I don’t necessarily want to be alone, but I do like being left alone.
I find it difficult to understand people who constantly need company.
Every now and then, there appears in the papers a story about some soul who passed away in their own home not to be discovered for several weeks. The community is concerned that such a thing could happen. ‘Who are we becoming?’ shouts the headline. ‘Quiet suburban disgrace,’ bleats another. Full page articles examine the social significance of lonely people. For a week or so countless people discuss the breakdown of society and bemoan our lack of contact with our neighbours.
I, on the other hand, make a mental note of the suburb and add it to a list of likely places to live. I don’t wish anything distasteful should happen to my neighbours but I don’t particularly want to get to know them either. I’m sure that they have enough friends, and I know that I have.
I have a wife who loves me and two teenage children who are bemused by me. They ask for money but rarely listen when I speak, but I don’t blame them because generally speaking, I don’t have much to say that would interest anyone but me.
My wife and children fuss and fret and bang about the house and when it all gets to be too much to bare I announce that I’m going for a walk in the woods to do some painting. No one hears me because no one is listening, so off I go. The painting implements are a ruse; an excuse to do what I need to do; be by myself. The umbrella is heavy to carry but it does come in handy when I feel like dozing off. I also carry a sandwich that I made myself; cheese and pickles, as well as a half bottle of red wine. A ‘door stop’ sandwich and a glass of wine make for a deliciously sleepy state of mind. It doesn’t last; nothing ever does, but that’s okay. I can come back. Either to this spot or to one just like it.
The forest will wait for me, as will the creatures who live here.
In the wider world I have to play a role, but here, I can be me, and I like my company, and I like being left alone.
People tend to overlook ordinary things.
It’s only when you actually have something valuable that you give any thought to where you might hide it.
As soon as you have stuff there is always someone who is keen to take it away from you.
Safes, banks, strong boxes come to mind but I cannot help thinking that the best place to hide something, is somewhere you’d not expect.
I work on the theory that if I have something worth stealing someone is going to be resourceful enough to circumvent whatever security I put in place. So I take a different approach.
I have all the usual high-tech gadgets; it’s expected, but I don’t keep a lot in my safe; that’s the first place they are going to look. I won’t bore you anymore with my theories but know this; the few times that thieves have gotten past my security they have gone away disappointed. Sure, they probably got a few hundred dollars that I keep in my safe as ‘walking around money’, but they never find the important stuff.
Trying to hide stuff from the police or the Fed’s, in your house, is a waste of time. Those motherfuckers will dismantle your abode and leave you with a pile of sticks. If you want to keep something out of their clutches, store it off-site.
Most importantly, don’t trust anyone with information that leads to your hard earned [ill-gotten?] booty. The lover who adores you today will flip on you tomorrow in order to keep his/her pretty rear end out of prison. The faithful wife/husband will shop you in a heartbeat as soon as they learn about your lover. Kids will drop you in it just for the giggles. Seriously, kids are the worst. They are happy to spend your money while hating your guts for being whatever it is they think you shouldn’t be.
In my experience, the only person you can trust is your mum and your bartender, and I’m not completely sure about mums; just saying.
Bartenders are amazingly loyal.
I’m not talking about the backpacker who is bar-tending his/her way around the world, I’m talking about that dying breed of men [and occasionally women] who have been bartenders all their adult lives.
Some have saved up enough to buy their own small place but most work for someone else.
They see the world the way it is. They have no ambition beyond being good at their job. They rarely have families of their own and you can tell them absolutely anything and they won’t tell the cops no matter what they threaten them with.
On the other hand, if you need an alibi, they will make up a plausible time, date and detail for you on the spot.
“He was here all night officer.”
“Seeing as how he was drinking beer all night, didn’t he need to take a leak?”
“No sir. He’s famous for his bladder capacity. Almost made it into the Guinness book of records.”
“That is the biggest load of horse shit I’ve ever heard.”
“Stick around officer, it’s still early.”
Even so, you run a risk telling your bartender important stuff because he is likely to get himself killed in the process of not telling.
A bloke can always get more stuff, but a good bartender is hard to come by. Besides, blokes tend to shout when they have had a few, so ‘whispering’ to your bartender is most likely going to be overheard.
I watch a lot of old black and white movies; mostly Westerns. In those movies, nearly all the bank robbers hide their stash up a chimney, [which seems to me, to be fraught with problems], and down the well. The whole ‘chuck it down the well’ seemed to work so it got me thinking. I don’t have well but I do have a watering can.
I don’t even put it away, I just leave it out, right near my wife’s garden beds. Last place anyone is going to look.
Now, if you will excuse me, I’m off to spend some time with my bartender. Do you think I should tell him where I keep my stuff?
Probably best if I don’t. He’s a good bloke and I’d hate to see anything happen to him.
Painting by Kenton Nelson.
Terry’s caffeine levels are low. Do you think you could help?
I bought this clock with the fifty dollar note I found wedged in an old pair of jeans.
We have a new Charity Shop in our area, but I prefer the old one because they don’t always go through the pockets.
Fifty bucks — well washed.
Fortunately, we have polymer bank notes, and they go through a heavy wash cycle and come out the other end looking like a bank-note.
Which is handy.
Finding the fifty was like receiving a particularly generous Christmas present.
The eleven dollars I paid for the jeans was my last eleven dollars.
I won’t have folding money again until the middle of next week. I do have a few coins, but I need them for emergency coffee on my way to work.
Which brings me back to the clock —
No one could accuse me of being a morning person, and like everyone else, I have an alarm on my phone, but my brain is wise enough to ignore it. My brain knows that I need sleep, and it assumes that the sound of my alarm is some kind of terrible mistake, so it ignores it; with the obvious consequence of me running around like a mad person, trying not to be late for my new job.
I’ve been out of work for a long time, and people can smell your desperation when you apply for work; so much so that when they offered me this job, I thought they were kidding.
I was so fed up with being treated like something that had adhered to the bottom of a shoe I said yes to the offer without asking how much they paid.
I’ve since found out, they are not going to pay me until I have worked for them for a few weeks and by the time all the ‘start up‘ costs are removed, there won’t be a lot left over.
Which brings me back to the clock again —
My mum liked to tell me stories about moving to Melbourne with her sister in the 1930s. They had an apartment on the park and worked at a city cafe.
For a long time, they couldn’t afford much of anything except the essentials associated with work.
For a while, they had one fork and a can opener, and they would take it in turns to eat with the can opener.
The cafe opened at 6 am, and they dared not be late.
Jobs were very hard to come by, and due to the lack of labour laws in those days, an employer could dismiss you on any pretext.
The sisters spent their first week’s wages on a massive alarm clock; the type with large bells on the top. They put the clock into a biggish saucepan to amplify the sound of the alarm.
They were never late for work.
Frankly, I don’t know how they slept with the magnified sound of a ticking clock in the same room, but I forgot to ask, and both of the sisters are dead now, so I guess I’ll never know.
So, now you know why I need this clock.
In the end, it did not cost me very much. Things that used to be expensive are now inexpensively made in other countries.
I haven’t spent the rest of the fifty.
You never know what might crop up.
I have to stop now because it is getting late and I have to be up early tomorrow. Clean my teeth, wind the clock and off to sleep.
In case you were wondering, my weekend plans include a visit to that Charity Shop — you never know.
I sure could use another fifty.
Painting by Kenton Nelson
Terry needs coffee!!!!!
I work my way through a lot of bed sheets, but it can’t be helped.
It’s the way I work.
An idea comes to me, and I have to write it down.
Ideas come at the darndest times.
Often, I’m in the shower, and I run through the house, dripping wet, stark bullock naked and start scribbling away. The neighbours get a little annoyed, except for that bloke who lives over the back, he seems to enjoy it, and that’s ok; each to his own.
I like the feeling of writing on cloth, particularly Egyptian cotton, but you can’t always get it. Thrift shops in up-market areas are the best source, but even so, stocks are limited.
Every opportunity shop within a twenty-mile radius knows me by name. Anytime white sheets come in they put them aside just for me. I’m prepared to write on coloured sheets but I’m old-fashioned at heart, so I prefer white sheets.
Stripped sheets are a waste of time. You just get a good flow going, and you have to leave a space.
It’s very annoying.
My editor hates it.
She keeps thinking I want to start a new paragraph!
Bloody striped sheets!
Don’t even get me started on a paisley pattern.
No, there’s only one proper writing sheet, and that’s a white writing sheet.
Someone once suggested that I try large sheets of paper.
I thought they were a bit strange for suggesting such a thing, but I gave it a go, just to say that I had tried it.
Didn’t work at all.
Not sure what they were thinking.
I gave it a whole week and in that time word got around.
Attractive women with nice bottoms stopped turning up to watch me work, and the ones who did turn up refused to take their clothes off.
Storytelling is part plot, part character, part location, part atmosphere and part naked woman. Everyone knows that, and if they don’t, they should.
No naked woman?
It would be like trying to write without a white sheet, or braces to hold up my pants, or a bottle of wine to warm my soul.
A ‘book light’ is optional, but the next thing they will be suggesting is that the naked woman should not be left-handed and that I should not smoke when I write.
I’m not sure what the world is coming to, but I know one thing for sure. I am going to continue on with the old traditions for as long as I am able.
Naked women and writing on white bed sheets is part of the fabric of our nation.
To do otherwise would be un-Australian.
Painting by Jack Vettriano
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I wanted him to see what he’d been missing, so I lay there on the couch smoking my cigarette.
I met him at the station.
He’d been gone for a long time, and I missed him something terrible.
He bought me flowers and a present, but all I really wanted was him.
I knew he wanted me, and I wanted him too, but for the longest time he just stood there.
Didn’t even take his coat off.
I guess he was just thinking.
He was also looking at my bum.
I’ve got a nice bum. No wrinkles at all, as long as you don’t count that dimple, and my tits aren’t bad either.
It’s great to have him home.
I fixed the house up real nice just for him.
I want him to feel comfortable.
I wanted him to feel at home.
I ran up and jumped on him.
At first, I thought I might knock him over, but he barely moved when I landed on him.
He held me in his arms like I weighed nothin’ at all.
I was already excited but feeling his strong arms around me really got me going.
We’ve got all the time in the world so he can stand there and stare at my bum for as long as he likes.
Paintings by Jack Vettriano.
The cat’s name is Winchester, and the house doesn’t have a name which is strange because it was built in an era when everyone named their house.
I like the idea of houses having names.
It’s personal, cosy, maybe a little old-fashioned but that’s OK because I’m a bit that way myself.
I’ve thought about giving her a name, but it didn’t seem right. She should have gotten her name when she was built, and it feels like bad luck to do it now, so she’ll have to remain anonymous.
If I live long enough the house will become known as ‘the strange old lady’s house’, and that will be fine by me.
I’ve had my eye on this house since I was a teenager.
It has passed through a few hands over those years, and luckily, each new owner has lavished her with care and attention. She’s only tiny, about ten squares in the old language, that’s about a thousand square feet. Most houses are three times that size, and that’s only the average ones.
When I have friends staying we have to go outside if we want to change our minds and there isn’t enough room to swing a Winchester, not that I would, she’s a good cat. More like a dog really. As often happens, she adopted me, or to be accurate, she adopted this house.
The house might be tiny but it sits on a large block of land, and it even has it’s own creek, or at least a bit of one. The creek runs through the corner of my block, and the water attracts all sorts of birds and animals, especially in the summer.
I keep Winchester inside as much as possible because, if I don’t, her instincts take a heavy toll on the local wildlife.
As you can see, the light is amazing, and it changes character depending on the time of the year.
This little abode is cool in Summer but can be very cold in winter, so the brick fireplace that you can just see behind me gets a lot of work. Winchester wakes me up in the Winter and drives me crazy until I get the fire going, then she sleeps in front of it for the rest of the day. Sometimes she sits on my lap when I’m working, but mostly she sits in front of the fire, or curls up on the couch.
It’s the small touches that make this house special. Tasteful leadlight in most of the windows, timber panelling in the main rooms, polished floorboards, brass door handles, and delicate plaster ceilings.
I believe that books, dogs and houses find you, not the other way around.
Considering how long I had to wait for this house I think that is true.
I did some work for the previous owner and asked him to let me know if he ever wanted to sell. He told me that he loved the place and was unlikely to ever want to leave. It took ten long years, but I eventually received the call. His wife was homesick and needed to move back to the West. He didn’t want to leave but he loved her very much, and he was prepared to make the sacrifice.
He needed a quick sale, and I didn’t have the money. Also, I had an iceberg’s chance in Hell of convincing the bank to loan me the money. I won’t bore you with the details, but to my amazement, all of the insurmountable obstacles fell away, one by one, and within 90 days I was sleeping in my dream home.
The former owner came back for a visit about a year later; he was in town on business. I could tell that being here was breaking his heart. That was several years ago, and he has not been back. I admire his love for his wife, and I give thanks for it because it enabled me to live the life I wanted in the house I needed to be in.
Painting by Steve Hanks
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I don’t have long to wait, which is just as well as I don’t like waiting.
I don’t like waiting, and I don’t like standing in queues, but let’s not get into a list of all the things I don’t like because we will be here all day.
Someone wise once said that you can never know for certain what it is that you want until you have worked out what you don’t want.
Personally, I think there are two types of people in the world; those who know what they want and those who know what they don’t want as well as those who play golf, but they are a different species altogether.
I can see the lights of the train which means that it will be here very soon.
It will take me away to another adventure.
As you can see I travel light for a female.
Only one small steamer trunk, a hat box and an umbrella.
I never go anywhere without my umbrella.
It came in handy during my stay here because this town has the third highest number of rainy days in the country.
I didn’t really mind, I like the rain, and I have my umbrella.
My grandfather gave it to me during a long weekend stay at his country house. He took me aside, paused thoughtfully and said, “Never be without this umbrella”, which to my young ears meant that this umbrella probably had magical powers; Harry Potter style, or was that Mary Poppins? I get the two mixed up.
Anyway, the umbrella has been surprisingly sturdy and has withstood the ravages of time, and although it does not seem to have magical powers, it has come in handy a few times and not just for keeping me dry.
Last November I perforated a mugger when I was working in Sydney.
I tried hard to get out of that job. I don’t feel comfortable in Sydney, but they offered me an obscene amount of money for what turned out to be a few days work, and I really needed that Triumph TR3. It was coming up for auction, and I was a few thousand short.
I always pay cash.
Not only does it get you the best deal it keeps you out of debt; one of the things my grandfather said I should never get into; that, and cars with boys ——- I didn’t listen to that one.
Besides, now I have my own car, so I don’t need boys to drive me around.
The TR3 does not have a top. Not even a rag top. True TR3 owners drive them in any weather and never complain about getting wet. That’s right, we are a bit strange, but we also drive a very cool car.
Unfortunately, I could not bring my car on this trip, but it will be waiting for me when I get home. I rent the garage at the house across the street from my parents. I don’t need a house of my own because I’m always on the road and when I’m in town the company pays for a five-star hotel.
Visiting my car is also a good excuse to visit my folks, so everybody wins.
I guess you might be wondering what is in the trunk and the hat box.
Well, mostly they contain my work stuff. Ordinary travelling containers don’t draw too much attention and the security on trains is much easier than planes, that’s why I don’t fly unless I have to. When I do, the company has equipment waiting for me. I’m very particular about my equipment. You cannot do a good job without the best tools available.
My umbrella falls into this category.
It was made by James Smith and Son in 1880 some fifty years after the company came into existence. It has two secret compartments, and the handle can be easily detached to reveal a dagger. It is also sturdy enough to strike someone and leave an impression, but I would only do that in a dire emergency.
One doesn’t risk damaging such a fine instrument.
Repairs are possible because the company is still trading and is in the hands of the original family.
It’s nice to know that there is some permanence in the world.
My next job is on the other side of the continent, and it will take several days for me to get there, but I don’t mind. I love trains, and I love having time to myself.
I smile when I think that an umbrella and a wily old man could have landed me such an interesting profession.
Paintings by Steve Hanks
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She bought that dress to please me.
It’s my favourite colour, and I love to see her wearing beautiful clothes. To complete the effect, she designed and made the necklace and earrings.
I work too much, travel too much and spend too much time away from her.
She’s patient, but for how long?
Fortunately, my job requires me to attend a lot of social occasions, particularly fund-raisers. We get to dress up and spend some time together. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have the most beautiful wife. She has style and grace and something that is never applied to a male; poise.
She feels the cold, that’s why I’m putting my coat around her shoulders.
The first time I did that we were in Paris.
We weren’t rich then, just a couple of kids who had worked hard for a few years; lousy part-time jobs while we studied.
We lived on tinned soup and anything we could scrounge from the cafes we worked at.
We were happy.
Hungry, but happy.
Paris was our dream.
I dreamed of being a writer and had visions of sitting in cafes that Hemingway sat in and writing a novel that the publishing world would fight over.
Her dream was different.
She wanted to be a model.
She wanted to be the model that famous painters fought over.
Her dream became a reality, but mine didn’t quite make it.
The war intervened and when it was over a bloke I fought alongside, who had saved my life on more than one occasion, introduced me to equities trading.
I became rather good at it.
Money always wins.
My novel sits in the bottom drawer of my desk at home.
She walked away from her modelling career to come back here and be my partner.
Sometimes I think I detect a kind of sadness in her eyes. Nothing too obvious, just a slight yearning.
There are paintings in important collections that feature her scantily clad beauty. Prominent artists still seek her out.
I drape the coat around her shoulders, and instantly, we are back on the West Bank in Paris. Young, poor and with our lives still in front of us.
I like making money, and I’m magnificent at it, but I don’t want to lose the lady in the emerald-green dress.
I wonder how long I can keep this up before someone steals her away?
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As hotel rooms go, this one ain’t too bad.
But really, after all these years, one room looks much like another.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, just trying to get you to understand.
I like my job.
I like selling things, and I’m good at it, it’s just that tonight I’m so damn lonely.
Most of the time I like my own company, especially after a full day of glad-handing small town big shots.
I talk to them all day.
I make them feel special.
I make them feel like they are my all time best and favourite customer.
It’s not as insincere as it sounds. I simply give them something they want; I make them feel good about themselves and I give them respect, and in return they give me orders. Orders that fill up my book and bring me commissions.
The commissions sit in my bank account and expand my wealth, mostly because I don’t have time to spend it, and even if I did, I don’t have anyone to spend it on.
In my younger days there were girls all across the country.
It’s not just sailors who have a girl in every port. Traveling salesmen do too, only ours are in every small and large town from here to next week.
These days there are only a few.
The ones I have known for a long time.
The ones who want to spend time with me and not just because of my expense account.
One thing my dad taught me was to know when things were changing.
My life expectancy in this business is limited.
I’ve been doing this since I got out of the air force at the end of the war. My boss loves me, and why wouldn’t he? I’ve been his top salesman for as long as anyone can remember.
Trouble is, these little towns are dying, and it’s happening so slowly that no one is noticing.
Funny thing is, none of that worries me. Nothing stays the same forever and I’ve had a pretty good run.
Tonight, I’m feeling my age. It occurs to me that there is more life behind me than there is ahead. I never used to think about this stuff, I was too busy working, too busy getting ahead, but tonight I’m tired and it occurs to me that I don’t have anyone to tell these things to.
There’s just me and this hotel room and for the first time in my life, that’s not enough.
I could sleep, but it’ll be light soon and the train leaves at 6 o’clock, so I might as well just sit here till then.
Everything looks better in the daylight, even hotel rooms.
Photo from a painting by Jack Vettriano.