A Seven Year Memory

Facebook “Memories” can be annoying, but they can also bring back moments otherwise forgotten. They may not be “memories” in themselves, but they open the door to the place where memories are kept.

The next paragraph is what I typed on this day in 2012. It feels like something experienced by someone else … perhaps I was someone else.

Jan 31st 2012

“Cool relief from the hot weather.
I had a call out to the hospital at 3am this morning.
The air was so clear and cool that it seemed almost crystalline.
No sounds … dark … not even a faint glow in the east.
I didn’t want to be up at 3am, and I didn’t want to be visiting a death bed at that time … but the early morning feel makes a fella appreciate what a wonderful world and life we have been given. I wouldn’t miss such experiences for quids!”

Memories, like the surface of our tea pot …

Cottage Memories

The Horsnell Gully Cottage

It was a good house, sitting on a few acres of steep ground.
The front was 1880s dressed stone.
The back part was dug into the hill and cool.
The clothes line was accessed by climbing stairs to one side and walking onto the flat roof section at the back.
Fruit trees surrounded it.
The vegetable garden was black aluvial soil above the creek.
The chook sheds were concrete cells that were once kennels for dog breeding – while we were there they held nesting boxes for red hens, and some housed the orphaned and injured owls that we fostered.
The front door was reached by crossing a footbridge over a permenantly flowing stream, and then climbing more than twenty steep steps that passed through the garden.
These steps were a favourite sunning place for red-bellied black snakes and tiger snakes that lived in the creek vegetation.  
The snakes were no trouble – we just needed to watch where we walked.It was a good house, of fond memory.
It wasn’t big, but it was cosy and comfortable.
It was the place where our son Huw was conceived, and the first place he lived – born on our tenth wedding anniversary in 1983.

arty shot - joy and huw - horsnell's gully 1983
An Arty Shot – Joy and Baby Huw in the Horsnell Gully House, 1983

This was the fourth place Joy and I lived as a couple.
I came down from Lobethal in the hills in 1972, and Joy and I had a flat in Norwood.
We were married in 1973 and lived first in a century old house in Hyde Park just off the now very trendy shopping strip on King William Road.

13 April 1973 – When I Still Had hair and Joy’s Was Red

From there we went to Fullarton to a house with a big garden and orchard out the back.  Thence we headed for the hills and dwelt Hobbit-like in the Horsnell Gully cottage, known locally as “The Dogs’ Home” or “The Kennels” … a dog’s home with two Foxes living in it – strange!We lived in that house for quite a while, playing loud, loud music (there were no immediate neighbours to complain), drinking chilled Bolly on the verandah (especially on Saturday and Sunday afternoons).
 People with musical instruments popped around to relax, and Joy catered lavishly.
 We hung out with the arty set and spent a lot of times in galleries and dimly lit clubs and bars.

horsnell gully_0012 - version 3
Joy and Our Friend Catherine in the Early 80s

It was a pleasing lifestyle.
… the bright front rooms and the cool gloom of the semi underground back rooms 
 … reclining in the bath on Saturday afternoons with the lorikeets hanging in the pear branches outside the open door
… the wild fox walking across the back roof to pick the olives
… the echidnas walking up the steps by the kitchen window
… the possums yelling for jam sandwiches on the verandah
… the choruses of frogs
… and the constant singing of birds.It was a good house that had seen much in its 100+ years, but wasn’t telling.
It held the drama it knew close to its breast, but sometimes there were echoes.
 No, it wasn’t haunted but some nights it sounded as if it was.
 Strange beasts dwelt between the ‘new’ ceiling and the original wood ceiling above it.    Wraiths squirmed about in the sealed off bedroom chimney.
The iron roof moved and creaked in the heat.There were physical threats as well as those imagined spookings.
The cottagey rural charm was spared from the Ash Wednesday bushfire horror.
Flames skirted around it.
The fire, roaring like daemons from Mordor came straight down the valley, dark at 3pm, to within not all too many metres from our door where it changed course and went up the hill and behind the back of the house.
 Emergency services ordered me and my heavily pregnant Joy to evacuate – it seemed a very wise idea. A week or so later a “rain event” swept black ash down the flooded creek, over our gardens and poultry sheds, and through the two Humber cars I had parked in the lower area.When the baby started to crawl, and looked like toddling wasn’t far away, it became apparent that a house sticking out of a cliffside, infested with snakes and all sorts of bities, with a precipitous stone and concrete stairway access, probably wasn’t the place for us.We reached into our pockets and purchased a house in the ‘nice’ end of Prospect and became almost respectible suburbanites.

old pics i_0024
Art in the Suburbs – The Kids, Huw and Amelia, in the Prospect House Back Room.

But we missed the Gully.
Bits of that cottage still circulate in our blood.

Dog Shock

In Memory of Diesel Fox – the Wonder Dog.

Let’s go back to a hot Barossa Valley day in January 2014.

In St John’s manse, Joy and Amelia and I were eating our mutton and drinking our wine.

We sat back and watched French murder on DVD.

We were revelling in the cool change – all the windows wide open and the cool airs wafting in through the screen doors.

Peace and cool

… the women in their light cotton house dresses, I in my shorts and “Yes” concert tour tee shirt (British prog rock never lets you down.)

Peaceful sounds.

The sounds of Summer.

The galahs bedding down late in the church trees.

The occasional car.

The hissing of summer lawns as the sprinklers refresh the grass I’d cut that afternoon.

The French talk blending perfectly with the summer evening.

Serenity (with French violence) …

Suddenly the Black Dog strikes!

No, not THAT black dog

… not the black dog that plagued Mr Churchill … that plagued Reverend Fox … that plagued the peace of mind of those two gentlemen as they sat, years and a world apart, in their melancholy struggling to set their minds on the hard, misunderstood tasks ahead of them.

Our Black Dog

… Diesel the Wonder Dog

His nose propelled the sliding back screen door open

and that door yielded to his enthusiastic anxiety to share the wonders of unattended sprinklers in his back yard.

Fun that must be shared, if en passant, with the family.

Suddenly the screams are not confined to the flat screen.

Suddenly the accents of dismay and suffering have an Australian twinge.

Bare legs recoil

Footprints on tee shirts

Big tongue

Black hairy grinning face.

The Summer of 2014 was not so bad.

Morning on the Highway

The Road

A January Dawn.

The sun is up and the air is hot already.
We are 160 kilometres from home – time to change drivers.
Yumali sits quiet and warm by the highway.
I have often travelled this Adelaide – Melbourne road and, thinking back over the last half century or so, I don’t remember Yumali being anything but quiet … but not always this quiet.

The air is beautiful.
The quiet is beautiful.
The light is beautiful.

The traffic is very light at this hour of the morning, but this stillness serves to make the noise of passing trucks all the more intrusive.
Distant magpies carol, singing honeyeaters make the songs singing honeyeaters make, and a very stroppy Willie Wagtail scolds this bald, bearded intruder.

Mrs and Mr Wagtail have claimed the old Yumali hall as their territory. They have a nest secreted away from the world in its dusty eaves.

The hall isn’t really “old” so far as “old” goes. It was built of concrete block work in 1960.
Even though this building is nine years younger than I am, it has an older, perhaps “timeless” authority than I could ever manage sitting there by the Sherlock Road intersection with the highway.
It looks old with an old kind of charm.
It is plain but lovely.

Yumali Hall Morning.

The weathered doors and woodwork make the building look a little bit unloved, but I am sure it is loved.
Its silence holds quiet echoes of the life and love it once held and felt.
I am sure that life and love lives in the hearts and memories of people living not far from these doors.

And peeking through the gap in the wooden doors, holding my phone camera to the hole, I can see an echo of that life.
I can take the photo and keep a wee trace of that lovely echo for myself.

Peeking Through the Gap

Something in me wants to stay.
Part of me wants to keep the silence for my own.
Part of me longs to be wrapped in the quiet.
Part of me wants to stop in Yumali and love this hall.
But we have roads to drive, journeys to make, promises to keep.

Yumali Hall is safe under the gaze of the Willie Wagtails.

The Foxian Telling of the Christmas Story.

It is two days before Christmas, and then it will be Christmas for twelve whole days – then we can take down our trees and get back to normal – well, as normal as we can manage. 

The past month of sales, and reindeer, and parties wasn’t Christmas
– that was Advent
Advent is kicked aside by crowds of paraders and party-ers, and retailers and exploiters, pretending that it is the Christmas season and that somehow, in their unbelief, that they can have a claim on Christmas. But they can’t.

Christmas is a Christian thing, but all may share in it.

It doesn’t belong to big retailers or grocery shops.
It doesn’t belong to people of other religions or of no religion.
But Christmas is offered to those others to share, so they may be blessed through it.

Of course, the blessings are very temporary if they are hidden or subverted – we’ve all seen that is so.

Christmas isn’t just another party day
And it certainly has nothing really with trees and tinsel, lightbulbs and laughter,
parties and pageants and presents.

It really has not much to do with St Nicholas (whose day was back on the 6th December), and who has been kidnapped and parodied in the fat fatuous fiction of Father Christmas or Santa Claus.

Christmas is so much more important than shallow frippery
… it calls for and deserves quiet, joyful, respectful, loving respect of it and of those people around us. 

It should be a gathering in celebration with friends and family.

Many of us work so hard at celebrating – not necessarily celebrating joy or anything like that, but celebrating the spirit of competition, and celebrating what we imagine to be our personal achievements.
We erect so many coloured lights that darkness can be no more. Perhaps it is darkness inside us we are fighting.
Or perhaps all those lights are simply a sign that darkness has won.
It’s filled us with an irrational fear – We are afraid of being left out in the dark
… fear of being left out
… fear of being judged by our peers
… fear of not being accepted
… fear of appearing less than those around us.

It’s true.
BUT that can be treated with a good dose of REAL CHRISTMAS
with its love and kindness. It worked for Scrooge, and it can work for us.

Christmas is about Christ  …
Now whether or not you believe in Jesus Christ is your problem, I don’t want to hear about what you believe or not, or about how intelligent and rational you imagine yourself to be. This isn’t about what you or I believe. It’s about the Christ story. 

It’s about how humans can live – how humans MUST live if humanity is to survive …

The real Christmas story is more of a struggle than the story we usually see in our Nativity plays.

This baby we picture in the manger deserves to be our guide, our example, our inspiration …
He is important because, even if we don’t realise the truth ourselves,
that truth is that we need to be saved from heading down our destructive paths we are all too happy to follow, and to be restored to a right and healthy human way of living.

Delicate and soft … the baby came in a tiny parcel … a baby born into a low socio-economic group … born to a teenager without a ring on her finger … born in the squalor of real human existence, in a crappy unhygienic animal shed. Like all babies, he was born small and helpless.

And nobody cared.
Well, almost nobody cared.

Mary and Joseph cared of course … Mary had gone through a lot in this first pregnancy of hers … shock … supernatural visions … worry about the probable break up with her fiancé – but thankfully that didn’t happen…

All through her pregnancy, as her teenage unmarried belly swelled, there were wagging fingers, and the flapping tongues, of those who would judge and gossip.

She could see it all … she could feel the disapproval coming in waves … she could feel her worth being sucked away by the vibrations given out by the unloving uncaring people who glowed in the light of their own self worth.

She was shunned by the other young women – the “righteous” ones …the first-century yummy-mummies who gathered and postured in the market place wishing that coffee shops would soon be invented so they could put their insecurity and shallowness and hypocrisy on display in more comfort
– they gossiped and looked down their noses at Mary – they had their blokes and their mortgages – their wedding and engagement rings sparkled
– they didn’t get caught out on some dark night and have to carry the consequence sticking out in front of them for all to see and laugh about
– their babies were perfectly legal, good and kosher, and they were happy
– well, at least they said so – at least they made the effort to fool themselves into believing they were happy, and unafraid of the world.

But you know, they were afraid … and they still are.

The long journey, so close to Mary’s due date wouldn’t have been much fun.

At least it wasn’t snowing – despite what the Christmas cards might tell us, Jesus wasn’t born in mid-winter – sheep weren’t out in the fields in midwinter, they were safely penned and shedded in farm yards and village outskirts – even simple shepherds weren’t dumb enough to abide in icy fields.

But winter or not, there were no trains or busses – ancient Palestine was even worse than modern South Australia when it comes to public transport. It was a long walk, and the Bible doesn’t mention any donkey
… besides, she was a woman, and women walked behind.

So she and Joseph walked the 112 kilometres from Nazareth to Bethlehem … and when they finally arrived, as exhausted as they were, they prepared for the risky business of birth that day or the next.

But… families being families, things didn’t go as smoothly then as they could have. Joseph and Mary were an inconvenience.

They found themselves rejected by those they should have been able to depend on.

“No room in the inn” our traditional stories tell us – but the Bible doesn’t mention an inn
… what the Bible texts tell us is that there was no room in the extended family’s guest room – the kataluma. 
And doesn’t this make the story worse than telling us there was a full pub? Worse, because what this is saying on a human level is the cousins had “no room in their hearts for Joseph and his girl with a bun in the oven”.

So young Mary laboured in pain and sweat and fear in a stinking dark byre downstairs while the more worthy family guests partied and slept in the comfort of clean sheets upstairs in the breezy upper rooms on the roof reserved to impress more important visitors.

And down there, in the sad, grim dark, she gave birth to the baby we recognise as Light in a dark world.

Consider the stories about him. 
His ways could be our ways, and his ways were kindness and peace and love.
Often, when he grew up, we are told that he said “Go and do likewise” when he did an act of kindness or of wonder . Imagine if we did.
What a great ongoing Christmas present that would be – for us and for everybody!

Even if you do not, or cannot, believe that this kid is “God in the Flesh” we can all learn a lot from him. His ways can be light in our darkness,
whatever our particular darkness may be. 

A very happy and merry Christmas to everybody who reads this!