ghost on notice


There’s few more vicarious pleasures than reading community noticeboards, with their homespun ads offering weeny windows into other worlds.

While the lost dog appeals always make me sad, I wonder where all those folk who insist “everything must go” are headed, and how many violins have been set aside by children before they’ve mastered even Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Until recently one of my all-time favourite finds, which I swiped and stuck to the fridge, was a flyer for The Annual Yandoit Lesbian Knitting and Wool Show.

That I live in a society where people can so proudly and openly stick to their knitting makes me happy.

But today this was trumped by a handwritten note headed “Room Available”.

I scream in the night, I snore, I also keep irregular hours, play loud music; have a dog who sits on furniture, I often use the mantlepeice [sic] for target practice. I smoke, I drink a fair toddy, I am selfish, private and easily bored. If this is not a problem, for cheap rent please phone …”

While this is an unashamed rip-off from A Study in Emerald written by author Neil Gaiman, it doesn’t lessen the charm.

The man is clearly a reader, can spell (mostly) and appropriately use a semi colon and takes himself none too seriously.

Will he, I wonder, find true love with the lady who responds in the vainglorious belief such a winsome creature can domesticated, or simply wind up living with another head-banger who steals his smokes?

But, mostly, I wonder if absolute honesty in advertising works.

We’re seriously considering selling our house and I’ve drafted the following:

For Sale, completely misplaced Austrian ski chalet, roof perfect slope should we ever receive a metre of snow, but no solar company is game to install panels on it. Energy efficiency not helped by the fact the owner-builder suffered a heart attack and fell to his death from same before he could install insulation.”

But, I’m of two minds whether to mention the ghost.

We bought the property on a flying visit from NSW, before relocating permanently.

At the time it was tenanted by a widower with a heart condition who – judging by his surrounds – liked to drink, smoke, read, listen to music and bake fruit cake.

On the day after settlement we rang the agent wanting to ask the tenant about the elaborate watering system, given that he’d lived there for 12 years.

You can’t talk to him,” said the agent. “He’s gone.” But you’ve got a contact for him, right? “No, he’s gone.” Well, give us his forwarding address. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible – he’s gone as in gone, gone.”

You mean dead? “Yes!” How … long silence. “By rope in the garage … your garage.”

For many months after we moved in, in the very early morning, I could smell cigarette smoke and hear the radio though none was on and we don’t smoke.

My husband tried to convince me I was receiving radio waves through my dental fillings! He offered no explanation for the cigarette smoke.

It only stopped after I went and half-heartedly flapped a couple of burning sage branches around in a “cleansing ceremony” on the advice of a herbalist friend.

But mate, if you’re still around, I think I know of a room you might like to rent.


night noises


Night noises are part of the orientation to any neighbourhood.

And being temporarily encamped in the driveway of the parental home proves no exception.

Who knew just how many freight trains rumbled through slumbering suburbs?

Train whistle blowing makes a sleepy noise, underneath their blankets go all the girls and …. zzzzzzzz.

Yipes, what on earth is that?

To the sleep-addled brain it sounds very like the garage in the adjoining drive is about to lift off on some intergalactic odyssey.

Fumbling across the Wookie beside me for the mobile, I check the time.

It’s 5.25 am.

Where on earth could Lorraine-next-door be going at this ungodly hour?

Thoughts tumble through my mind as the engine of her ancient car alternately revs and idles in a confined corrugated iron space for a good 10 minutes.

Surely she’s not contemplating death by 1989 Nissan Pulsar Vector I think, demonstrating a latent capacity to join the dots into the worst possible scenario that would do my old mum proud.

Then slowly, slowly, this most unlovely vehicle begins to rattle, fart and gasp down the drive until, thank heavens, it’s gone.

But, barely 15 minutes later – when I’m on the brink of nodding off – the car returns and the scenario’s repeated in reverse.

More sleep is now impossible and in its place are questions.

Honestly, what do any of us really know about our neighbours?

Take the lovely Peter and Kirsten next door on the other side. We know he works from home and she from outside, but what do they actually do?

Did their magnificently mournful rescue greyhound Marlon ever win a race?

Later, in an attempt at small talk, I blather all this aloud to Father Ken Parker who is paying a pastoral visit to my dad.

I think you should follow her,” he says with a most wicked glint in his eye. “The Curious Case of the Car Next Door could make for a fascinating column.”

Lying awake that night, I begin to wonder if this isn’t the rector’s revenge for a hastily convened spread of cheap camembert, stale crackers and lukewarm sparkling burgundy.

But, I know, there are mysteries and marvels to be gleaned from the most mundane circumstances.

Just a few weeks ago my husband returned from having his hair cut with a riveting eyewitness account of how the barber’s scissors became inexplicably stuck to the side of a fellow patron’s head.

Sorry mate,” the man in question drawled to the barber, “forgot to tell you about the ear. It’s held on by magnets. Lost me real ear in a fishing accident.”

This prompted the barber to regale the gilded not-so-youthfuls along the wall with a tale about how he once asked a customer to remove his glasses so he could better wield the clippers.

Sure mate,” the customer said whipping off his spectacles complete with interim prosthetic nose following a basal cell carcinoma rhinectomy.

So enthralled were the lads by this faintly shocking image no one thought to ask the obvious question:

Exactly how did the dude still in the chair lose an ear fishing? Did some one mistake it for bait?

So, in the spirit of genuine inquiry, I affect nonchalant arrangement across the fence early next morning as gastro car rolls down the drive.

Hi Lorraine, where ya going?

Out to get some ciggies”, says she.

And in a puff, another small suburban mystery is solved.


cradled in memory

1Thelma 001-1

You can always sell June,” my mother said, apropos of nothing, as I spooned custard into her mouth because she’s lost the inclination to eat most meals for herself.

You don’t have to wait till I’m gone. Any time you want to, you can sell June.”

Increasingly our conversations are like this – gossamer cobwebs on the breeze.

I’m tired of waiting ,” she said last week.

Cobweb swings …

Tired of waiting for what, mum?

Tired of waiting to die!

My mother is disappearing in increments.

It began five and a half years ago when she suffered a massive stroke.

They left her in emergency for 23 hours, erroneously expecting, apparently, that without attention this old woman would succumb to the practical with good grace.

But the young ones seldom reckon on the strength of children of the Great Depression. I’m as tough as an old boot, she’s always said.

And she wasn’t finished – there was work to be done!

Her first few weeks of many months of painful rehabilitation were dominated by just one thought: Erect a headstone for the baby.

The Baby That Died!

We don’t speak her name because that was all she ever had, but she occupies the six years between my brother’s birth and my own like a hungry ghost.

My big sister, delivered looking so perfect, scarcely drew breath; but 53 years on she can still suck all the oxygen out of the room.

It was an era of stoic silences and stiff upper lips. My mother was not allowed to hold her dead baby, was offered no opportunity to grieve.

Her own mother’s blunt advice to her only daughter was to “pull yourself together girl and just get on with it”.

And she did, but with so much anxiety and so little self-confidence, always anticipating the worst case scenario … in just about everything.

I think I was about eight when I first discovered the perfect baby girl wrapped in white tissue paper inside a lovingly embroidered pillowcase amongst my mum’s best linen.

I pulled her out, transfixed, just as my mother came down the corridor.

Don’t you touch that,” she said, swooping towards me.

The Bebe Jumeau, or Baby June as my mother as a three-year-old called her, being unable to pronounce the words stamped on the beautiful bisque French doll.

It was the Depression and her father – apparently the original role model for the saying ‘if it was raining soup he’d have a fork’ – had decided to quit Footscray and go farming, whereupon the family was immediately overrun by rabbits.

Never in wildest imagining could her parents have afforded such an exquisite toy.

The doll had been given to my mother by the local chemist. His 15-year-old daughter was off to boarding school and had no more need of her, he’d explained after asking my grandparents if he might give it to “little Thelma.”

After the solemn handover my mother was not thereafter allowed to touch baby June who was locked away for safe-keeping.

She was just too valuable,” mum explained in an earlier retelling of the story.

So, too, are you if only you’d realise it my dear old mum.

Leaving – I fear – very soon to cradle a baby lost.

* Thelma Irene Harris, 88, died on April 10, 2014