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Monday, June 30, 2014

Life's ebbs and flows



June the 30th and we're already half-way through another year! Where does each day go? Well, here's a quick summary:

The kookaburras' mad cackling wakes us in the morning. I roll out of bed and go to the kitchen to switch on the kettle. I then sit in the sun and enjoy my first cup of tea of the day. Going back into the bedroom I find that Rover who sleeps between the pillows, has rolled himself into my warm spot and refuses to be moved. So I go back outside taking a carrot from the fridge to feed the possum in his possum penthouse. The almost-tame kookaburra has been following me around and it's his turn to be fed some of Malty & Rover's dog-food. All that effort calls for a second cup of tea!

Cup in hand, I wander down my "Meditation Lane" to the bottom of the property where I can look far downriver and possibly spot some early-morning fishermen trying their luck. The track is full of life. I surprise three dilatory rabbits breakfasting in the grass. The resident kangaroo watches me from a safe distance. A butterfly procession is in full swing. I sit down on a sawn-off treetrunk and, sipping my cup, ponder: 'Does a butterfly know that it used to be a caterpillar and does a caterpillar know when it goes to sleep that it will be a butterfly when it wakes up?' Life flows. Life ebbs. Knowledge has not solved its mystery. We have learned how to blow up the world and walk on the moon, but we still do not know why we are here.

If it is a weekday, I go back inside at around 10 o'clock to switch on the computer to watch the gyrations of the stock-market. As my old mate Noel Butler used to say when I questioned him once why he bought and sold some of those "penny-dreadful" shares, "What else is there?" Some days the market is good to me, on others it isn't, and on some it turns downright ugly but, as Noel put it so succinctly, what else IS there? In between watching stock quotations and listening to the news on the radio, I answer some emails and walk up to the gate to await the mailman. And so, almost without realising it, lunchtime comes around.

"Happy Hour" is when I take my afternoon nap on the sofa in the lounge when Malty & Rover join me. Waking up refreshed, I take a book outside and read for a while, sitting in the sun. Again, almost without noticing it, dinner rolls around after which it is only a couple of hours before I head off to bed to listen to Philip Adams' "Late Night Live" at 10 past 10 on ABC Radio.

And that's it! Multiply this by 365 and you have a fair summary of the whole year. May there be many more years like it!


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On this day 60 years ago


Oon this day 505 years ago Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon were crowned as king and queen of England in 1509. And on this day a mere four years ago, Kevin Rudd was deposed as Prime Minister of Australia,

Who cares? What sticks in my mind, after reading Tom Neale's book An Island To Oneself, is that on this day in 1954 he left his beloved island Suwarrow.

Tom's island with his hut visible in the centre

He describes this departure in the chapter "Farewell to the Island":

Long before I could set eyes on her, I knew it must be the Manihiki schooner. That smudge dusting the horizon where the sea met the sky could only mark her arrival, for no other schooner would be so far off the trade routes. And though I had been anxiously scanning the horizon for days, worried about my back, a sudden thought now hit me like a blow between the eyes, a truth I had stubbornly refused to admit until now. Within a few hours I was going to be aboard that schooner. And once there I might never see Suvarov again. I can never forget that moment. I sat down on my beach chair to steady myself, and sliced open a drinking nut as I watched the sail take shape. An emotion closely bordering on panic and taking hold of me; not only apprehension at having to meet the people on the schooner, nor even the prospect of enduring a life I disliked in Raro. It was something much more profoundly disturbing than that. I just didn't want to leave. I knew, with a dull feeling of despair, that the last thing I ever wanted to do in life was to leave. Mr. Tom-Tom came out of the coconut palms and leapt as lightly as a coiled spring on to my lap. As I automatically stroked him I realised, as I had never realised before, that I had never wanted anything more from life than moments such as these.

The impact of seeing that tiny smudge, the realisation that there was now no way of postponing my departure, brought a sudden forlorn portent of loneliness welling up in my mind. The urge to stay became so strong that the most ridiculous subterfuges flashed through my mind. Perhaps I could hide! If the landing party failed to find me, they might presume I had died on another motu, and so go away and leave me in peace. There might even be time to sail to another motu and hide there. I wondered (only for a moment, though) if I could stage my "death" - by leaving a few clothes on the beach as though I had been drowned. Once pain recedes, one forgets it so readily, and as I sat there I was assuring myself that even though the back pains did return, I would be touch enough to service. They did not seem too bad now, but, as I sat there, gingerly shifting round, I remembered with an illuminating flash of clarity that brought me right back to reality something Peb had said to me as we sat drinking rum on the porch one evening: "It's one thing to be killed or drowned in a hurricane or storm - in a way, it's a sort of end that's suit you, Tom. But it's something else to lie on your back, unable to move, all alone, slowly starving to death, alive but paralysed, knowing there's more food than you can eat just ten yards away."

He was right, of course. There was no escape. With a sigh I rose and stretched, tumbling a protesting Mr. Tom-Tom on to the beach. There was still a little while left before the ship reached the store. During those moments I walked back to the shack and started to pack my old battered leather suitcase, putting in the clothes I had not worn for eighteen months, two or three shirts, my "best" shoes. I kept out my only pair of respectable shorts and one shirt. I would dress up in these in the last few minutes. but before that I wanted to wash up for the last time, in the kitchen I had virtually created myself. I spent a little while there and was careful to leave everything spick and span, for sooner or later a yachtsman would pass this way.

Then I went for a last look round my garden, so spruce now, and so different from the wilderness it had been before I had killed all the wild pigs. The tomato plants came almost level with my head. Involuntarily I started to hack back some of the Indian spinach with my machete. Then I suddenly stopped, blinking in the sun, Why bother? The whole garden would be suffocated in less than a month. I went on to the chicken-run, opened the door and made it fast. The roosters and hens must run wild now, for without me and my familiar dinner gong they would starve. Like me, they didn't appear anxious to abandon their home, but stayed inside the confines of the wire door just scratching around, whilst I collected seven eggs. I thought I would give these to the captain of the schooner; fresh eggs always make a welcome change at sea. On a last impulse I caught and tied up four of the fattest clucking hens which might just as well go to the captain too. They wouldn't be of value to anybody now, running wild on Suvarov. I got out the cats' box which I had kept, for I had known I'd never leave them alone. They would be snug enough in that during the trip back to Raro. If I let them loose on the schooner, I would probably never see them again. some people hate cats and I could remember seeing a man throw one overboard in a fit of rage.

I was packed and ready long before the ship came through the pass, for I knew from experience that when vessels deviate to lonely atolls, they do not like to linger. As she came slowly into the lagoon I recognised her. She was an ugly 300-ton twin-screwed boat called the Rannah, and I felt a pang of disappointment, for I suppose I had been hoping that it might have been Andy in the Tiare Taporo. It would have helped a lot to see Andy at this moment of my life. By the time the anchor chain had rattled down, I had carried my suitcase, Gladstone, my tools, the fowls and the cats' box down to the pier, and I stood there, watching as the ship's boat was lowered to pick me up. Then a couple of Cook Islanders splashed ashore and greeted me cheerfully. I knew them for both had served with me on other vessels. I tried to be polite, but I could not force the words as I climbed carefully into the boat and sat there, upright, while two men rowed me to the schooner. I had a bit of a job getting aboard, for the Rannah, which carried a crew of twelve and half a dozen cabin passengers (plus innumerable deck passengers!) rode high in the water. but everybody seemed anxious to help, and then I saw the skipper, John Blakelock, an old friend, giving me a welcoming wave from the top deck.

Blakelock must have been in his fifties, a powerfully built man who had seen the world - in all sorts of jobs. He had been policeman, planter, trader, as well as sailor. I waved back as best I could, but I don't know whether he saw me, for like everybody else he was in a hurry. Everybody seemed in a bewildering rush, and in a few moments we were moving again, and I was leaning over the Rannah's stern watching the atoll recede into the blue-grey distance. It was June 24, 1954. One or two passengers came up to me, and tentatively started asking questions; but I didn't feel like talking. It was one thing to talk to chance visitors to Suvarov, but that was very different from being accosted by strangers who did not even bother to introduce themselves, but were patently only anxious to be able to tell their families they had actually met and spoken with a crazy hermit who had been living on a desert island. My daydreaming was rudely shattered by John Blakelock's voice behind me, crying, "Come on down, Tom, and let's have a shot!" I know he meant it kindly, but how was he to tell, how could he realise, that this was the one moment in my life when I most wanted to be alone. I am not ashamed to admit there were tears in my eyes as the smudge that had been my home for twenty-one months grew smaller and smaller, paler and paler, until finally it merged into the horizon and I could see it no more. Vainly I tried to shut my ears to the jarring sounds around me the native passengers laughing and giggling, the shouts of the crew, with an occasional expletive thrown in for good measure.

I thought back to the happy evenings I had spent on the beach with the cats purring as the sun went down, to the undisturbed rhythm of a life that none of these people around me could ever remotely imagine, to the day I caulked the boat, the evening I made the candles, the morning I discovered the brick. And now it was all gone, receding into a sort of dream as rapidly as the island had receded before my eyes. I remember standing there, and suddenly shivering as the captain yelled again for me to join him in a drink. It was not the cold that caused the shiver, but the sudden recollection of an old Tahitian proverb I had heard years ago. "The coral waxes, the palm grows, but man departs."

Inside Tom's hut today

And, of course, he returned two more times: in April 1960, after which he left Suwarrow for a second time in December 1963, and again in June 1967 for his third and last stay on the island which lasted for almost ten years until 1977.

A life well lived!


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Happy Birthday to Canadian Chris!

Your choice of birthday presents.
Click on the image for the 'nationalistic' option


I was going to make you a genuine German Black Forest Cake but then I wondered if people in a country that saw fit to turn the perfectly-named city of Berlin into 'Kitchener' might have a problem with this.

And that despite the fact that we gave the whole country its name. Here's the proof:

As the man says, the first to arrive on Canada's empty shores were a bunch of Bavarians. They looked around and, not seeing anybody, said in their best Bavarian dialect, "Ka na da!", which means in High German, "Keiner da!", which, as everybody knows, means, "Nobody there!"

Anyway, you and your tastebuds may feel more comfortable with the second option although, personally, I am puzzled why you should name your favourite dish after a former KGB-chief and now ruling Russian prime minister ☺

Anyway, have a good one! If we were still in Camp 6 at Loloho, we could now sit inside the "boozer" under a tropical, starry sky with a cold SP and whinge about the long working hours, the lousy food, the lack of women and various other privations. Has anything changed? ☺

Saturday, June 14, 2014

What a find!


As an old W. Somerset Maugham fan, I was thrilled to find sixteen books from the Heron Books edition of his stories in one of my favourite op-shops. Some I already had but others were still missing from what has now become my 21-volume collection.

Such are the innocent joys of an ageing bibliophile! ☺


Friday, June 13, 2014

Message to Bali's best Hotel Manager

Click on image for close-up


Hengky Tambayong, your "Lifeproof" iPhone Bike and Bar Mount has arrived and I am currently "test-driving" its bike-mount on my exercise bike. Later I shall go down to the local bar for a drink and try out its "bar-mount" ☺

If all goes well, Padma will bring it to Bali on Sunday!


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day; teach him how to write an eBook and he'll become a millionaire


As John Locke writes in this eBook, "The general public has been conditioned to believe if you're self-published your books don't measure up. And the media have done all they could to hammer that message home. The phrase 'vanity publishing' was almost certainly invented by traditional publishers years ago in order to squash the competition from entrepreneurial authors. It worked. By ridiculing and publicly shaming self-published authors for daring to invest in their talents and abilities, publishing houses were able to elevate themselves to god-like status."

And he goes on, "When Bill Gates and Paul Allen invested their time and money into developing code for the Altair computer, no one accused them of writing vanity code. But if Bill Gates and Paul Allen invest their own money to write a book, they're no longer businessmen, they're vain! How absurd is that?

Enter eBooks and ePublishing. eBooks allow a guy like me an opportunity to level the playing field. In fact, eBooks allow me to turn the tables on famous authors and create a situation that is completely unfair to them! Because I can publish an eBook for very little money, I can afford to sell it for 99 cents ...

... As I've been telling people for more than a year, when famous authors are forced to sell their books for $9.95, and I can afford to sell mine for 99 cents, I no longer have to prove my books are as good as theirs. Now the famous authors have to prove their books are ten times better than mine!" Read more ...

I have sent a copy of John's eBook to my friend Horst Berger in Tonga to inspire him to write his own book. He's now lived on his tropical island of Uiha for almost twenty years which should give him enough material to write his own bestseller,


(An assured income of at least TOP$10,000 p.a., or about US$5,330, is all you need for the Tongan authorities to let you retire in their tiny Kingdom.)

I shall edit and proof-read the book to be ready about this time next year which should give you enough time to save up your 99 cents! ☺


My Book-bag


When I lived in Africa, New Guinea, the Solomons, Burma, Borneo, Iran, Samoa, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, anywhere far away from a good bookshop, my first question of any other expatriate I encountered was, "Do you have any interesting books to read?"

To this day, when I travel I carry a small collection of books with me. Some of these books help me patch up the holes in my literary education while on holidays and which I feel obliged to cart home again. Others are books which, like shampoo bottles or slips of hotel soap, I won't mind giving away to fellow-travellers or locals.

I believe it's a small courtesy to leave holiday reading in your wake, no matter what it cost you, to sail through a strange country, discarding books for those following or left behind, with your book-bag getting lighter as you go.

W. Somerset Maugham in his short story "The Book-Bag" equated the need for books to the addict's need for drugs. He could not conceive of why a traveler 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 carried 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" of which you may wish to read here:

"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 nor 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. I would sooner read the catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores or Bradshaw's Guide than nothing at all, and indeed I have spent many delightful hours over both these works. At one time I never went out without a second-hand bookseller's list in my pocket. I know no reading more fruity. Of course to read in this way is as reprehensible as doping, and I never cease to wonder at the impertinence of great readers who, because they are such, look down on the illiterate. From the standpoint of what eternity is it better to have read a thousand books than to have ploughed a million furrows? Let us admit that reading with us is just a drug that we cannot do without - who of this band does not know the restless­ness that attacks him when he has been severed from reading too long, the apprehension and irritability, and the sigh of relief which the sight of a printed page extracts from him? - and so let us be no more vainglorious than the poor slaves of the hypodermic needle or the pint-pot."    click here to continue ...

So you're hooked on W. Somerset Maugham's short stories, are you? Well, go on, read some more:

Page 13 Rain
Page 40 The Fall of Edward Barnard
Page 62 Honolulu
Page 78 The Ant and the Grasshopper
Page 81 The Pool
Page 106 Mackintosh
Page 128 The Three Fat Women of Antibes
Page 138 The Facts of Life
Page 151 Gigolo and Gigolette
Page 163 The Voice of the Turtle
Page 174 The Unconquered
Page 192 The Escape
Page 195 Mr Know-All
Page 200 The Romantic Young Lady
Page 207 A Man from Glasgow
Page 214 Before the Partyy
Page 231 The Vessel of Wrath
Page 256 Louise
Page 261 The Promise
Page 266 The Yellow Streak
Page 284 The Force of Circumstance
Page 301 Flotsam and Jetsam
Page 317 The Alien Corn
Page 342 The Creative Impulse
Page 365 Virtue
Page 389 The Closed Shop
Page 395 The Dream
Page 398 The Colonel's Lady
Page 410 Miss King
Page 432 The Hairless Mexican
Page 456 The Traitor
Page 479 His Excellency
Page 500 Mr Harrington's Washing
Page 525 Lord Mountdrago
Page 541 Sanatorium
Page 557 The Social Sense
Page 563 The Verger
Page 568 The Taipan
Page 573 The Consul
Page 577 A Friend in Need
Page 581 The Round Dozen
Page 599 The Human Element
Page 622 Jane
Page 639 Footprints in the Jungle
Page 659 The Door of Opportunity
Page 681 The Book-bag
Page 705 French Joe
Page 708 The Four Dutchmen
Page 713 The Back of Beyond
Page 734 P.&O.
Page 755 Episode
Page 769 The Kite
Page 785 A Woman of Fifty
Page 797 The Lotus Eater
Page 808 The Wash-Tub
Page 814 A Man with a Conscience
Page 827 Winter Cruise
Page 839 A Marriage of Convenience
Page 848 Mirage
Page 861 The Letter
Page 883 The Portrait of a Gentleman
Page 887 Raw Material
Page 890 Straight Flush
Page 894 A Casual Affair
Page 908 Neil MacAdam


Monday, June 9, 2014

What a nice way to start the day!


They say when you see a rainbow, you should make a cross on the ground, and then make a wish.

Well, I did and my wish came true: a cooked breakfast! ☺

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high,
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.

P.S. Some lucky dog even had breakfast in bed!


Sunday, June 8, 2014

I cdn'uolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg

I cdn'uolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg: the phaonmneel pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aoccdrnig to a rseearch taem at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Scuh a cdonition is arppoiatrely cllaed Typoglycemia.

"Amzanig huh? Yaeh and you awlyas thguoht slpeling was ipmorantt."

Like the man said, "the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae".


These are taxing times


It's winter time and we have had plenty of rain to refill our tanks which is an ideal opportunity to luxuriate in a hot bath. As I am lying here and the hot water soaks into my (c)old bones, I can't help thinking of Mrs Archimedes who used to fill up her husband's bath right up to the brim.

Good old Mr Archimedes found that the water slopped over the sides when he jumped in, and by weighing the amount of water spilt, and weighing himself, he discovered a formidable argument against baths, or at least full ones, in that a floating body displaces its own weight of water. He also discovered that the displaced water wet the bath-towel and made it so heavy that when he hung it on the towel-rail it pulled out the nails and the rail fell off the wall. So he invented the screw. On such small incidents hangs the fate of the world!

I doubt I would ever have come up with such wonderful ideas. I have never managed to join Mensa (although, I am sure, if I tried I would be entitled to join their subsidiary organisation, Moron.) I have a hard enough time working my way through the 2014 TAX-PACK which has just landed in my mailbox reminding me that another year's 'Swindle Sheet' is due.

Looking at the sheer size of this year's TAX PACK, I am convinced we could solve all our energy problem if we could just find a way to harness all the energy that's spent in filling out our tax forms. Perhaps we need another 'tax reform' of the kind Lady Godiva was offered by her husband Leofric, Earl of Mercia, who promised to reduce the high taxes he levied on the residents of Coventry if she agreed to ride naked through the streets of the town. Luckily, most retired people (of which I am one) are no longer in need of such drastic tax reforms as the most effective way to avoid taxes is to stop having any income.

Or, if you need some income (and don't we all?), then let it be in the form of partly or fully "franked" dividends. Thanks to the Government's dividend imputation rules, franking credits are offset against an individual's personal tax and, from the 2000/01 income year, if those franking credits are in excess of an individual's tax bill, are refunded to the individual. Here is how it works:

Let's assume a very simplistic example whereby you hold shares in a company which pays company tax of 30% on its earnings. The remaining 70% are distributed as dividends. So if you receive (say) $20,000 in dividends, then this amount is "grossed up" again to its pre-company tax level of a 100% (remember that the $20,000 you receive represents only 70% of the company's pre-tax profit!) or $28,571. Therefore, you are being taxed on an income of $28,571 even though you only receive $20,000 in cash. So how much tax do you pay on an income of $28,571 (assuming you have no other income)? $1,971, that's how much. However - and this is where the franking credit kicks in - you receive a credit for the tax the company paid, namely $8,571 which is offset against your tax assessment which in this particular example means that you receive a tax refund of $6,600. Three cheers for dividend imputation!!!

And so endeth this year's tax lesson! Happy New Tax Year!


Friday, June 6, 2014

Happy Birthday, Your Majesty


This weekend Australia celebrates the 88th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. Any excuse for a long weekend will do!

Down the Kings Highway come long lines of cars full of Canberra's hard-working public servants, trying to escape, at least for a weekend, from their dull lives in their even duller city.

Surprisingly, we have had no booking for "Riverbend" Cottage. We are listed with www.stayz.com.au who, among other things, require us to indicate the languages we speak.

I mentioned "English (with an accent ☺); German (but don't mention the war! John Cleese did but he got away with it! ☺); Indonesian (as are most of the dishes we eat)".

This also being the 70th anniversary of D-Day, perhaps I should have left out the German bit ☺


Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Nelligen Golf Club is open for business!


We decided to call it the "Nelligen GOLF Club" because all the other 4-letter words were already taken. With a lagoon and pond on one side and the river on the other, our golfing guests just can't get enough of it.

Only the other week one of them, getting ready to hit his tee shot, called out, "Look at those idiots fishing in the rain!"

The problem with most golf courses is that the slow groups are always in front of you and the fast groups are always behind you.

Not so at the "Nelligen Golf Club" where you have it all to yourself ... although, if you're lucky, somebody may entertain you with a birdie from beyond the fence! ☺


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Whatever makes them tic!


So you are yearning for that peaceful place in the country? Well, before you put your money where your yearn is, make sure the neighbours don't have Tourette syndrome.

Ours seem to have it bad. At first, we put it down to a lack of toilet training but after more than ten years of coprolalia and copropraxia, I began to wonder when the men in white coats would show up.

They never did but something showed up on GOOGLE (and don't ask me what keywords I used ☺): Tourette syndrome!

It just had to be it! I mean, living a miserable life and wanting to make others' miserable, too, is one thing, but spending every waking hour of every day on it suggests something deeply pathological.

They say, good fences make good neighbours. I say, make the fence match the neighbours' vocabulary.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

It's the first day of winter
... and Ned Kelly's and Marilyn Monroe's birthdays


The origin of tea began, it is said, when Daruma, a Buddhist saint, irresponsibly fell asleep over his devotions, and, upon awakening, was so distraught that he cut off his eyelids and threw them to the ground where they took root and grew up as a bush, the leaves of which, when dried and infused in hot water, produced a beverage that would banish sleep.

It would take a lot more than the thought of cut-off eyelids to put me off my first hot cup of tea of the day taken by the window overlooking the river when it is shrouded in early-morning mist. A Chinese watercolour in motion!

Last night I slept in front of the fireplace which is the nicest possible thing to do. I can't image that somebody could go through life without ever having roasted chestnuts or prodded glowing coal or made dream pictures in flames or listened to the fire sounds - the crackling and the hissing and the sighing and strange whimpering of a knotted log - or just dozed off in front of a fire.

Winter at "Riverbend" is a time of hibernation, of introspection. Of watching DVDs, reading books, playing chess - a time for every purpose under heaven, according to Ecclesiastes.

Right on cue, it's raining - which is sort of defrosted snow ☺ - which calls for something indoorsy, so we're going to the Diggers Rest Tavern at Mogo to listen to the old folks of the Old Gold Folk Club.

I may even join in and regale them with the Horst Wessel Lied on my button accordion. (Only kidding! I prefer Rommel's Panzerlied ☺ )