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Category Archives: Flotsam and Jetsam

I never knew his name.

Last night a man died. I’ve known him now for over five years. I never knew his name.

There are thousands of homeless people living rough in Sydney. This man was one of them.

He was a gentle giant who didn’t have much to say except a whispered hello or thank you.

My husband and I live in a very swanky apartment complex by the harbour. We first encountered our very own homeless person on the night we moved in. It was a balmy summer’s night and he was sound asleep on a bench by the water’s edge. His gentle snoring made us tip-toe past so we wouldn’t wake him.

In the five plus years since there hasn’t been a day when we haven’t seen him. He was adopted by both the residents and commercial operators in this complex. If it rained he took shelter under an awning near a fire escape. Umbrellas would magically appear. Residents fed him; clothes given to him. Security wouldn’t move him on instead only checked that he was ok and had everything he needed. A locker was provided for his few possessions. At night his gentle snores could be heard if you went outside to look at the stars reflections playing on the water. The seagulls congregating for their morning breakfast of breadcrumbs from his dinner the previous night, were a welcome wake-up call.

He didn’t want emergency housing. He liked Pyrmont, and so he stayed.

He became ill this week. Hot soup became a staple. A doctor was organised to come and pay him a house call. There was great concern for his health. He refused to go to hospital and died in the early hours of yesterday morning.

I don’t know if there is any family but he had become a part of our community for over a decade. He will be missed.

There are no gentle snores tonight.

Today I learnt his name. It was Andy.

Andy's  Bench. Photo c/- Marcelle Hoff

Andy’s Bench.
Photo c/- Marcelle Hoff


With the death of the amazing @no_left_feet and the demise of #artwiculate I’ve spent the last 24 hours alternating between crying my eyes out and being so angry I could spit chips

Twitter has been an illuminating experience for me. I would never have thought it possible that within the 140 character construct, you could develop friendships that are every bit as strong and meaningful as non-cyber, life-long, real friends.

Because twitter is an open, uncensored slather, just like life itself, you have to deal with the best and the worst in society. The goodies shine through with an aura which makes them so special.

The bad are those who are bullies and racists, who are driven by negativity and a real desire to spoil, who can and will make life difficult for those of us who just want to have fun, be better informed, be entertained, be stimulated, and be open to all possibilities

This has been the case with #artwiculate, a daily word game that cluttered time lines throughout the world with wit, hilarity and extraordinary cleverness. It was my early ventures into this game that unexpectedly resulted in good friends being made; some I’ve met in the real world, some I intend to meet and others if I can possibly organize it. These friends on twitter have become part of my daily life.

As a result of the constant barrage from trolls who are cyber’s equivalent to vandals and bullies, the artwiculate site has been closed. It is a helluva shame. I don’t blame the artwiculate site creators who, at their own personal cost, have run the site for three years, have had to put up with their site being hacked in the last few months, as well as also being the recipient of the abuse generated by one or two.

See previous blog post

This does give me a chance to thank those artwiculate players with whom I’ve connected over the past 10 months or so.  I’m grateful for their patience as they taught me how to index (thanks Viv, Liv, Elisaki and George), changed my avi when I couldn’t, and put up with my random musings often with expletives undeleted that should have offended and never seemed to.

It was through artwiculate I came across @no_left_feet, also known as @one_right_foot. I only knew her as Hops. I didn’t know her name until yesterday when I read about her death at the age of 36.

Fuck, she was funny.

At no stage did her illness seem to taint the approach she brought to twitter. She was always on for a game. When she released the news a couple of months ago that her cancer had returned she remained positive and upbeat. If anyone was going to beat this it was going to be Hops through the power of laughter.

I always sat back when I saw @designarhyme and Hops on my TL as I knew I was in for a laugh a minute ride watching two master wordsmiths at work. It was like watching two duelling fencers. Rhyming couplets at ten paces. It didn’t matter what was the subject matter, the rhyming duel was on. It was flirtatious, clever, apt, often very naughty and always very funny. I got caught up with them a couple of times when I’d be rhymed out after 3 or 4 attempts and I’d sit back, follow their conversation, and roar with laughter until I’d snort, which is especially embarrassing if one is drinking coffee at the time.

How you set about explaining to a group of tweatherns (thank you Silia), people who don’t tweet, that you are crying for a woman you’d never met, whose real name you never knew and who lived on the other side of the planet, is not easy.

The attempted explanations are a real indication of what is good about twitter, and what was good about #artwiculate. There is a  sense of community devoid of the boundaries that usually divide. Boundaries of nationality, ethnicity, religion, class or life experiences become irrelevant, and instead are replaced by the shared joy of life in general, and word games in particular.

This joy of life Hops had in buckets and is why we all recognise just how much she will be missed.

If you want to see evidence of the good in this social networking world we call twitter then connect via the link below, to a collection of tweets starting off with an ode to @no_left_feet written by @designarhyme, as well as other contributions from across the planet courtesy of the compilation work by @milesorru

#RIPAmanda #FuckCancer


Photo by author

The Australian Flowering Christmas Bush that wouldn't

It stands at the front gate of our holiday house in Jervis Bay in all of its 30’ majesty exuding the health of the well-fed and well-watered, a welcoming beacon to all comers. The Flowering Australian Christmas Bush is one of the few original trees (or more accurately, shrubs) planted when His Nibs and I first built here over 26 years ago

The Flowering Christmas Bush, like the Flowering Gum, was always going to be on our ‘to plant’ list when we came to design (using the word loosely) our garden.  These trees were an ever present part of my childhood along with mondo grass, parsley growing everywhere like weeds, agapanthus, clivias and gardenias. The christmas table was always decorated with the red flowers of the Christmas Bush punctuated with the purple of the agapanthus, and the scent of the gardenias transcending all.

Irony in nature doesn’t immediately spring to mind when considering plants. Mother Nature’s sense of humour is a given when considering the birds, bees, fish and beasts. Anyone can suggest a giraffe, a dugong, the dodo or peacock and a wry smile emerges at their weird evolutionary bizarredness. But plants – no, nothing readily comes to mind. This is probably more an indictment of my pathetic lack of knowledge of the plant world. What little Australian flora and fauna I recognise comes more from May Gibbs than any gardening tome

So over the last 26 years, towards the end of each year, I have carefully scanned our Flowering Christmas Bush to see if there was any evidence of a floral tribute. No, nothing, always nothing.  The tree has always been, and still remains, disgustingly healthy, but no flowers have been forthcoming.  For 20 years there have been many discussions about what to do, google has been unsuccessfully searched, any and all bush remedies considered.

The most drastic remedy was forcefully suggested each year by my mother. (God I miss Bet). A 5’2” pocket dynamo whose sweetness of demeanour and ready humour belied the gypsy warrior woman she was.  “Burn the bloody thing” was her solution; “Set fire to the base of the tree and let it rip” was her instruction. Each year with the absence of flowers, and my tearing my hair out at this botanical recalcitrance, Bet would emerge with a box of matches ready to do the dreaded deed. The fact that we live on the Jervis Bay National Park bush line, and to light a fire at anytime of the year even in a snow storm (which historically we have never had except during the last ice age) would result in legal consequences too dire to contemplate, was dismissed by her as a mere bagatelle. We’d hose Bet down, and no match, lit or unlit, was permitted within the immediate vicinity of ‘the tree’.

Photo by author

One of next door's Flowering Christmas Bush towards the end of the flowering season.

We’ve cut said tree back at those ‘special’ times of the year, and when the moon was full, when waxing, when waning, when the moon was doing both simultaneously, during a planetary lineup, the passage of Haley’s comet, all to no avail.  Special concoctions were prepared to ‘feed’ the tree. One year an entire packet of Epsom Salts was watered into its root system resulting in more luscious looking leaves, but still no flowers.

The Christmas after Bet died, some seven flowering seasons ago, the tree gave forth eight individual flowers. Those of you who are acquainted with Flowering Christmas Bush will know just how teeny weeny the individual flower is.  The splendour of the Christmas Bush is the clumping together of individual flowers resulting in huge and splendid ruby red splashes of colour that grace so many Australian gardens. I came in so excited to inform all and sundry I had eight individual flowers on the Christmas Bush. His Nibs wanted to know their names. Bastard! Since that memorable year it’s been a floral wasteland.

I gave up. For years now we’ve done nothing at all to the tree content to let it grow, and prune it when it became too big.  Friends asked us if it really was a Flowering Christmas Bush (it is) and why didn’t we cut it down. The tree has become a haven for the little birds: the sparrows, finches and Mr & Mrs Wagtail, old friends for whom we’re happy to provide a home.

It was with profound shock, when we arrived at Jervis Bay this year, to find that our sentinel had flowers, a crop of them.  One small branch had flowered. Why? We have absolutely no idea. This floral blemish on an otherwise beautifully green leafed tree even occasioned comment from our neighbours who, to add insult to injury, have three magnificent examples of fully functioning Flowering Christmas Bushes, all in that glorious dark red colour. Over the years they’ve watched with much amusement at our various attempts to get the tree to flower, and commiserated with us when it didn’t.

Photo by author

A rainbow lorikeet nibbling on the few flowers I have on my Christmas Bush

Of course nothing is ever easy. The branch with the flowers attached is too high to pick as decoration so, of course, I’m left with no option other than to purchase my Flowering Christmas Bush flowers at outrageous cost from happy florists. If ever there is an example of the definitive botanical raspberry this tree is responsible for it. Bastard of a tree! Will we ever cut it down? Never! It has become another eccentric member of our extended family – a tree with personality and attitude.

Ain’t nature grand!?

TOSKA: 1997-2011



– the standard poodle with attitude.

There are those who say that you can’t be all things to all men. Well, they should have been introduced to my dog. He would sum up a person in 30 seconds, and then turn into the kind of dog that person not only wanted, but also needed.

To my mother Bet, Toss was the gentle dog who would never think of doing anything tear-away; he was my son’s partner in crime participating in all sorts of tear-away activities, my daughter’s main amour, my sister’s assistant in all things, especially cooking, my husband’s chief brown nosing companion and confidant, and as for me  – he was my shadow.

It didn’t matter what kind of sport Australia was playing on the other side of the world at whatever outrageous hour of the morning, he would be there at my side. From Rugby to cricket to tiddlywinks, as I shouted joyously; abused refs, and complained about the lack of strategic game play, he would participate, sometimes a little too loudly. Over the last 14 years we have seen live to air all rugby and cricket world cups, ashes, Olympics, etc.  We saw all seven of Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France wins – ALL LIVE. With the seventh victory I explained that this was history. He understood.

The family acquired Toss in Easter week of 1997, and, we lost him this Easter week, 14 years later.

I don’t want to rewrite history by trying to claim Toss was some sort of canine paragon of virtue. He wasn’t. However, his naughtiness found its form in the most delightfully eccentric ways.

Bet came home one afternoon to find him on the kitchen bench. We don’t know how he got there; nor how long he was perched there, but he couldn’t get down. To while away the hours he had consumed a barely used jar of Vaseline. We don’t know how he removed the lid without doing any damage to the jar. He did. For years he had the best lubricated gastro-intestinal tract of any pooch.

Toss loved cheese. He was French after all.

At one memorable party the entire contents on a cheese platter disappeared. An announcement that cheese and coffee was being served in the formal dining room resulted in one of our guests coming to inform me that there was no cheese. The dog was a perfect picture of outraged innocence. The small remaining crumb of the skin of the missing entire double Brie attached to his chin was the damning indictment to his perfidy. Costello blue, aged cheddar, and Stilton had also disappeared. At another party he had finished the two remaining slices of Ruth’s famous New York baked cheesecake. This had saved me from the usual dispute among guests as to who was going to have the last pieces. (You think I jest? Not I.)

One year, as a Christmas present, Bet had given me the very large edition of the Macquarie dictionary, weighing in at 22 tonnes. I came home to find that Toss had consumed all of the As and a large section of the Bs.  I explained in terms most colourful that this was not the way to increase his vocabulary. He was contrite and didn’t continue into the Cs.

My favourite act of naughtiness was when Toss had the shits with anyone of us. He would steal all the scatter cushions and pillows from all rooms, and build a fortress of solitude in the formal dining room.  He would be found later sound asleep in solitude

We had a dinner for him on his last night. My son who was working Sun evening had come to say good-bye in the morning, and we had breakfast at our local restaurant. Darcy ordered a double helping of sausages – just for the dog. My daughter and her partner, Alexis, were coming over for dinner, and I had decided to barbeque sausages – Toss loved sausages, especially pork sausages. He had developed the knack of stealing sausages from a barbeque without burning his nose.

Friends from Brisbane also came to dinner bringing dessert.  We had an uproarious night, full of remember whens, what ever happened to …, slanderous gossip, and lots of laughter. Thank God for Pam and her family! She is somehow always around when there is a crisis in ours.  Pam’s outrageous humour, as well as her unique view of the world and its inhabitants, has saved us too many times to count over the past 35 years or more.

Toss was toasted by all, and thanked for being the very best dog a dog could be, and then fed tidbits by everyone, something which was not permitted until these past weeks.

His last day was spent sitting in the sun while helping me do the crossword, although my heart wasn’t in it. Sophie suggested we go to Petersham Park, our old stamping ground, on the way to the vet. What a brilliant idea!  Despite the two-year absence he immediately recognized where we were and tried to bolt, which, of course, he could no longer do. So his last hour was spent happily pottering around a place he felt he owned; catching up with an old Labrador mate, who also looked like he was on his last legs, and greeting our ex-neighbour like a long lost brother.

He died quickly, happily and peacefully – as it should be for one so special.

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