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Friday, November 29, 2013

I receive Christmas cards, therefore I am

Christmas cards are said to have been around since 1843. Well, not with me! I only became a recipient and reluctant sender of such cards when I settled in deepest Australian suburbia in 1985 after a Christmas-less and Christmas Card-less lifetime spent in some of the remotest corners of the world.

My suburban neighbours engaged in an annual 'look-I-received-more-cards-than-you-did' contest by stringing up their Christmas cards across their lounge room windows. With my competitive spirit aroused and short of 'doing a Mr Bean' and sending cards to myself, I began to keep the few cards I received each year until, a few years later, I was able to string an impressive-looking collection across my own window. 'Look I received more cards than you did!' On closer inspection by one neighbour, I had quite a bit of explaining to do why, in the year 1988, a friend was wishing me "all the best for 1986!"

Thursday, November 28, 2013

You have to dream before your dreams can come true


This tropical paradise was created in the 1990s by a German, Joe Altenhein, who later sold it and returned to his not-so-tropical native Berlin.

The new owner now wants to sell it again ...

... so, if you dream ...

... of living in a luxurious villa ...

... on a small tropical island, ...

... here's your chance.

The tiny island - second from the left - is in the Kingdom of Tonga ...

Aerial view

... and you can buy it - lock, stock and barrel and lots of coconut trees - for US$175,000.

If that's a bit outside your range and you prefer to dream on, you can buy yourself the book "An Island To Onself".

Or you can read it here.

Sweet dreams!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Interim Progress Report


The floor is done and the furnishings are in from the balcony. I still have to put back the television and table lamps and stain the wood surrounds on the doors and windows. Next week perhaps.

And, to use a medical term, what about the 'window treatment'? Do I put up the old curtains, or instal new blinds, or do I go back to the Age of Aquarius and let the sun shine in?

However, the really burning question I now ask myself is this: 'Why did I break my back (and my bank account) varnishing the floor to a high gloss when it's now all covered by carpets?'


We had a power outage last week and my PC, TV and e/book shut down simultaneously.

It was also raining so I couldn't play bowls.

So I talked to my wife for a few hours.

She seems like a nice person....

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sydney, here I come!

Frontdoor to unitThe tiny hole-in-the-wall unit at McMahons Point


It's a long way to travel for a Christmas Party but the ANZ Banking Group Retired Officers' Club (NSW) insisted that I come since I am doing their monthly newsletter blog.

I'll stay overnight at my old watering-hole, the Blues Point Hotel, where I will also meet for dinner with my old boss from the mid-sixties, John Burke, and his partner Margaret.

My little unit is just a hundred metres or so away from the pub which gives me a chance to do a quick inspection. I did the last one in 2006 when things were really bad. This is what I had to say then:

"I'm back from Sydney! I had to go and have a look at my little unit at McMahons Point which was supposed to have been vandalised by its last tenant who had to be evicted owing me several months' rent not to mention the cost of repairs. I first ran into him in 1985 when I lived for a few months at McMahons Point and occasionally frequented the Blue's Point Hotel.
Wolfgang - the proverbial tenant from Hell
He had been a permanent fixture at the hotel already then. Twenty years later, the hotel has a new owner and a new interior but he still sits there, like an anachronism from another age, quaffing his drinks. However, he did change position: he is now strategically placed next to the Men's Room so as not to waste too much time between drinks! Other patrons simply walk around him as though he was just another piece of furniture. What a sorry sight! What a wasted life! And what a waste of taxpayers' money as that is what he lives on: Government benefits!

The bus to Sydney
I endured the five hours aboard the bus from Batemans Bay to Sydney and the train journey from Central Station to North Sydney. Passing a Thai restaurant named THAI-TANIC as I walked down Blues Point Road towards the unit, I thought what a fitting description it was of my own feelings, having lost many weeks of rent and facing huge repair bills.

I let myself into the unit which had been recarpeted and repainted only two years earlier. It now had cigarette burns and stains from numerous spillages in the carpets, nicotine-stained walls, and everywhere, on the windows, the venetian blinds, the benchtops and bathroom fittings, was the accumulated grime of two years' dirty living. The stove and oven were relatively unmarked which perhaps proves that there's a steak in every bottle as this hard-drinking alcoholic hadn't wasted any time with cooking.

The unit was not habitally and I took a room for two nights at the Blue's Point Hotel down the road. The room was simple but comfortable and, of course, who should I see in the Public Bar downstairs? The tenant from hell, of course - who else? Living testimony to what the human liver can endure!"

I hope there won't be any nasty surprises this time. I'll keep you posted.


The Book Bag


Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit, and I suppose that this is neither innocent or praiseworthy. Of that lamentable company am I. Conversation after a time bores me, games tire me and my own thoughts, which we are told are the unfailing resource of a sensible man, have a tendency to run dry. Then I fly to my book as the opium-smoker to his pipe."

So begins "The Book Bag" by W. Somerset Maugham as the author equates the need for books to the addict's need for drugs. The narrator especially cannot conceive of why a traveller might venture out without a large supply of reading material at the ready. Having learned his lesson once while imprisoned by illness in a hill-town in Java without enough to read, he now carries a giant laundry bag of books with him everywhere in his travels through colonial outposts. Without that book bag, he would "never had heard the singular history of Olive Hardy."

Wandering about Malaya, the narrator receives an invitation to attend a water festival and stay at the residence of a man he previously knew only by name, Mark Featherstone. The peripatetic writer thus joins the Resident of Tenggarah for an unsettling stay. From the outset, there is something oddly reserved and unsettled about the host that the narrator simply dismisses as the discomfort of a professional man around the oddity of a writer. The excursion to Featherstone's club is without incident, like any other night in any other outpost except perhaps for the slight and unexplained discomfort of playing bridge with a man named Hardy.

That night at Featherstone's house, after dinner and drinks, the host stops by the writer's room and asks if he has anything to read that he might borrow. He picks a biography of Lord Byron from the large assortment of the book bag. After a stilted conversation about Hardy, and the host's assertion that Hardy would be alone anywhere he went, the day closes. Achingly normal aside from the part of the host viewed as "shuttered" from his guest. But the next day brings Featherstone's anxious and awkward questions about Lord Byron's relationship with his sister Aurora Leigh from which point unfolds the disturbing story of Tim Hardy and his sister, Olive. You may guess from this the nature of the story, but I won't reveal the details so you can enjoy it yourself when you read the full story here.

This is just one of many stories contained in The Collected Short Stories by W. Somerset Maugham which I have parcelled up, together with James Hilton's Lost Horizon, Tom Neale's An Island to Oneself, James A. Michener's The Drifters, and a slim volume of Hermann Hesse's short stories, to send to my Austrian friend Horst Berger on his little island of Uiha in the Kingdom of Tonga - see here.

I think if Somerset Maugham had met Horst Berger, he would have written a story about him because Horst's remote island life is classic Maugham material with its theme of loneliness and solitary existence.

I hope my book parcel, when it eventually arrives, will dispel, at least for a while, the loneliness and assure Horst that there are still friends out there who take an interest in him.

If you would like to contact Horst, you may write to him at this address:

And, as I mentioned in previous blogs, when I write to him, I always enclose a small (and sometimes not so small) banknote to help him with the return postage and let him share a beer with me ☺


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them


Do you lead a life of quiet desperation? (to use Henry David Thoreau's words) Will you go to your grave with the song still in you?

We now live in an interconnected global village and escaping from the daily rut of a very ordinary life has never been easier. One case in point is the Malaysia My Second Home programme which offers non-Malaysians a ten-year renewable visa and various other privileges which are explained in this website.

I lived and worked in Malaysia and still have expatriate friends who retired there in circumstances far more congenial than in their own homelands. In all, some 12,000 foreigners have retired in Malaysia and the programme continues to generate a lot of interest.

Under the programme, applicants are required to show they have sufficient financial resources to live in Malaysia without seeking employment or other assistance from the government.

Applicants under 50 are required to show liquid assets above RM500,000 (about $165,000) and a monthly income of over RM10,000 - or approximately $3,300 - (which is not taxed in Malaysia).

Applicants over 50 must have assets over RM350,000 (about $115,000) and a monthly income of RM10,000.

Interested? Well, click here (well, maybe not there but here ☺ ) and make Malaysia your second home!


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Echoes of Pigeon Island


I first heard about Pigeon Island and the Hepworth family when I tried to find work in the islands back in 1969. Tom Hepworth had written a very enticing letter in response to my classified advertisement in the backpage of the PACIFIC ISLANDS MONTHLY, offering me a job as 'book-keeper' in his growing enterprise, Pigeon Island Traders. He described to me in vivid colours the sort of life I would lead if I were to join him and his family on Pigeon Island. He wouldn't be able to pay me much but, as he put it, neither would I need much money and I would have plenty of time to pursue my own interests and continue my accountancy studies.

I was sorely tempted but I was also concerned about my professional career and what "career" would there be with something called "Pigeon Island Traders" located on one of the remotest islands in the South Pacific? Instead, I accepted another offer from a firm of chartered accountants in the then Territory of Papua & New Guinea - and I have never looked back!

It was only in retirement that I began to recall my many wanderings throughout the South Pacific and around the world which led me to ponder what might have happened had I opted for one and not another of the many choices that had come my way. And so I also thought again about Pigeon Island and on the spur of the moment wrote a letter to "Tom Hepworth, care of Pigeon Island Traders, Pigeon Island, Reef Islands, Solomon Islands."

Some months went by and I thought no more of it until one day I received an envelope covered in a lot of colourful Solomon Islands stamps. In it was a letter from Ben Hepworth, the now grown-up son of Tom Hepworth, who told me that his father had passed away some years ago but that he and his twin brother Ross and his mother Diana were still living on the island. He had enclosed some photographs and told me a good deal about the island and invited me to visit them.

Ben, who was some five years old when I had been offered a job on the island by his father, was now in his late 30s and, apart from his secondary schooling in New Zeland and a short-lived attempt at a career with the Mendana Hotel in Honiara, had never lived away from the island. I was amazed at how this family had clung to their dream of living on a small South Pacific island for so long!

Click on image to view video clip

From the time they set sail from England in November 1947, times had not been easy: their daughter Tasha, born 1958, was mentally retarded and is living today in an institution in New Zealand; they have had several fall-outs with their two sons, Ross and Ben; there has been continued trouble with traditional land-owners over their 2-pound-a-year lease of the island (signed Christmas 1958) which officially runs out in 2052; then there was the destruction caused by Cyclone Nina 1993 and again by Cyclone Danny in 1999 ... the list goes on and the words 'CAN'T GO ON MUCH LONGER' and 'SEEM TO HAVE RUN OUT OF STEAM' appear in Tom's diary more than once.

They tried to attract caretakers to the island but failed repeatedly (the Austrian Wien family in 1964 was a particularly dismal failure; the Pearce family family ran off at the beginning of 1980 leaving the message 'JUST COULDN'T GO ON' hung in a bag on the cargo-shed door); they tried to sell the island in the mid-80s for five hundred thousand US dollars but 'the chains of Pigeon' kept Tom until his death in 1994 at the age of 84. 'Blue skies, fair winds, hot sun and beaches by the miles,' Tom once wrote about Pigeon, but 36 years was a long time for a man with cultural leanings to spend on an isolated island. We all have our fantasies but for most of us reality intervenes - but not so for the Hepworths!

Imagine living on a South Sea Island,
far from civilisation's worries,
and MAKING MONEY from it

Ngarando-Faraway is For Sale!

This small resort on beautiful Pigeon Island only needs capital to become a money spinner. Uniquely, Pigeon is leased until 2052; Tourism will take off when an airfield only 3 miles away is completed in 1988, and NOW is the time to invest.

US$500,000 will purchase everything on the island, including a profitable store, bar one acre to be used in their retirement by Tom and Diana Hepworth.

Tom's advertisement in the mid-1980s

Thankfully, they were now in contact with the world through the Internet and we began to send each other emails. Ben's mother, Diana, emailed me to suggest that I should come and 'house-sit' the island while she and Ben would go on what she felt may be her last chance of a 'round-the-world trip, planned for the year 2003. Again, reality intervened for me but I did offer to put up a webpage for them to try to attract some other suitable 'house-sitters'. She mentioned that in early 1998 a Lucy Irvine had come to Pigeon Island and during her year-long stay on Pigeon Island written the book "FARAWAY". Diana, with helpers, showing the book FARAWAY Had I heard of Lucy Irvine? I had indeed! I myself had spent ten months on tiny Thursday Island in the Torres Strait to the north of Australia in 1977. Lucy had 'marooned' herself and her 'husband' on even tinier Tuin Island just north of Thursday Island, for over a year from May 1981 to June 1982 and written a book about it. I had read that book, "CASTAWAY", and also seen the movie which is contained in the above YouTube clip.

Now I rushed out to get her book "FARAWAY" to read about Pigeon Island. After having read the book, I was somewhat relieved that I hadn't gone to Pigeon all those many years ago because far from living in a 'tropical paradise', the Hepworth family seems to have had more than their fair share of troubles. I have since had an email from one of the Pearces mentioned in Lucy's book: Another Pigeon Island tale

Even though I never got to Pigeon Island, I went to Honiara in 1973 when at the ripe old age of 27 I was appointed Commercial Manager (they called it "Secretary" in the case of a Statutory Body) of the BSIEA, or British Solomon Islands Electricity Authority. I lived a gracious life in a big house on Lengakiki Ridge overlooking Honiara and the ocean beyond, all the way to Savo Island and Tulagi. A tall old Swede tried to get Tambea going which was a tourist destination way out west of Honiara and accessible only by 4-wheel drive and after crossing a couple of raging rivers. I was member of the Point Cruz Yacht Club and every day by 4.30 sharp the offshore breeze would fill the sails of my CORSAIR dinghy. Wednesday nights was Chess Night on the terrace of the Mendana Hotel and there was always a big do on of a Saturday night at the Guadalcanal Club (commonly referred to as G-Club).

Why I ever left Honiara I'll never know!!! (although a lack of professional challenges had something to do with it - click here). Those were my restless years and I simply couldn't stay put anywhere for more than six months to a year. During all those years of travel it was the people I met, the many colourful and swashbuckling characters, that left the most lasting impressions on me.

I never met Lucy Irvine but I've been in contact with her by email. She now lives in a caravan in Bulgaria - click here - which is a long way from Tuin and Pigeon Island!


P.S. Lucy has just sent an email to correct me: she no longer lives in a caravan but has moved into a yurt (which is something like a caravan but without wheels ☺ ) She also sent me two new links to her websites at castawaylucyirvine.wordpress.com and potholepress.co.uk.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Just like the Sepik sans the crocodiles


We've just had a huge tropical downpour with well over 30 millimetres of rain in the gauge. I kept a weary eye on all that furniture wrapped up in blue tarpaulins on the balcony while the upstairs lounge room is awaiting its fourth and final coat of floor varnish.

Everything is hot and steamy now and very reminiscent of my days in New Guinea. I didn't have to worry about leather-upholstered chairs then when happiness was a red plastic chair - click here.

Them were the good ol' days!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

It's been a busy year

I replaced the broken door latch on the car

I installed new taps in the kitchen sink

I fixed the sagging kitchen cabinets

I replaced the rotten steps by the front door

The wife wanted a Porta-Potty for when we go camping

She also wanted more privacy in the bathroom


I fixed everything around the house and still the wife isn't happy. What more can a man do?

Anyway, I'm winding down for the end of the year. Talk to you again next year!


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An epidemic of denial


A friend has just gone to Thailand. He assures me he's never heard of Patpong. His reason for going is far more prosaic - a visit to a dental surgeon.

We are about the same age which means that due to normal, age-appropriate atrophy of his jawbone, his teeth need to be removed and replaced with implants. The only alternative would be a denture plate without any stable teeth to anchor it. With the denture he would be sentenced to a diet devoid of steaks and pork chops, to frequent embarrassing incidents when his false teeth would pop loose and come out of his mouth attached to, say, a piece of toffee, and, worse yet, he would have the unmistakable clunky smile of an old man.

He immediately signed up for the implants. And several visits to a dental surgeon. And a few days of pain after each visit, not to mention an aggregate of several weeks during which he will basically subsist on baby food. And, of course, it will cost him, even in Thailand, several thousand dollars.

For what? Pork chops? No embarrassing denture pop-outs? A more youthful smile?

Do potential denture pop-outs and that old-mannish smile really reflect our genuine values at this point in our lives? Approaching seventy, do we really care if we present to the world an old man's goofy smile? And even more to the point, with our years of clear thinking and reasonable mobility dwindling as quickly as our jawbones, do we honestly want to dedicate a good part of a year to regular visits to a dental surgeon?

I certainly do not. I do not want to be swept up in the current trend of trying to extend the prime of life well into the years that used to be called "old age". I do not want to be caught up in this epidemic of denial. No "youth implants" for me.

I believe an authentic old man should be honest with himself about how much fully conscious and rational life he has left. And he should use that time in the best and appropriate way. One way is to feel authentically and contentedly old.