Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 27

Lane Closure
The Managers headed south to the city to await the birth of number one grandchild, leaving a skeleton staff. Mrs Boss and I were the ‘chosen ones’ to produce the evening meal. Meat, vegetables, a macaroni cheese concocted the previous day, and our never-made-before sweet a sticky date pudding were prepared as a joint effort.

With the preparation complete and placed in the bain marie, soon the dining room rattled and clanged with the sound of cutlery and crockery as diners partook their evening substance. Mr Boss, feeling a need to show his ‘mine host’ skills moved amongst the dining tables making friendly conversation to two older couples that were guests for the night.

As is so often the case, conversation tends to center on the weather. The drought was top of the list. Straight faced and serious, Kevin told them that at Dalwallinu, in the wheat belt to the south where a drought was in evidence, it was so dry that they had to close two lanes of the local swimming pool. By this time I was sitting having my tea and turned around to see the looks on their faces. I couldn't believe it when one of the women looked shocked and said, "Really! That is so bad!" Kevin saw me looking and asked for my confirmation … I replied that lanes one and six were closed. I went into the kitchen to relate the conversation causing Pam and I to almost collapse with laughter. Later Kevin comes into the kitchen, and splitting his sides relates the whole episode. To me the closure of a lane because of the shortage of water was such a joke. It was beyond simple comprehension how those folks didn’t twig to the massive leg-pull. Pam considers Kevin wastes his wit, as frequently those it is directed to fail to ‘catch on’.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 26

Gardening Effort

There were ten green bottles hanging on the wall
Ten green bottles hanging on the wall
And if one green bottle should
There'll be nine green bottles hanging on the wall.

The little ditty that many of us learned at primary school has been rolling around my mind for much of the day. Not that I have been indulging in strong liquor and leaving green bottles all over the place … no … something entirely different caused this refrain to echo in the mind.

Several weeks ago I sent south to the big city of Perth for some flower seeds. I am not really a keen gardener. I like gardens but dislike the hard work involved. I realise that if weeding is kept up as a regular weekly chore the hard work is minimised. There is no garden at the pub. Perhaps that is the reason I suddenly had an urge to grow flowers. I decided on the variety … nasturtiums. Even the novice gardener, or would be gardener, can grow nasturtiums.

At my previous home I had thrown a packet of nasturtium seeds into a raised garden at the back door. The eaves kept the area dry but it was also reasonably sheltered from frosts. In my present abode there is no worry about frosts and as for dryness … we seldom have rain. Nasturtiums that are over watered will send all their energy into leaves … lovely big leaves; round leaves with slightly scalloped edges. Starved of water the plant sends its energies into reproduction … the creation of flowers. Nasturtiums send forth colourful blooms; deep orange, pure yellow, and sometimes a reddish brown flower raises it head.

I know cooks who add nasturtium flowers to salads. I confess to not being a fan of flowers in salads, but that is just my opinion. The flowers have a distinctive peppery aroma and they give a homely ambivalence to a kitchen if placed in a glass of water. Within moments their heads droop over the edge of the glass. The water magnifies the stems and somehow the whole effect, while simplistic, has a certain charm.

I waited for the packet of seeds to arrive in the post. Wrapped in foil and placed inside a colourful wrapper the packet was enticing. I carefully opened the foil and counted the seeds. There were seventeen. Now I remember when a packet of seeds of exactly that … a packet of seeds. Seventeen!? Hardly a packet? In fact I go as far as to say that seventeen seeds must do nothing to entice novices into gardening. I planted three in a container, a plastic terracotta coloured container with its own matching saucer. I hunted around to find suitable places to plant the other fourteen. We have some old zinc baths on the balcony. You recall the baths [before plastic] we used to bathe in front of the fire on a Sunday night? Water was heated in the copper, and in summer that water was recycled by tipping it onto the garden.

I ignored the fact that some guests had previously used the baths as ashtrays. I suppose that was preferable to smoking inside this old building and preferable to tossing them over the balcony onto the street. It took only moments to push the seeds into the red dirt and a dousing with a few jugs of water ensured they had a good start in life. I sat back waiting for the day when the balcony was a riot of colour. I imagined tourists pointing in astonishment and taking photos of the wonderful picture they would portray.

A few days later three cats became residents of the hotel. Within hours of their arrival the zinc baths had their base use altered. No longer ashtrays … no longer flower plots … now they were cat latrines, and the seeds were scratched into oblivion. I began the nightly habit of taking my small container, with three seeds safely planted, inside. No longer could I leave my balcony door open. This doors acts as my window and in this warm climate it is essential the air be changed in a room daily. [After a few days the cats, for some unknown reason, keep a safe distance. Maybe it was the fact that I made loud noises and stamped my feet whenever they came within twenty feet of my door.]

My three plants thrived. I left them out for a longer time each day. Becoming daring I left them out over night. Nothing happened. The cats kept their distance and I relaxed. My gardening efforts were finally being rewarded. Then one morning I heard a noise. Day had not broken, the water reticulation was hosing the grass meridian strip, but the noise was definitely feline in origins. I swung the door open just in time to see one of the cats, a nosey white and black cat, jumping down from my nasturtiums. I let out severe words … threatened instant death to this four-legged interloper. I brought the plants inside.

Death has come to two of the nasturtium plants that were so nurtured. The third plant is ailing. It is bruised on the stem, but I have hopes it will survive. I have sprinkled a liberal coating of pepper all around and I have uttered threats of allowing the Blue Heelers upstairs and let lose on the balcony. In hindsight, I may have been wiser to buy cacti … prickly cacti. It was suggested I send the cats on a journey … throw them over the balcony onto the deck of a road train … preferably one that has over 1000 miles to travel before it reaches it final destination. I do know that cats have fallen down my list of favourite pets.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 25

Gone to the Dogs

Our family of dogs has decreased with the move south of the 'roo dog. No great loss as the power struggles between him and 'top dog' did nothing to induce a good nights' sleep. They growled at each other, they acted like small children fighting over a bone. The other day, as I was loading the washing machine, a growling match was carried out within a few feet of me. I couldn't make out exactly what was the problem … until the 'roo dog gave up his prize … the end nozzle of a hose! I was amazed such a fuss carried on over such a small piece of plastic. I said my goodbye to the 'roo dog … it was not difficult as I considered him the instigator of three quarters of the troubles. Admittedly I may be biased, but any dog that jumps up and is taller than I, and has teeth as big as a smiling crocodile gave me the shivers. Teeth that large and that close frightened me. No, I will not miss him at all.

We still have the two Blue Heelers. Bear, following an extensive course of pills to improve his eczema, has bloomed into good health. He has grown, outwards and upwards. He has confidence, and no longer cowers expecting a hiding that he received as a pup and which he so obviously dreaded. This morning dawned clear and bright, the suns rays warming the air that had been cool with biting winds whistling off the desert. I completed my chores and, taking advantage of the warmth, donned a cardigan, clipped the lead onto Bear and headed north.

Bear was ecstatic. He sniffed the ground and strained the leash. Cars and trucks were another story! He heard them coming, stopped and looked … until the moment they were opposite and at that critical moment he made a concerted attempt to chase the vehicle. I tightened the lead pulling his neck chain, thus making any dash impossible. It did take several attempted chases before he realised they were forbidden. He gave up, deciding obedience was the better part of valour!

On the town boundary Bear suddenly stood still. Gentle persuasion failed to get him moving. I looked to see exactly what the problem was. No animals hiding in the sparse vegetation, no crows hovering above, only a culvert under the highway that looked empty and innocent to my eyes. Bear had other ideas. I cajoled … he stood stubborn. I wheedled … he stood stubborn. There were no options but to persuade him nothing untoward lurked in the small tunnel. I hauled him towards the culvert … his ears lay flat, but after a closer inspection he decided that no danger lurked. We continued our walk.

Although a little rain has fallen on our parched earth over the last week it was impossible to ascertain where it landed. The ground was dry. Plants had not flourished. Signs of drought were abound. To Bear the smells were the most interesting. He sniffed the ground forcing me to follow an unseen path. We wandered towards the pepper tree that stood green and vibrant against the tan rocks lying exposed in a small hollow.

An abandoned mine site caused a flutter of excitement as Bear stretched to peer through the boarded-up shaft. Thankfully the shaft had a fence to protect curious sightseers. While I am extremely interested in how life must have been for miners over the last 100 years, I prefer to wonder from a distance. I imagine the hot summer and the cold winter and am thankful I missed the experience, fascinating though it may have been. Bear preferred to sniff as he explored this new environment. Mounds of rock, bushes designed to trap and hold moisture, and tiny stones lying on the ground all combined to make the walk an interesting diversion for us both.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My Time in Cue ~ Part 24

Things that go BUMP in the night

It all began when the Irish sisters arrived.

I have walked the long narrow corridors with ceilings so high one has to stretch their neck upwards, and never have I noticed anything untoward. I have, if I look carefully, seen spider webs hanging suspended from the pressed tin ceiling, and when the rains tumble from the usually brilliant blue sky, miniature waterfalls trickle from the ceiling, necessitating a bucket and mop brigade to sweep the blood red, though in reality only stained with the red dirt that abounds in The Outback, swirling waters out a door that remains locked.

I have often been woken in the darkness of a moonless night from sudden loud crashing noises emanating from downstairs. I lie awake listening. There is silence. Slowly as my eyes become heavy and sleep once again claims my senses I am left wondering if it was simply imagination. No one else hears the din, which left me to suspect they had retired much later than me and were in a state of deep sleep. In any elderly building … the hotel celebrated its centenary a few years ago … there are creaks and groans as indeed there is with centenarians. Loose floorboards squeak, doors rattle when the easterly winds whistle in from the desert, and curtains move quietly.

Often I notice a shadow passing the window and assume that someone is walking on the footpath outside. Or perhaps it is simply a low flying crow, those large black birds that squawk incessantly from the power lines, or the lone one that peers down the vent in the kitchen ceiling making what sound like indecent, and persistent calls as I prepare food. I ignored such noises and learned to close my ears, and eyes, to their increasing frequency.

Many nights I am the only resident asleep in the hotel and as I make my way to the bathroom for my ablutions or head down the darkened staircase to the lower level I am struck by the benevolent atmosphere that wraps itself around the building, like a warm comforting blanket in the middle of winter. When one of the dogs, or all of the dogs, have crept indoors … to keep warm … and curl up to pass the night hours on the orange soft chairs arranged conversationally on the upstairs landing, suddenly twitch their ears or open their eyes as if expecting to have a friendly hand pat them … no one is there.

One day the Irish sisters arrived. Nothing has been the same since.

A girls' night in the cottage evolved into what could have been a night of tales around a flickering campfire. Instead of simple songs such as sung at Girl Guide camps, ghostly tales were whispered, while outside the wind howled around the ancient building and branches of the palm tree scratched eerily on the tin walls.

But I progress too quickly with this tale.

The sisters' arrival at the hotel could only be called singularly surprising. The girls had called into an employment agency seeking work, preferably in the country, as they have a declared interest in horsemanship. And … they desired to be together, which is completely normal when so far from their native land. Their particulars were taken. Unfortunately the agency had no such positions on their books, but a promise was made they would be informed the moment any suitable jobs became available.

They barely noticed the middle-aged couple sitting behind them in the interview room. The couple were looking for a housemaid and a barmaid, and informed the receptionist that the two Irish girls were exactly who they were looking for.

Hardly a block away, sitting in a coffee shop awaiting their cappuccinos, a telephone buzzes in one of the girl's handbags. The outcome of that call was that the girls travelled north a few days later … settling in to what was initially a 'culture shock' [their words] situation.

They listened to the tales that became increasingly spookier … tales of ghostly bodies dripping blood staring out from mirrors, tales of suddenly becoming aware that hairs standing up on the back of your neck combined with a cold clammy feeling were not natural. When they dispersed to their separate rooms it was with trepidation. Next morning the conversation continued.

It was then that the Irish sisters mentioned ghosts in our building. When we enquired as to the form these ghostly happenings occurred I was surprised to be told about shadows walking past the windows. One of the girls was standing not far from the window, and being of a curious nature, had stepped closer to the pane to see exactly who was out in the cold of the early morning. To her utmost surprise she could see no one …from either direction. This happened twice, convincing her of a ghostly influence.

She related the noises … voices from the walls of an empty room, music that played gently but when checked out it stopped. She went on … the bangs erupting from downstairs and no explanation as to its source.

I confess to laughing the matter off, asking if one of them was the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. No … they were not.

Not wishing them to scare others I asked if they felt the ‘presence’ benevolent or malevolent. They had to confess to not being afraid. Since that day I listen carefully for other examples of what may well be ghostly presences, but feel I will not bother to investigate too closely unexplained disturbances or noises. Some things are best left to be wondered at.