A life in the day of ….

A life in the day of ….

Crash! Bang! Crack! I wake up with a start. I’m in the POW camp; no, no… I’ve been dreaming again. I’m awake now, thank goodness, that nightmare is probably best left behind.

What was the dreadful noise that woke me, scared me? What time is it? Why is the house in total darkness? Usually the corridor night-light is visible.

No use seeing if the old dog is awake, total deafness has some advantages…. she’s yet yet another long-haired dachshund in the family and like all before her during my childhood has been a faithful companion.

The silence is palpable. No heavy breathing. No snoring. Now that’s unusual.  I swear my husband snores with an Australian accent; he swears I snore in Yorkshire dialect even though I moved Down Under nearly forty years ago.

I feel the other side of the bed. Empty. Where is he?

I can see the blinking red light of the torch next to the bed. Smart move that, to buy a torch that lets you know where it is… very useful when we go camping in the lonely outback.

I slide out of bed, switch on the torch and paddle silently down the corridor. At least the torchlight means I don’t tread on the old dog’s pigs-ear.

Spouse is in the living room peering onto the deck.

“That was a whopper”. As he spoke the house is emblazed in light and the boom of thunder rolls overhead again. No time to count the number of seconds between flash and crash, the storm is directly overhead. The heavens open to sheets of rain pouring onto the roof and ground. What wonderful life sustaining water onto this parched, drought-stricken land.

“We were very close to that one”.

“There’s no light on the oven clock but the microwave is flashing again, so it’s been off. Lucky I took out the aerial and power plugs for the TV before I went to bed.”

“What about the computer. I took out the plugs but left the modem line attached. Please don’t tell me I’m going to lose all that work?”

Check the phone.

Silence.

Damn. Damn. Damn.

“Let’s have a cuppa; I can’t go back to bed whilst this storm is still raging.”

“What’s the time?” The faithful old grandfather clock points to four in the morning. It has seen a lot of fours in the morning since Robert Skelton put a final polish to its brass face in the year Captain Cook arrived in Australia.

What was that song? “It’s four in the morning, and once more the dawning, just woke up the wanting in me”. Now I’ll have that bloody tune floating round in my head all day.

“Here’s your cuppa.” We sit and watch the receding storm for a while. I’m still worried about all the files on the computer.

“But you have back-up don’t you?”

“Yes on a stick and on the external hard drive. But it’s the whole rigmarole of a new computer, new programs to install, settings to work out. It’s a pain in the proverbial.”

The sun makes a tepid appearance behind the easterly hills.

I go back to bed.

A couple of hours later the old dog wakes. I hear her first, a scratch then a roll, a wriggle and a yawn, a stretch and a whine. She vocalises more frequently and more loudly now she is deaf. Then she appears near the bed and scratches at the blanket. I eventually admit I’m awake and let her outside. “It’s four in the morning, and once more the dawning, just woke up the wanting in me”

It’s still raining as I open the door and check to see if we have any reptilian visitors on the verandah. I don’t mind the Blue Tongue, Jacky Dragon and Penny Lizards, it’s the slippery, slithering, venomous, legless reptiles that I hate.  Far too wet for such callers, so out goes the dog.  It’s a very quick widdle; she doesn’t care if the ‘roos have been in the garden, doesn’t care if the fox has visited the compost heap, doesn’t care if the Jacky Dragon is waiting to scoot off into the woodpile, today is a day to get outside and back inside in the shortest possible time. I haven’t even had time to put the kettle on when she’s at the door demanding to come indoors.

I dig out my Impressionist beaker. For some daft reason, now there’s a good Yorkshire word from my childhood, for some daft reason my morning cappuccino tastes better when I share my drink with  Renoir.  “It’s four in the morning, and once more the dawning …..”

The coffee hits the spot and I head to the shower. The rain would have just about filled the water tanks and I don’t really need to stand in the bucket to collect the shower water. But old habits die hard. If I’m a water-miser now my new trees will be able to have an extra drink in the scorching heat of the harsh Australian summer sun.

Breakfast, the usual menu:  boiled eggs, thank you Zoë and Chloe; home made bread, thank you Mr. Panasonic; home made marmalade thanks to the overburdened lemon tree that valiantly produces a mountain of fruit each year. As I nibble on the bread I suddenly think of my first biochemistry lecture with the new Chemistry Professor at university in Aberystwyth, Wales. It was his inaugural lecture and he spoke about the importance of bread in the diet of wartime Britons and how the discovery of vitamins and the addition of them and minerals to white bread ensured the people had adequate amounts of these essential things in their very limited diets. White bread which was fortified was better for the war effort … if you ate wholemeal bread you spent more time in the loo and less time on the factory floor making aircraft and munitions! I remember it was one of the few biochemistry lectures I enjoyed and understood and I only struggled with the subject for my first year before concentrating on Agricultural Botany and Animal Parasites in subsequent years.

And breakfast included the inevitable cuppa, tea this time, in the poppy or sweet pea beaker. When I first started the book about the 2/20 Battalion it had to be the poppy beaker. I’d left poppies at each battleground, each massacre site and each POW location that we’d visited earlier in the year; poppies were an ever constant reminder. But as the chapters have been written, the nightmares endured, the poppy has had to make way for the more calming sweet-peas.

What am I going to do today?

Better get on with the book; just have the last chapter to finalise but I need to proof read the early chapters. The training is okay, the fighting harder to read. Can I manage that bit about Muar and Parit Sulong again? I went to the tiny shed where those desperately wounded men were tortured before being massacred, I visualise it daily. No I can’t read it again. Yes I must. I must do it. But I know it’ll be hard to proof read through tears.

I hear the whistle.

My friends have arrived for breakfast. “You’re late today” I chide them. The male king parrot glides gently from the Hills hoist onto grass beneath. His yellow and black eyes are bead-like on each side of his vermillion head, his collar a prussic blue, his back a rich patchwork of green. He expertly cracks open the sunflower seeds in his strong beak, drops the husk and swallows the kernel. The female arrives, no flashes of red on her head, just a camouflage of many-hued green. The two happily share the space and seeds. But then a second male arrives and the territorial one-up-man-ship begins. The female keeps feeding, letting the flamboyant males screech and flap at each other. After a short time I throw more seeds onto the ground and head indoors. That’s the signal the magpies are waiting for. They swoop across the paddock from their look-out tree, singing their delightful song of thanks as they arrive. The galahs, crested pigeons, crimson rosellas, grass parrots and Eastern rosellas then all come for their turn to enjoy the seeds from the ‘wildbird’ mix.

I head back inside. “It’s four in the morning, and once more the dawning…”

The massacres await my attention. The letters from Malaya are fun to read; the author, my father-in-law had a sense of humour and a fine eye for detail and I’ve enjoyed transcribing them. But there’s been so much extra research to do. Who were the people he mentioned? Could I find out more about the nurses he met on leave? Did they survive? Did they die in the fighting? Did they suffer brutalities as a POW?

My research has taken me over the State, inter-state and over the sea to Singapore, Malaya and Thailand. It has been a journey of discovery, incredible sorrow and mateship. Now I have to put it all together into words.

Chapter Three, the trip on the troop ship Queen Mary. I start to proofread. My reference describes the manoeuvre the Queen Mary took to farewell the other ships in the convoy and says she could travel at 40 knots. Could her escort to Singapore, HMS Durban, keep up? I ring ex-RAN relative to ask. No she couldn’t he advises. She was an old ship, scrapped in 1944, she would have managed 35 knots in her heyday. He thinks the speeding away from the rest of the convoy [which was heading for the Middle East and Europe] was just for show. I read him my reference. I have tears before I reach the end, I know the fate of so many of these brave young men and women.

The greatest ships in almost telepathic communication, laden with the world’s finest fighting men, each heart going out to the other in a gesture of well wishing – a rare glimpse of mass emotion in a moment of admiration and bewilderment. It may never happen again. The blood surged through my veins and within myself I said “I am proud to be a part of this.” The convoy divided, the Queen Mary speeding at an increased rate behind the destroyer H.M.S. Durban. The others faded until they were mere silhouettes on a tropical horizon, following an ocean greyhound. And we were alone; pounding along to Singapore.

Such pride; such optimism; such faith; such comradeship; how poignant that the outcome was to be so horrendous.

I finish proof reading the chapter. It’s so hard, harder than I expected because I know worse is to come in my journey through this war in Asia.

I need lunch. I can’t keep up this pace of concentration. Chai tea, slice of homemade bread, an avocado and a banana give me some respite. The rain is still threatening from up in the dark grey clouds, battleship grey, like the old Commonwealth Bank interior in The Mall. At least the real battleships have a myriad of colourful cables snaking along the corridors, far more interesting than the boring, bland, grey sameness of the bank interior. “It’s four in the morning, and once more…”

It’s time for a walk. The old dog doesn’t want to come these days, she hides if the lead appears.

I find my hat, put on walking shoes and grab the iPod. What a great little machine. I’ve finally worked out how to copy my CD’s onto it. Now I can march for an hour or so to the exhilarating colliery brass bands of my youth in Yorkshire.

Which way shall I go today? Hmmm, weather could be dodgy so I’ll do a cloverleaf and be reasonably close to home should the clouds shed their load. First to the dead-end of our road, all gravel, no tar here, too few people to warrant the cost. There’s the odd wattle tree, blown down in the strong wind of the storm. Next it’s back to the junction, past the house with the Rottweiler. Glad their gate is shut. Weather looks okay so I’ll head up to the next intersection, past the gate of our security conscious neighbour. He has two padlocks on his gate plus a thick steel square lock which has additional locks on. What? Today Mr. Security’s gate is open. He must be down at his caravan. His sheep look as if they are heading out, ‘grass is greener’ and all that. I shoo them back in.

As I puff  back up our steep driveway I check out the cattle in the house paddock, all okay. In the house I haven’t even got my breath when the phone rings. “Caroline, do you have a gun up there?” My neighbour sounds very agitated. I wonder what her spouse has done to warrant such wrath. “Er no, why do you need a gun?”

“There’s a brown snake that’s caught up in the wire round one of my roses near the backdoor. I called WIRES three hours ago and they still haven’t come to remove it. I want to shoot the damned thing so I can go to work.”

I commiserate but then hang up, chuckling. No one but that particular neighbour would demand a gun to shoot a snake, especially one caught in the wire. “It’s four in the morning, and…”

The oven lights are still not working so the electrician has been called. Even as I think of him I see Wayne driving up to the house. He soon has the offending appliance out of its hole in the wall. He deftly undoes screws and pulls out bits and pieces, uses a little black box to look for power and then pronounces “I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m going to have to phone Miele and see if we can get a new computer for it.”

Great! No oven. I have a party of over forty coming for dinner on Saturday night and I have no oven. Perhaps the rain will stay away long enough for us to light a bonfire and use the camp ovens. We are celebrating Guy Fawkes Night after all … another tradition from my Yorkshire childhood.

Dinner tonight… haven’t even thought of it so far! I know the microwave is okay but what about the hotplates? I turn one on. It seems to be taking for ever to heat up and turn red. Or is it that I’m just anxious and don’t really know how long it normally takes to glow.

Yes, it’s okay. Relief.

I’d forgotten the washing machine. I switch it on. No blinking lights. Damn. It looks as if that’s also going to be added to the insurance claim…. What else is there?

“It’s four in the morning….”

The deep-freezes. I haven’t checked them! Are they still working or am I going to have a melting disaster on my hands… again. It had happened when we lived on our small acreage near Goulburn. We’d just filled the freezer with a side of beef and lightening burnt the motor. I ended up putting an SOS call out over Radio 2GN and had offers of freezer space from  many sympathetic folk. It was so very heartening but I wonder if such offers would be forthcoming these days?

Okay raid the freezer. Phew! It’s fine, no sign of ‘global warming’ inside. Pull out some steak for dinner, along with frozen roast pumpkin and broccoli from our vegetable patch. Soon have some fresh vegs added and we’ll have a stir fry. I’ll open a bottle of wine, a red from a local winemaker. It’s good quaffable stuff with no chemicals thrown in, so no asthma attacks, no hospital visits.

There’s nothing worth watching on TV tonight. Where’s my new book? Australian Adrian d’Hage is the author. Last week I heard him interviewed on the Conversation Hour and knew I just had to read his book “The Beijing Conspiracy”, a terrorism story set at the next Olympics. I’m enjoying it, but it’s very scary. No doubt I’ll have more nightmares tonight, but this time they’ll probably be set in 2008 rather than 1943.

It’s four in the morning……”.

 

A writing exercise “A life in the day of ….” completed  in 2007

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