Eponyms

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At our writing group this week we were learning about eponyms and their uses and we were tasked with writing a piece. We had to invent an eponym basically and incorporate it in the piece. I was a bit out of my depth to be honest and I was struggling so I decided I would make up some facts describing how some fictitious eponyms came about.
The class seemed to like it and so I have decided to type them up for reference.

1. The robot was named after a soulless and unemotional librarian, Robert Ot whose ability to undertake laborious jobs was legendary amongst his peers.

2. The word “list” was named after the Russian Alice Tovstuv, a compulsive list maker from Minsk.

3. The word “duck” as a verb was put into circulation by the military who used live targets in secret operations – An idea put forward by Sgt. Bob Down

4. Polyfila was invented inadvertently when Mrs Polly Fuller ground up water and stones to make a cheaper cake filling.

5. Insects with multiple legs are named after a little girl who was caught short playing golf with her Father. She squatted in the trees to pee when she spotted a strange insect. The name was used because the insect was discovered where Milly pee’d

6. Kangaroos are named because Aboriginals would often sit on a billy can staring at the animals in the belief that doing so would help resolve a life crisis. Hence – Can Guru

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Peace in Europe

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I wander through the house fishing for “good night” kisses. It’s something I do every night on my way out to work. I catch the youngest, in his underpants on his bedroom floor in the middle of a Lego fantasy. He springs up like a jack-in-the-box and hangs on to my neck. The other two are laid on their beds reading. I collect my kisses and go in search of my wife. I find her in the kitchen on her laptop planning away for the weeks teaching ahead. I grab a kiss and head out of the door. It’s unusually dark as there is no moon visible and I am on foot as is my normal way to get to work and I walk around the house to the path across the picón that leads to the crossing and beyond into town. I am thinking about the recent news that the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which has received mixed comments both criticising and applauding the award. Am I living in a peaceful Europe?

A police car passes on the road ahead just before I cross and head up the path again before taking a small short cut across an empty building plot between two houses on a cul-de-sac that’s not quite complete. Its quite treacherous underfoot, made that bit more so by the intense darkness. The light from the distant street lights is not quite making it this far. I’m not even a quarter of the way across the plot when fireworks burst into life behind me at the big four star hotel behind my house. I turn to look and the sky is awash with sparkling colours bouncing off the high cloud and disappearing in a million tiny specks of energy before another rocket shoots up and explodes its colour onto the scene.

As I turn back to concentrate on my footing through the building plot the noise behind me reminds me of a video report I saw of a fire fight in the middle east. What if? What if the noise actually was from a fire fight. A fire fight that’s going on close to my house, and I’m being forced to walk away from it and my family. It’s a horrifying feeling.
As I step over a pile of abandoned and now rock hard bags of cement the noise increases again, crescendos and coloured shadows dance on the white walls that surround me. I try to imagine the violence of the scene behind me. Grown men and young boys actively trying to kill each other. To end each others lives. The split second act that just ends an human life. A man with enough ability to grow from a baby, learn to read and write, meet his wife, get married and start to bring up a family and be part of a wider family. Killed, dead by a gun at the hands of somebody exactly like him.
Angry and afraid I fight to try to feel what it must feel like to be forced in the other direction as the gun shots get ever closer to my house, with my kids and wife all holed up and huddled together. The hopelessness, the futility of it. But it’s useless. I realise that I am unable to summon a even a fraction of the horror. The noise lessens, puttering and popping before erupting again, much louder now. The noise sends a series of pressure waves through the air and I swear I can feel it in my chest. Deep sub-bass thumps and forcibly moves the air as the display reaches its peak. All around me lights up and I try again to imagine the stench, summon the images of the dead and still dying all around me, but I can’t. For 46 years I have been shielded from any such kind of violence thanks to the sacrifices made two generations before me. They went through what I am trying to imagine so that I couldn’t imagine it. And they succeeded although at great personal cost.

The noise dies away and I hear a faint cheer from a crowd at the display and I’m back in the plot, walking to work and now I’m thanking those that went before me and those serving now for the fact that I have lived my entire life in total personal peace. And I’m sad. So very sad for those fighting and dying violently and without feeling in other parts of the world and sad that I am without even the ability to understand the depth of their despair let alone do anything to stop it. I can only talk about how wrong and horrible it is from the peace that is my world in Europe and add my voice of support to those trying in vain to find peaceful solutions to complicated political, religious and cultural differences that have no desire to yield to anything that alters their mindset.

Pondering Old Age – Bessie Cooper 116 years old.

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I read recently of an old lady reaching the age of 116 and it really got me thinking very deeply about it. The consequences of reaching such a fantastic age deserves some thought, I think, and so here I go. Bessie Cooper is the worlds oldest living person. There are always many claiming to be older, but Bessie has proof in both anecdotal form and documentation. 116 is about as old as people can get. She was born in an age when anybody could consider themselves to be quite lucky to have ascended to the grand old age of 16 years old and is undoubtedly one of just a handful of people to be able to span three separate centuries.
Being a bit of a geek myself, I was interested to have a look back over the technological advances that were achieved during her lifetime and they pretty much include every form of communication made via a cable. She was five years old when Marconi made the connection across the Atlantic and she lived through every invention from commercial radio to cinema, silent movies, talkies, TV and ceefax, and of course the Internet. Somebody with the ability to use an iPad is still alive who was also alive before anyone could intentionally and in a controlled way, send a radio wave through the air.
When the roaring 20s ended she was slap in the middle of it all aged 24, and was almost 50 by the end of the Second World War. This is a really spooky thought, and one I have shared in amazement with my audiences on stage – when England won the 1966 World Cup, Bessie was retired and seventy years old. When the first female British Prime Minister came to power, Bessie was just getting her wiggle on in her 80s and by the time Mr Blair came to power dear old Bessie had had a letter from the Queen, presumably celebrating her old age and not out of concern for her country being in the hands of such a two faced wide boy after the Tories had imploded in a ball of sleaze, but I’m getting distracted.
116 is just such a long time to live and so much to have lived through. Reaching that kind of yearage requires an awful lot of luck and plenty of good will from the parts of the body that have usually given up long ago. Being that old is not for everybody though. I am so uncomfortable with many things in the world that at times I feel I am going to snap. My wife is not beyond skipping TV channels to try to shut me up, and I have only lived through a handful of world leaders. Bessie has had to endure the political bump and grind of no less than 28 British leaders and 21 US presidents – she can’t have agreed with all of them. The world she was born into didn’t even have tea bags in it or even a theory of relativity nor did she, or anybody else for that matter, have a bra until she was probably very much in need of one in her early 20’s. She was 34 years old before any of her birthday gifts were wrapped with Sellotape and would not have held a Biro until the age of 40, the age my wife is as I write this.
Breaking up her life like this, pinpointing the sheer number of things she has lived through is quite therapeutic in many ways. It truly humbles me to think of the things humans have been capable of inventing, even if a lot of those things were then turned on their fellow men and women in shameful and wicked ways.
Quite what she thought about the Internet entering her world aged 84 is not documented, but ponder this; High technology when she was young were those brass ornamented cash tills. Dvoraks New World Symphony really was new and Tchaikovsky had only been dead for three years.
So, what now after living through all of that. She has entered her 116th year, only eight other people have done that officially on record. She may be in her last year or she could go on. Medical science will be keeping a close eye on things for sure and if someone is not trawling her memories for tips on the feat she has achieved, then they should. I’m happy for her that she has got to such an age without too much medical attention and that she isn’t in need of too much care in the way somebody with major disabilities might require. I wish her well coming from an era without radio to one in which we are sending commands via radio to a robot we just landed on Mars. Bessie could be oblivious to all of this of course, but she damn well knew where the candles were on her cake even if she couldn’t summon the puff required to extinguish them.

Sydney to Coffs Harbour – short peeks out of the train window.

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7:30 am

The sun is still hanging quite low in the sky, lazily trying to rise. It’s a strong light from a large disk and the shadows it’s casting are long and sharp. While the sun is still so low, the light strobes through the trees and buildings and often disappears altogether as we pass through cuttings and large buildings. So far, still in the Sydney suburbs, it’s a lot like most other train journeys, the train jostles through various junctions but the track is very smooth even at this very urbane speed and only a slight side to side motion can be perceived.
We pull into the fantastically “train world” sounding station – Hornsby – just half an hour or so into the journey and the sight of unfamiliar uniformed school children remind me that it’s still very early and maybe because we set off in the dark feels like we have been going for a while. Not so. At least 8 hours to go. The sky is now fully blue though, with clouds to the north where we are heading and a low mist hanging at the tops of trees of the woodland opening up on both sides of the train.

8:45 am

I broke to buy coffee, as my boys smelt the buffet car open as soon as the shutters were raised. When I got back to my seat with the tray we were in the middle of the most beautiful lake area. It looks like miles of glassy water with oyster beds and edged with luxury yachts and boats all around it and spanning both sides of the track. It’s very obviously a wealthy area with large properties but it soon gives way to a scrappy and dour looking town providing everything the lakeside didn’t have. Neon and lots of traffic and commerce hanging on to the edge of the lakeside like a leech. The light rain and mist add to the glumness of the town which has the potential to look ok given sunshine but as soon as we pass the outskirts the landscape changes again giving way to what appears to be farmland. Nursery after nursery, massive covered clochés with whatever harvest pushing towards the light protected from whatever nasty this place has to offer. We are now two hours into the ride and it seems very slow but super-smooth. My coffee is hardly moving in its big paper cup.

10:30 am

Human city life has now long given way to sparse animal life. Creeks and streams cross endless undulating countryside and fill low areas with water to make pools providing home to many unidentified (to me at least) birds. They look like magpies and crows but there are differences so you can’t be sure. Each of these many pools or billabongs come supplied with a dead tree stump and a live tree for shade and edged with reeds and grasses. One strange thing is that none of the many, many cows out here actually match. The varieties and colours are varied and its mystifying to think how they can be herded for milking, so vast is the land. They also don’t seem to like to be with each other and consequently stand in small groups of 2 or 3 with hundreds of meters between each group. My travelling companion, apart from my wife and kids, is a lovely retired English teacher and the very first Ten Pound Pom that I have ever met. He has been feeding me snippets of his vast local knowledge all the way so far and is happy to chirp in when he feels my face bears a puzzled look. He tells me the cows are gathered by dirt bike and corralled to the milking sheds in that way but the only buildings I can see are rickety and badly painted water tanks on well weathered wooden stilts. There have been a couple of kangaroos and a few smaller wallabies and pelicans floating on the larger of the pools but without this exotic fauna we could be in any countryside in the UK. The rail track and roads outside are very windy now and we are pushing up hill in slow curves contrasting the straight lines of zigzagging cables. For now it’s unremarkable on the eye, but as I am in Australia on a train heading up the Pacific coast my eyes are keenly scanning for new things to see. Four and a half hours into the journey I am as excited as a child at the wonder of it all.

12.00 pm

The landscape hasn’t changed much in the last hour or so. Cows and fields and more fields and more cows. It is much hillier than I expected. The valleys are deep and very steep and the peaks are high enough to mess with the clouds. We have passed through a one street town with no more than a dozen houses and one building called The General Store as its obvious hub. Even in a town this small the people have seemed to feel the need to drive to the store frmm what can only be a hundred meters. They can’t all be buying heavy stuff, but then again, steep hillsides could be a lot steeper than they look with a carrier bag in your hand at the bottom of one. It still feels like we are going really slowly and I have just come to the realisation that those pools in the fields are probably man made watering holes for the many cows.
The populated places along this stretch are very neat and clipped and saplings are planted everywhere to try to supplement the lone trees with their bark stripped at animal height. A few more of the plants are becoming more exotic in appearance with strange shaped leaves and it would also appear mother nature decided on a strict brown to green colour palette. There is the straw coloured scorched grass at one end of the spectrum all the way to the deep green of the main body of the more established trees. This brown/green background makes the very sparse and odd coloured flowers leap out at you in the bright sunshine that is bathing the whole scene again. The earth also has patches of red soil amongst the very dark black soil that has been the norm up to now. This red soil is of the kind one imagines when one thinks of the traditional Aussie outback, that typical “red soil and endless and cloudless blue sky with a dirt track zipping off towards vanishing point.” I ask my companion and he shakes his head and assures me that I must go at least a couple of hundred Km or more westward to reach that kind of thing.

14:45 pm

At the moment we are sat in a siding waiting for the return train to pass us. This is a single line and it’s distance truly staggering. There are people on here travelling on quite a way after we end our 11 hour stint. Three kangaroos, and they are big old real kangaroos for sure, are lying by the tree line watching a horse grazing. It looks a little comical, they are like three giant rabbits. The very high tree tops are rustling and swaying as you would expect at that height, and there are some VERY tall trees here, but at ground level it’s as still as an empty room. I keep scanning for snakes, or maybe some other exotic animal but I’m told by my self appointed guide that in mid winter there is very little chance of that. There are surprisingly few birds in this clearing despite an abundance of ibis and magpie and also quite a few pelicans just a few miles back. A shocking pink bougainvillea breaks the colour monopoly and there also appears to be many more evergreens and thin spiny pines. There’s also a new kind of plant, or is it a bush? It looks exactly like a fibre optic lamp with many thin green stalks growing up and then outwards to hang back down under their own weight. I have seen party wigs similar also.

15:00pm

I have moved seat to the other side of the train at the request of my man/boy Sam. We are passing through a place called Kempsey. It is very neat and all the gardens are beautifully tended and colourful. It also has the cleanest looking church I have ever seen at its center. It’s a cattle town, a fact given up by the market on the edge of the town. It looks a lovely place. We are back in scrub land again and I am told that since the seven year drought broke it has been consistently wet and a lot of the land now looks waterlogged, almost swampy in parts. A dead cow sunk up to its hind quarters is a testament to its depth. Reservoir levels went from only 30% to full very rapidly and they are now overflowing and I’m looking at the result. Most of the trees here have evidence of lots of lush new growth and the bewildering number of shades of green are hard to evaluate and take in. We are nearing the end of the journey as Coffs Harbour is less than an hour away. Parts of this area are completely under water in the very low lying areas and coloured flowers pop out of the green more frequently. I just glimpsed the sea through the woodland to my right and it’s starting to feel a bit like jungle. Our last stop before Coffs Harbour is suddenly outside of the window. A single platform with a single building that’s housing electrical equipment and not for human use. It’s strangely tiny and insignificant as a stop on an epic train journey like this but it’s part of what I have come to love about Australia, it’s tempestuous and spontaneous and so vast that it will never cease to spring these little surprises. This journey has given me a perspective I could not have experienced any other way and I would certainly be up for doing this again one day. It’s just a lovely way to travel and think at the same time.

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Drinking Tea

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Writing group today was very interesting in that we were given a list, randomly comprised I’m told, and told to pick a subject and write for 15 mins. The top one in the list was Drinking Tea, and for me, as may become apparent, it was a no brainer, really. Here is my effort. I hope you enjoy it.

Drinking Tea Sept 2012

Drinking tea means a lot to me. It always has. I love coffee, I REALLY, REALLY love coffee but I always start the day with a brew. My Dad was such a famous tea drinker, known throughout the family as far as distant cousins and his reputation was entirely justified, I can confirm. To witness his intake was a sight to behold. He was so “into” his tea that the only logical vessel I could think of to transport his ashes back home after he died (obviously, it would be a little cruel otherwise) was his ancient, blue Tetley’s Tea tin.
To this day he lives in it in my bedroom wardrobe. In an attempt to start a tradition I have my own tea tin picked out and in daily use, gathering the bumps and knocks and memories like those that are invoked in me when I open my wardrobe and see my Dad, in his tin. Dads tin has wear where he used to pick it up in the shape of his hand. Nobody else can see it but I know it’s there.

It was the first thing he reached for in times of crisis, times of joy or just time for a brew. I often wondered how he could taste any tea, the amount of sugar he piled in was astonishing, but all of his workmates and friends did the same so I must assume its cultural and of their time. I suppose there is a kind of comfort in sweetness – like condensed milk sandwiches or dipping a child’s dummy in syrup. No major decision was ever made further than three feet from Dads tea tin. Dad himself was never too far away from it and he baulked at his sister’s fancy Lapsang Souchong or Earl Grey readily on offer just five houses away. She never complained about his tea though and she heartily supported my decision to decant him from the horrible plastic urn issued by the crematorium. Another decision that was made not three feet from Dads tea tin.

As you can see from the picture below, he seems fairly well settled in there and he can still wear his old cap as well.

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