Friday, 28 January 2022


 Here is another little story that resulted when a prompt offered by a member of our writing group fell into my memories and came up up with something briefly glimpsed along a highway one damp day.....


Richard Slade

July, 2017

Liz stepped back a few paces when the young policewoman began questioning Neville. He had his arms folded, his shoulders back, chin up, and back straight. It was that look that she had mistaken, forty five years ago, for manly determination and courage.

Was it that long ago? Forty five years of wifely duties – of raising children, hosting dinner parties for his work colleagues, running the household (as best she could, given Neville's tight reign on all matters financial), and supporting him during his relentless climb up the various corporate ladders he had latched onto.

Somehow, the forty five years did not seem as long as the first six months of Neville's retirement had. What would two years of travelling round Australia with him feel like – a century? It would have to be two years, at the least. That's how long a lease they had granted the new occupants of their lovely, tree-shaded, St Ives home. Two years, minus the two long days since they had driven away from it. She could still see the smiles on the faces of their tenants, as they directed the removalists and savoured the gardens.

Now, home was an eight metre long caravan, The caravan was luxurious, as was the brand new Landcruiser that Neville had purchased to tow it with.

Had that policewoman noticed the way Liz's head had jerked up, and her raised eyebrows, as Neville wove a detailed description of the fast moving, non-descript, silver sedan that had cut in front of him, forcing the evasive manoeuvre that had caused their sudden departure from that tight bend in the highway? A very badly made bend, in Neville's opinion; one that shared the blame equally, along with the miscreant driver – now long gone from the scene of his crime – for what had happened next. The car was mythical, but Liz wasn’t going to argue the point.

Neville had not noticed anything. Chin jutting, arms crossed, gazing into the distance, he was unaware of anything Liz said or did until it directly affected his wallet or his prestige. The policewoman slipped a few more glances at Liz, even as she kept jotting Neville's utterances in her notebook. Liz rolled her eyes and looked at the caravan. It was on its side in the long grass between the north and south-bound lanes of the highway. The tow-truck driver had connected a steel cable somewhere under the front of the Cruiser, which was, miraculously, still upright, though pointing the wrong way. He had shaken his head when Neville had declared that vehicle and van would be "right as rain in no time at all"

The towie had tried to explain just how badly damaged both vehicles were, but his words had fallen into the well of silence, while Neville droned on.

He thought she had been asleep when the crash had happened, but she had only closed her right eye. Neville's confidence in his own driving skills was not shared by Liz, who had, for decades, done all the driving, whether of children to sport, school, or events, or of a tipsy Neville, coming home from another corporate function. So Liz kept one eye open, hoping she would see the end coming and have time to offer up one final, brief prayer. In this case, she had time for quite a bit of praying before the Cruiser and van finished sliding across the wet grass, but all that came out were a handful of expletives she had not realised she knew. Neville chastised her for her language, several times, before the police arrived.

She smiled, just a little, and clutched her handbag tightly to her aching ribs. It contained something that she had never before owned; a card that gave her access to their bank account – his account.

Neville had agreed to provide her with one just before their departure, swayed by her vivid evocation of what might happen to him if he suffered a medical emergency in some far outback place, and she was unable to access the finances they might need for the provision of quality care.

She smiled again. Taree would have the right brand of bank, and an airport, or a train station. A few scotches at the end of a stressful day like this and Neville would sleep until morning tea time tomorrow. It might take hours after that for Neville to realise that she was gone, days before he worked out how she had done it, and weeks more for him to believe it.

Saturday, 15 January 2022

A Whisper of Writers

 A little poem from a quiet moment with my writer's group, three years or so ago....


When the Magpies and

squabbling Rosellas

have gone,

for now

The creak and scratch

of pen and paper

is all the sound

I hear

But listen – just then

the fireplace creaked

A distant dinosaur

growls its diesel roar

Small feathered bells tumble

through shadowed leaves

A page turns

A writer sighs

Outside a crow

calls the falling sun

The fridge

hums back to life

Thursday, 13 January 2022

Look Again

 Our Writing Group retreated to a sort of electronic arm's length during 2021, and was just beginning to meet in person again in the latter part of the year.  It was suggested that we put together a series of short pieces based on several prompts that focused on a family, and this was my first response.... the actual prompt is the heading.



When I moved into the house where I hoped to rebuild my dreams, and my life, at 32 Swanson St (a true “renovator's delight” - long vacant while its previous owner faded away in aged care) my first encounters with the neighbours left me fearing my dream was really the opening act in a nightmare.

The friends helping me move were quick to spot the old man wandering in the front yard of number 34. He was a balding, lopsided, stooped shape that, if straightened out and rejuvenated, would have given any opposing rugby opponents pause. His crooked face was in constant motion. His eyes darted like pin-balls while a constellation of expressions that danced from delight to grimaces, and back again, with detours through anger, terror, and confusion as he muttered constantly, declaiming to some invisible audience, or demanding answers from the same unseen person, except when his eyes were fixed on me as I carried the detritus of my broken marriage from the footpath into my house of new hopes. Unsettled, I left the ferrying of goods to my friends and began to unpack the kitchenware and prepare a morning tea for the workers.

A tumbling flash of red and white outside my kitchen window became a football soaring over the fence from the back yard of number 30 and vanishing in the weeds of what I hoped would one day be my perfect garden. Seconds later, three boys threw themselves over the paling fence in pursuit of the ball, while other little heads popped up above the palings to watch their progress.

Now I knew where the background noise of yelling, shouting, screaming, and laughter had been coming from. Dust rose where tall weeds shook and the smallest of the boys burst into sight, ball clutched fiercely to his chest, his shirt-tails firmly in the clutches of one of the larger boys. His mouth fell open when he saw me staring at him through the glass. He pointed, and the others froze for a moment, before charging back to the fence and scrambling up and over. The silence was ominous, and soon broken by the angry voice a woman somewhere inside number 30, and the indignant arguments of children. Not a word was comprehensible, but the tone was fierce, and soon only the woman's voice remained.

As I stood listening, the backyard came into focus, and I saw things I hadn't noticed when the agent had shown me the house, weeks earlier. Planks and sticks and dead leaves were piled up in the furthest corner, and I realized that I was looking at a tepee, made by small hands. When I walked down and peered inside, there were toy cars, a home made bow and some arrows, and a home made ladder leading to the top of the fence overlooking the back corner of number 34. Movement and muttering again – the old man was now wandering his back yard, his head just visible above the fence.

What had I let myself in for? I went back into my new abode and supervised the placing of the few pieces of furniture I owned, opened a bottle of wine and thanked my friends for their help. Their toasts of good luck fell into a murky, troubled pool of apprehension, and I was sorry to see them drive away. Number 30 was back to full volume; what were they fighting about now.? As I stood at my front door, cheering broke out from my right, while on my left, the battered old man was pacing back and forth between his letterbox and his front porch, more agitated than ever.

Suddenly, a horde of children, ranging from teen to toddler swept down the front path at number 30 and clattered along the footpath to where the old man had, paused at his gate. As I watched in fearful anticipation, he smiled, patted the smallest girl on the head, and then suffered himself to be led into his house by two teenage girls. A tall boy cradled a foam vegetable box as he followed them, and I realized I could smell cooked meat – was that roast lamb? Did one of those girls call the old man Poppy? I jumped as a throat cleared itself behind my right shoulder, and as I turned to look again in the direction of my letter box, I found myself face to face with two of the fence jumpers.

They were standing just outside my gate, looking much cleaner than they had earlier, one of them holding something covered in a tea towel. As my brain grappled with the sight, my nose clutched at the scent of warm, fresh baked cake. I blinked, and looked from them to the empty front yard of number 34, and back to them. The bigger boy spoke.

“That's Pop” he said “He's mum's grandpa – he's really old. We take him dinner every night” he added, shuffling his feet “Mum sent us to say we're sorry about jumping the fence, and we'll come after school tomorrow and clean up our fort in the back yard, if that's alright, and she said you would like this cake. She just made it. It's our favourite” 

A babble of voices announced the return of the party from number 34, and I looked again at the two earnest faces in front of me. I had to swallow before I could speak, and by then the other children were waiting quietly by my letterbox, gazing at their siblings and the stranger who had taken over their playground.

“I haven't unpacked my plates or cutlery properly yet” I said, finding my voice “Do you think it would be alright if I came in and shared the cake with you guys and your parents? I can bring some drinks”

“There's just Mum, and she loves visitors” the younger boy said, and grinned “and she loves white wine”

“Give me half a minute and I'll be right in – save a slice of cake for me”

Tuesday, 27 July 2021


 A little something done to a prompt from another member of our little writing group - people whose creativity and support are most excellent to share at any time, but certainly during another Covid lock-down.........  the prompt was one word - "Leaving" - to be done as a single page, and, as such prompts always do, produced five very different approaches.  This was mine....



When he left, he hadn't thought he might be leaving forever – that what he was leaving behind would not, one day, offer him familiar comforts upon his return home, and those he was leaving would not be waiting to warmly welcome him into their arms. Now, so many years later, he wondered how much of that long ago life would be left, should he find his way back to the place in which he had been formed.

The welcoming arms were gone, he knew – wrinkled, then withered, and, finally, crumbled into dust; only the leavings of memory remained, thin and faded and comfortless. What was left of his childhood home had been, the letter said, left to him, though how much of those past comforts might be left by now was questionable. The letter carried a date from a year left far behind; it had traveled, and waited, and travelled again – lured on in pursuit of its beneficiary by tales and wild rumours left in his wake, left in the care of someone who longed to see him again, passed on to fresh hands as that hope faded and died, time and again, down the length of a turbulent decade.

Had some recipient of the letter been prescient in their choice of place and person for its next destination, or had he somehow doubled back on his own tracks, and met it coming after him? The date, when he finally opened it, untouched by any sense of its possible significance, left him momentarily stunned, and then amused. Its contents, those few dry, terse, officious paragraphs, had left him empty of breath, heartbeat, and feeling. How long had he sat there, unaware of the world, before the senses that had left him so suddenly returned in a wave of pain and disbelief.

How had that time passed so quickly? How could he have not returned when he was needed? Why had he not kept himself informed? The answer came quickly, in the calls and laughter of his team mates, the revving of engines, and the clatter of luggage and equipment. His comrades were almost ready to leave this little oasis of safety and satiety in pursuit of the next adventure, and he would be leaving with them, no matter what the letter in his hands had to say. Whatever had been left him in that missive was from the past – the leavings of a life he could never return to, even if he wanted to.

Boots clattered down the stairs outside his room, and the door shook under the knocking of a gnarled fist. He let the letter slip from his fingers and left it to curl and blacken in the flames of the fireplace as he shouldered his gear and left the past where it belonged.




Wednesday, 7 April 2021




 Four voices soothe the soul:

The happy chatter of the stream as it tumbles among the rocks,

Sheoaks singing the evening breeze,

The quiet mutter of flames in the camp-fire, and

The tender greeting of your beloved as you sit down beside her at the fire

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

The Second Step's a Doozy

Did I say that the journey began with a single step?  As true as that is, the next step can easily be a detour not imagined when the first one was taken - and so it has turned out.  This has been a year filled with side-tracks, diversions, and unexpected busyness.


When our government announced Covid lockdowns and restrictions on mingling with other people, my wife and I looked at each other and shrugged.  

"Not keen on crowds" we said to each other "and always happy pottering in our own garden and doing our own thing - sounds like we have been handed an excuse to live our lives in a fashion most congenial to us"

Within days, we found ourselves "in loco parentis" to grandchildren who had been sent home to do their studying online for an indeterminate period.  What fun!  What wonderful mental exercise for us as we reached back five decades or more to our own long lost schooldays, in search of discarded bits of geometry and algebra - it was amazing just how many forgotten formulae surfaced from the depths.  What wondrous new skills and words did we acquire as we grappled with the many and varied types of software chosen by the many and varied teachers who, only the previous week, had the pleasure of close daily learning experiences with those grandchildren, but now had to find, on short notice, ways of teaching them via the internet. Everyone involved found themselves on the proverbial "steep learning curve" - a trite business cliche that, for once, was deadly accurate.

So much has happened since then - in our family, our community, our country, and the wider world - and we have, like so many others, been busy just keeping up with it all.  Somehow, the time allotted to matters creative was nibbled away by the effort involved in keeping ourselves afloat, and helping other family members in worst straits than us - until the inevitable happened.  The long lapse in creative work began to feel inexcusable, and recommencing the work seemed almost impossible - the creative impulse was swamped by a sense of guilt and failure.

Now, the warnings of the scientists are again proven true, despite the wishful political thinking that had gained the upper hand, and Christmas is to be held under restrictive conditions, due to the virus once again slipping through our defences. 
The garden is soggy, but productive, as La Nina helps us recover from the horror and dessication of last summer's drought and bushfires - our creek is busy with minnows, crayfish, and small perch (who are growing fast) but no trout - the cicadas have had a bumper year, and the night is full of frog song. Clutches of ducklings, baby magpies, and parrots have visited our garden with their parents, learning which of the neighbourhood humans are soft touches for a bit of extra tucker. One of my 18 year old Apple Tree bonsais has flowered for the first time, and set tiny fruit.

The human grandchildren have resumed normal schedules, and we can allow the trigonometry and calculus to slip back into the oblivion of ancient memory - and now, with time on our hands, there is no excuse for not picking up the frayed threads and setting to work again.  Let's see what next year brings.  Ours has turned out pretty well, in the end - I hope it all comes good for you, too.

Friday, 15 May 2020

A Journey of a Thousand Smiles can Beguine with a Single Step onto the Dance Floor...

.... or down that Forest Path Less Travelled, or any other place where your imagination both yearns and fears to go.