Sunday, 10 November 2013



                                                                                                                                                               John Ross©

                It was a cool windy afternoon but I decided to go for a walk anyway. I knew that the path across the headland and down to the beach would be deserted on an afternoon like this and, in my present mood; I would prefer to not meet anyone I knew. I just wanted to be alone.

                I had just celebrated, and that is the wrong use of that word, my sixty fifth birthday two weeks ago and one week later had to retire from my job where I had worked for the past thirty five years. I felt old, unwanted and useless.

                Right out at the end of the headland, high above the ocean, there was a wooden bench next to the path. I had sat on this bench many times in the past, in all seasons and all weathers. It had become like an old friend to me; somewhere where I could internally discuss my problems, rejoice in my triumphs or just sit and enjoy the view. It always listened in silence, never complained or was critical.

                As I approached today the bench was outlined against a leaden sky that was dressed in ragged white clouds and adorned by screeching white seagulls that soared and dipped in the wind. To my relief there was nobody there.

                I sat down and gazed out over the ocean. White horses chased each other endlessly all the way to the horizon. Patches on the water were alternately rippled and flattened by gusts of wind. The air was full of the noise of the birds, the crash of the waves on the rocks below me, the sigh of the wind as it carried the salty spray over the land and the sense of the timeless battle of the ocean against the land.

                I was so entranced by the view, whilst at the same time, lost in the mire of my emotions that I did not notice him until he was right in front of me. He smiled and said, ‘Do you mind if I join you?’ At first I was so distracted by his appearance that I did not reply. He was very old with a bushy white beard, long straggly white hair and dressed in an old fashioned crumpled woollen suit. He was bent over with both hands resting on a black cane with a large silver top. Stirring myself I motioned for him to sit.

                We sat in silence for fully ten minutes before he suddenly said, ‘You look like a man with a lot on his mind.’ Afterwards I was never sure why these simple words opened the floodgates within me. I told this stranger things that I could not talk to my friends or even my wife about. I was terrified of the future and the creeping destruction that old age would bring to what I had been and still thought of myself as.

                When I had finished he said, ‘Each day think of tomorrow as a new country that you have never visited. Do not be afraid, be excited about the new things you will see and experience. It may not be familiar to you and you may not be able to do all the things you do today but do not turn your back on it because of that. Life is a series of adventures that are waiting to be explored. The day you stop and look only to the past is the day you really start to grow old. You cannot change the past but the story of tomorrow is yet to be written.’

                As soon as he had finished he stood up and said he had to go. I stood next to him, shook his hand, thanked him and asked if he would give me his name. He gave me another of his shy smiles and said, ‘Rupert Rudolph Rumpstead. My parents never did apologise.’ With a smile that almost turned into a laugh he turned and walked off slowly down the path. I watched until he was out of sight.

                I sat back down on the bench and it was few moments before I realised that now I was just enjoying the view. Ideas of what I might do during my retirement filled my head.

                Just as I stood up to go my pullover caught on a rough patch on the back of the seat. As I disentangled it I realised that it was caught on the edge of an old plaque that had been painted over. I had never noticed it before. With some difficulty I read, ‘This bench is dedicated to the memory of Rupert R Rumpstead. A man who lived life to the full.’ It was then dated October 14 1928.




THE QUIET (A science fiction story)


We had just spent three earth years on this stinking Grade 3 planet when I received a message from Control. There were three more scientific types on their way from Earth. 
 As if I wasn’t already up to my neck in scientists. There were already nearly five hundred of them here in the settlement. It was my job to keep them safe. I should say ‘try to keep them safe’ as they were always inventing new ways of getting themselves into trouble. To top it off I only had a single platoon of marines to do this and most of them were on their first off earth rotation. Thank the heavens we had not had to use any force against the native inhabitants.
The natives had been nicknamed ‘The Quiet’ as they appeared to be dumb. In three years no one had ever heard them utter a sound. They were bi-pedal and in body shape much like us except for their head. It was overly large and their eyes were also much bigger than ours. They wore only the minimum of clothing and no shoes. Their feet were wide and flat and they made no noise at all as they moved around. They lived in small villages and each stone house contained a large family group. The scientific types had not discovered any use of sophisticated mechanical devices. In fact they appeared to gather everything they needed from the dense forests that covered most of this planet.
When we had arrived we had to blast out a clearing for our landing and my marines were the first to exit to secure a perimeter. We were ready for any eventuality, or so we thought. The natives greeted us with total indifference and it took us many weeks to realise, that to them, we just did not seem to exist. Every attempt at communication failed and as strict protocols did not allow us to interfere with their lives, unless invited by them to do so; we just went about our mission to see if the planet offered any useful resources. The scientists did what scientists do and my men quickly became bored with the daily routine of escorting them and forever pulling them out of swamps, rescuing them from cliffs and the myriad of other ways they seemed to get into trouble.
The climate here had not changed since we had landed. Every day dawned clear and hot. By the middle of the day it was cloudy, humid and hot and by late afternoon it rained. It did not just rain but came down in bucket loads.
It was becoming difficult to keep my men motivated and as the months dragged on into years they became more and more vocal about ‘The Quiet’ and their dumb ways. I was forced to discipline some of them when they had tried to provoke a reaction from the natives. Nothing that they did got any response and this annoyed them even more.
Well, the three scientists arrived by shuttle accompanied by nearly a tonne of equipment. They took two days to set it all up in one of the empty accommodation modules. They had just finished when we received an order from Control that we should all gather in the main hall for a meeting.
When we had all finally arrived and settled down the Chief Scientist took the podium. She announced that for the past two years they had been studying the natives with remote devices from the orbiting Control centre. ‘The Quiet as you call them are not so quiet after all.’ She said as she switched on one of the machines. The room was filled with high pitched noises that seemed to ebb and flow.
‘We have changed the frequency so that you can hear it, but what you are listening to is one of the natives ‘talking’ to another. We have managed to decipher their ‘language’ and can now understand what they are saying to each other. We do not as yet understand how they generate the sounds except that it comes from somewhere within their brain.’
There was stunned silence in the room until one of my men said, ‘What are they saying?’ Another muttered, ‘Just cause they speak don’t mean they’re not dumb.’
The scientist explained that ‘The Quiet’ knew that we were arriving well before we had even reached orbit and that they also realised that their planet did not have anything that we would find useful. They had decided to just ignore us and we would eventually go away.
She concluded by saying, ‘The Quiet are not as quiet as you thought and also more importantly they are not as backward. They have a rich and vibrant culture that we are just beginning to understand. So as the old saying goes, ‘do not judge a book by its cover’.’




Saturday, 9 November 2013



Julia is playing in the sandpit.

Her daddy calls out, ‘Julia lunch time.’

Julia is hungry so she runs inside.

Lots of yummy sandwiches for lunch.

Daddy and mummy have tomato, lettuce, some meat and cheese.

Julia eats all her sandwiches.

‘Daddy can I have some of your cheese,’ says Julia.

‘No Julia.  It’s special cheese for big people,’ replies daddy.

Julia is sad. ‘‘But daddy you said I am big now.’

‘OK, Julia, just a little piece,’ says daddy.

Julia smells the cheese. ‘Daddy, please wash the cheese.’

Her daddy looks cross, ‘Did you drop it on the floor?’

‘No daddy it is smelly.’

Her daddy washes the cheese under the tap.

Julia looks at the cheese and says, ‘It’s wet now daddy.’

Her daddy dries the cheese on the tea towel.

Julia smells the cheese again. ‘It’s still smelly daddy.’

Julia’s daddy puts tomato sauce all over the cheese.

Julia eats the cheese and tomato sauce all up.

‘May I have some more cheese please daddy?’



AAAHRGGG.....That’s daddy.......swearing quietly under his breath.

Monday, 4 November 2013



                They say that families don’t own cats, that they are just their servants. Some people even add that we don’t adopt cats, they choose us. Well! In the case of our cat both of the above observations are definitely true.

            We first met Squeaky, strange name but that is what she came to be called, when she was just a small kitten. She had taken up residence in the storm water drain on the road at the front of our house. A number of the surrounding families had tried to coax her out with offers of food and a home. She resolutely refused all their approaches until our children approached. They had no food to offer and had certainly not spoken to my wife or myself about a home. When my daughter, who was in the lead, with the two boys, (not as inquisitive as her), trailing behind the cat rushed out of its hiding place and rubbing itself around her legs began to purr loudly. She picked it up and it nestled into her arms and promptly went to sleep.

            Later that afternoon there was quite a division in our household; my daughter and my wife voting to keep the cat, our two sons voting no and myself sitting on the fence. Meanwhile the cat had been locked in our laundry with a freshly bought tray of kitty litter, a bowel of milk and a plate of cat food. After a long, unproductive, discussion it was decided to bring the cat into the kitchen where we were gathered. This idea was put forward by my daughter as she believed that we were discussing the future of the cat and therefore it should be present.

            Well! You would not believe what happened next. Placed on the by now cleared kitchen table top the cat made a bee line for the two boys who after each giving it a pat and a cuddle changed their votes to yes. That left just me who was still unsure about the idea of having a pet around the house. As usual in our family with a vote of four to one, with me being the one (no reference to any TV reality shows) it was not deemed necessary to further canvas my opinion. I was left sitting at the table, rather bemused at what had happened during the afternoon, while the others rushed about with the cat and a multitude of ideas as to how to make the animal feel more at home.

            Well the days and then weeks passed and the cat had definitely adopted us as her servants. I suppose I should, from now on, call her by her name, Squeaky. As I said before a strange name for a cat, but one that eminently suited her as when she was excited her meow turned into a high pitched squeak. My wife had early on decided that she could not just be referred to as “The Cat” and had started to refer to her as Squeaky. The name was adopted by the rest of the family but as a protest, probably childish and futile; I still referred to her as the cat. The cat. Oh. Ok Squeaky was showered with presents; a cat bed, a coat for the cold weather, her very own little door in the bottom of the laundry door and even a little soft stuffed toy cat so she would not feel lonely. The toys! Yes toys for cats. In no time at all the floor of the laundry and the rumpus room, read those as Squeaky’s bedroom and lounge room were a health hazard. They were strewn with all manner of things for her to chase, chew on or scratch.

            Squeaky and I developed a healthy respect for each other that did not involve any close contact. I never patted her and she flatly refused to sit on my lap in front of the television. There was however the occasional outbreak of hostilities such as the time I woke in the middle of the night to find her asleep on our bed. I yelled, she ran and my wife yelled – at me. I refused to allow any more nocturnal visits and there were a few days of frosty looks from both my wife and the cat. As usual, in these circumstances, I retreated to the garage or the garden shed. Needless to say the cat won in the end, but as a small gesture of defiance I would not let her sleep on my side of the bed.

            Over the years we moved house and city a few times and Squeaky always went with us. She inspected every new house as if its acceptance by us depended on her approval. She would always decide where she wanted her bed and her toys placed.

            After a number of years we moved back to Sydney and much to the disgust of my family I developed an allergy to cat fur. I could not even sit on a lounge or chair where Squeaky had been without developing very itch, watery eyes. The only relief was to wash my face thoroughly with cold water. It took a few weeks for me to work out that it was Squeaky’s fur that was causing the problem. The family, of course, had different ideas. My daughter thought that I was just tired and rubbing them too much, my wife that it was hay fever and my oldest son just told me, “To toughen up.” We went away down the coast for a week’s holiday, children stayed at home to house and cat sit, and the problem with my eyes immediately went away. I had proved my point.

            There was no way that Squeaky was leaving so we had to work out a compromise. She became an outside cat, banished from the house. This still did not stop her from occasionally trying to sneak inside. She came to know that I could not be won over and all I had to do was confront her and point out the door and she would turn tail and run outside.

            A few more years went by under this new arrangement. Our family grew up and my two sons now lived with us with their partners. Squeaky was visibly getting older and slowing down. My wife and I went overseas for a few months leaving our extended family to house sit, mow the lawns (yeah right!), Look after the swimming pool, (new pump required on our return), water the plants (not the inside ones every day; flooded soggy carpet), mind Squeaky. This last simple task turned ugly. You might well ask how? We certainly did on our return. Squeaky had got very sick and the vet offered only two alternatives; expensive cure or euthanasia. The house sitters were divided evenly with one son and partner opting for cure and the other two for euthanasia. A rather acrimonious discussion continued for days. Neither of the parties thought to call us for a decision. Eventually the cure camp won out with the other side washing their hands of the whole thing. So! Result. We arrived home to an elderly still quite sick cat and a horrendous vet bill. Apparently Squeaky had spent a week in cat hospital on a trip. I must admit it brought a smile to my face imagining her lying back on a hospital bed with a number of nurses to order about.

            Squeaky never fully recovered and eighteen months later my wife had to make the sad journey to the vet to have her put to sleep. She could not eat properly and was becoming weaker by the day. By then it was only my wife and I in the house so we decided to not tell the children until it was over.

            Over the years I had grown so accustomed to having her around that I found myself missing her presence rather badly. Sometimes working out in the back yard I was sure that I had seen her out of the corner of my eye walking purposely towards the back door as if to challenge my authority one last time.

            Rest in peace Squeaky you were an integral much loved part of our family.


                                                            THE END