Candy Glass

I watched the last twenty minutes or so of the movie Ratatouille with a four year old boy the other night, doing my shift while his parents were having dinner with us. The animation was very good, and the visual syntax was varied, dramatic and assured. They sure know how to make animated movies nowadays.

One scene that struck me was when the girl, having walked out of the restaurant with all but one of the staff, for reasons I could not fathom due to ongoing discussions with the four year old, is stopped in traffic on her motorbike, and looks to the side at something which invokes remorse at her leaving. The lanes of traffic on either side of her drive off, with her sitting on the bike, and the traffic held up behind her. (It loses in translation.) Another is the previous scene when the staff walk out of the kitchen, and we have a rat’s eye view of the feet and legs in regulation black and white checks as they tramp out.

The character around whom this whole story turns is a saintly rat with a genius for cooking. Think about that. I’m sure that when this unworldly little fella arrived at the restaurant he encountered very mean rats, including the alpha rat, but by this stage of the movie he had won them all over, and a couple of the humans to boot. Boss rat marshals the others to do our hero’s kitchen bidding, and takes care of threats from the rest of the humans. Two of them find themselves trussed up in a cupboard while the restaurant meals are prepared and served. One of them is a health inspector. Think about that.

A character who is not trussed up is the morbid-looking restaurant critic, whom Jonas—the four year old—pointed out to me as a “bad man.” With the wisdom of my years, I had detected that the critic was not such a bad bloke, and assured Jonas so. The restaurant staff weren’t much chop though, except for the two who remained. Aside from the temporary difficulties with boss rat, there are no bad rats in this movie; at least, none that I saw. And when the rats took over the kitchen, they all went through the dishwasher, demonstrating their commitment to hygiene.

Those of us who are more or less grown-up can look at this movie as a parable informed by the shlock-standard absolute social value of inclusiveness. It is an article of faith that most Western atheists and agnostics, and a goodly number of Christians, subscribe to. The rats are the despised outsiders, stuck with labels such as “filthy,” “disease-carrying,” “sewer-dwelling” etc. Enlightened human beings, however, are capable of seeing through this kind of discrimination to appreciate rats as they truly are. And what a gourmet feast results! So, those whose thinking is so advanced as to be pre-adolescent may argue, “This is not about rats! It’s about socially-excluded group X, Y or Z.” Those of us who are more or less grown-up can conclude that this story is, to use a gastronomical metaphor, a bucket of tripe. But what about Jonas?

When I was growing up, I saw a lot of mediocre Westerns at the movies and on TV. One of the staples of Westerns was the bar-room brawl. Almost inevitably, someone would be propelled through a window into the street. He would usually pick himself up, shake himself off, and charge back into the brawl. These scenes were so familiar to me that when I learned, as a teenager, that a boy had been hospitalised after riding his pushbike through a ground-level glass panel at a school, I was nonplussed. It was the first time I had ever given the matter any thought. Of course that would be the result, but the frequently-repeated scenes had bypassed reflection and made their way directly into my (mis-)understanding.

The bar-room windows were part of the elaborate charade that is the movies. The glass for those scenes has only to support its own weight and a painted sign—usually Saloon or Bar—until the extra goes through it, when it will be replaced for the next take. It’s not much more substantial than microscope cover slips, and is called, I believe, candy glass.

Cathedral, after midnight

Let’s go back a decade, more or less. Find, in memory, some Friday night. After midnight, the Victory gradually quietens down. The groups of drunken kids wandering from pub to club along Charlotte Street, begin thin out. Wander up the ramp from the footpath into the grounds of St Stephen’s, past the lovely old two-storey house, past Bishop Quinn’s statue, to stand at the curved glass wall of the sacrament chapel. The water flowing along the inside of the wall from the baptismal fount might be matched by a semi-circle of water outside. Or, depending on how late in these years you choose to visit, there might be a dry bed of pebbles, as there is today.

You might see me approach along the same path, then sit cross-legged in front of the glass. Join me, and you will see, reflecting the light from the street and the city beyond, the stainless steel box of the tabernacle, gaunt and pigeon-toed, inside the chapel. A good place to pray. To the right, in the corner of the grounds, is the grotto, where today there is a stairway down to the street. In the grotto, a statue of the Virgin Mary stands before a kneeling Bernadette Soubirous. When your prayers at the tabernacle are finished, you might go with me to the grotto to pray.

Other worshippers have preceded you. The flamboyantly devout may have stretched a condom over the head of one or the other, and set it alight. Others more reserved in their devotion, have simply left some mark or other of their attendance. If you were to return in the early light, you might see the morning patrol of the grounds, gathering up the discarded needles and syringes. The ministrations that left them must have been conducted in careful seclusion; you are unlikely to have seen any of them.

What you will see, between the tabernacle and the grotto, is the blossoming of love, teased out by a night of relentless music and alcohol. Ah, to be young. Against the stone wall of the cathedral, a young man, the waistband of his jeans loose across his buttocks, might be pressing his suit between the legs of a young woman leaning against the stones. Or perhaps a beau, tired at the end of the night, lies naked on the grass in front of the grotto, while the object of his affection, also naked, sits astride him, twisting around to face him, her hand reaching back to his. In the freedom of the children of God, they cast aside all inhibition.

Or again, on a winter night, you might observe me in the dim light walk over to face the tabernacle, to have my attention drawn down and to the left by a slight movement. There is the face of a young woman. She lies on the now dry bed of pebbles, and on her face, upside down to me, plays a smile, hesitant yet friendly, apologetic yet hopeful of understanding and friendship. She is naked from hip to thigh, but her mons is obscured by the head of a man, busy at cunnilingus. In your shock, you might, with me, turn away, and move to the grotto. Soon you look back to find the coast is clear; as I do, and return to the tabernacle. But from there you see her again, kneeling, attending her lover as he leans against the stone wall. She notices you, places her hand on his shirt, and looks up at him. They move around the corner and out of sight.

Then I pray, but what you will not detect is that her face, that halting smile, remains with me, as I pray, as I drive home, and at intervals thereafter. In my imagination, I forget my intention, my situation, and I kneel beside her. I take her hand, lean forward and kiss her, and the three of us work together to a divided goal, and when she comes, she bestows, in the clasp of her hand and the closing of her eyes, the blessing and curse of that momentary grace upon me. And from the dogged pursuit of this distorting grace in the private yet transparent world of fantasy, I seek again, of my observers, deliverance.


Winter is coming. The sky this morning is a perfectly clear blue. A light breeze carries the chill, and a high pressure system sits over most of the continent. Across from the station where I wait, fuming slowly at the mess that’s been made of the timetables, one of the yellow-orange crane booms over the tennis centre building site is swinging around against the blue. Soon I’ll have to start wearing a jumper.

A Beenleigh train has just pulled up behind me, cutting off the sunlight except for the back of my head. It’s gone now, but the breeze has gusted, so I momentarily feel colder in the sunlight. The secret of Brisbane winters, when the drying westerlies blow cold, sweeping all cloud from the sky, is to stand in the morning sun in the lee of the wind, and bask in the warmth. But not today. This day is warming as the sun rises.

A speaker announces that the 7:12 service to the city is running approximately ten minutes late. Previous train 6:50. Next train 7:25. Not bad. I see a flash of red underwing and look for lorrikeets, but in a moment I realise that these are galahs. The birds are on the move. An unusual drone has me looking up from under my hat. Three Cessnas are flying in formation, quite high, towards Archerfield. I’ll wait for the 7:25. Winter’s coming.

The voice of the spider

Abeba rented a room in a weatherboard house in St. Lucia (the suburb of Brisbane, not the Caribbean nation). The aging owner had set up a caravan and a shed for himself in the backyard, and rented the rooms to students. Of the tenants there, I remember only a Chinese girl with excellent English, and Abeba, who was from Eritrea. Bereket lived nearby, and Saba was also in St. Lucia.

One day I was over at Abeba’s place, when she suddenly rushed out into the hallway. She had been in the bathroom on the toilet, when she saw a spider. We both made our way gingerly back in to consider the arachnid. It was still on the wall, and a very handsome specimen it was. Nearly a hand-spread of mine, and certainly more than a hand-spread of Abeba’s, it sat on the wall and considered us. It was of the type generally described as Huntsmen, although there seems to be some variation across the description, and this was one of those with a more solid abdomen than most.

I’m not good with spiders, as you may have grasped. Jen can round them up, and balance them on the end of a broom while escorting them outside. I recently saw Peter expertly employ a broom to guide one into a plastic bucket he was holding. It took him about three seconds. I prefer my spiders dead. My weapon of choice on this occasion was a can of insect spray.

I’m aware that this is not the best option. Spiders become irrational under the influence of poison, and are likely to behave very erratically. But the tide of my courage was out that day, so the aerosol it was. We applied a generous amount of spray, and, as it took effect, our fierce creature tried to run away from it. It ended up on the inside of the shower curtain, back legs dragging. From the other side of the curtain, I saw its fangs repeatedly punching through the plastic. I took a thong (flip-flop for Poms), and whacked it from my side of the curtain. That, and the force of hitting the wall, killed it. Not a glorious victory.

Abeba told me that she had been sitting on the loo, when she heard a noise. Looking around, she saw the spider. She had heard that sound once before. “The voice of the spider,” she said.

A visit to Medjugorje

In the autumn of 1996 I took a ferry from Ancona across the Adriatic to Split. There was a reasonable swell, into which we heaved through the night. I slept little in the “aircraft style” seats, keeping an eye on my knapsack, in which all of my travelling possessions, and a significant portion of my worldly possessions were packed. I was travelling with cabin luggage only, which kept the volume down, and made the airports mercifully easy to leave. By dawn we were sailing down the Dalmatian coast. We moved in behind the shelter of the string of elongated islands that parallel the coast, and came into Split. I’d met a Kiwi on the boat who suggested we get accommodation together in Medjugorje. I agreed, having become all to aware of the cost of single rooms. It was a bad mistake.

From Split we took a bus down the spectacular coast road, and eventually turned inland. The Dayton Agreement had come into effect, and had formalised the borders of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Medjugorje was well inside the the country. The border was marked by a collection of armoured cars, some IFOR and others from one of the armed forces of the area. A soldier looked at passports on the bus, and we went on. As we moved further into the country, we passed through ruined villages, the houses pock-marked with bullets, some burned out shells showing the holes from the tank fire that had destroyed them.

We rolled into Medjugorje past an IFOR post, and found ourselves in back in Croatia. There were Croatian flags strung across the street, a Croatian police station, and a Croatian post office. So much for the Dayton Agreement.

There has been a lot of building over the past decade, to judge from recent photos. Even then it was a thriving pilgrimage centre, with plenty of accommodation and plenty of souvenir shops of a Catholic character. I immersed myself in the pilgrim’s round; my Kiwi companion looked for girls and drank a lot.

Pilgrimages in Medjugorje focus on the local church (St. James), Cross Mountain, and the Hill of Apparition (Podbrdo). Some kilometers away is the Franciscan monastery; the order is responsible for the parish. Father Jozo Zovko, OFM, who was the parish priest at the time of the first apparitions,played a prominent supportive role in the early years, and was still at the monastery in 1996.

The hills in the area are relatively new, geologically speaking. Layers of sediment had been slowly laid down and packed solid into laminates of rock. Then the whole structure had been broken up, and chunks of it thrown up at crazy angles to form those hills. Their slopes were faced with dragon’s teeth; the edges of the laminates exposed at sixty or seventy degrees, harrying travellers’ footfalls. Up these slopes the armies of pilgrims clambered.

Podbrdo was the lesser trial, because it is close to town, and the site of the apparitions is not far up the hill-side. The mysteries of the rosary were presented in bas-relief on large copper plates positioned along the circuit up to and back from the focal point. Cross Mountain was more arduous. It is further from the town, the mountain is higher, the way steeper, and the cross is right at the top. The path, as well-worn as the Podbrdo path, was marked with similar plates portraying the Stations of the Cross.

The church maintained a packed schedule of of morning and evening Masses in various languages. No sooner had one Mass finished than the next group would be pressing at the entrances. In between, the confessionals were busy, and often some visiting priest could be seen sitting outside in close conversation with a penitent.

After a day or two, I met a couple of backpackers from Oz. I’ll call them Grant and Adrian, because I have forgotten their names. They were from Adelaide. They had come in the hard way; from Macedonia, presumably through Serbia, into the shattered Sarajevo, where they had spent a night in their sleeping bags, and on through Mostar.

Adrian was a robust young Australian atheist, and Grant was an easy-going young Australian Catholic. He had an auntie who had been to Medjugorje, and who had told him about seeing the miracles of the sun. What’s more, she had the video to prove it. The combination proved irresistible to to Grant, so he had made a point of visiting on his backpacking travels. Adrian was just along for the ride.

I had heard many stories about the place, but the aunt’s video intrigued me. I was sceptical about it. It it existed, then the perceived behaviour of the sun was not some psychological effect—an explanation I rejected in any case— nor even a direct miraculous and simultaneous intervention in the perceptions of a large group of witnesses, but something far more puzzling. The easiest course was to discount the story.

Grant’s attitude was interesting. He arrived with an expectation of seeing miraculous events. That expectation virtually amounted to a demand, and when they did not immediately occur he began to express his disappointment. I was more circumspect, having no preconceptions.

I went up Podbrdo one afternoon, praying the Rosary in the desultory company of many other pilgrims, and I encountered a group who were excitedly examining the sun. “Oh yes, look at the colours.” So, with many others, I squinted into the brightness, hoping for some revelation, but being forced soon enough to look away. When I did, all I could see was the after-image. Then my prayers began in earnest. “Please don’t let me have damaged my eyes.” I walked past a little, old nun who had been engaged in the same squinting, to the same effect. Seated on a rock in front of her was a woman wearing a white T-shirt. “Oh, look,” said the nun, “her shirt has turned to gold!” A couple were walking past me at that moment. One whispered to the other, “Of course. You’ve been staring at the sun,” voicing my unspoken opinion.

I was by nature cautious of the power of desire over perception, and had long been a devotee of my unscientific notion of scientific method. At the time I began to open myself to spiritual experiences, I let the guard of my scepticism lower. As a result, I learned many things, most of them false.

I became involved with charismatic Christians, and relished the release in the mild ecstasies of speaking in tongues, and the mutual prayers for healing and the laying on of hands. One of the conventions of such prayer was “resting in the Spirit”. Under the influence of the Spirit, the prayee would, for what of a better word, faint. Such an outcome was known in the trade as being “slain in the Spirit”, with its overtones of baptism and resurrection. The slain one would then “rest” before arising refreshed.

Accordingly, the ritual of such prayer involved a “catcher”; it was a role I had often assumed. At the time I became involved, much of this procedure had become ritualised, and the slain ones would collapse just so, to be caught under the arms and lowered gently to the ground. After a seemly interval, they would stir again and, if necessary, be helped to their feet. The interval tended to vary directly with the abandonment of the collapse. I was frequently slain, my falling making no concessions to safety, and my resting being correspondingly longer. I became increasingly suspicious of myself, but, suspicious as I was, I could never resolve for myself the engine of this behaviour.

A few days into my visit, I joined one of many parties travelling to the monastery. We toured the monastery, visiting the outside cellar where a group of priests had been killed by occupying German troops during WWII. Afterwards we made our way into the church of the monastery, where we were treated to a long address by Fr Jozo. He and a few fellow priests than began the rounds of the pilgrims, praying a blessing for each. A young priest prayed over me, and was clearly startled when I keeled over. In doing so, I made the effort to twist a little, as I was aware there was no catcher. I was one of the very few that day who reacted so, and it was probably this priest’s first such experience.

A friend of mine had been in this same monastery some years before, when the fever was running higher. She was a long-time devout Catholic, and had been resistant to the charismatic influence. She also had strong opinions about the dangers of mobs and the herd mentality. All of her opinions were firmly held and firmly expressed. She had described her encounter with Fr Jozo to me before I left Australia. He was praying over people, and they were dropping like ninepins. As he approached her, she resolved not to fall, thinking the display to be, at the least, over the top. He reached her, and lifted his hand over her forehead. Before he touched her, she felt a bolt of energy and down she went. All I can say with certainty about my experience is that it was nothing like hers.

Because I was living out of cabin luggage, I had to wash clothes frequently. I often faced the problem of getting them dry in time to pack for the next day’s travels. In Medjugorje, I saw something I had never noticed at home. It was getting cooler, and during my stay I saw the first snow on the distant mountains. One morning I hung out some washing on the line on a balcony near the room. The sun was not long risen, and shone in the cool air directly on the clothes. Almost as soon as its light hit the very damp washing, water vapour began to rise like steam. For me, it was minor miracle of the sun.

I had been there for four or five days, and Grant, like me, had seen nothing. He was fuming. “If I don’t see anything, I’m going to tell everyone that Medjugorje is a fraud.” His attitude amazed me, and I thought, “That’s exactly the wrong attitude.” I saw him again that evening, and he was cock-a-hoop. “I’ve seen it.” What happened? He had gone to the church, feeling quite angry. He saw a priest, and collared him. The priest was English, and had come on pilgrimage a number of times. “Have you seen it?” “Yes, I have. In fact, I can now see it anywhere. I see it when I am at home.” “What do I have to do?” Outside the church was a crucifix. The priest suggested that Grant go there and pray, asking to be shown. He did, looked up, and saw an image in the sun. He rushed off to where he was staying with Adrian, and excitedly told him the news. Adrian looked, and he saw it too.

The next day was their last, and I met them in mid-afternoon on the way back from Cross Mountain. There was a layer of thin high cloud. I asked them if they could see anything. They both looked at the sun and described something that, as I recall, resembled a delta or triangle. They simply continued to look directly at the sun as they described it. I tried to do the same thing, but despite the haze of cloud, I could not stand to look, or squint, for more than a few seconds. For them there was no squinting, and seemingly no limit to the time they could spend looking into the sun.

This experience was invaluable for me. Walking beside these guys, I could detect nothing unusual, and, more telling for me, I simply could not look at the sun in that way. I had long thought that this one aspect of the phenomenon was a challenge to scepticism, but to see it demonstrated so immediately was startling. If this external evidence was irrefutable, why should I disbelieve their description of what they saw?

I still leaned to the view that the intervention occurred at the level of the individual. There is a variety of effects displayed by the sun; pulsing, moving erratically, displaying multiple colours, and containing images. In the latter case, there were differences in what image people saw. Many Catholics saw a host—the Blessed Sacrament—in the sun; Protestants might see some tri-partite image. In all cases, the sun and retinas don’t mix, so, unless some hitherto unexplored bodily process exists by which the eye can sometimes protect itself from such intense radiation, the effect is not psychological. I was still not prepared to entertain the prospect that such phenomena were external, “objective” realities, that Grant and Adrian, as they walked beside me, were perceiving a world every bit as concrete, every bit as real, as the one I perceive; every bit as real, but different.

In the back of my mind was the aunt’s video. It only came to the foreground when I went to the web to check some details for this posting. I found a YouTube link, and following it, I found a number of videos taken by Medjugorje pilgrims. Here are a some of them.

By the same token, here is an example where the observed phenomenon did not register on the video. The comments with the video explain the observations.

It is trivial to fake such videos with current technology, and I do not offer any of them as evidence of the event portrayed. I simply say that this is the kind of video that Grant’s aunt took, and I now must come to terms with the fact that such events are recordable. It throws all of my previous thinking about these phenomena into disarray. It is as though a parallel world has been revealed to some, including Grant and Adrian, and kept hidden from others, including me. The fact that no explanation is likely in terms of the tools of our understanding of the physical environment underlines the limitations I had already detected in such tools and the philosophy they expressed.

My Kiwi roommate, as I said, drank a lot. He spent every evening in a bar, and would come back to the room late and drunk. We had found a double room in a house down the road a little from the Post Office and the bus station, on the road by which we entered the town. It was run by a middle-aged woman who seemed to have the care of a couple of children. She spoke very little English, and a neighbour translated for her.

On what was supposed to be our last night there, he came back very late and very drunk, waking me when he came in. Some time later, I was woken again by his jumping out of bed swearing at the unknown person who had “pissed in me bed”. He flipped the mattress over, collapsed on the bed, and went out again like a light. In the morning, I decided to act as though nothing had happened. We packed and left the proprietor to find the mattress and the crumbs from meals of bread and cold meats, a mess to which I had contributed.

I can’t remember why, but I decided to stay another night, so in the evening I went back to see if I could get a single room. The owner was clearly very unhappy to see me, and I felt a surge of guilt for not offering to help clean up the Kiwis’ bed. She let me a room though, for which I was extremely grateful.

I left the next morning, and was treated to another view of the glorious Dalmatian coast from the bus. In Split, waiting for the ferry, I gave some money to one of the beggars, and was soon surrounded by a small group whom I had to refuse. There was a market, and I bought a pair of “genuine Levis”, which was so ill-fitting that, back in Italy, I had to perform surgery with my tiny Victorinox scissors, a needle and thread in order to make them wearable. They saw me through the rest of the trip though.

I ran into the Kiwi again in Jerusalem in company with a young woman, whom he had presumably asked to share accommodation with him. Small world.

Prickly pear

I recall seeing, on a trip to Rockhampton in about 1975, some stands of cactus that I took to be prickly pear. I was surprised to see it, as I had heard the story of the rampant infestation and the eventual control through Cactoblastis, so I thought it had been eliminated. A newsreel from the twenties gives some idea of the severity of the problem.

I had another prickly pear surprise not long ago. The train home from work goes from Southbank Station (once Vulture Street Station) under Vulture Street and into a long cutting. At the top of one of the embankments is Somerville House high school. Staring out of the window, I suddenly noticed a healthy clump of pear at the base of the embankments. I realised that there were smaller clumps of it growing all over the stone bank on that side. As suddenly as it had appeared, it was gone; even before the tunnel under Stephens Road I couldn’t find any more of it among the angled planes of the wall.

So, is this a stable population, of has someone, not too long ago, tossed a fruit down the embankment? The next year should tell the tale.

Oliver’s Greatcoat

I was less than ten years old when I was given a copy of Oliver Twist for Christmas or birthday. It was a small-format Collins hardcover, blue-bound, with the Collins fountain logo stamped in silver on the front cover. The pages were very thin, so much so that in places the print from the other side, too heavy in places, showed through, making reading difficult.

I read avidly, and was delighted at Oliver’s rescue. At that point, of course, things take a turn for the worse. When Oliver, carrying his benefactor’s books, is kidnapped by Nancy, my heart sank, and I put the book away.

At the moment, I’m reading Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida, edited by Robert Chandler. The first story is Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades, the third is Gogol’s The Greatcoat. Reading Gogol, I had that same feeling of impending doom as Akaky Akakiyevich makes his way back from the party whose pretext is his new greatcoat.

It took me some years to pick Oliver Twist up again. I think I finished it in my mid-teens. My expectation of a satisfying resolution may have sustained me. If so, Dickens did not disappoint. Gogol offers no such promise, but I am grown-up now, so I pressed on through my dread. Gogol did not disappoint.


If I am not woken suddenly—by an alarm clock, for example—I often find myself in a state on the cusp between sleep and wakefulness; in reverie. And often in that oftenness some questions that have been in the back of my mind will find their way to the front. The other morning—the one that triggered this post—I “woke”, and started thinking about the West Antarctic ice shelf, as one does.

In this state, I am aware at some level just below the surface, that I am awake. That awareness is deceptive, as becomes obvious when the phase change to wakefulness actually does occur, with its accompanying I’m awake now. When that happened, I was still thinking about ice, but the context of the activity had changed. The most obvious change was my sudden alertness to my surroundings. I had moved out of that inner world to which the world that contained me—the bedroom, the house, the noise of trees and birds and traffic—was connected by only the subconscious trip-wires that will be snagged by, say, the smell of smoke; and into the state of thinking wakefulness where, while the pattern of thought may be the same, the mental terrain has become spare and hard-edged, analogously to a transition between watching a movie and reading text, even if a movie that I am present in, a book that I am writing.

Where I had been following a seam of argument through a dream-rich montage of images from the ice down into the Southern Ocean to the ice-scarred bottom, I now found myself working it in the dimly lit bedroom, with the morning light seeping in at the edge of the vertical blinds. I’m awake now.

My waking mind would maintain that the drowsing mind would generate conclusions less reliable, more appropriate to a dream, but I have too many times woken with a new approach to a thorny technical problem, to accept that self-serving hypothesis from the well-lit side. The contrast with the spare environment of my waking thought brought home to me the paucity of visual imagination that I have taken for granted, relegating the imagery of dreams to a completely separate realm.

Yet they are not as separate as I had imagined, as the experiences just mentioned ought to have led me to suspect. Such enlightenments had, however, happened in the dark, simply presenting themselves to the waking consciousness. In this instance of the emergence of wakefulness I had the chance to see a process of thinking happening within the the context of dreams, with all of the imaginative richness that implies.

I don’t conclude from this that I might be able to draw the imaginative content of dreaming into the conscious process of following the quirky trails of ideas. That gate closes with I’m awake, but it gives a tantalising glimpse of the mind’s sleeping mode, complementing the now far too infrequently remembered fragments of my dreams.

Down on Fairfield Road

About a month ago, Jen and I went for a bike ride on a Saturday afternoon. On the way home, we came up the back streets from Hyde Park. We got to Yeronga Street, and were about to cross into the commercial block when we saw them. A duck was crossing Yeronga, followed by seven ducklings, their legs flailing away to keep up. We rolled over into the car park, watching them progress up the other side of the street. Some bloke joined us, beaming at them. They crossed Fairfield Road at the lights. A couple of other were standing there watching them as well. The traffic was at its calmest at that time on Saturday afternoon, but the road was by no means empty. As we watched, a van came followed our route down Shottery Street and stopped to let them across the intersection, still following Yeronga. Seeing the van, Mum picked up the pace. Somehow the chicks kept up.

On the other side of Fairfield Road is a narrow strip of green, a chain wire fence, and the railway lines. Where had they come from? We decided to escort them up the street towards the Brisbane River. They had about two and a half blocks to traverse to the dead end of the street. Beyond was the river bank. A couple of other cars came down the road, and made way for them. Whenever they approached, Mum would find a gap in the parked cars and take them to the edge of the road. At one point a woman came out of her driveway, and couldn’t see them. The ducks were already looking for the gutter, but we warned the driver.

At the end of the cul-de-sac, there was a steep grassy slope down to the water. She crossed the road and led them onto the grass, where they started to peck and run. We watched them over the crest of the hill. A couple walking their dog had joined us. No camera.


Jen and I went to dinner in West End Saturday night before last. From Highgate Hill, we went down Dornoch Terrace to Hardgrave, and the first clump of the West End eateries. We went on down towards the next group, centered on what was the Rialto picture show. We have long been threatening to go to the Tongue and Groove, a name of intricate connotation, on a live music night, but there was no visible means of support for the car, so we turned back towards Dornoch, and found a park not far from the food. We hadn’t thought about booking, of course, but we got a table at Lefkas. We arrived without a bottle of wine, and I set off, thinking I would have to go down to the Rialto, but there was next door a bottle shop we hadn’t noticed. The Oyster Bay sav blanc is mighty popular in these parts, and they had sold out, so we ended up with another Kiwi called The Ned, which was tasty. Waiting for the food, we got to talking about Jen’s leaving Intensive Care.

They’re making it harder. With insulin, for instance. I used to stabilise patients quickly then level of the dosage. Now they have a protocol in place, and you can’t set the pump the way you want to—they have fixed programming. So I have to do it manually. But with all the babies on the staff, they need the protocol. When I started down here, they were trialling an insulin protocol, but it was thrown out. Then a couple of mistakes were made, and it was back on the agenda.

In Britain, there’s a crying need for protocols. You’d go into a unit as an agency nurse, and start doing the things you were used to. “Oh no. That’s Dr So-and-so’s patient. He doesn’t want things done that way.” “Ok, so where’s his protocol?” There wasn’t one—you just got to know what he wanted done.

There’s the argument for protocols. But there’s a difference between the protocol developed in a local environment, and the protocol imposed from a distance, and from a height. The local protocol allows of local override. Those who understand the motives also understand the limitations, and have the confidence to say, No, in this situation we will do it differently. They have a measure of autonomy in its application. The further the protocol moves from the centre of its development, the less autonomy its users retain. The black hole of externally imposed protocols is the demotivation and demoralisation of the most talented of its practitioners.

On top of all of that, the calamari was disappointing. The night was beautiful, though. The diners were mostly dressed for a night out, and were probably heading in to the clubs after the meal. It’s generally a mixed crowd at West End though, and there were plenty of guys in shorts and thongs wending through the diners on the footpath. It’s a measure of the charm of the place, that makes the idea of living there so appealing. We’ll just have to settle for Yerongpilly.