Category Archives: Creative writing

the upside of the downside

Some of these are daily sins in my office 😀

Our departmental higher-ups decreed that everyone in our Branch must complete training to improve our writing skills. In principle, this is a fine thing. Examples of Other People’s poor writing and grammar often reach our email inboxes. There’s always room to refine communication skills and hone jargon to best suit intended purpose. I looked through the workbook for the training that’s aimed at public servants at my level, and quaked in my shoes at the idea of that occupying a full day; the amount of time allocated.

As a side note and in my defence, I have spent years of my life working as an editor and proofreader. I know that my understanding of grammatical constructs is streets ahead of what’s in the workbook. In sum, it’s my strong suspicion that I’m one for whom this training would be frustrating at best and a complete waste of time at worst. I don’t imagine I’ll be the only one for whom that is true. Age is a factor, because I’m of a generation that still learnt about grammar at primary school. In my case, those skills were refined by further study that involved Latin and Italian.

The training was to have been face-to-face; inescapable, in a word and not possible to have hidden down the back with my knitting or crochet. Now that we’re in lockdown and everything is once again up in the air? The training has been postponed indefinitely. Thank you, Covid!

It’s all right. I’ll show myself out 🙂


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a measured challenge


Bits of everything, both old and new, on the other side of the street

This is my response to a creative writing challenge that I set for our group: 400-or-so words addressing the topic of Modern Urban Architecture: love it or hate it? My photographic hint included the biomedical precinct.

YoungB and I both work in “smart” urban buildings.

His epitomises light, and thoughtful design. It is cutting-edge green, distinctively shaped and immediately eye-catching. One face echoes the line of rail and river defining its precinct’s northern border. It is well established, but provokes strong opinions and comments. I love the cheese-grater. You might hate it.

My refurbed building claims equal greenness. It is Bauhaus squarematches its constraining streetscape and provokes zero comment. Its internals include automatically calculated number of travellers per lift, motion-sensor-operated lights, airconditioning that kicks in as needed, and entrance doors whose opening width varies with incoming numbers. On my level at my workstation, this equates to perennial gloom and aircon that rarely works as intended, meaning hot-spots and iceboxes within a few metres of each other; surely a design fail. As to the rest? I yearn for fresh air and sunshine.

Many modern urban buildings seem irretrievably ugly: some because they are so out of sympathy with existing buildings that you wonder they ever received planning permission, others because they are plonked four-square into a space, with bitsy facade interruptions that do little but provide excellent burglar handholds. Viewed from the street, there is nothing attractive about them.

Down by the river, the hospital provides some visual interest for a structure whose form must serve its function.To me, other buildings in the precinct seem ugly. One is riddled with zig-zag timbers that look like forgotten bits of scaffolding, particularly when viewed from the train. They are part of the design. YoungB reminded me that those same buildings are beautiful by night when all you see is a wash of real and reflected light and the stylised Southern Cross.

Some of those ugly-outside buildings might be beautiful inside, have top NABERS ratings, and tick every box of their design brief. They might be pleasant to work in, even with low natural light and poor airflow. Once you’re inside a building, its outer appearance matters little. Energy-saving internal considerations are then paramount. From a purely practical perspective, most modern buildings do those well.

Happily, the era of urban architecture ruled by metal tubes and slabs of concrete is behind us, but I wonder is the next phase better? Even if there is greater interior efficiency, does it counteract square, uninteresting and often downright ugly exteriors, particularly when we know that doesn’t have to be the case?



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haiku for Dan


1950: Dan in wedge-tailed eagle‘s nest near Orroroo, with puppy Mowgli tucked in his jacket. Who took the photo?

Dear Dad

It’s nearly your birthday again, so here’s the annual essay letter.

The most important news is that your two great-granddaughters came into the world in March. One was born at a nearby metropolitan hospital, so we met her. The other was born nine days later at a country hospital. By then, we couldn’t freely travel about the country so we haven’t met her. What’s that all about? Pop the kettle on, pull up a chair, and I’ll tell you.

It’s been a funny old world since the last letter. My job forbids me to comment on some issues but others include: bushfires worse than Ash Wednesday 1983, which you survived despite severe burns and long hospitalisation; continuing drought in some areas while others endured the worst storms and floods for decades; and then – something far trickier to quantify – disease. COVID-19, caused by a coronavirus, is not something local or even national, but worldwide, and the pandemic still rages. Wikipedia provides a reasonable layman’s overview and enough information to confirm that it’s a dreadful thing, and far worse than influenza (or the common cold, whose causative organism is also a coronavirus).

Australia has so far been extremely fortunate. We are a large island with a small population. Distance comes easily to us, but most of the problems start within our dense coastal population. With the first wave, implementation of control measures seemed slow, but infections and deaths were relatively few. The states appeared more proactive than the federal government, with earlier introduction of travel restrictions and limiting numbers at gatherings but full, nationwide lockdown came into force from 31 March. Restrictions eased towards the end of May and beginning of June, but we seem now to be entering the second wave and things don’t look so fortunate.

There’s a whole new vocabulary: lockdown; self-isolating and self-isolation; social distancing and physical distancing (much the same thing); COVIDsafe environment; and travel bubble. There’s also work/ing from home that’s become simply WFH, and YoungB and I are old hands. Neither of us has ever zoombombed, but he is definitely adept at zooming. We don’t indulge in excessive doomsurfing but do try to keep abreast of situations affecting family elsewhere in the world. We have enjoyed many quarantinis.

As bizarre as you will think this, there were hordes of toilet-paper hoarders, whose widespread mystifying behaviour led to some actual fisticuffs. The hoarding is beginning to ramp up again with the resurgence of infections. We didn’t hoard anything but we had some damn awful loo paper! During April, petrol was at record low prices, probably – I say cynically – because so few people were able to buy it. The ACCC had to step in to ensure that motorists benefited. Yeah, right. We have availed ourselves of online grocery shopping and home delivery. The concomitant decrease in driving – and, therefore, fuel consumption – ensured that one tank lasted a long time. All those things help to make Dr B’s life less stressful, and he’s most at risk.

We don’t talk about much about stress, but mental-health considerations deserve more attention. There’s always an element of worry, bubbling away just beneath the surface. I sit at home and work and try not to think about it too much. I’m busy, and I’m not out in the world battling the public or public transport, or having to deal with a shared workspace, so I’m all right. No, not in the derogatory “I’m all right, Jack,” way that any Aussie would recognise: I’m genuinely all right, because I am not at immediate risk. I venture out only when I absolutely have to.

It hasn’t all been negative. During lockdown or isolation, many people have discovered hitherto unknown iso skills: they’ve learnt to cook Cordon bleu; or to improve existing baking skills so that they can now make bread. Dr B and I are already able in those areas, and YoungB has refined from his excellent base. For the first few weeks, Dr B tried desperately to reproduce our cafe lifestyle by baking cakes and overworking the coffee machine. That was very nice, but you won’t be surprised to hear that we have all gained a few kilos. So what, if we’re safe?

Many have turned to creative pursuits: knitting, crochet or something involving yarn, fabric or other fibres to produce an object. Some have taken up drawing or painting. Still others pursue writing as a creative outlet. I participate in an online writing group, convened by a former workmate. Our latest challenge involved writing a haiku or poem about losing the pets we love so dearly. I think farmers need a level of pragmatism about losing animals, but your several beloved sheepdogs came to mind. I chose the photo of you with one of them as a puppy for this post. Here is my haiku to describe eventually losing that dog, and those who came later and inevitably followed Mowgli:

Each across the Rainbow Bridge
Went at last, taking
A piece of their master’s heart.

I don’t have much more to say today (thank goodness for that, you’ll be thinking). It’s winter and it’s cold; precisely what you’d expect in July Down Under. We are well. We are safe. We wash our hands and practise social-distancing while fearing a possible return to full iso. As I seem to be in a poetic frame of mind, here’s another haiku prompted by the first:

When I left you were fading,
That soft, final breath
Taking you from life’s journey.

Those of us still here continue the journey and now a new generation journeys with us. Those little great-granddaughters are the latest exciting thread of your ongoing story and I think they will spin it well.

I have work tomorrow, so had better finish this. Lots of love, Dad, and remember to keep wearing those thick, fluffy socks so your toes don’t freeze!






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happy haiku

Yesterday I met up with some friends whom I last saw in January. I’m sure you’ll believe me when I say that we had much to discuss. Another of the group is a serious writer, better able to dedicate herself to writing, now that she’s retired. At one point, we were chatting about the challenges presented by various literary forms. We agreed that haikus are hard work, even in English.

I wrote this off the cuff for a Lockdown Creative Writing Group to which I contribute somewhat sporadically. There’s no seasonal reference as in a traditional haiku, but the syllable count is correct. Perhaps that’s enough of an achievement.

As I’ve demonstrated at length on this blog, my creativity has lately been channelled elsewhere. I explained that to the group rather than simply launch into a haiku that I knew didn’t meet the writing brief. I also shared photos of the two new blankets, so that both my “creating in another medium” and my poem might make more sense to other group members:

I chose their colours with care
Without knowing then
How well they would suit them both.

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