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“Tiny lines of cotton that hold the world together,” said my grandfather, but he would — he was a romantic.
He wanted me to see what he saw, romance, adventure, creation.
“A woman comes to me with a dream. I never ask what that dream is, but I know it lingers beneath the request.” I need a dress for a formal occasion, might translate into, My husband is losing interest in me, and I want to knock his socks off.
Or maybe the lady is trying to impress the other women in her circle — that’s serious business, or so I have been told.”
I was twelve when this conversation took place, and within a year my grandfather would be found in his workroom, needle in hand, the life having ebbed out of him. No one said he had a smile on his face, but I’d like to think so.
“The customers I love are the ones who come to me because they want to please themselves. They know they are beautiful and they realise that the clothes I make for them complement their beauty and poise. From the time they step in the front door of my shop we are engaged in a dance. A creative dance. They don’t spell everything out for me, I’m expected to participate, do my part. When I have made the garment and done the final fitting, we both know that the dance is coming to an end. The exceptional customers participate in a denouement — they let me know if the garment had the desired effect. I love it when they prolong the dance.”
I was way too young to understand the undercurrents of my grandfather’s observations, but I guess he hoped that his words would stay with me, ring in my ears at a later date.
It was never my intention to go into the family business. I could think of nothing worse than being confined in a shop fussing over women with more money than sense.
I rebelled and left home as soon as I was able. I travelled and worked and soaked up life until I thought I might burst.
Every time I saw a beautiful woman I examined her clothes — off the rack or made to measure — you can always tell.
I remember the look I got from a girl in Paris when she caught me examining the stitching on her skirt. She wasn’t wearing it at the time. She wasn’t wearing anything at all, and neither was I. We were taking a break during a long session of lovemaking on an autumn afternoon. The view from her apartment was stunning, and the sight of her was equally so, but I could not resist the urge to find out how well her clothes were made.
“Have you checked the hems to see if there is anything hidden in them,” I said.
“No, why would I?” she said.
“Some old school dressmakers will hide little things like tiny pieces of paper with something inscribed, or a fragment of ancient cloth. They feel it personalises their work.”
The naked lady thought I was marginally less crazy after my explanation and we continued to tangle erotically for several more months until she left me for a trumpet player. I minded, but I got over it and continued my travels.
Whenever the money ran out, I would seek employment, and on more than one occasion I got work at bespoke dressmakers — not the usual job for a young man, but I had my family’s name, and it opened a few doors, even if I did end up sweeping more often than designing and sewing.
I didn’t care; I was free.
The Telegram caught up with me when I was staying in a provincial city in Spain. My father had died, and my mother was distraught.
It took me a few days to get back home, but they waited for me.
After the funeral, while everyone was eating little sandwich triangles and drowning their sorrows, I went to my father’s shop, the same shop that my grandfather had owned. The gold letters on the glass door spelled out my family name.
The rest you can probably work out for yourself.
Your dress is now complete. I hope you are happy with the work?
I know it is none of my business, but I was wondering why you wanted me to make it for you?
“I don’t need another dress. I just like spending time in your shop without igniting the gossips. Does my admission shock you? Have I ruined our friendship?”
Not at all, but you might want to take the dress off.
You wouldn’t want to get it all wrinkled.

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Painting by Jack Vettriano

 

 

Independent Woman?

15965736_10209412426081227_7493774806835182712_nI remember thinking that it was unfair (I can hear my dad saying, ‘who told you life was fair?’) that talented female writers had to resort to submitting their work under a male name to get attention from publishers. It has happened even in the modern era — JK Rowling admitted that she used initials to give the impression that she might be a male.

Now, the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way (or is it my imagination?).

As you have probably worked out (if you are a reader of my work) some of my major characters are female. I love writing through the eyes of a female protagonist.

My mind started wondering (it does that a lot) what name would I use were I to publish as a woman and more importantly, what would I look like?

I can’t be too butch, or it would defeat the purpose, so what would I look like?

Of course, the whole experiment could stop at the name, but you know me when my mind gets involved.

I imagine myself as an independent woman (no shortage of those at the moment so I should blend right in). I’m probably at the peak of (or slightly past) my prime, beauty wise. I have a lot of ‘admirers’, but no ‘significant other’.

I pay my own way, but I will let a man lavish me if it gives him pleasure.

I only go out with men who drive interesting cars, and a mud-splashed four-wheel drive will see me come down with a sudden headache.

I have reasonable taste in clothes, and I’m not afraid to pay for advice about personal presentation.

I sleep in the middle of a large bed, and I only drink the finest wines, but I prefer spirits (never to excess).

I can talk sports and cars with the men, and I know how to change a tyre, but for obvious reasons, I’ve never had to.

I eat well, but I don’t obsess about my figure.

I need time to myself, especially when I’m in the middle of a good book.

I enjoy all musical styles except for whatever my neighbours are playing.

I avoid travel unless there are interesting people at the end of the journey — trains come first followed by open-top sports cars, buses at a pinch, but never budget airlines.

The people in my life (male and female) must be able to bring something to the conversation (small talk is reserved for the chance encounters and that annoying bloke who wants to intrude when I’m walking the dogs).

Of course, there must be dogs. It does not matter what size, but there must be dogs, and they don’t stay at home, they go where I go (with a couple of obvious exceptions). 

So there you have it — my flight of fancy.

And here’s to the amazing females in my life — the ones who inspire my characters and enrich my life.

Cheers.

They Leave Their Mark

opening-the-dusty-book

Old dust has a magical smell.

Old books collect old dust.

I never wipe away old book dust, I just let it sit there, on my fingertips.

Obviously, books hold the memories of the person who wrote them, but there are other kinds of memories there as well — those that are deposited by the people who have owned, handled and loved these books.

They leave their mark.

Sometimes as notes in a margin, or the creasing of a page corner, a coffee stain or a small tear. Some books have handwritten dedications, and some have names inscribed.

‘To William, on the occasion of his ninth birthday.’

‘To Penelope, Christmas 1958. Love Uncle John and Aunt Mary.’

I was fourteen when I discovered that books held secrets. I thought that everyone knew how to unlock those secrets, but I soon found out that I was wrong.

Billy MacDonald was my best friend — still is in fact, but the reason I refer to him is he was the first person I mentioned it to.

When I had finished my description, he looked at me as though I had beaten his cat to death with a large, fat South American banjo player.

He asked me if that really happened or was I just making it up, as usual. I quickly opted for just making it up as usual. This decision had a lot to do with the look in his eyes.

I never told anyone about it again — until now.

I did well at school and at university, but studying in the library made things difficult, as you can imagine. I often had to set an alarm because I was unable to detect the passage of time. If the alarm didn’t work, I could always rely on the librarian to jolt me back. She rarely asked me what I was doing or why I drifted off. I guess librarians see a lot of weird stuff and one more crazy guy didn’t make that much of a difference.

In the end, I had to resort to wearing gloves.

The plastic disposable kind was useless and made me look like I was permanently in an episode of a police procedural.

Winter was easier because no one took any notice of gloves, but the rest of the time I spent a lot of time saying, “Sensitive skin. The paper sets off my Psoriasis.” In the end, I had a sign made, and I would hold it up or simply point to it in a disinterested way.

Pretty much everyone thought I was weird, and the gloves were the least of it, but no matter how weird you may be there is always someone who will love you.

Catherine Margaret Lanier, or ‘Cat’ for short, thought that I was mildly handsome and strangely interesting.

For my part, I thought she was way too beautiful to be interested in anyone like me. At least four points separated us on the attractiveness scale.

She had cool friends and my friends all felt that she was too good for me and should instead, be with them. I had a sneaking suspicion that they were right and I resolved to make the most of my good fortune while it lasted. She was incredibly good at lovemaking, and I hoped that she would not notice that I was always running to keep up. Amazingly, she didn’t get sick of me or find out how inept at life I am, and she hung around — for a very long time.

We both graduated from university, and she went on to carve out a successful career in medicine.

Despite my qualifications, all I ever wanted to do was work around old books. Cat understood, which was just as well because working in secondhand bookstores never paid the rent. It barely paid for the petrol to drive to the job. It got a bit better when I got jobs with a succession of Antiquarian booksellers, and my current job, which is at the top of Collins Street in Melbourne, means that I can leave the car at home and catch the number 112 tram to work. It takes less than an hour, and I always get a seat. I carry a book with me and rarely am I asked why I am wearing gloves.

The boss thinks that I approach my work very professionally because I supply my own white cotton gloves. Most of the books that we sell are not that expensive, and only a few are museum quality, but the gloves do add an exotic air to the establishment.

Back in our university days, we did what most students did at that time — we experimented with all sorts of substances, but Cat and I agreed that nothing compared to the experience of touching an ancient book.

Cat does not have my ability, and to be honest, I haven’t come across anyone else who has. That’s not to say that there isn’t someone out there, it’s just that I haven’t come across them as yet.

I can take Cat with me by simply holding her hand — without gloves, of course.

When I was a child, my parents considered me to be very easy to look after. I was self-entertaining. I played in my room for hours at a time, or in my father’s well-stocked library.

My father had inherited his father’s book collection, and some of the books went back even further than my great grandfather. I doubt that my father had read many of the books, but I have. The books in that library are no more magical than books in any library, but I didn’t know that.

The truth was that I’m the magical one, but I guess that word magical gets worked to death so let’s say, insightful.

If I touch a book with my bare hands, I am transported to the world and time of the author.

Sometimes I am whisked off to the world that a previous owner of the book inhabited.

I’ve found myself in Dickens’ study and the Bronte’s drawing room. Wells wrote most of his books while sitting in his garden and I’ve sat right next to him. These days no one remembers much about Anthony Trollope and he is best remembered as the bloke who invented the post box. He wrote most of his vast collection of novels while travelling to work by train in Victorian England. I sat next to him on those trains on many an occasion.

Sometimes I simply see a story unfold in much the way that you do at the cinema, but often I am right in the middle of the action. It does not seem to matter that I am not dressed appropriately, no one appears to notice. The authors and the previous owner always greet me as though they have known me all their lives. I feel loved and accepted — what more could any man ask for?

There are times when it is tough to break the bonds and return to the here and now, and if it were not for Cat, I think I would be tempted to stay far longer than would be good for me. But, I always return to her, and she seemed to understand my need to travel in this unique manner.

I took her to spend some time with Napoleon Hill when she was feeling a bit down. He’s an awesome bloke, and after talking with him for a few hours, Cat was feeling much better, and we returned home happily.

I could continue on for ages and ages describing the adventures I have had and the people I have met, but now it is time for you to get some sleep. It’s your birthday tomorrow, and I’m pretty sure that you will find some beautiful, dusty old books among your presents. I remembered that you said you liked stories about Egypt.

Turning eighteen is still a big deal, even in this ultra modern world. I have tried to treat all my grandchildren equally, but you know that you have always been my favourite. Your parents would never let me tell you about my ability and I had to respect their wishes until now. You are all grown up, and you deserve to know that your ability is a gift and not a curse. What you do with it is up to you, but it is your right to choose. If I had the right, I would say, go out and find someone you can share your life and your abilities with. Someone who will love you and travel with you through life.

That’s my story, and now I have to go back and sit with your grandma. She doesn’t always know who I am these days but when we travel she is always her old self and I’ve got a particularly good book set in Scotland, and we have always wanted to see Scotland.

Good night my darling granddaughter.

Be well, be happy and don’t forget to be awesome.

The distressed Travellers’ Club

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I turned up at my local train station on my birthday to find that they had removed the ticket machine.

In it’s place there was one of those confusing new Myki (Mouse?) machines.

Unlike most travelers I only travel occasionally so I don’t carry tickets with me.I only had a few minutes until my train arrived so my ancient brain had to work this out in a hurry.

The machine had slots for coins, paper money, credit cards and eftpos.

That’s a lot of pressure!

I decided on eftpos. I put the card in and it said EFTPOS, which seemed like a good start. I stood there and I waited, but EFTPOS was all it said. I went back to the main screen and selected “Buy a MYKI card”. The machine said “Do you want to top up your MYKI card?” Well no, actually, I want to buy one.

At this point the computer generated voice came over the PA telling us that my train would be along anytime now.

More pressure.

I decided to do what all ancient people do, I asked the nearest young person how this thing was supposed to work. He looked at it and said he didn’t think it was going to give me a card.

Wise words.

I pointed out that there was a “Buy a Myki card” option. I pressed it again just to show him, and again it asked me if I wanted to top up my MYKI card.

“You’re stuffed mate”.

Yes, I was.

Visions of a $120 train ride spun through my head but I needed to be on that train, and it was my birthday, no one would give me a fine on my birthday………… would they??

When I got to my destination I knocked on the ticket box door because I could not get off the platform without a ticket. Naturally it was “change of shift time” but surprisingly a young man opened the gates for me and a young girl blocked them with her body and a trapped gentleman (of Indian extraction) used the opportunity to escape (he had been standing in front of the gates for several minutes waving his MYKI card in the air but amazingly the gates would not open for him!)

I was momentarily distracted by the flash of the escaping Indian but I did notice that the girl who blocked the gates from closing did not even look up from her iPhone, she simple moved her body slightly so as to stop the gates from closing.

It seems that there is no age discrimination when it comes to the fraternity that is ‘the distressed travellers’ club’.

I thanked the thoughtful member of the younger generation but I don’t think she heard me. Her job was done and she was back to waiting for…… the next train, her boyfriend? I guess I’ll never know.

I wandered over to the ticket window as I figured that I was probably going to need one of these mythical MYKI cards. It was indeed a ‘change of shift’ so the young fella who let me out was now heading for the door and a brand new person was going to serve me in “just a minute”. I didn’t mind waiting it had been entertaining so far and I was looking forward to what happened next.

The lady behind the counter eventually spoke in that voice that quickly tells you that she has said this several times before……….. the card was going to cost me $6 (this seemed a bit rich as I was not going to be allowed on a train without one so now I’m paying for the privilege of paying to get on a train! But, this was no time to rock the boat.)

The lady cautioned me against putting too much money on the card in case I lost it. I guess she thought that I looked like the kind of bloke who lost stuff which is not true. It is true that I forget stuff which I guess is the same as I sometimes forget where I put stuff. Anyway, the lecture on the wonders of the MYKI card continued until we got to the part where I felt I should ask a few questions. As I opened my mouth she pointed to the gentleman standing behind me and said, “George will answer all your questions”.

This was the first time I had noticed George.

Wow, this whole process has a ‘division on labour’. That’s so cool!

George did indeed ‘answer all my questions’ but nearly had a heart attack when I tried to take my card out of the machine before the green arrow appeared. “DON”T!!!!! If you take your card out too soon the next person will get all the money on their card!”

Very good advice, thank you George.

I got the distinct feeling that the staff thought that the whole system was insane and was designed to take money away from poor gullible people like me. “Remember to touch off otherwise the next time you touch on it will charge you for a whole day” I wonder how often that is going to happen, sounds like a real money spinner.

So what did I learn?

I learned that people will still go out of their way to help you and some of those people get paid and some just do it even though they have no idea who you are; they just know that you need help.

I wasn’t feeling all that well when the journey started but by the end of it I was reminded that every day is an adventure, whether we like it or not.

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She can smile……….. she knows how to use the damn thing.

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When all else fails, ask a young person……….. “You’re stuffed mate”.

TRAVEL

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Travel

For the last two weeks, I have had unlimited access to a vehicle that was ‘expenses free’.

I knew this opportunity was coming up and I made tentative plans to ‘go lots of places’.

Moreover, I intended to drive somewhere every day.

But in the end I just stayed home.

Why, I hear you ask?

Because I like it here.

Given the opportunity, my better half would travel to almost anywhere, almost any time.

I’m not exaggerating, despite my occasional trip to hyperbole-land, on this occasion I’m telling it straight.

Some people just need to be on the move, but I’m not one of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to drive. I own a beautiful classic car and I am supremely happy when I am ensconced behind its shiny wooden steering wheel. But even with this massive temptation sitting in my driveway I sometimes go for a couple of weeks without going anywhere.

I like it here.

I understand why people need to see the world, but I don’t understand why they put up with so much discomfort in order to see things that I can see simply by turning on my computer. Having said that, it is true that I cannot fully experience Venice or a distillery in Scotland without being there but neither can most of the people who travel.

The stories that most of our friends tell are of a constant blur of cities and churches and buses. They seem to be constantly exhausted and sometimes tell of ‘sleeping through’ their visit to some random famous site.

Just getting there seems to be a special torture.

The idea of sitting in a thin metal tube for the better part of a day and a half only to lose the next couple of days to jet lag is not my idea of fun. This is the kind of torture that only the CIA could think up.

Apparently several suspects have cracked under the threat of a flight to Australia! They are not worried about what will happen to them when they get here, as sunburn seems to be the worst we can inflict, but they cannot stand the idea of a 36-hour flight.

If Apple come up with a version of the Star Trek transporter I might not be first in line, but I will be there for iTransporter 2.01. Even the risk of a famous ‘transporter accident’ where I’m transported to an alternative universe where animals are treated with respect and politicians work for the betterment of their communities, would not dampen my enthusiasm for a weekend in Paris or a few days on the island of Islay.

But until that day arrives, I’m happy here.

My ancestors were Vikings, so maybe all the wanderlust has been bred out of me.

If you are a traveler, then don’t let me put you off, you enjoy yourself and if you need me you know where I’ll be.

I’ll be right here.