Thursday, 12 December 2013

Musgrave Park Pool - near miss

Musgrave Park Pool 1968

I was doing my Wednesday morning laps at the local pool yesterday and intercepted a conversation taking place between two young women swimming in the lanes on either side of me.

One was the  daughter of Alan who has the lease on Musgrave Park Pool. Alan has been managing the pool for quite a few years. He swims every day and puts me to shame, both as a swimmer and in general fitness terms. Turns out Alan is 70. I would have guessed maybe early 60s. But I digress.

 "Was your father a top swimmer?" asked lane 1.
"Yeah, he was a state champion in his day" replied lane 3. "He should have gone to the '64 Olympics. He was dudded by the Australian selectors. He won the national breast-stroke championship but the selectors took the guy who came second and left dad behind." Do children embellish the memories of their fathers I wondered? Or maybe just make things up?

Alan swims well, but at 70 he's no lomger a contender. And come to think of it I don't think I've ever seen Alan doing breast-stroke.

As I left the pool I asked Alan about the story. "Yeah, it's true. I missed out on the Olympics. I came second in the national championships and the selectors took the first and third placegetters." "What was that about?" I asked him. "Dunno really. They thought he would be more likely to perform and be a medal chance than me apparently." I detected a hint of unresolved anger still lingering these 50 years later.

"You must have been a contemporary of Murray Rose?" I added. "Yeah. He was a strange bloke. Kept to himself and didn't really make himself part of the team. He was from a wealthy family, went to a private school." I had recently seen a documentary on Rose. He was a vegetarian, pretty unusual in 1963. Clearly an educated man. "He was very strict. He wouldn't even step inside a butcher's shop when we went shopping for supplies. It wasn't just about health. It was a philosophy."

Rose missed out on selection for the 1964 Olympics because he refused to return from the USA where he was in the middle of filming a B Grade surf movie - Ride the Wild Surf. He fancied himself as an actor. "He did some awful movies." observed Alan.

"The bloke who beat me went on to win the 200m event at the Olympics in world record time." Alan was making a subtle point about the quality of the competition. He had finished second behind the next World Record holder.

His name was Ian O'Brien.

1968 - Is that Alan as a 27year old?
Alan, Ian, Murray.

Only Murray became a household name - understandably so, as he won three gold medals at the Melbourne Olympics and again won Gold in 1960 in Rome. At one time he held the world records in the 400m, 800m, and 1500-metre freestyle.

Still, for me, Musgrave Park Pool, probably the most neglected pool in the city, has gained some gravitas.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

West End III - "Cranbrook" Aboriginal Girls Home

This is the story of making the invisible become visible.

On the bend of the Brisbane River where the St Lucia Reach and Milton Reach meet, a set of stone steps leads from the river bank to a vacant piece of land high above the river.

This was once the site of "Cranbrook", a large Queensland colonial home built in 1885. Waterfront property in the Hill End area of South Brisbane was prime real estate in the late 19th Century. The 1893 flood washed many of the riverfront properties away but Cranbrook survived. It was high enough to escape the worst of the raging torrent.

Perhaps the stock market crash of  the1890s played a part in the next phase of its life for, in 1899, it was purchased by the Qld State Government and converted into an Aboriginal Girls Home where it received girls from across the southern part of the state. These young girls would, for the most part, become domestics in well to do homes of Brisbane's white families. The demand for these girls was high.

The first matron of the home was Frances Meston. She was also Queensland's first Protector of Aboriginal Girls, a position established by the state government when it legislated the "Protection of Aboriginals and Control of the Supply of Opium Act" in 1897. (Full title: An Act to make Provision for the Better Protection and Care of the Aboriginal and Half-Caste Inhabitants of the Colony, and to make more Effectual Provision for Restricting the Sale and Distribution of Opium)

Frances' husband, Archibald Meston, who had advised on the drafting of the Act, was appointed the first Protector of Aboriginals in South Queensland. Popular history has been inclined to deal harshly with Archibald and also Frances, but research reveals that this might not be wholly warranted in that they were well intentioned rather than malicious. Interestingly Frances was in her position for only one year and Archibald for five years.

The matron who succeeded Frances was not at all well intentioned, as the home was shut down in 1906 after numerous complaints regarding its management. "The Act", as it was referred to, resettled large numbers of Aboriginal families on reserves where a permit system operated restricting movement into and out of these reserves. Initially this was used as a way of separating unproductive, ill and 'problematic' Aboriginal people from those working in European industries. Later it was used to create labour pools for white industry and to make those regarded as half-caste, wards of the state to limit the reproduction of part-Aboriginal offspring – the so-called 'half-caste menace' – seen at the time as a threat to an ideal 'White Australia'. The Aboriginal people were under the total control of government officers, missionaries and police.

To my surprise I discovered that this knoll, on the bend in the Brisbane River, in the midst of the Hill End community, was designated a "Reserve" under "The Act" from 1904-1906 to allow the home to operate and the permit system to be enforced.

"The Act" was amended multiple times and additional acts passed varying this regime but it was not until the Commonwealth stepped in and passed the "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Queensland Reserves and Communities Self-Management) Act" in 1978 that the reserve system came to an end.

Changing face of West End II - Belvedere

Writer David Malouf is perhaps better known than the old mansion, the Belvedere, though the Belvedere (originally named Bandarra) had been in existence for almost 100 years before Malouf wrote his personal account of West End in his 1985 memoir "12 Edmondstone Street".

In his memoir he described his life as the son of Lebanese parents living in Edmondstone Street in the 1940s and 50s. His family home near the corner of Melbourne Street no longer exists. It has been a small business site since the 60s and is about to be redeveloped as an apartment block.                       

He described Edmonstone Street as "the most fashionable area south of the river". He was talking about the 1880s before the global financial downturn of the 1890s and the great flood of 1893 when the Brisbane River peaked three times in one month.

Built in 1888, the Belvedere was a product of this time of prosperity. It survived the flood which inundated Musgrave Park opposite; it also survived conversion to flats in the 1930s which was the fate of many old mansions of that era.

It fell into neglect in the latter part of the 20th Century and, while other buildings were lovingly restored as West End again became an attractive area for investors and cashed up families, the Belvedere continued to sit idle and empty save for a moving population of squatters. The surrounding workers cottages of West End continued to house Greek families, artists and salaried families. 

My Greek barber tells me that the Greek Club purchased the Belvedere about thirty years ago so they hold some responsibility for its slow decay. Their vision for the site was in response to their need for space for expansion and parking. Their application to demolish the decaying mansion led to a protracted battle with the Brisbane City Council which the BCC won insisting on the retention of the Belvedere as a heritage listed building. This was finally resolved in recent months and the Creek Club agreed to restore the home to its former glory.

From reports of those who had been inside, the interior was largely intact. Rare Queensland timbers which had never been painted were evident in the staircases, fireplaces, walls and floring. From the outside it was a heap of junk but inside it still retained the diamond at its core.

On Tuesday 12 November at 6am a fire broke out on its upper level and within an hour only a shell remained. By sunset there was only a pile of rubble.

Police are investigating.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Changing face of West End I - Hellenic House

Writing walking tours of West End can be fraught with challenges. The visibible can disappear and the invisible can become visible.

In the second of the West End Walks series, completed 12 months ago, there are already two major icons which have or will disappear from the walk. They will survive, but in memory only.

In recent weeks billboards have announced that one of the strange but loved icons of local Greek culture is to be replaced by a commercial development. The original Greek Club, their kafeneio, which dates from the sixties and inspired by the design of the Parthenon will become apartments. Something unique replaced by something commonplace.

The greek community have gathered here for almost fifty years. Before that, it was the site of the first Greek Child Care Centre. The land was first purchased in the 1920s, intended as the site for a glorious new Greek Orthodox Church. That plan lapsed and the Church of St George was built at the opposite end of the Edmonstone Street block, much of which is owned by the Greek community. Amusingly the Catholic Church built a block of  apartments for retired clergy on the adjacent corner thwarting aspirations to create a complete Greek block.

On the Edmomstone Street frontage beside the Church of St George sits the relatively new Greek Club (1975) and beside that a property purchased by the Greek Club five years ago with plans for future expansion.

This is the much neglected (and now dearly departed) heritage listed Belvedere Mansion.

The development of the Hellenic House site has been given the name Olympia.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A Boston travel story - Nick Fury

My mate Nick in Sydney sent me this story today. I love it. It's very Nick.
I'd been in transit from Rome via Madrid and New York for maybe 20 hours when finally, at 11pm, I got to Logan Airport. I'd been in contact with my Australian friend Andy, a native of Boston who was coincidently there at the same time and he might be there to pick me up. Im tired and jet lagged,  No Andy… okay, I'll make my own way.  Change money somewhere and get some coins to make a call in a local pay phone. Its a dollar a go. Three go's; nah, incomprehensible. Foreign country. Try the nice lady at the information desk. My first experience of service in America: impressive: and now I'm speaking to sleepy Andy… "Oh I thought you were getting in tomorrow night… " its actually my mistake: l gave him the right day but the wrong date. It happens. His house is thirty miles away and I don't want him to come out at  this hour so he tells me I can jump the Logan Express and take it all the way to the end, to a place called Framingham where he'll pick me up. 
The nice lady tells me there one due in eight minutes. Trip will take half an hour, so see you in forty minutes at Framingham. Sure enough in eight minutes the Logan Express pulls up and there's a big loud lady bus driver who enjoys my accent. I take a seat and watch Boston go by in the night.  I'm the last one left as the bus pulls up at….Braintree…. Oh, you want the red Logan express, this is the green Logan Express…. By now its 12.30am and despite it being her last ride of the night, amazingly she offers to take  me all the way back to the airport. I'm grateful, apologetic and worried that by this time Andy will be at Framingham wondering where I am with no way to contact me. Its dark, the bus terminal is deserted but my driver says "wait a minute, I've got an idea…" She comes back in a couple of minutes. "I've got some good news and some bad news" she says "the bad news is that you are at the opposite end of the city to where you want to be and it will cost you a hundred and ten bucks to get there in a cab, the good news is that this guy (she points to a  shabby car across the road) will do it for fifty five." 

The guy is clueless. I give him the address and he's got no idea. We look for it on google maps on his smart phone but no luck. We call one of his buddies who has a rough idea. I've got Andy's Boston landline, but I know he'll be at the bus stop, waiting for me.  I try it anyway (borrowing the driver's phone) and thank god, his partner Judith picks up. She's from Australia too and can't direct me, but says she'll call Andy at the bus stop and tell him what's going on.  Cut to a bit of the story I heard later:  Andy gets the call and gets the wrong idea, thinking the  driver is dropping me at the house, so he leaves the Bus stop and heads home, twenty minutes away. When he arrives Judith is perplexed: "wheres Nick? 
At roughly the same time me and the driver have found our way to Framingham  and we are driving around in circles looking for the bus stop. They have these humungous sprawling shopping malls in the US  and they're not multi storied like here, they just spread out over acres with massive parking fields  that go on to the horizon. The put down point is somewhere in the parking lot, but no sign of Andy.  We do a couple of circuits, nothing. then eventually spot Andy arriving outside of a Denny's dinner. Much gawping, hugs, thank you's and confused apologies. Feels so good to be in the front seat of a car being delivered to a shower and a warm bed.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Avid Writer

Fiona at Avid Reader
Lucky? Deserving? Humbled! Hopeful!
I'm sitting in a small storeroom upstairs at the Avid Reader bookshop in inner city Brisbane. I'm feeling a little like a fraud but at the same time I can hardly believe my good fortune. A few weeks ago I summoned up the courage to offer the early chapters of my "Lorenzo" manuscript to Krissy Kneen for her comments. Krissy works at Avid and has been closely involved with the Qld Literary Awards.  

I was considering quitting my long time job and I knew I had to make some plans to ensure my sanity over the next phase of my life. I was looking for a shared working space - a 'co-working' space, as they are known, in which to write. There are a few around Brisbane. Places where one rents a desk at a daily or weekly rate and shares an open plan space and a kitchen with kindred spirits. My nephew runs one in Sydney called "Home Work" - neat name. 

I could write at home but my experience has been that I am way too ill-disciplined and succumb to every distraction available. Emails, the garden, checking the letter box, coffee, tea, another snack, a bit of googling, maybe a swim and before I know it it's three pm and I go into a panic and write furiously (and guiltily) for a couple of hours. I knew if I was paying for a space I would feel obliged to use it.

Anyway Krissy and I had a coffee. I was pretty apprehensive. What I feared was one of those awkward situations where Krissy would be really polite, trying to avoid telling me my writing was fine for family but shite as a publishable manuscript. The other element to this is that I am 20 years older than Krissy and once lectured at the institution where she was an undergraduate. A few years later I chaired her great little youth arts organisation, the beautifully named "S'not Arts." It was a role reversal.

We ordered a coffee, engaged in a bit of avoidance chit-chat and then went for the jugular. 'Sooooooo, what do you reckon Krissy? ' says I, quickly jumping in to add 'You can be honest. I'm ready.' 

'You write like you've been writing for a while. It's good. I was pleasantly surprised.' says she. I felt like I was at school getting a report from the teacher. I tried to act relaxed but even though I was excited by her response I was fumbling for words. Was the conversation as awkward as it felt?

'Just finish the bloody thing!' 

Good advice.

I shared with her my quest for a work space and asked her advice and ..... well here I am in the Avid Attic. Owner, Fiona Stager, took Krissy's word that I was on the path to become a real writer and has offered this space for the next few months to get my shite together. What was, last week, a storage room is now a writing room full of me and Avid stuff which I have reorganised into the corners and towards the ceiling. It has a window, power, a door and a key. There's a coffee shop downstairs which serves food where I buy lunch in lieu of rent.and it's in walking distance of my home. When I need some research material I can be home and back in ten minutes - though I have already discovered the dangers of doing this - a cup of tea, a quick look at my emails, check the letter box (read mail). Still I am on my way. 

Krissy Kneen
I have a debt to pay. I have set myself until March next year to get a rough draft completed. That gives me time to get some feedback and begin the second draft in June, maybe in Malta overlooking the Mediterranean in a small apartment close to coffee shops and food outlets, history, secluded bays,the odd swim, some walking, a visit to Sicily ..............................another coffee......

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Not an election party

Liz and Dan get hitched.

There was a room full of voters from both sides of politics. The country visitors were committed National Party conservatives. The interstate visitors were rabid Labor supporters.  And the rest of us? Well, some had been directly involved in politics. Many of us had worked in the alternative arts and cultural areas. The bride and groom were unimpressed with the election date interfering with their carefully laid plans. How dare Kevin Rudd spoil their special day!

Doubly spoilt. Distracted guests and a depressing outcome for most. How to cope?

The groom banned TV monitors in the room. Only partially successful given the advent of  the iPhone.Most of us knew the result was a foregone conclusion and avoided even discussing it.

The best man began his speech. "There are many parties making promises today. Some of them outrageous. some modest; many merely thought bubbles rather than commitments. But here we have the real thing. Two people making real commitments with integrity and honesty........................................"

Ahhhhh. If only political parties were less combatant, less driven by the need to accomodate wacky fringe groups, more forward thinking. The Liz and Dan party was grounded and surrounded by true believers. We believed in Dan and Liz. They were making real, long term promises.
Twice the age and twice the girth of yore.

Outside on the bowling green a group of once young men reconnected over a game of barefoot bowls and grappled with bias and left leaning tendencies. These men had been dancing, naked in a few cases, in an old warehouse in West End many years earlier on the occasion of another election event. The demise of the Bjelke-Petersen government.

Inside, the young brigade ignored the election result and danced. Ironically the limbo was their dance of choice, an invention of their parents era. Great ideas never die. The best games are simple. Music and a stick. The best policies are simple, though complex in their implementation. At least Dan and Liz had some that they want to work on.
Not just a trumpet player  

 Tony Abbott and his team will reap what they have sown as will Liz and Dan. In Liz and Dan's case they have spent the past three years in building relationships and looking positively to the future.
The bride goes under

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Siop y Barbwr - A Welsh Haircut

I'm sitting in a chair in a room the size of my bathroom in a village in North Wales. 'Do you do men's hair?' I'd asked poking my head through the doorway. 'I'm a barber. That's all I do.'

The barber is a twenty three year old local lass - born and bred in the village. Never left. Been as far as the Irish Sea but no further.

'What would you like?' She has the lilting accent of a Welsh speaker and the charm of a sheep farmer. 'Can you give me a Welsh haircut?' I ask.

'How much do you want off? Do you want scissors or clippers?' She's not really into light-hearted banter.

On this Saturday afternoon in July the main street of Y Bala is crawling with locals. The sun is shining, Children are swimming in the chilled waters of the lake of the same name. It's summer. Saturday is the big day for the Siop Y Barbwr. The shepherds head to town for a spring clean and the mums drag their sons to town for their monthly shearing.

In winter, Arianwen tells me, the snow blankets the village up to the eaves and the men don't bother with grooming. They'll grow their winter coat and she'll spend freezing days waiting for a customer. 'Mt Aran's peak is snow covered through winter. It's like a picture book' she shares. She's starting to loosen up. She's stuck with this daft tourist asking silly questions so she decides to humour me. 'Which mountain is that? I ask. Arienwen hesitates, pausing mid scissor. She's struggling. 'Is it this end of the lake or the other?' 'This end' she says. I suspect she's wrong. A case of seeing something every day for your whole life and not being able to describe the most familiar to a stranger. 

'Do you speak Welsh?'  'Everyone does.'  'So you're multilingual?' She looks at me confused, her eyebrows arching, her dark celtic eyes piercing mine. My stupidity is reflected in the mirror. 'I suppose so.' Clearly its not something that the locals even think about. 

She's deft with the scissors. She circles my seated head while a photo of Marilyn Monroe laughs at the scene over her shoulder. It's the only piece of decoration in her spartan shop besides a mirror, two chairs, a small number of products and a powerpoint. There is no queue of customers lining up. Nor is there anyone there the next day or the one after that as I visit the Co-op for supplies. Each time I pass, Arianwen is sitting in one of the two chairs, a bored look on her face, a magazine in her hand.

I'd like to report that my "Welsh haircut" was a unique creation perhaps resembling the fabled Welsh Rarebit - an expanse of melted cheese congealed on top of a warm piece of toast, however to my pleasant surprise it is one of the best haircuts I can remember. Clearly superior to the work of my Greek barber back home and more memorable than my disastrous encounter with a French hairdresser in a remote village in Brittany.

I wander over to the local tavern half expecting the boys at the bar to welcome me in lilting Welsh phrases. Rather, they pause mid lilt and stare at this intruder, this newly shorn freckled outsider. 

Siop Y Barbwr = The Barber Shop; Y Bala = The Outlet

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Bill Clinton and Me

This is a story from my trip between Nice and Marseille, the last leg of my Italian adventure.

Rail leg No. 6 Nice to Marseille.

What a cultural shock it must have been for the Italians to arrive in France. Nice, the first stop of this leg of my journey beyond the Italian border, might have been a mere change of trains for them but the language would have suddenly become unintelligible. Even the landscape would have been surprising as the town of Nice cascaded down from the surrounding hills, burnt chalky white by the intense Mediterranean sun. Even in February this place would have been sundrenched.

As I will find out as I travel further, Nice, like Marseille and then Aix en Provence is under construction. Marseille/Provence is the European Capital of Culture for 2013 and it seems the money is flowing and there are major projects under way in each city. The Nice railway station is a grand 19th Century structure with a soaring glass ceilinged roof. The steel skeleton was designed to be much more than a frame to hold up the roof. Yellow light streams from above while outside, the station is surrounded by ugly barriers and clouds of dust. I’m sure it will be a wonder when it’s completed but today it feels like the in-transit passengers are all crowded into a space half the required size.

There are English, German and Italian voices mixed throughout the ticket hall. It takes me a bit by surprise. I have become used to travelling alone with only the English language in my head and every other person speaking Italian.

The 13:45 train to Marseille is late. This is the first delay I’ve experienced since I began my rail journey in Treviso five days ago. The Italian trains, with a reputation for chaos, bureaucracy, last minute cancellations and delays have all run to time, to the minute. It has been a pleasure. Here I am about to catch my first French train and it arrives 25 minutes late.

I board the nearest carriage as it comes to a stop. Most of the passengers enter and turn to the right, to a carriage cluttered with seats. I go through the glass doors to the left. It looks less crowded. I find myself with a small number of confused travelers all trying to ascertain if this is the ‘standard class’ carriage. We’re asking this because we all really know it’s not, but want an excuse to settle into these lovely large compartments. We don’t have a common language between us. An American arrives and he and I agree to take a risk and plead ignorance when the inspector arrives.

For a short time we have a six berth compartment to ourselves. Soon we are joined by a young Italian mother with her three year old child. An older man I have seen on the Ventimiglia-Nice leg takes a seat opposite her. They know each other.

Gordon, the American, is from LA. He is a Bill Clinton look-a-like. He has the chiseled jaw line, the full head of wavy graying hair, brilliant blue eyes, is a snappy dresser and keeps himself in good shape. I can imagine him seated behind an oval desk in Washington. He is my second celebrity travelling companion. From Milan to Torino I sat across a table from an Italian Richard Gere. He spent much of that hour-long journey staring at me as if I were from an unfamiliar planet. Perhaps my dress code gave me away as not belonging on the up-market Eurostar. Richard sported the requisite designer stubble, distinguished grey collar length hair and a stylish sports jacket. At one point I asked him if he spoke English thinking that he might be signaling an interest in a conversation. But Richard merely shrugged at my question and continued to stare.

Bill, on the other hand, has a story to tell. He travels the world selling equipment to major science and   research agencies who need electronic or computer based systems.  NASA is one of his clients. It takes up to a year to secure a sale, such is the process of building a relationship, assessing the needs of the client, modifying the product to their specifications etc etc. He’s not short of a dollar and he loves travelling.
But his real story is of triumph over adversity and a passion to share his experiences with the world.
Born in South Africa to Afrikaans parents he fled, at the age of 23 to the United States. There he worked illegally for a period before eventually getting his green card and making his way from working in kitchens to travelling the world. At this stage he told me, for the first time, how many countries he had visited. He was like someone who can’t believe their luck and keeps repeating the information, not so much to impress others, but to convince himself that it really is true.

In South Africa he had led a life full of risk and in the USA he continued to devour all that life could offer. ‘The only thing I’ve never done is stick a needle in my arm’ he told me.
He’s left school before graduating and had never done any further study. He was a survivor. And now this had become his passion, his story of survival. He felt so lucky to have survived that he was committed to sharing his journey as a lesson in life for future generations. I’ve written a book’ he tells me proudly. It’s a book about what I learnt along the way’. He wants young people to learn some of the street skills that got him through and to avoid some of the pitfalls and dead ends. He has a website. “streetsmartkids” on which he is developing a series of life-lessons to accompany his book. Bill talks, nonstop. But he’s not one of those who ‘s convinced himself that he knows everything. He is still on a learning journey. There’s a strange vulnerability to him. I feel free to interrupt him and share some of my experiences of working with young people. We’ve found a common theme.

I tell him about the Brisbane school I’ve worked with over a ten year period. About our concept of a school as a family, a community with responsibilities as well as rights embedded in its ethos. His story is about survival distilled to a ‘How to’ guide. He’s interested in other ideas because he’s still working it out.
The French ticket inspector arrives and Bill immediately starts a conversation with him (in English). He notes that the train was late and what might have been the cause. He asks if he can help with the bags of a woman who has entered the carriage having just climbed aboard at Roquebrune Cap Martin. The guard is diverted from his task, is charmed by Bill, despite not understanding a word of his west coast spiel. He inspects our tickets and without comment moves on. I’m not sure if this means we were in the correct carriage anyway but Bill prefers to think it is his street savvy that has worked for us. Either way we can relax.
‘Did you notice what I just did?’ says Bill. I nod. ‘Yep’ I respond positively. He’s demonstrating to me some of the ‘street smart’ skills he’s developed. It helps to look like Bill Clinton and have the brash confidence of the Americans. I am always taken aback by the assumption made by many of my American cousins that implies that the rest of the world has been living under a rock for the past 200 years while they have accumulated all the wisdom and colonized the planet. Or perhaps my Australian preference to assume a more understated role holds me back?

The conversation segues to travel and family. We share stories of our wives, our youth, meeting our partners, the secrets of good relationships, children, men and the limits of men’s understanding of relationships, of the Monica Lewinsky moments which can ruin your life and of tolerant, wise and forgiving life partners. I hope Bill doesn’t have a blog. I’m being far too honest with him.
Bill is married to a woman of Iranian descent; I’m married to an Aussie with deep Irish roots. Between us our families are connected to four continents and seven countries. I have no Italian beyond my tourist phrases and Bill, thankfully, has few traces of his Afrikaans accent – one of the few accents which triggers in me an inherent racist element buried deep within my psyche.

Bill is not one to sit still. When he pauses he is on his feet in the corridor wanting to get a closer look at the Mediterranean coastline. He takes photos of everything on his phone. I join him and we photograph together. And talk. He wants to understand the rules of Australian football. He’s seen it on TV and can’t make head nor tail of it but gets that it is an exceptionally physical game demanding incredible stamina. I try and help him. Explaining the scoring system just about does my head in. I try to help by likening it to a combination of soccer, rugby, American and Gaelic football with less rules then add that it may have also developed from our Indigenous brothers. He nods his head. Meanwhile the three year old has decided that Bill’s luggage is play equipment and has colonized his seat as a playground.

He seems like an intelligent man and a strong humanist but when he talks about guns and the right to bear arms I am nonplussed. Kill or be killed he explains .’Have you ever been in such a situation?’  I am seeking to understand what motivated this fear. ‘No.’ It is just an article of faith. ‘I’d prefer to be prepared.’ He says. I don’t push it. I suggest that other nations don’t seem to have this need. It’s like water off a duck shooters back. It’s chicken and egg. There are guns, so I need a gun.

Towards the last forty minutes of the journey Gordon/Bill is getting a little jumpy. He has a 5pm flight from Marseille airport to Frankfurt and we’re losing time not gaining. It will be after 4pm when we pull into St Charles Station and the airport is a good twenty-five minutes by bus or car.

The middle part of his story he shares with me over this last leg. He’s arrived in the USA, played hard, survived the drugs, the street battles, the uncertainty of being an outsider with no prospects; no one to call upon but himself and he’s found a way through. He has reinvented himself through sheer force of will and determination. He looks back and can now breathe easily but he will never forget the struggle. On becoming a citizen he begins to work on convincing his siblings and his parents to join him and, twenty years after he fled South Africa to make a new life, the family is reunited. 

He hasn't forgotten. He is still somewhat incredulous that he now travels the world to that list of 40 odd countries he has given me but he would give it all away tomorrow if he could get his ‘streetsmartkids’ concept to take flight.

At Marseilles he makes a run for it. He’s the first off the train, his gray head tall among the crowd. I lose sight of him before I am even able to gather my meager belongings and alight.
That night I send him an email and he replies.  

Thanks Steve, grabbed a taxi, was on time and then the flight was delayed, but arrived safely in Frankfurt, so nothing else matters :)...even ate the very crappy sandwich they gave us, yuck! (something you'd find at a petrol station)
I really enjoyed out chat and wish you all the best

Take care”

Gordon Myers
Street Smart Kids.
Train travel. Sometimes it’s just magic. I can’t imagine having the same conversation on a plane.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Somerset Glamping

Towards Cheddar Gorge and in the far distance across the water - Wales

Wells Cathedral. Tiny town - giant cathedral.

Tent life. Glamping meant running water and a sink, but candle power only.

Early morning - Banjo and me, early risers.

Happy campers -candles, wine and enamel plates. Almost perfect combination

Fabulous dry stone wall walls everywhere.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Andrea turns 60 in London


Banjo and backyard

Jo in the kitchen

Mel and Andrea

Sara and Jo

andrea and George

Steve and Richard - Bob Dylan tribute band

Andrea and Helen and Arnold
Andrea and George show their moves
Steve and Dom and Sarah's joke

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Berlin Walls

Jewish Museum - image of Polish concentration camp

Berlin Wall - East Gallery

Lisa Smith's lobby

East German idealisesd workers art

AlexanderPlatz - Commercial centre of former East Berlin


Berlin Wall East Gallery - image of Palestine wall

Berlin Wall - image of Iraq Wall

Intact Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall - No Man's Land (The death zone) preserved

Berlin Wall - East Gallery