Monthly Archives: November 2010

The Phantom

“Dear Phantom,

How are you?  I am fine.  Your missus is not dead!  She is in Gravelines Prison!  Drop by and ask for Prisoner Cole.  She is not very happy and missing all of you terribly. 

Your good mate,  Greg Bray, Esq.

P.S:  When you get time, can you find out what’s happened to Trevor?”

Well, thanks to my tip off, the Phantom has finally found his wife.  Why this sort of stuff is left up to me, I do not know? 

And even though the Phantom has never replied to one of my many letters, I know he reads them because he always acts on my advice.  Over the years I’ve helped him bust drug rings, arrest pirates, and bring corrupt politicians to heel.  I’ve also supplied him with marital tips, helpful suggestions for looking after his pets, and advice on dealing with uppity pygmies.  Sometimes I mail him tinea powder and various creams, to stave off fungal infections and prevent chafing, because anyone dashing about the deep woods while wearing a full body nylon suit is just asking for skin trouble.

In return he’s given me countless hours of reading pleasure.  Phantom Phollowing runs in my Phamily.  My Phather is also a big Phan.  Years ago we all chipped in and paid for Dad’s membership into the Phantom Club.  He appeared surprised and delighted with our gift, but for some reason, has been reluctant to put on his purple outfit and patrol the neighbourhood at night beating up baddies.

I would have joined, but the Phantom Phranchise has strict rules about having too many operatives working the same turf.  Apparently the wolves don’t get along when they cross paths.

And even though I’ve never been able to locate the Phantoms’ country on a map of the world, I know that it is in the tropics somewhere, possibly in Asia, and peopled by African natives.  You’d think that sort of demographic would be relatively simple to find?

I’ve been ridiculed for writing to him, but I still do it, because one day I might need his help and I’m certain he’ll pop by to assist a long term correspondent.  Anyway, it’s not as if I’m writing to Santa Claus is it?  But I feel sorry for the sad, lonely folk who do.  Imagine how gullible you’d have to be to do that! 

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Coincidence?

It’s funny how life works.  In the same week I wrote this column: https://gladbloke.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/trouble-brewing-locally/

where I gave the Win News mob a bit of a shellacking, guess what happens?  Yep, I’m walking my bike up the cliff face that is our main street, and I’m approached by a young lady and a cameraman… from Win News. 

I was half expecting to hear, “There he is!  Get HIM!”  Instead they asked me for my opinion on the LNG / Rental crisis that Gladstone will be experiencing.  I gave my answers, as did my mother, who also happened to be up town. 

Then I slunk off. 

I don’t think I can handle any more coincidences for a while…

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“I’m going to the LNG!”

The title of this post is an abridged version of  the comment I’m hearing most lately, the full sentence goes something like this:

“Stuff this place!  I’m going to the LNG!” 

To which an old workmate muttered the other night, “Have you contacted them yet to let them know of this earth shattering news so they can prepare for your arrival?”  🙂

Many workers in the various plants and industries around Gladstone are all anxiously waiting for the Liquid Natural Gas job vacancies to appear in the paper.  Rumours abound about people / mates / etc. currently working at jobs on Curtis Island, or out west, and being paid in exess of $2000 a week to sit about twiddling their thumbs.  Doesn’t sound very exciting to me, and I’m yet to see a pay packet to confirm the validity of this particular rumour.   

As for me, I don’t think I’ll join the ‘gold rush’ for a job at the LNG plant.  Instead, I might take my pick of all the jobs that will be vacant when the other folk leave.  Or, just drop out of heavy industry altogether.  Unfortunately this will result in a big pay cut which may mean having to leave Gladstone altogether.

Our rental market is starting to crank up, although nowhere near the ludicrous levels of a certain mining town out west, which I’ve been reliably informed has increased rents to $1200 per week, all but guaranteeing that the mine workers will be forced to take the Fly In/Fly Out option in order to save money.  An option which will be the death of many small mining towns and communities. 

Gladstone too is gearing up to take on FIFO workers as well for construction of the LNG and steel plants.  So, I’m thinking that a lot of locals who have been pinning their hopes on changing jobs may be a tad disappointed.   

Regardless of what happens, there are some big changes in the wind for Gladstone and surrounds… hopefully the breeze won’t be full of toxic gases.  At the moment though, it’s quite full of hot air…

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Trouble Brewing Locally

Carlton & United Breweries recently launched a new beer in Rockhampton.  After surveying Rocky drinkers, they created a tipple called Great Northern Lager which has won much acclaim from the locals.  But Gladstone beer drinkers’ first response to the news was, “I hope it doesn’t taste as bad as Mac’s!”

Mac’s beer had the reputation of being Australia’s worst tasting beer, and was universally despised by everyone outside of Rockhampton.  Parties were held around the nation the day the brewery shut down.

Did you note what I did then?  I just did to Rocky, what Rocky does to Gladstone; taken some good news and rubbished it.  I’m often gobsmacked at the bias shown towards Gladstone by Rockhampton news broadcasts.  On the odd occasion when a good news story involving Gladstone crops up, they can’t help but sink the slipper into us, while replaying tired old footage of our mudflats and smoking chimneys’ as if to confirm we live in the Third World.

The recent news regarding the LNG investment was the lead story on all the national news broadcasts, but came in a poor second on our local news; behind the story of Rockhampton’s new rubbish recycling facility, where it was mentioned, possibly with a slight rolling of the eyes, that Rockhampton is also recycling Gladstone’s rubbish. 

Then came the LNG story, which mainly focussed on how unprepared Gladstone is, and the potential environmental harm.  Ok, they have a point, but they didn’t have to rub our noses in it!  You know, I’m starting to think they don’t like us.

Anyway, upon learning that a new beer was being brewed in our region, I took it upon myself to find a sample and do a taste test as part of my public duty; and not because I have some sort of undiagnosed alcohol problem, as suggested by a certain long suffering member of my family.

After bravely taking several dozen swigs I wrote the following report:  “To my utter amazement, Great Northern Lager is a lovely beer.  Refreshing, tasty, and definitely worth a try, BUT, it is brewed from Fitzroy River water, so you’ll be taking your life in your hands drinking it.  They should move the brewery to Gladstone.”

And while they’re at it, we’ll have the new Recycling Centre too, because Gladstone folk have had an awful lot of experience dealing with all the rubbish thrown our way.

 

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What you really want, what you really, really want?!

Ah the Spice Girls!  The lasses who were able to bundle up all the meaningful questions of philosophy into one line of a song.

On my last night shift I was reading Carmel McConnells’ book,’ The Happiness Plan – Simple Steps to a Happier Life ‘, it’s a good read, and I highly recommend it.  Anyway I got to the section where she asked the question:  When are you happiest in your job?  The consensus amongst my workmates was – ‘When we finish our last nightshift on Monday morning and are walking out the factory past all the unhappy day workers.’   

We spent the rest of the shift laughing about it… unfortunately, it’s true.  That really is the best part of our jobs.  I’m not going to go into great detail here about what I don’t like about my job (WordPress has a limit on how much you can enter into one blog), except to say, I’ve been looking for ‘something else’ now for some time.

The big trap is to just say, “Stuff It” and quit.  Sometimes this works, mostly it doesn’t.  Many of us are trapped in jobs we hate because of debt.  This is a sure way of retaining good workers, and bad companies make the most of it by abusing their employees.  Other options include, winning Lotto (don’t hold your breath), marrying or inheriting wealth (see Lotto), finding a better employer (call me if you do… anytime), buying or starting your own business, or dropping out and living on home grown vegies in a commune.

Some leave to follow their dreams, and find themselves in a situation where they are forced to leave their dream career and return to their miserable jobs because the pay is crap (eg: The Simpsons episode where Homer gets his dream job as a Pin Monkey at the Ten Pin Bowling Centre, but has to return to the Nuclear Power Plant when Marge falls pregnant with Maggie… that episode still makes me cry 😦 ). 

I also am a big fan of the following post by the very funny, and wise, Tim Brownson: http://www.adaringadventure.com/life-coaching/dont-just-follow-your-passion/

So, at the end of the day, What Should I/We do? 

Continue to buy books like ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’ which I bought, read and have grave misgivings about… and hope that one of them contains “THE ANSWER“? 

Or,

Give up, and join the ranks of the Working Retired (people with jobs who do the bare minimum to avoid trouble), and find, then enjoy, what Happiness you can in the world about you?

I’m starting to lean towards the latter, maybe it’s time to stop assessing my options and just accept that while things could be better, they could also in fact, be much worse.  Much, much worse. 

So, everyday for the next week, I’m going to start each day by mentally listing all the things that bring joy into my life, starting with Good Health, a Loving Family, and a Safe and relatively Secure Lifestyle.  Everything else is a bonus. 

I’ll keep you posted.

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New Idea Ginger Bread House

The Eldest Princess decided to make the Ginger Bread house featured in New Idea this month:

A picture perfect result

 

It took 4 hours, and Dad (me!) had to help with some of the structural difficulties, mortaring, and shoring in particular. 

Maybe we need a better camera...

 

As you can see, we need a bit more practice…

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Banking Blues

It’s a week late, but here it is 🙂

Last week the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, lifted its’ interest rates, and quite a lot of people got upset.  But has it occurred to anyone that the CBA may actually be the victim here?  Seriously.

Just imagine for a moment that you’re the Chairman of the CBA.  It used to be known as The People’s Bank, but you secretly call it The Sheeple’s Bank, a little private joke which you share only with your wife, your mistress, and your chauffeur.

As part of your job, you meet regularly with the heads of the other three Big Banks, and even though they’re in direct competition with you, you discover that they’re not a bad bunch of chaps, even if one of them wears dresses, and another one happens to be a woman.  An English woman!

Anyway, last week the Reserve Bank, before popping off to the horsies in Melbourne, decided to lift interest rates well ahead of Christmas, so they wouldn’t have to put up with all those nasty comparisons to Scrooge, or The Grinch, from the media. 

You immediately met with your chums from the other Big Banks and they suggested an immediate rates hike; a big one.  Actually, a very big one.  Secretly you were shocked, but chaps must stick together, even the one in the dress.  So you popped back to your office and made the outrageous rates announcement, completely confident that across town, your bestest buddies were doing the same thing.  Sadly for you, they weren’t.

So now you look like a greedy monster and ‘The Sheeple’ are bleating for your blood.  Your politician friends are threatening you with the ACCC but this doesn’t worry you, because you saw how effectively they reined in petrol, grocery and electricity price fixing.  In desperation you jet off to Tahiti for a couple of weeks with your family, mistress, and polo pony, until the media uproar dies down.

What truly upsets you as you try to unwind in eight star luxury, is the fact that your three banking peers have made you the biggest ‘Patsy’ in the biggest fiscal practical joke ever seen in Oz.  And right now they are sniggering in their sleeves at you; even the one who wears a dress.  You can no longer trust them.  And if you can’t trust bankers, well, that places you amongst The Sheeple, and that really, really hurts.

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Mondays’ Column – No Show

Well, I stuffed up.  Ok there are extenuating circumstances, but at the end of the day, I dropped the ball on the goal line.  Todays’ column was a re-run, my submission last week didn’t make it to the paper on time. 

Current Direction of Reliability 😦

When I first started this column, one of my goals (apart from becoming fabulously rich and famous, and living on a tropical island) was to maintain a record for reliability. 

I’ve often seen re-runs used by other columnists, who for one reason or another, failed to get a column in on time.  Note:  when re-runs are getting used, it is usually a sign that the columnist is a) on holidays, b) running out of ideas, c) losing their enthusiasm, or d) been arrested.  Either way, it’s not a good sign.  Many times the re-runs have signalled the end of the columnists run.  Not a bad thing, as it gives others’ a chance to step in for a while and have a go.

So, I’ve worked hard to maintain focus, enthusiasm, and a clean criminal record.  And in 18 months, my efforts have been very successful.  Then today, I waddled down to the corner store, bought the paper and noted that my column was an old one.  A re-run!  I was stunned.

And the Phantom still hasn’t rescued his Missus, AND, the Trevor cartoon is still MIA.   

Back home, I fired up my computer and found an email sent yesterday afternoon from the paper asking urgently for the column.  Had I not gone to the beach, then come home and fallen asleep…

Anyway, a quick check of my Sent folder revealed that the attachment didn’t attach when I sent it Friday afternoon.  There are a couple of reasons for this, but at the end of the day, me being a ‘slack arse’ is the main cause. 

I’ve been having drama with my emails for a couple of weeks, and should have known better than to click Send without checking immediately afterwards if the attachment had gone as well.  I had a near miss not long ago, but was able to get the column in before the deadline.  

My system failure was caused by Human Error.  Mine.  Anyway, the milk has been spilt, now it’s time to focus on cleaning up the mess, and making sure it doesn’t happen again.

If all goes well, this will be the last time I write this sort of entry…  I hope.

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The Legacy – A short (ish) story

Hi all!  This week I’m up to my eyeballs with the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), so I decided to publish this instead of a blog.  I wrote it a few years ago.  The character is based on my Uncle Les.  I hope you enjoy the read:

The Legacy

The sound of the axe from the back yard rang clearly through the cold air as the young man climbed the front steps on the ‘big’ house.  Entering the kitchen he noted the stiff way his mother was holding herself as she watched her husband splitting timber at the wood pile.  Bad news.

He sat down and waited.   

The sound of the axe grew louder in the silence.  “The old man could still swing a mean blade,” he thought.

His mother turned to him, her face white, “Hello Paul.”

He nodded and asked, “Well, what’d the doctor say?”

“Two to six months.”

“Shit.”

Silence for a while, and the axe continued to chop in the yard.

“How’d he take it?”

“You know your father dear, he stood up, thanked the doctor, and walked out.  He didn’t say a word all the way home, and as soon as we got here he started cutting up firewood.  He’s been going for an hour now.”

For a moment the axe stopped, and they heard the sound of wood clatter onto the pile in the shed.  Then the chopping continued.

“I’ll go and talk to him,” said Paul and stood up.  His mother turned back to the window.

He slipped down the back stairs and walked towards his father.  It was a cool day, even for these parts, but his father was stripped to the waist, rivulets of sweat running down his spine.  As Paul drew nearer he could hear the man muttering angrily between the axe strokes. 

Paul coughed.  The axe hesitated in mid-air, before falling again, neatly splitting a piece of hard wood.

The axe head lifted, “What’s up boy?”

“Mums’ worried.”

“She’s should be son.  I’d be worried if I was in her shoes too.”

“You’d better put your shirt on dad, you don’t want to catch a cold.”

His father grinned, “A bloody cold is the least of my worries boy.”

They smiled, but avoided eye contact. 

“Cheryl’s pregnant.”

The axe chunked into the chopping block, and the man turned to him, “That’s bloody great boy, you’re mum must have been thrilled!”

Paul shook his head, “You’re the first to know.  I thought we’d wait for your news first.” 

The man picked up his shirt, “Come on, we’ll go and tell the old girl, then we’ll drop down to the pub for a quick celebration.  I reckon I could do with a break.”

An hour later the two couples were seated at a table next to a roaring fire.  The publican was surprised to see them here on a mid-week day.  They toasted the news of the impending birth.   Cheryl was red with embarrassment as they wet the babies head a little early.

The talk eventually turned to the mans’ problem, as it had been called for several months now.

Several rums had loosened his tongue, and he told them the cold hard news.  The small group sat in silence as the flames crackled and leaped in the old fireplace nearby.  Eventually Paul spoke up, “Dad, I want you to tell me your lifes’ story,” he nodded at Cheryl, “you know, for the kid, when he gets older I want him to know about you, and what you did.”

The man smiled, “I’ll tell him myself.”

Paul shook his head, and stared at the floor, “I don’t reckon that’s going to happen mate,” he mumbled. 

Silence. 

“I’ll think about it son.  Anyway, who’s up for another round?”

The next couple of weeks were a busy time at the farm.  The news got around the district and many people came to see the man and his wife.  Each visitor was given a cup of tea, and a brief outline of the grim future.  They expressed their sympathy and left after promising to help out when they could.   

Paul and Cheryl were regular visitors as well.  The men spending much of their time in the paddocks, tidying up the loose ends around the farm.  One morning, the two of them took a break and rode to the top of a small hill that overlooked the property.  Les handed his son a drink, and sighed as he gazed over the view. 

“Well boy,” he said eventually, “all this is yours now.  The place I gave you and mine will become one again.  You’ll be the new ‘man’.”

Paul sat silently, it was not a surprise, “I’ll look after mum for you dad.”

“I know you will boy.  That’s the third worst thing about my death.”

Paul looked up at him, “What are the other two?”

Les lifted his hat and scratched his head, “Number two would have to be not seeing my new grandchild, boy or girl, it would have been nice to get to know the little tacker.  And number one, would have to be the fact that I’m dying at all.  Bit of a shock to me son, I don’t feel old, and I’ve always looked after myself.  Doesn’t seem too bloody fair boy.”

Paul smiled, “Could be worse dad, could be like Grandad, rotting in a nursing home eh?”

Les nodded his agreement, “Yep.  I know now that he wasn’t joking when he asked me to shoot him.  Would have done him a big favour by putting him out of his misery.”

“You know Dad, apart from what little I learn from you and mum about the old fella, I don’t have anything of his that tells me about him.  You could do something for all of us before…you know.”

Les looked at him, “Like what?  I’ve given you the property, mums’ got the house, I can’t do much bloody more boy!”

“There is you know.  You could write down your life story.  You know, tell it the way you want it, couldn’t be a better time to do it really.  Not many people get the chance, always putting it off until it’s too late.  Then they die and leave a bag of mysteries for their children and grandchildren to put together.”

Les thought for a while, “Yep, I could do that, but it’ll take some time.  I’ll have to think about it.  Not much of a writer son.”

“I’ll buy you some tapes, and a microphone, all you have to do is talk.  Just tell it like it is.”

“Not much of a talker either.”

 “Ok then,” snapped Paul, “leave it to me, I’ll tell your grandchildren what you were like.”

Les’ head shot round to face his son, “I can just imagine what you’ll tell them!”

 “Well then, do it yourself dad.  Do it for the kids who won’t get to see you.”

Les turned his horse back down the hill, “I’ll have a go boy, I’ll do it my way, in my own time.”

Several weeks later Les had his first turn.  A couple of days later he emerged from hospital, gaunt and weak.  Arriving at home he was positioned in the lounge room in front of the television, but an hour later hobbled into the kitchen, “Jesus, dyin’s gotta be better than that shit!” he announced to his wife.  “No wonder people want to kill themselves, just watchin’ that garbage everyday would make you want to curl up and die.”

The ritual began.  Every morning Les got up early and hobbled to the kitchen, made breakfast and sat down with a tape recorder and a cup of tea.  He mumbled into the microphone for a few minutes before giving up in despair. 

As the days went by his strength slowly returned, and he took to making little trips to the wood heap.  He’d sharpen the axe and cut a few blocks of firewood, before returning inside. 

His wife watched him from the kitchen window.  Sometimes the boy would come over and help him cut timber, taking it slowly, talking with his father.  She didn’t ask him what they discussed, understanding that it was important that they spent this precious time together.

Summer wore on.  The heat was insane.  Les lost weight, and grew weaker, but every morning, he would stagger downstairs to the wood pile, sharpen his axe and chop a few blocks.  The effort would drain him, and he would stagger back into the house and sit in the kitchen for the rest of the day.  Talking with Helen, or listening to the radio.  Every now and then he would write a letter, or take down some notes. 

Autumn arrived and the days darkened.  Les struggled downstairs to the woodpile every morning, and would sit in the darkness until his son arrived to chop up a few blocks and pile them in the shed.  Afterwards they would talk some more, and Paul would help him inside.

Helen grew frustrated with him, “How much timber do you think we need Les!” she asked him one morning, “Shouldn’t you be writing your life story for the grandchild?  Stop wasting what little time you have left man.”

Les smiled at her, “I’m doing it my way luv.  I always have, I always will.”  She shook her head, and looked away as the tears formed.

Winter.  Cheryl and Les went to hospital the same week.  They were a few wards away from each other, and Cheryl made the effort to visit with the old man whenever she could.  Helen and Paul visited each day for a few hours, and returning home at night.  In the darkness, after the lights went out, Les would talk to his daughter in law, and she listened, growing to love the man.  The baby inside her kicked frequently, eager to be out.  Les liked to lay a hand on her tummy and feel the child moving.  “It’s a boy,” he said many times, “impatient little bugger too.  Just like his grandad.” 

The baby arrived in the middle of a fierce storm.  Westerly winds bought freezing rain and hail across the plains, and lightning danced across the sky.  Paul, gripping the newly born infant in his arms made his way urgently to his fathers’ room.  His mother followed him, limping hurriedly in his wake. 

Les was a skeleton now.  Painkillers had dulled his senses, turning him into a zombie.  As Paul entered the room, Les opened his eyes and smiled.

“It’s a boy dad!  A boy!”  Paul said, tears flowing freely down his face.  Les’ smiled widened, “Show me,” he whispered.

Gently, Paul lay the baby down next to his father.  Les grunted as he struggled to lift his hand and lay it on the childs’ head, “What’s your name?” he asked.

Paul sat down as Helen entered the room, “We decided to call him Les.”

Helen sat next to Paul, “Cheryl sends her love, and says she’ll come and see you as soon as she can.”

Les looked up at her and nodded, “You tell her she did good.  Paul, you’re the new man around the place, but don’t call little Les the boy.  Call him the little man eh?”

Paul nodded.  Les slumped back on his pillows, exhausted.  The automatic pain relief dispenser buzzed in his pocket.

“I’m bloody tired woman,” he said eventually. 

The baby stirred next to him, and began to whimper.  Outside the storm wreacked havoc across the district, moving eastward towards the coast.  Les took another look around the room, “Take the little man back to his mum, he’ll be wanting a feed soon.”

Paul left with little Les cradled in his arms.  Helen stayed, making herself comfortable in the reclining chair.  She would stay tonight.  They all would. 

At two a.m. Cheryl was wheeled into Les’ room, and little Les was laid next to the man.  The two of them slept peacefully side by side.

Les never woke up. 

The funeral was simple, and to the point.  Just like Les had asked.  Most of the town notables were in attendance.  Alan Grubb, the long time Mayor of the little town, approached Helen afterwards and offered his condolences.  She nodded her thanks.  Before he left he gripped her arm, “I know that Les didn’t like me all that much Helen, and I can’t say I blame him…”

Helen shook her head, “He liked you Alan, he might not have liked some of the things you did, but he did like you.”

The little mayor nodded his bald head, “Yes, I think you’re right.  Do you know, he’s the only man who never called me Grubby?” 

Helen nodded, “He probably hated that name more than you did.  Said it belittled you, and I can’t recall anyone calling you by that name when Les was around.”

“Thanks Helen.  It’s something I really respected about the man.”

The two of them stood silently for a little while, watching the small knot of people gathered at the side of the grave.

Helen turned to Alan, “Before you offer your help, I’d like to ask you to do something for Les.”

The mayor looked surprised, but eager to please, “Anything I can do I will,” he said simply.

Helen pointed to where Paul, Cheryl and little Les, “There’s a new man now, and he’s going to need help from time to time.  Someone to turn to when he runs into trouble, or needs an ear to listen, or a shoulder to lean on.  I want you to be that person Alan.”

Tears sprang to the little mans eyes, “I’ll do my best Helen, and thankyou.”

She watched as Alan made his way to Paul and shake his hand.  Paul looked genuinely pleased to talk to the mayor.  Helen smiled and turned away.  Time to go home.

It was cold when she arrived, and after she put on the kettle she moved to the small wood stove and tossed a few blocks of wood into the furnace.  She was reaching for the matches when something caught her eye.  At the bottom of the stainless steel wood carrier was the piece of paper.  She riffled carefully through the rough cut wood and eventually dug the piece of paper out.  It was a letter from Les.

Hello Luv,

            By the time you read this, I’ll be gone and you’ll be feeling the cold.  I’m not there to warm you up like we used to do, so I’ve left you a little present in the wood shed.

Your loving husband,

Les. 

Her tears splashed onto the page, and she quickly folded it up and put it away.  She lit the fire and made her tea.  Looking outside to the woodshed she saw that it was packed tight with cut timber.  More than enough for the winter months that lay ahead.  She smiled to herself and more tears flowed.

In the days and weeks that followed, Paul would come over each day and fill the wood carrier for her and place it next to the wood stove.  She would sit in her rocking chair with little Les and sing songs to him, or just nurse him in silence. 

Once a week, there would be another letter, concealed amongst the timbers.  Paul kept quite about the subject, and when she asked him how many more there were he shook his head and smiled. 

Spring was welcomed by the little community after the hard winter, and Summer was fast approaching.  One morning Paul arrived with the container of fresh wood, and approached his mother with an envelope.  She looked at him, “Bit of a change son, why didn’t you leave it in the pile for me to find?”

He smiled, “It’s the last one Mum.  I don’t know what’s in this one.  He wouldn’t tell me when he wrote it.  I sort of helped him with the others, but this one was special.  I’ll let you read it in peace.  We’ll see you at dinner tonight, Cheryl’s doing a roast.”

Paul slipped out quietly, and made his way back to his home on the edge of the old property.  Helen sat down at the kitchen table and opened the letter.

Well old girl, it’s time for me to say goodbye.  I know the last few months must have been hard on you, but Paul said he’d be keeping an eye on you, and if he hasn’t fixed the sheets on the roof of the barn you can give him a kick up the arse from me! 

Helen smiled at this, and glanced at the new sheets of iron shining in the morning sun. 

I’m sorry we didn’t get to do the grandparent thing luv, I really am, but that’s how it is.  I know you’ll be a good grandma, just like you were a good mum.  But now it’s time for you to live a little.  I know that you won’t be happy with me for this, but the time has come for you to move on.  Pack up your stuff and move to the coast woman, spend some of my bloody money.  Paul has another letter to be opened today as well, and in it are detailed instruction as to how to subdivide the property.  He can have as much land as he can handle, but our house is to be sold, and you my girl are to spend the money on a place at the beach of your choice. 

Helens’ hand lifted to her throat.  She couldn’t do it, she just couldn’t.

“You’re probably thinking that I’m being cruel luv, but I’m not.  This dying thing has helped me think straighter than I ever have in my life.  You’re not getting any younger, and neither is the house.  There’s going to be a lot of work and a lot of bills coming your way soon, and Paul, as good hearted as he is, can only do so much.  He has his own family now, and all the responsibilities of earning a living as well.   Time for both of us to move on woman.  This is the holiday I’ve always promised you, but we never had.  Do it for me, and for the boy darls, but do it for yourself.

I love you Helen.

Les.

Helen wept for a long time. 

That night she arrived at Pauls place with a cream tart in one hand, and Les’ last letter in the other. 

Paul stood forlornly at the door as she approached, and was surprised to see her smile.  “Mum, I don’t know what was in your letter from dad, but there was some bad news in mine.”

“Bad news dear,” said Helen, “Not like your father to leave you bad news.” 

“Well not for me mum, but for you.  Dad said I have to firmly tell you to leave the place and go to coast.  He said not to take no for an answer, and not let you bugger me about by putting it off.” 

Helen looked at her son, he was a man now, and behind him stood his young wife, a worried look on her face. 

She smiled at the two of them, “One of you go and wake up little Les, and the other one can get me a map, we have to decide where I’m going to live.”

Paul dashed off, but Cheryl stood silently by, “I have a letter too Helen.”  She handed it over, unopened to her mother-in-law. 

“It’s for all of us.  I helped Les with it before I went into labour.” 

Helen waited until Paul returned with little Les before opening the envelope.  She read it aloud.

Hello all.  Sorry about not leaving my life story like you asked.  I’m assuming that every one is happy about my request, and that little Les is growing into the spitting image of his good looking grandad. 

Put the house on the market before summer, before it gets too hot and the grass dies off.  And tell the new owners there’s enough timber to get them through the next winter!

Goodbye,

Les.

They settled down for dinner, placing little Les in his bouncer in front of the wood heater while they ate.  All of them aware of the simple legacy keeping the little man safe and warm.

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Cleaning Up Gladstone

Recently while pedalling around town, I passed a whistling council worker using a pair of those long tongy things to pick up bottles and paper from the roadside.  As I passed by, I pondered what it was about his job that made him so happy.  Had I been watching the road instead, I wouldn’t have ridden over the broken bottle. 

Limping home, I noted with dismay at how much litter there was on our city’s paths and roads.  Our highly awarded Tidy Town is being used as a dump by a group of people who selfishly drop their rubbish wherever they like.  These people are PIGS, i.e.: Pretty Inconsiderate Garbage Slingers. 

Realising, ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem’, I started picking up rubbish on my daily walks.  Sadly, the next day, more rubbish appeared.  And the next day, and the day after that.  Later that week, as I wrestled a fresh batch of litter into someone’s wheelie bin, it occurred to me that perhaps I was taking the wrong approach.  A point which was hammered home moments later when the owner of the wheelie bin set his dog on me. 

Afterwards I opened a beer to get my creative juices flowing, and tried to work out how to stop PIGS from dumping rubbish on our streets.  Much later, as I sat amid a pile of empty cans with a glazed expression on my dial, Long Suffering Wife muttered something about drinking at this time of the morning, and made pointed remarks about my inability to throw my empties into the bin. 

As I watched her totter off to the recycling bin with an armful of cans, I had an epiphany; not about the morning drinking thing, but my rubbish:  If you wait long enough, someone else will do your dirty work! 

The PIGS have already worked this out.  Even if we stopped picking up after the lazy sods, and were wading knee deep through their garbage, they wouldn’t care at all, because they know ‘Someone Else’ will eventually clean up the mess.  And sometimes that ‘Someone Else’ will be happy to do it, just like the whistling council worker. 

And I think that’s why he’s so cheerful; thanks to thoughtless PIGS, he’s got an outdoors job for life, proving that one groups’ trash is a council mans’ treasure. 

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