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From the verge

The only neighbours I’ve met in my new house so far were two young guys who lived next door. They’re both very nice (and I was thinking potentially useful, since they looked handy and had trucks and tools and things.) But sadly, they were also moving. I met the first one when he asked me if I had any spare boxes, which of course I did. It turned out he was moving down the coast, so there went my short-lived fantasy of having useful men next door. <g>

Anyway the other one was moving up to northern NSW, and he was putting lots of furniture on the nature strip (verge) for anyone to take, because where he was going was too far/expensive to transport all his furniture. So he was giving it away. So first, with the help of a visiting friend, I first nabbed a low (4ft) narrow bookshelf for my hallway.

Then the following night I was returning home in the dark with takeaway Chinese food, and I saw some nice looking chairs there. I liked them — they had padded seats in oatmeal fabric, and my current wooden dining chairs are hard on bottoms — as my card playing friends often remark. There were three, so I brought them inside, feeling quite like the scavenger of the neighborhood! <g>

Next morning it was pouring with rain, and I saw there was a very nice table there, getting drenched. He had offered me “a kitchen table” the day before, when I’d asked him about the bookshelf, and I’d imagined some battered old thing, so I’d said no thanks. But this lovely table was, apparently, it. So feeling cheeky I knocked on his door and asked him about it, and he said, yeah, take it.

And then, even more cheekily, I asked for his help in carrying it onto my front porch — it was too wet to bring inside. So he did. (That’s it below, in the rain.)

He said, “There were some chairs too but they’ve gone.”

I said, “I know — I took them.”

So then he told me he had the 4th chair inside and he’d give it to me before he left.

Several times I offered to pay — they’re really nice table and chairs — but he waved it off and poo-poohed the idea.

And then he brought in the 4th chair, because he was going out that night and didn’t need it, and was staying with a mate  until he left in a few days time.

So, now I have a lovely table and 4 chairs.

He had some other good furniture, and so I contacted the asylum-seekers aid organization, who help refugees get settled with houses and furniture, etc. I sent them some photos, pointing out that they were in the rain, and they came and got them straight away. So his furniture has helped a lot of people — including me.

My table is now on my deck. Isn’t it lovely? I was a bit worried it would be too big, but I think it works well. It’s close to the window at the moment because it’s bucketing down and I don’t want it to get wet again. I’m keeping my old dining room table inside because it’s round, and is the perfect size for my card-playing friends who don’t have to stretch too far for the pack.

So there are my finds — all from the verge. 

These days I’ve noticed that more and more people are leaving stuff out on the verge for anyone to take. I left a few things out myself, when I was leaving the old house, though most of my stuff went to charity shops.

I’m not sure whether it’s a sign that we all have too much stuff, or whether we’re just encouraged to buy new stuff all the time. My theory is that shopping has become so much of a leisure activity that we all have too much, and yet adverts and “lifestyle” magazines and programs continually entice us to want more and newer — if not necessarily better.

I get several interior/renovation e-zines and I’m often shocked at their “before and afters” when they talk about “outdated” kitchens and houses — when really they’re still very nice and perfectly good — just not the latest thing!

I get mildly offended on behalf of the former owners when they talk about “This outdated and shabby old house/kitchen/bathroom” blah blah. When it was last decorated and renovated maybe 10 years ago. Are we getting too wasteful, perhaps? I don’t know.

Have you ever found something good on the verge?

Discovering rain

It’s raining outside, and I wanted to do some gardening, but it’s too wet. But as I stood at my back door and watched the rain pelting down, I remembered an incident from my childhood.

(The image on the right is by Anita Klein, one of my favorite artists. You can see more of her work here.)

When I was a little girl we went to live in Scotland for a year because of my dad’s job. He was a teacher, as was my mum, and he did an exchange with a Scottish teacher — she came to Australia for a year and taught here, while we went to Scotland, lived in her house and Dad taught in her school. 

The Scottish school year was different — in Australia the school year goes from the end of January until just before Christmas, whereas in the UK the school year starts in September and goes until June. So Dad had to go early. He and the younger of my two older sisters left months before my mum, my brother and me. (My eldest sister was doing year 12 and planned to go to teacher’s college, so she didn’t go to Scotland, poor thing.)

I don’t know how Mum did it — she was teaching full time, she had one child doing year 12 (final year of high school) and another doing year 11, and then there was me, just seven years old. She also had to pack up the house, get the furniture put into storage, and because she was a perfectionist, she also scrubbed the house from top to bottom. By Christmas, she would have been exhausted, but she still had to get us all (the dog too) to my grandparents, 4 hours away.

Anyway, we (Mum, my brother and I) arrived in Scotland in the middle of winter, and my brother and I started school more or less right away.

The class I was going into had been prepared for my arrival — the teacher had been teaching them all kinds of things about Australia. 

But in Scotland at that time, not a lot was known about Australia — not like today where there is a wealth of information at our fingertips, and we all know about lots of countries from TV and travel.

So quite early in the piece, I, along with a small gaggle of girls who were very sweetly looking after the new wee Australian girl, came running out at morning recess, and stopped short at the door as it was raining. 

I must have made some exclamation — I was disappointed — I wanted to play outside — but the little girls all clustered around me, full of excitement. Two started patting my hands in reassurance.

“Och, dinna fash yer’sel, hin, it’s just rain.” 

“It’ll no’ hurt you.”

“It’s just water that falls from the sky.”

“It happens here a lot. You’ll get used to it.”

This bewildered me. They were explaining rain to me? And thought the sight of it might upset me?  It did, a bit — but only because we couldn’t play outside in the rain. But that was all. It was quite strange. But then the rain stopped and we headed out to play.

That evening at home I told Mum about this very peculiar reaction, and she laughed. She explained that the class had probably been studying about Australia before I came, and that in the outback there were long droughts and they’d probably read about 7 year olds who lived there who had never seen rain. And assumed that went for all Australians.

So, that explained that. It was very sweet, and I remember those girls with great fondness. And every now and then I catch myself looking at rain pelting down and thinking, “Dinna fash yer’sel, hin, it’s just rain.” And smiling.

And to leave you with a smile, here is a little video that always makes me smile — a little kid, a dog and a puddle. Or if you can’t see the video, click here: Enjoy.


When I first called myself a writer

When did you first call yourself a writer?

On the Word Wenches blog (where I blog every fortnight) Mary Jo Putney wrote this piece about how she became a writer.

And it started me wondering about when I first thought of myself as a writer. I’ve written all my life — letters, silly poems (that I called pomes), short stories, songs etc, and things for school — short plays and skits for kids (and teachers) to perform. But it never occurred to me to write books, because somewhere in my childhood I’d decided books were written by rare and wonderful creatures that lived in a magic land — or something. (Photo by my friend Fiona McArthur)

And then I started working with a guy who turned out to be a newly published writer, and I thought Huh! Well, he’s no unicorn. And I read his book, and thought, huh, maybe I could do that. 

It got me thinking seriously about writing for publication. The following year, I went backpacking around the world on my own and, being alone and often in countries where I didn’t speak the language, I found stories spinning in my head. So I bought a notebook and started writing them down.

I came home at the end of the year with a number of filled notebooks, full of ideas, stories and scraps and at least one novel — and a determination to seriously pursue a writing career. Even then, I might never have prepared anything to send to a publisher — I never learned to type and that seemed like a real barrier — except that a friend sent her little Macintosh computer for me to “mind” while she was away. 

The idea was that I would learn to use it — me, the luddite! But I kept getting post cards from her mentioning the computer and asking how I was going with it. So it was pure “fear of embarrassment” that caused me to haul it out of the box, set it up and start poking around. And it turned out to be amazingly user friendly and intuitive, so that even a computer-resistant person like me could use it with ease!

So I bought a Mac and started seriously writing for publication. (Though I never did type up any of those stories in the notebooks.) I loved that I could make typos, and then fix them without retyping a whole page, or having pages heavily weighted with white-out. It was magic.

In those days, I never called myself ‘a writer’, even though I was writing a lot, because a writer is a job, not just an activity. After all, I clean and garden and cook, but I don’t call myself a cleaner or a gardener or a cook. 

But also I was a bit shy about telling people what I was doing. I mean, if you say “I’m writing a book,” from then on they will ask you about it, and after a while it will become “Haven’t you finished that book yet?” or “When are we going to be able to read it?” As if rejections weren’t a normal part of most journeys to publication.

And there’s this line in a Yeats poem: “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” But some people tread happily wearing hob-nailed boots.

So I waited until I was published. And once I started calling myself a writer, the questions from non-friends went like this: “You’re a writer eh? So have you ever been published?” Said in the kind of cynical voice where the subtext is “How pretentious, to call yourself a writer,” and the expectation is a shamed admission that no I haven’t been published.

But then when I said I had been published, the next question was, “Will I have heard of you?” 
Probably not. 
“So what do you write, then?”

And when I said I wrote romance, the reaction was “Oh right, so you got the formula” — the subtext being I wasn’t a real writer. And there was never any point in explaining that there was no more a formula for romance than there was for crime novels — although I did try — because they simply didn’t believe it. I was just trying to pretend I was a real writer.

I’ve had more than 20 books published now, with translations into eighteen other languages, and I’ve made my living solely from my writing for years now, but some people still ask me, “When are you going to write a real book?”

But I don’t care any more. I write real books for real people and I love what I do and I have a host of romance-writing (and other genre-writing) friends and so who cares what other people think?

And I still write in notebooks a lot, and sometimes in cafes and libraries, though not looking quite so elegant as the woman in this picture.