his head at one of the men, ‘Put the child in the front vehicle.'
One of the thugs picked Natasha up, not roughly, but not gently either. Her eyes were huge in her little face, her eyes desperately clung to me until she disappeared into the car.
With a sinking feeling I slid in next to Stepan. It was a huge black car, not German I thought, maybe American.
It was a limousine really, with a huge amount of space between the driver’s seat and the rear bench seat. Half lying, half sitting on the floor against the far corner is a woman’s form. A black hood pulled down over her face. With a frightened intake of breath I recognised the clothes.

It was Penelope.

'Hands behind your back Tina.’ Stepan’s voice strained impatient, ‘No! Facing away from me!'
The cold of metal against my wrists, with a clicking noise my hands were cuffed tight. 'Now face me.'
I turned to face him. 'What is going to happen?'
He was white and shaking, 'I warned you Tina. I warned what would happen if you didn't watch yourself.'
He slid across toward the far door pushing Penelope’s body further into the corner with the callous thrust of a boot. A muffled moan from under the hood.
‘Tina, into the middle.’
One of the men climbed in next to me.
With a lurch the car moved off, 'Where are we going?'
For the first time Stepan smiled as if to a private joke, 'As the Americans would say "we are going for a ride".'
'Stepan, please.'
'You have forfeited any right to ask favours of me. There is nothing I can do. Consorting with an enemy of the people,' he jabbed Penelope with his toe, 'means you are an enemy as well. Hood her!'
The world went black as a bag was pulled over my head.

Time drags when you are frightened. A second becomes a minute and a minute like a day. Not being able to see only made it worse, the trip seemed to go on forever.
Towards the end the vehicle bounced and swayed from side to side.
When we finally came to a halt everything went quiet for a moment.
In the hood sounds were muffled and magnified at the same time. Disembodied men’s voices, the sound of the door opening. Someone seized me by the arms and pulled.

With my arms still pinioned I was half dragged and half fell out of the car. Not onto cobbles but onto soft ground. I was dragged maybe another metre or two and dropped on my face. The smell of grass and leaf litter.

More words, the creak of the car’s springs. The thump of something heavy hitting the ground next to me. A moan, half pain half fear came from the body that had fallen against me. ‘Penelope?’
Her voice muffled by the hood, ‘Val? I’m sorry, I cocked it all up.’
‘Shut up!’, man’s voice bawling in Russian.
Noises, a regular thumping, then a rhythmic muffled metallic sound. A sound of, of what? I puzzled for a moment. Someone swinging a pick, another digging with spade.

Someone digging a grave.

Penelope must have realised what was happening almost as soon as I did. She half sobbed, two choked sobs. Then low, so low I could barely hear although I was against her she began to mutter. ‘Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done…’ again and again she chanted.
‘I said shut up!’ The hollow sound of a blow.
Then silence. Silence except for the rhythmic sound of digging.

I have been under fire many times in the war and had been very close to death many times. I had always been terrified, often so frightened I could barely move.
This time was different, my death was absolutely certain. Strangely I felt no fear, none. Instead I felt a terrible grief that my life was over, with so much wasted opportunity. But then, an appalling fear gripped me not for me, but what would happen to little Natasha. Was the other car here too? Surely they wouldn’t hurt her?

Inevitably the digging stopped. Then more hands grabbed me, some by the shoulders and some by the feet. I was carried a short distance, but suddenly shouting, a tirade of shouting. Surely it was Stepan’s voice but I couldn’t be sure. I was dropped again an involuntary ‘whoosh’ of air was driven from my lungs as I hit a pile of soft powdery dirt.

Grumbling voices, the noises of car doors opening and the slamming. The engines started, revved and began to move away. They faded but before they vanished entirely away they stopped as if they had been turned off.
Silence, then voices. A little girl, and Stepan? I screamed aloud, my voice muffled in the hood. ‘Not Natasha, Stepan please anything! Please not Natasha!’