Saturday, March 31, 2007


Our March assignment called for a short piece on the proliferation of old micro-wave ovens recycled as letter boxes.


It’s mounted on the white picket fence,
Now no more than a token
Of an empty marriage that didn’t make sense:
Both were terminally broken.

I worked all hours to keep us afloat
And even attempted to save,
Only to return to a re-cycled note –
“Your dinner’s in the micro-wave.”

You would be out somewhere, (dancing on tombs,
Attending a witches’ coven?)
While I’d come home to the cold, empty rooms
And peer into the micro-wave oven.

I didn’t mind the odd Lean Cuisine
Or the frozen casseroled mutton,
If only you’d occasionally been on the scene,
Equipped with your own de-frost button.

The kids are grown up and live on their own
But your influence fatally lingers:
They can’t get a meal without using a phone.
They still think fishes have fingers!

It seemed only right when you took your leave
And the micro-wave gave up the ghost
To use the oven again to receive
The divorce papers coming by post.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

THE EGG MAN COMETH by Dave Wellings

The downstairs doorbell kept ringing. I was alone in the flat, taking a shower but above the hiss of the water and the drumming of rain, the doorbell persisted. My instinct was to ignore it. There are few greater pleasures than a hot shower after retreating from a wet day in London. There was a real possibility of the persistent bell pusher being a pedlar of double-glazing or religion but there was also an outside chance that my flat-mate had forgotten his key. It also occurred to me that Tony might have invited his latest girlfriend over and had then simply forgotten. This had already happened during the two weeks I had lived there although this would presumably be a replacement girlfriend. Reluctantly I turned off the shower, wrapped a towel around my waist and bounced bare-footed down the stairs to the entrance hall. The large Edwardian house had been converted into flats but the tiled hall and stained glass door had been retained. Profiled against the glass was a short, squat figure in a bowler hat. Not a new girlfriend then. Tony’s girlfriends tended to be tall, leggy and glamorous – inexplicably as Tony was none of these things. The bell continued to ring until the moment I swung the door open and confronted the intruder. For a moment, we stared at each other and then he said “Touché.”

I assumed he was referring to us both dripping water, it couldn’t have been to our appearance as I was half naked and tanned from Australia while he was adequately clothed for an English spring. He wore a black rubberised raincoat that reached down to his ankles, the sort of utility coat that had gone out of use in the 1950s but now seemed tailor-made for the day, if not for him. He also wore a black bowler hat, the brim of which was quickly filling with water from our leaking gutter.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“Sean O’Connery lives here? I have it on some authority. Some authority!” He spoke through clamped jaws and almost shouted the last word.

I began to laugh. Some of Tony’s friends were drama students who would remain ‘in character’ for an assignment. Some had remained drama students for many years and, like Tony, were in their mid-twenties but the man in the bowler hat could have been in his mid-fifties, which would have been stretching it, even by their elastic standards. I realised the man was serious.

“Are you sure you have the right address?”

His response was to slide a manila folder from inside his raincoat but as he looked down to read from it, the moat of water around his hat cascaded over the brim and onto the folder. An expletive would have been justified. It would have been compulsory in Australia but the man merely waited for the water to drain off and then, through barely moving lips, intoned “Sean O’Connery, 184 Colney Hatch Lane, North 10. This is one-eighty-four? One Eight Four!”

“Yes but there’s no Sean here.”

It was a joke among the flat-dwellers that the three Australians on the ground floor were all named Bruce. In the early ‘seventies, half the Australians in London seemed to be named Bruce. On the upper floor there were three Davids, two Englishmen and me. and then there was Tony in the tiny attic. Tony shared our bathroom and kitchen and, whether we liked it or not, often shared our food. So far, he had not offered to share his girlfriends. I didn’t share any of this with the man in the bowler hat but he waited under the waterfall, willing me to change my mind. To get rid of him and to get out of the draughty doorway, I suggested that he leave a business card. He produced a printed card from inside the all-concealing raincoat and then with a final spillage from the nodded bowler, he turned and splashed his way back down the path.

I had forgotten the incident until much later that day. It was almost midnight when I heard Tony come bounding up the stairs. Long hair was in vogue and he shook the rain from his locks like a dog. He checked the effect of this in the small mirror by the kitchen door, and then he examined his teeth with an exaggerated smile. Tony rarely went anywhere without a toothbrush in his shirt pocket - our smile, he maintained, is our calling card. I took away his smile with the calling card from our visitor. It took away his colour too.

“What did you tell him?” he demanded, crumpling the card in his fist.

“I told him there was no one here named Sean.”

“Nothing else?”

“There was nothing else to tell.”

“Damn! Damn!” he muttered, “He’s found me again.”

“But it was just a bloke asking for Sean Somebody.”

“It wasn’t just some bloke,” Tony groaned, “It was the Egg Man.”

We were sitting on the edge of Tony’s bed – a king-size which almost filled the attic. By the window below the sloping roof there was a half-completed water colour on an easel and in one corner, an old electric oven with the door flung wide open to provide the only form of heating. Tony had dragged me up to his room, carefully closed the door and then begun to explain the enormity of his situation.

His inchoate motor racing career had been funded by various nefarious schemes. He had paid for a term at the International Racing Drivers School by buying old bangers, applying minimal cosmetic improvements and then selling them through the Evening News classifieds. His rationale was simple: buyers would assume a cheap car was an old banger so he charged a bomb. This worked in principle - if principle could ever be considered near Tony - but the profits were undermined by traffic fines. On one occasion when he was collecting an old Triumph Herald, the suspicions of a police patrol were raised by Tony wearing a thick woollen muffler around his face - on a very hot afternoon. The muffler had been necessary to mask the engine smoke billowing up from the hole in the floorboards. As the de-merit points on his driving licence began to mount, Tony addressed the problem: he acquired licences in other names. Before the days of centralised, computerised licensing authorities, it was possible to book a driving test at any one of the many testing centres around London, then, having passed the test, have a licence issued in whatever name was given – Peter O‘Toole, Michael O’Caine, Sean O’Connery, whomever. It was a short-term solution, of course, and to finance a competitive racing car he needed to think bigger.

The way to make money, he explained as he hung his socks over the oven door to dry, was to control the supply and demand of a product that everyone used - like beds. With untypical modesty, he decided that the London bed market might be beyond his scope so he moved back to his home town of Plymouth and attempted to corner the bed market there. He snapped up beds at auctions, at garage sales, he bought beds advertised in the newspaper and some that weren’t even for sale. He stored them in the garage, in the garden shed and in every room of his mother’s house until there was barely room for anyone to sleep. It would have been only a matter of time before he owned every spare bed in the area and could have named his price for them – but time wasn’t on Tony’s side. The bed market had remained stubbornly dormant and Tony had run out of capital.

Like principle, capital wasn’t a word I naturally associated with Tony: how, I asked, did he raise capital?

“How?” he repeated as though I had just arrived from Mars rather than Australia. “The banks are begging people to take out personal loans! I merely obliged them by taking out four.”

It was true that the leading banks were promoting their ‘finance products’ and their required proof of identity was fairly basic – a driver’s licence and any legal document showing a current address, such as a police summons. Tony had ample supplies of each and had no trouble raising the initial capital for his venture. Stock acquisition was pursued aggressively but with most of the money spent and no sign of enhanced bed prices, he was eventually forced to start selling. Flooding the area with second-hand beds would have depressed the market further so a trickle feed was employed to re-coup just enough cash to meet monthly payments to the banks. The slow turn over in beds caused many sleepless nights and the next motor racing season was already approaching. He decided to cut his losses, accept a blanket offer from a dealer and ‘invest’ the last of his money in a final term at the racing drivers’ school.

Graduates were automatically entered for an end-of-term Formula Ford race with considerable kudos and publicity going to the victor. It was an incestuous affair as the school was guaranteed a winner but Tony felt this could be the last chance to launch his motor racing career. Some of his classmates were from wealthy families while others enjoyed commercial sponsorship but those less fortunate saved money by living at the racing circuit in Norfolk. Tony moved in with a group of overseas hopefuls, sharing a World War Two Nissen hut. Two of the young Brazilians were already being mentioned as future Formula 1 drivers so Tony had no illusions about his chances of winning the graduation race. He actually led it for a brief glorious moment but a spin dropped him down the field before he recovered to finish sixth. “Encouraging” was the comment on his end-of-term report but it wasn’t enough: his money was spent, his hopes were dashed and his only assets were a king-size bed and an old van he had used for transporting the beds – appropriately, a Bedford.

Always on the look-out for cheap food, he stopped one day at a farm stall to buy eggs. He remarked on how cheap they were and was told that they were cheap because the farm wasn’t licensed by the Egg Marketing Board. The eggs did not bear the Board’s little ‘lion’ stamp but were fresh and of good quality. People in the city paid twice as much for eggs that were no better. Tony conceded the point and soon came to an arrangement to sell the farmer’s eggs in London.

A nation of shopkeepers had become a nation of mostly foreign shopkeepers with Cypriot, Maltese and Indian families striving to compete with the encroaching supermarkets. Any line that helped them to undercut prices of the major retailers was welcomed and Tony soon sold the unstamped eggs. He returned to Norfolk and this time filled the two tonne capacity of his van by collecting eggs from other unauthorised farms. His delivery round of corner stores grew and so did his profits; within a few months he had paid off his bank loans and made a down payment on a new, larger van. A van which would one day be the transporter for his own racing car - the dream was still alive.

With winter approaching, he moved out of the bleak Nissen hut to share a flat with artistic friends in Hampstead. He began painting watercolours again, something he had enjoyed during a brief period at Art College. His atmospheric paintings captured the action and drama of famous Formula 1 races with colourful reflections from wet tarmac under threatening skies. His life acquired some degree of balance, for after many precarious business ventures, he had finally established a reliable income stream from a legitimate business. Or so he thought.
He had just completed a delivery to one of his regular customers when he was accosted by an odd little man in a bowler hat.

“You supply eggs?” the man asked through clenched teeth. “Eggs!”

“Sure,” said the congenial Tony, “How many trays would you like?”

“I would like you to stop supplying eggs, Sir, that’s what I would like. Your eggs are not stamped with the little lion of the Egg Marketing Board because they do not meet the Board’s requirements. It’s illegal to sell eggs without the Board’s little lion.”

“And they’re not going to take it lion down.” Tony quipped cheerfully.

“It’s not a joking matter, Sir. First offence incurs a fine of five hundred pounds; second offence attracts a fine of one thousand pounds and six months in prison. In prison, Sir!”

It was a bad moment for Tony; he had paid a deposit on one of the revolutionary, wedge-shaped Lotus 61 racing cars. He needed only a few more months of profitable egg sales to raise enough money to take delivery of the ultimate Formula Ford championship challenger. Paying thousand pound fines wasn’t an option, and he didn’t dare ask what a third or fourth offence would cost.

“Can’t we come to some arrangement?” he asked, fingering his recently acquired loot.

“Bribing an inspector of the Egg Marketing Board is a criminal offence. I shall need some details,” the Egg Man said, taking a notebook from his pocket, “Some details!”

At that point, Tony noticed a blue delivery van double-parked while the driver was attending to business in the store. A teenage driver’s mate sat in the passenger seat, reading a comic.

“Wait here, I’ll get my licence,” Tony told the Egg Man and he walked to the blue van and jumped into the driver’s seat.

“Wotcha doin’?” the startled youth cried as the van took off around the corner.

“Just moving it out of the way,” said Tony, guessing correctly that the Egg Man would have noted the registration number. A jog around the block brought Tony back to his own van, parked further down the street – but it had been a close shave.

Further close encounters occurred over the coming months as the Egg Man popped up unexpectedly at cafes and corner stores. Sometimes he would appear from behind a tower of toilet rolls, like a Russian spy – or the bowler hat would rise like a spectral dome above a shelf of cat food, the Egg Man intent on serving a summons. One by one, the retailers were warned off and Tony’s outlets eventually dried up - but not before he had taken delivery of a brand new Lotus.

Finally free to indulge his motor racing ambition, he soon forgot his days as an egg salesman. The Egg Man, however, did not forget. With bulldog tenacity the man traced Tony to his Hampstead address and on one traumatic afternoon actually breached the inner sanctum of his flat. A girlfriend arriving for an assignation had innocently opened the door for the Egg Man and invited him inside. Tony escaped in his underpants through a bathroom window and spent a chilly night in his van, sleeping next to the racing car. In the Lotus position.
A change of address appeared to have shaken off the bowlered harrier – until I had delivered the bad news. I could understand Tony’s dismay.

“I’ll have to leave the country,” he groaned, removing his dried socks from the oven door. “I hear the light in Australia is good for artists…”

I didn’t think he was serious.

I was working as a freelance reporter for motor sport magazines and a serendipitous meeting with Tony at Silverstone had led to me moving into the vacant room below his. It hadn’t taken me long to realise that his temperament was better suited to art than to racing. To my untrained eye, he painted with real talent but he lacked the cool aggression of a racer. He either tried too hard when he was near the lead or became dispirited when he wasn’t. I wasn’t so bold as to tell him this but as a fruitless and expensive season drew to a close, I suspected he had reached the same conclusion.

An unexpected resolution came the next weekend. I was in the kitchen making tea when Tony descended from his attic, breathless and half-naked.

“Got any yoghurt?” he asked, searching the communal fridge, “She’s hungry and she’s a health freak.”

“Take her a carrot,” I suggested.

“Good thinking,” said Tony, missing the irony.

“Shouldn’t you be resting? You’re racing tomorrow.”

“I’m selling the car after tomorrow’s race,” he said, “Some spotty-faced kid with a rich daddy is buying it.” And with that he quickly examined his teeth in the mirror and took the carrot back to his attic, intent on other things.

The race at Brands Hatch was the final round of the Formula Ford Championship. It was fiercely contested by all the leading contenders, so much so that there was a pile-up in the first corner and several cars were eliminated before the race was over. Tony drove conservatively, anxious to preserve his already-committed car so he was surprised to find himself promoted to third place. It was his first – his only – points-scoring position of the year and I was genuinely pleased for him. I was writing my report at the end of the meeting and giving Tony an honourable mention when he rushed into the Press box.

“You’ll have to collect my trophy,” he said, wild-eyed.

“Why me?” I laughed, “This is your big moment.”

“I can’t go; he’s here, waiting for my name to be announced.”

“Who is?” Then I saw the man in the bowler hat, waiting patiently at the foot of the podium.

“Keep the trophy till we meet in Australia,” Tony called out, retreating into the crowd and then with a wave he was gone.

I’ve been back in Australia for many years but I still have that trophy for third place. It’s a tiny thing – I use it as an egg cup.

Dave Wellings © 2007.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Rose City Blues is a novel by Dave Wellings.

"Ghostwriting the biography of a well-known musician was the break Dean Wesley had been hoping for. Solving an unreported murder might even satisfy his girlfriend's craving for fame. But the mystery he has to solve is not so much who dunnit as did it happen?"

This book and other books written by Dave are available for purchase.

Email for details.


(The following is from a monthly assignment where the writers were given the task to summarise a poem into a Haiku.)


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

John Masefield


Salt deficiency:

Cure for ancient mariner

Rests with buoys and gulls

Dave Wellings © 2006

BRAND NEW STORY by Dave Wellings

People were queuing to buy my latest book. I could see them through the glass doors; it wasn’t yet 8.30 but there was a queue waiting for my book-signing session. It wasn’t a big queue but there again, this isn’t a big town.

I had sweated over my manuscript for two years – then spent another two years trying to persuade publishers to look at it. Most of them only accept manuscripts through a literary agent - but the agents are just as bad! When one sniffy character suggested I study a writing manual, I blew my stack.

“You wouldn’t recognise a good novel if it fell off a shelf and bounced on your head!” I ranted. “Did you know that a newspaper in Britain submitted a chapter of VS Naipaul’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to all major publishers - and everyone one of them rejected it?”

“Yes, I know,” said the agent.“Well did you know that an Australian newspaper submitted a chapter of Patrick White’s Nobel Prize-winning novel to all the publishers here - and everyone one of them rejected it?”

“Yes, I read that,” said the agent.

“Well one bright spark even suggested that ‘Eye of the Storm’s’ author should study a manual on how to write novels – which is precisely what you advised me. Thank you very much.”

“I was trying to be helpful,” said the agent.

“Helpful? Helpful would be representing struggling authors.”

“Don’t blame me,” said the agent, “blame the GST.”

That pulled me up short in mid-rant.

“What’s the GST got to do with it?”

“Well, all booksellers had to computerise their accounts to handle their GST returns. That made possible an accurate data base of actual sales. Now we know that the best sellers aren’t the literary masterpieces that publishers would have us believe but diet books – or cricketers’ memoirs.”

“What does that have to do with my manuscript?” I asked suspiciously.

“Well, if a famous cricketer brings out a book – it could be about anything, perhaps his favourite food and he calls it say, ‘Bowl o’ Baked Beans’ – as long as it has his name and photo on the cover, it will make a motsa. Now if a publisher took a chance on this novel of yours –”

“‘Rose City Blues’” I prompted.

“Yeah, Rosie Schmooze, whatever and no one’s ever heard of you, it could languish at the back of the shop and end up in the remaindered bin. So they won’t take the chance.”

“But my book should be judged on its merits,” I protested.

“Don’t take it personally, better writers than you have had their egos bruised. Ruth Rendell and Dorothy Lessing were both rejected by their own publishers when they submitted work under pseudonyms. You see, it was the name the publisher needed. Their name is a brand and the brand sells the product.”

A brand? Did he think I was a soap powder? I continued to seethe but eventually conceded the agent’s point: readers trust names they know. A case in point was an author the media had dubbed “Mr Blockbuster”. His first book had been widely acclaimed and sold million of copies; it was later made into a major film. Subsequent books were nowhere near as good but they sold just as many copies as the first because his name had indeed become a brand. His books are still popular although he hasn’t produced anything new for years. Some time ago I discovered why: he’s quite gaga.

After living in New York and London, he had eventually come home and now lives as a recluse on his farm, quite near to here. I thought I’d landed a scoop by arranging an interview with the Great Man but soon realised my mistake. At first he insisted he remembered me although we had never met and then he told me he was expecting a visit from a famous American writer. The man he mentioned had been dead for five years. It explained why Mr Blockbuster never appeared on TV or at writers’ festivals.

That had been two years ago but he was still here, leading a reclusive life with his animals, his farm manager and his housekeeper. He was also still a ‘brand’ name and that was what I needed. Another meeting was arranged – this time he failed to recognise me – but I explained my plan. We could publish my novel with Mr B’s portrait and his name in embossed gold letters on the front cover. Somewhere inside, in very small print, we would reveal that Mr Blockbuster was the franchiser and I, as the author, was the franchisee.

“My old publisher will sue us,” said Mr B in one of his more lucid moments.

“It doesn’t matter if they do,” I explained, “Ian Fleming has been dead for years yet other people have been allowed to write James Bond stories.”

“I met Fleming in the Caribbean –”

“We can cut out the middlemen,” I cut in “and share the profits fifty-fifty.”

“We’ll cut out the publishers!” said Mr B and giggled like a schoolgirl.

Bookstores were warned off by the major publishers but supermarkets were less sensitive: they cared only for the bottom line. One American supermarket chain ordered our book by the tonnage. Mr B’s British publisher issued writs for misrepresentation, fraud and several Latin terms that I didn’t understand. Before I had time to worry, a ‘celebrity lawyer’ offered to defend me pro bono. I understood that.

Early reviews of the book naively proclaimed that Mr Blockbuster was back and writing with renewed vigour but I was soon exposed - condemned as a con-man and damned for duping an ailing icon. I was also praised for ‘pushing the envelope’ and championed for challenging the establishment. I was interviewed, interrogated, photographed and filmed: I barely had time to write.

After twelve months my fame and infamy matched that of any libidinous leg-spin bowler. I wasn’t surprised there was a queue to buy my latest book.

Dave Wellings © 2006

THE MAN IN THE MOON by Dave Wellings

(A writing assignment where a change of words would have changed history.)

Everyone on board was aware of history being made. The years of planning and preparation had seemingly involved every department in the administration. Input had come from politicians and bureaucrats as well as NASA’s own scientists and technicians. Now that the moment had finally arrived, the three astronauts forced themselves to concentrate on the logistics of landing Apollo’s module on the surface of the moon while somehow storing away their personal awareness. It was impossible to ignore the magnitude of their achievement; every nation on that little blue planet above them was following their progress on live television; every word they uttered was being recorded for posterity. Mounted on the Command Module some way above, a camera showed the successful touch-down of the Lunar Module. A cloud of dust swirled about as the retro-rockets were throttled back. For a moment there was near silence as the small craft settled down on its four pads; for a few seconds all eyes moved away from the instrument data panel and glances were exchanged. They had done it: men had landed on the moon!

Congratulations from Mission Control in Houston crackled through the headsets but the crew was already preparing for the next vital stage. Neil Armstrong was suited up, the pressure-equalisation program was completed and the magnetic door seals released. Buzz Aldrin made one last visual check of Armstrong’s suit before giving him a pat on the shoulder for luck. The ladder was extended and Armstrong began his measured descent, his gravity boots making a re-assuring clunk on each step. On the bottom step he paused to deliver his scripted mission statement.

“One small step for a man: one giant leap for – whoops!”

From the hovering Command Module, Michael Collins saw the top of the astronaut’s helmet sink below the Sea of Tranquillity – a sea of deep dust.

“Neal! Neal!”

“I am kneeling,” yelled Aldrin, “But I can’t see him!”

“Not you - Neal’s gone, he’s sunk – and your module’s sinking! Get out of there; fire your booster rockets now!”

“Mission Control to Apollo, can you repeat your line about one giant leap? PR will need the full quote.”

“Apollo to Houston, we have a problem…”

They never did repeat the mission statement and only two of the crew made the sombre journey back to earth. The United States government lost its enthusiasm for future lunar landings and devoted the entire space program budget to providing free health care to all its citizens. Since that day in July 1969, generations of healthy young Americans have been looking up at the sky on clear nights, knowing that there really is a man in the moon.

Dave Wellings © 2006


The inaugural meeting of the Clifton Writers Group made a hesitant start.

“Hi, I’m Pam, do you know everyone?”

“Yvonne? Hello, I’m Kate.”


“I’m Kate.”

“No, you’re not late, you can have this chair.”

“Where? Near Nobby.”

“No, I’m saying you can sit here.”

“Beer? No thanks Yvonne, it’s a bit early for me, perhaps a cup of tea.”

Maybe those weren’t the actual names; I didn’t catch them at the time, in fact, it soon became apparent that half the people in the room had some kind of hearing impairment. It might explain why we now tend to talk in small groups – we can’t hear people across the room!

Twelve months earlier I had become aware of tinnitus in my left ear, a constant high-pitched whistling sound. The Czech composer Smetana suffered from it and, after identifying the constant note, ended his last string quartet on a long, long E natural. It is common with men of a certain age, especially if they have been exposed to the noise of jet engines, racing cars and gun fire. I’d won the trifecta there. I would often miss telephone calls or my wife calling from another room, (there was some selective deafness of course) but when she pointed out that people from across the railway line were listening to our radio, I had to concede that the volume had been steadily increased over the years. I finally gave in to her urging and agreed to see a doctor.

A succession of doctors had passed through Clifton untroubled by me. I was fit, I had no need of doctors, I merely wanted a referral to a hearing clinic. The doctor had other ideas: he gave me a full roadworthy – blood pressure, blood test, tyres, brakes, wiring, the lot. Eventually he gave me the referral and I made an appointment.

The hearing specialist in Toowoomba told me what I already knew: there was a deterioration of hearing in one ear, an onset of tinnitus and there was little that could be done. Back home there was a message for me to contact the doctor urgently. If there was little that could be done, I didn’t see the need for urgency but I went along anyway.

The blood test had revealed a serious disorder. There were too many of the platelets which cause clotting; there was a risk of a stroke or heart attack. How much risk? Twice the normal level would be bad news; three times was ‘critical’ and four times meant ‘serious imminent risk’. I had five times the normal level. Another referral, another appointment, this time to an oncologist who ordered a bone marrow puncture, CT scans and more blood tests. The diagnosis was thrombocytopenia. Chemotherapy has gradually done its work and the blood tests are encouraging – almost back to normal.

My wife said: “It was lucky you went to the doctor about your hearing.”

Hmm, you can say that again.

Dave Wellings © 2006

KHAN DO by Dave Wellings

(Note: The following story was the result of a 10 minute writing exercise during our last meeting. The writer was asked to incorporate the following words: Genghis Khan, a yurt, mare's milk and yak stew.)

“What’s that?”

“It’s a yurt. It makes the place look authentic.”

“Right. It takes up a lot of room, doesn’t it? We could fit another dozen tables in there.”

“It’s to create atmosphere.”

“You mean, like the camel dung on the smouldering fire?”


“I think you might have overdone the atmosphere bit. Yak stew is stretching the menu and mare’s milk might go unnoticed in the coffee but I think we should get rid of the yurt. Genghis Kahn is a good name for a Mongolian restaurant but Toowoomba people tend to be, you know, conservative.”

Dave Wellings © 2006

ON TIME by Dave Wellings

The elasticity of time can be a blessing or a curse. Some time ago, I wrote a short story recalling the trauma of a motor racing accident. I limited the story to 3,000 words but could easily have gabbled on to 6,000; the slow-motion sensation of the car somersaulting to destruction had lasted seemingly for hours. Logic tells me it would have lasted for less than ten seconds.

The idea of someone having their ‘time’ was suggested to me by the lives of two old friends. I had known ‘Gunga’ (short for Gunga Din) through infant, primary and high school. To say that he had blossomed into an attractive youth would be apt because he was indeed like an exotic plant, watered by flattery. From being a pretty-faced boy with rosy cheeks, ruby-red moue and a cute quiff that hung over his forehead, he had developed into a tall, handsome teenager. No one was more aware of this than Gunga himself: he could never pass a mirror or a shop window without whipping out his comb to primp the quiff and exchange an approving nod. His indestructible self-esteem was carried onto the sporting field where his elaborate bowling action would make today’s Sri Lankan spinners look boringly orthodox. He was equally visible on the soccer pitch in his brief tight shorts and flashy reflective boots, decades ahead of David Beckham. Being Gunga, he insisted on playing as striker although he had the build of a goalpost and to my knowledge never actually scored. If I have made him sound insufferable, I should add that he was an amiable, likeable lad who believed, quite rightly, that he was a chick magnet. It was no surprise to learn that shortly after leaving school he had married and started a family.

A few years later we met up again at the favourite watering hole of our old clique. It was a jazz club in the basement of a local hotel and I was home on leave from a Middle East posting. I barely recognised Gunga, standing alone at the end of the bar. His open raincoat revealed a small pot-belly; the famous quiff had gone and his damp hair line suggested an out-going tide. For the next half hour he poured out his woes to me – about his dreary home life where he was “outnumbered by bloody females” – a wife and two daughters. About the foundry where he worked, waiting for the foreman to die before there would be any hope of promotion. The foundry’s toxic fumes were apparently killing both of them. And then, reluctantly he shuffled off homewards, the flame quenched, the flamboyance gone.

My mate Terry was the opposite. He had been a gangling, awkward youth with a naff haircut and an ill-advised suit: he made ‘social misfit’ sound like a compliment. Like me, he had wandered around Africa and being a perpetual foreigner fitted him well. In middle-age he seemed merely odd. Although he was quite well off and generous (Africans soon realised he was a soft touch), he rarely spent money on himself. When the cuffs of his old shorts became frayed he simply turned them up and sewed them by hand, each turn revealing more of his spindly white legs. He darned the heels of his khaki socks with pink wool. By his fifties he was a true English eccentric: his rejection of materialism in an increasingly materialistic world would have made him a marvellous grumpy old man, a nugget that writers prospect for – a genuine character. Alas, he was killed in a motor-cycle accident and I felt he had been cheated. His time never came.

Someone once said that time was nature’s way of ensuring that everything didn’t happen at once. Albert Einstein confirmed that time was a relative phenomenon but it was an anonymous Queenslander who provided the indisputable truth: Time flies like an arrow but fruit flies like a banana.

Dave Wellings © 2006

MAISON GROTTE by Dave Wellings

I can understand why so many writers grant the status of character to a house. It can be pivotal to the plot and a catalyst for events. Although twenty years have passed since I sold Maison Grotte and the residents have dispersed around the globe, we still refer to the place as we would to an amiable but slightly disreputable old friend.

I had bought the house on a whim. After several overseas RAF postings and an overland journey across Europe and Africa, I was ready to settle down for a while in Rhodesia. I had in mind a bachelor flat in a cheap suburb of Salisbury, perhaps with garage space to build another racing car. The Hatfield filling station doubled as the local real estate office and the jovial proprietor assured me he knew of the ideal property for me, not one hundred metres away. We walked back along the service road to a wide, squat house fronted by a solid stone wall. Large Grecian urns serving as flower pots topped the gate posts, in keeping with the formal Mediterranean-style front garden. The house had a distinctive style with flying buttresses on either side appearing to prop up the white walls. The original owner had been Portuguese, I was told, and the only surviving member of his family had moved to Cape Town. At that time many white residents were leaving the war-torn country.

“Rent it for a while,” the agent suggested, “And if you like it, buy it on Deed of Sale; you won’t need a deposit.”

“Buy it?”

The thought had never occurred to me but I could now see that there was indeed a large garage, as well as servants’ quarters and a chook house.

“It’s a bit bigger than I actually need…”

A masterpiece of understatement coming from someone with a backpack, a sleeping bag and a toothbrush.

“Four bedrooms plus five acres of land,” the agent cheerfully informed me. “You’ve got grapevines, avocadoes, pomegranates, quinces – every kind of fruit tree you could wish for. Do you like gardening?”


“I’ll find you a gardener. Come back after five, I’ll make an appointment to view.”

The house was currently being rented by the de Witt family and when I returned at the appointed hour, they were all at home. Mum, Dad and the four boys were already packing to move to their new home and the place was in chaos. Every person and every piece of furniture appeared to be moving around simultaneously. I tried to keep out of the way while looking around the rooms. Nailed to the picture rail of every room at intervals of 12 centimetres were small painted wooden plaques of the crucifixion. Mr de Witt, a dour Afrikaner showed me around, then like a judge pronouncing a life sentence, he intoned: “Mr Vellinks, you vill be very happy here.”

The omens were good. A few weeks earlier at a cinema I had entered a competition – it involved writing a promotional slogan for the film – and I had won a rather grand hi-fi system. The prize arrived a few days after I had moved into the empty house. No longer did my footsteps echo on the stone floor, instead, Mendelssohn’s piano concertos and Dvorak’s string quartets bounced off the bare walls. I had by now withdrawn the nails from holding the pieces of wood depicting a man nailed to a piece of wood. The house felt happy.

My need was essentially for a base in town as my job as a field research officer involved working in the bush for three weeks in every month. Two of my work colleagues were in a similar position so I invited them to move in. My friend Steve with whom I had travelled across Africa, had grown tired of the YMCA and he too moved in. The house had suddenly filled up.

We were rarely there at the same time but I had engaged a young gardener who lived on site and provided security while we were away. The veggie patch and fruit trees he tended occupied less than half of the long narrow block. The far end of it was bordered by a stream, a tributary of the Hunyani River and during extreme winter droughts leopards would come to drink and hunt guinea fowl (and our neighbours’ chooks) – we rarely ventured down there.

The house was situated mid-way between the city and the airport making it a convenient stop-off for travellers in transit. Neal arrived one night from New Zealand, homeless and penniless and stayed for a few months until he found a job. My nephew, recently graduated from university in the UK, arrived to take up a job as a geologist and stayed with us for two years. There was always an eclectic mix at Maison Grotte; it was like an annexe of the United Nations.

One day our gardener begged me to take in a 16 year old African refugee. Chris and his mother were the only members of their family to survive the civil war in Mozambique and they had walked all the way from Beira. His mother had been admitted to hospital and Chris, destitute and exhausted had nowhere to stay. We offered him a camp bed, sharing the veranda with Iain who just happened to be the second son of a Scottish viscount. Neither objected.

The narrow veranda was enclosed by windows and stretched across the front of the house. We used it as a games room with table-tennis matches taking on international significance. A blackboard displaying the scores gave a clue to the residents of the time: England v Australasia, Europe v The USA, Africa v The Rest of the World.On Friday nights we showed films for the boxers I was training. Interspersed with the classic fights of Sugar Ray Robinson or Cassius Clay we’d have ‘The Champ’ starring Charlie Chaplin or something from Laurel and Hardy ( known to the locals as Mr Little and Mr Big). I would also show films of our boxers’ recent bouts and invite criticism – rather like the Clifton Writers Group…

The house was given its pretentious name as a joke. I had to explain to the Africans that Maison Grotte was French for Cave House and that grotty was also English slang for scruffy. Nevertheless, it became well-known and many international boxing tournaments, wrestling shows and pop concerts were organised over cups of tea at its modest kitchen table. There was another house popular with back-packers (or overlanders, as they were known in those days). The Palace was an inner-city house in Union Avenue and the inmates had tee-shirts printed: THE PALLUS – with a lower case ‘h’ inserted between the P and A. The place had a reputation for drugs and easy virtues and we took care to distance ourselves by having our own tee-shirts printed: Maison Grotte Cultural Centre. Again, it was meant tongue in cheek but as we were often seen on television at sporting events, it was sometimes taken seriously.

After ten years it was time to move on. Robert Mugabe’s Marxist government had run out of foreign currency and it was no longer possible for us to promote our international shows. The house was sold – again on Deed of Sale – and we all went our different ways. Payments for the house could not be expatriated and so, having moved to Melbourne, the only way to access the money was to go to Zimbabwe on holiday. I went back for the last time in 1987 and couldn’t resist one more look at Maison Grotte.

The front gate had been removed and when I went down the drive to the backyard I was surprised to see the old well which had been covered over for decades was once again in commission. I assumed that the new owners hadn’t paid their water rates. I knocked on the back door and called out a greeting in chiShona. There was no answer but I heard voices from the kitchen. I knocked again and opened the door. Six African women were sitting cross-legged on the stone floor around a kerosene stove, cooking sadza porridge. Most of them were nursing babies – the house was soon to be full again. When I told them who I was, they invited me to stay for some sadza but I declined and thanked them with the traditional hand clapping motion. There was no water, no electricity and the once-prolific garden now produced nothing but corn – for making sadza – but I suppose it was what they wanted.

I said, “I think you will be very happy here,” and left for the last time.

Dave Wellings 2006 ©

A BRIDGE TOO FAHRE by Dave Wellings

In 1958 I was posted to a light aircraft squadron in Germany. I arrived at Detmold as an anxious teenager but was soon taken under the wing of Leading Aircraftsman ‘Butch’ Robinson. His nick-name was used in the ironic way that tall men are known as ‘Tiny’ or bald men are called ‘Curly’. He wasn’t butch at all but he was a born mimic and, like me, he was a Goon Show fan so any question was likely to be answered by Bluebottle or Eccles or Hercules Gritpipe-Thynne. He claimed he could speak German, he had a German girlfriend and he was certainly confident when speaking to the local civilians. However, I suspected he was often mimicking them as he once told me, “You don’t have to know all the words, as long as it sounds German.”

He had inherited a 1940 600cc two-stroke Panther motor cycle – or rather – he had inherited the locker that contained the bits of a 1940 Panther and had been told in uncompromising military terms to get rid of it. Butch naturally saw this is a challenge and enlisted my help to rebuild the machine over the winter. The frame and sidecar of the machine had been abandoned in a bicycle shed and were in poor condition but, with the surreptitious use of RAF tools and parts, the old Panther was brought back to life. In fact, it contained so many RAF bits that our Chief Technician said it should salute when passing an officer!With this eccentric set of wheels we were now free to explore the region. The Panther had no rear suspension, the seat itself was sprung like an old tractor seat and while I reclined in the sidecar, Butch sat up there bouncing in the breeze in his leather flying helmet like a cross between Biggles and Toad of Toad Hall. We attended dances in Herford, concerts at the Landestheatre and traditional schiessenfests out in the country. We invariably stayed out after curfew and could have been in big trouble with the Military Police but the ebullient Butch was never worried. While a menacing MP waited at the boom gate, Butch would ride up and call out in his best Gritpipe-Thynne accent: “I say, you there! Do fasten up your tunic, there’s a good chappie, you’ll catch a chill.” And then we would duck low to pass under the boom gate, leaving the MP to salute our exhaust.

The big test for the Panther came when we visited the Nurburgring for the classic 1,000 kilometre sportscar race. The first part of the journey, along the autobahn to Cologne, was no problem but then came the climb up into the Eiffel Mountains, to the famous circuit around the castle. It was well worth the effort as the race has gone into the history books as one of Stirling Moss’ greatest victories. We were still excited when we stopped at a gasthaus on the way home. Butch ordered “Zwei pilsener” and proceeded to give the locals a graphic description of the race, complete with sound effects. I don’t know if they understood his German but they certainly seemed entertained.

It was dark by the time we left and the headlight on the old Panther was little better than a candle on a windy night. Navigating the dark narrow lanes was a problem but eventually we came across a signpost declaring ‘Cologne 32 km: Cologne nach Fahre 17 km’.

“What’s the difference?” I asked.

“One is obviously a better road,” Butch said, “We’ll take the short cut through Fahre.”

We rode on until we came to another signpost: ‘Cologne 21 km: Cologne nach Fahre 6 km.’ We could now see the lights of Cologne but somewhere between the city and us was the mighty River Rhine. I held my map under the feeble headlamp but couldn’t see any place named Fahre.

“It’s probably some tiny dorp next to the bridge,” Butch assured me and confidently rode on into the darkness.

It was shortly after this that the road disappeared altogether. There was a sudden jolt, an angry hiss of steam and then a freezing wave of water, up to our necks. We abandoned ship and frantically dragged the machine back up the bank. From the direction of Cologne, through the velvety darkness I could see two lights slowly approaching – one red, the other green. Butch saw them too. Wet and shivering, all confidence gone he sheepishly admitted, “I remember now, Fahre means ferry…”

Dave Wellings ©

LACK OF WILL by Dave Wellings

Shall you compare me to a summer's day ?
Not if you intend to be kind.
Comparisons are odious, they say,
So skip that one, if you don't mind,
Too many summers have gone under the bridge,
I've passed too much water too often,
I often forget why I went to the fridge:
My brain is beginning to soften.
An autumn day might be nearer the truth,
A day that was misty and cold.
It's hard to remember the spring of your youth
When you become grumpy and old.
Thanks - but no thanks for flattering sentiments:
Now is the winter of my incontinence.

Dave Wellings, Clifton. ©