Q for Quarantining some Australians
The shopkeeper signals her over. ’Not my turn!’ she says.
He looks to the side ‘Come on then!’
calling to the Indigenous youth he’d ignored,
who shuffles up holding some sandals.
‘You can’t afford those, he growls, ‘Pick something else’,
returning the man’s card behind the counter.
He turns to her. ‘One sunhat. Any cash with that?’
She shakes her head, enters her pin, staring at the forlorn card on counter.
‘Cashless welfare’ he grins. Looking up, ‘That’s better!’
She turns to see the glum youth, standing, flipflops in hand.
she wonders how to report this power keeper.
P for People
I love hearing people and enjoy watching them but I don’t like to study them. I know gestures, posture or gait can indicate varied personalities. I understand some traits like the eyes, the nose or the mouth might be inherited. Is there a view that our body shape could affect our development as an individual? I don’t know that either. For an insight into my fellow humans I rely only on intuition. No study needed. When we meet I start talking with them. By chance we open on topics common to us. Either we hit it off or we don’t.
O for Opinions
You’re trapped. You work from home and no one is checking over your shoulder you’re in charge, running the show Just send your report and you are paid, but so little! Or you choose to take a job in town where you are part of the team with back-to-back meetings while you smile to colleagues till your lips feel sore A well-paid job but you will never get your way. If sharing information is at stake yet you intend to offset the demands and maintain a balance keep your views to yourself Saving your wise opinions for an opportune time.
N for Nightmare
Nightmare for officers
Communication was difficult
due to lack of facilities in a prison.
Prisoners were sometimes refused
pen, paper or envelopes.
Some of the duty officers could be punitive
or unwilling to act.
In the education centre, tutors often worked around that:
pulled out pages, force- scribbled pens,
Student prisoners sometimes came back with
other times with a letter for which they needed
They said they could buy stamps but the shop had
Last night my dream became
a prison administrator’s nightmare
a gross of envelopes.
Every prisoner who wanted could send letters!
M for Mindfulness
Mindfulness Definitely in the moment. Legs crossed and back straight! I close my eyes and concentrate. Rock music, not the Beatles, Pop Songs. I push that thought aside. A shard of light. Beachside sunsets will defeat all blinds. I breathe in, then out for two extra counts. In with the sea smell, out with rock pulses. Breathing in the musical rhythms, holding and breathing out the warm sunlight. I let go. Vagueness of thoughts and sounds merge in the lull of the van where I sit on a mat, on the edge of a crowded caravan park. I’m ready to party.
L for Language Learning
Language Learning I tried calligraphy With trials at drawing. I didn’t go on stage. I gave up the piano. From Greek I translated Some of Homer’s Iliad. I went around Europe, In and out of England too. I danced to rock and roll But revelled in jazz jams. I met an Englishman. Leaving my little brother behind, we went to Africa. There in a house With no electricity we raised our first-born. To my small baby, wrapped in Bright java-print I started talking in French English even in Chilunda. Mwinilunga turned out to be a good place to learn a new language .
K for Knitting
You can knit outfits from yarn without looking you can catch up stitches across rows you can undo what you have just done you can invent your own pattern There are some who yarn while they knit many sing and dance, moving about others put it down with a sigh only to pick it up with dreamy eyes What of those like me whose feet punctuate the rhythm of their hands following the cadence by keeping up to step it is a simple beat. Knit-Purl Step-Up with right foot back to Knit-Purl Step-up with right foot Lilting unto the end.
j for Just right
At long last some cafes have opened. I went for a meal last week and it was table service! Advantage: Pandemic 2020 Yet the pleasure to be attended was short lived. The whole event went flat. Our table was located close to the door with heaps of piled-up chairs on one side. No matter how good the food and how cheery our voices, the mood was soulless and the sounds hollow in the half-empty cafe. Tonight's take home pizza party in my backyard gathered a few friends with all seats occupied and the cheeriest of atmospheres! Advantage: My home 2020
i for Impudence
I can’t tell them. They’ll think I’m rude!
-‘Bring a salad’.
Do I tell them I can make a mean vinaigrette?
-‘Flatten the cardboard boxes’.
Will they object if I compact the boxes tighter by standing on them?
-‘Try it, it’s the new way to cube potatoes!
I dare not say: ‘Just the old technique I used to cut garlic’.
-‘Turn off the tap not to waste water’.
Shall I explain I learnt to conserve water as a child
when I used to draw buckets from a well. I can’t possibly divulge anything.
They will think I am being arrogant.
h for Health: At the start of the pandemic
At the start of the pandemic we were all concerned about health. International politics came to the fore of my preoccupations when The British Prime Minister tested positive for Coronavirus. Later he said his survival had been ‘Touch and go. He had praise for two nurses: one from the Atlantic Coast of Portugal and one from New Zealand, supposedly the triumph of the British National Health Services. Britain involved the whole world to save him. There is no logic to Brexit. There is no further way out for him: like his people, he’s a worldwide citizen. Brexin Johnson’s his nickname.
g for Generation
‘Mother Hen’ was one of her nicknames.
Over years she nurtured her children. When a grandmother, she was called a ‘helicopter mum’. It wasn’t just children she fussed around.
At work she embraced the younger folk under her wings! Life turned around.
In her sixties she decided to let go of all her gentleness! No longer would anyone dare patronise her to a seat on the bus.
At the supermarket when the attendant passed her vegies asking, ‘Is that not too heavy?’ she’d say:
‘Hey! I used to carry well over ten kilos of kids, you know. On my hip!’
We are off to the beach and contrary to previous experiences, my children start a full-on rebellion on arrival.
‘Why can’t we go any further?’
They resent the distance between us and the other bathers. Whatever they argue, we’re intent on keeping the two metre distance.
‘Come on! We usually go to the next beach if people are on this one!’
I have to remind them: four metre square might mean that all Australians can survive this, so leave enough room for others!
Be sensible and stop the fighting.
Remember: this is Australia
in the days of
Just arrived in Australia, still learning English, Anna joins in with some people to watch a comedy. A clumsy hero enters a café, misses a step, falls on his knees and leans heavily onto a passing waiter’s tea tray to regain his balance.
Pandemonium ensues! The hero’s profuse apologies while he clings to the CEO’s shirt because he splashed it with coffee provoke a mix of shouting, swearing and embarrassment which triggers the universal reaction of hilarity.
Anna laughs but can’t utter a word. Only in her native language can she find the exclamations to convey her sense of enjoyment.
Dismissal The meeting’s about to start. I wave as I greet my colleagues. Smiles all around. Full of energy, we float suggestions. Pamphlets outdoors! Great idea. Bright-eyed, I nod pointing to the verandah ‘I see an enquiry booth just there! We could take turns!’ The closest person turns her back, the others don’t like the idea either. My mood’s deflating. I try a couple more comments. They just don’t hear them, is it my voice? Yet I speak firmly. Is it my tone? Too much energy in it, perhaps? I sigh. I’ll put it in writing, someone might look at it.
C for childhood
Childhood Life as an adult does not really suit me. People appear to believe me. hey even listen to my rants. I say what I think without anyone picking a fight. I can hold mature conversations yet I still yearn for the radiant days of my childhood. How to channel the child in me during a negotiating session? A demonstration of joy might add value, yet what if it was an outburst of tears? Giggling and howling would bring relief from having to act like a 'know-all’ or even a ‘do-gooder'! I reckon sometimes a quick arm wrestle would make sense.
B for Bond
‘Sure! Great, we’ll be in it!’
At long last, we have all agreed.
We’ll start an easy-to-run book club.
Ten members will hold a session
at their house in turn once a month.
I volunteer for the first meeting
to be at my house
on the last Thursday in February.
I’ve picked Helen Garner’s ‘The Spare Room’.
By mid-February, I receive a strange message:
‘Reading Garner. May not get to the end.’
That weekend I check my voicemails :
‘Didn’t read the book. Skipping this month. Sorry.’
Another call comes:
‘I can’t do it, it’s too depressing.’
A fragile bond indeed.
A for Adelaide’s own Diagonal Road
I wasn’t expecting Diagonal Road. I knew she lived in Adelaide somewhere south of the city centre. The address she gave puzzled me. I’d heard of Melbourne and Morphett Street, of Cross Street and of Gawler and Goolwa, but Diagonal was new to me how do people visualise Diagonal Road splitting the city up? When I checked the grid I saw indeed a diagonal thoroughfare across the Southern City yet it still didn’t feel right. Could a draughtsman’s child have left a streak across a page, and that in turn have become the thing that we now call a road?
Life in the Time of Corona, Mana Press, Anthology:
A SENSE OF DIRECTION by Anne-Marie Smith, August 2020
The coronavirus lockdown forced me to find a sense of direction. From home I timetabled a daily routine, highlighted it in a range of bright colours and started to project an image of myself as a person who could follow several parallel patterns in life. Clearing massive piles of redundant items in the house; initiating a database of my home library (a long term project with my husband); some website updates and creative writing; progressing my word puzzles on my mobile (I am now .27 percent ahead of users on seven letter words); relishing casual reading of free archives offered by literary journal Meanjin, as well as my bedside books. I also started listening to classical music interludes or podcasts before I went to sleep. I was able to gather my energies around all of this. I am still wondering how long these remarkable habits will last.
Earlier in life I had tried to progress but didn’t get anywhere. Someone always put me off. ‘Why are you doing this? Not worth the bother.’ Frustration made my spirit flag. I had forgotten how much my dreams meant to me. When the coronavirus confined us at home, I stepped up, as if confident in myself, and signed for an online course. There I re-discovered my skills and found how much I could achieve. Three weeks later I sent my followers a brand-new invitation! My reading group would have their first meeting online the following month.
Other things happened which could have conflicted with my new state of mind. I had booked a face massage for the middle of March. As the country went into lockdown, warnings came to all of us including ‘Don’t touch your face’. I wondered what the masseuse could do for me. Then an announcement came. ‘Beauty parlours are closed. Hairdressers to stay open.’ At that point I decided to use my electric clipper for a hair cut. There would be more face-massages as a celebration treat at the end of isolation. The hairdressers stayed open but I just held firm cutting my own hair as short as I could on a number two setting!
All was going quite well until the end of the second month when outrageous remarks started to dominate social media. I resented many of the anti-Asian racist comments that people added to some of the generic posts about the origin of the coronavirus in China. Vile words were splattered with buffoon cartoons and hurtful venom. Chain letters of inane content circulated among many users. I was upset but also concerned, even worried that in the end these comments could hold sway. I decided that I would argue my point. I had gathered enough energy to place some repartees of my own.
I now know it is hard to avoid trolls online as in life. Once we are given the go ahead to move about town I will rejoin my own personal network. I think I will follow the new fulfilling direction in my life where I stand up for my views. I will try and make it work. I hope it lasts, at least for a while.
Living in the moment
05/02/19 On the occasion of Adelaide Writers Week 2019 where I attended some of Ben Okri talks and also enjoyed meeting Joelle Taylor and Future D. Fidel among many other fascinating writers, I want to share one of my short stories that Skive Magazine published in October 2018:
- https://skivemag.wordpress.com/2018-october/ If you get to the end you will come across my sometimes impressions of Adelaide Writers Week. Comments welcome!
Living in the Moment
a short story by ANNE-MARIE SMITH
Dominique and I are standing behind the gates of the police station. We are wearing hoop skirts with a plain knit top, the latest fashion of the time.
‘Here they come! Let’s do it!’
‘Why did you choose to meet here?’ Dominique is asking. She is always the calm and logical one.
‘Because, well, it’s near my home and the cinema is just around the corner.’
A small group of us – two boys, Dominique and me with another two girls – are standing outside the gendarmerie where I live with my parents. Marching out into the street with a group of friends is not something I have done before. On too many occasions I have heard my gendarme father’s warning, ‘Three is a crowd, and you could get arrested.’ But this time I am ready to confront the world and because I live among them, I’m not scared of the police. What’s more, being arrested is tempting. I’m holding on to my home-made placard.
We are in France. It’s the late 1960s. Dominique on my right, the six of us start marching to the local cinema. This is not a big town, and everyone knows each other, but we are on a mission.
‘Why do we call this Le Happening, again?’ Dominique asks.
‘It’s when something just takes place spontaneously.’ Alain speaks up, his long hair waving in the wind. He tells us he knows about the English vocabulary of revolt. Sylvie rolls her eyes. She is critical of his ready-made answers every time a girl asks a question. She puts him right.
‘Well, it’s American actually!’
We are staging what we call in French Le Happening. We have decided that, together with the cine-club members, we will keep this a simple event: we’ll walk out of the cinema and stage a short but loud protest. But a controversial Cuban film is being screened. It’s called ‘Death of a Bureaucrat’ and is an avant-garde revolutionary film that we cannot afford to miss, so we plan for our group to watch that first, then we shall rally everyone out.
As the film finishes, we stand up with resolve and call everyone out of the cinema while chanting
and in answer to: What do we want?
We don’t intend to disturb the traffic or occupy the cinema, we just lead the audience chanting onto the street all the way to the supermarket and back. It is a five hundred metre walk and we know that, in this small town, we will be noticed.
We’ve had enough. Centralisation is stifling the talents of all French youth. It is the issue we care most about as none of us can emerge from country towns to make it as actors or writers. We all feel deprived that we don’t even have a decent theatre for staging the latest play by Harold Pinter or Ionesco! We have had to fight no end of battles with bureaucracies all our lives but now we want to be heard.
I run ahead with my placard to start the chanting.
• • •
In decentralised Australia, Adelaide is not short of theatres and venues, and yet I rejoice in attending outdoors alternative events like the Writers’ Festival, in this great cultural centre of Australia. I sit mesmerised to be in proximity to some of my favourite authors.
Choosing to wear the sort of clothes that would fit in with the 40-degree heat in the free and open-air gardens of Adelaide, I am wearing loose cotton pants, an Amnesty International T-shirt and a cap. In my back pack are a couple of frozen bottles of water. I feel quite relaxed till I notice that many of the women are wearing straw hats with flowery blouses and skirts. I realise then that my looks, not just my accent, will emphasise how different I am!
I don’t have my own group to sit with although there are quite a few people I know. I will talk to them. I have no hesitation in starting conversations and every year there I meet new people. From near the book tent I see many of the most famous authors in our town, some of whom will get on stage. I am dying to speak to JM Coetzee, but I will be lucky to manage to speak to Sean, Jude or Peter Goldsworthy on their way to the green room or to get a coffee. I however show spontaneity when I spot David Malouf and ask him to make a reference to the empty chair that our PEN group has positioned on his stage. I am chuffed by his pleasant response to me and because he does mention the chair!
Over time I have built up a string of great memories. One of them is when sitting on the green lawn under our piercing blue sky, we are all entranced by Ian McEwan reading the first chapter of his new novel, Solar. He paints for us visions of the people in British brick houses while his aircraft is attempting to land over London in slow motion and in several consecutive circles.
The following day brought another amazing scene. Many in the audience holding their cold bottles of water over their napes are sitting in the shade of palm trees on a slope expecting a verbal stoush. Germaine Greer, instead of sparking off an activist’s Mexican wave, triggers a gentle ironic ripple of laughter from the crowd when we realise that she herself doesn’t have the energy to harangue the youth who has just made a stand declaring that she isn’t a feminist. Greer simply calls out ‘Come and see me in a few years!’
This year I feel is a very sedate gathering, although some major crime and historical novelists are having an impact on the crowd. I would not mind having a good debate with any of the authors. I’d love to knock the mono-cultural and post-colonial tone of some presentations. When I get to the microphone the question I meant to be prodding may sound simply like a scatty after-thought rather than a rebellious, anti-bourgeois statement. Still, I offer it as a comment.
I think I might be more popular if I suddenly got up and chanted:
and then with great panache
WE WANT-MORE – NAT’RAL-SHADE!
I reckon that would work quite well and I could even start a conga line on the theme.
But I won’t. This outdoor venue provides me with great enjoyment. I like hearing all the authors, taking notes, talking to the writers whose book I buy each year. Where else can you also, while queuing for coffee, select which author session to attend, simply by eavesdropping on the tone of their voice in their opening comments?
Later in the day, I even enjoy moving my chair from one group to the next even though we, at Adelaide Writers’ Week, know that’s not really done. The marquees are clearly separated and labelled to indicate which one of the groups you’re attending. However, the afternoon sun can lead to soporific discussions and some discreet restlessness.
Not to worry, I have not lost my taste for taking risks! Over a few decades I’ve learnt to negotiate to avoid getting arrested. I contemplate starting a chair revolution next year. I will demand more tables, or better, insist on discussions. The latter thought appeals greatly and I visualise myself walking between the rows of chairs waving my cap shouting:
I will get insistent.
© Anne-Marie Smith, 2018
International Day of Home Languages
25/02/19 During International Day of Home Languages last week I tried to widen my vocabulary to list the words for Bon and Bien in French to their closest equivalent in the languages of Nations I have visited or lived in. Comments, corrections and feedback welcome!
Bon Bien French
- Good Okay English
- Palya Palya Pitjantjatjara
- Marni Ku Kaurna
- Waba Waba Ngarluma
- Gutpela Orait Tok Pisin
- Namo Namo Hiri Motu
- Zabwino Bwino Nyanja
- Kuhle Kuhle Zulu
- Nzuri Vizuri Swahili
- Boa Bem Portuguese
- Buono Bene Italian
- Bueno Bien Spanish
- Bon Ben Occitan
- Bo Bé Catalan
- Ona Ondo Basque
- Gut Gut German
- Goed Goed Dutch
- Dobrý Dobře Czech
- Jó Jól Hungary
- Go maith Maith Irish
- Hyvä Hyvin Finnish
- Hea Hästi Estonian
- Bra Bra Swedish
- Mabuti Mabuti Filipino
- Tốt Tốt Vietnamese
- Yoi [良い] Yoku [良] Japanese
- Hǎo [好] Liánghǎo [良好] Chinese
- Dī [ดี] Dī [ดี] Thai
- Maikai Pono Hawaii
My first attempt at code-switching narration
A change of place
Ah, oui pas de problèmes as they say in English. I have no worries at all. Because we are moving on, as a family we’ll have to put aside many associations, connections and friendships.
Pas de soucis. Tu trouveras des amis là-bas. You had no difficulty finding friends in this town. The same’s sure to happen in the next town. Yes, ok, it will take longer.
Un peu plus longtemps à chaque fois mais ça n’fait rien. We’ll find our new community. New house, new school and this time we keep the same dog! Isn’t that wonderful? Oui bien sur il devra s’habituer à son nouvel environment.
Yes, it’s in the desert. But it is the same country of Australia and the same state of Western Australia. Oui vraiment! Quinze cent kilomètres de différence mais c’est la vie!
I told you before, about me leaving France on an exchange to spend one month in England where they didn’t speak the same language, the people there thought spaghettis came out of tins. Ils ne mangeaient ni salami ni yaourt.
We’ll be right. You’ll see. We’ll make it work. We’ll see what other people are doing and we’ll join in with them.
Du judo, du foot? De la dance et de la natation? They are bound to have weekend activities, to have an oval and a swimming pool. Yet, it never rains there. That is strange, and they have cyclones too! Mais les cyclones ne sont pas si terribles que les tremblements de terre.
Go on just pack shorts and T-shirts. That’s all you’ll need. Et aux pieds? Des thongs bien sur. And I tell you a secret: what’s good about thongs is they can make striking musical instruments at outdoor concerts.
What’s up? You’re giggling now! Yes, why not? We’ll try and giggle our way through some of the changes. On va bien s’amuser!