Standard Operations

Standard ops

Classified/Homeland Security (map attached). Case: i9-4579intruder

 

The banshee wail of the intruder alert sets my scalp tingling. I yell. “Where’s the source Priscilla?”

“Strait of Georgia ma’am, just south west of Vancouver. Looks like the city is place of origin.”

“I turn to my 2IC. “Anna, get a drone out there, stat.”

“On it Cap’n.” The prowler she selected lifts off the front deck with a giant whoosh.

I should have known Anna would be ahead of me. The gal is extraordinary. A week new to our station at Roche Harbor, but already acting like a veteran. Incredibly fit, agile as a monkey, strong, keen as they come. Fiery red hair masking an amazing intellect. I love her enthusiasm and zest for her job. She already has the dock lines loosened on the port side as I start the five giant outboards. 1000 horsepower come to life with a tremendous roar, temporarily drowning out further conversation. The all-round rubber inbuilt fenders stretch and screech as I pulled away.

This is no time to obey the harbor rules of ‘no wake’. I gun the Mercs to half capacity. A giant plume shoots up behind us. As we reach the outer markers, the intruder siren goes off again. My ears go into protective block mode. What is going on? A multiple invasion? Priscilla yells across the saloon. “Nanaimo. Makes no sense.” Another drone launches from the front deck. The big screen in the main cabin shows the two terrorist source spots with bright red flashing circles, and the two drones with thick blue arrows indicating direction.

I tap the secure personal audio nodule in my throat. “Calling Canada SeaLand. Come in.” I flip the silver Encompassing Communication Module out the breast pocket of on my uniform, and throw it to Priscilla. She secures the link to our compatriots in Victoria, and the big screen splits in two vertically. John Larson’s image appears on the right side showing him standing beside his desk. I tap the nodule again so our conversation is shareable. “Hi Katherine. We think you can anticipate more of these alerts coming in any second. Canada Inland Intel has been warning us for a week about increased hot-spot dialog between cells. They’re trying to identify sources ahead of launch. Don’t depend on it. Over.”

John is a good guy. Land-based though. Canadian defense policy is not as intense as ours, and the country openly relies on our resources, especially in these boundary waters. “Thanks John, will let you know what we find.” The blast of the siren once again drowns out whatever John says in response. I shout. “Geez Priscilla, can we shut it down a notch? I’ll be deaf before I’m thirty.” She reacts slowly and I realize she is concentrating on Larson’s picture on the video display. She pivots toward me, one hand clamped on her crotch. “God that guy’s got a great bulge in his pants. Sure would like to help him get dressed.”

Despite the urgency of the mission I turn so she can’t see my reaction, and smile. Twenty-five years ago men would have lost their jobs if they’d made analogous remarks over a gal’s boobs. Boy, had things switched around in the intervening time. No more glass ceilings through which to look up skirts, rather there are discreet wearable digital screens that check any man’s measurements within 15 feet. I turn back, feign a look of disinterest, and ask loudly “Come on gal, what’s that latest source? Get your clit under control. We obviously have a pending crisis here.” I know a lot about Priscilla’s body. We’d been lovers for over a year now.

“Point Roberts, Kath.” She is lazy about names but I don’t really mind. “Right under the noses of our station there. Bloody daring jerks. Clearly a diversion effort. Which one of these three sources is the real McCoy?”

The siren shrieks again. “Hell, four of the bastards, not three. Origin is Ganges, of all places. Backwater retirement town. There goes the last of Anna’s drones Kath. Wanna call SkyLock?”

I hesitate. We’d had runs against us before, involving two terrorist vessels. Four suggests a heightened sense of urgency on the part of the militants to get another illegal terrorist across the border. How many of these boats on the water are decoys? How many are real? Clearly we can’t apprehend all four. The four detected have been picked up by the signals emanating from concentrated intensity electronic communication devices. Our high-def intelligence alert systems have been aware of these for some months now.

Bloody muslim terrorists. If the terrorists knew how easily we can pick them up now, I’d take advantage of it. I’d tie up our resources with fake decoys and then send the important guy in in a regular boat with no bristling antennae. Just a sporty innocent runabout. We’d never catch him.

I decide against contacting SkyLock directly. In a way they are already involved. It is their satellites which have identified the four possible terrorist boats. We could ask them for more intelligence, but we are busy enough. Needing a short conference I ease the engines on our 40 foot runner back from our 50 knot speed. “What do you think Anna?” A brilliant mind hidden behind all those red ringlets, I had no trouble deferring to her. She has a high forehead for intellect, and an athleticism that is awesome to watch in motion. I haven’t gotten to learn the intricacies of her body yet, but I will in time. God she is attractive.

“First, forget Point Roberts. I think they’re playing with us. They know full well that anything unusual in town would have been spotted already. No, in my view, that one’s just a one-man show to irritate us. As for Vancouver I don’t mind betting that the organization’s headquarters is in town, but launching from there is just too obvious. It’s the Ganges and Nanaimo sources that are new. Nanaimo is much further away. As we sit right now on the edge of Haro Strait, we have lots of options”.

I scan the Strait ahead. A heavy freighter is coming up from the south, and white caps indicate there is a strong wind creating two-foot plus waves. Nothing our boat can’t handle. Might be a bit bumpy, that’s all.

I turn to the screen. “John, any views contrary to Anna’s?”

Bouts of annoying pixilation violate tehimage on his half of the device’s veneer. All we hear is “… trying to learn more about Nanaimo boat.” Bandwidth is often an issue in the Strait.

I have an idea. “Anna, suppose the Ganges boat knows we’ll engage them and is set to keep us busy checking them over for half an hour or more while the Nanaimo boat sneaks into Stuart or Patos Island say, turns off their equipment, and transfers their cargo to an innocent runabout? Possible?”

“I like your thinking boss,” pipes up Priscilla, although I’d asked Anna. “And it gives me another idea. Let’s intercept the boys from Ganges. I have a new electronic gadget you may not know about that could be useful. Got it yesterday. Here.” She removes her Maui Jim’s, one of the few brands of sunglasses that have lasted all this time, and retrieves from the pocket pouch on her left trouser leg a small metallic cube, sides about an inch long, with a sophisticated click switch on one face.

“Cool. What does it do?” Anna asks.

“Negates certain communication protocols. It’s called a Selective Communication Device or SCD. Once we pull alongside the Ganges boat, I can take a read of all the comm. standards they are using with my personal wrist machine, and set SCD to block any outward use of those protocols, while not interfering with incoming messages. Sort of a jamming device that can be one way or two way.”

“What’s the advantage?” Anna asks.

“Well, I can set it so they can still get messages from their people but will wonder why they can’t respond. The tricky part is that I have to get it onto their boat and hide it as it’s an Extended Near Field Communication based system. It’s small enough to stay concealed unless a really thorough scrub is made of the boat. Once onboard and active, we can speed off to intercept the Nanaimo boat carrying what we hope is the real prize and they can’t let headquarters know any concerns.”

Anna responds. “Well, if these guys are like all the others we’ve apprehended we shouldn’t have a problem. They’re just mere males, leery muslim creeps, craving feminine recognition, visual and verbal.”

“What do you have in mind?” I ask.

Anna turns to Priscilla. “Are you willing to parade a nice big dose of cleavage under their eyes? You have the best offering among us. While they ogl you, I’ll drop the device in one of the main cabin’s side storage pockets among their unused fishing tackle or somewhere else innocuous. Dumb pricks.”

Priscilla makes me smile. “Happy to show off the ladies anytime… “

I move the throttle forward, loving the sound of the highly tuned mercs as they churn the foam filled water behind us. We start bouncing almost immediately. “Let’s intercept these guys near the southeast end of Moresby Island before they cross the international border. They’ll bitch that we’re out of our jurisdiction but we’ll pretend their GPS is faulty. John will support us. Priscilla, what is that drone telling us about a possible contact point?” While Priscilla fiddles with her wrist machine, John’s affirmation of support comes through loud and clear. No more pixilation disturbance on the screen.

“You need to slow down 10 knots Kath, and it will work out perfectly. And listen you bi-sexed comrades, keep your eyes on the waterway as I enhance my killer offerings.” I recognize that Priscilla has deliberately taken a bit of a risk with her labeling. We aren’t quite sure of Anna’s sexual preferences yet, although hopeful she is at least bi. We figured males wouldn’t be able to stay away. How she responds to both them and females we still need to learn.

I refocus my mind. Right, drop speed. I adjust the throttles and watch as Priscilla shakes loose her light brown hair. It had been pulled back into a small stub per official guidelines, but now falls a few inches below her shoulders. She undoes three buttons on her blouse revealing a gorgeous set of suntanned 36D’s that I’ve always envied. And I know from experience that she can present them in incredibly enticing ways.

Oh yes, if these decoy terrorists are like their foreign predecessors – fascinated by women unadorned in full-cover black – then they are dead ducks.

*                       *                     *

The two dark complexioned men smirk as we pull alongside their Trophy sport. We explain our interest in checking their craft for safety features. Both sides know the reasoning is farcical, and the terrorists play their role dutifully, complaining about the location, and the unnecessary stoppage since their boat is new.

They are taken aback when I ask “Why do you have so many communication masts and antennas?” They have no good answer other than “personal preference in managing broad ranging environmental information and long-distance communication both within Canada and across the border.” The three of us smile at the canned response.

We check the intruder boat’s supply of flares and personal safety devices and declare we have no concerns, congratulating the owners on a well-managed boat. Priscilla returns from checking the anchor locker near the bow of their twin-engined 30 foot cuddy cabin vessel. She has to step down from the front deck into the main cabin. She leans forward, stretching out her arm to one of the men to aid her stability. As reward he gets a magnificently memorable view of Priscilla’s golden orbs. His friend hastens forward to also help.

Regretfully, for she’s enjoying the interaction, Anna turns her head away and drops the SCD into a small pocket under one of the back cushions. She and Priscilla leave the boat and wave goodbye to the two goggle eyed foreigners. WTD

Our giggles finally subside as we imagine the men’s frustration trying to tell their friends about the good looking agents they encountered. I push the throttle forward and steer northeast, wanting to get to a convenient hiding place to lay in wait for the Nanaimo boat. I ask Anna for a recommendation.

Anna consults the feedback from the drone 1000 feet above the Nanaimo terrorist boat. It’s heading down the inside passage rather than outside Valdes and Galliano islands in the Strait of Georgia. Anna makes a calculated guess that the boat will stay north of the Pender islands, suggesting east Camp Bay and Blunden Islet as possible hiding spots for us. Even if the terrorist boat elects to run south of the Penders we’ll be in formidable chase position.

Under Anna’s guidance we end up idling on the south side of Blunden Islet. It’s a full five minutes before the planned encounter with the foreign boat. We are still in Canadian waters, a little over a mile northwest of the border. We’ve turned off all electronics so that we provide no discernible signature in case we are being tracked. We’ve even shut down communication with the drone above the terrorist boat since the last signal was exactly as we had expected. Priscilla asks “What’s our strategy Kath? Fast chase with full lights, siren, and electronic interference? Or silent tracking to destination?”

I think for a few seconds, then respond, “I don’t want any chance for these bastards to land anyone. When they do that, it’s all the harder for our local forces to catch them. So it’s full bore ladies. The works. Nothing spared. We go after them max force. No holds barred. You both OK with that?” Two heads nod yes.

Anna queries, “Weapons?”

“Laser guns. Head shots only if they draw on us. Priscilla, your turn to stay hidden below, so they think there’s only the two of us. You both know the drill. I’ve got both good and bad vibes about this. Their course shows no evasive maneuvers such as zig-zag courses, or random stops. They came through Dodd Narrows rapids as if they were a tourist boat. I think these guys are acting innocently wanting us to think they are like any other sports boat out here bent on enjoying the international waters. But I think there’s a terrorist below deck. Two minutes till they come by. Throttles up in neutral in one minute. Stand by.”

A new blue Cobalt R35 streaks into the waters 200 yards ahead of us. Nice boat, sleek lines, hard top, no bimini, two men silhouetted in the driving seats, multiple antennae originating near the windshield arced backwards. We spring out behind them in full intercept regalia. Anna focuses the high-tech laser gun located on our arch at their rear end where the inboard motor sits churning the waters ahead of us. We’re seen and they pick up speed, crossing the border 100 yards ahead of us.

Unexpectedly they suddenly slow down and turn 90 degrees to port. Anna gets it immediately. “They realize they’re in US waters and are turning to head back into Canadian territory. Can you cut them off?”

I smile. This is where I excel. I know my blood pressure is ramping up but I actually feel icy calm and controlled. Unlike our target I don’t slow down an iota, but pull a 2G port turn, the two starboard engines lifting above the surface and screaming their dislike. Anna and Priscilla hang on tightly. When we settle back on equilibrium I’m on a course nearly parallel to our foreign friends and only 50 yards in arears. They skim by Skipjack Island headed north towards the tip of Saturna Island. I push the throttle forward to the maximum demand and in 30 seconds we are alongside, Anna hailing them with the electronic megaphone telling them to pull over.

They ignore us, which gives me new rights. I have no hesitation jamming the full starboard rubber fender against their frame, jolting them severely. It’s a risky move since they could bounce back and partially lift out of the water cutting into our rear frame. The training films are clear. But this is my expertise. The alien in the passenger seat turns white, not believing our intensity. He shouts to his companion to stop. To no avail. They plough on, but their boat is now turned northeast, and will have difficulty getting back into Canadian waters, especially since the border becomes true northward between Tumbo and Patos Islands.

“Fire at their engine Anna,” I order. She does and black smoke emanates from the fiberglass cover. Their boat slows, and for good luck I make another bruising assault between the driving position and the bow. They get the message and shut down. We pull alongside and listen to a litany of curses, complaints, and threats, some in English, most in a foreign language.

We tie up alongside as the smoke from the destroyed engine dwindles and dies to a limp hissing stream. We show our credentials and ask the two men why they tried to avoid us and ignored our request to pull over. These guys are less articulate than those in the Ganges boat. They struggle with English and make little sense with their replies. Surprising, as most of the terrorists we encounter have been well trained in our language. One of the men guards access to the downstairs cuddy cabin. We figure we know why. Anna steps to his side and removes the boat’s keys from the ignition, dropping them in her pants pocket. Sergio, whose name we have learned, and who is standing in the main cabin, reaches out and cries “Our property! Give back.”

Anna looks at him with disdain, and says “When we’re done shitface. Passports?” Sergio’s face clouds over. I figure he’s looking for a fight. He’s a bull of a man. Over six feet tall, broad shoulders, chest like a barrel, black hair brushed forward and upwards. Physique of a weight-lifter. His face changes into a threatening scowl.

He surprises both of us by suddenly leaping from his boat to ours, probably intent on breaking something aboard. However, the tables are turned instantly as Priscilla rises from the companionway and delivers a hard sharp kick to the man’s groin. He groans miserably and doubles over, clutching his vitals. His stamina is evident however, as he draws himself upright and lunges forward. Mistake. Priscilla takes a step back, and with a perfect martial arts maneuver, kicks him under the chin. His head snaps back and he drops like a sack. Go woman, go! She jumps on him, turns him over, pulls his arms behind him and cuffs him with the new electronic grips. He starts yelling, at which point she jams the mouth lock between his teeth where it clamps on to both his lips and teeth and silences him.

“All under control boss,” she tells me. The cowardly alien passenger, still shielding access to the cuddy, quickly hands over his passport. Abdul something or other. Passport in Arabic. I don’t bother to check it further, but indicate he should move away from the door frame. He resists, shaking his head ‘no’ back and forth. I’m tired of the resistance, and notion to Anna to do her thing. Her chance to get physical. Why not? Get the frustrations out after the tense chase. The rule book is deliberately vague about physical interaction. Written by women of course. We love it. Gives us a lot of freedom that wasn’t there in the old days.

I stand back thinking the idiot guarding the door has no idea what he’s in for. The dummy has his arms outstretched across the entryway. Anna’s first punch jams into his solar plexus. His arms drop. The next punch is a hook under his chin. His eyes roll around in their sockets and he literally crumples to the floor.   Anna reaches down to move his body out of the way.

A strong hair-covered arm pulls her into the cuddy. She yelps in pain as the arm’s owner smashes her on the shoulder with the butt of a black pistol. He pokes it forward, aiming it directly at me.

I duck behind the driver’s seat, wary of the gunman’s intent. Does he plan to use Anna as a hostage, or is he going to shoot his way out with her as his shield? In the instant I deliberate there is a sharp ‘zap’ sound and the gunman’s pistol goes flying, his fingers dangling uselessly. Marksman Priscilla to the rescue. I jump forward and apply a headlock to the infidel and pull him over Anna’s body out of the cuddy cabin. He reaches up with his good hand, grabs my hair and yanks. “Yow.” My head jerks back but I refuse to give up my grip.  Next thing I know Priscilla delivers a karate chop to the man’s throat and he goes limp.

We bind the three shits into immobility, and pull a sling for Anna’s right arm out of our first-aid kit. I establish comms with John in Victoria and with our headquarters back at Roche. We retrieve the drones and secure them in their small hangars forward. We send images of the three passports ahead, and secure the terrorists’ Cobalt hard against our starboard fender.

All three of us feel drained. Good reason. Usually our intercepts don’t become so physical.

We spend time making sure our versions of the whole exchange are consistent. The chips planted in our necks will be examined to check we went by the rules – our only possible indiscretion being the safety check of the Ganges boat in Canadian waters. I have no doubt however that John Larson will stand by his approval for us to proceed.

I take us home at half speed, sensitive to minimizing bumps that might aggravate Anna’s discomfort.  I shouldn’t have worried I guess, for the mild painkillers we’d administered are doing their job well.

We’re met at the dock by a cadre of uniformed agents. They happily take our prisoners away. We bathe in the well-wishes and congratulations coming our way, recounting out intercept several times. We know there’ll be a de-briefing later, but for now it’s rest and recover time. I look at my two subordinates, grateful for their support and commitment. “You two are positively awesome,” I tell them. “Simply the best there is. I’ll go anywhere with you.”

Anna smiles. “Good,” she responds. “I need a shower. Care to join me?”

Untamed Paradise

There are two Samoas. We’ve been to both sad island realms. At Pago Pago in American Samoa two tuna canneries harbor Asian ships and hundreds of illegal workers. The population is about 65,000. Local youth hang out aimlessly around the capital city that resembles a U.S. ghetto. The place is dirty, smelly and in general disrepair. Many of the citizens, attracted by higher wages, come from neighboring (Western) Samoa. While this country is very poor, its stunning natural beauty helps make tourism its major industry. The capital Apia boasts only one bookstore, essentially a bible shop. The residents (some 180,000) don’t like foreign investment, and complicated laws hold back growth. Ordinary citizens are controlled by the matai (chiefs), the family, and religious institutions. Fa’a Samoa – the Samoan Way – justifies all manner of ills and inequities.

Located on the southern sunshine coast of Upolu, the main island of Samoa, 25 miles away from the airport, lies a unique resort – Coconuts Beach Club. If you are looking to get away from it all, this is the paradise you have been seeking. For there are no high rises, no phones, no Internet, and no TV’s at this resort, just native-type modern fales on the water and sandy shore. This is a small, intimate retreat, which incorporates friendly service, native entertainment, superb cuisine, and a profound respect for the local culture.

We spent a week there, mixing with German and New Zealand tourists, relaxing under sunny skies by crystal clear waters, and thrilled with exposure to the island mores and patterns of life. We had to get used to doing nothing – a nice challenge. The highlight for us came one morning when we asked to be taken to a deserted beach. The chef whipped up a box-lunch and a young native helper drove us five miles in the resort’s jeep along narrow tracks to a remote, isolated beach. He promised to be back six hours later.

This was a beach straight out of the movie “South Pacific”. Part of it was open across a sandy stretch to the wild Pacific, but one half was protected by a low rocky reef which created a placid lagoon refreshed gently with soft trickles from the ocean beyond. Coconut palms fringed the beach creating spots of welcome shade. It was a truly idyllic setting with the crash of gentle waves and the call of a few native birds the only sounds around. The shallow water was warm and inviting. With no watching eyes swimsuits were discarded and we frolicked like children in our own perfect paradise.

All that was missing was Mitzi Gaynor’s voice as she washed ‘that man right out of her hair’. Nevertheless we creative souls managed some of our own romantic togetherness, with the promise to do it again. We took some photographs that are still revered personal treasures and wonderful fond reminders of a younger time. No, they won’t be shared on the Internet.

French Romance

The TGV pulled into Gare de Beaune with a meek hiss, and we quickly alighted and wheeled our two bags across the road to the AVIS rent-a-car office. Thank heavens – we were expected, allowing us once again to avoid trying in our minimal French to provide possible explanations for a non-existent reservation. We had arrived in one of the beautiful regional wine growing areas – Burgundy. The deeper into the French countryside one travelled the less English was spoken. In part to our delight, in part to our concern – in case things went wrong.

Ok, enough about worry and relief. We asked for directions to our hotel in St-Gervais-en-Valliere and were pleasantly surprised to be handed a local map on which our route was then clearly outlined for us. The drive was straightforward, the sun shone pleasantly, and we meandered in a south easterly direction across low hills and dales, constantly aware of the lines of grape vines stretching to each field’s horizon.

We turned onto the gravel drive and were immediately struck by the charm of the ivy-covered building and shaded surrounds awaiting us. For this old house, now a boutique hotel, had once been a mill in which walnuts were ground for their oil by monks of the Citeaux Abbey in the twelfth century.  A clear stream gurgled its way beneath overhanging cherry trees down one side of the two story mansion, and the fragrance of colorful roses in the gardens alongside the path to the front door softly invaded our senses.

We checked in and received a small setback as we were asked which meal – lunch or dinner – we would choose to take each day. We didn’t know it was a hotel requirement that at least one meal per day had to be taken in the hotel’s dining room. We’re sort of independent travelers, always wanting to do our own thing. We don’t travel on escorted tours, we don’t join groups. We read and plan as much as possible ahead of time, identify what we want to see, learn, or experience, and set about it. We don’t like being told what we must do.

We had apparently managed to book the last room available at the inn, and were led back outside to a door at the end of the main building. Inside was a tiny entry salon cum sitting room, with a small sofa, a table on which stood a vase of fresh flowers, a bathroom beyond, and a narrow wooden staircase. It was a struggle to get our suitcases upstairs, but definitely worth it.

We entered a large loft that stretched across the width of the entire building. Greeting us were antique furniture items, a sloping plaster ceiling, two double beds with fluffed up country eiderdowns and pillows, a polished wooden highboy, an escritoire, and decadent padded and puffy lounge chairs inviting one to test their comfort. The two large square windows were open to the fresh country air. Parading just outside one was a dove gently cooing us his welcome song. We fell in love with the place instantly, erasing the concerns we’d previously garnered. What a delight this setting was. Full of old-fashioned grace, charm, and romantic comfort. We were spellbound, wandering back and forth across the room, smiling and muttering at our good fortune to have secured such a wonderful resting place.

Our reluctant participation at dinner quickly turned to shame at our hesitation. For we sat down to an elegant five course fixed menu treat, lovingly cooked to perfection with a different wine served with each new offering. The food was beautifully rich, served on old French decorated china dishes in small elegant portions wonderfully pleasing to the palette. And the wine! Amazing! We’d go back just for the wine. In most cases it was poured from unlabeled bottles bought directly from surrounding local vineyards. What had once seemed an unwanted tax on our visit turned out to be the highlight of our stay. Delightful French dinners utilizing local produce, complemented with distinctive fine regional wines. We felt embarrassed at our initial misgivings.

The hotel sat near the border of the two ‘departments,’ Saône-et-Loire, and Cote-d’Or, a region marked by numerous waterways and made up of hedged farmland protecting swarms of vineyards. We drove leisurely through the surrounding area, observing magnificent ancient hillside châteaux, stopping at tiny country villages with a smattering of shops. Despite trying our best French to buy bread we were twice refused, gaining the impression that the readily seen supply of baguettes behind the front counter was ‘reserved’ for local residents. A puzzling disappointment that made us wonder whether foreign visitors simply had no right to come asking.

We couldn’t resist stopping on Saturday noon when we observed a newly-wed couple exiting the portico of a beautiful Romanesque church built hundreds of years ago. Once again, our spirits were lifted, providing a positive contrast to our shopping attempts, and helping to reinforce the romantic nature of our travels.

My wife of many years turned to me and whispered “Maybe we could renew our vows when we get back home.”

I liked that idea.

A two-sided travel encounter

We pulled into Secret Cove Marina located on the Sunshine Coast, near Half Moon Bay, BC, Canada, and heaved sighs of relief. The previous night we’d anchored and stern tied in nearby Smuggler’s Cove where we and twenty other boats had survived a massively violent storm. In the middle of the lightning and thunderstorm we’d helped two other boats reset their anchors and add more stern tie lines but couldn’t stop an inexperienced sailboat skipper smashing into a power boat resulting in twisted anchor chains. It had been a harrowing, and exhausting emotional and physical experience and now we were glad to be securely tied to the cleats on an old wooden dock where we could rest in peace.

As we walked out to do some exploring, the skipper in the boat moored on the other side of the dock hailed us and said. “Welcome folks. Just to let you know there is a raccoon in the vicinity who makes a habit of searching the boats for trash each night. Make sure you have everything covered up.”

We thanked him and went on our way. Met a few of the other boaters, talked to the general store owner, learnt a little of the history of the marina, and had dinner upstairs in the restaurant. Back on the boat we did some reading, took the trash to the public bins, conscious of the myriad warnings we’d received about the furry marina invaders and went to bed. We always left the main deck doors open to get breezes into the boat but shut the door to our stateroom in the bow.

I got up early next morning and poked my bleary eyes about the galley intending to make a quick cup of coffee. I was surprised to see the wrappings from two chocolate balls on the floor so went back to the stateroom and asked my wife if she’d been hungry in the middle of the night. “No,” she answered with a hint of ‘are-you-crazy?’ in her response.

Yes, you’ve guessed it. That smart little rascal raccoon we’d be warned about had indeed paid us a visit during the night. Bold, he’d come way inside the boat, and as we investigated further we found his footprints all across the galley counter, plus he’d taken several bites out of one of the green apples we’d left in our fruit bowl.

We thought we’d done all the right things before retiring for the night, but had clearly underestimated the intelligence, cunning, and perseverance of the scourge of the marina. We laughed and shared our experience with the other boaters. Needless to say however, we haven’t been back.

*******                         *******                        ********

“Hey Rory, look. Here comes an Express Cruiser into the docks.”

“What is that Cory? A SeaRay?”

“No, they don’t have that blue stripe along the hull. Maybe a Sunseeker. “

“I think that’s something new Rory. Pretty classy looking machine. Now I see it. A Cranchi – look at those sweeping Italian lines.”

“Very cool. You can bet the owners eat sophisticated food. We should have a new feast tonight.   If only the owner of the marina general store hadn’t written about hungry raccoons in the area. I think we’re pretty classy fur-balls, and we haven’t hurt anyone tasting their left overs. Why does he make such a fuss about us? “

“OK, settle down Cory. I know you’re excited to see what the newcomers might leave out for us unknowingly, but we have to wait a few hours until they are asleep. Go take a nap so you’re ready for a stealthy night excursion later. “

*           *         *

“Quiet Rory. Come on – they may be light sleepers or still awake entertaining themselves. You take the transom area, I’ll check the bow for scraps. Meet up in three minutes back here.”

… “So you found nothing either? OK.  Tidy folks I must say, and what a beautiful machine. I’m willing to bet we’ll find something downstairs in the galley. But you know I sort of like this boat, so let’s not pull the stuffing put of the seats tonight OK?”

“OK, brother. I agree. Wow, this looks like the jackpot Rory. Look on the counter there. I bet those are chocolate balls all wrapped up. Do you know any Italian? – I think that’s the language on the wrapper.”

“Come on Cory. Who cares? Oh my, these are great. Here you try the other one. These folks do have superb taste. This is some of the best chocolate we’ve had in ages. And lookie here – a lovely fresh apple. You take this side, I’ll take the other. Maybe just a couple of bites to offset that sweet chocolate.”

“Rory. Hold it! I hear noises. Yep. One of them is stirring behind that door. Let’s get out of here fast. Go go go. Wait at the doorway for me.”

“Whew that was close, but I feel bad. Look at those footprints on the counter. They’ll be easily able to guess we were here.   Nice folks, nice boat, nice food. Next time, let’s make sure we leave the place a bit cleaner. I’m sure they won’t begrudge us having our little feast but we should have left the boat as pristine as we found it.”

“OK big brother. Race you back to the nest.”

Pain !

Chapter 1     Surgery

PAIN!  Unbelievable pain!

I yelled again, “It hurts, it hurts!”

What was going on?

I repeated my cries.  “It hurts, it hurts!”

A fleeting glimpse of a face beside me.  Was it my wife or the doctor?   My eyes closed quickly.  Opened again. My wife, Gail, trying to smile and reassure me.  Closed my eyes.  Darkness. Opened as slits again.  Doctor.  Was that a look of surprise?  Closed again.  Ah – peace arriving.  More morphine added to the line into my vein.   No more yells.  Bliss. Sleep.

A technician disconnecting me from monitors. Limited words of reassurance mixed with a language I couldn’t understand. Malay I was told later.  A teaspoon of ice for my parched throat.  Cool, satisfying.  More please.  Conscious of being wheeled to the elevator. Wife holding my hand, saying “It’s over.  You’ll be fine.”  A ride upward. 5 floors.  I could actually focus on the electronic numbers as we reached each stage.  Guess I was alive and OK. Still attached to a drip line.  Lifted into a bed, attached to more monitors.  Terribly, terribly tired.  Squeezed my wife’s hand, “Love you hon.”   Fell asleep.

Rudely woken up in the morning by a nurse asking how I felt.  “Lousy.  Sleepy. Aching. Sore.”  Forced to drink something and take a pill.   Back to sleep.  Woke to the physician’s assistant running stethoscope all over my abdomen.  Listens intently. Shakes head, leaves.  Says nothing.  Not a very encouraging indication.  Try to sit up.  Whoops – hold it buddy.  Not ready yet I’m afraid.  Why not, I ask nurse on her next visit?  “Because of the staples.”

“The what?” 

“Staples.  You have 22 of them in your abdomen.  Wanna see?”

She didn’t say ‘stitches’.  She said ‘staples.’  Sure enough, when I bent forward with her help I could see silver metal staples running parallel to each other crossways in a line down through my belly button, as many below as above.  Guess they really needed something stronger than nylon to pull the sides of my tummy skin together. 

“Your anesthetist is coming to see you shortly and the surgeon will be in in a little while after him. Would you like something soft and cold to eat?”

What better than ice-cream to perk up one’s spirits?  I was on the second last spoonful when Dr. Gordon Lam walked in. “Hi Warren.  Good do see you. How are you feeling?”

“A bit shitty doc.  Not up to a marathon yet.”  That’s me alright, smart ass, trying to be funny.

“You know Warren, I had to give you a lot of morphine afterwards – 27mg.”

“All I remember doc is hurting badly.  Thank you for looking after me.”

And that brought back some vivid recall.   I’d been prepped for surgery and had been waiting in a roll-in bed outside the operating rooms for perhaps 30 minutes when finally Gordon had turned up.  He told me timing was imminent and turned to the nurse and said “15mg”.  That’s all I understood at the time although I saw a questioning look pass across her face. She said nothing however, although she apparently knew 15mg wouldn’t be enough.  This was GlenEagles Hospital in Singapore. Over 95% of the patients here were slightly-built Asians. If 15mg worked for most of them, it was definitely going to take more for a much heavier Caucasian like me.   Clearly, whatever drug dosage Gordon gave me for the surgery was on track, but treatment of post-op pain needed reinforcement.

Back in my room after the surgery, no sooner had the anesthetist left than my surgeon turned up.  Susan Lim had earned some of her physician’s stripes at Duke University, so was familiar with Caucasian patients.  She also had a gentle, informative, and caring bedside manner.  She explained my surgery.

“We did a laparoscopic examination through a hole in your navel Warren and determined we needed to go in more deeply.  Hence the fairly good sized incision you have.  Inside we found a number of ‘adhesions’.  They are fibrous bands that had grown out of your appendectomy scar and choked around your upper colon stopping anything from passing through.  Pretty obvious why you weren’t feeling well.   We got to you just in time.  You were headed for a life-threatening experience.”

What? Something had grown out of my appendix scar?  I was flabbergasted. I’d had my appendix out at age 5 in Sydney Australia.  These things, ‘adhesions’, had been growing inside me for 50 years?  Unbelievable, but apparently true. The fibrous ribbons I had apparently cultivated over time had finally decided to let their presence be known on a business trip from Seattle to Singapore. I wondered why – couldn’t they have done it in some nicer way at a more convenient place and time please?

The next input from Dr. Lim seemed so cavalier that I couldn’t resist smiling.  “So we cut out the adhesions Warren, then put your intestines and other organs back in their proper place, washed out your insides, pulled over an apron of omentum so you’ll never have this trouble again, and used two sets of stiches internally and the staples to pull you back together again.”

All said in a matter-of-fact tone; it was as if she’d been describing what she’d had for lunch that day. Susan then spent twenty minutes passing the stethoscope backwards and forwards over my abdomen, until eventually she said.  “Yes!  Those PA’s said they couldn’t hear anything. I’ll have to teach them what a colon sounds like when it’s waking up from surgery.  You will be fine Warren. Another day of bed rest then we’ll start some light walking around.”

In the middle of the night I was woken by the phone ringing beside my bed.   “Hi Dad, it’s Arlene (my eldest daughter, who is an MD).  I’m calling from Saudi Arabia where I’m working with Doctors without Borders.  Haven’t had access to email for a couple of days and just heard from Gail about your surgery. How are you doing?”

I told her about the information gleaned from my surgeon’s visit that afternoon, and she told me that the body can go partially paralytic when you abuse it with such drastic surgery, and that indeed some components shut down as part of the natural defensive healing process. She mentioned when she was in training that they once had a girl whose organs took five days to respond.  The fact that mine were giving out signals in 24 hours was very positive news.

That one phone call made me feel so much better.  Next day I even had color back in my cheeks according to Gail, who came loaded with email wishes from workers and family around the world.

Gail. What would I have done without her beside me?  I don’t know and I don’t want to know.  She was the greatest comfort around, before and after surgery.  Florence Nightingale out of uniform. Not a physical staff nurse at the hospital, but a just-as-important emotional support nurse.  She’d flown thousands of miles at a moment’s notice to be with hubbie because he was in serious medical trouble.  Dropped everything and got the last seat, which happened to be a Business Class one, on the first available flight. More expensive than expected, but waiting another twelve hours wasn’t an option she considered.

On the day that I had left home I had driven to Vancouver, Canada where I was to catch my Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong.  Along the way I’d called and told her I had a bit of a stomach ache.  I hoped things would calm down while I waited in the lounge at the airport, and would let her know.  While things did in fact ease off in the lounge, it was just the lull before the storm. 

I had no way of anticipating what was in store up ahead.

 

 

Chapter 2     The Flight to Hospital

I had my favorite window seat near the front of Business Class.  I always chose the right hand side because I could watch the coastline of the Canadian mainland as we took off to the west, and hours later my view would take in the coast and snow-topped mountains of Alaska. Then I could watch Japan slide beneath us on the final part of the journey. I always liked to make sure our pilot was going in the right direction!

I know, you think that sounds funny.  But I refused to fly Korean Air into Asia, because years earlier one of their commercial planes strayed into Soviet airspace and was shot down.  Bet if I’d been on board I would have checked to make sure the pilot changed his route.  J   

I liked the Cathay flight to Hong Kong for lots of reasons.  First, it started in Vancouver as a turn-around so it was fresh and clean inside and well prepared. The staff on board were smiling and attentive, happy to be heading in the right direction homeward.   Second, the plane left in the afternoon, unlike Cathay’s other flight to Hong Kong which departed at 2am in the early morning after coming in from New York.  Third, the flight arrived in the middle of the day with a range of possible connections to other Asian cities.  And I liked flying through sunshine rather than overnight flights.  I had the ability to sleep easily on all long distance international flights, no matter what time of day or direction they flew or whether they were overnight or daytime flights.   But I preferred ten hours of sunshine than ten hours of darkness. I flew a lot those days.  I was a 5 million miler with all the attendant privileges.

Like all air warriors I had my own personal quirks of travel.  I drank a lot of water to keep hydrated and I got out of my seat frequently and walked up and down the length of the plane for exercise. I slept after the meal service, waking a few hours before landing.  On this particular trip dinner didn’t sit well, and the stomach ache came back.  My only intake after that was 7UP in an attempt to settle things again.  I did not have a good sleep and by the time we arrived in Hong Kong I was even more uncomfortable.

I managed to get through the wait for my connection to Singapore, but once again refused any more food on the flight.  I arrived in greater pain, and remember in the taxi that I was sweating with discomfort. As I checked in to the Marriott I asked to have a doctor sent to my room.  I was hurting big time by then.

Dr. Geoffry Seah gave me some pain killers and sleeping pills and promised to come by in the morning to check on me.  Whatever thoughts he had about what my problem might be he kept to himself.   But in the morning when he came back he was clearly concerned and actually drove me in his own car to a Gastroenterologist, Dr. Roland Eng, who diagnosed gallstones and ordered me into hospital, refusing my request to let me fly home.   I called Gail who was fretting and wondering why she hadn’t heard from me, and gave her the bad news.  

At the time we were living on an island halfway between Seattle and Vancouver. I’m the travel agent in our family and so I gave her the Cathay Pacific phone number and flight options, contact numbers for the hotel and hospital and left arrangements up to her.  Friendly neighbors drove her to Vancouver airport in the middle of the night (we didn’t need two cars parked there for our return), and next I knew she was calling me from Hong Kong.  Blessed relief.  She was on her way.  What a horribly anxious experience she was going through.

I think it was nearly as hard for Gail as it was for me for the next few days as the Surgeon at the hospital put me through a conservative investigative process aimed at finding out my problem.  Had my colon simply twisted on itself – apparently a condition known to affect harried businessmen – or was it something else?   Gail made the manager at the hotel aware of my plight and that she didn’t know how long the room would be needed.  The staff there were very empathic, arranging special meals, access to the Internet, and cars to drive her to the hospital. But it was a lonely, sad existence, full of worry and feelings of helplessness. Email communication with friends back home was poor solace.

The hospital setting was quite unique.  GlenEagles is a top institution in the city, and I was fortunate to have been admitted there.  The fifth floor was different from all the others in that it was reserved for ‘elite’ customers.  Apparently as a Caucasian visitor in serious condition I was afforded that appellation.  There were apparently many unique capabilities and arrangements made on that floor that didn’t occur on others.  There was one that especially intrigued us.

In one corner of the wing there was a large, elaborate suite, always dark.   It had its own lobby and several rooms spreading along two walls of the building.  Ornate statues of Buddha among luxurious fake palm trees decorated the entrance.  Mahogany woodwork indicated expensive tastefulness.  Clearly, this was a special place.

I was in hospital nearly 4 weeks.  Never in that period did the corner suite get used. So we just had to ask about it.

The Princess of Brunei did all her important shopping in Singapore where she could buy wonderful high quality western-type goods.  Clothes, electronics, leather products, furniture, fabrics were among her acquisitions.  The lady would fly into town with an entourage of relatives and security guards. And if milady suffered a headache while she was shopping she could always pop into her suite at GlenEagles with her entourage and rest there until she was ready to hit the streets again. And of course if anyone in the royal family was ill that was where they would stay and be looked after.

Perhaps the Sultan was a contributor to the hospital. We didn’t ask. In Singapore itself there are three main ethnic groups – Malay, Chinese, and Indian. While there are distinct localized homogeneous communities, the country is a true melting pot with many inter-group marriages. My business friend there is Indian, but he married a Chinese girl.  They had two distinct elaborate marriage ceremonies – one for each culture.  But the families got on well together.  You’ll hear both pros and cons about Singapore.  Lots of social support systems, some a bit confining for us westerners.  But clean, and orderly, with the city well maintained. A bit sterile in some folks’ views, too planful, too organized. No real hustle, bustle, and excitement that characterizes Hong Kong.  Crime well contained, communication technologically advanced.  And of course Singapore Airlines is one of the best airlines in the world, epitomizing a sincere, gentle, caring approach of Asian personal service in the skies.

After just over two weeks of various tests, some far less pleasant than others, Gail and I were asked to visit the Surgeon’s office.  She told us there were no more tests they could apply but it was clear there was an obstruction of the bowel and it would be necessary for surgery to find the problem and correct it.  She used a phrase we hadn’t faced before by suggesting a three-phase approach to my life-threatening condition. First a laparoscopic look, ‘with a view’ to incision if deemed necessary, ‘with a view’ to removal of part of the colon if required.  That last part shook us both up. Very scary indeed. 

Here we were 13,000 miles from home via airplane routes.   Hadn’t talked to any of our doctors back home. Felt good because of the western-trained doctors looking after us.  But re-sectioning of the bowel?  That was pretty drastic stuff with a long recovery period. How likely was it?  What were the chances of success?  If it happened how long would we have to stay?  No definitive answers forthcoming to those questions. 

We were introduced to the anesthetist who’d be assisting Dr. Lim. Gordon was full of empathy, asking a few more questions about current medications, allergies etc etc.  Oh boy, this was all too real. Scheduled for the next afternoon, neither Gail nor I slept well that night.  It was probably the toughest, loneliest evening of the whole visit for Gail. 

Apprehensive?   That was a highly euphemistic description of how I felt next morning.  Terrified? That was closer. In a strange city, no friends around us, unknown doctors and nurses of different races with varying degrees of English proficiency. An Indian nurse on our floor had taken Gail under her wing, for which I was incredibly grateful.  She dispensed anti-anxiety pills and arranged special western food.  She accompanied the pair of us in the elevator to the basement operating theaters.   She checked in on Gail during my surgery time relaying whatever information she could glean about what was going on, mainly when the anesthetist arrived,  when I was wheeled in to the OR, when the surgeon arrived and when she knew I was headed for recovery. One of the longest 120 minute periods in Gail’s life for sure.

Dr. Lim approached Gail in the lobby of the recovery area where she shared brief details of the operation, providing immediate relief by indicating that she’d had to go no further than phase two of her plan.  So that when I was wheeled into the recovery it was much easier than otherwise for Gail to tolerate my screams of pain.  The screams were both good and bad news.  I’d obviously survived surgery that was far less drastic than it could have been, but it was clear that I was hurting.

Sometimes, some days work out better than expected. This was one of them.

Chapter 3     Recovery  & Homeward Bound

There came a day when Dr. Lim came by and said, “I hear you are doing well Warren, increasing in strength each day with your walking exercises.  Would you like to walk outside in the garden tomorrow?”

“Yes ma’am. You bet.” 

I think Gail especially was getting tired of our repetitive tours of the corridors of our floor.  Round and round. Clockwise, then anti-clockwise.  Round and round again.  Monotonous. There weren’t many patients at all on the floor, but we knew all about them. Gail had been confined for 4 weeks in the hotel or the hospital.  A breath of fresh air would be very welcome.

And then the next positive input.  “Come by my office around noon tomorrow and we’ll remove some stiches.”

Wow, I really must be on the mend.   Definitely good news.

Have you ever had metal staples removed? Believe me it’s not something you want to pursue voluntarily. I grimaced as every second one was pulled out.  Ouch! 

“Good job Warren, we’ll take the rest out tomorrow.”  I wasn’t sure I wanted to come back for that procedure, although I knew I had no option, so to offset my hesitation I asked, “How soon before I can go home doc?”

“The day after tomorrow would work.  My receptionist can help with making bookings if you like.”

I didn’t quite sprint to the waiting room where Gail was, but I sure moved faster than I had in weeks. “We’re going home hon.  Two days time.”  We hugged in an unabashed display of affection which made the onlookers smile.  Joy, oh joy!

We had open Business Class tickets, and next day we had the receptionist call Cathay Pacific with tickets in hand to arrange eastward bound flights. No problem. She gave us the details and then told us about a wonderful embellishment.   Apparently Dr. Lim had already dictated a letter to the Officer in Charge, Cathay Pacific, Singapore.  It basically said that I had undergone prolonged major abdominal surgery and due to the nature of my pathology it would be best if I could fly with my feet up most of the journey back to North America.  Also, due to my surgical scar Mrs. Dent would be required to be next to me for nursing assistance.  Finally she ended with a request to please kindly assist with an upgrade to First Class if possible. 

The letter was faxed to Cathay immediately the bookings were confirmed.  No guarantees of course, but what a nice gesture on the part of the doctor.

It’s just under 4 hours flight time between Singapore and Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific’s schedule didn’t offer First Class on that route at the time of day we needed to travel but we were waited on attentively once on board as if we were somewhat special. It was at Hong Kong that the earth moved.  As we walked off the jetway a big sign with our names drew us to the side where about 6 uniformed employees waited for us. There was a large electric cart waiting and we were whisked away through unused corridors to a separate immigration checkpoint and on to a semi-secluded corner of the First Class lounge where we were offered a meal if we wanted.

The attention was almost overwhelming but very nice as manager after manager asked if there was anything they could do for us.  Talk about care, concern, and commitment. These folks really turned it on. We felt flattered.  I was handed a First Class boarding pass, although Gail only had a Business Class pass.  We hoped that might change but nothing transpired before we were taken by electric cart again to the gate area.

First Class and Business Class passengers were called to board and when Gail’s pass was scanned she was pulled aside and handed a First Class seat assignment instead.   We couldn’t fault Cathay in any way. Their service was outstanding.  Believe it or not things got even better. Our plane was a 747 – my favorite – and I had the single left front seat in the nose area. Gail was a few rows back on the other side.  But when people saw us chatting they switched around for us and she ended up directly opposite.  We were totally spoilt. And we enjoyed it.

It was still 13 hours to Vancouver with a two hour drive after that, but we were very happy to be heading home, in First Class no less, just drained from the whole episode.

Gail and I of course had done some real bonding. Her love was unconditional and I sincerely appreciated it.

These days she often wears a beautiful tanzanite and diamond ring.  It is my thank you to the most wonderful Florence Nightingale around.

A Dignified Mansion

Tears in my Eyes – # 3 in a series of genealogical reality experiences

As the European industrial age that started in the late 18th century gathered momentum in the early 1800s, many London citizens were to lead very successful and rewarding lives, profiting from the demand for new industrial goods and appliances and the boom in real estate.    But when the English agrarian population revolted and fled massively to the cities in the 1840s, overcrowding and unemployment resulted.  The outer suburbs of London deteriorated rapidly as crime became more prevalent, and the landed gentry felt dispossessed of their heritage and status.  Artists went to Italy, businessmen headed for Australia.

The messages from the Antipodean colonies were improving monthly and to some it seemed there was more opportunity there than at home.  Stephen Amand Wright’s four sons had already done well and he was inordinately proud of them.  It was little surprise when three of them decided to migrate to Adelaide, Australia.  After much deliberation, Stephen and his wife, Lucy, decided to join them and departed London in January 1850, leaving their eldest son, Stephen Peltro Henry, and his two sisters behind to manage the family’s affairs.   Born in 1819, young Stephen had a respected job as Clerk in the Ordnance Department at the Tower, and doted on his wife, Elizabeth, and 5 children.

In 1855, on learning his mother was very ill he too decided to join the family overseas.

Even though the first Europeans had settled in Australia nearly seventy years earlier, Adelaide was well behind Sydney and other Australian towns in development.  Since there was no penal settlement there, labour for creating and maintaining Infrastructure was in low supply.  Adelaide offered the flavour of a small English city – peaceful, urbane, sophisticated. A refuge in primitive surroundings. Indeed, contrary to the random and sometimes deadly interchanges with natives in NSW, aborigines from the peaceful Kaurna tribe even had small camps along the banks of the Torrens River.

The climate was bearable, the soils rich, and the location bounded by the sea and pleasant rolling hills.   With clear sunshine, plenty of fresh water, and space, glorious space, the town of Adelaide made London with its slums, crowds, crime, and dreary skies, a place to forget.

For smart emigrant entrepreneurs like the Wrights, the chance to become prosperous was very real and very attractive.  And with an extended family in town, members were able to support and promote each other. The family encompassed architects, land agents, and more general businessmen including one with interests in copper mining.   With semi-political ambitions the prominence of the Wrights became highly public.  In 1858, in recognition of his business acumen and civic pride and contributions, Stephen was elected Mayor of Glenelg, no mean achievement having arrived in the community just three years earlier.    A year later his brother, Edmund, became mayor of Adelaide.

In 1860 the family patriarch died, and was buried alongside his wife, Lucy, at the Michigan Anglican Cemetery. The rest of the 1860s saw widespread expansion of the remaining family, but in 1865 winds of change started to arrive and the heat of summers made family members look to alternative places to live.

Finally in the unpleasant heat of middle summer, on Thursday January 18 1866, Stephen, Elizabeth and now eight children, boarded the Coorong, a steamer of 390 tons, bound for Melbourne.  After a short stay there the family continued to Hobart on the Derwent of 350 tons. The boats carried a limited number of passengers and were primarily used to transport freight between ports.    For Tasmania, sea transport was vitally important.  On the mainland rail carriage eventually overtook ship traffic for freight transportation.

And so a new life began for the Stephen Peltro Henry Wright family.   Tasmania, and the Hobart area in particular, offered a much cooler climate than the Adelaide suburbs.  In fact Tasmania was often publicised as a better place for one’s health than elsewhere.  Of course there was an extensive penal colony at Port Arthur and more convicts in the town and countryside than in Adelaide.   But also there was a lot of fertile ground along the Derwent river for crops and livestock.  And constant streams of fresh water flowed from the gullies of Mt. Wellington, which dominated the Hobart skyline.

Here then were new boundless business opportunities attracting the politically astute and highly creative Wrights that added to the other benefits of climate and better health. Stephen bought a house first in Davey St., Hobart, then later moved north of Hobart to O’Brien’s Bridge, which later became part of the town of Glenorchy where he soon became a member of the town council.

In 1868 he bought what was known as “The Grove Estate”, 46 acres of land bounded on the East by Humphrey’s rivulet and in the North by the Derwent.   Little did he know at the time how incredibly influential he and The Grove and his family would become, not only in the development of the surrounding town, but also in the world agricultural commerce scene and the High Society of Hobart.

Stephen, a natural leader with foresight and ingenuity, was literally about to bring significant changes to the world he and millions of others currently knew.

One of his first acts was to plant Hops. Hops were grown up long poles, and whole families, headed by the estate workmen’s wives, were involved at harvest time.  Picking started at daylight, about half-past four, and continued all day.  It was hard work, but the money was welcome, as there were few other ways for women to earn cash.  At the end of harvest the pickers were paid off and the occasion was festive with parades in the streets. Amazing as it might seem, by the end of 1868 Stephen had been elected as a Councillor of Glenorchy in recognition of his stature in the community.

Stephen was a determined man of industry.  He now became a businessman farmer and invested not only in hops but also in apple trees.  Hops required special drying kilns so he had some built, albeit with extra storage facilities that had unanticipated uses and benefits in later years.  These became the largest kilns in Australia.

Painting in Glenorchy Council ChambersThe Grove homestead had an enviable position in Glenorchy.  The house had views from the rear of Mt. Wellington and views from the front of Mt. Direction across the Derwent river. By 1870 Stephen had enhanced the main house with formal gardens.

This was a magnificent Georgian structure with adjoining buildings housing the kitchen, laundry and out-house facilities.  Gardeners were employed to help maintain the residence and surrounds in beautiful condition.

Stephen became a member of Tasmania’s Royal Society.  His wife Elizabeth ordered a number of plants in many lists from the Royal Society’s Garden in Hobart.  Among her purchases in 1880 were 12 Giant Sequoia Redwoods (Wellingtonia) for 2 shillings each.   On learning that Stephen had served as a member of the South Australian Board of Education the Tasmanian Government appointed him member of their Board of Education replacing Sir Robert Officer.  Stephen’s influence and importance grew.

The children found significant societal partners and married.  Matriarch Elizabeth died in 1884 and her passing was felt by family and local citizens alike. Harold married the daughter of the Premier 6 months later, and Stephen died, bereft, in September 1886. Through 18 years in the district Stephen was a leader in civic, business, and personal endeavours. He instilled pride and love in his family and his charitable acts endeared him to the community.  His burial on 17th September was attended by farmers from towns up and down the Derwent, and by dignitaries from Hobart.  He was buried alongside Elizabeth at St. Paul’s Anglican Church Glenorchy.

About this time, as the fortunes of The Grove started to grow more rapidly, the remaining sons established The Wright Brothers Company for management and distribution of the agricultural products they were now farming successfully. Their hops plantation was the largest in Tasmania.  Fourth born son, Harold, became spokesman and leader of the estate initiatives. He followed in his father’s footsteps in many ways – as an astute businessman, community supporter, and charitable social host of The Grove.

One of his first new efforts was to create a beautiful welcoming avenue of poplars along one of the entrances to the estate.   And to invest further in the apple business with packing and storage sheds.   Blessed with natural instinct, Harold was the first grower to export apples to England.  In the first batch the apples in all but one barrel arrived ruined, so Harold  worked with shipping experts to successfully develop better packing and preservative methods.  Years later he was even able to ‘brand’ his apples by wrapping, which increased their value in London.

In 1887 Sydney, a little over 1000 kilometres to the north as the eagle flies, the career of a gentleman named Francis Rogers is advancing.  Born in 1841, married in 1868, he has four children, and is a well respected judge on the northwest rural circuit.

His sister Maude Florence, born twenty years after him in 1861,  was raised with his children after her mother’s death. As such, she is an awkward fit in the family and learned independence early in her life. Endowed with her parents’ intellectual and social capabilities, and following in her mother’s footsteps, in her mid twenties, she studies to become a teacher.

Howard Wright, Harold’s older brother, had taken on his father’s responsibilities with respect to membership on the Tasmanian Board of Education.  On a visit to Sydney and observance of training programs there, Howard is introduced to Miss Maude Rogers. While 12 years her senior they find a common bond, and marry after a short courtship in Hobart at the Church of St. David October 1888, the same month Maude receives her diploma.

Maude enters a successful family of high repute. The late 1880s and the 1890+ decade become prosperous times for the Wright farming entity.   Over 100 workers are engaged in the hop and apple business.  Harold builds eight 4-room cabins on the estate for families who want to work for the company. but have nowhere to live – an example of the type of action that endears him to his workers.  At the same time he builds a sportsground and an 18 hole golf course “GroveLinks” for use by local citizens (including those in Hobart). He also helps form local Glenorchy cricket and football teams. The Grove and Glenorchy become almost synonymous.

Maude is now the matron of Howard’s house in Davey St., Hobart.  Bought long ago by Howard’s father, it sits in a prestigious enclave of homes with an expansive estate and fine views to the Derwent River.   Other large houses for wealthy citizens are still being built there. It doesn’t take long for Maude and Howard to become pillars of Hobart High Society as Maude becomes chairperson of several charitable organizations. Their friends include the governor, a variety of successful business people, and other respected wealthy land owners.

In late 1894, and early 1895, the Tasmanian Exhibition takes place in Hobart.  As members of the socially privileged upper class, Howard and Harold and their wives were among those granted special season ticket passes.  This international exhibition helped put Hobart ‘on the map’ so to speak. Its aim was ‘to promote and foster industry, science, and art, by inciting the inventive genius of the people to a further improvement in arts and manufactures, as well as to simulate commercial enterprise by inviting all nations to exhibit their products both in the raw and finished state’.  The passes provided a mini photo album of family members:

4 WrightsBack in Glenorchy, the agricultural business and the family blossomed. One year the Wright Bros. sold 5,000 cases of apples, picked from 4.5 acres.

Federation in Australia, proclaimed January 1, 1901, instituted a Federal government and changed relationships between states so that in effect more completion ensued, especially in agriculture with the elimination of tariffs.  The ‘white Australia’ policy effectively stopped the import of islanders for labour – especially in Queensland cane fields, and in part emboldened labour groups to push for greater consideration and recognition of value.

Despite the love and respect with which The Grove and the Wright family were held, the hop pickers called a strike in 1901, led by a Mrs. Fulton, demanding higher wages.   While the workers won this round, Harold decided against planting hops the next season, and concentrated on apples only going forward.   In the end the hops workers hurt themselves.

Harold’s wife died and he remarried a minister’s daughter. He dedicated more land from the estate for public use, and built a dock and bought a boat, becoming a skilled oarsman and yachtsman. He also arranged hunting parties for quail and snipe, and established cycling tracks at the sportsground.

His generosity and altruism were no better evidenced than when magnificent balls were staged in the Hop kilns.  These balls could be instigated by all sorts of groups for various reasons.  For appropriate causes Harold would even pay for a special train to be available to take passengers back to Hobart city after the revelling was over.  The railway had cut through the property in 1876. It helped immensely with the speedy transport of packaged fruit to Hobart and beyond, and now Harold used it for convenience purposes as well.

But the winds of change were on the horizon.  As members of the family moved away or died over the years, and apple prices plummeted, much of the estate and its assets were sold off. Good years juxtaposed with poor years, but even as late as 1935 Harold attended the opening of The Grove Esplanade, a half hectare reserve on the banks of the Derwent especially set aside for the children of Glenorchy.

By 1940 at age 89 however Harold no longer had the energy to look after The Grove.  Further subdivision of the land was imminent and so he started the process of closing  things down with a sale of redundant farm equipment and his own relocation to Sandy Bay.  On 4th January 1842 he passed away in a private hospital in Hobart.

His death signalled the end of an era. He had lived at The Grove for 72 years.  The Grove’s role in hops and apple production was pivotal to the State’s agricultural development.  The magnanimity of the Wright family over the years had created a reverence and love in the wider Glenorchy community unmatched by any other local family.   While many of the Wrights had married into High Society they never forgot the common folks who tilled their land, picked the crops, or birthed their children on the estate.  Land was donated for sports and other recreational facilities and open to all.  This pioneering family, while happily well-off, had also brought prosperity to many  – not just the workers on the estate per se, but to the owners and employees of all the commercial facets of the emergent apple-related industry – from canneries to rail transportation to mercantile shipping.  From landed gentry in South Australia a century earlier the sharp business acumen and creative innovation inherent in the Wright genes had made a remakable impact in the fair state of Tasmania.  From local politics to business dealings the Wrights had definitely served their fellow man well.

Still intact DSC00125After the Wright family departed the Grove the magnificent mansion of old was rented out by the new owners, who continued to keep it somewhat intact.  Clearly however as modern conveniences became more available there was a need to update the dwelling and no-one took on that obligation.  Its historic value was clearly recognized, and so it was left alone but not cared for.  At some point in the 1960s Chinese gardeners planted vegetables and supplied local markets with produce. But the house started to disintegrate and became unsuitable for living.

The outbuildings were torn down and the roof was exposed in rusty state.  Broken window panes were not replaced and the front door was boarded up.   The flower gardens went to seed.  A large lone tree grew up providing early morning shade, but the grandeur was sadly gone and what ended up remaining was just a relic of a glorious past.

Fired DSC00122 - CopySomewhere in the 1980s vandals broke in and created a fire, burning all the timber framework inside and causing the roof to cave in, so that all remained were the original brick walls and chimneys.

In 2009 I was busy tracing the life story of Maude Florence Rogers who happened to be the niece of my great great grandfather, Joseph Taylor.

As I learned more I became intrigued by what had happened to the Glenorchy home of the Wright family she’d married into. I undertook a little pilgrimage to Tasmania to see what I could learn. The above information was all I could learn in advance of my visit, save for an aerial photo of the area from which I deduced the home’s approximate location.  The photo was indistinct but not encouraging.  Was the home still standing?  Had it been reconstructed and restored as a memorial to the pioneers of the town?  What state was it in?

From outside a private wire fence I could identify the shell of a building in the distance. I drove around several streets until I came to the entrance of a timber merchant’s yard.  Tentatively I proceeded through the gates and parked by  an administrative building.  A family named McKay owned the timber yard.

A gentleman escorted me to the red brick building 100 yards in. As we came closer I was in misery, and tears flowed from my eyes.

IMG_3372AWhat had once been a beautiful, elegant mansion, was now an unkempt, broken, monument, witness to time and apathy. Lacking attention and open to the elements, invasive plant varieties had seeded inside the edifice, and extensive shrubbery had become established, with roots creating pressure on interior walls and arches, so that large cracks in the brickwork had occurred, window ledges had collapsed, and in some cases whole walls had caved in. It was an absolute travesty!

IMG_3389AThis had once been a magnificent home that craftsmen had painstakingly laboured over to construct.  It had the latest modern plumbing conveniences of the times, some pipes still in place attesting to the fact.  Remnants of heavy plaster still adhered to select walls.  Solid wooden beams framed doorways and ornate cement keystones decorated the front entryway.  A hole showed where guests had pushed the doorbell requesting entry.  No ghosts answered my simulated attempted ring.

I was angry, and heartbroken.

IMG_3384A

The brickwork was of a unique style and calibre – using
a technique called ‘Flemish Bond’ wherein for every
longitudinally laid brick, one was put in end on,
presumably for strength of the wall, which may be why
parts of the building had stood for so long.

I grew sadder.  I wondered why no-one had cared.  The
local council chambers had paintings of the Grove estate,
the Hop Kilns, the river view, and the mansion.  The
Wright name was prevalent in town, well remembered and revered.  Was there no civic pride, no wish to permanently recognize, remember, and thank those who had made the town what it was?

Perhaps by today the lumber supply company has had the old mansion dismantled, for it was an eyesore on their property and it was probably far too late to find a benefactor to restore it – a mammoth and very expensive task in any event.

I realize not everything lasts forever, and progress often overtakes the past.

Given the impact the Wright family had on the Glenorchy environment, the local agricultural industry, and indeed the culture of Tasmania, this loss hurts far more than others.

A Beloved Diary

Tears in my Eyes – # 2 in a series of genealogical reality experiences

Henry Beaufoy smiled happily as he watched another load of barrels pass through the gates of his Lambeth factory on their way to the naval wharves further down the Thames.  His grandfather Mark had been incredibly smart to secure Admiralty contracts for vinegar which provided ships’ stores with ‘a fumigator, an antiseptic, and a preservative’.  The consequent wealth from those agreements allowed Henry to pursue his passions – collecting original classic tomes, financing hot-air balloon experiments, and inventing artillery.  He’d already been made a Fellow of the Royal Society for his important contributions to science and country.

Tomorrow however would be a sad day, for he’d be taking his wife’s sister, Charlotte, and two of her children, Eliza, and Henry, to Gravesend where they’d be embarking on a voyage to Sydney, Australia.  Several years back Charlotte had lost her husband – an esteemed construction manager – killed while building a cathedral in Dublin.

Crime in west London was increasing as the city became flooded with rural evacuees, and job availability lagged way behind the population explosion.  Stealing to gain money to buy food caused gaols to overflow and crowded floating prisons had been created out of the hulks of old navy ships to incarcerate convicted felons until they were transported to the Antipodes.

Crime was one thing. But as well, unseemly business ventures now abounded. Fumes from bone boiling.. ‘a business of … a most filthy and disgusting nature’, from wax bleaching, and from the gas works, were added to the smoke of potteries with which Lambeth had long been familiar. Twenty five years was the average length of life in the parish in the 1830s and for many that seemed far too long.  It was no longer a fit place for upper class families to reside and raise their children.  Too many wealthy citizens were feeling dispossessed.  Adjustments needed to be made.

And so Henry had decided to finance his wife’s extended family members in a voyage to Australia where it was clear that opportunity abounded.  Charlotte’s youngest son, Joseph, would stay behind and be groomed as Henry’s successor in the business. He would receive an education at the finest schools in London and Paris to expand his intellect and capabilities, of which evidence already was obvious.

With its holds full of cargo, the 366 ton barque City of Edinburgh pulled away from its anchorage, two days after boarding, at 2pm on Tuesday October 29, 1833. Captain Baker was in command, ably assisted by Surgeon Mr. Allan.   Out in the English Channel it immediately ran into a massive gale with winds so strong that many of the portholes were blown open and the cabins flooded with water.  All the first class passengers, as well as those in steerage, were mightily seasick, adding to the general misery.  An inelegant start to a long journey

Sixteen days later the ship limped into Plymouth Harbour where seven new cabin, and four new steerage, passengers boarded. A cow, calf, sheep, pigs, geese, turkeys, and fowls, were added to the existing menagerie to help provide eventual food supplies.   Cases of vegetables were also loaded. Small repairs delayed departure until Monday November 18, when the determined little ship hove up its anchor and headed south before the breeze.  Ahead of it lay two great oceans to be crossed, all their turbulent and unforgiving offerings hidden in store for the unwary travellers.

TeneriffeEliza Taylor was only 15 years old when she started an illustrated diary of her journey.  Pleasant, warm weather over the first two weeks, star-lit nights, bands of porpoises, flying fish, a Stormy Petrel, and other brigs at sea brought wonderment and delight.  They passed Madeira and the Peak of Teneriffe capped with snow.  It got warmer and warmer approaching the equator until by mid December the heat was stifling, the boat was becalmed, and the nights were filled with fierce electrical storms and terrifying thunder.    A marked contrast to folks back home holding their stockings to the fire as snow and frost decorated the window panes.

At one point, letters were hastily written and given to the captain of a brig from Mauritius bound for London. Sharks and grampuses were caught, augmenting salt pork diets.  Celebrations with Captain Neptune for uninitiated crew extended to wetting down all the passengers occasioning merriment all round, concluding with singing and dancing well into the night.

There were mince pies for Christmas Eve dinner and Divine Service at 10:30am on Christmas Day.  Boxing day came blessed with a total eclipse of the moon in the evening starting at sunset and not clearing until 10 pm.   Sailors went out and caught some floating cephalopods whose barbs stung and caused blisters – cured with lime juice over several days.  Eliza’s hands were cured by New Years eve so that when a sailor named Horatio Nelson played the violin she happily joined in dancing the old year away. Eventually picking up the northwest trade winds the ship moved at over 10 knots towards the African coast.  CapeTown

By mid January, between daily rain squalls, albatrosses and cape pigeons were spotted and anchorage at Cape Town in Table Bay occurred on Monday January 27 1834. It was a giant relief to stand on terra firma again, having covered a ‘quarter of the globe’ without stop. Overnight hotels stays were most welcome.  A variety of pretty birds inhabited the parks and the Inhabitants were of Dutch and Malay origin. Walking tours of the Government Gardens, buying fruit at the marketplace, and seeing inside local homes with their beams across high ceilings created new visages and memories.

Minor repairs, the taking on of more supplies, and the City of Edinburgh was outward bound just four days later.  The winds were unfavourable and it took two weeks to round the Cape.  Nearly 200 miles to the south of their desired course it became very cold.

During the extensive trip east passenger Captain Gore teaches Eliza how to use the quadrant and she becomes proficient at computing longitude by inspection.  The curiosity and intelligence of this girl are unfathomable.  Some days are clear and the nights produce falling stars with beautiful trails. Other days produce rain squalls.   A seaman falls overboard but is thankfully rescued with ropes thrown to him, as the sea is too rough to launch a longboat.

They pass St. Paul’s, a small desolate, barren and uninhabited island, used mainly as a compass check in the middle of the Indian Ocean, over 3,000 miles from Sydney.   A hurricane in the night sets the hen coops adrift but Captain Baker’s birthday is celebrated in fine conditions on Wednesday March 12.  A porpoise is caught and eaten and a giant albatross trapped and admired for its amazing size.

A truly severe storm encompasses them as they turn northeast through the islands of Bass Strait.  Water invades the cabins and passengers pray for deliverance as the ship rocks and pitches violently in the heaviest of seas.  It is a terribly scary episode as the main topmast sheet is carried away and the Captain and crew struggle for control.

The last few days along the NSW coast allow everything to dry out, and finally the ship proudly passes the through the heads and holds temporarily in safety off the northern peninsula.  The signal gun is fired, the pilot arrives at 7pm, and triumphantly the barque anchors in Sydney Cove off Garden Island at 10pm on Sunday March 30, 1834.

Sunday March 31 dawns gloriously and the passengers embark to Kings’ wharf.  They have arrived in an uncouth land halfway around the world – to a penal colony that is struggling to transform itself into a civilized town.   The convicts onshore stare at these new Free Settlers, but the welcome is muted for their freedom is envied.

Eliza signs off her diary ‘Que le bon Dieu nous protege.’   May he indeed.

Eliza Taylor was the sister of my great great grandfather Joseph Taylor, who travelled out to Australia in 1845 after completing his apprenticeship at the Beaufoy distillery.  I first held Eliza’s diary in my hands in July 2009 after I had learned of its existence at the Australian National Maritime Museum.   It took time to make arrangements and to get approval after justifying my relationship and interest.  The magic day dawned for my appointment, quite a ceremony being anticipated as the treasured icon was retrieved from deep storage.

I wore startlingly hideous blue coloured gloves for protection, but as I picked up this little girl’s journal, tears ran down my cheeks.  Here I was holding a book 175 years old, beautifully preserved, with lines lovingly written in fine longhand script of the time, accompanied by coloured illustrations reflecting what had captured Eliza’s imagination so long ago.

Diary & Front Page

I spent time helping transcribe the writing, loving every minute of discovery, learning about my distant ancestor.  What a remarkable young lady she was. The more I read, the more I came to understand and love her.  She was intelligent, adventuresome, creative, calm, and fun, all at the same time.   She had a great curiosity and willingness to learn – preserving fish, using the microscope, firing a pistol, learning latitude and longitude, experiencing the sting of a fish, learning the sextant.  And, above all, she was compassionate, willingly looking after her mother when she was ill on the passage, as well as other passengers scared by the storms.

As I read and re-read her story many times over the intervening years, Eliza Taylor became part of me.  I would hear her voice singing on deck. I would see her dancing the Quadrilles and Mazurkas. I would feel her laying down watching the stars cross the silent heavens at night, and I would experience her mind wondering about the friends and family she left behind, and about the unknowns ahead.

Today she is part of my soul, talking to me quietly, telling me life will be OK.  An incredibly valuable treasure living with me forever.

 

Three trees

Tears in my Eyes – # 1 in a series of genealogical reality experiences

The town of Gosforth sits 13 km north northwest of Maitland, inside an encompassing U loop formation of the volatile Hunter River.  These days the area is comprised mainly of grazing land bordered by sand and gravel quarries.  Gosforth area

But up until the middle of the twentieth century it was a vibrant farming community where vineyards, orchards and dairy cattle flourished.  First identified and named in 1801 it was 1833 before the Crown leased and sold 40 hectare lots, even though settlement had begun way back in 1812.   The richest tracts of land where giant cedars, eucalypts, casuarinas, ash, and teatree lined the river banks were to the east, ranging in size from 400 to 800 hectares.  The Anambah estate was subdivided later and a portion designated as Church and School land.   The historic Anambah house still stands to the south.

In 1848 The Board of National Education came into existence and established the first 11 ‘State’ schools as alternatives to ‘Church’ schools. In April 1850 the residents of Gosforth, Anambah, and Hillsborough applied to have a National School erected at Gosforth, approval forthcoming by August. School Residence Gosforth

The first two teachers did not stay long, deploring the conditions of the schoolhouse and residence, but in 1852, Joseph Taylor, with his wife Emma and two daughters and son, arrived after a National School assignment in Camden.  The Gosforth school was endowed with 35 pupils at the time, who lived not only in the town of Gosforth but also on farms across the Hunter – in Hillsborough to the Northwest and Rosebrook to the Northeast.

CadastralThe school land occupied just under a hectare and stretched to the river bank.  A Department of Lands cadastral shows lot 78 was reached from the village commons down Tierney’s lane of 225 meters.  One of the most peculiar aspects of the school (and unique amongst all National schools) was that it owned a rowboat which the teacher used to ferry children from one side of the river to the other.

The school was abandoned every time the Hunter River flooded.   Fortunately Joseph arrived a year after a terrible flood in July 1851, and left before the next one in November 1856.  Even so, teaching at Gosforth was a challenge with poor facilities, rising waters, and the fetching of children.  At first Joseph was an enthusiastic teacher, well supported by Emma who related well to the girl pupils. In 1853 enrollment had increased to 41 and Joseph was paid 50 pounds.  A year later enrollment had sky-rocketed to 123 and Joseph’s salary was 120 pounds.

It was a lot of work for one man to teach that many students. The settlers of the vicinity had fixed the school fees so low that the people’s contribution towards Joseph’s support was about a third of a labourer’s daily wage. Joseph started to lose self-respect, and motivation for the other leadership qualities that should have rendered his services valuable diminished.  A visit by inspector William Wilkins found Joseph apathetic, unable to have enthusiasm re-kindled even with a scolding, to any level beyond ‘a quiet acquiescence.’

Years later when Joseph taught at Seaham he set up a Men’s Mutual Improvement Society and became a prominent citizen in the town.  His intellectual capabilities were pronounced. Gosforth however was a challenge to all teachers.

The school continued through good and hard times, with its story being one of poor living conditions and bureaucratic procrastination.  Among the most memorable recorded positive events however was the planting of six trees commemorating Arbor Day in April 1891.  A flood in 1893 caused a replanting, but over the years a Blue Gum, Silky Oak and Kurrajong survived and thrived.   Finally in 1940 the school was closed for good.  The building was let as accommodation but after the disastrous flood of 1955 it was torn down, and rebuilt as a private residence in Telarah, a suburb of Maitland.

So why this interest in Gosforth?  Paul Taylor, born there, happens to be my great grandfather.  Joseph and Emma arrived in Sydney in December 1845, meeting up with Joseph’s elder sister Eliza, and his mother Charlotte, who had migrated 11 years earlier.  In the intervening years, Joseph had been groomed as successor to his uncle Henry Beaufoy in the burgeoning family-owned distillery and wine business back in Lambeth, London. Joseph’s heart wasn’t in the business world however. The stifling environment of crime-ridden London, the apparent opportunities in the Antipodes, and the gravitational pull of family so far away, all combined to help him decide at age 23 to join his relatives. The charming Welsh song mistress he’d fallen in love with was happy to join him in the adventure.

Eliza’s husband Edward had helped secure a flat for Joseph and Emma in Swan St. now subsumed by the QVB.  Joseph found part-time book-keeping work at a warehouse down by the wharves but had applied for a teaching position with the Anglican Church.  His daughter Annie was born at the end of March 1846, carrying as middle name, Plunkett, after a favored Taylor children’s Irish governess. It took three years before an appropriate teaching position for Joseph opened up in Narellan 65 km south southwest of Sydney – out ‘in the bush’.  For a city born and bred man this was a mammoth change, and for many years Joseph’s restlessness had him moving from town to town with new teaching assignments.

In 2009 I made a pilgrimage from the USA to my homeland to trace as many of my ancestors as I could.   In a wonderful memoir book titled “Hard Work Won’t Hurt You” by Pat Barden and Nell Pyle, my schoolboy friend Ian Cooksey of Newcastle had found that the location of the school at Gosforth was marked by two fence posts and three trees planted on Arbor Day many years before.

Gosforth 10 Lane and gatepostsThe road from Maitland to Gosforth runs through small rolling hills with a few ponds and many lazing kangaroos, but is spectacularly devoid of other habitation.  Even in the town itself there are very few local residences.  We explored a number of dead-end roads, unsure of our location, with ups and down in our guesswork, frustrated at lack of definition in the land.  Finally we pulled up at a gate between two old fence posts and decided to walk towards the river up the long low hill in front of us.

The grass was incredibly long, concealing an uneven surface designed to trip unwary trespassers. 100 metres in we started to crest the hill and as we advanced, those three giant trees emerged in the distance.

I stopped.  I was walking down the lane along a fence line where hundreds of students had walked to school over 150 years before.  To my great great grandfather’s school no less.  He’d also walked in this lane. His wife and children had walked in this lane.  His home had been here, my great grandfather born here.

One of the Arbor Day trees had died, but it didn’t stop the tears pouring down my cheeks. In my mind’s eye I imagined the residence and the schoolhouse.  I saw the teacher, Joseph Taylor, lean out the schoolhouse door and wave welcome to his charges bounding down the hill around me.  I was one of them, come to learn, to grow and contribute in the country around. I stayed mesmerized on the spot, hearing the bell marking the start of the day. I saw the boat tethered to a tree on the bank of the river, and when I listened on the breeze I heard the children reciting rhymes.Blue Gum Eucalypt, Silky Oak, Kurrajong at Gosforth School - sub

The memories of course will linger many years into the future.  For no longer are Joseph and Emma and Paul just names in the family tree.

I’ve trodden literally in their very footsteps.

Their reality echoes in my soul.

A Favorite Joke

I first used this joke in front of an English audience – employees of the company to which I‘d just been appointed as Managing Director.

“Yesterday, I had a little time to look around the sights of the inner city.  It was fun seeing all the  elements that London is famous for.  Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, The Tower, and so on , but I had nearly as much fun visiting the famous shops – Harrods, Hamleys Toy shop, Harvey Nichols, Selfidges, and Fortnum and Mason.  Such unusual foods in the latter.

“Somewhere in the dark recesses of this gourmet food shop I came across jars of brains.  Not animal brains, but human brains.  Some jars large, some small.  What really caught my attention beyond the bottle sizes were the prices.   Hand written on little tags tied with strings around the bottle necks, English brains were £10 per ounce, American brains £15 per ounce, and amazingly Australian brains were £100 per ounce. 

“That difference struck me as highly unusual, so I approached a gentleman at the counter.  I think he’d been born there, must have been 80 years old, stooped over, tortoise shell glasses, a greyish apron over old suit pants and a once-white shirt and with an eyeshade, of all things.  Balding on top. As I approached, he straightened up and asked “May I help you sir?” in an absolutely delightful high-brow  British accent.

“I said ‘Yes please, if you wouldn’t mind’ in my broadest Aussie drawl.  ‘I was looking at the brains lined up on the back shelves .  English brains £10 an ounce, American brains £15 an ounce and Australian brains a whopping £100 an ounce. I can understand the prices on the English and American brains but I couldn’t help wondering – why are Australian brains so expensive?’

“The little old man drew himself up to his full height, looked me directly in the eyes, paused, and then said ‘Sir, do you know how many Australians it takes to find an ounce of brains?’
I think the reason this is a favorite is two fold.  It’s self deprecating, so doesn’t offend others, and shows one can laugh at oneself, but also it’s ‘transferable’.   I’ve made those brains come from workers, managers, and vice-presidents, as well as from salesmen, engineers, and marketers.  My most treasured version however applies to teachers, shop owners and bankers.  Sort of more plausible in that instance, right?

What happened in this room? (A writing exercise)

The medium frowned and insisted on quiet from all the participants.  The orb on the lace doily registered dimly and then faded and came back, casting an eerie glow across all the faces watching intently.  A shadow flickered across the opaque surface and disappeared. A small erotic groan escaped the lips of the medium as she threw her dark hair back and thrust her long sensual fingers over the top of the globe. “Shhhsh…” she muttered.  “I hear a spirit approaching… “   “Who?” cried the elder gentleman opposite her.  “Shhhsh…. Let me concentrate…  Ah yes I see a form emerging…  Please all of you put your hands on the table and touch your neighbor so we form a circle of power around the orb.  Now, watch closely.  Yes, here it comes…  Shhhsh…”

Suddenly a burst of light crashed into the darkened room. Faces turned upwards in wonder and the old gentleman said “Wow, did that really happen?”

“Well”, said the medium. “I was communicating with an old oriental sage named Confucius who said ‘Many hands make light work’.  It did…. “

Just then the door flew open and the electrician poked his head around the corner and quietly stated “I fixed the fuse. Is the light working Ok now?”