I am at that difficult moment in a writers’ life when a manuscript is ready for publication. I have researched suitable publishers, made note of their precise requirements, and will now write my biography, a synopsis of the story and attempt to convince them that I have more than one book in me.

Every time I think I have come to the end of a writing process, new challenges present themselves. Writing a book requires a different skillset to editing or writing a synopsis. I’m learning on the fly. There are no guarantees that my hard work will pay off or that the manuscript will find a home beyond my desk drawer. Yet I am driven to keep trying. I have even started on my next project which is my first attempt at writing a novel.

At work, colleagues talk about television shows or movies they have seen. They spend their time gardening on weekends, or talk about BBQs they have attended. I smile and nod but have nothing to contribute. While they relax or socialise, I sit at my desk and write – often late into the night. They can’t understand why I would choose to keep working after a day at the office where I also work on a computer. On the other hand, I can’t understand why people wouldn’t want to use their time to create rather than simply consume. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy movies or that I don’t lose myself in books. Of course, I do. However, I also need to produce something tangible to feel fulfilled.

I have talented friends who can paint or draw, and I marvel at their abilities. My daughter is a gifted musician, and my cousin a consummate stonemason. As for me, I have none of these skills. But I am passionate about language and words have always been my salvation.

A lifetime of accumulation

With each passing year I realise that I have accumulated more than I will ever be able to use. I have champagne glasses, plates, and platters galore, sheets, towels and tablecloths that have never seen the light of day. Many of these items have been given to me by generous friends who have looked for a perfect present and no doubt spent a pretty penny in the process. I am always grateful for their kind thoughts.

I have kept sentimental items which remind me of special places or times, and they make me smile when I notice them on a shelf as I walk by. These would be particularly difficult to part with and I am glad to keep them with me.

The more practical things I would happily give away, if only I had somewhere to take them. I have donated many items to Vinnies and the Salvos but they are now overflowing with donated goods. Even country towns recently ravaged by floods are asking people to stop sending donations. They have filled every hall available and are now facing the issue of trying to move the excess on.

One of the saddest things I have recently seen is footage of markets in Africa where women attempt to recycle clothes offloaded by wealthy countries. They call them ‘Dead White Man’s Clothes’ and try to sell the merchandise for a pittance. It seems nobody wants what we discard and all we have done is to shift the problem elsewhere.

I remember in my twenties we were thankful for every bit of donated furniture, crockery, and glassware. We weren’t choosy. We repurposed most items and it was a long time before we considered buying anything new. New things were expensive. There were no two-dollar shops, mass market imports hadn’t flooded the market yet and we had to make do. In many ways, I feel we were better at recycling simply because we had to be. I would have been ever so thankful for the things I am now trying pass on. And if I hadn’t wanted them, I would have known dozens of people who did.

So here I am with boxes of brick-a-brac I’d love to give away. But in an era of plenty, it is more difficult to give away than it ever was to accumulate.


© Copyright Pierlite 2023

Whoever dreamt up open plan offices clearly had never worked in one. Add hot-desking to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster. ‘Our employees are our greatest asset,’ is the catch cry of many a workplace but it feels like ‘your call is important to us’ while placed on hold.

I work in an ostensibly beautifully designed office that must have cost the NSW government a pretty penny. It has state of the art kitchens on every floor, artwork in the hallway, real plants in every area, large television screens in the eating area and little nooks to for intimate conversations. It also has adjustable desks, expensive chairs, and some small bookable offices where people can go to have meetings or private conversations, if they aren’t already booked. On the surface, it is perfect.

Right now, many people are still working from home so that only a fraction of the desks are utilised. Our designated area is close to another NSW department which is quite separate to us. Most of their work is conducted on the telephone or Zoom calls, while most of our work tends to be either quiet computer work or online meetings. Both groups deal with sensitive and confidential information but due to the configuration of the desks, we can’t help but hear things that we really shouldn’t. It doesn’t help that one of the men ‘from the other side’ has a booming voice that travels several hundred metres. Furthermore, brevity is not a concept with which he is acquainted.

I have had to get used to wearing noise cancelling headphones (my own) to be able to get any work done at all. Sometimes even they aren’t enough, and I find myself downloading the sound of ocean waves to drown out the voices around me.

Then there’s the issue of hot-desking. It is meant to be ‘flexible’ or ‘agile’, but it ignores that we are creatures of habit who like to have our own spot. Hot-desking certainly hasn’t stopped booming-voice-man’s conversation reaching my ears. He, like most others, tends to sit at his favourite desk. This isn’t an issue at present as we have more desks than people in the office. The working from home phenomenon has meant that many people have chosen not to return as they find it more comfortable to be in their own surroundings. Let’s face it, at home you can sit at your own desk and have as many of your favourite items around you as you like. A bit like in the old days when you could have a photo on a desk, maybe some nick-nacks, and most importantly, the files you were working on. The computer was affixed to the table and at the end of the day you could walk away knowing full well that everything would be found where it had been left.

Now, however, I have to carry my laptop and my work mobile, store keyboard and mouse in a tiny locker with any papers I may need (remember the dream of the paperless office ?) and leave the desk pristine when I clock off. It takes a good 5-10 minutes to set up each morning and the same to pack up in the evening.

All the desks look sterile. There are no photos or personal belongings anywhere and it feels more like an assembly line than an office. The message is clear. We are all expendable. When I leave, no trace of my presence is left behind.

Tempting Lollies

While paying for my groceries at the local corner store, I noticed a tiny tot, no more than two years old, jump off his tiny bike, and head into the store as if on a mission. He was wearing his helmet as he strode up to the lolly section checking the goods on offer. The shop assistant and I couldn’t help but smile; the boy had the swagger of a cowboy in the body of a wee pixie.

I was just receiving my change when I noticed the boy leave the shop with a packet of sour chews in his hand. He jumped on his bike and rode off, just as quickly as he had arrived. The shop assistant and I looked at each other.

‘Did that kid just walk out with the chews?’ he asked.

‘He certainly did,’ I answered laughing. Our eyes met and we both smiled.

‘I’ll have to run after him,’ he said. He was clearly amused.

As I walked out of the shop, I could see the little kid next to his mother.

‘Did he not pay for the lollies?’ she asked as the shop assistant approached.

I could see that they were talking amicably so I turned and left them to it.

I know this story has turned out well for the little boy. The shop assistant was kind and the mother sympathetic. They both understood that exchanging money for goods is an abstract concept which a two-year-old can’t possibly grasp. Mum would have taken the boy back to the shop to hand over the coins and he would have been handed the lollies in exchange.

This incident reminded me of a similar story which did not end so well. I must have been about four years old when I was shopping with my mother at a market in Madrid. We walked from stall to stall buying vegetables when I spotted some delicious strawberries. As we walked past, I helped myself to a large juicy one that beckoned to be eaten. I have always been attracted to red as a colour, and this strawberry was a deliciously passionate, vibrant red. Just as I bit into the forbidden fruit, the grocer yelled at me, calling me a thief! I had no idea what this meant, only that he was shouting, angry and threatening me with a crooked finger coming towards me. My mother shouted back and pulled me away hard, which hurt my hand and shoulder. Tears welled up, and I could no longer enjoy the fruit I had so desired only moments earlier.

I won’t claim that we live in more enlightened times. To debunk that myth, you need only to look at the juvenile justice system where ten-year-old children can be locked up for shoplifting. But maybe there are an increasing number of people who understand that most children go through this stage and the best way to treat them is to approach with the love and compassion that all young children deserve.  

And so, I hope that the little boy enjoyed every last mouthful of his carefully selected lollies after handing over the cash.

The stick library

We have become familiar with street libraries which have popped up in the most unlikely places providing a much-needed community service. People take books that pique their interest and bring back ones they have read, but no longer wish to keep. There are no forms to fill out, no due dates nor any fines to worry about. It is a self-regulated system that works because everyone who uses it benefits. It only takes one person to start it, keep an eye on what comes and goes, tidy up every now and again, and occasionally cull. No wonder they have become such a hit.

Yesterday, as I was walking two dogs at a local park in Watson, Canberra, I discovered a variation on the theme – a stick library. My first reaction was joyous laughter. Such a charming idea matched with a quirky sense of humour, and a doggone purpose. In its vicinity, I spied four people and at least double that number of dogs. I should also mention that there was a lagoon nearby. The humans were standing at its edge, throwing sticks into the water for the dogs to fetch.

I walked up to a man whose Border Collie ran towards us with two sticks in his mouth.

‘What a great idea,’ I said, pointing to the stick library.

‘Yeah, whenever we used to come down here, no one could ever find a stick to throw,’ he said. ‘Then some guy decided to do something about it and since then, people bring sticks back for others to use.’

‘I love the community here in Watson,’ a younger woman chimed in. ‘The stick library speaks volumes about the kind of people who live here. It’s such a friendly place.’

‘Someone called ABC radio the other day to say thank you for the stick library and the switchboard lit up,’ the man added. ‘Now they’ve tracked down a guy called Tom who’ll give an interview at the local radio station.’

I nodded in appreciation and could immediately see the appeal of this good news story. After all, we are a dog loving nation. One in three households in Canberra owns a dog. You don’t have to walk very far to encounter a pooch with its special human beaming with pride as they make their way to the nearest off-leash area. Exercise is essential, especially in a city brimming with apartments. And what better exercise than to fetch a good old-fashioned stick?

30th Wedding Anniversary

I remember that summer’s day 30 years ago. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the weather was mild for Sydney. It was perfect. We had planned a low-key event with only your parents as our witnesses. Nothing fancy.

You weren’t that keen on marriage, but it was important to me, so you went along with it. At first you didn’t want to tell anyone at all, but everyone noticed your ring at work the next day. Years later, you couldn’t imagine not being married me, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

On the day, we arrived at the Registry Office, me in my pink suit and you, quite informal, in a black shirt and cream jeans. We were greeted by your parents and your sister, whom you hadn’t invited. She came along anyway to see her brother on his big day. After the ceremony was over, she surprised us with a gift – a two-hour lunch cruise on a replica of the Endeavour. We made our way to Darling Harbour and boarded the boat.

That evening, your parents came to our place for dinner. Your father noticed that I was doing my best to impress them. He was so happy his son had ‘finally settled down.’ We didn’t know then, that in four months’ time he would collapse in a supermarket and never regain consciousness. Afterwards, you often remarked that it was rare to see your father as proud as he was on our wedding day.

By our third anniversary you were holding our sixteen-day old daughter. It was love at first sight and you never stopped loving her with all your heart. Fatherhood suited you. The two of you adored each other in ways that is only comprehensible to daughters and their fathers. I should know, I had a father like that.

While you loved us wholeheartedly, you were never much good at making decisions. They were left up to me. Or, according to you, I never gave you enough time to think things through. I was impulsive and driven. My nesting instincts kicked in once our daughter was born. Although you felt harried, you always went along with my decisions in the end. It turned out that I was pretty good at making the right ones. You, on the other hand, were good at keeping me grounded and working out the logistics. Practicality has never been my strong suit.

Our lives went on and we became steadfast partners. We were like hands that fitted into well-worn gloves, comfortable and warmed by each other’s presence. Without much need for discussion, we agreed on how to raise our child, what mattered most in life and were buoyed by the ideals that sustained us. Our house was a place where academic discourse could dominate dinner conversations, yet humour and laughter were never far away.

We had a magical year in Switzerland shortly after you were diagnosed with melanoma. A disease you would eventually refer to as ‘the bastard’. That year, we were still clinging to the life-raft of hope. I was working as an exchange teacher, and you took leave to write your PhD. We explored every corner of Switzerland on weekends, and you relaxed into your role as the house husband who shopped, cooked and cleaned while writing the next chapters of your thesis. We both wished that the year would never end.

It wasn’t too long after our return that ‘the bastard’ began to eat its way through your body. Quite by accident we discovered it had attacked one of your lungs. The chest pains I thought were a heart problem turned out to be the spreading cancer. You never quite recovered after the next operation. Although you bravely attempted to return to work, you collapsed on the train on your first day back. After that, it was a quick downward spiral. None of us could have imagined how quick it would be.

You were quite unwell at your last Christmas with us, but you did your best not to show it. You even took our daughter on a long bush walk a week later. A fortnight after that, you were unable to make it to bathroom unaided.

We decided the hospital was unable to help us with what lay ahead and thankfully they didn’t argue. I took you home on the Wednesday and by Friday morning we were saying goodbye as you laboured your last breaths. It was both a beautiful and at the same time agonisingly confronting experience. We held your hand, told you we loved you and let you go. Your dog came, licked your hand, lay upon you, and would not leave. It was heartbreaking to witness.

Twenty-eight days later would have been our 19th wedding anniversary and on the 10th of February this year, it we would have been our 30th.  I raise my glass to you.

Your 100th birthday

My father in his 20s

I wish I could celebrate this day with you instead of mourning the decades since you left your life. We would raise a glass and remember the good times and shake our heads at the tough years we survived. You’d hardly recognise me as that rebellious daughter you left behind almost 50 years ago.

As you wished for me, I completed the university degree that was denied to you. The war had disrupted your youth and by the time it ended, further education was no longer an option. Instead, you became a master leatherworker, and your wages allowed your younger brother to receive the tuition to become a lecturer. In later years, this became a bone of contention between the two of you and it was easy for you to feel wronged. With the iron curtain between you, the relationship didn’t survive.

The war didn’t end in ’45 for you. Its effects lingered on. You married your sweetheart, yet a cruel fate awaited her. She had survived the bombs, but TB tore your son from her womb. Not long after, your beloved wife was also taken. Somehow you carried on. Much later you met my mother, a feisty woman with a hearty laugh, and you fell for her casual bravado which turned ugly once fuelled by alcohol.

The 1956 Hungarian Revolution changed your life. Many of your compatriots left the country to start anew. My mother wanted leave, so you followed. However, your heart stayed behind. No matter where you went, you could never find a place to call home; wanderlust was not part your makeup. But your new wife gave you something that would sustain you through dark times – a daughter. I became who you lived for.

After many attempts to leave her, you still followed my mother to ends of the earth. Happiness would elude you there too. So you continued to love me fiercely, unconditionally, and in the end destructively. When I was a teenager, your love engulfed my life until I felt it constrict my every movement. While I was the one who felt suffocated, in the end it was you who decided to stop breathing. Maybe you thought it was better that way, but I never did.

I have missed you all these years and still talk to you often. On your hundredth birthday, I wish I could tell you that things have turned out better than either of us could have imagined. And I wish I could tell you that it is worth believing in the good times come, even in our darkest hour.

Job Applications

I detest writing job applications. Yet here I am doing it again, after swearing never to write another one in my life. I have a perfectly good job but something inside keeps niggling away. I’m sure I could do the job that was advertised, and it is only for ten weeks. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain – experience at a higher level, more options in the future and of course that little bit more money would never go astray.

I applied for the job and didn’t get it. No-one did. Unlike some of the other applicants who threw their hat in the ring, I called the convenor for feedback. She gave me lots of useful advice, including how to structure my paragraphs to make it easier for those on the panel to find key information. The first sentence is to introduce what I will talk about, the second to state how this relates to the selection criteria and the next sentences to give detail before closing off with the impact of my work. It sounds easy but is incredibly difficult to do in half a page with several examples.

I am not a fast writer and I do overthink things. The first application took a good couple of days. Rewriting this application, I started from scratch and put my ideas into an Excel spreadsheet under each category. Just that process took two days to complete and then another day and a half to rewrite the application within the limited space provided.

The job hasn’t been readvertised, but I am ready. I have asked my boss for some feedback, and we will meet tomorrow morning to go through what I have written. No doubt there will be more changes. I have come this far, so I can go the distance. There are no guarantees that I will be successful next time, but at least I have listened to feedback and learnt some useful tips in the process. Surely, that is worth the time I have invested.


Portrait by Varosha: https://linktr.ee/Varosha

I never expected that I would have a portrait painted of myself. While I have sat as an artist’s model for a life-drawing class in my late twenties, the results were only sketches, and I doubt my face was the object of interest. In any case, I never saw the finished products at the end of the session, and I’m certain they would not have survived the passing of time.

Painted portraits are quite a different proposition. They tend to be the hallmark of people with power or fame. Why would anyone paint me? I don’t hold a position of authority and the only thing I’m famous for is leaving my belongings behind. So, when the callout came from the London Writers’ Salon for subjects willing to be painted during a writing session, I thought to myself, I’m in!

Varosha is a Bristol based writer and artist. She is currently Artist in Residence with the London Writers’ Salon, and her project is called ‘The Daily Faces.’ The concept is quite simple but oh so clever. Over the period of about a month, she will paint 32 portraits of people who join the daily Writers’ Hour. These paintings will then be laid out to look like two Zoom screens. In other words, they will look just like what we see when we log in – random faces all coming together to write in silent companionship for an hour.

I didn’t know when the actual painting would take place. Then, out of the blue, I received an email from Varosha to say that she had painted me during the previous writing session and attached was a photograph of the portrait. I didn’t expect to have such a strong emotional reaction to the painting. I absolutely love it. While I look more serious than I usually am, the likeness is astounding and reflects the way I look during the writing process. I also appreciate that when I study the portrait, I see that she has captured something of the essence of who I am. All this without having met me! I feel deeply honoured to have been chosen as one of her subject.

I am glad I had no idea when Varosha was planning to paint me. I am sure vanity would have kicked in and I would have chosen a brighter lipstick and maybe even tried to strike a pose or two. I certainly would have planted a fake smile on my face to ensure I didn’t look grumpy. As it is, the portrait is an honest portrayal for which I am grateful.

I invite you look at the rest of the portraits Varosha has painted during the Writers’ Hour, at: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/thedailyfaces/?hl=en

My young travellers

My daughter and her boyfriend are leaving for Scandinavia tomorrow. They are typical of their generation in that they love travel and adventure. The more the better is their motto.  They have scrimped and saved for a year, booking Airbnbs months in advance and paying for smaller flights as they earned their money. As seasoned travellers, they are well-organised and have a knack for finding stunning places off the tourist track. Each of their days is accounted for, but they have left enough time to be immersed in nature wherever they go.

There are certainly similarities with how I used to travel in my twenties: bags packed at the last minute, doing things on the cheap, not worrying about getting sick or having an accident on the way. I comfort myself with the knowledge that they have mobile phones and that bank transfers are almost instantaneous. Today I gave them a last-minute present; four Apple Airtags in case their luggage gets lost. These are all advantages I could never have even dreamt of in the 1980s.

I was much less adventuresome than my two jetsetters. But then, I mostly travelled on my own. On my trips I tended to visit relatives, retraced places where I had lived as a child and met up with university friends who were on similar missions. I have mostly travelled to the same five countries time and again, apart from the occasional side trip to uncharted territories. What always drew me to a place were the people I knew there. I slept on friend’s futons on the floor and enjoyed their hospitality which I returned when they visited Australia. This pattern continued for five or six years. I still stay in touch with a handful of these friends and enjoy visiting them, whenever I can manage.

My daughter has gathered friends around the globe too. Like me, she is good at keeping in touch with them. Her friends are more mobile, but it has become much easier to connect with each other. In my twenties, I was sending weekly handwritten Aerograms and had to wait a week or longer for a reply. My happiest days were when a letter or two awaited me in the letterbox. I have kept most of these correspondences and they have become treasured mementos of the past. Technology sure has speeded up communication, but I miss the handwritten letters in the mail.

The young travellers have now departed to begin the first leg of their journey. I am left with my studio filled with their belongings and a much-loved dog to look after. I will miss the long evenings playing board games, the smell of new recipes emanating from the kitchen and the quick-witted repartee between us. Yes, I will miss them, but I am also grateful that they have this opportunity to travel.

Bon voyage and a safe return!

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