Thursday, 23 December 2010

Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

It's raining again. Christmas looks like being the wettest and the coolest I can remember 26*C
While the northern hemisphere freezes we drown.
I tried to take some photos of an Australian Christmas but they look like any other Christmas (minus the snow). The Australian touch is the nativity scenewith a central desert Aboriginal painting in the background which actually seems to fit. The painting is from the Santa Teresa community near Alice Springs which was and still is a missionary influenced township.

It's grey skies and rampant green growth looking east from our back door. The river, which is one block from our house, has broken it's banks; the dams are all full; the drought is broken so we can't complain.
Happy Christmas to everyone in blogland.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Magpie 45 - When the chips are down

Mary's off to the casino
she's looking to crack the jackpot,
sick of living in a stable,
fed up with this baby being born again every year,
she wants to move on.

She's an icon in stained glass
in every catherdal on the planet.
But does she benefit?
Does she get the royalties?

Then along comes the big break,
some artist gives her a red casino chip for a halo,
must be worth something.
It's a sign from ..............
she pauses
then sees that the little one has a deck of cards attached to his head
another sign.
This time she's not asking.

The temple of money is close by
and she's making a B-line for it.
She knows how luck works.
She was picked from millions of others
Lucky? Unlucky?
It's a don't ask questions world.
A don't look a gift ass in the mouth
She doesn't hesitate.

The little fella is only young
but he's showing a lot of promise.
He has a gift for numbers.
It's the roulette table she 's got in mind.

There's a concierge at the door.
Sorry luv, no sandals in the gaming room
and no children.
She's been brought up to be humble
but this is really getting up her nose.
Don't you know who I am
she challenges him.
Sorry luv
I don't care if you're the mother of god
I gotta follow the rules.
I didn't make em.
For more Magpie Tales writing click here or on the Magpie Tales stamp

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Vanuatu insights

I just liked this accidental composition. A dive instructor disappears behind a palm frond on Hideaway Island
Back yard of No. 2 Lodge. Palms trees, washing, kava drying in the sun, kids swing. and the managers residence.

Hideaway Island - 15 minutes drive from Port Vila, coral reef fringed, 200 metres from the mainland. I did my first ever Scuba dive here. Enjoyed it apart from the Chinese princess - but that's another story.

Evening light on Port Vila Harbour

The manager's residence No. 2 Lodge

Neighbour to upmarket resort - Poppy's on the Lagoon. Despite western incursions life goes on.

Tropical colours. Wild!

Port Vila Harbour and cyclist. Surprisingly few bicycles.

Public art on a local electricity substation showing pride in the traditional.

Vanuatu - Night of the Dog

This piece should be accompanied by a soundtrack. In fact i have one. Such was the night I am about to describe that at one point, about 2am, I decided to get my voice recorder from my bag and make a tape of the wondrous cacophony which made sleep impossible. If anyone can advise me how to convert cassette tape to audio file and then load it to this blog I could give you a taste. Sadly this is way beyond my technical skills.

Night of the Dog

A Cessna light aircraft engine
whirrs in the corner blasting
cool air across restless bodies
in this small Vanuatu room.

Nurofen dreams of
a slipped disc disaster
gnaw at my brain.
Malaria tablets
rattle on the side-board
warning off blood engorged messerschmits.

A couple of cats
yowling and growling
beneath my window
sing their excruciating love song
tearing my sleep to shreds.

A dog yaps
yip, wiff, yip-yip
in rhythms no orchestra would recognize
yap yap in my head
in my room, under my bed.
haranguing the full moon
with his lament.

Dog cat cessna backpain
rain drums on the tin roof
spelling out staccato messages
tick tap drip throp-op.
Wind thrashes palm fronds.
The tarpaulin tied to the verandah rail
snaps back and forth
in time with my nurofen nightmare.

The dog barks and barks
through the full nurofen cycle
the Cessna engine buzzes
the air moves
the rain drips
the cats meow themselves to sleep
the palms rustle
my pain subsides
at the sun’s rise and
I understand why dogs
die in countries far away -
ingredients in secret recipes
guaranteed to satisfy
even the most ardent lovers of dog(s).

Saturday, 20 November 2010


I'm off to Vanuatu for two weeks (Nov 21 to Dec 5) on a community development project.

I'll blog from Port Vila if I can get internet access.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Spooky Men

This collective of Gregorian style singers from the Blue Mountains west of Sydney may just have the answers to all the questions ever asked about us. MEN!
Here they are: "The Spooky Men's Chorale"

Mirror Mirror - Magpie 40

In the hall of mirrors
Nothing can be hidden.

The warty nose of a cane toad
to some
can be attractive.
The toad world is full of warty complexions
competing for the affections
of equally warty wenches.

Thighs like a mule
mark me as strong and reliable
hard working;
A practical catch
in the muley world of

Arms of sinew
tell of a tender touch
my fingers working their magic -
their golden touch.

My head is large
bulging with wit and charm.
My mouth is full
with lips like mangoes
pouting sweet kisses.
My poppy eyes are simply
a testiment to my vision.
I see all there is to behold.

I'm told I have a tail,
twitching with excitement
in your presence.
Unable to hide my joy
and yet
when I turn from the mirror
it's gone.
All these things I see.

who are blind to these monstrosities
see only
youth and vitality
the radiance of love.

In you, my other mirror
I am a prince.

For other creative responses to this Magpie prompt click here or on the Magpie stamp.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Sailing hubris revisited

Today was heat 5 of the championship series at the SBSC (South Brisbane Sailing Club).
We came last.
The blind skipper didn't show.
How unreliable is that?
see Sunday 31 October - A sailing story - Double Triumph
See also Stafford Ray Hubris again.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Chooks - Magpie 39

A headless chook runs around the back yard of my childhod home.
A friend publishes a knitting book which features a tea cosy in the form of a chook.
An urban myth about a headless chook living for six months turns out to be true.
People under pressure run around like headless chooks making choices they might regret.

Every year my father bought a chicken or duck in November
and gave it the run of the back yard for two months.
Life was good, plenty of feed and no inkling of what was to come.
I can still conjure up the smell of those plucked feathers.
A headless corpse dunked into the boiling water in the downstairs copper,
then me up to my elbows in a pile of feathers and down.
Christmas dinner tasted all the better knowing it was home grown.

Loani Prior is the international queen of the tea cosies.
having two runaway best selling books of patterns
based on the simple idea that tea cosies can be fun
and that knitting and craft is BACK.
Women flock to her workshops to sit at her feet and knit
Chooky tea cosies.

I'm watching TV.
One of my favourite eccentrics, Stephen Fry, is hosting a wacky show called QI.
It's a play on words - QI IQ.
He's infuriatingly bright and his panellists set out to subvert his intellect
by answering his questions as wrongly as possible.
He asks a question about Mike the Headless Chook.
No one has any idea what he's talking about
but this Colorado freak (the chook that is)
has achieved international stardom.
Even if the whole thing turns out to be a fabrication.

I am watching quite intelligent people make unintelligent decisions.
They are under pressure to solve unsolvable problems.
The old 'do more with less' edict from an organisation in meltdown.
They seek to solve the irresolvable by 'making decisions'.
Even a chook will tell you that making decisions
when your head is on the chopping block
can be fraught with problems.

Chooks without heads don't seem to think straight.

For more writing by a bevy of international writers click here or on the Magpie stamp.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Beautiful Day - Serendipity

Stringmansassy featuring Aaron Hopper
One phrase was all it took to change my life. Jan Oates said it to me in a park one sunny Saturday in 1980. 'You're good at that' she said, 'you should do more of it'. Six months later I'd thrown in my secure job as a teacher and was driving to Melbourne in a baby-poo-yellow Datsun 120Y to take up a three month contract as a clown with a small suburban theatre company.

My wife was by my side. She was pregnant and had left her equally secure government job where she worked as a speech therapist to live in a caravan in an as yet unidentified location somewhere in Melbourne. Why did we do this? In retrospect it seems a bit rash. But in effect it started me on a thirty year journey in the arts. I've been employed every year and Andrea and I are still together. And the baby is now 29. If anyone is to blame it would have to be Jan. And her one phrase.

We all like to think we make a difference, even if only a small one, don't we? So what does it mean when someone you haven't seen in thirty years contacts you and asks 'Is that the Mr Capelin from Ascot State School - year three 1980?' Aaron Hopper had heard me being interviewed on ABC Radio. I was their "Meet the listener" for the day and I'd told the running away to join the circus story. He's heard it and recognised the voice? the name? part of the story? and sent me an email to say hi. He's added ' I remember your classes, they were fun.'

When he says 'they were fun' he means we did a lot of art and plays and music making and notoriously set fire to the school swimming pool mid way through the year. We'd built some clay sculptures using raku clay and I'd done some research and found out that you could use a large metal rubbish bin as a kiln using sawdust as the fuel. So I found a bin and bought a barrow load of sawdust and loaded up a layer of sawdust followed by a layer of clay sculptures, more sawdust etc. Before this I'd drilled a series of twenty odd holes in the sides to allow it to draw air to make sure the fire survived. Once lit, the theory was it would slowly burn from top to bottom and reach high enough temperatures to convert the clay to pottery. It did. It worked a treat. Unfortunately it was not a quick process. For two days and two nights a plume of smoke billowed from the deep end of the empty school pool much to the concern of of the headmaster and staff of this very conservative school. I am still adament that I resigned and was not asked to leave.

Aaron was seven I was thirty. I ran away to join the circus. He went on to become an outstanding contemporary guitarist. I can't claim any responsibility for his guitar career, but perhaps I did play my role in helping sow a seed, a love of art and creativity, which played its part in his later choices.

Tonight he was in town for a one off performance. I went to see him perform. It was a great night. Four guitarists of widely differing styles each did a twenty minute set and then combined for a finale. Afterwards it was like a mini school reunion. I said hi to Aaron. His mother introduced herself and it turns out I know the young woman who manages his performing career. 'It was clear you didn't fit into Ascot' his mother told me. 'You were different. Though I was glad Aaron had you as his teacher.' I took that as a compliment.

Not fit in. Tell me about it. I had loved teaching primary kids but that school killed me. It was a rich kids state school pretending to be a private school. There were 'certain expectations' which I was aware of but not interested in conforming to. setting fire to rubbish bins in swimming pools was definitely outside the guidelines. Running around in parks wearing a red nose and being assailed by anklebiters was like being let out of prison. It was a dream.

In a strage way my posting to that school was a blessing. Perhaps I'd still be a primary school teacher if that hadn't happened.

I can identify a whole range of other moments each of which turned me in a new direction. Some were people I met, some were travel experiences, some were serendipitous crossing of paths no one but a fatalist would believe could happen. What or who was it for you?

To listen to Aaron playing 'Beautiful Day' as his duo Stringmansassy click here or on the image above.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

A sailing story - Double Triumph

I am a tragic sailor. As opposed to a sailing tragic.

My brother and I started sailing in our mid forties when my daughter was looking for a hobby that would define her as 'not being in the shadow of her younger brother'. This has been a fabulous success as she is still sailing 15 years later and has become an accomplished skipper and sailing instructor. Her brother found the rigging and the waiting for the winds to arrive all too slow and boring. He preferred to chase balls. Sailing was a good choice.

As often as we are available on a Saturday we ageing siblings hitch the boat to the back of the car and drag it the 850 metres from my house to the riverside clubhouse. Our boat is almost as old as us. It's a 30 year old 14 foot dinghy with timber deck, timber mast. timber boom, a fibreglas hull and sails that were made in the 70's. It's old technology. There's not a sniff of carbon fibre on board.

The boats we compete against are incredibly light and float on top of the water while ours more wallows in the water. Theirs have aluminium masts and sails made from from fibres developed by NASA to help navigate to the distant shores of our galaxy.

Every week we come last. Except this week. And herein lies the double triumph.

We beat a boat home by almost a lap. We were pretty excited. Triumph number one - champagne all round.

It wasn't until we queried who was skippering the boat we had vanquished that our triumph was put into perspective. It turns out that the other boat was skippered by a bloke with a visual impairment. Now his feat too is something to celebrate. Quite remarkable really. Our club has a policy of supporting people with disabilities but this was quite special. It turned out that one of our gun sailors had chosen to act as crew for the day and was talking his partially blind skipper through the three lap course. The river was crawling with pleasure cruisers, high speed ferries and we were all battling a strong incoming tide.

We zig-zagged from bank to bank, struggled with the current around the top mark, nearly got collected by a CityCat ferry and managed to stay upright - but we couldn't shake off our nearest rival for that plumb spot at the tail of the fleet. We felt fully satisfied with our effort. Our legs told us we had worked hard for over two hours. And we had the advantage of all five senses.

The wonderful thing about sailing is being so close to nature. Your senses are your guide to every decision and the visual cues are incredibly important. The change in the surface of the water heralds an approaching gust which the skipper must take advantage of. The piece of wool flying from the sidestay tells you the direction of the breeze and where you need to be pointing. There is no time to lose concentration. On a good day it's magnificent; on a bad day it's miserable but still memorable. Do it with your eyes half closed? No thanks.

I have often wondered what the lack of one sense does to the others. I imagine that our arch rival has a fine sense of the wind across his cheeks and hence of wind direction and a heightened sense of motion and balance. Perhaps I should sail with a blindfold. I might learn something.

Theirs was the true triumph. We need to share that bottle of champagne.

Dead Men Talking - Magpie 38

100,000 Irish sail to British North America
in a flotilla of coffin ships destined for Quebec.
One out of five die from disease and malnutrition.

4000 young female orphans
from Irish workhouses are shipped to Australia
to meet a demand for domestic servants.
The girls frequently die in poverty

The last convict ship lands at Fremantle
carrying the final 279 of 160 000 felons
transported from Britain over a period of 80 years.
40 000 Irish - many transported for political activity.

What terrible times
drove you to seek a new life
risking death and starvation.

What harsh political regimes
condemned you
to these desperate solutions

What environmental disasters
provoked this exodus
from your native lands.

A mere three or four generation past
yet we have lost contact -
your voices buried and silent.

Gravestones marked and unmarked
ravaged by storm and tempest and time
your stories broken and fragmented.

And now a generation too late
I'm listening for your voices
Your dialect carried on the winds
Tangled tales lost in overgrown fields

I am following the rivers to their source.
I meditate on your fate
I am a vessel waiting to resonate with the sound of your voice.

For more from the Magpie Tales diaspora of writers click here.

Post script.
217 Italian migrants arrive in Sydney
100 less than had embarked on their ill-fated voyage
seeking a new life in the South Pacific.

The Irish and Italians of New South Wales intermarry
My heritage lies buried in the lush forests
and coastal sands of the Richmond River Valley.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Magpie 37 The hole he left behind

There is a sense of sadness in this image. A sense of things discarded. Of lives and time forgotten.

He was a regular visitor.
Like clockwork - every sunday he'd arrive at 4pm
apologising for his intrusion, apologising for being early.
A giant lump of a man; a wool bale of a man.
His ruddy complexion and giant hands
in stark contrast to his older brother
my father

I never knew where he lived only
that he travelled by tram every sunday to have a family meal
and came bearing gifts - lollies and chocolates mainly,
except during 'ekka" week when he'd arrive laden with show bags.
Two of everything
Minties, Allens Sweets, Licorice and a Magic Bag to share -
for us his two nephews.

One sunday he wasn't there
Uncle Nat regular as clockwork failed to appear.
It was a minor change to routine. The family meal went ahead -
Uncle Nat was not coming today we were told.
His gravy covered roast beef sat forlorn on its white china plate
congealing before our eyes.

His place was set the following week, his plate of food remained untouched.
Our questions were answered with a lift of the shoulders
"I don't know love. He's probably gone on holidays'.
We missed the chocolates but got used to their absence
as we got used to the empty chair at the sunday roast.

The riverside wool stores became bric a brac markets
then upmarket apartments for the young suited aspirationals
transforming Uncle Nat's wharves to industrial chic.
The ekka became a distant country ritual.
Childhood led to adolescence then independence
and adult life and parenthood
and the moments of panic at the possibility of loss.

snippets of family stories emerged
of Nat's troubles, of Nat's disappearance as a teenager
and the sense of the hole he left behind.

Week by week
month by month
ekka after ekka
Uncle Nat had just slowly
slipped away
beyond reach
beyond family
to seek
a peaceful place.

For more stories from the Magpie Tales writers click on the stamp

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The house next door

There's only one car next door I remarked to my wife. I haven't seen the kids around for a while.
It was the end of school holidays so I assumed that perhaps they'd extended their stay away. The weather had been terrible and now, as the school term began again, suddenly, it was clear skies. I'd have extended my leave if I'd had the option too.

At the end of another week the silence continued. There were glimpses of a car entering and leaving and occasionally the dog returning from a morning walk. There were moments of familiarity. But there was no noise. No lights in the kids bedroom, no laughter. The pool failed to erupt with squeals and games each afternoon. There was no constant flow of cars dropping and picking up kids. It was an absence of laughter. The house seemed to have died.

I'm not one to give houses personalities but when the rhythm stops it feels like a loss. This was exacerbated by the relocation of our other neighbour of more than ten years, and a close friend, to a distant suburb. There was a mourning feel to the neighbourhood.

Yesterday as I pulled up outside my house my disappeared neighbour was stepping from her car. She'd parked on the other side of the street outside her own house. I'd never seen her do that before. Hi. I called. Havent seen you for a while. And then she began to cry. And some of the tale tumbled out amidst apologies for the tears and some embarrassment. I moved out in May she informed me.

Oh my god. This was the middle of October and it had taken that long for the penny to drop. I felt stupid. Admittedly we had been overseas for June and July but three months, five months? How could that happen?

When was I going to ask? If ever? Was it any of my business? Perhaps not. But if neighbourhoods have any life., any real sense of community when and how do we share these stories. How do we make sense of them without being intrusive. Without it being gossip.

The boys visit three or four nights a week. But something vital has gone from our street.
My house mourns that loss.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Post Rain - The Battle begins

There is a battle looming. I have dragged out my lawn mower. I have mixed a new batch of weed killer. I have gathered my rake and trimmer. I have liberated my yard hat from under a pile of old rags and have my battered boots lined up outside the door. I have wandered the yard and planned my attack.

As usual the mower refuses to start. I pull the starter cord fifty times. I cajole, ignore, use reverse psychology, pretending to give up for the day and walking away. I fiddle with every adjustment but the air filter. I am in air filter denial. I don't see why my once new mower should need that much of my attention every month just to start. It's not too much to ask.

The filter takes only three minutes to clean but I am impatient and have high expectations of my machinery. I know that I will lose, but yet again I pit my will against this inanimate object in a vain effort to assert my superiority. Eventually I change the filter and the mower sputters to life on the next pull of the cord. I am again humbled.

For the love of rain

It seems it's been raining since the dawn of time. After years of drought, of installing rainwater tanks, of one minute showers, of hand watering the garden and watching the landscape turn brown, then bare, then barren, the once empty dams are disgorging water and threatening us with inundation. It was feeling like 1974 again. The year the city went under.

And now the days and nights are silent. The sky is unbearably blue and the vivid green weeds of spring seize their opportunity to establish a new world order.

At night I wander the house feeling lonely, missing the sounds of dripping and tapping. As I drag myself off to bed my heart lifts as I hear a familiar sound. A tiny rumbling and the soft swish of water. I feel everything lighten. I move to the window of the kitchen to take in the sight of a drizzling sky only to find its my dishwasher on its rinse cycle.

I am missing the rain like I miss a lover. No more is there the comforting murmur of her soft voice. No more the knowledge that each time I roll over in my bed I will be reassured by her presence. No more the sense that I am enveloped in her embrace. The rain has left me and like an abandoned lover I catch sight of clouds on the horizon and a flash of hope surges through my body. I listen to the weather report hoping to hear news of a new low pressure system moving in from the west. I look at the long range weather forecast in the vain hope that she will realise her
mistake and return to comfort me

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Magpie 36 More to ants than meets the eye.

I'm down here on the floor
my compound eyes
blinded, times over, by the light flooding my domain.
The energy of a million ancestors burning bright.

There's food everywhere
crumbs, scraps, flakes of skin .
And dirt.
I skirt the piles of rubbish,
I ignore the siren calls of dust mites and
head towards the brilliance before me.
I am drawn in that direction.
It is my drones destiny.
My mission:
"feed the masses".
I drag a dead weight,
a corpse,
100 times my mass behind me.

There are two of us on this job.
My pinchers ache.
I can't use my arms or legs
I need maximum traction on the floor.
This is a tough assignment.
We're weaving across the boards like drunks.
Why did we get given this task?

I'm thinking I need to polish up my social skills
in the presence of royalty.

We'll need to dismember this beast
before we can get it past our front door.
And why a daylight run?
Everyone knows its safer at night.

Large pads of flesh land close by my head.
I freeze.
Take evasive action.
I've heard the stories of these monsters.
I'm exhausted.
I yearn for a bit of shut eye.

Yesterday I got brushed
into a corner.
A huge moon with eyes and a gaping mouth
breathed a foul odour in my direction
then flicked me,
against the wall and
onto a plastic tray.
My head was spinning
I had the eeerie sense of flying,
breadcrumbs and silt flying beside me
towards a hole deep and dark
My dreams of flying were never like this
spiralling down, flipping end over end
to the bottom of a pit.

It took me the best part of half a day
to find my way back to the human cave.
My task is not complete.

This place is bigger than I remember.
I love the wide open spaces but
this is rdiculous.
Polished floors so shiny
I can see my reflection.
I'm quite impressed with my abdomen
sleek and round.

So here I am
toiling across this great expanse
dragging a corpse.
I've travelled this path a thousand times.
Always the same path.
I must ask about the allocation of shifts at the next ant forum.

Little wonder my smile is a little pinched.
Years of work, repetition, and high risk take its toll.

© Steve Capelin 2010 . All rights reserved.
For more writing and writers click on the Magpie Tales stamp.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Magpie 35 Negative Affirmative

Behind the cracked leaves
blue sky fights for my attention
creating Polonious like images
demanding affirmation -
a dog's snout sniffing
a catfish snuffling
dad's big nose snorting.

Between the crumpling leaves
other shapes shoulder consciousness aside
negatives outmuscling positives
truths outshouting truth
silences screaming stories unsaid
the in-between lives exposing
the superficial lies.

For more writing on this Magpie Tales prompt click on the stamp.