Members Access to Course List
Members Access to Course List
Enrol here

She looked too small to be a mother. Walking slowly across the African plain with a baby held on her hip by her left arm, her head swung left and right constantly. She was looking for any signs of the plants that had edible tubers which made up a large part of her family's diet. She was also on the lookout for any threats. Lions, leopards and cheetahs would were most likely dozing in this part of the day, but it paid to avoid even sleeping cats by a wide margin. There were a dozen other threats requiring constant alertness. Hyenas, and dogs would only hesitate a short while if they encountered a lone hominid, particularly one handicapped by carrying a baby. Easy pickings. Some of the grazing animals should also be given a wide berth. A startled buffalo or zebra would just as easily charge as run away from the diminutive being. But she had learned of these dangers from her mother and knew how to traverse the open country with some safety. Her dark eyes, deep set beneath a prominent brow ridge moved smoothly back and forth. With her snubby nose she delicately sniffed the breeze for any scents it might bear. Her ears were alert for any noise other than that produced by the breeze gently blowing through the vegetation. The short digging stick she carried in her right hand would be of little use as a weapon, but with the baby, it was all she could comfortably manage.

Up in the sky she saw circling vultures, but they were high and widespread. No possibility of any carrion nearby. A big bone or two would have been a welcome addition to the diet albeit extracting the marrow required using a suitable rock. She continued on, looking, listening, smelling. A short distance away she saw the tops of some thickly leafed bushes growing in a small hollow. This was an indication of water. It was unlikely to be a spring but a place where the ground water was closer to the surface. The bushes had sent down their roots to the vital fluid and produced a more verdant crop of leaves than the other plants not so fortunately placed. This small oasis was a likely spot to find the desired plants. It was also a place where small burrowing animals might make their home, but digging them out of their deep burrows was arduous and the digger was likely to attract attention and also be less able to see or hear approaching danger.
Maintaining her watchfulness, she walked cautiously to the hollow. At its edge she paused, scanned the surrounding area, sniffed the breeze and listened. Satisfied there was no nearby threat, she descended into the hollow. At the bottom, at the base of the largest bush was a dozen or more of the spiky leaves of the sweet tuber plant she had been hoping to find. Carefully she laid the baby on the ground and commenced to dig out the plants. The tubers were located a foot or so down, but the sandy soil made the digging relatively easy. Pausing occasionally to check for danger, she dug and extracted sixteen of the plants. She was careful not to detach the stems. These would be easier to hold while returning to the rock shelter where her small family would spend the night. When she had dug up all the plants she gathered them into a bundle. She picked up her baby, settled him on her hip and knelt to pick up the bundle. It was then she found she was unable to pick up all the plants she had laboriously unearthed. There were too many. There was also her digging stick that she was unwilling to abandon. The obvious answer was to only pick up and carry as many plants as she reasonably could handle. She could make the bundle smaller by removing the stems, but the tubers were lumpy and unwieldy and she would not be able to carry even half of them. She was loathe to leave any behind as she knew that they would be devoured by foraging animals and insects within a short period. Leaving them and returning for them later would be pointless. She considered the problem.

Although her family were presently occupying a rock shelter during the night, it was the normal habit of her people to spend it high in convenient trees where they couched in nests of foliage. The nest were built afresh each evening and were composed of leafy boughs usually secured with the more pliable branches and stems being woven and knotted to hold them in place. Her mother had shown her how to construct these elevated sanctuaries and she had adopted a particular way of twisting two pliable lengths around each other and then repeating the process to form a secure fastening. Looking down at the bundle of plants she slowly formed the idea of doing the same thing with the stems of the plants. She placed the baby on the ground and picked up two of the plants. She quickly had the stems securely joined and was able to sling the pair of plants around her neck. Repeating the action she soon had all the plants dangling on either side of her neck, leaving her hands free to pick up the baby and the digging stick. So laden, she returned across the plain to the rock shelter.

F. Brown. ©

I'll call him Lionel, mainly because that was his name. He was a quiet, little ball of a man, not tall and a bit over weight. He reminded me of one of those Asian statuettes of the Buddha except he seldom smiled. He was not a dour man, just one of those slightly shy, phlegmatic types. He was from the Home Counties but had lost most of his accent and many were surprised when they discovered he was a Pom. Normally he sat at the back of the class during lectures at our U3A, not saying much and only occasionally asking a considered question. So it was with a little surprise that I found that he was to give a lecture as part of a series on individuals' life stories. I knew he had spent some time as crew on a Thames barge, but nothing more, so I was very interested when he started to describe that part of his early life. He had done a lot of preparation and had written up extensive notes. Unfortunately his presentation skill left a lot to be desired when he was reading directly from his notes. He tended to rub his hand across his mouth and lose his place and misread some words. Pity, because the stuff he was describing was quite interesting. Thames barges are magnificent looking vessels with their mass of red sails. Their masts are stepped so that they can be lowered to pass under bridges, but how a crew of three can handle such an array of spars, ropes and canvas just boggles the imagination. So I listened intently and tried to ignore Lionel's unfortunate lecturing mannerisms.

Then he started to describe one of his tasks on board. He lowered his notes and spoke from memory. The change was magic. Gone were the nervous movements and there was just the smooth flow of words. I was transported to the small cabin in the stern in moments. He told of how he, as the "boy" on board, probably still in his teens, it was his job to prepare dinner. In the cabin was a small coal-fired stove. The coal would have been obtained as it had been for centuries by taking the barge alongside some coal barge moored at some wharf or some dock and liberating or trading for the fuel. On the stove-top there was a pot partially filled with water. A hunk of corned beef, usually brisket all tied up nicely with butcher's string, was dropped in together with some carrots, potatoes and cabbage. The fire was stoked and the pot brought to the boil. The pot continued to simmer for a prolonged period, possibly a couple of hours. But then came the clincher. Having got the main course cooking, Lionel then prepared "afters", which was invariably suet pudding. He mixed the fat and flour, added the water to make the stodgy dough, rolled it into a ball, wrapped it in a cloth, tied the neck of the cloth bag so formed and dropped it into the pot with the meat and veg. Who said the British can't cook? Everybody!

Lionel told other stories about encounters with mines and being stranded literally up the creek, but the one about his efforts in the galley was the one that really stuck in my memory.

F. Brown. ©

In the gloom of the cave, lit by fat-soaked burning moss, the skin-clad scribe draws on the wall with a finger dipped in ochre. He sketches the beasts he has hunted, telling of the deeds of his tribe.

In the gloom of the hut, lit by a burning taper, the leather-clad scribe presses a reed into the soft clay. He pokes and prods the brown tablet, telling of the victories of his king.

In the gloom of the tomb, lit by a burning torch, the cotton-clad scribe paints with a small brush many coloured pictograms on the wall. He describes the feats of the Pharaoh.

In the gloom of the small room in the palace, lit by a single burning lantern, the silk-clad scribe skilfully draws the characters in black, black ink on the thin rice paper. He records with artistry the triumphs of the Emperor.

In the gloom of a tablinum, lit by an array of burning oil lamps, the linen-clad slave scribe scratches in wax with a silver stylus. Using Latin letters, he writes at his master's dictation the history of the Legions.

In the gloom of the monastery cell, lit by a burning candle, the wool-clad scribe writes with quill and oak gall ink on smooth white vellum. He copies ancient texts telling of the history of the Israelites.

In the gloom of the Boeing 727, lit by low wattage fluorescent lamps, the Savile Row-clad scribe dabs with his forefinger at the screen of his palmtop. He writes in electronic ink on a billion pixels an update on his Facebook page.

Frank Brown ©

The tap kept on dripping.

He gripped the handle with both hands and wrenched clockwise.

The tap kept on dripping.

Perlonk, perlonk, perlonk, every 2.35 seconds, into the laundry's stainless steel trough the tap kept on dripping.

It annoyed him, so he put a dishcloth in the trough to dampen the noise.

The cloth got dampened too.

It annoyed him, but he had no knowledge on how taps worked and no tools to fix it even if he had.

A plumber would cost a lot of money for probably a few minute's work.

That annoyed him.

He went to the library and found a home handyman book that showed how a tap worked and how to fix problems.

He took it home and made notes.

The tap kept on dripping.

He went to the hardware shop with a shopping list and looked for the plumbing section.

There he found the tools and parts, but the selection was large and he was not sure which to buy.

That annoyed him.

He bought the top priced tools as he did not trust cheap ones.

He bought a range of different washers as he was unsure which type would be needed.

The bill was for many dollars but still cheaper than a plumber.

At home he prepared to mend the tap.

First turn of the mains supply.

He could not find the stopcock,

That annoyed him.

He phoned the council and was told a man would come and locate the stopcock next week.

That annoyed him.

The tap kept on dripping.

The man from the council eventually came and poked around for ages before he found the stopcock.

The man cleared away the weeds and dug into the dirt to reveal the rusty device and tried to turn it off.

The thing was jammed and so the man told him he would have to come back another day and replace the valve

That annoyed him.

The tap kept dripping.

Another day finally came and two council workers replaced the faulty stopcock.

At last he was ready to repair the dripping tap.

He turned off the mains supply.

He removed the top of the tap and extracted the jumper and its mangled washer.

He replaced the washer with one from his newly bought collection.

He reassembled the tap.

He turned on the mains.

The tap kept on dripping.

He was very annoyed.

He went back to the handyman book and read some more.

The valve seat was probably damaged because of the damaged washer and the extra pressure exerted to stop the tap dripping.

It could be fixed by using a special tool.

He went back to the hardware store and bought the tool.

He bought a tube of lubricant as an afterthought.

The items cost a lot of dollars but it was still cheaper than getting in the plumber.

He went home and prepared to fix the problem.

He turned off the mains.

He dismantled the tap.

He set the special tool according to the instructions and cleaned up the valve seat.

He replaced the new washer with another from his supply in case it had been damaged by the damaged valve seat.

He applied the lubricant to all the threads in the tap and reassembled the tap.

He turned on the main supply stopcock.

The tap resumed dripping.

The book had advised that some metal turnings from the seat may have been caught under the washer.

The cure was to run the tap hard for a few minutes to clear the metal shreds.

He tried to turn the handle.

Nothing moved.

The tap kept on dripping.

He hit the tap with his fist.

The tap kept on dripping.

He hit the tap with his shoe.

The tap kept on dripping.

He knocked the tube of lubricant onto the floor while struggling with the recalcitrant turncock.

It wasn't lubricant; it was Lock-Tite, a superbly strong metal to metal glue.

The tap kept on dripping.

Frank Brown ©

Molly poured out a cup of tea and carried it to the table. As usual, she was talking out loud to herself as she did when at home alone. Not that she stopped talking when somebody was there. She just did not like silence, and there was a lot of silence in her brain. But she was a kindly soul and always tried to please. She sat down and sipped her tea for a few seconds and then reached across the table. "Here's the paper, now let's see what is in the "To Sell" section. Bikes, cots, golf sets, lounges. What's this? Manchester United doona cover, unopened and only $80. I saw one of those in Spotlight last week and it was about $120. Lovely red colour. It would go a treat with the Ming Blue walls. I think that's the football team Fred likes. Loves his football he does. Watches all those programs on SBS. Daft game I reckon, but he likes it. Now what is that phone number? I think I will give them a call. Better do it straight away. That's a good price." She rose, fetched the phone back to the table and dialled the number printed in the ad. "Hello. I saw your ad in the paper for a doona cover. Have you sold it yet? No, oh that's good. Could I have a look at it? Thank you. Where do you live? Oh, I know that street. I used to have a friend that lived there. Do you know Lucy Adams? No! Oh never mind. Can I come round today? Oh good. Will two o'clock be OK? Right, see you then." She put the phone down and finished drinking her tea.

At three o'clock she came home carrying a bulky package and humming to herself happily. Not only had she got the cover, but she had offered $70 and got it for $75. She was pleased with herself. Not waiting to take of her coat she went straight into the bedroom and unpacked the bright red cover and laid it across the bed. Lovely. Just the way she had imagined it. The red went so well with the blue wall and Jungle green curtains.

At six on the dot Fred walked in. "Have a good day dear?" "Not bad" he grunted and plonked down in his chair. He reached for the TV remote and turned on the set, switching to the sports channel. Molly brought him a cup of tea, quietly chatting about nothing and deliberately not mentioning the doona cover. It would be a surprise.

At ten, Fred got up and went off to the bathroom to get ready for bed. Molly waited eagerly for his reaction when he entered the bedroom. Two minutes later she got it. "What the blue, bleeding blazes is that rag doing on my bed" he roared. "It's a new cover for the doona. Don't you like it" she asked, amazement all over her face. "Like it! Like it! You're as daft as a brush, you silly woman. Me, sleep under that? You have got to be joking!" "But it was a bargain" "I don't care if they paid you to take it out of the shop. Take it off and get rid of it. Now!" Molly moved to comply. Fred was normally a pretty placid type and would never do more than raise his voice a little when annoyed. This outburst was so unlike him. "I'm sorry. I thought you would like it with you liking football so much. I don't want to throw it away. Don't you know anybody that would like it?" "Me. Give anything to a Manchester fan. Wouldn't give one of them the time of day" "But I thought it was the team you liked, the ones with the red pullovers" "You dim wit! I'm an Arsenal fan. The Gunners! Always have been, just like my dad. I wouldn't bother with a flamin' northern bunch. I'd rather barrack for Chelsea or Crystal Palace" "I'm sorry love. I thought it would be such a nice surprise," and she began carefully folding up the offending cloth. In an attempt to calm Fred down she changed the subject "I saw a lovely program this morning" "Oh yeah" said Fred, realising he had gone a bit far, but unwilling to apologise, "What was it?" "It was about the Beckhams and their and their lovely home." Fred turned white and started breathing heavily.

Frank Brown ©

We used to exercise about once a year. Now I don't mean a session of P.T., I mean an event where a bunch would go to a caving area and put into practice rescue techniques in an actual cave. The people involved were from two groups. There were the cavers, of course, and members of the Police search and rescue squad. We would spend all day crawling, climbing in a suitable hole in the rock, hauling gear and bodies and getting darn cold and very thirsty. The best cure for thirst is, would you believe, beer. Some might argue, but with this mob, the evening was devoted to relieving dehydration at the local hostelry. So after a feed at the camp we would all head for the pub. The Police had a small bus whose driver was a non-drinker and prepared to cart us to the watering hole and pick us up a few hours later. I never did find out what he did in the intervening hours.

Normally the party congregate in the lounge bar, and the locals would normally stay in the front bar. The bars were arranged so that one could see from one drinking area into the other, and the antics of the cops and cavers provided the evening entertainment for the locals. Dress was generally the immensely popular New Zealand wool shirt but the cops tended to wear blue in while the cavers wore every other colour. The other difference was the cops tended to be about a foot taller than the average caver. There were the usual games played and some novel ones. The fireplace had a brick face up to the ceiling, and there were small corners of the bricks emerging at one corner. These provided miniscule finger and toe holds. The challenge was to climb this obstacle and touch the ceiling with your head. Few did, many fell, but nobody seemed to get injured. One time my prized bush hat got "stolen". One young constable put his training to work and interviewed me and every member of the groups, taking copious notes and reporting progress. And the beer flowed, and the locals watched.

One time a couple of the cavers put on an act. The left the lounge and went to the front bar. They evidently wanted to have a quiet chat and smoke. This was in the days when you could smoke in the bar:-, in fact it was almost a requirement. These two blokes were both bearded and long haired. Hippy types. They fronted the bar, ordered a couple of beers and one started to roll a fag. Now this was very common practice and normally nobody would have taken much notice. What was a bit different was the size of the fag. It was fat. Not one of the skinny little efforts, the normal roll-your-own the thickness of a pencil. No, this was like your thumb. The paper barely reached. A triumph of the smoking art! A couple of the locals were a bit suspicious and eased down the bar away from the pair. The monster was lit and the maker took a drag, held it and then slowly exhaled. Then came the cruncher. He passed it to his mate who repeated the process. All the locals retreated to the far end of the bar. Without being too obvious, a few of the cavers and coppers were observing the antics of the "hippies" and the reactions of the locals. The word spread and with no diminishing of the noise in the lounge, the boys moved back and forth, taking turns to grab a view of the front bar. You could see the locals anxiously glancing from the "hippies" to the partying cops, and exchanging whispered comments like "Don't the daft buggers know the place is stiff with cops?" The playlet went on for about ten minutes until one of the police leaned across and called to the pair of puffers. "You two finished playing silly sods? Your turn to try the chimney". They rose, extinguished the "joint", and strolled out of the bar, nodding to the locals while a bunch of us stood grinning in full view. One by one the locals woke up to the joke. You could almost hear them saying "Sucked in" and "Smart bastards!"

Frank Brown©

We are faced with a thousand rules
To guide wise men, be obeyed by fools.
But I’ve a secret and I’ll expound it
“Where there’s a rule, there’s a way round it.”

Problems come in great profusion
Needing some sort of solution
So solve the problems, really nobble ’em
But “Each solution has a problem.”

Telescope, microscope help you perceive
Things big and small that are hard to believe
These wondrous tool revealed to me
“The harder you look, the more you will see.”

Impossible dreams are ten a penny
I know because I’ve had so many
Dreams that helped me to decide
“Nowt’s impossible till it’s tried”

It's early in the morning,
But you're already late,
So gulp down half your breakfast,
And be on the bus by eight.

C'os you're on a tour of Europe,
Ten countries in five days,
From bloody cold Britannia,
To Italy's sweltering haze.

It's another darn cathedral,
Built in thirteen eighty two.
Take photos by the dozen,
While looking for the 'loo.

One evening you pay dearly
For a local ethnic treat.
Another costs you nothing
Unless you want to eat.

There's pit stops at cute cafés
For fromage and salami
And tiny cups of coffee.
It's enough to drive you barmy.

The guide is from Albania
And tells you lots of stuff
You really do not want to know;
It's just a lot of guff!

Each night you sink a couple
And then you hit the sack
At nine o' bloody clock
C'os at eight you're on the track.

You've washed your socks and knickers
And hung them in the 'loo.
They're still damp in the morning,
But what else can you do?

There's a castle to tramp over
With a chateau down the way
In another bloody country
You went through yesterday.

So come on you O A P's,
Click on Trafalgar's site
And spend your excess dollars
On a twenty hour flight.

Go see the sights of Europe,
Like Paris, Venice, Rome
With forty other fogies;
No wonder I love home.

Frank Brown © 2010

With hair the colour of chestnuts
And eyes of cornflower blue.
She was a gardener’s daughter
And knew a thing or two
Of flowers

So he made her a tussie mussie
That spelt out a message with each
Bloom telling of his devotion
In that old and secret speech
Of flowers

T’was a posy of ivy and iris,
With red carnation and rose,
Saying “I love you, I want you”
In the wonderful, colourful prose
Of flowers

It was days before she answered,
With a response like a nettle that stung.
A bouquet of sad withered blooms
Saying “drop dead” in the soft tongue
Of flowers.

Frank Brown ©

I have only played Baseball once. I have played Rounders, the old English cum European kid's game the American one is based on, but not the New World version. At secondary school I played sports. You had to. You had to be paraplegic to get out of playing some sort of game, winter and summer. I opted for Football and Cricket, with the odd excursion into Tennis, Athletics and Swimming. By Football I mean real Football which the ill educated call Soccer. The one you play with foot and a ball, hence the name. None of your hands on varieties played with ellipsoids for me. I played "The Great Game", the one played in every country in the world. But unfortunately I did not play very well. The sports master summed me up as "Tenacious, but lacks judgement". What he meant was I could not send the ball within yards of the intended target, but I was too dumb to stop trying.

In summer I played Cricket mainly because you spent half the game sitting on the grass waiting for your turn to bat. That meant I could do a bit of reading, Got through quite a few books that way. My father had played for his school and was hopeful I would do so for mine. He gave me lessons and tips and encouragement. We spent a lot of time working on my competence with the bat particularly. Feet position and movement, different strokes; all the usual stuff. I tried to be a "useful" player, but my batting, in spite of the extra tuition, was woeful. I did all the right things but not at the right time. In addition my bowling was dangerously inaccurate and my fielding less than adequate. In spite of this I ended up as Vice Captain of the House team, all due to a dreadful mistake by the sports master. You see there were two Brown's in the side. The other one was good. Always made double figures in an afternoon match, served up a mean off spinner, and was very handy in slips. My only advantage was I was in fifth year, and was the oldest boy. So when the scrap of paper was handed to the master informing him that Brown was nominated as Vice Captain, he assumed it was me and not the more deserving member of our tribe. Actually he was happy just to play, and even gave me some coaching. Nice bloke.

So what has this to do with Baseball? Well, one day a couple of decades or more ago, I was at a barbecue at a friend's farm in the North West and was invited to take part in the American game. There was an exchange student from the States staying at this farm, a girl from the plains of Kansas. She had brought her Softball gear, which was the same as Baseball stuff as far as we were concerned. We set up a diamond in the hay paddock next to the farmhouse, using bales as markers for the bases. One of the problems was the farm was in serious hill country, even by Tasmanian standards. So the pitcher's head was about level with the batter's feet. Second base had to stand on a hay bale to see any action. Outfield needed "over-the -horizon" radar. My turn came to bat. I grasped the unfamiliar article and positioned it high behind my head as seen at the movies. The pitcher wound up and let fly. It was a beauty. Fast and straight, but with one small problem. It was coming directly for my toes. I should have let it through but instinct took over. I twisted my left wrist, pushed my left elbow forward, advanced down the pitch, dipped by bending the right knee, swung the bat down near vertically and connected. A perfect drive in that other, older game. The ball swept over the pitcher's head at about Mach 1. The second base fell off his bale as it passed metres above. The outfielder watched as it appeared over the crest and sailed through the blue and into the creek. The onlookers clapped, some said "good shot sir!" and one indicated a six in the time honoured way of The Oval, Lords, Old Trafford and the MCG. The lass from the US just stood with mouth agape. I think she went home with an interesting story about how Tasmanians "play ball".

Frank Brown ©