A Chance Encounter

The ride had started nicely. It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon, my solo riding day; I can ride where I like, explore trails, without having to follow the wishes of the Thursday cycling group. That day I had suddenly decided to explore a new trail, branching off from the main track to Warrandyte, reached by a wide gate.

To my delight it began well; the track was a gently winding dirt one, following the river on my left, so according to my calculations I could casually ride back to Fitzsimmons Lane, a fairly short distance.

However, the track steadily became rougher, steeper and rocky, seeming also to veer away from the river. After a while I lost my bearings, but hoped the track would eventually head back to Eltham. But the track petered out into a steeply hilled area, with power lines leading in a straight line into the distance. Definitely lost, but feeling safe, I reasoned it would be too far retracing my steps, the power lines must lead to somewhere familiar.

A rocky four wheel drive trail followed the pylons. I had to walk up the steep rises and carefully ride down the descents. The thought flashed into my mind about what was I doing here, a seventy year old man in a deserted location, with no help around if anything went awry. My Cyclo Cross bike was certainly designed for severe off road riding, but maybe the rider was not designed for this purpose.

The outcome was predictable. On a really steep descent, I took a chance and began to carefully ride down but lost braking control, started skidding and finally crashed. Fortunately I came to rest on top of a four metre high embankment leading into a steep gully. One metre more and I would have been in serious trouble.

The bike was undamaged, but my knee was badly swollen and painful, I must have knocked it on a rock. The only option was to keep following the trail to civilisation. Finally a fence and house appeared, then another. To my relief, the trail then ended at Beasley’s Nursery, and I rode slowly and painfully home, where after checking the Melways I realised I had gone the wrong way, upstream rather than down, straying into a Parks Victoria reserve. Heading away from Fitzsimmons Lane.

Later that night, I reflected on the event, ruefully realising that it had happened entirely by chance — Why?

Because two months earlier, on the same ride to Warrandyte, at that gate, I had answered my mobile. As I remounted my bike, a man walking past suddenly stopped and started a conversation, mentioning that past a nearby gate, over a bridge, there was a track along the other side of the river that cyclists used. In all my years of cycling this area I had never seen that track, nor seen cyclists on the other river bank, so I thanked him and rode off, convinced he was mistaken.

So on that sunny fateful Tuesday a month later, as I was passing this same bend heading to Warrandyte, on a pure whim, thinking about what the stranger had said, I stopped at the gate, which was normally locked. Now the padlock had been changed to a latch. Naturally I passed through the gate and rode to the bridge. To my surprise, I realised the stranger had told the truth, because a bike trail began. Naturally again, I decided to follow it, as every good cyclist would, with my crash being the unexpected end result.

If my phone had not rung at that exact moment; if the stranger had not appeared at that precise time, if the gate had been locked; I would have remained blissfully unaware of that bloody trail, would have casually continued to Warrandyte and safety home, looking forward to the Thursday ride with the guys.

Instead, as directed by my doctor, who diagnosed a knee hematoma, and prescribed rest, I have been dolefully sitting inside on the healing couch, leg elevated, ice compress in place rather than being cheerfully perched on a bike seat, eagerly traversing familiar and safe trails with the Thursday peloton.

Curiously enough, the topic for the week’s writing group was the expression “chance would be a fine thing.” A fine phrase, meaning ‘it would be lovely if something was to happen, but it most likely won’t.’

It sadly occurred to me that this definitely applied to my unfortunate episode. As I was precariously riding down that steep rocky hill, the thought furiously flashed into my mind was that it would indeed be a lovely thing if I could not crash, but this looked more unlikely the further and faster I descended.

Hopefully, I should be back on the bike shortly, having fun with the Thursday peloton pedalling on our familiar safe trails. The lesson has finally sunk into my

Septuagenarian brain that sometimes it’s not worth taking a chance.

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Ya Gotta Get In

Progression                                                                    Bruce McCorkill November 2017

Conceived, formed, born

Mystical gateway gently opening

A turmoil of forms, spilling

Onto the carpet, answering the call

Seeking the distant door

 

The lucky ones run

Fleet of foot, fast and sure

Dancing, bouncing, playing on the pile

Deft scampering from door to door

Positive pleasurable progression

 

The hopeless hapless try, intend

But get mired in the mud

The carpet can be treacherous

Sticky tentacles reaching up

To suck the unfortunate

Down into the morass

A miserable angry sodden trudge

To a mean shabby sunken exit

 

The middlings – a great messy mass

Strive to do their best

A confusion of aimless ants

This way, that way, diversions, tangents

Crawling and scrambling, sometimes dancing

Striving to avoid the suction of the bog

A journey to some meaning somewhere

 

Is there a purpose, any rhyme or reason?

Who cares, all end at the final portal

None can escape, like it or not

The snuff man is nigh, gently beckoning

Patiently waiting, waiting, waiting

So start the race, begin the journey

It’s the only one that counts

Life’s a bitch and don’t we know it

Way too short and way too hard

The bad is bad, but the good is good

You gotta get in to get out

Words, writing and me

Author’s Note.

The article below is a copy of a talk given by me to the OMNI Liaison Officers’ meeting at COTA on 27th March this year. I was asked to talk on how I learnt to write stories and articles.    I did this, but also took the opportunity to publicise our blog in the hope of encouraging more men to put pen to paper.

Bruce McCorkill March 2017

From an early age, I have always loved reading.  At primary school I had special rights to borrow more books than the other kids.  At home after tea we would sit around the kitchen table reading.

In school my skills were in writing in subjects such as English, but I was hopeless in subjects like maths.

I spent three decades in the public service, much spent in writing reports. While supposedly factual, many of these were fantastic creative works of fiction.

So when I retired I took up writing.

I started in 2012 in Living and Learning Centre writing classes. This was an eye opener, because I had thought that authors just sat down and wrote. But no, writing can be hard work. You need to think of a good topic, will the story be character or plot driven, will it be past or present tense, told in first or second person. Then you have to make the story come alive and interesting, so people will enjoy reading it.

For example, a simple two page piece can sometimes take me ten hours of hard work to finish, by the time I think of a story line, draft it, find the right words, type it, change it, read it to my wife, then start again.

Some authors claim that writing is an art. I would argue that writing is just as much a craft or a trade, which you can learn. Building a house needs careful planning, use of the right materials, sound construction and attractive finishing. So with a story. A writer uses words as the building blocks of writing, and carefully places the right words in the right order to make the story stay upright. A good story should make the reader want to come inside and follow the author on a guided tour.

When I write, I like allowing the creative side of my brain to get loose and develop unusual tales with characters getting into strange situations. I enjoy developing plots having unexpected endings.  I particularly enjoy creating good strong decent characters, but who are flawed, yet are still likeable. I have also started writing poetry, which is a whole new challenge.

Since 2014 I have belonged to the Eltham U3A creative writing group. In the group I’m interacting with like minded people, who enjoy writing and understand my feelings about writing. Sometimes you mention to people that you are a writer, and they look at you in a very strange way. But in the group, you feel like you belong, similar to being in an OMNI group; everyone is on your side.

In my group, led by a very competent published author, we write on a variety of topics, fiction, nonfiction, prose and poetry. Tim belongs to the same group. We give each other feedback, and this makes me a better writer. Like an OMNI group, I come home with a smile on my face, thinking about the stories I have listened to that day.

Which leads me to our blog. WWW. OMNIDiamondCreek. Along with a few here, Daryl, Tim, Ron, Ken, I regularly post stories on the blog. The blog shows the history of the group over the last six years, and contains travel stories, Xmas party pictures and short stories and poems. This is a great chance to get your work out into the wider world. 99% of writers will never be formally published, but the blog lets us get our work out there into the public domain. For example I have written a short 20, 000 word novel, and it’s on the blog.

On a serious note, posting on the blog enables you to publish something about which you may have really deep feelings, which you want to share with many people. For example, my first serious poem in 2012, was about sexual abuse by priests, and this poem is still relevant now. Then again, some of my poems are more in an amusing style, such as the one about the dog on the tucker box which John passed out. So the blog gives us a chance to let the world know how we are feeling.

So this is a summary of my feelings about my writing. I would encourage other people to give writing a go.

I will finish by quoting a passage a friend gave me when I started writing.

The Joy Of Writing.

Only a writer knows the intense joy one can get from painting their life’s picture in words.

Our stories are just that – “our stories’ – they are us, they are our passion, our hopes, our disappointments and our opportunities.

Our words are merely the fabric we choose to describe out being.

The Eye In The Sky Bruce McCorkill

eye in sky

 

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

Possessing an insatiable need to know

He requires us all to meekly comply

 

Do we ever wonder why?

Or do we just leave it so

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

 

How many times do we try?

Resisting his relentless undertow

He requires us all to meekly comply

 

Our private selves are just a lie

We secrete our lives in a steady flow

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

 

His watchers, all so cunning and sly

Data banks stretching row after row

He requires us all to meekly comply

 

When we all finally die

Where will our secrets go?

Big brother–a pervading presence in our sky

He requires us all to meekly comply

The Dog On The Tucker Box

The Dog On The Tucker Box.                   (As told by the dog)

 

I’ve been sitting on this box for years and years

Now I’m finally realising my worst fears

My master’s gone away, he ain’t coming back

Looks like the bastard’s given me the sack

I’ve been guarding his tucker for such a long time

By now the steak is surely past its prime

 

The big buses come along every single day

A bloke stands up and has his say

Gundagai, clear blue sky, a sheila named Mabel

To me this sounds like a silly old fable

The tourists throw coins in the box at my feet

Why don’t they know I much prefer meat?

 

So I forlornly sit in the hot summer sun

Itching fur, drying throat, not having much fun

The cold winter nights raise my ire

I should be inside in front of the fire

Contentedly curled at my master’s feet

Now that would indeed be a canine treat

 

Drovers stop by with kelpies who scorn

Their withering looks make me forlorn

You should be out earning your keep

Come and help us round up some sheep

Sorry boys, I can’t go for a run

There’s a bloody great bolt screwed up my bum

 

My Trusted Travelling Companion

The response was not entirely unexpected.

‘You want what? Dad, have you heard of the 21st century? Nobody uses those old things any more.  They’re a waste of resources. Just download the Google Maps app to your phone.’

I gently reminded my daughter that for some arcane reason, neither I nor her mother owned a smart phone. Our portable communication devices are ancient 2G Nokia pieces, attractive in a retro way, but only capable of basic calls and texts, and only used to make a few calls while away from home, to reply to rarely received texts, to ring the RACV if broken down, and to find each other when separated at the footy, tennis , supermarket etc..

The occasion of this lively conversation was last December, when I idly mentioned to my daughter that the item I would like for Christmas was a hard copy 2017 Melways street directory, approximate cost $60, available from all good newsagents.

‘But if you don’t want to buy me that, and if you want me to reside in the current century, how about you shout me a new I Phone 7, approximate cost $990, available from all good Apple stores.’

‘Hmm, OK you’ve convinced me, I’ll buy you the Melways.’

Accordingly, two days before Christmas, a neatly wrapped parcel arrived at the front door, containing my eagerly anticipated present. Bought on line of course.

Why a Melways? I can’t really explain. Some items simply appeal to some people. All I know is that ever since my first car in 1968, I have always had a Melways in the seat pocket to navigate around Melbourne. I find the fine detail fascinating, I like the way different types of streets are marked in contrasting colours and line widths. Rather than staring at a small screen, I prefer scanning a double page spread, plotting out my journey in my own way. The touring maps are handy for day trips, and the freeway interchanges are clear. Best of all, Melways have always been the most accurate in setting out bike trails around the metropolitan area. You can buy expensive books showing Melbourne bike trails, but they are not nearly up to date as the ever reliable Melways, nor do they show fine detail. My first lookup when I buy a new one is to check for any new trails that the cycling group can try, and to check the progress of trails under construction. This is why my Melways is my favourite travelling companion.

Melways was conceived by Merv Godfrey and Iven Mackay in the 1950s, the name a combination of “Mel” of Melbourne and “Way” from find your way. The first edition was released in 1966. The original 106 maps were hand drawn by Godfrey, while Mackay spent four years driving 274,000 kilometres in a second hand Morris Minor around every metropolitan street painstakingly checking street and landmark details. Godfrey’s wife got the books, selling for $2.50 onto the market by visiting a few newsagents each day touting the product, a process taking six months. All a far cry from today’s marketing methods.

The first Melways design was groundbreaking compared to the competitors. The concept was to produce a multi – coloured high quality directory printed on a good quality paper. By the 1980s Melways was the most popular street directory in Melbourne, holding 80 per cent of the market. The term “Melway” began to be used as a generic name for any street directory. Melway is still used today by Police and other Emergency Services as the most up to date mapping system.

Those early Melway users couldn’t have imagined that future generations would be using tiny mobile devices to get around. Nor would they have believed that we’d be trusting enough to let these satellite navigation systems send us on absurd detours or up one-way streets in the wrong direction. Or that we’d let ourselves be talked into driving into forests, creeks and onto train tracks. They also would not have anticipated the emergence of what physiotherapists call “Melways arm”, which according to urban myth is a strain developed by reaching over to the back of the car to get a Melways off the seat.

The Melways has been an ongoing insight into the growth of Melbourne’s suburbs. We read about the suburban population growth, but it is fascinating actually seeing this on a map. It’s possible to look online at Melway maps for various suburbs, comparing today with the layout thirty years ago. Then, in today’s newer suburbs, there were generally main and connecting roads with nothing in between. Now the maps are full of roads and suburban streets and courts. It’s startling to see the populous Eltham of today compared to the rural country area the potters and painters moved to.

Which brings me to my experience last week. Our cycling group sometimes ride along the trail from Williamstown to Altona. It’s a pleasant ride. The track follows the foreshore, with borders of native grasses, and sea views. We generally train to the city, ride through Williamstown and continue to Altona for lunch. The last stage is a ride further around the coast, finally reaching Laverton railway station for the train ride back to the city. It’s a smooth easy ride, all on good gravel and concrete surfaces.

This time was different. Nick had the bright idea of going even further around the coast, via the Point Cook wetlands, and making for the Werribee station. He produced a page from Google Maps showing a faint line which looked like it might be the trail to lead us to our destination. I had my doubts. Being used to detailed Melway maps, this faded A4 page in a large scale, only showing main roads, did not inspire my confidence.

Naturally we got lost. The map was not detailed enough to clearly show the new trail, and instead of cheerfully riding around the foreshore on a gravel track, we finished up dolefully pedalling along smooth bitumen through the densely populated streets of Point Cook and Santuary Lakes. Nick kept checking his map, to no avail; Steve tried to navigate with his phone GPS, but beautifully spoken “UK Carol” could only regularly proclaim that she was “recalculating” every two kilometres. Lou had Google Maps on his phone, but having forgotten his glasses, it was not much use.  Bill and Bruce just kept stoically pedalling, following the herd. I thought of King Richard’s saying of “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.” I would have given my bike for a Melways.

Anyway, we finally made it to the Hoppers Crossing Station, hot and tired and appreciating the cool and comfortable train ride home to the suburbs of Eltham, Greensborough and Diamond Creek. We all agreed that these areas are not too bad a place to live. Out here we still have hills, trees and interesting houses, compared to the depressing uniformity of some new suburbs. I now understand the meaning of Pete Seeger’s song “Little Boxes.”

My first action upon arriving home was to eagerly open my Melways. Yes, as expected maps 207 and 208 showed exactly where we should have gone. Later I copied the pages of the area, and carefully aligning the overlapping margins, cleverly crafted a hard copy map of the area to be placed in my bike rack. The next time we decide to visit the West I can confidently take the lead, yelling “follow me boys, I’m the Melways man.”

Obsession Wrecked

The Maker

After fifty years of work, Jack’s retirement finally came. He was an old fashioned pattern maker, a skilled trade involving forming timber into intricate shapes.

It was detailed work, suiting his personality. Given a project he would examine the drawings in minute detail, selecting the timber carefully, then cutting and shaping, his plane and spokeshave coaxing lumps of timber into finely tuned patterns. This obsession with detail earned him the reputation as the finest craftsman in the shop.

Upon retirement, he was at a loss. Work had kept his mind busy and days full. He missed working with timber in a complex way. He was bored. Most days he wandered down the street to buy the paper, then spent the day pottering aimlessly around.

But one day, he noticed a model sailing ship in the window of the second hand shop. An old three masted galleon. Picking the hull up, he observed the balance of the solid timber. Carefully examining the model, he noted the fine detail in the construction, the smoothly shaped hull, the high masts held upright by miniature stays, the rope ladders leading up to the crow’s nest. The top deck structure had been painstakingly chiselled and carved and glued, there was a tiny moveable rudder, and the sails could be adjusted with waxen thread. The tiny cannons poking from the sides had been hand fashioned.

Knowing how to shape and join timber, he recognised the model as the work of a fellow artisan. Suddenly he realised the solution to his boredom.

He hurried home to his shed and made a start. He knew that some firms sold model kits, but this was beneath him. He preferred to do things for himself. He wanted something to challenge his mind and skilled hands. His shed was full of suitable timber and tools. By visiting the local library and city hobby shops, he finally found the suitable plans.

The daily routine became established. Each morning he was at his shed, cup of tea in hand, lighting the small corner stove, laying out his tools, and deciding which part to fashion. The hull was easy; he had smoothed timber all his life. For the deck structures he used his sharpest chisels and fret saws. The long slender gunnels were precisely carved to meet the curve of the hull. Stairways, he slowly chiselled out in one piece. He carefully bored out portholes, and carved the cannons in fine detail. He deftly fitted the tiny rudder into its axle and swung it from side to site.

His greatest challenge was fashioning the sails and rigging. The design was a complex three masted galleon. His hands felt clumsy learning the new skill of working with linen and thread. He bought tiny parts, special waxed thread for shrouds and ladders, minute metal rings to bind to the masts, parchment cloth for sails, tiny pulleys, plus many more. He also had to learn how to sew. He persevered, learning how to tie tiny clove hitch knots with sharp tweezers and hooked needles, how to cut, shape and stiffen the sails.

Eventually, the masterpiece was complete. He gently placed it on the mantelpiece.

Where it sat for years, a proud talking point, until one day it was no longer there.

Epilogue One – The Finder.

Was Jack real?

I don’t know. He was conjured from somewhere in my mind. I suspect that he is an example of what I imagine the personality of a complex model maker may be. That is, the obsessive need to complete something complicated in a painstaking way. To prove to ourselves that we are capable of successfully undertaking a project in great detail. My Jack certainly felt a compelling need for something in his life after years of purposeful work.

Then again, maybe Jack was just an old sailor who missed the sea and ships.         However, one thing I know. Such a boat existed, because I am the man who found it.

I was walking the dog along the creek when I noticed a curious object. It was a model sailing ship, largely intact but broken. It had been thrown down the bank. My feeling was one of sadness. Clearly a complicated model, it must have taken countless hours of patient construction. Such a work deserved a final resting place better than a smelly Eltham creek.

It was still there a week later, unclaimed, unwanted, unloved and lonely. I obsessed about it. Who had made it? Who had discarded it? Why? Was this person dead?

I decided to save it, restore it, to make it float as it should.

 

Epilogue Two – The Fixer

It was indeed a finely crafted piece, exactly as Jack may have done. But a wreck it was, with the sails hopelessly tangled, a mast snapped off, and the ropes entwined like jungle vines. But it had a certain quaint appeal; I imagined it proudly sailing around the fishpond. Two masts and sails were able to be salvaged and it looked reasonably respectable and seaworthy. Google advised, by the red cross and lion on the sail that it was a replica of an English naval galleon from the 16th century.

However it was designed for a mantelpiece, not a pond. Having no keel, it toppled sideways when launched, due to the weight of the high masts. I was not deterred, solving the problem by screwing a long bolt into the hull as a counter weight. But it still tipped over.

Determined to make the thing float upright, I inserted another bolt, then another, until it finally stayed upright. Unfortunately, the weight of three long metal bolts, together with the minimal buoyancy of the hard wooden hull, contrived to draw my ship down to Davey Jones’ Locker, so it floated with the deck below the water line. But at least it floated.

The boat stayed there for a fortnight while I pondered for a solution, finally coming up with a design of a long and light weighted keel, to act as a counterweight.

Alas, more failure. When I picked up the boat to action this renewal stage, it fell apart in my hand. The weeks in water had dissolved the glue. The rear section was adrift, the deck structures floated away, the gunnels and any other part involving glue also went floating, and the rear mast fell out. Shipwrecked. I imagined Jack having a throaty chuckle.

My boat is now in dry dock, propped up alongside the pond. Waiting for the day when I have the patience to glue pieces together with fine quality waterproof glue, coat the hull with marine grade paint, install my magic keel, and launch it.

I just wish Jack could be there to see.