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Sunday, April 29, 2012

The King is Alive

Trailer from the movie The King is Alive

Stranded in the heat of a barren African desert, eleven bus passengers shelter in the elements of an abandoned town. As rescue grows more remote by the day and anxiety deepens, an idea emerges: why not stage a play. However the choice of King Lear only manages to plunge this disparate group of travellers into turmoil as they struggle to overcome both nature's wrath and their own mortality. In the heat of the desert, emotional and sexual tensions surge around the play's production, and they are forced to confront their most raw emotions. With all inhibitions stripped away, their individual fight for survival makes them perform the ultimate role in front of each other - their own lives.

The psychological horror film The King is Alive uses a bleak yet beautiful African landscape to tell a haunting tale of human weakness and survival. It was filmed on location at Kolmanskop which makes it personally interesting to me as I lived and worked in the nearby port town of Lüderitz in 1967/68 - click here.

Kolmanskop is still slowly dying; testimony to the vanity and futility of all human endeavours.

More pictures of Kolmanskop

There you have it: the legend of King Lear, the story of a long-forgotten town, and an interesting movie to watch. Not bad for a bit of Sunday entertainment, is it?

Still feeling bored?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The four seasons

Autumn at "Riverbend" is magic: cool nights, misty mornings, and deep-blue skies and warm sunshine during the day as I sit under a tree and read Graham Greene's "A Burnt-Out Case", a.k.a. "The Story of My Life".

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Upgrade your computer

My computer has just now become even more versatile, thanks to www.usbwine.com.

Those clever French!

However, the Germans, natürlich, are way ahead of the French:


Dull and Boring

In what seems a perfect match, a Scottish village named Dull is seeking to twin with the US town of Boring.

The two places have already declared themselves sister communities after a Scottish cyclist travelled through Boring in Oregon, a town of 12,000 people, on holiday, Britain's Telegraph reported.

"This could have real benefits. Everyone has been smiling at the prospect of the eye-catching road sign this will require," Dull community councillor Marjorie Keddie was quoted as saying.

Boring's local newspaper, the Sandy Post - why didn't they call it the Boring Newspaper? - , quoted lifelong resident Bob Boring as saying: "I think this is one of those fun things that communities do."

But there were some doubts as to what the tiny village of Dull could offer Boring, with resident Peter Campbell, who runs Dull Farm, admitting: "There are no shops or anything like that... we'd welcome any visitors that might come to see a sign linking the two places."

Why not join up with "Riverbend" as well? Then we could all be dull and boring and 'round the bend!

P.S. I also heard that this Austrian town wants to twin with this town in Michigan.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Travelling North

The weather down here is turning cooler and to "warm" myself up, I've watched once again one of my favourite Australian movies, Travelling North.

What a way to go out on while listening to the G Minor Quintet by Mozart!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Riverbend's three S's

No, it's not Sun, Surf & Sex, it's

Silence, Stillness & Solitude

There are plenty of quiet spots along the river which, with the help of a couple of sawn-off tree stumps and a wooden plank across, are ideal for reading a book or just peaceful contemplation.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Man on his Island

Tom Neale, husking a coconut in front of his shack.
Photo by James Rockefeller, from his book, "Man On His Island"

to view some clippings from the Pacific Islands Monthly, click here


For many years I have been an admirer of Tom Neale and his book An Island To Oneself. In Chapter 11 he describes how he fell ill and was miraculously saved by two passing yachtsmen, one of whom, James S. Rockefeller Jr., wrote of this fateful encounter in his own book Man On His Island. This book has been out of print for some years and I have been lucky to find the original text here:

Chapter 15

"Tom and Suvorov"

from: Man On His Island

by: James S. Rockefeller, Jr.

Soon after Tony and Sam had departed, and Titi had joyfully left for Ouapu with a maternity trousseau, Bob and I set sail, with the New Hebrides as our destination. Mandalay's bottom was in bad shape and I was tired of pumping. I thought it best to sell before the tropics further ravaged her crumbling hull. We had been told the Hebrides were a likely market, and once there we would have seen the best portion of the Pacific anyhow. It seemed a good place to end the cruise.

So we rolled west, glad to be away from the sensual opulence of Tahiti and to experience again the broad sweep and heave of the sea, the clean salt air unsullied by any cloying fragrance, and the certainty that our white canvas was drawing us towards new adventures in different lands.

One morning, three weeks from Papeete, a lone coconut tree rose from the horizon's rim. As the yacht rolled onward under the push of the Southeast trade, another rose and another until they stood a small company against the vastness of the Pacific around them. A low gray outline emerged and clumps of palms stood on it and then came the barrier reef with the rollers crashing on the coral.

We had come to Suvorov Island - Tahiti was 1100 miles astern, Samoa another 500 miles ahead, and Manihiki, save for Suvorov the nearest land, lay 200 miles to the North.

Bob and I were excited, for the Pilot Directions, although laconic as usual, had one magic phrase : "Suvorov is uninhabited." We were to have an island to ourselves for two weeks before sailing on to Samoa and the Hebrides. Just another Atoll in the Pacific, perhaps, but all ours and with a history. Treasure had been buried here and ten thousand dollars in Mexican money unearthed. Reputedly a cache of opium lay beneath the sand, and here Dean Frisbee and his four children weathered the terrible hurricane of '42, the worst in over a hundred years. In his book Island of Desire we had read how he and his children had lashed themselves to the branches of the Tamanu trees, then watched their island gradually blow away. The hurricane had swept sixteen of the twenty-two islets into the sea and leveled the other six. So now there was nothing to bring people to Suvorov. The new stand of palms didn't produce enough coconuts to warrant making copra.

Pearl shell in the lagoon was scarce and difficult to obtain. The island lay slumbering, waiting for time and nature to restore what the sea and wind had taken from her.

Here during the war a ship-watching post had been set up, but the men had left at the end of hostilities, so we swept into the pass and around into the lee of the first motu, Anchorage Island, confident of possession.

The motu was small, as they always are, scarcely a half-mile long and a few dozen yards across, with the highest point only twelve feet above water. The lagoon in its greens and blues extended like a vast lake, six miles across, enclosed by the barrier reef, while here and there at great distance along its length an islet struggled to survive. The effect of the hurricane, now twelve years past was immediately evident. A few tall palms, the survivors of the terrible storm, towered high above the new generation beneath them. Great boulders of coral weighing many tons lay strewn about the windward beach, and all but a few of the islets along the reef lay bare with only an occasional bush as a pitiful reminder of their past fertility.

But the young palms were green on Anchorage Island and the beach was white and inviting under the June sun. Bosun birds, terns, and frigates wheeled overhead, showing that life once again was coming to Suvorov. We swept the shore with binoculars, taking in the reef shelving out from the beach, the rows of young palms halting within a few feet of the water, and a rude dock that jutted out from the beach. Then there it was.

"Rass!" said Bob. "I'm seeing things!"

A crude boat lay pulled up on the sand, tied to a coconut tree. Its sail hung limp and unfurled. Next to it rested a box-crate chair, its back supported by a coconut.

After anchoring we rowed ashore, gaping at the red letters "Ruptured Duckling" painted on the stern of the little boat with a shaky hand. Pulling the dinghy up on the sand we spied a path leading back from the beach toward a white shack with a red tin roof. We walked quietly toward the house. Nobody had come to greet us.

We called. No answer. Peering around the corner of the shack we saw it had two rooms and a front porch. A third room led off the far end of the porch, separate from the others. The first chamber was a study with a desk piled high with papers and magazines. To one side a journal lay open, while beside it a pen and inkwell sat on an old "Pacific Islands Monthly." Books were on the shelves behind the desk. A barometer hung on the wall. The room leading off the porch was a pantry with papayas and bananas hanging. A few tins were on the shelf.

But it was the other room that held us. All we could see from our vantage point was the lower end of a wooden bed, A white sheet covered the mattress. On the sheet were two feet, tanned, but unmistakably white.

We retreated to a respectable distance and Bob coughed loudly. I called, "Anybody home?"

"Who is it?" answered a weak voice from somewhere above the feet.

"We're in off a yacht," we replied.

"Fair dinkum," came the feeble voice. "Come in. You'll have to help me up."

We went under the porch and entered the room. The man was lying on his back, his loins covered with a lava-lava. A glass full of urine, a machete, and two opened drinking nuts were on the floor beside the bed. He looked at us with kindly, washed-out eyes sunk in an emaciated face. It was a matter-of-fact face despite the three-day stubble and the havoc lines around his eyes. The man was tall, and his height was exaggerated by his leanness. Every muscle, rib, and tendon showed under his bronzed skin.

He smiled and weakly held out his hand in greeting.

"Name's Tom Neale. Dislocated my back. Been lying here thirty-six hours trying to get up."

"Christ!" said Bob. "You must be hungry enough to eat a bull! What can I cook you?"

"Thanks," he sighed. "I sure could use a cup of tea. But it'll mean building a fire in the stove back there in the cook shed."

Bob rushed out, and I helped Tom into a sitting position. It hurt him badly and he gritted his teeth. "It's much better," he croaked, with the sweat running down his face. "I'll be all right in a minute."

I hurried to the boat to get supplies. Bob had the crude iron stove going when I returned and we made Tom a hot meal. We gave him a stiff drink of rum, rubbed liniment on his back, and when he had tucked away the food he felt considerably revived.

He told us then, fumbling for words, how he had come to hurt his back and was reduced to this state we had found him in. On Monday (it was now Wednesday) he had sailed to the Brushwood islets a mile long the reef to gather firewood and plant coconuts. Landing on the motu, he had lifted the iron weight that served as his anchor. When he did, something gave in his back, making him double up in pain. Somehow he had managed to crawl back into the boat, cut the anchor line, and let the wind blow him home. If the wind hadn't been behind him he would never have made it. As it was, it took him three hours to cover the mile to Anchorage Island. On landing, he tied the boat, took two drinking nuts and the machete, staggered home and fell on his bed. The next morning he could only roll his head, use his arms, and double up his legs. Luckily there was a glass on a shelf over his head and with his machete he had tipped it over, catching it when it fell. He urinated in it and saved wetting his bed. He thought he had a dislocated disc. It had happened to him once before.

We stayed in Suvorov three weeks, and Tom's story unfolded bit by bit as the days went on. He had been born in New Zealand fifty-one years before, and had spent his life on boats trading among the islands or tending store. For five years, before coming to Sovorov, he had run a trading post on one of the more isolated islands of the Cook Island group. Five years is a long time to be on an atoll among natives, with only an occasional visit from another white face. He had grown tired of it.

"You know the natives. Running in and out twenty-four hours a day. No privacy. I had a girl cooking for me and doing my laundry but with one thing and another I really got fed up - woman and all. I had to get away."

He had gone to Rarotonga, the seat of the Cook Island government, "for a change of scenery." There he had met his old friend Dean Frisbie and the writer had told him about the charms of Suvorov and how it was uninhabited, telling also how during the war the coast watchers had built a small shack there with water tanks to hold 1,100 gallons. When they had abandoned the post they had left everything. It sounded a perfect setup to Tom.

Although he was sick to death of being continually surrounded only by Polynesians he was soon just as discontent in the relative hustle and bustle of the white colony in Rarotonga. "I had a hankering to go it alone for a spell."

It so happened that the Commissioner wanted to send an expedition of divers to Suvorov to dive for pearl shell, so Tom offered to supervise the operation. They would stay for two months and if in that time he found he liked the place he could stay on for a couple of years, after the divers had left. He bought himself 50 pounds of flour, 70 pounds of sugar, 40 pounds of biscuits, 2 dozen tins of bully beef, 6 pounds of salt, baking powder, jam, some tinned butter, 10 pounds of lard, tea and coffee, kerosene, two axes, a few tools, a fish spear, hooks and lines, a lantern, bedding, a few odd clothes, iodine, and aspirin.

Taking his two cats, Mr. Tom Tom and Mrs. Thievery, and a few chickens, off he went with his supplies and the divers.

"All my friends said I was crazy and that I couldn't possibly stay alive on an atoll for two years all alone. They said I'd be back damn soon."

He found the Island more or less as Frisbee had described it. The little shack was in fair repair, the tanks were still good, and there was a crude shed in which to store firewood and gear. A cook shed was behind the house and could easily be repaired. The new coconut palms were as yet low and it was simple to get the nuts without climbing the trees.

Immediately he liked the place and when the divers departed after a month, discouraged by the scarcity of shell, Tom stayed on.

"When the schooner left at five p.m., eighteen months ago, I went to the outer beach and watched her sweep out the pass, returning the captain's wave by taking off my pants and using them as a flag. They stayed off until another ship came. That was many months."

Suvorov is off the schooner route and a boat never stops except in an emergency or on the orders of the commissioner in Rarotonga. Either circumstance is rare. The only other ships that call are an occasional yacht on the way to Samoa from Tahiti. We asked Tom if he didn't feel lonely standing on the beach watching the schooner disappear with all the divers.

"Never felt so good," was his reply. "Never felt so free or more unlonely. It was one of the nicest moments in my life. I was sick to death of the divers!"

There was plenty to keep him busy. He repaired the cookhouse and made a stove of sorts from an old oil drum. Next he rethatched the front porch with coconut fronds, cleaned up the yard, and turned to the question of food. He knew the supplies he had bought would soon run out, so he had to depend on the island to nourish him. He made a garden, hauling topsoil from the most fertile spots on the atoll and lumping it on a small plot close to the house. He planted sweet potatoes, bananas, and papayas. On the island already were papayas, a breadfruit tree, wild chickens, and five wild pigs. The pigs, left by goodness knows who, proved to be his biggest problem.

"They ran wild, eating every green thing that dared show its head. I had to do something and I didn't have a gun."

He told us one evening at dusk how he had killed them. His back was better by then and we were sitting on the beach cooking supper over a small fire. The lagoon was quiet and only the faintest sough came from the trade wind rustling in the palms. We had a bottle of rum and Tom sipped his drink with the pleasure that comes from a long, forced abstinence. His conversation grew eloquent.

"I took a broken machete blade, sharpened it like a razor, and lashed it securely to a stout pole. I built a platform in a palm fifteen feet off the ground and made a clearing around it. On a moonlit night I would open a dozen coconuts and lay them at the base of the tree, climb to my platform and wait, holding the spear between my legs. I counted on the fact that a pig never looks up. It was beautiful up there with the moonbeams drifting through the fronds, making lighted places on the coral beneath me. Turning my head I could see the pass into the lagoon, the ocean, and the breakers on the reef. Turning forward, the lagoon would be as peaceful as could be, the palms trapped the wind. The noise of the mullet jumping and the jack chasing small fish sounded deafening. An old heron would croak at the edge of the water and terns twittered.

"Looking at the ground again, there would be three great coconut crabs doing a kind of dance with their huge claws waving in the air and pulling at the meat of the opened nuts. They looked goulish as they ripped the white strips away. "

A little atoll rat - not the big, ugly, brown ones of the waterfront - would come scampering out, sniff a bit, and nibble at the nuts with his two long front teeth."

Tom leaned forward, excitement creeping into his voice.

"A dark shadow would appear at the edge of the clearing under the tangle of creepers. It would be him. He would sniff and grunt and advance, all black except for the white shine of his tusks. The moonlight made a villain of him and I gripped the spear more tightly. I was all goose bumps. He approached the first nut. ate it, moved on to the next and the next, coming ever closer to my tree. Then he was directly below my spear. He paused and sniffed the air. He smelled me. I saw those wicked red eyes, and aiming just behind his neck, I plunged the spear downward. It sank in to the hilt and he screamed. Spurting blood, he tore the pole from my hands and staggered towards the thicket. I scrambled from my platform and ran after him with my machete raised. I caught him before he made cover and slashed down across his spine. He screamed again and fell, and I cut his throat and saw his blood on the coral."

Tom slumped back and sighed. "With his last convulsion I always felt suddenly melancholy. The savage in me was gone and I was an old man of fifty-one on an atoll, alone. I would walk slowly home, feeling very tired. Five times I did that."

We put some more wood on the fire and watched the grease from the mullet dripping slowly into the flames. The light flickered off the drooping palm fronds and all was quiet but the lap of wavelets on the reef.

"It's fair dinkum this time of day," Tom said quietly. "Often I come here at dusk with my bowl of tea to watch the night fall on the lagoon and think back over the months - the killing of the pigs and what came after. You know, when they were gone the papaya trees sprang up everywhere, seeded from those that were too large for the pigs to kill. I planted spring onions then, and thirty tomato plants. There was a rooster and six hens on the island when I arrived. Now there are a dozen roosters and thirty hens. At first they were terribly wild - couldn't get near them. Every evening I would open the soft, pulpy, white heart of the sprouting coconut and scatter it about the yard, first striking a crowbar made from a Model-T rear axle that I bought with me. Soon they knew the noise and would come running.

"I built a fence of split coconut logs around the garden - what a job - and caught the land crabs that would still get through and eat the green shoots. All the growing things did well except the tomatoes. They shot up strong and husky to a height of six feet with many blossoms, but never gave any fruit - maybe the absence of bees had something to do with it.

"Mr. Tom Tom and Mrs. Thievery had a son and I called him Suvorov, but it soon corrupted to Sparrow. I neutralized him to keep incest from the family. I wrote in my journal and was too busy to consider being lonely."

We asked him how he fished. "That's easy," he replied. "I go on the reef with my spear and look for the fish which lie in the holes in the coral, or at night I walk along the shallows on the lagoon side and catch mullet by waiting until they approach the lantern's light and then hit them across the back with a machete. Or I take my lantern and walk along the reef on the ocean side and pick up lobsters that come up at night to feed.

"I made a lure of white feathers from a bosun bird I found dead on the beach, and lashed it on a hook and line attached to a bamboo pole. Moved slowly over the water at night at the edge of the reef, it was murder on the red fish called 'ku.'

"One moonlight night I was using it, dragging it slowly over the deep water with little twitches. I was standing at the edge of the reef, up to my thighs in water. A big fish took the lure in a swirl of spray. I worked him in slowly to the edge of the reef, bent down, and strained forward to take him by the gills. My hand was within six inches of his head when I paused, I don't know why on looking back - it was unconscious. A great grey thing rushed in. I saw the rows and rows of teeth. A smashing blow struck me across the legs, throwing me on my back on the reef. I jumped up. The fish was gone, the lure was gone, and my little finger was bleeding. The shark had taken my fish, just nicking my finger, and had hit me with his tail on turning. I walked home wondering where my hand would have been if I hadn't paused that brief instant."

Tom stopped and looked embarrassed, as if he wanted to say something but didn't know how to begin. We poured him another drink and waited.

"You see," he began hesitantly, "by then I had come to love Suvorov. It was giving me happiness and contentment, and I wanted to do something to sort of repay her. So next I fixed Ruptured Duckling, and using it to get around in I planted coconuts on the islets swept clear by the hurricane. I would set out early in the morning with thirty or forty sprouting nuts, plant them and return toward evening, thinking that I had speeded up evolution a hundred years.

"The only complaint I had against the island was the diet. My supply of flour, sugar, and rice soon ran out, and the lard dwindled so low I only used a trace now and then to fry eggs. My staples came to be eggs, a rare rooster on special occasions, a few sweet potatoes, fish, coconuts, and papayas. Then a cup of tea in the morning and one in the evening. But no sugar sorely hurt, and I didn't feel satisfied without flour and lard. My body seemed to demand them. I missed the flour and lard the most, and only eggs helped to fill the hole. I spent hours searching for nests in the bush. Very few hens laid in the nests I had made for them about the yard."

Tom's journal recounts a typical episode.

AUGUST 5 Wasted time following the hen that lays away. She went in a wide semicircle and finally eluded me. I waited for half an hour to see if she would return. Not a sign nor did she cackle again. She was in the yard when I returned. Am determined to find her nest, besides now I've got to show something for the time wasted looking....

AUGUST 6 Tried to follow the hen but a young rooster upset her. I chased him and scared the hen. She wouldn't go straight to the nest but hung around in the bush. Couldn't waste any more time so vowed would put that young rooster in the pot. Don't like his crow anyhow. Caught him when his back was to me. He being too busy on the job he was on to notice me....

AUGUST 7 Found the nest with ten eggs. This morning she started making a noise so I followed her a bit, but she hung around in the bush so I went and hung around in the bush too, in the usual place, for ten minutes. When she didn't show up I back tracked and happened to spot her, so hid and waited. Soon she came in my direction, then suddenly disappeared and I couldn't believe my eyes, so waited a bit longer and investigated a coconut stump about ten feet high which she had disappeared behind. Damn me, if I didn't see her head sticking out of a hole four feet from the ground. I can't write what I said when I found her. Talk about pigs not thinking to look up, I'm as bad. Had been around that stump half a dozen times and reckoned the nest was in that area until the first day when she decoyed me a hundred yards beyond. A lot of writing about nothing but I feel I've achieved a major victory.

Tom went on. "There always seemed something to do. I planted rock melons and watermelons - both grew well. The lone breadfruit tree had white aphis and the black rust mite so I sprayed it with an old bicycle pump, using a mixture of soapy water and washing soda. Didn't do a bit of good."

Tom had turned his attention to the pier of coral blocks on the lagoon side that had been washed out in the hurricane. The blocks were strewn every which way, making an eyesore on his otherwise beautiful atoll. It turned out to be a greater undertaking than he had imagined. He worked three or four hours a day on it until his back ached and the ends of his fingers were raw. One day he felt something give in his back and could barely move the next morning. The work went on and never seemed to come any closer to completion, but it got his dander up. He was determined to see it finished. Not that it made any great difference to him if it was finished or not. There really was no need of the wharf now that no copra was being produced, but somehow that made a difference to him. Everything he had started here he had successfully completed, so although the dock was going to be used solely as a fishing place, he kept on.

"However," said Tom, "I wasn't used to my diet of fish and coconuts and I couldn't eat enough, so I got tired very easily and had to take a long rest in the middle of the day. I would have a cup of tea with a papaya or eggs in the morning and then as the morning wore on I would nibble uto. I had only two meals a day, with uto in between. For supper there would be tea again, fish or eggs, and once in a while kumeras (sweet potatoes). I had one tin of bully beef left which was to be for Christmas. More than anything, I craved bread with lots of butter on it.

"About that time my tobacco ran out, and for the first time I felt depressed and lonely. I'm not a heavy smoker, perhaps two ounces a week, but I have smoked that amount regularly all my life and it was startling to see the effect when it was suddenly stopped. The first symptom was loneliness and a heavy dose of depression. Then my appetite suffered and my stomach was upset for days. In the evening after supper the craving for a smoke would be terrible. "

A month later a yacht came in and one of the crew gave me a package of players cigarettes. I broke each open and rolled two from one, planning on making them last a month. They were gone in five days and the craving was worse than ever. It took a month before I was cured.

"Next the hurricane season came along and the weather took on great importance. I would look at the barometer three or four times a day and always noticed the direction of the wind and its force. I examined the tamanu trees Frisbee and his kids used in '42, and planned how I would use them. They are a terribly strong hardwood with their roots deep in the sand and coral.

"I guess you know how Frisbee lashed himself and his children fifteen feet above the ground to the stoutest limbs. One of his little girls slept through the great wind, until he woke her to make her drink a little rum, for apparently it was terribly cold with the wind and the rain. Afterwards she said she was perfectly content until drinking the rum, as she was unable to return to sleep after that.

"Incidentally, while grubbing around those trees I unearthed an old bottle of Worcestershire sauce, a relic of Frisbee. It was still good but every time I used it I had an urge to look at the barometer and in the end I wished that it had remained where it was. "

A few days after my inspection it began to blow strongly from the north, whipped into a full gale, and the barometer started dropping. I could understand Frisbee's description of the wind 'shrieking', for it actually did, although it was not nearly as strong as he saw it. Coconut palms were falling, the nuts flying through the air, and the tin roof vibrated like a buzz saw. A gathered my ropes, collected a bit of food, and awaited the worst. It was a long day and oh, how I longed for a bottle of rum and some company. The wind backed to the northwest toward evening and at 9 p.m. the barometer went up, accompanied by sheets of rain, thunder and lightening. I heaved a sigh of relief and went to bed, first yelling into the night, 'Go on Huey, bang those bloody drums.' The cats curled up on my feet and it was one of the best night's sleep I'd had in a long time. That was the only scare I've had in eighteen months."

We asked Tom if he had ever wanted to give up his Suvorov life and return to Rarotonga at any time during his eighteen-month exile.

He grinned. "Naturally, now and again I would get depressed and wish I was back in civilization. But then I would think of all my friends saying, 'I told you so,' and just the thought of that made me kind of mad. Besides, there was no way to leave even if I wanted to, and those bad spells never lasted long.

"But the diet continued to irk me, and at times I would have loved a piece of chocolate. Strangely enough, I never longed for greens. I guess coconuts must supply all the vitamins. Yet there was always something to take my mind of food. I bought back a young bosun bird from Whale Cay where they were nesting. I called him Charlie and he would answer with a noise like 'Whoouu.' He gradually grew his wing feathers and one day I took him down to the beach and set him on the sand. He flew a hundred yards out into the lagoon, settled on the water, took off again, and disappeared. He never came back. I felt sad - partly the tobacco, I think - so that evening I tried a new dish to cheer my spirits. I cut several papayas in half and placed them in the native oven to bake. When done, and covered with coconut cream, they tasted just like peaches."

Tom gave us a list of what he considered to be the bare essentials for living on an atoll :

1) Kerosene (light)
2) Soap
3) Matches
4) Knife and machete
5) Fish spear
6) Blanket
7) Sneakers for walking on the reef and a few clothes.

To make things easier he would add the following:

8) Tea and coffee
9) Sugar
10) Flour
11) Baking powder
12) Lard
13) Beef
14) Rice
15) Tobacco
16) Butter or oleo
17) Salt and condiments
18) File
19) Hook and lines for fish
20) Reading matter

"With all these," Tom said, "and with what an island has to offer, one can live like a king.

"By the way, the day after Charlie flew away a wild duck landed here. At first he wouldn't let me approach, but later I had him eating from my hand. He would take a brimful of shredded coconut and then a bill of water. He would quack when he saw me coming, he then followed me about like a dog. The cats were jealous and took passes at him. Every night he would fly to Whale Cay to roost, but he'd come back early in the morning. He stayed over a month, and then one morning he didn't come back.

"My nicest surprise was on Christmas Eve. I found a turtle on the beach, and flipped him over, tying his flippers to a tree. The steak was wonderful on Christmas Day and I saved the last tin of beef for New Year's.

"After eating the turtle, I had plenty of red meat under my belt, and the prospect of finishing the dock brightened. Giving it hell. I had it completed in another month and a half. At its further end I built a little platform with a thatched roof so it would be cozy fishing of a night when the weather was bad. Securing the last piece of coconut thatch, I declared a holiday to commemorate the official opening."

His journal reports on the occasion.

Amid scenes of great enthusiasm the new wharf was officially opened by the president of the island council, Mr. Tom Tom. The trans-lagoon vessel, "Ruptured Duckling", berthed at the end of the wharf while the band played, "Oh, For a Slice of Bread and Cheese."

Mr. Tom Tom in his speech paid tribute to the contractor and his staff, who in the face of numerous difficulties successfully completed the colossal undertaking. He went on to say that with the great depth of twelve inches at the end of the wharf at low tide, the largest vessel could now berth with safety and that in the future we could hope to see many more vessels use this port.

Afternoon tea was served by Mrs. Thievery and her able assistants. In the evening a dance was held on the pavilion after a fine supper of fish and uto. Young Mr. Sparrow occasioned much amusement by his humorous song, "Uto for Breakfast, Uto for Lunch, Uto for Supper." Dancing continued until the small hours and was concluded by the singing of the Suvorov national anthem, "We ain't Had a Ship in Years."

They had all gone to bed well satisfied. Two days later, during the night, there came a bad blow form the north. The sea swept over the reef and when Tom walked down to the beach the next morning, the wharf was demolished. His journal comments: "Was so downhearted didn't use any bad language but walked slowly back to the house."

Tom chuckled. "It's impossible to feel downhearted long on Suvorov. The next day, to get away from the sight of those strewn blocks, I loaded the Ruptured Duckling with sprouting nuts and took a trip to One-Tree Islet. I planted thirty nuts, sweating like a Turk. It was a beautiful day, and soon I felt very glad to be alive and the dock was forgotten. I took a walk on the reef, speared three lobsters, found a glass ball used by the Jap fisheries, a jar of honey only partly consumed, and a pirogue paddle of unusual design that must have floated from the Marquesas. I sailed home a rich man."

"Tom," asked Bob, "how come you didn't bring a nice squaw up here for company?"

"I wanted a little peace and quiet for a change." He winked. "And you know it would be kind of hard to get a woman to come to this place. Women are kind of gregarious, if you know what I mean."

"I know what you mean," said Bob. "They break out in a rash if they can't pad down to the store or lean over the back fence to chat it up. They're kind of handy gadgets though, other things being equal."

I asked Tom how much longer he planned to stay on Suvorov.

"I'm rather scared of my back now," he answered. "I think you'd better send a cable to the commissioner in Rarotonga when you hit Samoa, and tell him to have the next schooner going to Manihiki pick me up on the way back. I hate to leave Suvorov but I'd hate to have my back go again when I'm here alone. Too much risk, and I want to live a little longer. Also, the hurricane season is coming around and Suvorov is due. It's been over eleven years since the last one and they seem to strike between every ten and fifteen years."

"Do you think you'll ever come back?"

"I don't know. I just don't know. Some days I think, yes, and some days, no."

That night, back on the Mandalay, Bob said, "Don't you meet the damndest people in the screwiest places. That Friggin Tom is so damn normal it hurts. He's just an ordinary, stubborn little shopkeeper and here he is living for eighteen months all be his lonesome - starving himself to death, by the looks of him. What for? I don't get it. Talk about peace and quiet. I guess people are just naturally screwy."

"Nicely screwy," I countered.

"Yeah, you're right. Hell! I wonder where that friggin Tony is tonight. I sure miss the old bastard!"

The next day we left Suvorov for Pago Pago.

Months later when I was in another hemisphere I received a letter from Tom which rounds out his story.

Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Dear Peb,

Two weeks after you left Suvorov, a schooner picked me up, thanks to the cable you sent from Pago.

Here in Raro I find myself discontent with civilization. Just too many people, so I am planning to go back to Suvorov, this time with a twelve-foot sailing dingy and a thirty-year-old Palmerston woman. In the meantime I'm working for a local firm slowly building up my grub stake to last for the rest of my time on Suvorov.

I had a x-ray of my back and the doctor said an acute case of arthritis, no evidence of a displaced disk, so that's good news. I have had no recurrence of it.

Next time I reckon I'll stay on in Suvorov until the end of me or the island or both. Next time there will be a hell of a lot of work to get the place back in shape again and that's where the woman will come in handy. And being an atoll woman she can like it there. As a young girl she spent many months on Suvorov and liked the place. What that woman can do with coconuts in their various stages of development is nobody's business. She's clever with fish too. I don't want to go back alone unless something should happen to her. Not that I'm lonely alone, but I know what a difference it would make to live on a place like that with a woman of her capabilities.

I often think of our times on Suvorov together.

Best wishes, Tom.

Here is what I believe to be Tom's own drawing of Suvarov Atoll.
It is taken from the inside cover of the book An Island to Oneself

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"I can see clearly now, the rain is gone"

There are still many obstacles in the way before the acres downriver are restored to the nicely grassed area it was before the black wattle took over but already the beautiful views of the river past the bend are back again.

"Look all around, there’s nothin' but blue skies"

Saturday, April 21, 2012

On the beach

Cape Pallarenda from the air; Magnetic Island to the right

The beach at Cape Pallarenda; Townsville's Castle Hill on the horizon

While surfing the net I came across these photos of my first real home in Australia: Number 3 Bay Street at Cape Pallarenda, Townsville's beachside suburb.

It was early 1981. After more than ten years overseas and the last eighteen months on the road in Australia, I'd taken up a permanent accounting position with the construction company AV Jennings in Townsville. The work was easy, the pay adequate,and I had bought this small house on the beach, which was as comfortable as an old slipper with holes, and turned domestic - click here.

Until eight months later the fatal phone call came in: did I want to be part of the big Ok Tedi mining job in Papua New Guinea? The call of the wild again and a new challenge! So it was back to New Guinea - click here - , and then on to Saudi Arabia, and finally Greece - "The Magic Faraway Tree" gone pathological.

A little over three years later I was back in Townsville but the magic of just walking back in and picking up from where I had left off had deserted me.

You can't step into the same river twice! --- to which a good friend added, "... but you can sure step into the same pile of shit more than once!" Well, Chris, my feet of clay have stepped into lots of them ☺

P.S. I eventually sold the little house on the beach in January 2000 for $115,000. It was given a bit of a make-over by the new owners and resold in February 2016 for $313,000 - click here. They must have picked the top of the market because a much bigger and better house next door, at # 5 Bay Street, went on the market six months later for just $389,000, having been bought only five years earlier for $395,000. See also my old-neighbour-across-the-backfence, George Maxwell's house at 4 Dyer Street, which he sold only a few months before I did.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Good medical advice

A woman goes to the Doctor, worried about her man's temper and threatening manner.

The Doctor asks: "What's the problem?

The woman says: "Doctor, I don't know what to do. Every time my man comes home drunk, he threatens to slap me around."

The Doctor says: "I have a real good cure for that. When he comes home drunk, just take a glass of water and start swishing it in your mouth. Just swish and swish but don't swallow it until he goes to bed and is asleep."

Two weeks later the woman comes back to the doctor looking fresh and reborn. The woman says: "Doctor that was a brilliant idea! Every time he came home drunk, I swished with water. I swished and swished, and he didn't touch me! How does the water do that?"

The Doctor says: "The water does bugger all - it's keeping your mouth shut that does the trick."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

When I was a boy

In Berlin in 1948

When I was a boy, my mother would send me down to the corner store with a few coins and I'd come back with 5 bags of potatoes, 2 loaves of bread, 3 bottles of milk, a hunk of cheese, a box of tea, and 6 eggs.

You can't do that now.

Too many friggin' security cameras!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Le premier jour du reste de ma vie

I've seen Padma off on PREMIER's Sydney service and am now back at home with the two dogs. It's a grey and wet day and we're curled up in front of the fireplace; the two dogs with a bone each, and I with a Joseph Conrad novel.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012

''Everything will be all right in the end. If it's not all right, then it's not yet the end''

As soon as "Riverbend" is sold, I shall "outsource" my own retirement to the Conradian "eternal peace (and ease) of Eastern sky and sea". "Good deck-chairs, large native crews, and the distinction of being white" - to quote Conrad again - make for easy retirement. Borneo comes to mind as does Bali. In the meantime, watching "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" will have to do.

Another movie I want to watch is Flash of Genius, the story of underdog Robert Kearns who took on the big car companies.

And then there is the docudrama of the "Father of French Yachting", Tabarly.

Hoe hoe hoe

I've had a big backhoe here in an attempt to get rid of all that pesky black wattle at the bottom of the property. However, we forgot that it was Friday the 13th because less than ninety minutes into the job the old hoe sprung a hydraulic leak deep inside its innards. A whole hour spent in a supine position praying to all the mechanical gods of this world while hydraulic fluid dripped down on us would not reveal the source of the trouble.

We'll have to wait for the "experts" to come out next week to try to fix the problem so that we can get on with the job of eradicating the black wattle.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Today 36 years ago ...

...and there's more.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Still blowing his own whistle

A certain person in New York keeps visiting this blog.

Here's an image from long ago - late 1975 in Burma, to be exact - that should scare him off a bit!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Just another day at "Riverbend"

This explains why I am so busy all the time!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Ahoy there me hearties ...

Home is the Sailor Home from the Sea

... and a very "Good Morning" from the ocean waves - well, would you believe river ripples? - where I had slept aboard the good ship LADY ANNE in commemoration of the fifth anniversary since I bought her!

With the hatchcover open, listening to the fish jumping and gazing up at the stars, I quickly fell asleep. I slept like a sailor and dreamt of tropical islands and coral seas as the River Clyde flowed quietly on.

I was woken up by insistent ringing of the cordless phone which reminded me that it was 6 o'clock in the morning and I was still moored only 20 metres offshore from "Riverbend" where a cooked breakfast and a hot shower were waiting for me.

There was time enough though to still make myself a cup of tea on the boat's little metho stove (if I ever run out of tea, I can always drink the metho!) and to make everything ship-shape again.

As the Water Rat said to the Mole, "There is nothing -- absolute NOTHING -- half so much worth doing as simply messing-about in boats or with boats, in or out of 'em, it doesn't matter. Nothing seems really to matter, that's the charm of it. Whether you get away, or whether you don't; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you're always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you've done it there's always something else to do" (from Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows")

Please bear with us

After having renovated the balcony, the bathroom, and the two small bedrooms downstairs, I am happy to say that this will be the end of it, simply because I am emotionally, physically, and financially exhausted.

According to Robert Treborlang's book "Staying Sane in Australia", far from being haphazard, renovations follow a clear and traceable pattern. Research has shown that each stage of a renovation bears, in fact, a strong correlation to the marital problems of those undertaking it:

Additional storeyCouple would prefer divorce but can't afford it
Modernising windowsSpouses fancy some infidelity but haven't found right person
Shed turned into denHusband caught up in midlife crisis but too afraid to have outside liaisons
Extending loungeroomWife trying to keep husband having affairs at home
Brandnew dining roomMarriage in economic rut, Mrs Bovary dreams of mixing with people above her station
New bathroomHusband dissatisfied with sex-life; wife close to menopause
New kitchenMarriage on the rocks - wife threatens to walk out
Entire house redecoratedCouples have simply given up on each other and lead separate lives

Make of this what you will! (of your own renovations, that is ☺)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Happy Easter!

On the bright side, here is irrefutable proof that a good woman can bring balance and stability to your life - and not just in what is left of Yugoslavia.

Happy Easter to you all! Come on, cluck here to see the chicken!

P.S. Speaking of eggs, Easter or otherwise, here's my guaranteed fool-proof recipe for a beautifully runny soft-boiled egg: put egg in a saucepan of cold water, bring the water to a boil, then take off stove, let "draw" for another six minutes, then remove egg from saucepan, dip in cold water to arrest the cooking process, and enjoy your nice runny egg! As to whether a soft-boiled egg should be broken at its big end or its small one, sorry to all you little Blefuscudians but I am on the side of the Bigendian Kingdom of Lilliput.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why I am not rich!

The address says it all: PO Box 187, Rabaul, New Guinea

Remember the Poseidon boom in Australia in the late 1960s when some nickel stocks experienced spectacular increases in price? The best-known, Poseidon, rose from $1.85 on 26 September 1969 to its high of $280 on 10 January 1970. Some years later it went off the board. Its shares were worthless.

In 1969 I'd just come back from South West Africa, rejoined the ANZ Bank in Canberra and then gone to Papua New Guinea to escape the hand-to-mouth existence of a banking career. I was totally ignorant of the Poseidon boom but my new colleagues in the chartered accounting firm of Hancock, Woodward & Neill in Rabaul talked of nothing else - when they weren't drinking which was most of the time!

PO Box 12, Kieta, Bougainville, New Guinea

First out of sympathy and then as a convert, I spent what little money I earned on VAM and Kambalda shares which, after I had bought them at several dollars each, went down to just a few cents and then to nothing.

Are those early years called the formative years because during that time one forms one's financial base? Well, my shiny VAM and Kambalda share certificates weren't even pliable and absorbent enough for the most obvious use, which is perhaps why I still have a few of them today. As the saying goes: I started out with nothing and I still got most of it left.