1. The Challenge Begins.

In the one-month writing challenge he’d taken on, he vaguely thought to weave it into rock climbing. He’d use the parallels of pain and expertise in each activity.

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” It might just work,” he thought.

He started his daily writing just after midnight on day one. However, he’d heard creativeness goes out the window after sundown and just before dawn breaks.

With climbing, sinewy hands and tough fingers are needed to take on a free form style. No support to save a fall into the dark abyss. The confidence needed is said to fill the competitor with more than adrenaline. No way back.

For a writer once committed words cascade, no looking back to their origin. The backspace key, the least used of all. The pace a rhythmic cadence, a flow of the words. Each word a foothold. Every hundred words gouged from the face of the sheerness of the task, form and direction vaguely clear. Sometimes a side plot, a twist a glide to expose some other feature. He could see that as he wrote, eight extra fifteen-minute sessions might see this day’s world limit met. It’s a reasonable start, with some strategizing needed. Maybe sleeping on it. Some ways to make sense of a shambling start. Or is this groundhog day?

He was stuck. What’s a good idea? The same dang thought over and over and over. Boredom! As a climber, boredom is not an option. For a writer, perched so high above a forty-nine thousand word precipice is simply awesome!

The writer passes three hundred word marker. He chalks his hands to dry the sweat from his iPad screen. The screen glistens with the reflected oils. Bad ideas scream to be retracted. But the words need to pour forth and revision slows the flow. Sleep beckons. He succumbs to sleep, and clambers into a nook, far above the roar of failure below. He rests to just before the dawn.

Undisturbed he has slept the night away. An occasional word dropped into his subconsciousness which he swotted away. Lying there, suspended between failure and success, he was much closer to failure than success, twenty-nine days away.

But he felt it was a good start.

“Ah,” he thought as he greeted the day, “How can I use this night’s sleep to strengthen me for the writing climb ahead.”

The words seemed hollow. The image of the free climber had started to fade. The writer had imagined a boyish twenty-six-year-old climber with a mop of black lustrous curly hair and amazingly sensuous lips, big and fat.

The snooze alarm sounded, waking the writer. The climber came back to life.

“Shit, six-thirty, what were those night lessons I learnt?”

It was an hour to dawn.

He turned his mind back, slowly searching for the snippets he knew were lurking there.

From his writing perch, he could see he was five hundred and seven five words above failure. There were still over a thousand words left to make the safety of his first daily writing goal. There were just under eighteen hours to accomplish the goal. Each word had been original, though the idea of writing out each and every number in English struck him as being an insight. It was after all a way to increase word count!

Having the best equipment seemed a little strange to him as a free form writer. The free form climber in him saw the need only to be strong in himself, strong fingers, mind and balance. To make sure that each word was a handhold, a  foothold, even though hurting or twisted. Each word gave purchase to the next word, phrase or sentence,

He had looked at some writing software before he got started. Sponsored sites offering all manner of means to stylise the form of writing. He’d chosen one. However, once he had downloaded the program, he wondered if there would be a place for it. He’d been asleep at midnight when the count down clock for the day ticked over to start. He’d decided that the best way to make progress was to share in writing forums. The forums were possibly a source of inspiration, but he didn’t feel the point of typing words in a forum, which didn’t go to  his word count!

He realised he was firing up, as he typed the first words of the morning. His ‘word toes’ took the strain. He felt the ease of those first few words coming to life. Back and forth across the writing wall, he easily gained the first fifty, then a hundred words. He could see that a slower less rushed and more rhythmic style gave the best upward progress. Side slipping to correct, punctuate, capitalise, just wasted valuable word average. Slowing slightly meant that he could read on the screen and not look down at his fingers typing all the time. Though important to imbed each word, it was just as important to see and feel the way upward and ahead.

The daybreak brought the challenge home to the writer. There was nowhere to hide at his role in the mental health service ,when the winds of others demands, swept across the rocky face of his writing.

He imagined the free form climber big lips saying,

“There were faster and more experienced climbers than I, but what I do. I do for myself.” He felt no fear, yet there was no triumphalism in him. He’d done a demonstration climb for Sixty Minutes, before the start of the actual climbing attempt. Then away from the cameras, he’d slipped away for a more technically challenging ascent with a friend to ease his nerves. Nerves, not about the climb itself, but nerves about being watched. His was a normally solitary lonely pursuit.

The writer lay back into his overnight hollow and reminded himself of his rules for the challenge.

  • Always have iPad charged and to hand, open at the writing page.
  • Take each and every opportunity to write a few words, where you can see there are at least five minutes uninterrupted writing wall ahead.
  • Keep the mind peeled for different approaches.
  • Write slowly, so that each theme builds on its past.
  • Reward success.
  • Keep a log in the writing to see what worked and what didn’t.
  • Review the competition rules.

As his body warmed to the writing task, he could see that another five hundred words had been achieved. It hadn’t been that hard. In just short of an hour, he’d had no difficulty keeping his rhythm and he had moved nicely to a position where the day target was in sight. He rose from his chair to face it, and arched his back to stretch.

“There’s no time or place for nervousness here,” he told himself, as much a warning as a pep talk. Directly in front of him were the twenty-nine days of physical and word breaking work. The prospect of facing the wall in a variety of settings was at once daunting and challenging. The tap, tap-tapping of other workers, engaged in paid key stroking, gave an eerie edge to his more thudding picking on his iPad.

He looked out over the window sill to the dominance of Mount Wellington. Enshrouded in a shifting cloud vista, its face changes,  according to the glowering low-pressure weather pattern. He feared the rain. Perhaps the writing word wall would become too slippery. Maintaining a grip firm enough to reach out and scramble for another thought hold might be threatened by the rain.

“What would a slip feel like in word terms” he wondered. Climbing fast he’d had no time to contemplate a stumble. The fear of a stumble retched up from the pit of his stomach. A writer’s block maybe. He worried about a freeze with no obvious impediment, freezing hard at a point where there was no obvious impediment. No idea as to how to decide between the multiple ways ahead. No clear alternatives, and where they might lead. Big lips the climber, faced similar choices.

In barely ten minutes of typing the writer had got to within two hundred words of his day’s target. Refreshed he felt the urge to write on, to blow his way through the daily target and well, show off.

He stopped to reflect on what free climber big lips most enduring message had been when he said insouciantly,

“Well, it’s really no big deal.”

What did he mean? Was it meant to mean anything? If so what?

He watched the word counter climb to the magical one thousand six hundred and sixty-seven mark, knowing he would add a few words beyond to allow for excisions.

His mind had turned to the celebratory things he might do.

No, he realised his thoughts were the same as the big lipped free climber.

At the top of his climb he had removed his climbing shoes and remarked,

“Aww, I did what I set out to do, no big deal.”

Editor note: republished from 2011 – Writing a novel in a month

Y2K Bug ?

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Down the road on the cliff top, swept by the up wind from the Tasman Sea, a retired university professor lived with his wife.

The seventies house was fashionably unkempt, an assortment of Australian drought tolerant bushes and shrubs surrounding. I think it was two stories, but from so far away in time, that’s a little unclear. The bushes all leaned back into the house, surrendering to the stiff breezes and occasional gales which buffeted the home.

It was, very cosy.

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Back then in 1999, the world was a buzz, well not too buzzy with a rising crescendo of newspaper stories telling of the approaching doom of the Y2K bug.

Most folk though paid little heed. The year two thousand for many signified the opportunity for the piss up of piss ups. The newspaper stringers felt lucky to have at least a year of headlines full of increasing alarm and government unpreparedness for a threat poorly understood.

However, in more learned circles, there was a potential technical threat.

December 1st, 1999 came and was going.

The professor and wife began stocking the house with supplies. Canned foods and ingredients. Basic flour, sugar, tea etc. No need to continue with the list. You can fill in the menu of your choice. Batteries, petrol, shovels and all manner of survival tools. Pick your poison here too.

They filled the third bedroom, then the second bedroom. All laid out and catalogued library like. A life in academia was not wasted. Then the lounge and half of the dining room became clogged with the overflow of goods as mid month passed. The place took on the aroma of a combination of a Bunnings warehouse and an Indian spice shop. It was intoxicating.

All this went on, unknown to the surrounding neighbours. Extra shopping was added to the usual weekly supplies. Gardening and other implements purchase merely hinting at a summer full of horticultural hope.

On the so called millennial day afternoon, they  called out to a next door neighbour, who lived two doors up . She was on the roadway unpacking her car.

“How you doing? Completed your preps?”

“Preps?” she thought quickly wondering what the prep they were speaking of.

The prof continued helpfully, ” your preparations for Y2K.”

He might have well spoken in Swahili.

” Y2K?” she queried, ” Is that a rate notice from the council?”

“No, no,” he replied, ” Haven’t you been following the news? Y2K, its everywhere.”

The prof had helpfully sauntered up the slight rise in the roadway to make conversation easier, and to save his croaky voice from shouting.

“I saw something on the Channel 7, or was it 9 about something or other. Seemed hyped up to me,” she answered truthfully.

“Well hope your pantry’s full, ‘cos tomorrow’s gonna be a bran nue day,” he offered.

“Is there anything I can do then?” she implored.

“Make sure you fill your bath with clean water, which you can drink over the next few days, and eat up all your fresh food in the fridge as quick as you can in the next few days, after the power goes off come midnight,” he said.

“We’ve filled our bath already. We can perhaps share some of our goods too. Depends how long recovery takes, if ever.

“We’ve been prepping for the past two or three months, so we’re well prepared,” added jauntily.

The thought of cold baked beans and dry biscuits was unappealing to her. Then again any port in a storm.

She knew she’d have to scrub the bath out first, before refilling with drinking water to avoid an after taste of Pears soap and bubble bath liquid.

“Ok, thanks, thanks heaps,” was all she could offer, as she heaved her plastic bags out of the car boot and trudged inside the house.

She made a cuppa and settled down into the bumpy settee.

“If the world’s going to end, may as well be comfy,” she mused.

She turned on the tele and watched Wellington NZ celebrations. She caught the warm up to the celebrations down in Sydney using the Harbour Bridge as a prop. In the distance, local fireworks in Newcastle sounded like random gunshots in the night sky, the glow of only the highest rockets lighting the horizon.

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As the cascade of sparkling pearl firework fizzled out from the Harbour Bridge deck, she began to wonder.

“How come the tv’s still working, how come we’ve seen Wellington?” and it went on around the

world. Singapore, New Delhi, Cape Town, Nairobi, too many EU capitals to name and then the Americas, even Hawaii.”

It was nearly midday before she thought to take out the rubbish. She trudged up the driveway to the kerb side bin. The azure blue sky was studded with light fluffy clouds scudding westward.

She looked down the street and saw the prof’s wife, also filling her bin.

“Hi,”  she semi-shouted.

The profs wife managed a wan smile, sheepishly responding,

“Hi,” before scurrying back inside.

It was clear nothing had happened at midnight. In fact nothing had happened at many midnights.

The prof and wife donated their canned goods to the Salvo’s, excess tools to charity and pride to the shredder.

Eighteen years later, a podcast, at the time not imagined, was produced reflecting on Y2K.

It can be found at :


It’s well worth listening to!

Ode to Coon.

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When man set foot, upon the moon,

I first tasted, hard ripe Coon.

A cheese of fullness, Aussie strong,

Strong enough to blow my thongs!

Various cheese products are shown in branded packages

Keep your Stilson, or Weardale,

Lord of Hundred, or Coverdale,

Coon is strong and flavoursome,

Stronger than a Chevington.

Image result for chevington cheese

Coon is destined soon to part,

Multinationals, have no heart,

Destroy a taste from ages old,

Unlike buttery, Goonsnargh Gold.

I’ll continue to be strong,

Sniffing up the powerful pong,

From aromatic Sussex Charmer,

England’s nod to Italy’s Parma.

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Saputo falls to PC rage,

So for now,  it turns a page,

Are there more offensive laggards,

Will the next be Gallybagger?

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What I Found in my Grandma’s Letter — Ground Them For Life

[Reblog below- thank you.]

I skimmed a pastor’s wife life blog,

She spoke of a times long past.

About gran ma’s life, when just a child,

I shivered in its blast.

The time of Spanish Flu’ was here,

Treatments were not cute,

Mustard poultices, losing hair,

Grand daughter felt quite mute.

I wondered, how it all began,

It started with a letter.

We blog our thoughts electronically,

How could we do it better?

Floppies, USB,  CD,

Have all gone to the tip.      

All those blogs, now disappeared ,

Although they were all zipped.

Those media were fragile things,

And then, were superseded.

Our current thoughts,  can we forget,

Or will they still be needed?

Think now, of future posterity,

And coming generations.

Print out your thoughts on paper now.

Keep safe from conflagration.

I’ve seen a lot pf articles about past pandemics recently … ebola, Hong Kong, swine flu … and the Spanish flu. I remember some of them happening. but didn’t know much about the Spanish flu except what I read in books both fiction and non-fiction. I knew this was a dangerous flu and many died […]

What I Found in my Grandma’s Letter — Ground Them For Life

Sitting on the Back Deck

Birds are chirping, all too loud,

The waterfall is running full,

Dog lies slumbering on his couch,

Resisting, I feel writing’s pull.

Random thoughts that come to mind,

Do not a story make,

I turn out rubbish doggerel,

It makes me such a fake.

I rise to make a cup o’ tea,

Black, white, with sugar, hon?

A biscuit then, or maybe two,

I think I’ll stick with bun.

The words run dry, depressed I rest.

The muse has gone away.

Thehobartchinaman puts down his pen,

To write another day.

Concord Plaster Mills – Bye Bye Mansour

Night shifts were long. Longer when alone. Vast machinery controlled by one man. Mansour had climbed the factory floor hierarchy to the most senior role in the plant, leading hand. A long way from the flinty land he was born on in war torn Lebanon.

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Justifiably he was proud of his achievement. He shared the leading hand role with two others, each with an offsider.

When his night shift offsider was a no show, a fill in labourer, the son of Greg Randell, another leading hand, was pressed into service. This was David, a little runt, cocky and with an attitude that screamed “fuck you wog.”

An inauspicious start to the evening!

David lolled about in the control room playing with his phone, letting the feed hoppers run empty, even whilst the low level alarms blared. His job out on the loader should have kept him mostly away from the control room and Mansour.

“Whata ya doin’ in here?” Mansour asked. A reasonable question when the feed into the mill had run out. Maintaining process flow was critical to the continuous operation. David was responsible for keeping this running.

” Fuck you, wog! “was David’s reply, which really wasn’t a reply to answer to Mansour’s question.  It also reflected his father’s attitude to having a new Australian taking a role which had traditionally been the preserve of true blue Aussies.

“Well ya needa to best go an filla da bins cos they empty, day showin empty! So plees go now an fill, pleese.”

” My fuckin’ sandwich’s not done in the fuckin’ toaster and I’m on the phone to Sue, so shut the fuck up,” Dave shouted back. Any way whose gonna fuckin’ make me! ” Dave snarled back.

Mansour moved over towards Dave. His six foot three bulk was that of a man used to farm labouring work, sinewy arms and broad muscular shoulders. David was wirey, with a shock of ginger hair, in fact true blue.

David rose from the plastic chair he was lolling back in on its two real legs, and puffed himself up to his full five foot five height.

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“Go on, make me, cunt,” he snarled, ” Make me, I dare you, wog cunt.”

Mansour, pushed past him and opened the control room door.

“Out you go an geta the bin full!” he said, his voice rising.

Dave grabbed at the door and tried to shut it. His strength could not match Mansour’s. They tussled there, Dave thumping on Mansour’s back.

” Close the fuckin door it’s getting cold” he screamed with a push to Mansour’s chest.

Mansour raised his hand to defend himself, the glancing blow catching Dave in the jaw.

“Shit wog, you hit me, I’m reporting you!”

The next morning my office was buzzing with tales of the incident in the control room. Greg, David’s dad was in full flight having had the episode related to him when David got home from night shift.

I went in to work with a heavy heart that night just as night shift started.

Listening to both sides of the story, half of which I relate above, my heart sank.

Honest as the day is long, Mansour admitted yes he had hit David, but in a moment of retaliation for a provocation.

They both admitted to fighting.

Factories have rules.

I applied them.

They were both sacked.

Tasmanian Health Service – Para training and Chinese Scamming

Some things can only be learnt from experience.

How best to survive high altitude sky diving and internet scams might be two of these.

Hardly though the skills acquired from the Tasmanian Health Service, one would have thought!

You’d be wrong.

Settling into my first job ever in a public service at about three score years, I reckoned keeping a low profile was de rigeur. In the 2020’s open offices are fading, with the virus and hotdesking going the way of the dodo. But back in these days a few years ago, cack coloured wool partitions were all the go.

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Situated twixt the secretaries and the data guys, I was in a prime location. On the one the one side, Bill Gates’ failure as a Word processing program were offset on the other by boat chartering down the Chanel or making heaps on e-bay  or attack sky diving. I stuck to trying to understand how to draft policy and make sense of spreadsheets, possibly done by chooks. A set of noise cancelling ear plugs were a lovely self present. I got them on mother’s day, couldn’t wait till fathers day.

On a day burned into my psyche, the floor next to me shuddered . This was no mean feat for a concrete floor overlaid with standard issue government carpet. Experiential techniques to void limb damage on parachute  landing were being demonstrated from the adjacent office desk. Unfortunately the top of the three draw filing cabinet was unavailable to allow a better tuck to be achieved before rolling out, both hands crossed over the chest. Perhaps on second thoughts fortunately not.

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Practising parachute roll out

This at least provided some relief from the commentary on how shit Word was, and how Bill was gonna hear about this! We wondered if the rest of the office computers had been infected with a virus which allowed their networked copies of Word to work perfectly. Sometimes Word worked ok, and the conversation turned to being an ice skating Mum, and the perils of eisteddfods.

A scheme to turn a 900+ % profit on some hardware devices not easily available in Hobart was cooked up. I heard nothing more of the whispered scheme until a DHL courier showed up with a parcel addressed to a company no one had heard of. All other street address details, including floor  and  building were correct. The receipt inside though identified the delivery had been correct.

The data guys ripped open the packing. The packing slip though detailed a delivery address in Peru. The devices had most of the right ports and connectors. But most ports and connectors ain’t near enough. The devices were going to sell for about $1000 each in Hobart, shipped cost $200 each. Frantic phone calls to the disconnected number in Hong Kong proved useless as were the $1000 worth of useless hardware.

I got on with the policy writing.